Part One:
Scenes In A Marriage
“I’m out of ideas, Helen.” Anita Martinez sighed her despair. “He practically refuses to look
at me.”
Helen stood and smoothed her leather miniskirt carefully, pressing out the smallest
wrinkles with her fingertips. That day her entire outfit was leather, from her own shop. She was
meticulous about its care.
“I can’t fathom it, dear. You’re a very pretty girl. There wasn’t any problem when you were
first married, was there?”
“No, although the sex never came close to what I’d always dreamed of, especially with
“For some it’s a mistake to wait for the wedding night.” Helen refilled her teacup and
folded her arms. She looked sideways at Anita in a fashion that was coquetry personified.

She’s devastating. Perfect bust, slender waist, gorgeous hips and legs. She dresses to show
it, too. And at her age! Why can’t a perfectly healthy twenty-six year old woman have a decent
sex life if Helen can manage that?
Among the most jarring aspects of Anita’s transition from the futureless aridity of her youth
in C hiapas to the exuberant opulence of Los Angeles had been the discovery that the fabled
sexuality of her new home was far more concerned with appearances than with performance.
She’d expected the young American businessman who’d courted her, won her heart, and pledged
himself to her before God to want to make love at every opportunity. Far from merely viewing
sex as a duty toward her husband and a critical cement for their marriage, from adolescence she’d
looked forward to it with an eagerness for which her confessor had called her a whore of
“Don’t you want to talk about it?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Helen. I let my mind wander a moment, that’s all.”
The shopowner’s mouth curved slowly into a smile.
“You were thinking about me, weren’t you?”
Anita sat back a little at that. “Well, yes.”
“It’s all right, dear. I consider myself a walking advertisement for my shop, and to be
effective I have to look as good as possible. But you don’t have any idea what kind of effort goes
into looking like this. Perhaps you should be grateful.”
Anita giggled. “Helen, I know you’re a lot older than I am, but men look at you, not at me.
Even Paul prefers to look at you, which is why I never brought him here a second time.”
Helen’s smile grew slightly mysterious. “And you’d like to have that working for you,
wouldn’t you?”
“Well, naturally!”
The shopowner glanced over at her counter, where Astarte, her large, sleek black cat,
reposed in seeming indifference. The cat raised its head from the counter and returned its owner’s
gaze. It seemed to nod.
“Most girls today haven’t the patience or the discipline for what I do,” Helen said. I suppose
I could show you, but I’d doubt that you’d be willing to follow the program.”
Anita examined the shopowner’s face for a long silent moment.
I know a challenge when I hear one.
“Helen, would you show me, please?”
Helen looked her full in the eyes. She rose, went to the shop door, locked it, and flipped the
sign to Closed. She strode toward the beaded curtain that led to the back of the shop, high heels
clicking against the quarrystone tiles, and hooked a finger at Anita, beckoning her to follow.
“I had no idea you had a tub back here!”
“That’s one of the advantages of doing business out of one’s residence, dear.” Helen slowly
sponged Anita’s back. “All the comforts of home. And if I get bored with business, or it turns
suddenly slow, I can come back here and play a while.”
Anita smiled up at her. “You’ve got the healthiest attitude toward business I’ve ever heard
“You haven’t heard many, then.” Helen put the sponge down and stood up. “Come on, time
to dry and dress.”
Anita rose from the tub and accepted a thick bath towel. When she had dried, she reached
for her underclothing, but Helen stopped her.

“A new day is dawning, so let’s have it dawn clean. Just come with me.”
Anita followed Helen to a large dressing room. The walls were lined with mirrors. Several
sported discreet knobs, indicating that closets were concealed behind them.
The mirrors made Anita momentarily uncomfortable about her nudity.
“Helen, those aren’t two-way, are they?”
The older woman chuckled. “Not at all, dear. They’re just ordinary mirrors to see yourself
“Why did you need so many?”
“I like a mirrored room. When I dress in here, I feel like the star of some fabulous show.
Some of my better-heeled clients love it just as much.”
Helen went to one of the closets and pulled out a satin-lined leather corset with a built-in
“Ever worn one of these before?”
“Uh, no. Don’t they hurt?”
“Not once you’re used to them. I’m wearing one now.”
Anita’s eyes dropped momentarily to Helen’s waistline, and the older woman chuckled.
“Most of it is diet and exercise, dear, but a good corset gives an invaluable finish to even
the best figures, as you’ll soon find out. Come here.”
Anita obeyed, raising her arms to let Helen slide the corset down over her torso. The cups
moved naturally into place over her breasts. The bottom edge of the garment came to just above
her pubic bone.
“Keep your arms in the air.” The older woman turned her around gently and began to take
in the laces.
As the embrace of the corset tightened by gentle degrees, Anita watched her figure change
in the mirror before her. Helen was right. Anita was well-toned and weighed no more than she
should, but the corset was bringing out her attractions in ways more dramatic than unaided nature
had managed.
“Let as much air out of your lungs as you can, dear.”
Anita complied, and Helen performed a last tugging at the laces, taking in Anita’s waist as
far as it would go. She quickly tied off, moved to the side, and waited as the young woman
studied herself.
“It feels…strange.” She turned from her newly exotic reflection to look at her friend. “It
feels good!”
“Not too tight?”
“Well, I can’t take a really deep breath, but it seems to be all right.” She turned back to her
image in the mirror. “Are these really okay to wear?”
Helen smiled. “I wear one twenty-three hours a day, dear. Once you’re accustomed, you’ll
never want to be without one. But we’re not finished yet.”
Anita basked in her reflection and the curiously pleasant sense of constraint from the corset
while Helen selected more items from the closet.
“Now these might take more getting used to.”
First the shopowner drew silk stockings onto the young woman’s legs and fastened them to
garters that hung from the corset. Next came a pair of marvelous boots. They were
extraordinarily sleek and supple, bore five inch stiletto heels, and ran all the way up her thighs to
the bottom of her pelvis. When Helen zipped them and buckled them at the top, her legs enjoyed
the same pleasantly sensuous constriction as her torso, along their whole length.

Next came a high, soft leather choker that buckled closed at the back. Its gently snug grip
on her neck sent plumes of warmth down her spine as she moved. It made her want to arch and
stretch like a cat.
Finally, Helen drew long leather gloves onto her arms. They reached all the way over her
biceps to just below her armpits, and were as snug on her arms as the boots were on her legs.
Those, too, buckled closed at the top.
Anita was lost amid the new sensations. All the items were at least moderately constrictive.
Yet their constraints were not unpleasant but powerfully the reverse. The corset had taken four
inches off her waist, and had pushed her breasts up and forward in a most provocative way. The
choker gently prompted her to hold her neck straight. The boots trimmed her thighs and calves,
and compelled her to stand with all her assets displayed to best advantage. Even the gloves
improved her appearance, smoothing and concealing the tiny pockets of sag that every human
arm has.
“And this is how you do it?”
Helen nodded. “All my adult life, dear. I haven’t been without a corset since I was sixteen.
How does it feel?”
“I…I can’t imagine ever taking it off.”
She studied her reflection carefully. Only her head and shoulders, her derriere and her
mons remained exposed. All else was sheathed in soft, lustrous leather. In an ordinary skirt and
blouse, she exposed far more skin than this. Yet the garments had eroticized her more powerfully
than ever before in her experience.
“So strange, to be so completely clothed, yet be and feel so…naked.” She shivered and ran
her gloved hands along her corseted contours.
Helen smiled gently. “It’s a lovely ensemble, isn’t it? I’d say it was made for you. Consider
it yours. A gift.”
“Helen, no! I couldn’t possibly.”
“Certainly you can, dear. Think of them as starters. You’ll be back as a paying customer.
We’ve only scratched the surface here. Believe me, there’s lots of fun ahead. Oh, one final piece.”
She held out a skimpy leather G-string.
“Tonight, when Paul gets home, this is the only thing he gets to take off. Don’t let him
remove any of the rest. I guarantee you, you’ll love the results.”
Anita giggled and took the G-string.
Anita strode home with a gait that seemed too slow and sedate for the joy that bubbled
within her. Her new clothes were almost completely concealed. Only her choker, her gloved
hands, and the bottoms of her boots were visible. Yet every man she passed turned to look at her,
and quite a few of the women. In ultra-relaxed Los Angeles, so much open attention was a sign
of something special.
Every movement made her freshly conscious of each of the special underthings she wore.
All of it was delightful. She was amazed that there was no discomfort. Wasn’t restrictive clothing
supposed to hurt?
Why did it take so long for liberated little me to learn about this? Seems a lot of girls are
missing out on something really special.
At home, she put up water for tea and sat at the kitchen table to read the day’s mail.
Presently, she sat over her tea, writhing gently in her new corset and loving the feel of it against
her skin, dreamily composing a fantasy of how it would be that night with Paul.

Helen looked into Anita’s eyes. “And how did it go?”
Anita shook her head in delighted wonder. “Helen, from the moment he came through the
door, he couldn’t keep his hands off me. He took one look at me, dropped his briefcase right
there at the door and pulled me into a kiss that wasn’t over until we’d landed on our bed.” She
shivered. “Now that’s how to start an evening at home!”
“And did he think it was strange when you refused to take off your new things?”
“Well, a little. But after he got the idea, he really went for it. I half expected him to come in
here looking for an outfit for him.”
Helen’s face shed all expression. “If he suggests it, will you discourage him?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so. Why?”
“Perhaps you should think further about that. Men are strange creatures, dear. We don’t
always understand them, so we don’t always treat them the way we should.”
“And how is that?”
Astarte had jumped into Helen’s lap. She stroked the cat and smiled. “According to our
respective roles.
are civilized. In a way, we’re civilization itself. We manage the home, we
rear the children, and we soothe the hurt and comfort the disappointed.
are warriors. They
go forth to conquer, even the ones that do so in an air-conditioned office, under fluorescent
lights. When dealing with a warrior, you have to know very precisely what you want out of him,
and how to treat him so that you’ll get that and not something else.”
“Helen, that sounds awful.”
“That doesn’t mean it isn’t true, dear.” The older woman looked directly into her friend’s
eyes again. “Why do you think leather affects them so?”
“Because it looks and feels and smells nice.”
“No! That’s why
like it.
like it because it’s animal skin. To them it speaks of
conquest and power and control, all things that mean a great deal to any normal man.”
“So sex is about…control?”
Helen nodded slowly. “Almost entirely, dear. First, our control of ourselves; then, our
control of their desires.” She lifted Astarte and set her on the table, rose and gestured at the racks
of merchandise that filled the store.
“Many of the things I sell are articles of constraint. Take the shoes and boots, for example:
all of them high-heeled, as radically so as one could possibly walk in. But what is a high heel for,
except to force the leg into an elongated, pronounced,
position? I have as many male
customers as female. The men’s purchases are almost always for their women, and almost always
of leather goods. They seek the sense of conquest, the agreeable, mutually pleasurable surrender,
that a woman can give them, and that some of their women are reluctant to give. That’s their
special hunger, their base erotic need. Leather calls to them through it.”
Anita absorbed it slowly.
“So what am I doing, then?”
Helen went to Anita and put her hands to the younger woman’s face.
“Just as I said, dear. First, you’re establishing control over yourself, eroticizing your own
body, making it what you want it to be. Once you’ve achieved that, you’ll gradually gain control
over your husband’s desires. In time you’ll be able to make him burn for you with no more than a
gesture or an artful glance.”
“Helen, I don’t think I want to control Paul. I just want him to want me.”
Helen’s eyes bored into hers.

“When he reached for your laces last night, and you forbade him to touch them, and he
obeyed, how did it feel?”
Anita started to speak, then stopped herself and looked away.
Helen smiled. “Well, we’ll see.”
“Come on, Anita, take it off.” Paul’s fingers lingered on the cups, lightly stroking the soft,
delicately glazed leather.
“No, sweetie, I like it this way. Come on, come back in where it’s warm.”
He bit his lip and looked momentarily away.
“Anita, it was fun the first few times, even if it was a little kinky, but you’re beginning to go
overboard. I haven’t seen your tits for nearly a month. Now take that thing off and let me see my
wife’s body.”
She stared at him a moment, then slapped his face.
The impact of leather against flesh rang through the room. He staggered back, more
shocked than hurt, as she rose from their marital bed. In her boots, she was three inches taller
than he. She stood with arms akimbo and glowered down at him.
“What’s the matter, little man? Afraid Mamacita is hiding something? Can’t stand not being
able to see and fondle everything? It’s not so long ago I could have flapped these tits across your
face and you wouldn’t even have noticed.”
“Anita, what the hell’s gotten into you?”
She laughed briefly. “Nothing I couldn’t replace with better for the price of a phone call.”
She swung out and struck him again, this time with a closed fist. He toppled backward to
land with a thump.
“It’s just a sentimental attachment, I know, but time does things like that. Three years
of…regular service leaves you expecting a little something now and then, and I wasn’t happy
without it. Well, if I have to learn to live without your attentions, there are plenty of other
healthy young bucks out there who won’t mind my little ways!”
She thrust one hand between her legs and fingered her clitoris until her juices flowed thick
and hot. He lay and watched in disbelief and dismay.
His disbelief ended when she straddled his chest, squatted over his face, and planted her
mound on his mouth. When he tried to push her off, she ground herself against his face with
savage force, cutting off his breathing, until he lapsed into quietude.
“Drink it up, little man. If that’s all you’re good for, then that’s how I’ll use you from now
on. Lap! Drink!”
She rocked back and forth, grinding his face with her mons until she exploded into orgasm.
Her gasps of satisfied delight completely drowned the sound of his sobs.
When she had recovered her senses, she dragged him off the floor by his limp, useless tool
and thrust him naked into the night, savoring his pitiful entreaties. When the door was closed and
locked against him, she laughed and laughed until she slid to the floor and cried.
Helen looked up from her journal as the door opened.
“Anita! Paul! What a pleasant surprise. Are you here to shop, or just to visit?”
Anita propelled her reluctant husband to the counter with a firm hand planted in the middle
of his back. She moved to stand beside him, one hand clamped on his neck.

“Both, Helen. My, ah, lesser half has decided he’d like some advice from you on
underclothes. Some of the kind you prescribed for me.”
Helen’s eyebrows rose. “I hope all is going well for you, Paul?”
He started to speak but Anita cut him off.
“Better than he deserves, which is why we’re here. Can we get him outfitted in a single
Helen stared at her for a long moment.
“Anita, this isn’t what I meant by control.”
“Oh? What else could you have meant?” She indicated her husband with a jerk of her head.

worm hasn’t got sense enough to appreciate what I’ve done for him. He doesn’t respect my
prerogatives. I intend to break him of that nonsense before another day passes.”
Helen pursed her lips. She lowered her gaze to the counter, where Astarte sat as if
reviewing what her mistress had just written. When the cat rose, jumped down from the counter,
and disappeared through the beaded curtain, Helen laid down her pen, circled the counter, and
stood staring Paul Hudson in the eyes.
“What did you do?” she murmured.
He looked away.
Helen swung openhanded, catching Paul solidly across the jaw. His head rocked back as
his tears sprang forth.
“You’re young, fit, and well to do,” Helen said. “You’re a free, independent citizen of the
finest country on Earth. You owe no one, and no one has any hold on you. But you can’t be a
to the woman who’s bound herself to you?”
With that, Helen wheeled and cracked Anita across the face twice as hard. Caught
completely by surprise, she stumbled backward and crashed onto her rump.
“And what about you?” she snarled. “With all the advantages you have — nearly all of
which flow from
— you can’t command yourself well enough to master your husband’s
desires without tr ying to ‘break’ him to your

Anita gaped up in disbelief at the raging proprietress. Helen stood over her, arms akimbo,
as if daring her to rise or offer a reproof.
“What’s your name?” Helen’s voice was soft, but anger still crackled through the words.
“An…Anita Martinez,” she sniffled.
“Oh? And where were you born?”
“Guyjazul, in Chiapas.”
“And where do you live today?”
“Los — Los Angeles.”
do you live in Los Angeles, Anita
Instead of in the vermin-infested
place of your birth?”
Anita was stricken speechless.
“You owe virtually everything you have to this man,” Helen said. “Yet you’ve refused his
name, you’ve said almost nothing to me about him that wasn’t a complaint, and now you think to
make him your plaything. Where did you learn such ingratitude?”
“And you,” Helen said as she turned to Paul. “With all that you have and have achieved,
how did you become a spineless
Are you capable of dealing with your wife like a man, or
are you a mendicant in your own household?”
She scorched the couple with her glare. Neither dared to speak.

“I suppose I bear some of the blame for this,” Helen said. “I knew you were a self-centered
ingrate from your whining, Anita. And I knew from what you told me that Paul ought to have
given you much more of his attention,
demanded a much higher price for it. But I took my
wishes for you in place of thought.
“You,” Helen said to Paul, “learn to be a husband to your wife, neither neglecting nor
abusing her. And you,” she said to Anita, “don’t come back until you’re Anita
in thought,
word, and deed. Now get out.”
“A recent disappointment,” Helen sighed.
Martine shuddered. “Unique, I hope.”
“Nearly so. Most women don’t have Anita’s problem.”
“Which is?”
“Distinguishing erotic control from the other sorts.”
“Oh. But you know, Helen,” Martine said, “I would have had a problem with that too, until
“Took you under my wing?”
Martine nodded.
“That wasn’t your major affliction, dear. Otherwise, I would have dealt with it first and
foremost. What you suffered from, I would call fatigue anhedonia.”
Helen smiled faintly. “You were too tired to want anything. You’d started to fall out of love
with yourself. Once that was past, your little neuroses blew away like dandelion seeds.”
Helen resettled herself against her pillows and stared silently at the ceiling for a long
“Fatigue is usually treatable. There are worse problems by far.”
Virgin Bride
Adam tried. She had to give him that. His touch was as light as swansdown, almost
worshipful in its delicacy. But she was unable to suppress her reflexive cringe whenever his
fingers brushed over her breasts or her mound. Her hands darted to block his against all her
efforts to restrain them. When he finally gave up, sagging away from her as if exhausted by his
interminable, frustrating ordeal, all she could do was weep.
He lay silent next to her for several agonizing minutes as the tears washed down her face. It
was well that the darkness was absolute, for she could not bear to look at him. Her failure was
complete, her excuses threadbare. She owed him whatever he might ask in compensation, and
They had been married for five weeks.
I made him wait nearly three years, out of nothing but fear. How much longer can this go
on before he gives up and leaves me?
“I’m not going to leave you, Mary,” he said.
Her head whipped toward him with painful speed. “How — how did you…?”

“Know what you were thinking?” He snorted gently. “What else would you be thinking just
now?” The covers rustled as he turned toward her. His arms went around her and pulled her
against him with characteristic gentleness. “It’s all right. I still love you just as much as I ever
did. We’ll work it out in time.”
His patience was extraordinary. She’d sensed it upon meeting him, a special aura of
unhurried contentment that reached out to calm everyone in his company. It was a big part of
why she loved him. The day he proposed to her, after two and a half years of sexless courtship,
had been the happiest day of her life, unmatched even by her wedding day. But it had become a
reminder of her inadequacy too pointed to be endured.
His breathing had quieted into a faint sighing snore, the sleep sound of a healthy young
adult. As she listened to him, she felt her tears spring forth again.
How can he bear it when I can’t?
She could not take his forbearance at face value. He’d had lovers before her; he’d been
candid about it. He had to be suffering from her neglect of his needs.
He was too good a man to be treated this way, by the woman he’d loved enough to remain
chaste for so long. Out of simple justice, to say nothing of her love for him, she would have to
fix it — fix
— or set him free.
Mary was walking home from her bookkeeper’s job, straining not to think about the
evening to come, when she spied the shop.
It was unobtrusively placed on the north side of Altamura Drive, just a few yards from the
turn toward the main thoroughfare. The store window was tastefully dressed in pink and pastel
blue, as if the store sold baby-care goods. It displayed a modest assortment of nightgowns and
camisoles in silk and satin. All were at the edge of demure, neither tacky nor bawdy. But the
placard at the base of the window:
Naughty But Nice
…suggested that there was more to see inside than a few chin-to-ankles nightgowns. She
put her hand to the knob and went in. The interior was pleasantly cool, dimly lit and decorated in
shades of sundown and sand.
The merchandise she found inside was a far cry from what hung in the window. There was
more there than silk and satin nighties, a lot more. There were garter belts and corselettes in
vinyl and black leather. There were peephole bras and open-crotch panties fringed with lace.
There was all manner of hose: patterned, fishnet, shining, glittering, and sheer. There were shoes
in a hundred fanciful styles, all with very high heels. There was apparatus whose like she’d never
seen before, whose relevance to feminine underthings she could not imagine.
A rack against one wall held devices that looked exactly like erect penises, in a dozen
different colors. She shrank away from it at once, groping behind her for support. Her hand
landed on something rubber y and velvet-soft. It was a life-size model of a woman’s vulva.
It was not the sort of establishment a twenty-five year old virgin afflicted by deeply driven
sexual fear would normally enter by choice.
She was about to back out when a beautiful woman stepped through the beaded curtain at
the back of the shop and came toward her at an easy gait. She was tall, buxom of chest and hips,
and had a beautifully tapered waist. Her walk was a sensuous ripple, as if she were luxuriating in
the feel of her skin. Her leather vest and miniskirt fit her like an aerosol coating. Her five-inch

stiletto heeled pumps seemed to cost her no difficulty as she moved. Behind her strolled a large
black cat.
“How are you, dear?” Her voice was an alto coo. “Can I show you anything in your size?”
Mary had been ready to cut and run, but the shopkeeper’s voice and relaxed demeanor
calmed her as if by instant hypnosis. She started to speak, stopped, and threw a quick glance over
her shoulder at the display window.
“Well…ah…I was admiring the peach satin nightie you have in the window, but on
reflection I really don’t think…”
The shopkeeper smiled knowingly. She crossed her arms over her breasts and allowed her
eyes to travel the length of Mary’s slender body. Her gaze took in Mary’s cardigan, her blouse,
and her calf-length wool skirt. She shook her head once.
“No, dear, neither do I. Your charms need a bit more emphasis than that nightgown could
give them.” She held out an elegantly manicured hand. “I’m Helen.”
Mary took it and shook it hesitantly. “I’m Mary Gorrell.”
Helen inclined her head in a micro-curtsey. “Welcome to Naughty But Nice, Mary.” She
did not release Mary’s hand. “We have some selections in stock that would flatter you much
better than the ones in the window. Would you permit me to show them to you?”
Mary’s sense of relaxation deepened. A smile grew on her face as her remaining anxiety
drained from her.
“Why not, if you think you have something that would suit me? Adam won’t be home for a
few hours yet.”
Helen cocked an eyebrow. “Is Adam your husband?”
Helen looked down at the cat. The animal returned her gaze briefly, then jumped onto the
store counter and settled into repose, eyes watchful upon the store’s door.
Helen turned gracefully and shifted her grip on Mary’s fingers, to lead her by the hand
through the beaded curtain. Mar y did not resist.
“Then let’s see if we can find something naughty but nice for him to come home to, shall
Never thereafter could Mary be certain what had opened her up. Mere minutes after passing
through the beads into Helen’s back sanctum, she’d allowed the shopkeeper to undress her clear
to the skin and immerse her in a huge clawfooted tub. She sank into languor as Helen sponged
her with warm, lilac-scented water.
“Is this something you do for all your lady clients?” she murmured.
Helen smiled. “No, dear. Some don’t need it. But you did. You were tight as a bowstring.
That’s no condition to be in when you’re about to try on goods like mine.” She set down her
sponge and leaned over to look into Mar y’s eyes. “What had you in such a state, anyway?”
Without willing it, she let it all come out. Her fumbling adolescent experiments with
petting and the guilt they cost her. Her father’s terrible rage when he caught her and her fifteen
year old swain. The painful, humiliating course of self-scourging he insisted on and monitored.
The fear of men and her body that had plagued her ever afterward. And of course, the tragedy
with Adam, sweet, gentle, infinitely patient Adam whom she loved more than life.
Helen listened without speaking; indeed, without batting an eyelash.

When Mary had run down, Helen sponged Mary’s torso a few more times, then squeezed
out the sponge and tossed it aside. Mary started to rise from the tub, but Helen raised a hand, and
Mary settled back again.
“We’re not quite done, dear.” The shopkeeper went to an unobtrusively placed cabinet and
returned with a can of shaving gel and a razor.
“Did I do that bad a job on my legs this morning?” Mary leaned over and squinted at her
limbs, saw nothing.
Helen smiled. “This isn’t for your legs, dear. Just relax.”
As if it were the most natural thing in the world, Helen spread shaving gel over Mary’s
pubis and rubbed it gently to a thick lather. Mary simply watched, incredulous but unmoving, as
the shopkeeper applied the razor to her mound. Helen worked methodically but carefully to clear
away the curls over Mary’s vulva.
“One of the first things I learned about sexual pleasure — I mean,
learned, through
experience — is that you must take command of your body.” The razor glided smoothly over
Mary’s mons veneris. “You have to assert your will over yourself, as odd as that sounds. You
have to insist that your body will be an instrument of delight.” Helen paused to look into Mary’s
eyes. “That’s what you want it to be, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yes, I suppose so.” A little of the tension was returning.
Helen noticed it and smiled. “Relax, dear. I promise you’ll like the results. Hair in the
genitals is an impediment to sensation. But we don’t have to let it be. See, I’m just about
finished.” Two final strokes of the razor, and Mary’s pubis was as bare as a newborn’s. She bent
over to stare at the change as Helen pulled the plug from the tub drain. The water gurgled out,
carrying Mary’s pubic hair with it.
She couldn’t believe how velvety her mound had become. The forbidding patch of tightly
curled hairs was entirely gone, leaving only smooth, unblemished flesh that begged to be
caressed. It was as if she’d been transported into a stranger’s body.
She reached down to touch herself for the first time in ten years.
Helen stopped her, and she looked up in puzzlement.
“Not quite yet, dear. Bear with me a moment.”
Helen returned to her cabinet, and returned with a tall, thin bottle containing some sort of
“Let me rub a bit of this into you before you go exploring.”
Without preliminary, Helen dispensed some lotion from the bottle onto her fingertips and
began to massage it into Mary’s mound.
The caress of Helen’s fingers was a compound of all the joys of the flesh. The lotion
contained some warming unguent that made a pleasant heat travel from her loins all the way to
her toes and her brain. Helen’s ministration brought her from her state of total relaxation to a
rising pitch of excitement that her father would surely have condemned. When the shopkeeper
parted Mary’s labia to stroke her clitoris, her face and chest were flushed, her breathing was
quick and ragged, and her legs were as widely spread as the tub would permit. No twinge of guilt
or shame rose to block her joy. Her climax was a passage from a gray and unsatisfactory world
into a realm of utter bliss.
“How can I ever thank you?” Mary’s tears flowed freely, but she regretted them not at all.
Helen smiled and squeezed her hand. “By coming alive, dear. By learning to love yourself
as you deserve.”

“Is this how I can do that?”
“In part,” Helen said. “It’s about will. You accepted your father’s will in place of your own,
at a ver y vulnerable age. It’s long past time for it to give way.”
“To Adam’s will?”
Helen shook her head. “To
will. To your desire for pleasure and fulfillment.” She
leaned close to Mar y once again. “That is what you want for yourself, isn’t it?”
Mary nodded mutely. Helen sat back.
“Then it shall be so. The transition will require some help, though.”
“A therapist?”
“You could say that. But I was thinking of myself.”
A thread of Mary’s unease returned. “Are you a lesbian, Helen?”
“No, dear, not exactly. But I’m an
woman. I know the stages one must go
through to defeat a condition like yours, and I can lead you through them. I’m also rather
authoritative, as you may have noticed. I can provide a substitute voice of direction that will ease
you away from your father’s bequest of pain and shame.”
She rose, went to her cabinet again, and returned with an odd-looking device, a short,
slightly curved rubber cylinder mounted on an oval leather strip, from which dangled several
strands of elastic.
“Come out of there and step into this, dear.” She spread one of the elastic loops and
beckoned Mary into it.
A moment later the cylinder was nestled in the opening to Mary’s vagina. Helen stepped
around her, snugged the straps, and Mary gasped. The leather oval settled between her labia,
holding the little device firmly inside her. She felt a trickle of fluid begin inside her, in response
to the unaccustomed intrusion. The sensation made her want to flex and rub her loins against
something unyielding.
“This is called a French nub,” Helen said. “It’s short enough not to press against your
hymen, but it fills you enough to start your lubrication and keep you in a state of pleasant
tension. It was designed to sexualize virgins, to enhance their desire for their husbands. How
does it feel?”
“Wonderful,” Mary murmured. “It makes me want to…to touch myself.”
“That’s the idea, dear. But not quite yet. Let it work on you. Wear it for the rest of the day.”
An undertone of command sang behind the words. “It will make your evening with Adam
Slowly, Mary donned her clothes and readied herself to go. Helen watched and said
nothing. When she zipped up her skirt, the nub sent a quick current of pleasure through her. She
shivered, and Helen smiled.
“What do I owe you for this?”
Helen shook her head. “It’s a gift, dear. Use it well.”
Mary looked at her incredulously. “Are you some kind of angel?”
Helen’s smile turned mysterious. “Perhaps.”
As she waited in their apartment for Adam to arrive, Mary’s excitement built continuously.
She could feel the nub at every moment, whether she was in motion, sitting, or standing still. The
delicious sense of her lubrication running along her inner walls, trickling past the nub and
soaking into her white cotton panties disturbed her not at all. Several times she started for the

bedroom, intending to doff her skirt and press the nub into her smooth flesh in quest of a second
climax, but Helen’s command rang in her head, and she restrained herself.
She was sitting in the kitchen over a cup of rose hip tea when she heard Adam at the door.
She thought of going to meet him, but a tingle in her loins suggested that she stay where she was.
A moment later he appeared in the entrance to the kitchen. He looked slightly abraded by
his day, as he always did. His eyes lit on her face, and his usual smile acquired a touch of
“How was your day, sweetie? You look a little…different.”
She raised her eyebrows and set down her cup. “Different how?”
“Uh, maybe a little flushed. Are you feeling okay?”
She rose from the table and went to him. “Oh, definitely okay. Much better than that, in
He opened his mouth to say something else but never did. She took his head in her hands
and planted her lips squarely on his, while pressing her mound against his crotch as she had
never dared to do in the three years past.
“Dear God,” Adam gasped. “What brought that on?”
She trailed her fingers over his chest. “Didn’t you like it?”
“Of course I did! But what made such a…a difference from last night?”
She thought of telling him about her afternoon, decided against it. “Couldn’t it just have
been the right time?”
He propped himself on an elbow and stared at her in the dimness of their little bedroom.
“Just like that?”
She nodded.
“Did it hurt when I…you know…broke you?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t even notice.”
“This is a miracle,” he breathed. “I was beginning to lose hope.”
“Want to do it again?” She felt naughty for suggesting it, but it was a very nice sort of
naughty. Helen would surely approve.
“Uh, not right now.” Her newborn confidence wilted. “I have a bunch of paperwork I have
to get through before the morning.” He noticed her disappointment and his expression clouded.
“Is that okay? I mean, the night is young.”
She forced herself to grin. “Sure, sweetie.” His look of contentment returned as he levered
himself off the bed and made for his pile of clothes.
But it wasn’t okay, not really. Not at all.
Helen pursed her lips. “I’d hardly call his reaction inadequate, dear.”
Mary grimaced. “I guess. But I’d got so…so…”
“Well, yes. I wanted to love him all evening and night and well into the morning, until
neither of us could do it any more. I mean, I’d gone to…to all that trouble, and –”
“Trouble?” Helen’s gaze became challenging.
“You know, with the nub thing.”
“Would you really call that trouble, dear?”

Mary quailed at the interrogatory tone. “No, I guess not.” Yet she’d been honestly
disappointed. Let down. And she had no words in which to express it. “What about your other
customers, Helen?”
The shopkeeper flipped a hand. “I put up the CLOSED sign when you came by, dear. We
won’t be disturbed.”
“Oh.” Mary felt confusion rise within her.
What does she get out of this, anyway?
Helen sat forward. “You’re wondering how I can afford to do this, aren’t you?”
“Well, yes.”
“I’m quite well off, dear. The shop is more like a hobby than a means of support.”
What a hobby!
“You had an unusually strong reaction to our session yesterday, and to the nub,” Helen
said. “You had a lot pent up and ready to pour forth. Adam hasn’t been quite as constrained as
you were. How long did you say he courted you?”
“Three years.”
“And you’re sure there were no other women in his life during that time?”
“Of –” She halted in mid-affir mation. Helen waited, looking expectant.
How sure am I really?
“I guess I’m not absolutely sure. But since we married, he’s been home at the same time
every night, without fail, so whatever he might have been doing before, he’s faithful now. He’s
got to be!”
“I’m sure he is,” Helen said in a tone that suggested that the matter still allowed for some
doubt. “After all, if he’d wanted to stay footloose, he wouldn’t have married you. Yet he’s not
overflowing with desire, the way you are now, and you’d like to fix that, wouldn’t you?”
Mary nodded vigorously.
“I think I have an idea.” Helen rose and went to her cabinet once more. Mar y stood as well.
This time she brought back a curious looking contraption of leather and steel rings. Surely
it wasn’t meant for her to wear, as the nub was.
“Fair is fair for everyone, isn’t that so, dear?” Helen held the device before her, examining
it with narrowed eyes.
“I…guess so.”
“And you’re wearing your nub today, aren’t you?” Before Mar y knew it, Helen’s fingers
were palpating her groin, probing gently for the little device. The rush of pleasure through
Mary’s loins brought her near to a faint.
“Yes.” Involuntarily she undulated her hips against the pressure from the shopkeeper’s
fingers. When they withdrew, Mary was red-faced and hugely disappointed.
“Then perhaps Adam should wear something too.” Helen handed the device to Mary, who
took it gingerly.
“These metal rings go around his penis.” Helen pointed at them. “The largest goes behind
his balls, and the narrowest near the head. Then you wrap this strap around his balls, and pull this
one up between them to meet the eyelet at the bottom of the largest ring. It will keep him as
excited and ready for you all day as your nub keeps you.”
Mary looked at the apparatus dubiously. “How am I supposed to get it on him?”
“After you’ve made love tonight. He won’t resist, I promise you.”
“And how…” She faltered and started fresh. “How do I get him to
it on?”

Helen held up a small padlock. The haft was just barely small enough to fit through the
eyelets that were to secure the device on Adam’s body. Mary’s mouth made an O of realization.
“You’ll have the only key,” Helen said. “Except for my spare, of course.”
It was three weeks later that Mary Gorrell next visited Naughty But Nice. Helen looked up
from her reading and smiled brightly.
“Mary! What a nice surprise, dear. Come in.”
She swept into the store like a victorious general, squatted before Helen where she sat, and
planted an enthusiastic kiss on the shopkeeper’s lips.
“You are a genius.”
“Why, thank you, dear. So my idea for enhancing Adam’s interest worked out well for you,
“You know it! He’s always hard, never wants to stop until he falls dead asleep. It’s been
“I’m glad. Did he resist?”
“A little. But when I told him that he either wore it full time or got no nookie from me at
all, that was all it took.” Mary smirked. “I make him get right back into it the moment we’re
finished. It’s an incentive to keep going.”
Helen’s face was curiously solemn. “I see you took a very firm line with him.”
Mary nodded. “I just thought of what you would say if I wimped out.”
“If you had, I would have been cross with you. But do please remember, nothing is forever.
Once Adam’s desires rise to equal yours, the regime should change.” Helen smiled. “But what
can I do for you today? Some nice lingerie or a pair of bedroom shoes, perhaps?”
Mary fluttered her fingers. “Maybe later. I was thinking of a bath…and a shave.” Helen’s
eyebrows rose. “That tub of yours is large enough for two, isn’t it?”
There was a moment of profound silence.
“Thinking of broadening your horizons a little more, dear?” Helen said
“Nope. You broadened them for me.” Mary stood and peered at Helen from under lowered
brows. “You knew what you were doing all along, didn’t you? I mean, that we’d get to this point.
With each other.”
Helen was silent for a long moment. The beaded curtain to the rear gallery crackled
slightly; the cat Mary remembered from her previous visits poked its head through the curtain,
surveyed the room, and withdrew.
“I expected it,” Helen said, “if it was to happen, just after our first encounter. I’ve seen
many frightened virgins in my years. Quite a few of them needed to acquaint themselves with
pleasure through the body of another woman. Nothing else could unlock them. But you’re past
that point, Mary. You don’t need anything more from me.”
Mary’s mouth fell open. “You…you don’t want…”
Helen shook her head. Though her refusal was plainly absolute, her eyes were kind.
“No, dear. All I want is for you to learn to be a wife. I’ve given you all the help you need.
Now go and learn the rest.”
“I have a hard time believing you met a lot of girls like that,” Martine said. “L.A. must be
the most sexual place in the history of the world.”

Helen smiled. “It is, dear. But remember how old I am. Most of those years, sex was treated
as something dark and dirty, unworthy of a decent person’s serious attention. Not like the great
gift God intends it to be.”
“I guess some gifts take more appreciating than others.”
“Oh, indeed,” Helen said. “But there are other factors, too. Have you ever heard the phrase
‘barrier to entry?'”
“Like a hymen?”
Helen chuckled. “I knew that was the first thing you’d think of. No, I meant in a business
context. A new firm will always face a set of obstacles: expenses and hurdles it has to deal with
before it takes in its first dollar of revenue. How great those obstacles are depends on the nature
of the business. Some, like your old trade, require very little. Some, like building cars or
airplanes, impose huge costs and burdens of preparation before the real work can begin.
“Mary’s barrier to entry — entry into sexual completion and mutual delight with her
husband — was her father’s legacy of fear of punishment. Robyn Jamieson’s was quite different.”
The Cooperative
“Who recommended you to us, dear?”
“Uh, Nadine Lorimer.” Robyn was unable to quiet her nerves all the way. It showed in tiny
fidgets of her hands and feet. The fingers of her right hand kept twisting at her wedding ring,
despite her efforts to keep them still. She wasn’t sure what had disoriented her more: that Nadine
had sent her to an erotic novelties store for this interview, or that there was such a conventional
businesswoman’s office immediately behind the racks of lingerie and leather.
“Nadine’s been a member for more than two years, almost since our beginning.” The
woman smiled pleasantly, if somewhat distantly. “How did you meet?”
“We belong to the same health club.”
“I see. My name is Helen, by the way.” The two shook hands across the width of the
antique cherry desk.
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Helen. Are there many women in the cooperative? Nadine
didn’t say all that much.”
Helen smiled more warmly.
“More than I would have expected when I started it, dear. It began as something of a lark,
but it appears to have answered a need. I expect that I’ll be splitting the group in half sometime
soon, to make for more intimacy and easier management.” She sat back in her highbacked leather
chair. “What else did Nadine tell you about us?”
Robyn thought a moment.
“She said you were a group of women who helped one another to pursue private goals in
strict confidence, that the organization was non-profit, and that members were expected to
contribute in proportion to their benefits.”
Helen’s smile quirked with mischief.
“And what had the two of you been talking about just before that?”
Robyn made a dismissive flip of her hand. “Oh, just trivial stuff. Nothing important.”
Nadine had guessed Helen’s age at around fifty. However old she was, she was strikingly
lovely: thick, midnight black hair, flawless skin, a full bust and long, lean legs, and the posture of

a reigning queen. Her assets were set off by a style of dress that was erotic, to say the least: a
tight red satin blouse, a glove-leather black miniskirt, black stockings and ankle boots with five-
inch stiletto heels. She was also authoritative beyond the ability of a twenty-eight year-old such
as Robyn to withstand. She looked directly into Robyn’s eyes and bore down slightly on her
“Robyn, ours is an organization with a very specific focus. If I’m to know whether you’r e
right for us, I’ll have to have your cooperation in finding out. This is, after all, a cooperative.”
Robyn colored and giggled nervously.
“Of course, I’m sorry. It’s just that…well, you know how girl talk can be. It always sounds
perfectly ridiculous to anyone who wasn’t there at the time.”
Helen said nothing, but kept looking directly into Robyn’s eyes. The younger woman
swallowed and looked a little away.
“It’s really sort of embarrassing.”
“It’s all right, dear,” Helen said softly. “Take your time.”
“It was about…fantasies.”
“Sexual fantasies?” The older woman’s tone conveyed nothing but polite, friendly interest.
“Uh, yes.”
“Nadine told you about one or two of hers, and you responded with one or two of yours?
That kind of talk?”
“Yes.” Helen didn’t seem put off; Robyn felt her nerves ratchet down another notch. Still,
she couldn’t bring herself to discuss the actual
. “Things we’d like to do someday, if they
were possible.”
“Oh, all things are possible, with planning, preparation, the right helpers and the right
That got Robyn’s attention. “What do you mean?”
Helen’s smile turned mysterious. “Think again about what Nadine told you, dear. We help
one another pursue private goals, in strictest confidence.”
“You mean…?”
The older woman inclined her head. “Exactly.”
“But, aren’t you all women?”
“Yes, dear. It could never work, otherwise.”
“Isn’t that a limitation?”
Helen chuckled. “Much less of one than you might imagine.”
Robyn’s head was beginning to whirl.
“I…I can’t tell my husband about this, can I?”
Helen pursed her lips. “No. In fact, you’d be well advised to keep our existence entirely to
yourself, whether you decide to join, or not.”
The older woman rose from her chair and began to stroll randomly about her office. Robyn
watched her, thinking furiously.
“I can see that you’re going to need to think about this a bit before you decide. That’s all
right. Take as long as you want. But you’re here because of that conversation with Nadine, who
must have thought there was something you needed that we could help you to achieve. Nadine is
a very smart girl. How long have you been married, dear?”
The question took Robyn by surprise. “Four years.”
“Any dissatisfactions?” Helen had stopped ambling about and was once again looking her
full in the eyes.

“Well, a few.”
A thousand. We must have made love a thousand times, and I’ve never yet gotten the
charge I’ve been waiting for. But it
be Larry’s fault!
“We all have them, you know. Sometimes they’re not even things we could explain to
another woman. Or would be willing to try even if we could. You might say it’s the basis of my
You’ve got that right, girlfriend.
Helen stood casually by the side of her desk, apparently deep in thought. A large black cat
ambled through the office door, stropped the shopowner’s ankles, and withdrew as silently as it
had come.
“You don’t have to make an immediate decision, dear. Go home and think about it a while.
It’s a commitment of some substance; we don’t admit members who won’t pull their weight,
which means that you’ll have to take part in helping others to find their satisfactions, not just lap
up what we have to offer you. Some girls can’t bring themselves to do that. They feel degraded
by it. Give it some thought. Call me only after you’ve decided you would be willing to take the
It was a challenge and a dismissal in one. Robyn rose shakily from the guest chair; Helen
rose and showed her out.
Larry made love to her that night. It was as it always was with him: tender, sweet, and so
agonizingly frustrating that she thought she might die of it. It made her want to rend his flesh
with her nails and shriek until her lungs burst. Instead, she performed her usual pretenses, until
he groaned, spasmed, and collapsed against her.
She had never said a word to him about it. They had been lovers long before they were
married, and from the first encounter she had strained to convince him that he was her heart’s
desire, in this way as in all others. She thanked God for the dramatic training that, even though it
had never earned her a nickel and probably never would, had made her lover’s deception
Holding him in the dark, his own energies long since spent, she knew she could never leave
him. He was too good a man, and much too good to her. She really did love him, despite her
unfilled needs, and she would never hurt him. But she knew unimpeachably that she would never
find physical fulfillment in her orthodontist husband’s embrace. The knowledge, once admitted
to her consciousness, shook her to the core.
The next morning, she waited a bare thirty seconds after he left for his office before calling
The group met in Nadine’s Beverly Hills home. There were more than thirty members in
attendance. The youngest looked barely of marriageable age; the oldest reminded Robyn of her
Nadine had prepared a smorgasbord of light snacks and delectables, and had filled her large
living room with chairs and snack tables. Even so, several women had nowhere to sit. Robyn
took a place on the floor, legs folded under her, her dish of treats balanced on her lap.
At the appointed time, Helen took charge with natural authority, and introduced Robyn to
the group as the cooperative’s newest member. The other women looked her up and down as if

assessing a side of beef at the market. It was almost enough to make her retract her decision and
flee for home. Almost.
“We have a custom of having each new member be the next guest of honor, Robyn. To do
that properly, of course, you have to tell us what it is you’re hoping to tr y. Would you do that for
us, please?”
The eyes of every woman in the room were upon her.
I knew this would come eventually. It’s time to put up or shut up.
Her eyes darted to Nadine, who sat immediately across the large room from her, hunched a
little forward, ankles crossed, hands folded on her knees. Nadine gave her a minute nod of
If she’s done it, I should be able to.
She set her plate aside and rose to her feet. “Well, it’s…my husband is really conventional,
and –”
One of the other women spoke up. “We don’t talk about husbands here.”
“Gently, Sue, gently.” Helen smiled at Robyn. “Go on, dear.”
Robyn looked down at the floor. “I’ve never…gotten there.”
A gasp traveled around the room.
Robyn looked up again, but with all of them staring at her, she couldn’t guess who had
spoken last.
“Never. Not even by hand.”
Silence stretched forward as the others digested it.
“What do you think you need?” Helen’s voice was soft.
Robyn swallowed. “To feel full.”
Sue nodded knowingly. “A lot of us have that problem.”
Robyn’s embarrassment gave way to anger.
“It’s not like that. Larry’s a man’s man, and his equipment is as big as any woman could
want. It’s But it’s not enough. I need to feel full everywhere, all at once. I need to release with my
whole body. The closest I’ve ever gotten was when I was sixteen, and that was from a really big
enema. I’ve been trying to work up an orgasm from my clit for more than twelve years, and I
Robyn hadn’t imagined that it would be that hard to admit. She buried her face in her hands
and sobbed.
Helen motioned to the others to keep silent. She went to the dejected young woman and
laid a hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll try to help, dear. Nadine? Will your husband still be out of town on Saturday?”
As instructed, Robyn showed up at Nadine’s door the following Saturday at five o’clock,
her overnight bag in tow. She raised a hand to the doorbell, pulled it back as her trepidation
surged, and all but jumped out of her shoes when the door opened spontaneously. Nadine stood
there grinning, garbed in a silk caftan and nothing else.
“Come on in, girlfriend.” Nadine gestured toward the helix of stairs that led to her large
sublevel. “We’re all ready for you.” Robyn followed, restraining her anxiety as best she could.
As they mounted the stairs, Nadine said, “What did you tell Larry?”
Robyn flinched. “Just that you asked me to spend the night with you. I, I kinda gave him
the impression that it was a sort of slumber party.”

“Well, it is, sort of.” Nadine’s eyes twinkled. “But don’t plan on getting to sleep too early.”
The rest of the group, garbed as Nadine was, awaited them at the foot of the stairs, with
Helen at their head. Robyn halted, uncertain. Helen smiled and spread her arms in welcome.
Without thinking, Robyn mirrored the gesture and stepped forward. They embraced.
Helen’s body fitted beautifully into her arms, warm and accommodating against her. Robyn
fancied she could feel the older woman’s vitality pulsing through her flesh. A warmly erotic
cloud wrapped itself around her thoughts, and her hands slid of their own to caress Helen’s
“Did you shave your mound, dear?” Helen’s whisper was every bit as warm as her usual
Robyn nodded, unready to speak.
“Good. I think you’ll enjoy this.” Helen released her and stepped back. Behind her, the
group parted to reveal a curious contraption.
It looked like a large wooden cot frame, but without a mattress. It was crisscrossed by
nylon webbing, like an outdoor chaise longue. The webbing strips were fairly widely spaced. It
stood a bit higher than a conventional cot, as well. Bands of terrycloth dangled from the wood of
the frame at its corners. Beneath the cot, most incongruous, was a platform on four ball-jointed
wheels. It looked like a mechanic’s dolly, though much more thickly padded than the sort found
on a garage floor.
Beyond the cot was a fold-out table laden with numerous items: a large cast-aluminum
vessel sitting on a hot plate, two large enema bags, an array of penis-shaped vibrators, several
plastic tubs, and a couple of devices Robyn couldn’t identif y.
Is all that for me?
The thought sent a shiver through her.
Well, I did tell them I was a tough case.
Helen draped an arm over her shoulders and urged her gently forward to stand beside the
“Take off your clothes, dear.”
Robyn hesitated, her uncertainty growing. Helen put her hands to Robyn’s shoulders and
turned the younger woman to look her full in the eyes.
“We won’t hurt you, Robyn. We’ve never harmed anyone. I’ve spent most of the past week
designing this exercise. If it causes you the least bit of discomfort, I promise I’ll halt it at once.
Just undress and lie face down on the webbing.”
“Will you…will you tell me what to expect?”
Helen smiled naughtily. “I will if you insist on knowing, but I think you’ll enjoy it more if
you just allow us to proceed. Are you willing?”
Robyn swiftly scanned the group. The faces of the others were serenely reassuring. Her
eyes caught Nadine’s. Her friend smiled and nodded.
She did as she’d been told.
She settled her nude body gingerly against the webbing. The nylon strips shifted to leave
her face unobstructed, and to allow her breasts, belly, and feet to poke through. The position was
unexpectedly comfortable; the support was more than adequate. She gave a sigh, closed her eyes,
and allowed herself to relax.
Gentle hands pulled her arms and legs into a spread-eagle position. The terrycloth bands
encircled her wrists and ankles, binding her comfortably into position. A black satin mask was
slid down over her eyes. She accepted it all without resistance.

A rounded object brushed against her lips. She parted them and felt a penis-shaped plug of
smooth vinyl slide into her mouth. It was sized just right to fill her mouth completely without
triggering her gag reflex. She did her best to relax her jaws and not fight the intrusion.
A timeless spell passed as she adjusted to her bound, exposed state. Except for Nadine and
Helen, the women gathered around her were strangers to her. Yet Nadine had vouched for them,
and Nadine’s judgment was first rate. Nor could Robyn bring herself to distrust Helen.
A pair of soft, warm hands began to stroke her breasts, hanging deliciously free between
the web straps. Another pair of hands set to work on her legs, and a third on her buttocks. They
felt powdered, gliding over her skin without effort, awakening all her surface nerves as if she
were being laved with satin.
Robyn ceased to experience duration. Her consciousness seemed suspended in an
a suspension in gentle pleasure and contentment she wished would never end.
When one set of lubricated fingers spread her labia while a second set teased her anus open,
she quivered and gasped against the plug in her mouth. The hand on her mons stroked her clitoris
gently, awakening it with infinite delicacy. Her anus pulsed in time to the probings at her bottom.
When the fingers were replaced by thick, warmed and lubricated nozzles, her orifices
accepted them without discomfort. A moment later she felt a sluggish stream of some warm,
heavy fluid, thicker and more viscous than water, being pumped into her, front and back. It
accumulated slowly in her cavities, distending her belly by degrees. Hands below her firmly
supported her growing mass.
A few minutes later, she heard two clicks, and the flows ceased. The nozzles were left in
place. She was as full as she’d ever been. Her body was stretched to the limit of its capacity. The
feeling was beyond any delight she’d ever known.
The caressing hands returned to her breasts, thighs, and buttocks. A pair of wet, warm lips
captured her clitoris and nursed on it gently.
Robyn awoke in Nadine’s guest room. Someone had clothed her in the sweat suit she’d
brought and had laid a light blanket over her. She lay there unmoving in the dusklight for several
minutes, allowing her metabolism to rise gradually. Her sense of well-being was beyond
anything she’d ever known.
She pulled off the blanket and swung her legs out of bed. When her feet touched the floor a
quick, transient current of pleasure, an erotic aftershock, traveled the length of her body. It
almost forced her to lie down again. Presently she stood and padded across the house to find her
Nadine and Helen sat at Nadine’s kitchen table, exchanging small talk. When Robyn
entered, they turned to her in unison.
“How…how long was I asleep?”
Helen’s eyes flicked to Nadine. Nadine rose, said, “I’ll be in the rec room,” and glided
away. Robyn closed on Helen, took the chair Nadine had vacated, and looked silently into the
older woman’s eyes.
“It’s Monday evening, dear.”
Robyn gasped. “But –”
“Nadine called your husband and told him you’d eaten something that disagreed with you.
She suggested that you stay here a day or two longer, and he concurred at once.” Helen smiled.
“Larry might have more of a taste for solitude than you realized.”
Robyn gaped. Helen reached across the table and took Robyn’s hands between her own.

“You had a giant charge of undispersed tension stored up, dear. It took the group quite a lot
of effort to tease it out of you. When you climaxed, you convulsed so powerfully that you
shattered that restraint frame we built for you. For a while we were afraid you might have hurt
yourself. B ut it seems now that all is well.”
“I…I came?”
Helen chuckled. “Oh my, yes. Did you ever! You shot two fat retention nozzles clear across
the room and sprayed gel all over the walls. Don’t you remember any of it?”
Robyn shook her head.
“Well, perhaps an experience like that wasn’t meant to be remembered consciously. But
your body will remember it. Your body knows how to reach orgasm now, and it will not forget.”
“Are you saying that…that Larry will be able to do that to me?”
“Well, perhaps not
He’s not thirty women and a small fortune in apparatus, after all.
But I think you’ll find yourself responding to him, from now on.”
Helen looked down at the table as she chafed Robyn’s hands between her own.
“Orgasm is treated like some sort of myster y, for no good reason. It’s about tension and
release. To become sufficiently tense, you must first be able to relax. To release satisfactorily,
you must reach an adequate degree of tension. Apparently, either you weren’t able to relax
properly for Larry, or he wasn’t able to bring you to the necessary pitch of excitement to teach
your body the orgasmic pattern of buildup and release. It will be easier for you now, though I
don’t doubt that a few more sessions like this one will assist you in cementing the patterns in
“Helen,” Robyn whispered, “how can you do this?”
The older woman’s eyes rose and locked with Robyn’s. Suddenly Helen seemed much more
than just a knowledgeable older woman who’d grown wise in the ways of love and sex from
experience and exposure to the troubles of others. Her eyes glinted with a vast, Homeric mirth, a
variety of detached amusement at the foibles and irrationalities of Man that a millennium’s
observation of the human carnival would scarcely be enough to explain.
“Don’t ask, dear. I do it because it must be done. There’s a great deal of misery in the world,
even here in the most blessed land of all. A dollop of physical pleasure here and there, a little
instruction in the ways of the body, a helping hand toward the fulfillment of this marriage or that
affair, can sometimes avert the most terrible alternatives you could imagine.” She patted Robyn’s
hands. “Someone must do it. For now, it falls to me.”
Robyn bowed her head.
“Thank you.”
Helen put a hand to her chin and raised it until their eyes met again.
“You’re welcome. Now remember your obligation. Other women have needs quite as
urgent as yours, and you’ve agreed to help with them. The cooperative meets every Saturday at
five.” Helen rose. “Make sure to keep your calendar clear.”
“You never introduced me to your cooperative,” Martine murmured.
“There was no need, dear. Besides,” Helen said, “the group dwindled away shortly after
you and I first met, and well before I initiated you into the mysteries.
“It was a special arrangement,” Helen continued, “specifically to deal with the problems of
women whose expectations were too far beyond the reality of their marriages. That’s one of the

problems Americans have with sex. The media have too many of them convinced
that sexual bliss should be anyone’s for the asking. Somewhat as if one could buy a ticket to
Heaven out of pocket change, instead of having to live a decent, moral life, always paying proper
attention to one’s obligations and the care of one’s neighbors.
“But you know, dear,” she said, “some people simply
sexual pleasure, even after
attaining it and enjoying it for years on end. They thrust it away as if it were a burden or a pain,
rather than a means of delight. It usually has to do with a misperception, a sense of having
“I don’t see,” Martine said, “why not getting what you want in some other way should
affect your sex life.”
Helen smiled. “Let me tell you of the Cullinanes, and see if that makes it clearer.”
The Gift Room
Marilyn Cullinane set the box at the exact center of the sheet of wrapping paper and peered
around all four sides for unevenness as carefully as if it mattered. With a sharp nod, she pulled
the red and gold foil tightly around the box, made neat triangular flaps at the opposed sides, and
checked once again for a discrepancy. When she was satisfied that no device at the disposal of
mortal Man could detect a difference in the length of the flaps, she tore two small strips of
cellophane tape from the dispenser at her side, smoothed them over the edges of the flaps, and
thrust the box at Gordon.
“To the gift room,” she said.
Gordon rose and toted the box down the bedroom hallway to their guest room. The
immaculately kept room hadn’t known an actual guest for nine years, but each year it provided
seasonal shelter to dozens of Christmas gifts.
It was December twenty-fourth, and the queen-sized bed was piled high with boxes, each
wrapped in gaily colored seasonal paper and tagged with its recipient’s name. He looked down at
the package in his hands, noticed that it lacked a tag, and turned to bring it back to Marilyn, only
to find her standing behind him with the tag between her fingers.
She grinned briefly, jabbed the tag onto the top of the box, and made to return to the pile of
boxes on the living room floor when Gordon said, “Sweetie?”
Her head jerked around. “Hm?”
“What did we get for, uh, Jason?”
Another quick grin. “An electric shaver. Don’t you remember? You bought it.” She swept
away, leaving him alone at the door to the guest room.
He glanced within one more time. The ziggurat of glittering presents for their relatives and
friends was as neat and precise as his wife’s wrapping technique. The bed beneath was tightly
made, almost military in its lines and the tension of its coverings. Though they hadn’t entertained
a visitor in almost a decade, Marilyn changed the sheets every week nonetheless.
It had been their nuptial bed, given to them by her father as a wedding gift twenty years
before. It had become their guest bed when, on their tenth anniversary, he’d surprised her with
the gift of a cherry bedroom set. After ten years’ trying, they’d failed to beget a child. She’d
concluded that they never would, and had lost interest in sex. He, as fond and foolish as always,

had treated it as a phase that would pass. He’d thought the bedroom set would remind her that
their devotion to one another was what mattered most.
Her reaction had taken him aback. She was all but silent as they jockeyed the new dressers
and vanity around the room, seeking an optimum arrangement. She did as he directed, but made
no suggestions of her own. It had made him fear that he’d somehow offended her with the gift,
perhaps by not consulting her.
The one act to which she’d brought some animation was the exile of their old bed to the
guest room. They had not made love since.
To the skilled walker, a great city can be a great delight, but one must take care. Most
persons on the streets of such a city will not be skilled. Attention to their deficiencies is required.
In addition, the city’s own attractions can create hazards, both fleeting and persistent, to a too
rapid or heedless stride.
Gordon had resolved to walk the streets of Los Angeles until his head had cleared and his
marital dissatisfactions had retreated. He did it often; he fancied that knew the byways of the city
as well as any man alive. But that day a moment’s inattention had caused him to take a turn he
hadn’t planned. After twenty minutes of strolling while scanning the area for familiar signs, he
realized that he’d entered a part of the city’s downtown that was altogether new to him.
The shops bore unfamiliar names. Many seemed to be in languages other than English. The
merchandise in their windows ranged from the exotic to the wholly incomprehensible. The
buildings themselves were uneven in construction: some tall, others short; some broad, others
slender; some aggressively eye-catching, others almost secretive of decor. They varied in a
multitude of directions from the blend of chrome-and-glass modernity and Southwestern
regionalia that characterized the city overall.
There were few people on the streets. Those Gordon saw resisted eye contact as if they
feared that he might demand an explanation for their presence.
The strangeness of the district disturbed his rhythm. It caused him to shift his attention
away from his pace and footing. Inevitably, moving too fast for the surroundings while gawking
at the mysteries around him, he tripped and fell.
He collected himself painfully, brushed the dust from the arms of his windbreaker, and
looked about for the cause of his tumble. A pace away, a large black cat, the sleekest specimen
of felinity he’d ever seen, sat staring at him as if amused at his clumsiness.
Must’ve tripped over her. Haven’t done that in a dog’s age.
Despite his pratfall, the internal play on words caused him to smile. He nodded courteously
to the cat, who stared at him a moment longer, then turned and slinked away with a cat’s typical
sinuousness into the open door of a shop he hadn’t yet consciously registered.
It appeared to be a lingerie shop. An assortment of corsets, waist cinchers, camisoles,
merrywidows, and teddies stood in the display. The name embossed at the base of the window in
baroque red curlicues was
Naughty But Nice.
A tall, raven-haired woman of statuesque build and aristocratic carriage emerged and
peered down at him. He felt his pulse quicken.
If a sixteen year old boy were challenged to draw the perfect female body, he might have
produced the long-legged vision that contemplated Gordon as he sat upon the sidewalk. If
Gordon were then asked to clothe that body, and to top it with a face to challenge the fantasies of
a mature man, he could not have improved upon the form-fitting silk bustier, the leather

miniskirt, the stiletto-heeled pumps, and the perfectly composed, slightly intrigued face that
stood above him.
He could not place her age.
“Are you hurt, dear?” Her voice was an alto melody. Each word throbbed with passionate
“Uh, no, I’m fine, really.” He levered himself up from the sidewalk and tried to assume a
dignified stance. “But thank you for asking.” Without thinking, he held out his hand, as if he’d
just been introduced to a business associate or the wife of a friend.
She took his hand in a curious grip, almost as if she were about to raise it to her lips and
kiss it. “Not at all.” He expected her to let go; she did not. “Were you doing some late Christmas
“No, not really.” The soft warmth of her grip was as disturbing as the rest of her. “Just
strolling a bit. I wasn’t paying proper attention, and I tripped over your cat.”
She smiled. “Yes, Astarte can be a hazard, no doubt of it.” Her eyes locked with his. They
were as magnetic as the rest of her: large, jet black, and preternaturally steady upon his own. He
found that he couldn’t look away. “Even if you’re not looking for something special for your
special someone, might I interest you in a cup of tea? I’ve had no guests for some hours, and a
spot of company would be very welcome.”
Never afterward could he remember giving assent. But he followed that dangerously
beautiful woman into the shop, his hand held lightly but inescapably in hers, and allowed her to
lead him into a place of wonder.
“So she shows no desire at all, then?”
Gordon grimaced and looked away. “I can’t see any. But in all honesty, it’s been so long
that I’m not sure I remember what it looks like.”
Helen nodded. “She might not remember what it feels like. The suppression of desire can
bury it so deep that the feel for one’s sensual, sexual side is completely lost.”
“Have you had that problem?”
Helen chuckled. “Never, dear. But I’ve made a career out of other people’s troubles with it.”
She nodded sideways toward the aisles of erotically oriented goods on display.
Gordon blushed despite his attempts to repress it. A Catholic upbringing and a sustained
unwillingness to think dispassionately about sex had left him unready for so intimate
conversation with a perfect stranger. He could hardly believe it was happening.
Helen smiled at his discomfort. “Really, Gordon, did you think your neighbors are that
much more like the gods and goddesses on television than you and Marilyn? Did you assume
that their nights were all red revels in the pleasures of the flesh? I assure you, they’re far closer to
your station than our popular culture would have you believe. Otherwise, I’d never sell a thing.”
She rose from the little table at which they sat, ambled into the aisle nearest them, and
picked out a device from the array of goods. She returned to the table and held it out for
Gordon’s perusal. It was a rubber contrivance mounted on a set of elastic straps.
“Have you ever seen one of these?”
Gordon shook his head.
“It’s called a French nub. It’s made for a woman to wear. The conical bit goes into her
vagina, and the straps go around her waist and legs. It draws out her lubrication and compels her
to think about her sexual parts, but it doesn’t provide quite enough stimulation to bring her to a
climax. The idea is to evoke desire without satisfaction, so that when her man arrives, she’ll be

eager for him.” Helen smiled. “It was devised to ready a virgin bride for the consummation of her
marriage. I doubt Marilyn has ever heard of it, much less worn one. But what if she did?”
Gordon fell back against his chair and howled a laugh replete with pain. “Do you have any
idea how she would react to the suggestion? I couldn’t get her into that thing if I had the whole
United States Army behind me!”
Helen didn’t react in any way he could have predicted. She nodded once slightly, returned
the nub to its shelf, and reseated herself across from him, fingers steepled before her. Her eyes
slid slowly closed. Gordon had the sense that she’d entered a new state of consciousness, one at
which he could not guess.
Is she a sex shop entrepreneur, or something else? Something subtler?
“So Marilyn’s problem,” she murmured, “isn’t necessarily that she feels no desire for you.
Perhaps she does and perhaps she doesn’t. But it’s very likely that she doesn’t
to feel desire,
for you or anyone.” Her eyes opened, a black tapestry of myster ies behind them. “Could it be that
your mutual infertility made her feel a failure?”
Gordon swallowed. Helen had arrowed straight to his darkest fear. He
wanted children,
quite as much as Marilyn had. In the first years of their marriage, he’d talked about it nonstop.
“Gordon,” she said, voice ringing with new command, “How’s your own desire? Are you
sure you
Marilyn’s desire to return?”
Though he was securely seated, Gordon was seized by vertigo, as if he’d been snatched out
of the shop and set upon a precipice where strong and swirling winds blew all about him. Any
movement could be fatal, but in so fickle a gale, standing still was no safer. Helen’s eyes, darkly
brilliant, told him in a tongue without words that a cusp had arrived from which he could not
“Who are you?” he whispered.
Helen smiled microscopically. “Don’t you mean ‘what are you?'”
He gaped, shorn of words.
“Consider me a specialist of an unusual kind, Gordon. So unusual that there’s no other
anywhere in the world. My purview is desire and the loss of desire. So, lucky you, you’ve
brought your troubles to exactly the person best equipped to help you with them. Now answer
my question.”
“I…don’t know,” he forced out at last. “I love her. She’s a good woman…a good wife. I
wouldn’t want to lose her…” He ran down in confusion and fear.
“Except,” Helen supplied, “that you feel as if you’ve lost her already. Don’t you?”
He nodded.
“So she must overcome her sense of failure, and you must overcome your sense of
disappointment and loss.” Helen sat back and smiled. The intensity seemed to have faded from
her. “A pretty problem. But soluble —
you’re still man enough to commit yourself fully to the
Gordon frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
“How does one dispel a sense of failure, Gordon?”
The question puzzled him. It seemed to have no handles. He strained to ignore its
metaphysical implications and take it literally.
“By succeeding at something, I suppose.”
Helen nodded. “And if the sufferer is not oneself, but one’s wife?”
It stopped him. “I don’t know. Can anyone do that for someone else?”

“It depends. In this case, the answer is yes.” She leaned forward and peered directly into his
eyes. “And how does one dispel a sense of loss?”
Gordon started to answer, clamped his mouth shut.
Helen rose and went through the beaded curtain to the back of her shop. Some minutes
later, she returned with a large box covered in a satiny red paper and handed it to him.
“Tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock
you’re to go to your bedroom, open this box
and make proper use of the contents. Then wait about ten minutes more, and go to your ‘gift
room.’ That’s all.”
“Why? What’s in the box?”
She shook her head. “You have no need to know that as yet. Just do as I’ve said, exactly
and without reservation.
“Some men defeat themselves before the contest begins, Gordon. And some women
adjudge themselves failures without ever grappling with what failure really means. A man of
character must resist the temptation to lower his banner out of presentiment of doom. When his
beloved needs his gifts, he must not withhold them for fear of rebuff.” She looked down at him,
once again a figure of power, secrets, and unknowable intent. He started to speak, but she waved
him back to silence. “Go home, Gordon. Prepare yourself.”
He went.
Marilyn had finished with her cleaning and was desultorily tidying up the house, which
didn’t really need it. It was an excuse to move about, and to survey the one achievement of her
adult years in which she took some pride.
When the master bedroom was as tight as a drumhead, everything in its exactly proper
place, she proceeded to the guest room. Though the door was kept closed, opened only to add a
freshly wrapped gift to the pile, she would give it the same micrometric going-over that every
other room received.
Within, all seemed to be as it ought…except for the large purple box set all but invisibly
behind the television stand, and which she was certain she had never seen.
Slowly, in suspicion of a trap laid for an excessively curious spouse, she pulled the stand
away to reveal the full dimensions of the package. It was cubical, about eighteen inches on a
side. Its satiny royal purple wrappings bore no design. They were as tight and careful as any
she’d ever made. There was no tag anywhere upon it to indicate either its provenance or its
intended recipient.
She stooped and hefted it. It seemed to weigh about ten pounds. She shook it gently, and a
low rustle came from its innards.
Did Gordon put this here?
Gordon could wrap a decent package, but this one was beyond his standard. More, he’d
never have chosen wrapping paper so richly colored, or so voluptuous to the hand.
If I’m not sure it’s for me…but how will I know who should open it, without opening it?
The edges of the wrappings were free of tape. The paper had to be self-adhesive on its
underside. She probed one flap with a fingernail. It came free to her touch. She peeled the flap
back gingerly, looking for any clue to the package’s source or destination.
She found it almost at once:
Naughty But Nice
4095 Altamura Drive
Los Angeles, CA

She started, and the package slipped from her hands to thump against the floor. She
squatted there in confusion, afraid to touch it again.
It has to be an exotic lingerie shop. Gordon went to an exotica shop for a gift for me. He
couldn’t have meant it for anyone else.
Couldn’t he? He certainly wasn’t obvious about it, and he did his best to hide it. And…I
haven’t touched him in years.
If there were another woman in Gordon’s life, he hadn’t given any sign.
The need to see what was in the package swelled in her. Her hands moved of their own
accord toward that dangerously sensual purple package. As her fingertips brushed the surface,
she jerked them back by main force.
I mustn’t. Not until I know it’s for me…or not.
She rose, strode to the telephone nook, and looked for the shop in the directory. There were
no listings, either in the white or the yellow pages.
How could a commercial establishment not have a telephone listing?
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and flipped pages to the listing for the local taxi
service. The address of the shop was burned into her memory.
Naughty But Nice was indeed an exotic lingerie shop. The displays near the front presented
all the usual flirtatious undergarments, and a few she’d never seen before. As Marilyn walked
further in, the lingerie gave way to marital aids of obvious function, and then to stranger items
whose purposes she could not divine.
The statuesque, glamorously clothed woman at the front counter raised an eyebrow as
Marilyn entered. She pushed her book to one side and lined her fingertips along the counter.
“Welcome, dear,” she said in a soft coo that throbbed with sensuality. “What may I do for
The woman’s presence threw Marilyn momentarily off balance. She hadn’t planned out her
approach; she’d merely hoped that a polite inquiry would draw forth the information she wanted.
But the right questions were as elusive as morning mist.
Seconds passed. The woman at the counter smiled steadily and enigmatically, apparently
content to wait as long as Marilyn needed.
Finally, Marilyn dipped into her purse for her wallet, pulled out the photo of Gordon she
carried, and laid it on the counter. The woman glanced down at it briefly. Her expression did not
“Have you seen this man recently?” Marilyn said.
The woman cocked an eyebrow. “Are you sure he would want me to tell you, dear?”
That’s as good as a yes.
The woman put out her hand, a friendly twinkle in her eye. “I’m not
trying to fence
with you. Yes, he was here earlier today. I’m Helen, by the way.”
Marilyn took the hand and shook it gently. She was somewhat surprised when Helen failed
to release her. She looked up, and her gaze caught on Helen’s eyes, the deepest, darkest orbs
she’d ever spied in a human face.
“I can see,” Helen murmured, “why he’s so devoted to you. You have the face of an elven
princess and a beautifully delicate figure.” Her thumb passed caressingly over the backs of
Marilyn’s fingers. The contact was hypnotically soothing. Marilyn could hardly remember where
she was, and not at all why she’d come.

Without letting go of Marilyn’s hand, Helen rounded the counter and pulled her toward a
small table and two chairs placed inconspicuously in the corner.
“I know he still loves me,” Marilyn said, “and of course I still love him. It’s just that –”
“‘Of course?
Of course?
‘” Helen’s smile vanished and her face darkened. “You deny him all
enjoyment of your body, you make him feel a churl even for thinking about it, you reave him of
one of the essential achievements of manhood, but that’s all right because
you still love him?

Marilyn gaped. “What achievement do you mean?”
“Do you have any idea,” Helen said, “how radically different a man’s experience of sex is
from a woman’s, dear?”
Helen sat back and folded her arms over her breasts. She looked at Marilyn as a teacher
might an underachieving pupil, one who had more than adequate ability but refused to apply
“We hold the veto power. We compel them to woo us, seduce us, cater to us. When we oh-
so-generously let them near, they do almost all of the work, yet their orgasms involve only a tiny
portion of their bodies and last a mere second or two. Ours are incomparably fuller and longer —
and at so much smaller a cost that it doesn’t bear comparison.” She shook her head. “We get so
much more out of it than they do, it’s a wonder they bother with us at all. So why
they bother
with us, Marilyn?”
Helen’s silent glare accused her of having missed something critical, something she ought
to have known without needing to be told.
“I don’t know. I…never thought about it.”
The reproof in Helen’s eyes remained strong, but something else entered to temper it,
something wryly amused.
“You ought to have thought about it. But you’re not the only one. Harridans all across this
land have been telling women like you that you’re
that men’s desire for you is barely a
hair’s breadth from chattel slavery, that ‘a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.’
And you’re too afraid to contradict them, or too proud to ask your mothers whether it might just
possibly be some other way. So they go on to catechize the men, telling them what oppressors
they are, and how awful the burdens of womanhood are, and how unfair it is that they should get
to exhaust their bodies and erode their spirits with wage labor while women sit in the safety and
comfort of their homes, being most oppressively
provided for.
” Helen shook her head. “If a
hundredth of that were true, the race would have died out thousands of years ago. It’s we who
Marilyn. Without them, we would still be cowering in caves. They have made us a
world where we can be whatever we please.”
“What…” Marilyn swallowed. “What should I do?”
The beaded curtain to the rear area crackled softly as a large black cat poked through. It
jumped onto the little table, went to Marilyn, and bumped the underside of her jaw with its head.
Marilyn stroked it tentatively, and felt a sensuous charge travel through her. Helen watched them
with an air of amusement.
“If I tell you,” the shopkeeper murmured, “will you promise me that you’ll do it? All of it,
omitting not the slightest detail?”
Marilyn stiffened. She’d never been happy about following instructions. But she knew in a
preconscious, pre-rational way that the survival of her marriage, and possibly of her mind, hung
in the balance. She rummaged through her purse for a notepad and a pen.

“Tell me.”
Helen smiled. “You won’t need those, dear. It’s quite simple. Tomorrow morning at eleven
o’clock exactly, go to your ‘gift room,’ open the purple box, and don everything you find inside it.
When you’ve done that, just wait. That’s all.”
Marilyn put down her pen and looked levelly at Helen. “So the box is for me after all?
What’s in it? Did you help him pick it out?”
Helen shook her head. “Not at all, dear. Yes, the box is for you, but he doesn’t know the
first thing about it, or about any of this.
assembled that package and put it there. Gordon’s gift
to you will be of another variety. Now go home.”
As they sat over their coffee and muffins, Gordon tried to keep an unobtrusive eye on the
clock. It wasn’t easy. He didn’t want Marilyn to notice. He had to pretend that the newspaper,
which, as usual on Christmas Day, was little more than filler, had his complete attention. That
required him to glance back and forth among the paper, his wife, and the digital display on the
microwave oven, thankfully just behind her.
He couldn’t quite understand why she would be doing the very same thing, but there was no
doubt of it. He’d caught her eyes moving toward the clock on their coffeemaker, just a few
degrees to starboard of
head, several times.
She looks as if she has something to tell me. Something she’d rather not say.
Could she be thinking of leaving me? I couldn’t bear it. But what if her coolness toward me
is because her warmth has been going to another man?
The arrival of the awaited instant left him briefly paralyzed. He knew what he was
supposed to do. He’d guessed at the contents of the shiny red box, but his conjectures had been
unconvincing. How could the contents of a cardboard box empower him to take away his wife’s
sense of failure?
You won’t find out by sitting here. Get on with it.
He rose, and Marilyn’s gaze jerked up from her paper, to the coffeemaker, and then to his
face, all in the space of a single second.
“Excuse me.” He laid his paper on the table, went to their bedroom, and closed the door
carefully behind him. After a moment to let his heart slow, he pulled the red box out from under
their bed.
The wrappings came off easily. He pushed them aside, put hesitant fingers to the lid, and
pulled it away.
The box contained a tuxedo.
He lifted out the jacket and inspected it. It was a fine piece of clothing, beautifully woven
from natural silk, all the stitching and details just so. He held it briefly against his torso, and
noted that the tailoring was an exact match to his figure. Clearly it had been meant, and perhaps
made, explicitly for him.
He laid the jacket on the bed and looked through the other contents of the box. It yielded a
white dress shirt, a clip-on bow tie, and a pair of black dress shoes with over-the calf socks
stuffed into them.

Helen’s command echoed in his head:
Make proper use of the contents.
But what could
those uses be, on a Christmas Day at home with one’s wife, with no outings of any kind in
prospect, much less the sort of thing to which one wears a tuxedo?
He removed his sweatshirt and jeans and put on the suit. As he’d expected, it fit him
perfectly, accommodating his height, the breadth of his shoulders, and his slight paunch all just
He took up the shoes, and pulled the socks out of them. A round golden circle fell out of
the toe of the right shoe and into his hand: a wedding ring.
He sat, stunned.
“A man of character must resist the temptation to lower his banner out of presentiment of
doom…When his beloved needs his gifts, he must not withhold them for fear of rebuff.”
Is this what Marilyn needs?
Do I love her enough to give it to her…again? Am I
man enough?
The clock on the nightstand read 11:17. He donned the socks and shoes, slipped the ring
into his jacket pocket, and made to wait.
Marilyn stared dumbfounded at the pile of garments in the box.
Am I supposed to wear all this? Under what?
Her accumulated fear, a store ten years deep, rose to block her thoughts and pluck at her
will. It seemed an hour before she could do more than stare into the box in her lap.
It’s a mockery. It’s not…appropriate. It’s
not about me!
But Helen had been explicit.
“It’s we who owe
Marilyn…They have made us a world where we can be whatever
we please.”
The huge pile of presents that would soon find their way to various relatives, friends,
acquaintances and coworkers tottered and tumbled around her. A few of the smaller packages
slid off the edge of the bed and thumped onto the floor. She peered down at them and spotted the
flat rectangle that contained her gift to Gordon.
I got him a monogrammed folio. Something for work, no pleasure or joy in it. Nothing of
me in it at all.
Shakily, she slid the box off her lap, stood, and removed her blouse and jeans.
Gordon restrained his urge to knock by the narrowest of margins. He hesitated, put his hand
to the knob of the guest room door, twisted and pushed.
Marilyn stood there, an erotic vision in white. She wore a white lace and satin teddy. A
white satin G-string. White satin garters and white silk hose. White leather pumps with five inch
heels. A bridal crown with an attached veil of the finest white gauze. In her hands she clasped a
small bouquet in blue and white, plainly artificial yet with leaves and petals as soft as any natural
Her eyes went wide as he entered. They stood appraising one another, unmoving and
unspeaking, while time itself seemed to stand still.
“I…” He blinked and shook his head. “I forgot how beautiful you are.”
“I forgot how handsome you are,” she whispered.
He moved forward and put his hands around hers.
“Can you forgive me?” she said.
“For what?”

“For not giving you children.”
A bubble of joy burst in his chest. His eyes filled with tears as he regarded his wife.
“You are the only gift I’ve ever wanted.”
She dropped the bouquet and clutched him to her.
Presently she said, “That strange woman…”
He knew at once who she meant. “She said she was a specialist.”
She looked up at him, puzzled.
“Does it matter?” he said.
“Well, maybe not…but she gave me this

He frowned. “What sort of thing?”
She blushed. “It’s…well…it’s under my G-string.”
He let one hand trail down her finery, laid his fingers against the satin panel over her loins
and pressed gently. There was a small protrusion beneath it that yielded like rubber.
Marilyn immediately tensed. Her eyes slid closed, her head tipped back, and she emitted a
humming murmur that came from deep in her chest. Her pelvis pressed forward and rubbed
against him.
“I see. Well, before we explore that line of thought any further, perhaps I should give you
this.” He fumbled out the ring. Her eyes went wide again as he sank to one knee.
“Will you have me as your husband…again?”
Silently, she held out her hand. He slipped the ring onto her third finger, alongside her
original wedding ring, rose and clasped her once more.
“Shall we retire to our bedroom?” he said.
She backed away at once, and fear that he had spoiled the moment lanced through him. But
she smiled, and cleansed the bed of its burden of packages with a sweep of her arm, and his heart
grew light once more.

is our marriage bed, isn’t it?”
He nodded.
She lay down upon it and held out her arms.
“Then come give me your gift.”
And he did.
Tears trickled down Martine’s cheeks. “That was beautiful.”
Helen nodded. “One of my favorite episodes. Only about a year ago.”
“What a memory to have for…when you’re finished.”
Helen’s eyes fixed upon Martine’s, special knowledge glowing in her expression. Martine
knew at once that her mentor had detected a flaw in her understanding. The knowledge, though
indistinct, compelled her to perfect, silent attention.
“You will live a long time, dear,” Helen said. “As long as I have, if not longer. It’s partly
compensation for our services to the Power, and partly because we’re so badly needed. But just
as all men do, as I will soon do, you, Martine, will die someday. Our extended lives make it
critical that we bear that in mind always. Even more so than the shorter-lived among whom we
labor. Our memories are a comfort, at least the ones of success at relieving sorrow and teaching
pleasure, but they’re more. We must both face judgment, I much sooner than you. And when we
stand at the Bar of Judgment, God will ask us, ‘What have you done to repay Me for your long

lives, your perpetual youth, your great powers, and your freedom from worldly cares?’ The
services we render, such as I rendered the Cullinanes, become more than just pleasant memories.
They’re our toll of passage into the next life.”
Helen stared at the ceiling again. “Perhaps the story of Dale Morrigan and Monica Hawley
will be of use to you in remembering that.”
Monica smiled down at her son Adam.
“Now you remember to be good.”
“Yes, Mommy,” he said.
She knocked at the door of the Morrigan residence with her free hand.
The woman who answered the door was gaunt and slightly stooped. Her brown-gray hair
was tied into a tight bun. Her eyes lacked vitality. From the texture of her facial skin, Monica
took her to be about forty, but prematurely worn down by her circumstances.
“Mrs. Morrigan? I’m Monica Hawley. I’m the applicant for the
au pair
position you spoke
to yesterday.” She extended her hand. The woman took it, but her face was slow to animate with
remembrance. Monica waited, anxieties rising.
“Well, come in, then,” Noreen Morrigan said at last.
For Beverly Hills, the house was small and relatively modest. The entranceway opened
onto a generous living room furnished in a Colonial style. The sofa was a sectional surfaced in
dark gray leather. A medium-size television and a music system in a cherry cabinet occupied the
far corner. A half-height etagere displayed a few unremarkable baubles and
objets d’art.
Noreen led them into the kitchen. Monica lifted Adam onto a chair and seated herself as
Noreen went to the refrigerator.
“Would your son like some apple juice?”
Monica smiled at her toddler. “Adam?”
“Yes, please.”
Noreen brought forth a pitcher filled with amber liquid, filled a small glass, and handed it
to Adam.
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
Noreen smiled. “You’re welcome.” To Monica she said, “He has excellent manners for a
“Thank you,” Monica said. “We’ve put a lot of time into it.”
“You’re aware that this is a live- in position?”
Monica nodded. “That’s part of why it appeals to me.”
Noreen’s eyebrows rose. “We have only one room for you. Will that be a problem?”
“I don’t think so, Ma’am,” Monica said. “We’ve been living in an S.R.O. for several weeks.”
“I see.” Noreen looked briefly away. “I should tell you straight off that this isn’t a standard
sort of
au pair
Unconsciously, Monica put a hand to her milk-swollen right breast and rubbed it. “I got an
inkling of that from the salary, and when you asked for applicants with medical training. Is your
child not…well?”
Noreen lowered her gaze to the table. She was slow to answer. Monica, her anxieties risen

again, closed her eyes briefly and prayed a silent Hail Mary for calm.
“Our children are grown,” Noreen said at last. “The position is to be a companion and
caregiver to my husband.” She drew a deep breath, raised her eyes to Monica’s. “He’s ver y sick.
Terminal cancer.”
Monica expected Noreen to introduce her to her stricken husband. Instead, Noreen brought
forth a sheaf of typed instructions and passed them across the table.
“This is his care regimen. It has to be followed to the letter.”
Monica surveyed the instructions with trepidation. The three closely spaced pages
described a schedule of medications, therapies, nutrition, and hygiene with times calibrated down
to the quarter hour.
“This is quite detailed.”
Noreen nodded. “It’s a trial, I know, but it’s all that stands between him and more pain than
he can stand.” She looked briefly away. “He was a strong man, before he became ill. But that
was a whole lifetime ago. The pain has done bad things to him.”
Monica looked over at her son. Adam was fiddling with a small plastic puzzle he toted
wherever he went. He seemed perfectly content and uninterested in the adults’ conversation.
“Is he difficult?”
“No, not really,” Noreen said, “but he sometimes makes unreasonable requests.”
“What sort?”
A spasm crossed Noreen’s face. “Perhaps it’s time you met him.” She rose, frowned down
at Monica, who remained seated. “You do want the position, don’t you?”
Monica rose hesitantly. “Adam, will you be all right for a few minutes?”
Before the toddler could reply, Noreen said, “Your son won’t be alone.” She pointed down
the bedroom hallway. “Second door on the left. Don’t bother knocking.”
Monica headed reluctantly down the hallway.
Monica didn’t know what to expect. Noreen Morrigan’s air of weariness and discomfort had
alarmed her quite as much as her words had. The instruction not to knock was unique. It clashed
with her notions of the respect due a sick man in the privacy of his sickroom. Still, if she was to
be Dale Morrigan’s companion and nurse, not just someone who looked in on him once every
few hours, there would soon be no pretense of privacy between them.
But what did she mean by unreasonable requests?
I suppose I’ll know soon enough.
She put her hand to the doorknob and eased it open.
The room was perhaps twelve feet by sixteen. It contained an adjustable bed canted to a
reclining position, a dresser, a small television, a pair of floor-standing lamps, and a writing
desk. It appeared quite ordinary. The pajama-clad middle-aged man seated at the desk, writing
into a large, hardbound journal, was not.
Both lamps were lit, and an east-facing window added the cheer of bright morning sun. The
light was as nothing to Dale Morrigan. Though objectively ordinary of stature and build, he
seemed larger than life, a titan, brought low by illness, who glowed with a solar radiance. The
expression on his face was of agony barely endured.
He turned toward her from his journal, smiled and tried to rise, gasped and fell back into
his chair, doubled over. Something fluttered momentarily against the side of his pajama tunic.
Monica rushed to squat by his side.

“What do you need, Mr. Morrigan?”
“Dale,” he gasped out. “Call me Dale, please.” He looked up into her face. “Are you my
new minder?”
She bit her lip. “Your companion, if you’ll have me.”
“Of course I’ll have you, dear. What’s your name?”
“Monica Hawley.”
“Monica,” he said with slightly more body. “A lovely name. If you would be so kind,
Monica dear, I need an injection rather promptly.” A wheeze had entered his speech.
She noted the time and glanced at the instructions.
He nodded. “Only thing that will work on the pain.” He waved at the dresser. “Top
She fetched a disposable syringe. According to its label, it was already loaded with the
prescribed dose. She returned to his side, lowered herself to a squat, and froze.
He had unbuttoned his tunic and exposed his torso. His entire left side was overgrown by a
single enormous teratoma. It was a mottled red-brown in color, laced with venous vessels and
crosshatched by jagged threads of yellow and white. It seemed to pulse with an evil animation of
its own, as if daring her to thwart its labors.
“Shoot right into the tumor,” he gasped.
“Are you sure, Dale?”
He nodded.
She summoned her courage, drove the syringe into the center of the cancerous mass, and
drove the plunger home.
For perhaps half a minute, there was no change. Then the pulsing of the giant tumor slowed
and lost intensity, and Dale Morrigan’s sufferings began to ease. When it had ceased to quiver at
all, he sighed, pulled his tunic around him, and straightened in his seat.
“Not your usual way of making a new acquaintance, is it?” he said.
She shook her head.
He put out his hand, and she took it.
“Thank you for agreeing to look after me. I’ll try not to be too difficult.”
“You’re welcome. I’m sure we’ll get on just fine.”
He smiled faintly. “I hope so. I’m sure my wife will be happy to have me off her hands
again. My last minder resigned three weeks ago.”
That’s not the sort of thing a patient normally tells a new caregiver.
“You shouldn’t say such things, Dale. Mrs. Morrigan must love you very much. She looks
as if she’s worn herself to a shadow over you.”
He shook his head minutely. “Not over me, dear. Not exactly. You’re here because Noreen
can’t bear to touch me. For the past week, every time she’s had to tend to me, it’s sent her into a
screaming fit.”
“Oh.” She bowed her head. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Not everyone is strong enough to cope with this.”
She glanced at his journal. “How do you prefer to pass your days?”
He waved a hand. “I write. I read. Occasionally I watch a bit of television. Nothing too
strenuous.” He smiled ruefully. “I’ve been sleeping quite a lot, with the help of the Demerol.”
She nodded. “Sleep is the best of all analgesics.”
“Indeed it is. Have you been in pain recently?”

“Just after my son was born,” she said. “The episiotomy was botched. I was a long while
“My sympathies. Are you well now?”
“Yes. Minus a husband, but yes.”
“Ah. He didn’t want to share you, did he?”
She nodded. “Not with my patients, and certainly not with Adam.”
“The fool.” His gaze traveled to her bosom. “Are you nursing?”
She nodded. “Am I leaking?”
“A drop or two. Is your baby here?”
“He’s with your wife.”
“Go see to him, then. I’ll be all right.”
She went.
“He seems quite cheerful,” Monica said. She shifted slightly in her seat to ease the burden
of Adam. He, avid at her breast for his noon meal, took no notice.
Noreen nodded and continued her crocheting. Her face betrayed nothing of her thoughts.
If she’s that detached from her husband’s suffering, why did it wear her out so?
Noreen looked up critically at Adam. “How long,” she said abruptly, “do you intend to
continue nursing your son?”
The question left Monica off-balance. “Not much longer,” she said. “He’s started taking
solid food in the evenings. This is something of an economy measure.”
“You’ve been in difficulties?”
“Ever since my husband left us.”
“I see,” Noreen said.” “Miss Hawley, I hope you’re not taking this job
because of
financial need.”
The imputation was enough to put Monica’s back up. “Mrs. Morrigan, I hope you’re not
employing me
because your husband’s tumor terrifies and disgusts you.”
The crochet needles fell from Noreen’s hands. She stared into Monica’s eyes.
Monica smiled. “I dare,” she said, “because on five minutes’ acquaintance I can already tell
that Dale –”
“Mr. Morrigan to you!”
“He’s invited me to call him Dale, so Dale it shall be. Where was I? Oh, yes: On five
minutes’ acquaintance, I can tell that Dale is one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever known.
His warmth alone, in the depths of such terrible pain, would entitle him to that honor. Apparently
he needs more than you’re willing to do for him, just to ease his passing. If I’m to be the one to
see to his needs, I’ll do so proudly. Frankly, I regard it as a privilege.”
Noreen Morrigan stared at her open-mouthed, as if she dared not believe that she’d been
challenged so boldly in her own kitchen.
“Mrs. Morrigan, it’s up to you whether I’m to be the one to look after him. If you tell me to
leave, I shall, and not look back. But I want this post, and not merely for the room, board, and
salary. I want Dale to have the best care he can possibly get, and I’d like to be the one to give it
to him. If you’d prefer that it be someone a bit less outspoken, say so now. Otherwise, I’ll head
back to my S.R.O., fetch the rest of my belongings, and set to my work.” She detached Adam,
now asleep, from her breast, buttoned her blouse, and stood. “Your choice.”

“It’s not wise to beard a lion in its den,” Dale said.
Monica said nothing. She kept counting his pulse, her eyes fixed on her stopwatch.
Presently she released his wrist and smiled. “Seventy-four. Blood pressure one-fifteen over
seventy. If we omit one minor detail, you’r e in better shape than the average man of twenty.”
He chuckled. “Good health is
important, don’t you think?”
“But of course.” She turned solemn. “How long has it been since your last prognosis?”
“About three weeks.”
“I probably have no more than two or three weeks to go.”
She looked away.
“Don’t be sad for me, dear,” he said. “I’ve had a full life. I’ve worked, traveled, loved,
fathered children, learned, thought, and written. I have only one chore left undone.” He nodded
toward his journal.
“Your diary?”
“No.” He smiled. “Not really. It’s a record of my dreams, with a little amateur analysis.
They’ve always been unusual and vivid. Even more so, since the cancer.”
His hand went to his throat, fumbled at nothing. He frowned. “I must have forgotten
again.” He rose with some difficulty, went to his dresser, extracted a crucifix pendant from the
top drawer, and fastened it about his neck.
“Getting ill has made me notice things I paid little attention to, before this,” he said as he
reseated himself. “Quirks of my wife’s. Odd little behaviors in the other people around me.” He
stroked the crucifix with a finger. “The comfort I can draw from the smallest blessings. Patterns
of all sorts that I used to dismiss without a second thought. One of those patterns is the dreams,
and how they’ve changed as I’ve gotten worse.”
Monica busied herself repacking her blood-pressure cuff and stopwatch. She was unsure
she wanted to pursue this line of conversation. Morbid overtones aside, it carried implications of
supernatural communication that had always made her uneasy.
“Have I upset you, dear?”
She zipped her medical bag and smiled. “Not at all.”
“That’s good.” He paused and stroked his crucifix pendant again. “You were in my dreams,
two nights ago.”
She clamped her lips together and did her best not to let her gaze waver. He noted her
rigidity and nodded.
“I dreamed I was sitting alone in the middle of a vast desert. There was nothing living
around me for miles in any direction, not even the dead husks of plants, and I was parched to the
point of death. I was so frightened by the complete solitude that I longed to be back here,
confined to this room. Then a woman came to me, a white-uniformed young woman in full
lactation. She spoke my name, bared her breasts, and gave me the milk of life.”
“Excuse me for a moment,” she said. She rose and exited the room, walking as steadily as
she could.
Noreen Morrigan looked up from her newspaper, noted the shock on Monica’s face, and
assumed an air of satisfaction.
“Has my husband made a request of the sort I warned you about?”
“Not exactly,” Monica said as she seated herself. “He told me about a dream he had.”
Noreen nodded. “I wondered how long it would take him.” She looked over at Adam, who

was assembling something unidentifiable from plastic bricks. “I’m sorr y it had to happen, though
I knew you wouldn’t have believed it otherwise.”
“It didn’t
to happen,” Monica said with some heat. “You knew I was a nurse after we
spoke on the phone. When you saw that I was lactating, you could have turned me away.”
Noreen’s eyebrows rose. “And will you be leaving our employ now?”
The question stopped Monica cold.
Will I? Just how do I feel about this patient and his dream?
It took her a considerable time to arrive at her decision. “No, Ma’am,” she said at last. “He
needs good care. I’m here. I’ll see that he gets it.”
The answer seemed to displease Noreen. Her lips drew thin. She regarded Monica with a
critical eye, as if searching for some sign of insincerity.
“That’s all you’re obliged to do, Miss Hawley. My husband’s oneiromantic fancies have no
bearing on your responsibilities. I trust you understand that.”
“I do, Ma’am.” She glanced at the clock and rose. “Excuse me. He’s scheduled for a
She stepped around Noreen, gathered Adam into her arms against his protests, and swept
down the hallway to her patient’s sickroom.
When Dale had eaten his dinner, had endured his enema, abdominal massage, and
injections, had said his prayers, and had gone to sleep for the night, Monica gathered up her son,
her reading, and her medical bag and went to the room Noreen Morrigan had assigned her.
Adam was soundly asleep. She set him down him gently on the single bed, sat beside him,
and mused for a while in the darkness.
He’s a good man. His wife must be a good woman. I just have to give her some time. That
milk of life thing, though…
It doesn’t matter. His care is what matters. That, and seeing this through to the end.
Even if I’m going to need a new position in a month, I’ll need a small folding cot for Adam
in the meantime. I wonder where I could get one that’s not too expensive?
Time for a little shopping.
She grabbed her purse and headed out to her car.
Perhaps Monica made a wrong turn in the darkness. She wasn’t used to driving around that
part of Los Angeles at night, and many of the lesser intersections were poorly marked. Whatever
the reason, she found herself on an unrecognized, dimly lit commercial street whose buildings
were all one- or two-storey, unaware of how she’d arrived there and uncertain how to proceed.
There were few persons on the street. Most of the shops were already closed, which was
anomalous for that hour in the largest city in California. But one brightly lit window loomed
immediately ahead. Fortuitously, there was ample parking immediately in front of it. She pulled
her car up to the curb, exited and locked the doors, and made to enter the well-lit shop. The
ornate legend in its display window proclaimed its name to be Naughty But Nice.
From the moment the door of the shop closed behind her, Monica knew she wouldn’t be
buying a folding cot there. The several long merchandise displays were filled with every sort of
erotic garment and aid, from revealing lingerie and daringly high-heeled shoes to dildos, plugs,
and bondage devices. The arrays and promotional placards were surprisingly tasteful, but there
was no compromising the nature of the goods for sale.
Behind the counter at the back stood a beautiful woman of voluptuous build, garbed in a

form-fitting red silk bustier and sleek black leather miniskirt. Though her carriage and self-
command plainly put her beyond her early youth, Monica could not estimate her age. She
noticed Monica’s arrival and sauntered toward her with a gentle, sensuous sway, a hand extended
in greeting.
“Welcome to Naughty But Nice, dear. I’m Helen.” The saleswoman’s voice was as
seductive as the rest of her. “Are you looking for something specific, or are you here to browse?”
Monica took the proffered hand. “Hello, Helen. Actually, I think I’m probably in the wrong
Helen smiled. “There isn’t much chance of that, dear.”
“Well, I was looking for something you’re unlikely to carry. A folding cot for my two-year-
old son.”
Helen’s eyebrows went up. “Going on a country vacation?”
Monica grimaced. “Not quite. My living situation is a little compressed at the moment. We
have only one room, and one bed for both of us.”
“Ah. I see. Wait here a moment, would you please?”
Monica’s mouth fell open as Helen disappeared through the beaded curtain behind the
counter. Barely a minute later, the shopkeeper emerged with a half-size folding canvas cot: the
perfect accommodation for Adam for the weeks they would spend at the Morrigans’ home. She
unfolded it before Monica with a delicate flourish.
“Wow!” Monica couldn’t resist surveying the racks of sex novelties a second time. “I guess
this isn’t the wrong place after all.” She reached into her purse for her wallet. “How much do I
owe you?”
Helen smiled. “Consider it a gift, dear. I like to do what I can for young mothers.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s yours, dear. I have no need of it, so it was only…taking up space.” Helen seemed
momentarily without words. “But may I ask a favor in return?”
Monica nodded.
“Sit with me over a cup of tea?” The shopkeeper waved at a small table in the corner
bearing a china tea service and a platter of small white cakes. “It’s past my usual closing time,
and I find I’m not quite ready to go to sleep. I’d appreciate some company and conversation.”
Monica smiled. “With pleasure. And thank you so much!”
Helen took her hand again and led her to the table. “Think nothing of it, dear.”
“He’s very sick,” Monica said. “Probably has less than a month to live. But you know, I’d
rather keep company with him than any other man I know.” She finished her cake and sipped at
her tea. “And his wife treats him like a leper.”
Helen raised an eyebrow. “Untouchable?”
Monica nodded. “I have to admit, when I first laid eyes on his tumor, I had a bad reaction.”
She snorted at the memory. “Actually, I wanted to run out of the room.”
“But you didn’t.” It was not a question.
“No. He…” Monica paused and considered her words. “He needs me.”
Helen’s eyes were grave. “He needs someone, clearly. But you in particular?”
“I…I think so.”
Helen reached across the little table and took her hand. “The way you said that,” she said,
“tells me there’s more to this story.”
With that, Dale Morrigan’s dream spilled forth. Helen listened without comment.

“I know it’s just a coincidence,” Monica said at last, “but even so, I can’t help thinking I
have more of a place in his life than just as his live-in nurse from here to the grave. The ‘milk of
life’ part is a little disturbing, though.” She glanced down automatically at her bosom, which had
swelled afresh with milk.
Helen nodded, rose from her seat and paced irregularly around the store. Monica could tell
that the shopkeeper was pondering the situation, though what import it could have for the
proprietress of a sex shop was beyond her.
“That’s all he said to you?” Helen said at last.
Monica nodded.
“Has he met your son?”
“Oh, yes. Adam spent most of the afternoon playing in the corner of his room.”
“Did they take to one another?”
Monica smiled. “Yes, thank God.”
Helen nodded and returned to her seat.
“I can’t think of anything that would be more precious to a man facing death than the
reminder of life a young nursing mother and her child could give him,” Helen said. “Not hope of
life, mind you, just a reminder of what a great and unique gift life is. From what you’ve told me,
Dale is satisfied with his life. He considers it well-lived.”
“With good reason,” Monica said. “I’d say the only regret he has is that he has to face the
end alone.”
The corners of Helen’s eyes crinkled. “But he doesn’t, does he?”
Monica started to speak, halted herself.
“You’re not his wife,” Helen said, “and you can’t really take her place. That would be
wrong even if her attitude were ten times as poisonous. But you can share your life and vitality
with him, and learn what he has to teach you, while he lasts. That might prove to be quite a gift
to both of you. Each to the other.”
“Helen, are you suggesting –”
“No, dear,” Helen said at once. “You’re
his wife. But you have more to give him than
sex. Just being his companion and friend will comfort him greatly, above and beyond the no
doubt excellent medical care you’re giving him. And when the time comes,” she said, gazing into
the distance, “perhaps you’ll be able to ease him in another way. I’d say you should try to be
“Helen,” Monica murmured, “what
you suggesting?”
A large, sleek black cat poked through the beaded curtain to the back of the shop. It strolled
over to the table, stropped Helen’s ankles briefly, and returned to whence it had come. The
shopkeeper watched it depart, nodded, and looked Monica full in the eyes. “You were thinking
of weaning Adam completely, weren’t you, dear?”
Monica nodded.
Dale’s tumor, as large as it was, had not ceased to grow. It seemed to be trying to surround
him, to enfold him in a crushing embrace. The frequent Demerol injections would relieve most
of the pain it caused him as it compressed and penetrated his chest, but nothing she could do for
him would halt its growth.
Between sieges of agony, he maintained an impressive mien of affable sociability. He’d
talk about any subject Monica liked for hours: current events, politics, religion, developments in

the sciences and medicine, even sports, celebrities, and popular entertainment. Eventually she
seduced him into talking of himself: his work as an industrial geologist; his years roving the
world seeking new sources of oil and gas; his two daughters and their accomplishments; his
efforts in fiction and poetry; and of course, his disease, from its onset to the present day.
He did not return to the subject of his dreams, nor of the analyses of them he was so
determined to record for an unspecified posterity.
Adam listened to Dale’s reminiscences with obvious concentration and comprehension, and
a fascination equal to Monica’s. Even while at Monica’s breast, his eyes remained fixed upon the
ailing man. Monica could not doubt that he understood what he was hearing. She found herself
wondering whether Adam would shortly reveal himself as a prodigy.
The Hawleys, mother and son both, became reluctant to leave Dale’s side. They ate
together, read together, watched television together, and conversed at every interval. They even
prayed together at bedtime, Dale leading them in the Lord’s Prayer while holding Monica’s and
Adam’s hands.
It wasn’t just because Monica couldn’t predict the onset of the next attack. A bond had
woven around the three of them. It was stronger than Monica’s attachment to her husband had
been, and surely stronger than that unworthy’s allegiance to her and their son. It grew ever
stronger as Dale weakened and the concluding days of his life fell from the calendar.
Noreen Morrigan remained outside.
“I know death isn’t the end,” Monica said to him after he’d concluded a tale of an encounter
in the Amazon basin that had compelled him to kill two attackers and had cost the life of his
guide. “And I know we sometimes have to kill. What I don’t understand is how some cultures can
be so…
about it. As if life were a meaningless trinket, to be thrown away for virtually no
Dale nodded. “How many years did you put into your education, dear?”
The swerve disoriented her. “Uh, sixteen. The usual twelve and four in nursing studies.”
“Did you hold a job during that time?”
“Yes, several.”
“And after you graduated, you traveled a bit, and met a fascinating man who courted you,
and you married, and you’ve produced a beautiful son.” He grinned and tousled Adam’s hair. “At
age twenty-eight, you’ve already made a great deal from your life. You have reason to value it.”
He rose and shuffled to the window. The late afternoon sun was waning over the western
horizon. The quiet lanes of Beverly Hills were busy with the vehicles of residents returning from
their trades, or from shopping in the city, or from hobnobbing in cheerful idleness with friends.
“Those Indians that attacked us had no education and no hope of any. Like as not, they had
brothers and sisters who’d never made it out of infancy. Their horizons were bounded by an
infinite jungle that offered them bare subsistence and could take their lives at any time. They’d
probably seen their tribal fellows kill one another over a piece of fruit or a useful rock. That was
what they knew. Even the ones conscious enough to try to look forward in time could only see
more of the same. Their lives had no capital value.
“Americans are different. Even the dullest of us can sense the possibilities of life. Anyone
with sense enough to cross at the crosswalk knows, whether he admits it or not, that an American
becomes what he makes himself — and that he can make himself whatever he wants. We
preserve our lives as carefully as possible, and fight for them when they’re threatened, because
we know what life is good for.” He turned to her and smiled. “We can see it all around us.”

He noted her expression, peered more closely, and reseated himself at his desk.
“What’s troubling you, dear?”
She spent a moment choosing her words. Unconsciously, she took hold of Adam’s hand.
“I don’t question why you had to kill those Indians,” she said at last. “I think I would have
done the same. Even knowing what a precious gift life is. But I can’t help wondering how you
can be so…relaxed about what’s coming.”
He nodded and turned to gaze fondly at Adam.
“I’ve had the years God has allotted me, dear. I’ve done my best to make them count.” He
nodded toward the row of journals, twelve thick hardbound volumes filled from cover to cover,
that lined the back of his desk. “But life is a gift with a string to it. We don’t get to decide for
ourselves when that string will be pulled. Whatever your reasons, to kill, as I did in Brazil that
time, is always a choice. But to die?” He smiled. “That’s a necessity.”
Startled, Monica rose onto an elbow. She hadn’t known Adam was still awake. “Yes, dear?”
“Are we going to lose him?”
Darkness and stillness gave the words a plaintiveness Adam’s toddler voice could not
“Yes, dear. We are. Probably very soon.”
Adam didn’t reply.
“Does that make you sad?” she said.
“I’m sorr y, sweetie. Dale is very sick. I don’t have any medicine that would make him well.
Nobody does.”
“How come?”
She started to reply, halted herself.
How do you explain to a small child that the grown-ups haven’t solved all the problems
yet? That there are some problems we might never solve? Like death and loss?
“I don’t know, sweetie. We can fix some sicknesses. Others, not yet. Maybe some day.”
“But not soon enough for Dale?”
Without warning, Monica felt her tears break free. She put all her forces to the task of
repressing the sobs that fought to join them.
“No, sweetie. Not soon enough.”
There was a long silence. Monica had lowered herself onto her side, assuming her son had
drifted off to sleep, when he spoke again.
“Make him feel better, Mommy.”
She gasped. “I try, sweetie. I try every day. But I can’t make him better.”
Adam turned on his cot. His eyes pierced her even in the dark.
“Make him
Monica could not reply.
“It’s starting again,” Dale gasped. His chest heaved irregularly and his breathing grew
Monica scampered for the dresser and the Demerol. She snatched a preloaded syringe,
rushed to Dale’s side, injected him through his tunic, and watched for the spasms to subside.
They intensified.

“Monica,” he wheezed, “I think this is it.”
Oh, God.
“There’s something I want you to have.” The words were barely audible. She leaned closer,
and he unclasped the crucifix pendant from around his neck and fastened it around hers. His
arms fell to his sides, hands feebly clutching at the rails of his bed. “You’ve been a delight and a
treasure, dear. Live long and well. Take care of Adam and remember me.”
Her evening at Naughty But Nice rose unaccountably to her mind.
You were thinking of weaning Adam completely, weren’t you, dear? Don’t.
Her fingers went to the buttons of her blouse.
“Father,” he gasped, “into Thy hands…”
She lost patience and pulled her blouse completely over her head. Her breasts were full
with what she’d expected to become Adam’s noon meal. Dale’s eyes went wide.
“Dale,” she said huskily as she straddled him, “there’s something I want you to have.”
She took his head between her hands and presented her right nipple to his lips. He wrapped
his arms around her and suckled. At once the unique sensuality of nursing, the blend of
exaltation and submission that came from giving sustenance directly from her body, descended
upon her.
As her milk flowed into his mouth, it seemed to carry something extra, something more
than nutrition he no longer needed. It wasn’t life; nothing within her power could sustain his life,
with the teratoma so deeply embedded in his vitals. It was warm, velvety of texture,
transcendently comforting. It spoke of acceptance, celebration, and the cherishing of treasured
memories. It promised lifelong remembrance.
When he’d emptied her right breast, she moved him immediately to the left one, and he
continued to nurse. His suckling was growing weaker, but so were the spasms that racked his
body. She cradled his head gently, whispering phrases of encouragement. As the last drops of her
milk left her body for his, his arms went slack around her. His grip on her nipple failed. He had
ceased to breathe. She laid his head against his headrest and gently closed his eyes.
Adam was watching from alongside the bed.
“Is Dale with God, now, Mommy?”
She clambered off the bed and gathered her son into her arms. “I’m sure of it, sweetie.”
The door opened behind them. For the first time in twenty-three days, Noreen Morrigan,
now a widow, edged into the room.
“Somehow,” Helen said, “I doubt Noreen approved. Not that Monica cared.”
Martine was too overwhelmed to speak.
“Monica found her way by degrees,” Helen said. “She’d elected a life of service to others,
by going into nursing. She’d been faithful to the tenets of her trade. But she hadn’t yet entered
fully into the covenant of service. To serve others as she’d chosen to do, one must be able to feel
the other’s pain and fear as one’s own. One must love. Until Dale, she hadn’t known love —
love, the sort that gives without expectation of any return — and after her divorce, she hadn’t
expected to find it.”
“She disbelieved in it?” Martine said.
“Not quite, dear. She’d concluded that real love is ver y rare, that only the most fortunate

among us ever experience it, either in giving or receiving. Her few weeks with Dale were a dual
initiation: she both received
gave, and has never stopped believing or giving since.” Helen’s
eyes sparkled through her fatigue. “I expect you’ll meet her some day.”
“She’s in Onteora now. I gave her an introduction to a physician there that needed a nurse.
They’re quite happy together. In more ways than one.”
Helen’s eyes fluttered briefly closed. She opened them and smiled. “And so we come to the
end of my unrecorded tales. And just in time; it appears a nap is coming on. Would you bear
with me for an hour or so? Then perhaps I can hear about some of your adventures, since we
Martine held back tears. “Of course, Helen.” She squeezed her mentor’s hand. “Sleep well.”
Part Two:
The Best Sauce
Martine thrust a bite of scalloped veal into her mouth, chewed and swallowed quickly, then
pointed her fork at Helen’s lunch. “Aren’t you going to eat any more of that?”
Helen glanced down at her Caesar salad and shook her head. “I never have more than a
morsel or two at lunch, dear. I can’t burn it off the way you younger gals do.”
Martine’s face colored. At fifty, Helen was the picture of glowing good health, with
classically voluptuous proportions that called to men of all ages. She wore form-fitting silk
blouses, leather miniskirts, and stiletto heels that would have looked foolish and vain on nearly
any other woman her age. Her sensual appeal was as powerful as any beauty queen’s, and as
unaffected as the gait of a cat. Martine, who’d always thought herself absolutely heterosexual,
could hardly look at Helen without wanting to touch her.
Nine out of ten women of any age would have killed to have Helen’s figure. Martine was
one of the nine. At twenty-five, her lifelong chubbiness had started to edge toward genuine
overweight, and she felt powerless to arrest it.
“It seems like a lot to give up,” Martine said, “just to have a fashionable figure.”
Helen’s face went blank. She leaned forward and steepled her fingers against her lips.
“What makes you think that’s the only reward, dear?”
Martine put down her fork. “Well…”
“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘hunger is the best sauce’?”
“Uh, no.”
“But it is.” Helen’s smile returned. “Desire is what gives any satisfaction its intensity. The
more desire, the more satisfaction. The less you eat, the more pleasure you take from your meals.
Are you enjoying your veal?”
Martine was momentarily nonplussed. She looked quickly about the little restaurant,
inexplicably anxious that someone might be eavesdropping on them. “It’s all right, I guess. Why
did you ask?”

“I’ve had it here,” Helen murmured. “They do it exceptionally well. But you were gulping it
down as if you could hardly taste it.”
Martine’s mouth dropped open. She looked down at her nearly empty plate, and realized
that what Helen had said was true. She put her fingertips to the edge of the plate and pushed it
gently away. It took more effort than she expected.
“One of the less obvious things about pleasure of any kind,” Helen said, “is how a certain
amount of self-denial can make it so much better. Enough to sharpen your nerves and bring you
up onto your toes for it.”
“I would never have expected,” Martine said slowly, “to hear an exotic lingerie and sex toy
retailer advocate self-restraint. I thought the whole point of what you do is to encourage people
to enjoy themselves.”
Helen nodded. “It is. What’s the point of what
do, dear?”
“Huh? I write Web applications, you know that.”
“For their own sake? The more code, the better?”
“Of course not! My clients have specific needs. Once I know what those are, I craft Web
sites to meet them.”
Helen merely sat silently.
Martine chewed her lip. Her last romance had fizzled out from mutual indifference. Neither
she nor Ted had wanted to continue it. They’d begun making elaborate excuses not to get
together. Yet there was nothing wrong with him. In fact, she’d thought of him as a considerable
catch. She still did, when she viewed his assets objectively.
There wasn’t much wrong with her, either. She was bright, pretty, well to do, still on the
sunny side of thirty, and at ease in any social setting. She had no faults the loss of twenty pounds
couldn’t cure.
Without preliminary, she rose, fished a twenty-dollar bill out of her purse, and slapped it on
the table. “Let’s go back to your shop, Helen.”
The older woman cocked an eyebrow. “Was there something you wanted there, dear?”
Martine flipped a hand. “Maybe. Maybe you’ll find it for me.”
The corners of Helen’s mouth canted upward. “Ah. I see. Yes, let’s be off.”
As they entered Naughty But Nice, Helen’s exotica shop, the older woman turned toward
Martine and spread her arms as if to invite her guest to peruse the wares. She stood that way,
unspeaking, as Martine collected her thoughts.
I’ve been here a lot of times, but maybe I’ve never seen what Helen sees, or what her other
customers see.
“What does any of this,” Martine said, “have to do with self-restraint?”
Helen’s eyes glinted with humor. “Much of what you see here is designed to provide a
challenge. Silky underthings, for instance, titillate without providing release. If you can
withstand the teasing, you can build up a nice head of desire for whoever will be coming to
visit…or coming home at the end of the day. The vibrators and such are for people with other
problems. I have other goods as well. Would you care to see them?”
Martine nodded. Helen turned and, with a delicate flip of the fingers, beckoned her to
Presently they stood in a large, mirrored room. Its sole furnishing was a single upholstered
chair that looked as if it belonged in a Victorian parlor. Martine looked about her in bafflement.
“Where are the goods you were talking about?”

Helen went to one of the mirrors and pressed its edge. It sprang open to reveal a capacious
closet filled with leather garments. She riffled through them briefly and returned to Martine
holding one festooned with laces, garters, and bits of bright chrome detail.
“Have you ever worn a waist cincher, dear?”
“Uh, no.”
Helen spread the garment for Martine’s perusal. It looked impossibly small, far too small to
wrap around her bulges.
“It looks as if it would be…tight on me.”
Helen nodded. “Yes, it would. Once laced, I expect it would take four or five inches off
your tummy. It would be uncomfortable at first, but should you have the discipline to keep it on,
it would restrict your eating to a much more moderate level. Over time, your hunger would
diminish, your body would adapt, and you’d shrink to the dimensions it imposes on you. Then
we’d proceed to the next stage.”
“What would that involve?”
Helen lowered her brows to catch shadows in the hollows of her eyes. “You’ll learn about
that when the time comes, not before. Are you willing to try this?”
“Don’t disappoint me, dear. You’re quite impressive in many ways. I’ve been hoping you
would come around for a little…assistance.”
Martine swallowed. “Okay.”
Helen nodded. “Take off all your clothes.”
With the garment fully laced and tightened, Martine felt as if she could hardly breathe. Yet
the sensation wasn’t wholly unpleasant. Her posture felt straighter and stronger by several
degrees. She held her head an inch or so higher, and kept it there with little effort. Her reflection
in the mirrors displayed assets she’d never before possessed.
She was definitely narrower by at least four inches. Her bosom thrust forward nicely, and
her hips and legs were accentuated as well. She admired herself with undisguised delight.
“Lovely, isn’t she?” Helen said.
“Yes,” Martine breathed.
“But we’re not finished.” Helen went to another segment of mirror, opened yet another
concealed closet, and withdrew a pair of round-toed pumps in gleaming black leather, with high
straight heels. “Here, put these on.”
Martine stepped into them carefully. It took her a moment to stop tottering and establish
her balance, but once she’d done so, the shoes felt almost as comfortable as her habitual ballet
flats. Her reflection had become utterly stunning, and utterly alien.
Helen had moved to stand behind her.
“This is what a little discipline can earn you,” Helen murmured. “If you want this, I’ll help
you to get it — to make it as natural for you as any life you’ve known to date. But I must warn
you, dear: once we’ve begun, I will not let you turn back.” She stepped behind Martine and
settled her arms around her body. “Are you willing?”
Martine was hypnotized by her own appearance. She nodded at once.
“Excellent,” Helen murmured. Her hands rose to cup Martine’s breasts. Her thumbs brushed
lightly over the nipples, once, twice, thrice. Martine gasped and sagged backward as a dull
smoldering ignited at the base of her spine.

Helen’s hands traveled down Martine’s torso. Her fingers toyed briefly with the younger
woman’s pubic hair before questing for the moist slit below.
Martine bucked backward against Helen. Her own hands went to press Helen’s more fir mly
into her mons.
Without warning, Helen pulled her fingers away. Before Martine could register the change,
Helen had wrapped a thick band of leather tightly about her waist. Another, harder object rose
between her legs. There were two quick metallic clacks, and Martine gasped again.
“What — what’s
” Her hands scrabbled at the smooth surface of the thing that had
captured her groin.
Helen smiled. “It’s a chastity belt, dear.”
Martine gaped. The belt was completely seamless. It enclosed her mons closely and
perfectly. There was no way to get under it with anything wider than a needle. The mating parts
were solid steel. As tightly as it clasped her above the hips, she knew it wouldn’t come off unless
“But I thought you were going to…”
“Oh, no,” Helen said. “Weren’t we talking about self-restraint just before? Well, here’s your
first course. You’re going to wear both these items until we’ve got your weight down to where it
belongs. You’ll keep the shoes on, too; they’ll provide added incentive.”
Martine couldn’t tear her eyes away from the chastity belt. Beneath it, her loins pulsed with
unslaked need.
“Until I say otherwise,” Helen purred, “you’ll be eating all your meals with me. In fact, I
think it would be best if you moved in here for a few weeks, so your sanitary needs will be easier
to meet. You wouldn’t mind walking next door to your office each morning, instead of walking
downstairs from your flat, would you?”
Martine turned to look directly at Helen. Her heels caught beneath her, and she started to
tumble. Helen caught her under the arms and steadied her.
“No turning back, dear,” she said. “Six weeks from today, eight at most, you’ll have the
best figure in Los Angeles.”
“How — how am I supposed to live like this?” Martine lowered her gaze to the floor.
Helen’s expression became stern. She took Martine’s chin between finger and thumb and
raised it until their eyes met again. “Under my supervision. But I promise you, once it’s over, you
won’t regret a moment of it. Now get dressed. I’ll expect you for dinner at six. Bring what you’ll
need for the morning.”
Helen would not relent. She allowed Martine one brief, supervised toilet each morning
before sending her to her office, then one more at lunch, and one after dinner. After the first three
days of the regimen, Martine stopped drinking coffee.
She ate all her meals with Helen as well. The older woman made all their menu choices and
measured out all their portions. There were no second helpings of anything. To insure that
Martine didn’t stray, Helen popped into her office without warning several times each day. She
confiscated Martine’s bags of chips and nuts with a glare and a lecture that no snacking was
At first Martine thought she might die of it. Her hunger was a worm in her belly with the
teeth of a tiger, continuous and painfully sharp. All she could do for it was to concentrate on her
work, and on the non-nutritious entertainments Helen allowed her in the evenings.

Yet the passage of time proved Helen right. The less Martine ate, the more she looked
forward to her meals, and the more pleasure she took from them. She educated herself with each
bite: how to portion the mouthful, how to chew it and savor it as it rolled over her tongue, and
how to swallow with the back passages of her mouth properly opened, so that the gustatory
experience formed an elongated whole of aroma, texture and taste.
After a week, the intensity of her hunger pangs had substantially faded. After two weeks,
she thought about eating only immediately before meals. After three, there was a noticeable slack
between her belly and the chastity belt.
Helen noticed it too. She cinched the belt tighter at once, to Martine’s disappointed groans.
Helen had her ways of reminding Martine what awaited her at the conclusion of her ordeal.
Her breasts brushed across Martine’s back far too often for it to be accidental. When she talked,
her hand would go to Martine’s waist in apparently casual fashion, then slide caressingly over the
buttocks below. When they sat together at Helen’s dinner table, their feet and legs often touched
with the suggestion of an entwinement to come.
Side by side in their nightgowns on Helen’s couch, with the television glowing irrelevantly
before them, the older woman would idly drape her arm across Martine’s shoulders or reach into
her lap to take her hand. In the process, Helen’s hand would brush lightly over Martine’s breast or
thigh, and the younger woman would shudder with reawakened lust. But there was no
satisfaction to be had. The chastity belt stayed firmly locked around Martine’s waist, its brushed-
steel crotchpiece denying all access to the urgently aroused flesh beneath.
Unlike her hunger, Martine’s need for release never slackened.
“Why?” Martine shuddered against Helen’s breast. “Why did you do this to me?”
Helen stroked her hair and murmured meaningless soothing sounds. Behind them, the
talking head on the television nattered pointlessly into the gloom.
“I was arrow-straight only two months ago,” Martine said in a half sob. “Now all I can
think about is touching you, holding you, loving you. You had to have done it on purpose, so
why won’t you let me love you?

The older woman didn’t reply at once. She pushed Martine back a little way and looked
into her eyes. Her expression was warm and a little wry.
“Incentive, dear. You adapted to the diet very quickly. I haven’t heard a peep of complaint
from you in six weeks or more. If I were to permit you this, what other reason would you have to
stay the course with me?”
“But I
stayed the course!”
Helen shook her head slightly, and Martine’s eyes widened.
“You’ve lost your twenty pounds, yes. You look marvelous, even better than I’d hoped.”
She ran her hands lightly down Martine’s shoulders and arms and held her by her beautifully
tapered waist. “Your posture is excellent and your walk is grace itself.” She glanced down at the
five inch heels Martine had worn for eight weeks running. “Tell me, are the shoes comfortable?”
Martine nodded. “I don’t even notice them any more.”
“As I expected.” Helen smiled. “So you see, dear, you’re everything you wanted to be, just
as I predicted. Would you agree?”
Martine nodded again. “But –”
“But why haven’t I let you out of the chastity belt? Because you aren’t yet everything that
want you to be.”

“What…” Martine’s voice cracked and sank near to a whisper. “What do you want me to
Helen’s smile was delicate. “My underling.”
Martine’s mind filled with questions. “At the store?”
“Certainly at the store, dear, but not
there. Here, as well.”
Martine stood mute in her confusion, the implications of the words clanging within her.
After a moment’s silence, Helen dipped a finger into a tiny pocket in her miniskirt and drew
out the key to the chastity belt. She undid the latches and unbuckled the belt, tossed it onto the
floor and stepped back. Martine, her loins unexpectedly freed, shivered briefly, put a hand
tentatively to her mons, then let it fall to her side.
“You hunger as you once did for food,” Helen said, “but now it’s for something quite
different. I’ve teased you while denying you release, as carefully and intensely as I know how, as
another woman once teased and denied me. I know the storm that rages in your body. It rages
just as wildly in mine.
“To have what you want — which I very much want to give you, dear, have no doubt of
that! — you must give me what I want: yourself. You must agree to give yourself to me, body and
mind, heart and soul. You must do exactly as I say, whatever it is, whenever I say it, with no
reservations, qualifications, or words of complaint. You must abandon that silly Web business of
yours and apprentice yourself to me in mine, so that there will be continuity of knowledge, skill,
and desire from me to you, as there was from my mistress to me, many years ago…and, one day,
when I live only in your memories, from you to
underling, whoever that might be.
“You see, dear, I’m not just a shopowner, or, for that matter, an advisor to young women
dissatisfied with their figures and their love lives. I’m also a priestess. And the most sacred of all
my duties is to insure that they’ll be seen to after my life is spent, by one trained to the worship
of the power I serve.”
“What…what power is that?”
Helen’s all but undetectable smile quirked. “Desire itself.”
At those words, the wave of need that lashed Martine swelled to fill all her being. A
Presence barely perceptible at the edge of her awareness, that she’d thought a mere artifact of her
yearning for Helen, zoomed toward her at an immeasurable speed. It suffused her completely,
reverberating through her like the tolling of a great bell. She ceased to feel her own body, or to
sense her own existence. Her soul became a single blinding flame of lust that exploded outward
and took her consciousness with it.
All thought ceased as she slumped to the floor.
Martine awoke in Helen’s bed. Helen was sitting beside her, holding her hand and watching
her face. Helen’s cat Astarte lay at the foot of the bed, cleaning her claws with leisurely flicks of
her tongue.
“The god touched you, didn’t it?”
Martine tried to speak, found her tongue unresponsive. She coughed gently, tried to
lubricate her mouth, and managed, “God?”
Helen nodded. “Not
God, of course. A lesser deity. An angel. Definitely a higher being
whose special charge is human desire. A being that must be honored and served. Did it touch
Martine’s mouth remained dry. She nodded.
“I’m glad,” Helen said. “That reassures me that it was meant to be.”

Martine tried to speak again, coughed twice, and shook her head. Helen waited in silence.
“What…what do I do now?”
The older woman’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Nurture it.”
“In all ways.” Helen turned back the bedcovers to expose the sheets. She ran her fingers
lightly over the fabric. Martine realized abruptly that she was swaddled in silk.
“You must encourage your desire in every possible way: with your clothes, with your walk,
with your speech, with your surroundings, and above all with your restraint. You’ll wear that
chastity belt until you’ve worn it out, and then another, and another, until your self-discipline is
so firm that no tidal wave of lust can break your will. Your desire must build high, like a bonfire
meant to warm the whole world, for that is what you will use it to do.”
“But why?” Martine struggled onto her elbows. “What good is desire you’re not allowed to
satisf y?”
“Oh, you’ll be allowed to satisfy it.” Helen chuckled. “Once the power is satisfied with
And there’ll be other rewards for your devotion as well. How old am I, dear?”
Martine frowned. “Didn’t you tell me you were fifty?”
“No, dear. I let you believe I was about that old. But my age requires more than two digits.
In fact, it will soon need more than three.”
Martine gaped.
“My body has not changed in any way since I was your age,” Helen said. “Your impression
of my age comes from my expression and my carriage, not from any mark time has left upon my
flesh. The reward of desire is the gift of life. Desire
life. The more intensely we yearn, the
more intensely we live. When we lose our desire, we lose our lives as well.”
“And I will be…like you?”
Helen nodded. “If you commit yourself as I did, you will have what I have. Probably longer
and stronger than I’ve had it. It’s in you to be a
priestess. I can smell it.”
Fully restored to consciousness, Martine felt the stirrings of lust renew themselves in her
loins. She slumped back onto the pillow.
“What will my duties be?”
“While I live, you’ll serve me just as I’ve said: in all ways, without reservation or protest.
You’ll dress as I do, work alongside me by day, and perform the rituals with me at night. You’ll
learn the ways of desire regnant and the ways it must be propitiated. When I’m gone — not too
soon, I hope — you’ll do as I have done: counsel young women, teach them to find the desire
within themselves and their mates, help them to excite it to its fullest pitch, and then set it free.
“Women are the keepers of desire. Men’s lusts are crude things: necessary, but low, simple,
and entirely of the body, with no fineness and no persistence once the needs of their gonads have
been met. It’s women’s job to learn true eroticism, the techniques of ardor and bonding, and to
wield them for all the human race. Without these things, neither families nor society can endure.
“There was a time when that knowledge was passed from mother to daughter like a family
heirloom. Every woman came to her maturity as a courtesan-priestess. But today, because of
some highly unfortunate notions that have gotten into circulation, a tragic fraction of them are
without anyone to teach them, so it falls to us.” Helen smiled. “All the same, it’s very pleasant
She rose from the edge of the bed and stood looking directly down at Martine. “Do you
want it, dear?”
“Will there be…men?”

Helen pursed her lips and shook her head microscopically. “Only as clients, dear. That’s
one indulgence we’re forbidden. I don’t know why, but the prohibition is absolute. But that’s the
only thing I know that’s barred to us. Now, do you want it?”
Martine closed her eyes and let the pounding of her blood echo within her.
It would be a life without men. But it would be a life measured in centuries, all of them
blessed with vibrant youth and mature self-command. A life devoted to the homage of a being
that could wield desire like a torch, illuminating its intimates with the red light of passion. A life
spreading erotic knowledge and power among the less favored, first in company with Helen, and
later with an understudy of her own.
“On one condition.”
Helen raised an eyebrow.
“We make love.

Helen’s gaze flicked toward Astarte. Abruptly, the cat stood, jumped down from the bed,
and disappeared through the open doorway.
Without a word, Helen unbuttoned her silk blouse and shrugged it away. She kicked off her
high- heeled pumps, unzipped her miniskirt and let it slide to the floor as well. A moment later
her knees straddled Martine’s torso. Her perfectly depilated mons glistened a few inches above
Martine’s face.
“That, my dear, is the ordination rite.”
One pair of lips descended to meet the other.
“Helen…” Martine scanned the little space quickly. Whatever her mentor saw in it had yet
to register on her. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
The older woman raised one eyebrow ever so slightly. “Isn’t it a bit late for second
thoughts, dear?”
“No…well, maybe.” The surrounding area was beautiful, open and lushly green, but the city
was quiet, far quieter than Los Angeles. It wasn’t exactly farm country, but it bore little
resemblance to the milieu in which her mentor had recruited her and honed her skills. The great
majority of the buildings were one or two storeys. The streets were traveled, but not full or
nearly so. Most of the men were in overalls or blue jeans. The women they’d passed on the
streets simply didn’t
like the sort who’d seek the services of a specialist of her sort. “Where
will our clientele come from?”
“Just set up as close as possible to how we were set up in California and wait to be
noticed,” Helen said. “Surely you’re not worried about money?”
“No…no.” Martine tried to imagine the rows of displays, the racks of goods, familiar from
their store in Los Angeles. It was hard; the lighting, the differences in geometry, and the lack of
ambient noise from the street beyond worked against her. The back of the store, just then
partitioned off by a plain drywall but ultimately to be concealed by a wall of mirrors, was
impossible to imagine set up as Naughty But Nice was arranged. She grimaced briefly and strove
to quell her misgivings.
Helen laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You have nothing to fear, dear. Remember,
we’re not here to turn a monetary profit. We are called to this work. If that which we serve

decrees that you be here, then here you must be.” She smiled. “Just do what you’ve trained to
do…what you did so well in Los Angeles. Do it with skill, pride, and joy. My confidence in you
is boundless. One word of advice?”
Martine nodded vigorously.
“Whenever you’re open, always have the tea service ready. And the cakes.”
“I will.” Impulsively, Martine whirled and threw her arms around the older woman. “I’m
going to miss you.”
Helen squeezed her and stroked her short cap of shiny black hair. “I’m never more than half
a day away, dear. I’ll be here whenever you truly need me.”
Martine repressed a shiver. “I hope so.”
Another squeeze. “Count on it.”
Maureen Harkness quickly made the Sign of the Cross and started to turn toward her
husband, but Chris had already turned away and pulled the blanket to his chin. She tensed,
thought briefly about importuning him, and relaxed with a silent sigh. Two tears leaked down her
face in the darkness.
His goodness is killing me.
Fully aware of her vaginitis, Chris would not, as he put it, impose himself on her
physically. He loved her too much to cause her pain for his own pleasure.
Maureen had come to miss that pain more than life itself.
Lord, how do I cope? He’s the best man You ever put on this earth. I love him beyond all
reason. Amanda, too. I could never have believed in his degree of bravery or integrity before I
saw them with my own eyes. And I can’t convince him that, despite my problems, I want him still,
that having him in my body means more to me than anything else in this world. What must I do?
She feared it was having an effect on Chris that he wouldn’t discuss. He’d become ever
quieter since their last attempted coitus. There was a new tone of resignation in his carriage and
his dealings with others. That morning he’d politely asked a garbageman not to toss their cans
into the street. The lout flipped him off without eliciting a reaction, much less a penalty for his
His calling was to be a warrior in service to freedom and justice. Has my lessening as a
woman lessened him as well?
She held herself very still, careful not to disturb Chris’s incipient slumbers.
Guide me, Lord. Help me to find a way out of this impasse. But if that’s not to be, if our
marriage is to be without fleshly coitus from now on, help me to accept it with patience and bear
it with unfailing love. Grant me Your grace.
She turned onto her side and closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep. But before she drifted
off, a faint signal, like something heard from across the sea and over the horizon beyond, seemed
to impinge on her semiconscious mind.
Ask Christine.
Maureen edged tentatively into the Integral Security gymnasium, mindful of the
irregularity. Interrupting a training session in progress simply wasn’t done. Kevin Conway,
Integral’s owner-proprietor, took a dim view of it. She’d likely hear about it from her husband,

As she rounded the turn into the martial-arts room, she collided frontally with Patricia
Larson. The young patrolwoman seemed in a hurry to get to wherever she was going. The two
women turned faces red with embarrassment on one another, each muttered a low apology, and
Larson continued away at a fast trot.
Lord, help me to forgive her. Not to hold it against her that she wants what I have. Had.
Christine hoisted herself out of her seat as Maureen scampered across the exercise mats.
She smiled widely and spread her arms, and they embraced.
“Good to see you, babe,” Christine said. “Are you back on the schedule again?”
Maureen looked up at the younger woman and shook her head. “I’d like to be, though. Do
you have an empty slot I could fill?”
Christine’s smile grew wider still. “I’ll make one. Just pick a time and I’ll reserve it for you.
Anyone who complains can fight for it.”
The trainer shook her head. “Me!”
Maureen pulled her close again, rested her cheek against the cushion of Christine’s bosom,
luxuriated in the welcome there.
Lord, what comfort there is in holding this girl! So warm, so gifted, and so beautiful!
Feeling her against me is almost as good as holding Chris. Truly, You never made two things the
same. All praise to You!
Presently they sat, Maureen’s hands enfolded in Christine’s. All it took was for Christine to
say, “So how have you been?” and though Maureen had never willed it, the whole of her agony
poured forth uncensored.
It was several minutes before she ran down. When she did, she slumped forward, breathless
and exhausted, ready to collapse into Christine’s arms.
The trainer didn’t speak for nearly a minute. She chewed her lips, stroked the backs of
Maureen’s hands with her thumbs, glanced randomly around the gymnasium, and finally gave a
great sigh.
“We have to come at this from the beginning,” Christine said. “Are you absolutely,
positively certain it’s just your problem that’s in the way?”
Maureen straightened up. She started to expostulate an indignant affirmative, checked
Am I
“I…don’t know. I’d assumed so, but…”
The trainer nodded. “You can’t be. You never can. It could also be a loss of desire on his
part. Or he might have flogged himself into no longer thinking of you as a sexual being.”
“Can a healthy man
Christine nodded. “I never told you about
trainer, did I?”
“No, you’ve…”
Maybe I don’t know you as well as I’d like.
“Might I learn something from
the tale? I don’t wish to pry –”
Christine smirked. “I expect you would. Both ways, babe. Women are cats. We have to
know everything, sniff every crevice and lick every surface. Why pretend otherwise?” She
squeezed Maureen’s hands. “So come sit by me and cock an ear.”
Maureen shifted in her seat to draw closer to the younger woman, but the geometry of the
metal chairs held them several inches apart. Christine snorted, trotted to one edge of the exercise
mats, and yanked it loose from its moorings in a display of her considerable strength. With a few

tugs and twists she fashioned an improvised
chaise longue
large enough for the two of them to
“Will you get in trouble for this?” Maureen settled gingerly onto the mats next to Christine.
The younger woman drew the older one snugly into her arms, encouraging Maureen to rest
her head on her bosom again. She stroked Maureen’s hair and rocked her gently.
How she mothers me, and me the older by a good twenty years!
“I’ll put it back later,” Christine said. “Right now, I want to tell you all about Louis Dylan
Aloysius Redmond.”
“I never would have guessed any of it,” Maureen murmured. “He sounds like an angel
made flesh.”
Like my Chris.
Christine stroked her hair again. “He was, if there are any such. When he died it damn near
killed me. Took the heart right out of another woman who loved him just as much. But that’s the
Christine’s hands went to the sides of Maureen’s face, held her tenderly but firmly as they
locked eyes. “It took a whole week, even after I’d raped him –” Maureen winced. “What’s the
matter, babe?”
“That word. Is that really…what it was?”
“Well, what would
call it when one person forces himself, or herself, on another
sexually? I promise you, the first time around he fought me the whole way.”
Maureen nodded. “And the week after?”
Christine pouted. “He wouldn’t touch me. Acted like it had never happened. I pretty much
had to do it again.” She smirked. “He didn’t fight me the second time, though.”
“Bloody –” Maureen clapped a hand to her mouth. “Sorry.”
The trainer chuckled. “For what? I can outswear a carrier battle group when I get cranked.
Anyway, he’d never had anyone to do for him what he’d done for me.”
“What was that?”
“Made me beautiful.” A joy swelled in Christine’s face that engulfed all the sorrow there.
“Treated me like someone special, someone who deserved respect and admiration. Made me
someone to love, instead of someone to abuse.”
“Chris, if you had to be made to feel beautiful and special, I can’t imagine –”
“And I don’t want you to,” Christine said. “I want you to feel the way he made me feel.
Stand up.” She rose and pulled Maureen to her feet. “Off with the duds.”
“Come on, it’s just us little girls. Skin ’em!”
Maureen cast a hasty glance at the entrance and complied.
“Undies too.”
“Must I?”
Christine scowled, and Maureen hurried to doff her panties and bra. When she was
completely nude, the younger woman bade her stand still, arms at her sides and feet slightly
spread, and moved around her, looking critically, touching her gently here and there and emitting
the occasional
of assessment.
“You’ve got the goods, babe. Good shape, still tight in all the right places, skin smooth, no
big moles or tags. Not much of a rack, though. A or B?”
Maureen cringed. “A’s just a little tight.”

“Well, we can fix that. Get dressed.” The trainer trotted to the front row of chairs and fished
up her purse. “We’re going shopping.”
They were on their sixth outfit before Maureen protested in earnest.
“Chris,” she whispered as the Albrecht’s saleslady moved away for another selection, “I
can’t afford this!”
Christine’s eyes twinkled. “Yes, you can. Relax, babe. We’re not halfway there yet.”
Dear Lord. Everything silk or linen. Everything gorgeous. Everything so flirtatious I could
never have
of wearing it. Where’s the money supposed to come from for all of it?
She’d gotten a single fleeting glance at one price tag before Christine ripped it out of her
And we haven’t been to the shoe salon yet. I think I feel faint.
Her hands rose to cup the pliable gel “cutlets” Christine had molded to the undersides of
her breasts.
“Are they uncomfortable? Coming loose?” Christine said.
“No, not at all. I very nearly forgot they were there.”
The younger woman grinned. “They do you good, babe. I’d say to wear them all the time.
Well, maybe not in bed.” She put on an exaggerated upper-class-Londonian accent. “One must
let the skin breathe now and then, eh?”
Maureen couldn’t help but giggle. “Oh, mustn’t one just. And serve the cause of discretion
as well!”
Christine laughed. “Discretion
a C cup. A breakthrough for the ages!”
A seventh fitting, this one a daringly cut red silk minidress that clung to her like a desperate
lover, and Christine called a halt. They toted their selections to the register, and before Maureen
could say a word, Christine told the saleslady to ship all the purchases to the Chase residence,
whipped out a gold credit card, and thrust it through the stripe reader. The saleslady rang up the
transaction without comment.
“Chris –”
“My treat, babe. We’re getting you beautiful.” Christine grinned, signed the credit slip, and
pocketed the receipt before Maureen could glimpse the total. “And we’re way far from done, so
summon your reserves. Next comes the fun part: shoes!”
“What’s fun about that?”
Christine frowned. “Are you
you’re a girl?”
Martine had done her best with the available space. Thinning out the breadth of the
selections helped. There was room for at least one of everything, and much to her surprise, she’d
managed to make the displays somewhat reminiscent of Helen’s shop in Los Angeles. The
workmen had finished installing the tub and mirroring the walls of the rear gallery, and she’d
hung a lovely curtain of Baltic amber beads in the doorway to it. The card table was set up in the
corner, the tea service and a plate of Helen’s special cakes upon it. A sense of having settled in
was building in her.
She sighed in satisfaction, went to the door of the shop, and stepped outside to breathe the
evening air. On impulse, she flipped the sign to OPEN before pulling the door closed behind her.
I’m ready. It’s time to make Helen proud.

There was a prospect of traffic after all. She hadn’t previously taken account of the large
department store a block to the south. With Grand Street, the city’s main drag, only a block
further to the north, pedestrian passers-by might be more numerous than she’d feared.
As she scanned the area, her eyes lit on a pair of women exiting the department store. Even
at a block’s distance, Martine could tell they were revved high, excited and pleased with
themselves and their purchases. From their body language it was clear that the taller one was the
dominant, leader of the expedition.
Martine’s hand drifted toward the steel busk that covered her mound. The anxiety of
solitude, the sense of nakedness from not having immeasurably wiser and more assured Helen to
backstop her had risen in her again. She fought it down, prayed for the chance to prove herself.
Walk this way, ladies. Be my first customers. Please!
The two did exactly that, the taller one with a relaxed yet confident saunter, the smaller one
stumbling, wobbling, and giggling in unfeigned delight as she accustomed herself to her high
heels, probably the first high heels she’d ever owned.
“Oooh,” Maureen cooed.
“Getting the hang of it?”
“Chris, this simply must be a mortal sin!
“Feeling this good. This…”
Maureen blushed.
“The point
sex, isn’t it?” Christine said.
“Well, yes. Partly.”
“Oh? What’s the other part?”
Maureen giggled. She’d learned that the knack for walking in her five-inch stiletto-heeled
sandals was to put one foot directly in front of the other, keep her legs close together, and take
short, deliberate steps. It compelled her to swing her hips as no ordinarily modest Englishwoman
would have done. The minidress caressed her from shoulders to hips with each step. The
sensuous friction as her silk-clad thighs swished against one another was more of a delight than
she could have imagined. “Feeling beautiful.”
Young, innocent, and carefree. Like a newborn.
“Wallow in it, babe. This is what life in America is supposed to be. Capitalism without
guilt. Work hard, play even harder. Pamper and be pampered. Give your best and be your best.
What I don’t get is why Chris never did this for you.”
“He’s a very practical sort, dear. He deals with necessities readily and quite well, but
luxuries are…foreign to him.”
You should see
underwear. Or perhaps not.
“What is it?”
The younger woman had halted, eyes fixed on the front of a nearby store. It appeared
newly occupied. The windows displayed an assortment of saucy lingerie, in a wide variety of
fabrics, styles, and colors. The marquee proclaimed the name of the establishment to be
Evenings To Remember.
“Aren’t we done for the evening, C hris?”
“Maybe not,” Christine said. “Let’s have a look in here.”
Martine stood before her counter and waited with as much nonchalance as she could fake.
When the shop door finally opened, she had to repress a sigh of relief.

The two women who entered were a study in contrasts. One was young and tall, with a
Valkyrie’s figure. She carried herself like a warrior, as well: boundless confidence, unfazed by
anything and ready for all of it. The other woman was slender, short, and middle-aged, with a
natural reserve, or shyness, that she couldn’t conceal. Both sported smiles, but the older woman
displayed a hint of tension, of the sort that comes from finding oneself in unfamiliar, disturbing
The older woman’s eyes roved the racks of lingerie and marital aids, her expression slowly
changing from puzzled to disturbed. The younger one stared directly at Martine. She murmured a
single word: “Yum!”
Martine smiled and bowed. “Welcome to Evenings To Remember, ladies. I’m Martine
Arnault. Today is our grand opening, and you’re our ver y first customers.” She gestured toward
the card table and the tea service. “Shall we take a few minutes to celebrate and get acquainted?”
The younger woman smiled naughtily and pulled the older one forward. “We shall.”
It took only one of the little cakes to dissolve Maureen’s reserve like the sugar lump in her
tea. Not ten minutes after they’d stepped through the door, she was holding Martine’s hands and
chattering away as if the two were bosom friends of twenty years’ standing. Christine simply sat
back and listened, attentive but relaxed and openly amused. Time passed unmeasured and
Presently Christine stood and stretched. “I have to get going. I have early appointments
tomorrow. Take care of her for me, Martine?”
Maureen started from her chair. “Chris –”
“Enjoy the rest of the evening, babe. I can catch the bus at the corner. ” Her eyes moved to
Martine’s. “Congrats on your opening. I’ll be back sometime.”
Martine smiled suggestively. “I hope so.”
As the door closed, Martine squeezed Maureen’s hands gently and said, “You’re lucky to
have a friend like that.”
“I know,” Maureen said. She took a second cake from the salver and nibbled at it, savoring
the spicy sweetness as it spread over her tongue. “These are frightfully good. Is it your own
Martine shook her head. “Taught to me by Helen. My mentor.”
“I’m sort of an apprentice, Mo. This is my first venture out from under Helen’s wing.” Her
gaze briefly swept the shop. “First test of a lot of things she taught me.”
“Does Helen run a shop like this, then?”
“In Los Angeles. Where we met.” Martine hesitated. “It’s only a day since she left, and I
already miss her terribly.”
Maureen leaned forward. “I think I understand, dear. I can’t imagine life without my Chris.”
Martine peered closely at the older woman. “What about your
Chris? The one you ran
to first with your problem? The one who just dolled you up like the queen of all English sexpots?
The one who checked me out for a whole hour before deciding it was okay to leave you in my
Maureen’s mouth fell open.
“Did she say what moved her to bring you in here, Mo?”
“It disturbed you at first, didn’t it?”

Maureen nodded. “I’m a Catholic.”
“I’m a Catholic too, Mo. I know all the teachings. I know how the Church treats sexuality
and sexual pleasure. And I’ll tell you something your pastor never will.” Martine felt her intensity
rise. “Every woman who lives is married to every other woman who’s ever lived. Husband or no
husband. We have a bond from birth that marriage to a man can’t undo. It goes all the way back
to C reation, to Eve, to the first blood that dripped from our loins. And when we accept it, and
learn to make use of its power, we become more than we were. Much more.”
“How?” Maureen whispered.
Martine hesitated, suddenly unsure. She groped for reassurance from the Power, felt it
come vibrantly awake within her, and her uncertainty vanished.
“Celebrants. Priestesses. The true keepers of the fire of life.”
Around them, the little shop was silent. No noise intruded from the street, now fully dark.
“I don’t understand,” Maureen whispered.
”Your friend does.” Martine went to the shop door and locked it, bade Maureen to rise, and
urged her gently toward the amber curtain. “And you will.”
Martine positioned Maureen before a wall of mirrors and bade her stand at ease. The
shopkeeper examined her critically from every angle, as Christine had, but without comment.
Strangely, she felt no tension at all.
Lord, I am in your hands. I don’t fear this new sense of indulgence, and I don’t know if I
should. Guide me rightly.
Finally Martine said, “I don’t understand it.”
“How could you have not known that you’re beautiful?” The young woman smiled. “I saw
it right away. Is it the vaginitis?”
Maureen’s head drooped. “It might be.”
“Would you like me to fix that?”
Her head snapped back up. “You

Martine nodded. “Maybe. Would you disrobe, please?”
Maureen felt an unexpected thrill, the current that goes with the anticipation of onrushing
joy, course through her. She grinned impishly.
“I will if you will.”
Martine grinned back. “With pleasure.” The young woman stepped out of her high-heeled
pumps, peeled off her stockings, undid a short zipper on her form-fitting leather sheath and slid it
past her hips as easily as if her skin had been greased. The figure thus revealed was as lusciously
striking as Christine’s. Maureen blushed, turned away, and made to remove her new clothes.
When she turned back, she noted that the shopkeeper had retained a single garment: a
device of steel and leather that circled her waist and enclosed her groin.
“Is that a…chastity belt?”
Martine nodded. “I wear it just about all the time.”
“Good Lord, why?”
“It’s part of my vocation.”
You’re too sexy for Opus Dei!
“I’m a professional horny bitch, Mo. I’m supposed to stay as horny as possible as much of
the time as possible. Believe it or not, that’s the fuel that keeps me going.”

Maureen Harkness had thought herself worldly. She’d thought she knew Mankind in its
profusion and variety. In that moment she learned how narrow her horizons had really been. She
stepped forward and crouched to examine the contrivance that bound Martine’s loins.
It was a solid steel plate, brightly polished, closely fitted to the young woman’s flesh and
held tight there by thick leather bands. The edges of the plate were smoothly beveled, but even
so, there were deep red grooves in the flesh along them. It looked as if it would permit no ingress
at all.
“Does it hurt?”
Martine shook her head. “Not any more.”
“You wear it…all the time?”
She touched her fingertips to the plate. “Is this what I should –”
“No and hell no!
program will be completely different.” Martine gestured toward a
massage table at the far end of the room.
Maureen followed the shopkeeper to the table. Martine gestured to her to get up on it, bade
her lie on her stomach, arms at her sides.
“There are several kinds of vaginitis,” Martine said as she fumbled in a drawer set into the
table’s base. “Yours might be treatable, but you’d never get the right kind of treatment from a
medical doctor.” She grinned. “That’s part of what I do. Will you trust me not to hurt you?”
Maureen hesitated, then nodded.
“Thank you. Just lie there and let me work.”
And so it began.
Martine’s awareness of her every movement as she labored over Maureen was uniquely
vivid. The tremors that ran through the older woman’s form as Martine massaged and caressed
her reminded her over and over that this was not a creature accustomed to the thought of sex as
pleasure or play.
She’s led an arid life. Love, maybe even a lot of it, but not much fun.
“Time to turn over, Mo.”
Maureen’s skin was smooth and pliable. It bore the milk-and-roses tint typical of English
womanhood, and the chamois-like texture of maturity that embeds every past caress in loving
remembrance. Her breasts were small and firm. Her ribcage musculature was solid, without
hernia or sag. Her waist was trim, her hips motherly but not overly padded. She bore her years as
well as any woman could hope to.
Her husband must know what he’s denying himself. I have to fix this.
It was at her vagina that things went sour. Martine parted the labia tenderly and leaned
close. The opening was completely dry. The residual lubrication that can be found in a healthy
woman, unaroused but sexually fully functional, was entirely absent.
“Mo,” Martine murmured, “I’m going to remove your pubic hair. Is that okay?”
Eyes closed, the older woman nodded.
Martine plied an electric clipper over Maureen’s mound until only stubble remained, then
lathered her up and carefully scraped away the stubble with a safety razor. At the end, Maureen’s
pubis was as clean and smooth as Martine’s own.
“You’ll have to keep this up for yourself, Mo,” she said. “Shave it every two or three days.
Otherwise the vaginitis will return,
it will itch like crazy, to boot.”

From the table drawer, Martine extracted a small torpedo-shaped vibrator. She coated it
liberally and carefully with the special unguent Helen had compounded for easing an irritation of
the mucous membranes, parted Maureen’s labia again, and murmured, “Try to hold still, dear.”
The older woman nodded again. Martine activated the vibrator, put the tip against the
entrance to her vagina, and inserted it slowly. Maureen gasped and her eyes popped open.
“Does it hurt?”
“No…no!” Maureen’s long muscles contracted and relaxed in a steady rhythm. Her hands
clenched the edges of the table. “It’s wonderful!”
Martine rotated the vibrator slowly as she worked it in and out, doing her best to spread the
healing balm evenly over the whole surface of the vaginal membrane. She kept an eye on
Maureen’s reactions, vigilant for any indications of pain or stress. There were none, only a rising
arousal building inexorably toward orgasm.
Just before climax, Martine put her free hand against Maureen’s sternum and pressed
downward. The orgasm that followed was volcanic, likely more violent than anything Maureen
had experienced before. Without Martine’s restraint, she might have flown off the table.
When her gasping and spasming had subsided, Maureen elbowed herself upright, tears
streaming down her face, and beckoned Martine into her arms.
“You’re an angel,” she sobbed. “A genuine angel.”
“No, Mo, not quite,” Martine murmured into her ear. “But I’m on pretty good terms with
”You have to do it every day,” Martine told her. She handed the vibrator and the tube of
unguent to Maureen. “All the way to orgasm. Two or three days, and you’ll start to feel fresh and
moist again. In about a week, the tissues will start producing their own lubrication. Then comes
the hard part.”
Maureen thrust the gifts into her new purse. “What’s that?”
”Persuading Mr. Harkness that you’re ready for battle.”
Maureen chuckled. “It’s Mr. Chase, actually, but I got the idea.” She pulled her stockings
up legs that seemed twice as sensitive as they had in Albrecht’s women’s department, fastened
them to her garters, and slipped her feet into her sandals. Every movement brought a languorous
delight. Her state of dreamy contentment repelled all her misgivings and cares. “Will it be like
that every time?”
Martine grinned. “We can hope so. Mo,” she said, “if you’re nervous about it, or shy, you
can always stop by. I’ll help.”
”I know, dear. We’ll just have to see.”
After this, bracing Chris won’t seem like that much
of a challenge.
She adjusted her minidress, stood and held out a hand. “Thank you for
Martine stepped past the proffered hand and caught her in a full, warm embrace.
”May I make two little suggestions, Mo?”
Maureen pressed the younger woman’s form firmly against her own. “Anything, dear.”
”Drive home barefoot. Learning to drive in heels takes a lot of practice.” Martine paused
briefly. “And tell him you want to take his name.”
”Hm?” She pulled slightly back and peered into Martine’s eyes.
”You wouldn’t believe what it means to a man. They all say it doesn’t matter.” Martine’s
eyes twinkled. “They all lie. Trust me.”
”I will.” Maureen hugged her again. “Are you
you’re not an angel?”

Martine chuckled. “I think God would have told me.”
Only after the door of the shop closed behind her did Maureen realize that her evening
wasn’t quite over.
Though brightly lit, copiously traveled Grand Avenue was only a block away, the side
street on which she’d found Evenings To Remember was fully dark, lit only by scattering of
stars, and seemed devoid of life. Maureen wasn’t reflexively afraid of the dark, but the city was
largely unknown to her. Her husband had warned against walking its streets alone at night. She
started hesitantly toward the municipal parking lot, placing her feet carefully, straining to see
through the dark but only able to discern objects a yard or two away.
The lot was well lit, and her fears retreated. She was almost at her car’s door when a large,
dark figure in rough clothes stepped between it and her.
“Yo, mama. Whatchoo doin’ out here? Lookin’ fo’ a good

The slurred words were followed by a metallic click. A blade gleamed in the figure’s hand.
Her fears surged to a height she hadn’t felt since London. She backed away, stumbled, and would
have fallen had a pair of strong hands not caught her by the waist and steadied her.
“Careful, babe.”
Christine stepped around her and confronted the knife-toting thug.
“My friend’s a little tired. Want to play with
The young thug snarled and lunged, knife held low, and slashed across Christine’s
Maureen couldn’t see clearly what happened next. It
as if Christine caught the knife
blade with a lightning sweep of her hand. It
as if the thug froze in mid-swing and tried to
wrench the weapon free, without success. It
as if Christine snapped off the blade with her
thumb, tossed it aside, and knocked her attacker cold with the neutered grip. But that, of course,
was entirely impossible.
However, at the end of the tussle the thug was lying motionless on the macadam, and
Christine was standing over him with arms akimbo, clucking in disapproval.
“Where were you?” Maureen whispered as she strove to quell her shakes.
Christine shrugged. “I waited outside the store. I wanted you two to have some privacy, but
I thought I should stick around in case you needed a little help. Come on, it’s time you got
She bundled Maureen into her car, shut the door, and sauntered back toward the shop.
Maureen fumbled out her keys, started the car, and headed for her Foxwood home, her mind
alight with thanks and praise to God for the friendship of Christine D’Alessandro.
Martine was unsurprised when Christine returned to her shop.
“Did your friend get home all right?”
“Not quite,” Christine said. “A little trouble in the parking lot. I just put her in her car. I
think she’ll be okay.”
“I had a feeling you hadn’t gone far.”
Christine nodded, absently fingering random items on the countertop. “The city isn’t a safe
place for a woman alone.”
“Not even you?”
Christine chuckled. “Well, maybe for me. I wanted to chat with you a little, if you’re not
busy with important stuff.”

Martine laid her journal aside and gestured at the card table, and the two resumed their
“I wanted to thank you for helping my friend,” Christine said. “She’s had it pretty rough
since coming to this country. She can’t get a job in her field, her daughter was gang-raped a
couple of years back, and her husband works way too much for his own good, or hers. What with
all that, the sex crap was almost too much for her to bear.”
“I sensed some of that,” Martine said. “Anyway, I was glad to help.” A thought struck her.
“Have you ever been to Los Angeles? To Helen’s store there?”
Christine shook her head. “I haven’t left New York in…well, ever.”
“Then how did you know I could help her?”
Christine was slow to answer. She stared down at her folded hands as obscure currents of
emotion and contemplation passed over her face.
“You know what I do for a living?”
Martine nodded.
“It’s not just a job, babe. It’s more like a calling. One of those things that someone has to
do, and I’ve been assigned.” Christine looked up. “I’ve got what I need to do it, thank God, and I
enjoy it, too. But the calling is the important part. I don’t think I could walk away from it if I
wanted to. And I got the same feeling about you and what you do.”
Martine said nothing.
“I think…maybe we’re the same that way, and different from everyone else. That other
people get to work out their own ways through life, but our jobs were chosen for us.”
“Yes,” Martine said. “Helen is like that, too. I wish you could meet her. You’d love each
“If she recruited and trained you,” Christine said, “I expect so. Tell me, babe.” She
hesitated. “Are you in contact with something?”
Martine’s breath came short. She nodded convulsively. “Are you?” she whispered.
Christine smiled. “All my life. He’s kept me sane.”
“We are the same,” Martine said. “Except I wasn’t…in touch until Helen recruited me.”
Christine flipped a hand. “Not important. Look, Onteora can be a rough place. You’re new
here, so you’re likely to be targeted by some of our less refined citizens. Private
public.” She
pulled a card out of her jeans pocket and passed it across the table. “If anyone gives you trouble,
you use that number. Day or night. Hell, put it on speed dial.” She grinned. “Or call if you want a
drinking buddy, or a shoulder, or someone to shop or watch TV with.”
Martine closed her eyes and prayed for communion with the Power. It came at once, and
blanketed her with the sense of approval for which she’d hoped.
Did Helen know this would happen?
“Chris? You haven’t seen the whole shop. And I have an apartment in back. Would you like
the grand tour?”
Christine rose. “Sure, why not?”
Martine rose and held out a hand, and Christine took it. As they passed through the curtain
of amber beads into the mirrored gallery, Martine said, “The apartment isn’t much, really, except
that it has this
Christine grinned. “Really? Let me see.”

Laura’s day of shopping had been as enjoyable as usual, but without Denis’s company
there’d been something indefinable missing. True, he whined as much as any man about
following her from store to store, about waiting while she pawed through racks of garments and
dived in and out of fitting rooms, and about sitting around while she tried on pair after pair of
shoes until she’d found the exact pair to complement a new dress or suit. All the same, having
him with her gave a point to her shopping pleasure. He reminded her of the reason she sought to
glorify herself with her clothes: because once they were at home, his eyes would flare with lust,
and the reward for her exertions would be given to her.
Her parents had not approved of their marriage. Denis had none of the qualifications they’d
sought in a mate for her. He was six years her junior. He was short for a man, no taller than she,
and not conventionally masculine. He didn’t travel in the right circles. He had little education and
no money. His occupational prospects were strictly blue-collar. All in all, her father had said, not
the usual first choice of a husband for an ambitious young corporate lawyer. Her status-obsessed
mother had agreed. But they didn’t share a bed with him. They didn’t get to feel his mouth
teasing at her clitoris, his luscious rump and velvety balls hot in her hands, his marvelous organ
pistoning in and out of her. They didn’t wake to his eternal readiness to please her, however she
might wish. She did.
She pulled her Lexus into their garage, noted the presence of his old Mustang, and felt the
first trickle of arousal. In the welter of bags behind her were treasures guaranteed to inflame him
to the heights they both loved. She allowed herself to anticipate posing before him in her new
finery, and shivered deliciously.
She gathered as many of her new acquisitions as she could carry at one time, pried open the
door to their home with a free finger, and shouldered her way in.
“Sweetie! Where are you?”
“Living room,” he called back.
She staggered into the living room, caught sight of him on the couch, and dropped all she
He was sitting on their sofa with a book in his lap and his feet up on their coffee table. He
was in his usual garb for a day when he expected not to leave the house: a T-shirt and drawstring
cotton pants. But his feet were snugly gloved by a pair of black women’s pumps with five-inch
stiletto heels. She recognized them at once. They were
five-inch stiletto heels.
“Uh, Den, love…why are you wearing my shoes?”
He looked up at her innocently. “What, you don’t think they suit me? You thought so last
She swallowed. The night before, out of a sudden caprice she’d teased him into donning her
black lace bra and garter belt, her black silk stockings and those very pumps. He’d blushed
brightly at the suggestion, but once she’d coaxed him into her lingerie and heels she’d given him
the ride of his life. He’d served her equally well.
“Denis…” She paused to unload the parcels in her arms onto the sofa. “Have you been
wearing those all afternoon?”
He nodded. “I have to get used to them if I’m going to wear them when we make love, don’t
“Well…” The thought wasn’t unpleasant, but it was unprecedented. Almost unprecedented.
And the sex had been the hottest they’d ever had.

She crossed her arms over her breasts. “Stand up and let me see you move around in them.”
He rose, grinning as he teetered for an instant on the high, slim heels, then strutted
deliberately around their little living room in an unexpected display of proficiency.
How long has he been practicing? Do I really want to know?
At last he turned to face her, spread his arms and cocked his head theatrically, and said,
“Well, what do you think?”
“I think,” she said slowly, “that you have a gift. But you know, your ensemble doesn’t
really match.”
“Hm? Oh, these? Well, I had to wear something while I did the vacuuming.” He stepped
out of her pumps, pulled his T-shirt over his head, undid the string at his waist and let the loose
cotton pants drop to the floor. He turned slightly to one side, crooked one leg before the other,
and posed himself like a fashion mannequin.
He’d depilated his whole body.
He hadn’t been overly hirsute to begin with, but the removal of his hair still made for quite
an effect. From his chin to his toes, his skin was as smoothly, hairlessly flawless as a young
girl’s. Even his penis and testicles were free of hair. Except for his genitals, it would have been
difficult to guess his sex.
The blood roared in her ears. Michelangelo’s
couldn’t touch his androgynous appeal.
She approached him slowly, put her hands gently to his hairless chest.
“Put your pumps back on,” she said hoarsely.
His eyebrows rose as he stepped into the heels. ”
She dropped to her knees. “From now on.”
He put his hands to the sides of her face as she took him in her mouth.
Their night was a feast of the flesh worthy of legend.
She was frenzied, insatiable. She wanted his hands on her everywhere, his tongue and his
penis in all her orifices at once. She clutched and sucked and bucked at him as if she wanted to
swallow him whole, as a sacrifice to whatever god had brought her blood to so delightful a boil.
Even when she bit and clawed and raked at him hard enough to draw blood, he was endlessly
accommodating. Indeed, he did everything she asked and nothing before she asked it, as if his
desire was entirely to serve hers. The windows glowed with the new dawn before her lust had
exhausted her.
And the pumps never left his feet.
Laura met Sarah for lunch at Truffles the next day. Almost before the waiter had moved
decently far away, she burst forth with the story of the night before.
She’d thought she could confide in Sarah. Sarah was the youngest and most hedonistically
inclined of her friends: the most erotically
the least likely to start in surprise at a bit of
harmless kink. But within thirty seconds of the start of Laura’s narration, Sarah had dropped her
fork into her plate and sat back from their table, eyes wide and listening with concentration.
Laura had intended to omit certain details of the thing, but Sarah’s reaction fueled her
desire to tell it all. She even wove a few filigrees into the tale to enhance its erotic power. By the
conclusion, Laura was both uncertain she’d attended the event she’d described and burning with
eagerness to repeat it. Sarah, though, looked anything but approving.
They grazed over their Caesar salads in silence for a long while.

Presently Sarah said, without looking up, “You know, you usually can’t reverse that sort of
Laura cocked an eyebrow. “What sort of thing?”
“Dominating a man. Feminizing him” Sarah pursed her lips. “Especially one who takes to
it. They get locked into the…into the mindset. Pretty soon they’re good for nothing but…” She
trailed off.
Laura’s imp was in full command. “Nothing but
Sarah nodded. “Sometimes they need, uh, help with that, too.”
That set Laura back. Denis had needed help. His erection had remained spongy until she
worked a finger into his ass.
Well, so what? He was more than hard enough after that. He
As unconcernedly as she could manage, she said, “Sounds like you think I should worry.”
She looked up from her lunch to find Sarah’s large brown eyes heavy upon her. The
younger woman nodded gently.
“I would.”
Laura surprised herself that night.
He was back in her lingerie and heels at her first hint, but she took him further. Much
further. She demanded that he allow her to ride his face, and he complied. She ordered him to
turn face-down, spread-eagle, and allow her to tie him to their bed, and he complied. She pulled
her vibrator from her intimates drawer, lubed it lovingly, and put the tip to his anus. When she
hesitated, he thrust his ass at her as if it were what he’d been waiting for. When she activated the
vibrator and pierced him with the tool, he moaned, shuddered, and spurted pearly fluid all over
their sheets.
She surprised herself, but he betrayed no hint of surprise.
A broken water main diverted Laura from her usual route home, down a side street she’d
never traveled before. In less than a minute she was completely disoriented, uncertain of which
roads would lead her back west, out to her home in Chedwick where Denis awaited her.
She slowed to a crawl, desultorily surveying the shops along the street. Many were utterly
new to her, despite being only two blocks from Albrecht’s, the premier department store in the
On impulse she slewed her Lexus to the curb and got out. The district possessed an eerie
silence, deep but not unpleasant. As she surveyed the shops next to where she’d parked, one
caught her eye and held it: an exotic lingerie emporium, with teddies, camisoles, and high-heeled
shoes in its forward display. The shop’s name, etched discreetly into the glass pane in its door in
a fanciful script, was
Evenings To Remember.
She nudged the door open and went in.
The store appeared quite conventional of its kind. Bins laden with silk and satin garments
ran from front to back. Torso mannequins displayed lacy feminine underthings of the expected
sort. Along one wall stood a rack of high-heeled shoes; along the other, a pedestal displayed
vibrators and related items under the discreet heading of “mar ital aids.”
The most unusual item in sight was the young woman behind the low-slung counter at the
back of the store. When Laura turned toward her, she stepped out from behind the counter and
made to approach.

The girl was a vision in black. Her abundant black hair fell in gentle waves to disappear
behind her shoulders. Her black leather bustier encased two perfectly formed breasts, cleavage
nicely prominent, which rose and fell in an all but irresistible invitation to a kiss. Her waist
tapered to a wide black belt over a skirt of black satin that hugged her hips and ended just below
her pubic bone. Her stockings were sheer black silk, highlighting the exquisite curves of her
thighs and disappearing into the tops of her black knee-high stiletto-heeled boots. She was the
most completely eroticized image of femininity Laura had ever seen.
The girl smiled gently and said, “May I be of service to you?”
Laura had not imagined that she might be bisexual until that moment. Her juices surged in
her, dampening her panties and blurring her vision. She restrained the urge to take the girl in her
arms with the greatest of difficulty.
“Uh…maybe.” Laura swallowed and tried to force herself into her lawyer’s persona:
intimidating and implacable. “I’m looking for a…a harness and dildo.”
The girl’s eyebrows rose. “To be worn by you?”
Laura nodded firmly.
“For use on a woman…or a man?”
“A man.” Laura smiled formally. “My husband.”
The girl regarded her in silence for several uncomfortable seconds.
“Well,” Laura said, “is that the sort of thing you carry or isn’t it?”
The girl remained silent a few moments longer, studying Laura’s face. Laura pondered
whether she’d made a mistake in entering the shop.
“Yes, we carry them,” the girl said. “But it’s not the sort of thing we normally just hand
over the counter. Are you willing to sit for a fitting?”
“A properly fitted harness isn’t something one just yanks off a rack, dear.” The girl put out
a hand, and Laura automatically took it. “I’m Martine Arnault, by the way.”
Laura smiled again. “I’m Laura Marchesand.”
The girl nodded. “Of course.” Martine turned without releasing Laura’s hand and led her
past the counter, through a curtain of brightly colored crystals and beads, and into a place beyond
“He’s not much of a man,” Laura said as she trailed her fingers over Martine’s mons. “Don’t
get me wrong: I love him, I’m with him by choice, but
provide for us,
deal with our hirelings,
look out for our future and our standing in the community. He takes care of the house, and
the groceries, and the cleaning and laundry, and…”
Martine smiled. “And you?”
“Yes.” Laura’s mouth quirked impishly. She ran the tip of her tongue lightly along the
groove between Martine’s perfectly shaved labia. “That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?
“It often is, dear.” Martine took Laura’s face between her hands. “It sounds as if you made
your marital bargain with your eyes open.”
Laura snorted gently. “I’d like to think so, even if my parents don’t.” She pulled herself up
on the futon and laid her head against Martine’s belly. The girl’s warmth and softness were
endlessly accepting. “I’m a corporate negotiator. I represent billion-dollar companies in their
contests with the law and one another. I’d
know what I’m doing before I do it!”
Martine nodded. Presently she propped herself up on her elbows and looked Laura full in
the eyes.

“In another life, Laura, I’d have said something noncommittal and dismissive. But the
course you’ve embarked on is no minor voyage. Just now you’re traveling through the
borderlands of sexuality. It’s like an ocean: featureless, ambiguous, where everything is fluid and
much is left to chance. But when you reach the opposite shore, you might find that the way
forward was much easier than the way back. Returning might be impossible.”
Martine’s black eyes probed Laura’s own. Laura had the sense of a warning being issued in
tones of finality.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
She reached for her resolve, found it curiously hard to grip. “He seems to…to want it.”
“Do you want it as well? Is it compatible with the other things you want?”
Laura started to reply, halted herself.
“You haven’t thought about it, have you?”
Martine nodded minutely. “Perhaps you should.”
Laura stiffened at that. Her self-image did not allow for the deliberate entertainment of
doubt. Professionally, she couldn’t afford it; personally, she couldn’t abide it.
If Denis wants it and I want it, what could be the harm?
“Well,” she said as firmly as she could manage, “let’s have a look at the merchandise. You
have something suitable, don’t you?”
Martine’s face went utterly still. She seemed to be pondering.
“All right.” She rose, pressed the edge of one of the many mirrors that paneled the walls of
the room, and stepped briefly inside. Laura dressed as she waited. Presently Martine returned
with a contraption of leather and rubber in her hands.
“This would probably be suitable,” she said, holding it out gingerly. “Your legs go through
here, this part goes into your vagina, and you tighten this buckle until –”
Laura snatched the device out of her hands. “Thank you. I think I get the concept. What do
I owe you for this?”
Martine winced. She chewed on her lip and looked briefly away.
“Consider it a gift. Laura? Don’t rush into this without a little more thought. Give him a
chance to back out. Please?”
Laura laughed dismissively. “He won’t. Thanks for everything. See you again soon.”
She turned and made for the door in such haste that she almost missed Martine’s parting
“We’ll see.”
Laura found Denis exactly as she’d expected him.
He was waiting for her in the black lace bra, the garter belt and stockings, and the stiletto
heeled pumps in anticipation of her return home. Perhaps he’d worn them all through the day; she
didn’t much care. What mattered was his emphatic readiness, the promise of unconditional
acquiescence he presented in his appearance…and his service to her thereafter.
He rose and faced her as she entered the living room. His member was already erect and
ready. A welcoming flush spread from his neck down to his chest and abdomen. She stopped to
admire him: prize of her labors and her plaything for decades to come.
He held out his arms to her, but she stepped back. “Into the bedroom,” she growled.
His face clouded, but he turned and strode, heels clicking, for their marital bed. She
followed closely behind, stopped and waited for him to dispose himself on the bed.
“On your stomach with your legs spread,” she said hoarsely. He complied.

She shucked her business suit in haste, reached into her purse, and drew forth the harness.
Martine’s instructions had been unnecessary. It was obvious how the harness was to be
worn. She slipped it on with ease, fitted the rear nub into her vagina, tightened the straps and
knelt between his legs.
“Do you know what’s about to happen to you?” she whispered.
He shuddered, but made no other reply. She peered down at his exposed anus. The dark
ring of muscle seemed to gleam at her in the gloom of the bedroom. She put a finger to it, felt the
slipperiness at the opening, and nodded. He knew, all right; he’d lubed himself.
She put the tip of the dildo to his anus and bore down. He shuddered again, but his rump
rose, reluctantly at first, to accept Martine’s gift. She pressed the full length of it into him,
dragged it out slowly, and pressed forward again. He gasped and clutched at the bedcovers as
they rocked in the darkness.
She leaned over him, put her lips next to his ear.
“You’re not a man,” she whispered as she pumped him. “You’re my toy…my
. I’m
going to use you whenever and however I want, from tonight onward. You’ll serve me without
question, no matter what I ask.” She pistoned into him with sharper, faster strokes. “You’ll wear
what I’ve given you and nothing else. You’ll leave the house only in company with me, go where
I go, and speak only when spoken to. Some nights I’ll give you pleasure, and some I’ll give you
pain, but you’ll accept it all.” She grabbed a fistful of his hair and hauled his head back as she
pressed the dildo into him with extra force. His stiletto-heeled feet rose and waggled alongside
her as he gasped in submission. “Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” he hissed.
She jerked his head back harder still. “Yes,
“Yes, Ma’am,” he whispered. “Yes, Mistress.”
“Good,” she said, and rode him into oblivion.
Denis remained asleep when Laura rose the next morning. She thought at first to wake him,
considered it a moment longer, and decided to let him be. He was still sound asleep, or feigning
it, when she left for work.
Her day passed in a sort of haze. She couldn’t fully concentrate on her work, and she
couldn’t quite focus on what she’d done the night before. The events of the evening had her mind
firmly in their grip, but held her at arm’s length.
For the barest instant, she mused over whether she should feel guilt.
Guilt? For taking what he obviously offered and giving him what he obviously wanted? At
such a dividend of pleasure? Ridiculous.
A voice that seemed to emanate from behind her conscious thoughts spoke faintly to her.
But was there pleasure in it, really?
That stopped her. She’d exhausted him. He’d come again and again, but was it because he’d
enjoyed being her new toy, sawn in half with her other new toy, or because she’d forced it out of
him with stresses his body could not resist?
She’d had no orgasm that she could remember. The thrill of breaking him was all she could
Shortly after lunch, a senior executive came to see her with a question about a negotiation
in progress. She tried to answer him, found herself unable to remember the details of the deal or
form a coherent sentence about it. He peered into her face, his own face lit with concern, and he

suggested that she not stay too late, that she might need the afternoon to recuperate from
whatever was ailing her. She nodded absently, and he left.
On her way home, she thought she might apprise Martine of how the evening had gone. All
the turnoffs looked the same; she could not remember which she’d taken that had led her to
Evenings To Remember.
When she got home, she found him seated on their sofa, reading from a thick ring binder.
He was dressed, too. Not in her underthings and heels, and not in his usual slovenly go-nowhere
house-husband style, but in a crisp chambray work shirt, neatly pressed, perfectly clean jeans,
and work boots she hadn’t seen on him since before they married. He looked up, flashed a smile
at her, and went immediately back to his reading.
It rubbed a raw place in her soul. She dropped her briefcase, put her hands on her hips and
waited. He said nothing.
“Hi, sweetie,” he said in a tone of studied unconcern. “How was your day?”
“No surprises, until now.” She flicked a hand at him. “Why are you wearing that crap?”
He looked at her with eyebrows raised, then down at himself. “Interview. The construction
project at the north end of Mill Avenue. Didn’t I mention it?”
It was clear he’d decided to rebel.
“No, you
did not mention it,”
she growled. “Why aren’t you wearing your…ah…”
“Your lingerie?” he said. “Because if I had, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job.” He
shoved the binder aside, rose, stretched, and grinned. “I start tomorrow.”
She strode toward him wearing her fiercest angry-lawyer’s glare.
“I did not give you permission to get a job,” she said. “I did not give you permission to
leave the house! When I get home, I expect you to be dressed as I’ve instructed you and ready to
serve me.” She stopped with her face a bare six inches from his own and screamed, “So get into
the bedroom and
into your uniform!”
After several seconds of agonizing silence, he snorted gently, shook his head and turned
“You’ve got some strange ideas, Lor,” he said. “I’ll wear what I want and when I want. I’ll
come and go as I please, the same as you do. As for ‘serving you’…” He chuckled. “You should
know better than to press your luck. Just a second.” He headed into their bedroom and returned a
moment later with a bundle of linen.
“Have a look at this,” he said, and tossed it to her. She caught it awkwardly and rustled
through it, uncertain what he wanted her to see, until she found it.
The stain was dark crimson, a near-perfect circle about four inches across. She fingered it
tentatively, found it to be dry and slightly crusty.
“What does –”
“Come on,” he said. “Don’t you have
idea what you did to me last night? I was still
bleeding when I got up this morning! If you expect me to hold still for more of that kind of
treatment, you’re not half as bright as you think. Oh, one more thing.” He retreated to the
bedroom again. This time, he returned with her dildo harness. It, too, was dark with his blood.
She said nothing.
He took the phallus in hands that suddenly struck her as powerful, twisted it in half, and
dropped the pieces at her feet.
“I hope you didn’t pay a lot for that.”

When she failed to respond, he went to the door and let himself out into the evening.
“You overplayed your hand,” Sarah said. She nodded at Laura’s untouched coffee. “You
should drink that before it gets cold.”
Laura nodded absently. Truffles’s Irish coffee was among its chief delights, and was priced
accordingly. But the mess with Denis was lodged immovably at the front of her thoughts.
“He didn’t come back last night. He still wasn’t back when I left for work this morning,”
she said. “I don’t know what to expect tonight.”
“Sleeping alone is a bitch, isn’t it?”
“You know it. It’s been three years since…”
“Since you last had to?”
Laura nodded.
Sarah stared down at the table as if hunting for the right words.
If she thinks he’s gone for good, I’d rather not hear it just now.
“He’ll probably be back, you know.” Sarah laid no particular emphasis on
. “But
he’s let you know pretty clearly that he has hard borders, and that you don’t get to redefine them.
You have to keep that in mind in the future.”
Laura snorted a mirthless laugh. “I thought he was redefining them, not me.” She leaned
forward and said softly, “You wouldn’t believe how tight he got, or how many times he came. If
it wasn’t what he wanted –”
“It wasn’t,” Sarah said. “Get it straight, girlfriend. He wanted to please you. He tried to
accept what he thought
wanted. He couldn’t. Now he has to convince himself that he was
wrong.” She paused. “Was he?”
“Not…not in wanting to please me. The rest of it…” Tears flooded Laura’s eyes. “I’d enslave
myself to
to have him back tonight.” She laughed again. “Just don’t tell him that if you see
him, okay?”
Sarah grinned. “No chance of that.” She fished a twenty from her purse, dropped it on the
table and rose. “Gotta go home, babe. Marvin is expecting me in about ten minutes, and from the
look of Grand Street, I’d probably get there faster on foot.”
Laura dried her eyes and rose. Sarah put out a hand, and she took it.
“Sarah, how’d you get so smart, anyway?”
Sarah gave her hand a squeeze. “I have a lot of smart friends. I just watch you guys and
learn from your mistakes. Thanks for the service.”
Laura laughed. “No charge.”
She found Denis sitting at their kitchen table. He was hunched forward, hands folded
before him, staring at nothing. She controlled her surge of anxiety as best she could, set her
briefcase down carefully, and went to join him. He stretched a hand across the table, and she
took it.
“How was your first day of work?” she said.
He shrugged.
For a long while they sat in silence, with only the setting sun for illumination. He would
not look directly at her. She wondered whether what she’d done had breached them irreparably.
Presently he said, “I guess it was as much my fault as yours.”
“Does it…still hurt?”

He looked up and grinned. “It doesn’t
, but I’ll probably feel it for a week. Don’t worry
about it, sweetie. We hadn’t set any limits, so how could you know? Especially given how
provocative I’ve been.”
Her surge of relief made her lightheaded. “So we’re all right?”
“Yeah, we’re fine. But don’t do that again, okay? I don’t get off on pain any more than you
do.” He rose and went to the stove. “How about some tea?”
He was wearing her pumps.
“Surprised?” he said. He took the kettle to the sink and filled it. “I can’t imagine why. This
is really sexy. I always wondered why women liked high heels.” He put the kettle on the burner
and turned the flame up high. “And you know,” he said, “that little vibrator of yours is great.
When you put it in my ass, I thought I might explode.”
She gasped. “But you just said –”
“I said
no more pain.
The way you sawed at me with that dildo hurt me plenty. That wasn’t
sex, it was…I don’t know, something I don’t want to do ever again.” He squatted before her and
took her face between her hands. “Don’t tell me
enjoyed it. You didn’t come even once.”
“No, you’re right. I can’t even say why I did it.”
“I can,” he said. “You thought I wanted it. I should have said something, but I thought
wanted it.” He snorted gently and took her hands again. “I’ve done a lot of thinking these past
two days, Lor. I know I’m not much of a man, the way the world sees things. But I am a man. It’s
time I started acting like one, don’t you think? You know, working for a living, taking care of the
dirty jobs, escorting you to your company’s social functions, stuff like that?”
“I’d…I’d like that,” she sniffled. “But –”
“And when we’re at home enjoying ourselves,” he said, “let’s talk a little more. The sex is
great, but I don’t want any more misunderstandings.” He grinned and wiggled his rump. “I’m not
sure I can afford them.”
She smiled as her sense of relief solidified. “Okay.”
He clapped his hands gently against hers and stood up, wobbling momentarily. “Whew!
How soon we forget. Now, would you like me in your black ensemble again tonight, or would
you like a little variety?”
She laughed. “Well, I just bought a
nice red set. All silk. But they don’t really go with
those shoes.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you have a pair of red heels about like these?”
“Indeed I do.” She rose and took his hand. “C ome, let’s explore my collection, and
whatever else comes to mind.”
He tugged her gently toward the stove and quenched the flame beneath the kettle.
“Let’s do that.”
Making Do
Though the doctor had taken care to close the door of her room, he and Alex had not
moved far enough beyond it. Hsiao-ling could hear their conversation all too well.
“No more children ever?

“I’m sorry, Mr. Betancourt. The necrosis ruined her uterus beyond repair. This isn’t
something we can fix surgically.”
“What about…transplants?”
“Uterus transplants? I’m afraid there’s no such thing.” The doctor paused. “There’s another
“Yes?” The tension in Alex’s voice had risen to an unbearable pitch.
“Your wife’s vagina suffered considerable damage, as well. The nerve tracks to it have been
badly compromised. Sexual intercourse will be quite painful for her.”
“Can you fix that, at least?”
“That damage is beyond repair as well. I’m very sorry, sir. We’ve done all we can.”
Hsiao-ling was still in the throes of grief over her stillborn son. That Adam had been a ten-
pound monstrosity, head and neck fused to his torso and features barely recognizable as human,
was irrelevant. She’d loved and anticipated him from the instant of his conception. To learn that
childbearing had been struck from her future forever was a blow for which she was unprepared.
Her sobs returned at full force, escalating swiftly into a piercing scream.
Alex burst into the room at once, scanning left and right for what might have so upset her.
His clenched fists, his combat-ready stance, and the ruddy intensity of his tear-streaked face gave
him the aspect of an avenging angel.
An angel in mourning.
Hsiao-ling felt Alex’s erection against the small of her back as he clasped her silently in the
darkness. She could almost feel him willing it to subside.
He’d been unnaturally quiet and distant ever since he’d brought her home from the hospital.
Uncharacteristically, he spoke only when necessary. He made no attempt to converse, not even
small talk at dinner. He wouldn’t even speak of his candidacy for tenure, up to then the most
exciting prospect in his life. She’d done her best to maintain complete normality in their
household, to make him feel that all was as well as it could possibly be, but her efforts had
brought no perceptible response.
She knew that her sorrows were his as well. He’d wanted children quite as much as she.
He’d agonized with her through the final difficult months of what they’d thought was a basically
normal, if somewhat outsized pregnancy. He’d screamed in pain with her as the obstetrician
struggled to relieve her of her necrotic burden. As if more were necessary, at twenty-six years of
age their days of physical intimacy, the greatest joy of their lives together, were done forever.
She mourned them just as intensely as he.
Such tragedies had sundered other marriages. Not many young husbands are equal to the
stress of sleeping beside a loving young wife whose body is permanently out of bounds.
That Hsiao-ling found herself thinking along those lines a single week after her return
home terrified her beyond endurance. She willed it away with his unwanted erection and sought
the refuge of sleep. It was slow in coming.
Hsiao-ling could not concentrate on her work. It wasn’t the muted conversations among her
fellow research assistants, nor the low hum of activity as they moved around the lab, nor the
buzz of the thousands of
muscae domesticae
awaiting their turns in the irradiation unit. She could
not force her mind off the aching emptiness in her loins.
Knowing her condition, Alex would not act to soothe that ache. Knowing his tenderness,
she could not ask him to ignore her agony for her sake…or his.

He has to be suffering almost as much as I am.
The knowledge blocked all other thought from her brain.
“Are you all right, dear?”
Her head jerked around to find Chen Nyuk-hsi hovering over her. The chief investigator’s
face was a mask of polite concern. Hsiao-ling smiled formally and made to return to the work
before her, but the older woman halted her.
“We heard about your loss, of course.”
Of course. The university hospital hardly even pretends to protect patients’ privacy.
quite all right, thank you, Professor.”
Nyuk-hsi’s smile was as
pro forma
as Hsiao-ling’s own. “I just wanted you to know that if
you need anything…money, a place to stay…”
Hsiao-ling was shocked out of her pretenses. “What? Why on Earth…?”
Nyuk-hsi shrugged as if to say,
What else can you expect?
“I just wanted you to know that
you’re not alone, dear.” But as the chief investigator turned away, Hsiao-ling caught the curve of
her lip that conveyed an entirely different message.
Serves you right for marrying that
guey low f aan.
When Alex next left their bed, shortly after retiring, and headed to the bathroom, Hsiao-
ling waited a few dozen seconds, slipped out from under the covers, and followed him.
She cracked the door open as delicately as she could. He took no notice. He stood half-
crouched over the toilet, eyes closed and a fist clamped over yet another raging erection,
pumping himself desperately and muttering “Come on…come on…” as if trying to cajole his body
into granting him relief. The look of desperation on his face was heavily laced with anxious
Hsiao-ling’s inchoate, vaguely Christian Deism was far less restrictive than Alex’s
straitlaced Catholicism. Yet she knew how difficult it was for him to seek release in such a
fashion. She could feel his agony at the need. She swung the door back the rest of the way and
entered. He stopped at the sound, straightened and turned a flaming red face toward her.
Before he could utter a word, she reached up and laid a finger against his lips.
He stood motionless as she ran her fingertips lightly over his body and descended to kneel
on the cold granite tile. The head of his penis bobbed before her eyes.
He was beautiful, a smooth, unobtrusively muscular, and perfectly proportioned
representative of his sex. Hsiao-ling had thought him beautiful from moment she first saw him.
She’d known better than to say so from well before they met. Few men are equal to being called
beautiful. They have great difficulty bearing the burden of good looks, far greater than women.
Most are made acutely uncomfortable by being praised for them.
As brilliant and tenderly loving as he was, he hadn’t needed to be good-looking. From the
day they met he’d treated her like a pearl of infinite price, a treasure to be protected from all harm
regardless of the cost. Yet he was beautiful, in every sense. He deserved to know her love, and to
feel it.
She took him into her mouth.
He gasped and twitched. His hands went immediately to the sides of her face. She’d never
fellated him before, and had only a vague idea what she ought to do. She went slowly, caressing
the head of his penis with her lips and tongue, then taking in as much of the shaft as she could

and laving it with a gentle, rotating stroke. His flavor was salty, mildly musky, and not at all
His legs began to quiver. Her hands traveled around his hips to his buttocks in leisurely and
loving exploration as she ministered to him with her mouth. When she found the cleft, she parted
his cheeks and ran a single fingertip down the groove. He spasmed, driving the head of his penis
past her glottis. With no warning, his whole length slid down her throat.
She suppressed her impulse to gag and expel him, used the muscles around her throat to
massage and encourage him. On sudden impulse, she slipped her fingertip into his anus and
lightly stroked his prostate.
He cried out and came with explosive force, clutching her head manically and sending a
thick stream of semen down her throat. She milked him as best she could with her throat
muscles, just as she’d done with her vagina when they were working on conceiving Adam and all
was right with the world. His first spurt of seed was followed by a second and a third as he
whimpered and shook against her.
The aroma of his semen permeated her sinuses. It lulled her into an erotic trance. All that
existed was his body, her finger lodged in his anus and his penis lodged in her throat. All that
mattered was his pleasure, and the pleasure she could take in eliciting and heightening it. All she
wanted was to make him come again and again.
Presently she allowed him to withdraw, looked up at him and smiled. He was wide-eyed,
trembling with the force of his orgasm, too overcome to speak. She laid her face against his groin
and hugged him gently.
“I love you,” she said.
“Why?” he whispered in the darkness.
“Because I love you. I don’t need another reason, do I?”
He stroked her back and shoulders. “No, but — Hsiao-ling, what could I do for
She chuckled. “Be my husband. Love me as you’ve loved me since we first met. Come
home to me in the evening and hold me at night, just like this. I don’t need anything more than
that, Alex.”
He was briefly silent. She intuited the reason for his distress exactly as he spoke it.
“Hsiao-ling, I want to give you pleasure too. I want — I know we can’t make love any more,
but there must be something!”
She slid one hand along his torso, took his flaccid member in a gentle grip. It twitched and
began to stiffen. “Alex, what would you call what we did in the bathroom? Wasn’t that making
“Do you remember just after we got married, before our fellowships came in, how carefully
we had to budget every penny?” She found the coronal ridge with her thumb, probed for the
indentation, and rubbed it gently. “There was no margin, toward the end of every month we
feared we’d be unable to pay the rent, and we’d cut back as hard as we had to, to be sure all our
obligations were covered? Remember how I would complain now and then, about how spartan
our lives were?”
He said nothing. She stroked his penis, risen to attention once more.
“Do you remember what you used to say to me when I complained?”
“That we just had to make do for a while,” he whispered. “That it wouldn’t be forever.”

“That’s what we’re doing, Alex. Making do. I see the doctor again a week from tomorrow.
I’ll ask him if there’ve been any developments, if he’s thought of a way to make me…functional
again. Not for children, I know that’s out of the question. Just for love. Keep your hopes high. As
mine are. Meanwhile,” she said as she tweaked the head of his erection between forefinger and
thumb, “you seem ready for a little more making do right now.”
She slithered down his torso and took him in her mouth again.
Every night of the next seven, at ten P.M. Hsiao-ling led Alex into their bedroom, bade him
stand and watch her disrobe. When she stood nude before him, his body responded with total
predictability, and he would disrobe as well. She would descend to her knees and take him in her
mouth, and their new rite of love would commence.
Their intoxication with one another exceeded even what they’d known as new lovers and as
newlyweds. He could not resist her ministrations. She reveled in the subtle sense of dominance,
her ability to make him come with her mouth and hands. He shivered under her touch, yielded to
her every command, whispered words of adoration as she sucked him. She thrilled to the feel of
his penis in her mouth, the piercing shock as it slipped past her glottis and down her throat, and
the flavor and aroma of his semen with an excitement that all but eclipsed her pre-pregnancy
In rediscovering sex, each had rediscovered himself, and the other. The bond of love that
joined them was stronger than it had ever been. Stronger than in their college days, when Alex
had been assaulted, publicly and repeatedly, for daring to court a Chinese woman. Stronger than
in their first year as husband and wife, when Hsiao-ling had been shunned by all her countrymen
for lowering herself to marry a white man. Such a bond could withstand any imaginable test.
Such a love could be sundered only by death.
But for Hsiao- ling, it still wasn’t enough.
The doctor’s verdict was no encouragement at all. Hsiao-ling could not expect any change
in her condition for years to come, if ever. He offered no program to follow, not the merest
suggestion of a prospect of returned vaginal health and nervous function. “Keep yourself as clean
as possible” was the only advice he had for her. She stalked out of his office as furious as if her
wounds were his doing.
The city was quiet as she left the Grand Street medical office. Lunch hour was past, and
quitting time was still three hours away. She resolved to stroll and window shop until she’d
banked the fires of anger that had risen at the doctor’s office.
A new store, a boutique in a spot that had very recently been vacant, beckoned to her from
across the street. A selection of saucy lingerie was poised in its display window. At the top of the
window, a line of rococo script proclaimed the store’s name to be
Evenings to Remember.
She crossed in the middle of the block, angling deftly between the parked cars, pulled open
the door and entered.
The store was filled with all manner of sensual and sexual items. The flirty camisoles and
teddies in the display were among the mildest of its wares. There were rows of corsets and waist
cinchers, garter belts and silk stockings, racks of dildoes and butt plugs, vibrators, wrist and
ankle cuffs, arm binders, thigh spreaders, nipple clamps, gags, collars, hoods, and staggeringly
high heels. It was a fetishist’s dream, something for every sexual preference, laid out with
imagination and a surprising sense of taste.

She was alone in the shop except for the icon to sexuality that emerged from behind the
counter and approached her with a hand extended.
The young woman was dressed all in satin and leather. She’d layered a black leather bolero
vest over a glittering red satin blouse, added a black glove-leather miniskirt and round-toed high
heels. The outfit suited her. His skin was porcelain-pale and porcelain-creamy. Her lush bosom
rode high on her chest. Her beautifully tapered waist was circled by a silver rope chain. She
seemed to glide rather than walk, her heels making no sound at all against the parquet tiled floor.
“Welcome to Evenings to Remember, Miss. I’m Martine. May I assist you with your
Hsiao-ling shook her hand. “I’m just browsing, really. How long have you been here? I
don’t remember seeing your shop before.”
Martine shrugged. “Only a few days. I’ve had ver y little trade so far.” She grinned
suggestively. “I’ve been thinking of advertising, but the local paper seems so…”
“I was about to say restrained.”
Hsiao-ling gestured at the rack of cuffs and arm binders. “That sounds as if it should be a
good fit to you.”
Martine giggled. “Perhaps restrained isn’t the right word after all. Well, may I offer you a
cup of tea?” She waved at a card table in the corner, already set with a tea service and a plate of
small white cakes.
Hsiao-ling hesitated, then smiled and nodded. “That would be lovely.”
Five minutes, one cup of tea and one white cake after she’d seated herself, Hsiao-ling
plunged into the story of Adam and her sexual crippling. She hardly realized how much she had
disclosed, or how baldly and graphically she was describing her condition, until Martine laid a
hand on her arm and squeezed. The shopowner’s eyes had filled with tears.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so sad,” Martine whispered. “How do you stand it?”
Hsiao-ling shrugged. “We make do.”
“You’re more stoic about it than I could ever be, dear.” Martine sipped at her tea and
massaged her temples. “How do you keep him happy?”
Hsiao-ling started to speak, stopped herself, and instead pursed and extended her lips.
Martine nodded. “And how does he keep
The question caught Hsiao-ling off guard. She cast about for the right words to capture the
unique direction her love life had taken.
“Hsiao-ling,” Martine said, “a good man needs to give his woman pleasure, just as much as
to receive it. Maybe more. Does he have a way to do that for you?”
“There’s nothing he can do for me, really,” Hsiao-ling said at last. “The nerve damage from
the trauma was too extensive. I can feel pain there, but nothing else. But it doesn’t matter,” she
added in a rush. “I love him. I think…as long as I can please and relieve him, I think we’ll be
Martine leaned close and peered into her eyes. “You want nothing else?”
Hsiao-ling opened her mouth, stopped herself yet again.
“Of course I want something else. I want him in my body again. I want to feel him piercing
me, thrusting against me, taking possession of me, mastering me and compelling me to come! I
want to feel him stiffen and flood me with his seed. I miss it desperately, but what good is there
in thinking about it when I can never have it again?”

Martine’s eyes rested upon hers for a long silent moment.
“You can have it again.”
“What? How?”
The shopowner slid a hand across the table and laid it on Hsiao-ling’s. Her eyes had
become wells of mystery. Her expression hinted at undisclosed abilities, powers she could
invoke to whatever end she pleased.
“Do you trust me, dear?”
Uncertain why she was doing so, Hsiao-ling nodded.
Martine rose and bade Hsiao-ling to follow her. “Then come with me.”
As Martine fiddled among her appliances, Hsiao-ling lay prone on what the shopowner had
called her therapy table, naked as a newborn, wondering what had possessed her.
“Are you comfortable, dear?”
“Yes,” Hsiao-ling mur mured.
“Would it upset you at all to be strapped down?”
Hsiao-ling felt a brief trickle of fear, and ruthlessly suppressed it.
I’ve come this far.
go ahead.”
Martine put soft leather cuffs around Hsiao-ling’s wrists and ankles, attached them to guy
lines she hadn’t noticed were there, and stretched her limbs to their maximum. She did her best to
remain unmoving and calm.
“Not many women are as trusting as you,” Martine murmured. “But I sense that you’re a
good judge of character. I would never dream of hurting you. Are you relaxed and at peace?”
Hsiao-ling nodded as best she could with her face against the table.
“Very good.” It was the last thing Martine would say for several minutes.
Hsiao-ling felt small, warm hands massage her buttocks, carefully lifting and spreading the
globes in a repetitive pattern. Without willing it, she began to rock in time to the rhythm,
collaborating in the massage as best she could in her restrained state. The pleasure of it made her
coo in time with Martine’s caressses.
Presently she felt a cool, rounded, well lubricated object placed against her anal rosette. It
rested there awhile, moving very slightly, teasing her open with its caress. A minute later it was
the most natural thing in the world when the object pressed forward, delicately probing her rear
“Breathe slowly and deeply, dear.”
Whatever it was, it was large enough to stretch her anus to its limit, but not so large as to
cause pain. Its progress into her was slow and careful. It seemed to go on for an hour. At the end,
it was deeply lodged in her rectum, filling her as completely and satisfyingly as Alex had ever
filled her vagina.
“I’ve penetrated you with a vibrating dildo,” Martine said, her voice low and soothing.
“We’ll just leave it there for a minute or two so you can get used to the feeling.”
Hsiao-ling smiled and said nothing.
The vibrations began so faintly that Hsiao-ling could not be sure there had been any
change. They escalated from a gentle tickle in her nether tissues to a quite definite message of
pleasure, a sexual invasion unique in her experience. She began to rock and coo again.
Martine let a few seconds pass, then started to increase the intensity of the vibrations still

The crescendo of the sensation was so smooth that Hsiao-ling couldn’t even tell that it was
happening. But she could tell that she was being taken, made to feel pleasure, compelled to
accept the sexual homage of another. In surrendering to it she lost all sense of time and place.
She did not realize that she was straining against her bonds, every muscle tight, spasming from
head to toe. She did not realize that she was screaming in ecstasy. She knew only that the dildo
had brought her body alive and alight once again.
When it was over, she wept and sobbed from deep in her belly. Her entire nervous system
had ignited, sending her to an orgasm to rival the best she had ever had with Alex. She could
hardly believe that in her damaged state she could still feel such pleasure.
Martine released her from the restraints, raised her gently to her feet, and held her as she
regained her composure. When she was in command of herself once again, Martine showed her
the dildo that had penetrated her anus. It was shaped to resemble a penis, no larger than Alex’s.
“God has given us many avenues to pleasure and erotic union, Hsiao-ling,” Martine intoned
formally. “If one should close, He will open another. He never leaves a good woman wanting.”
She smiled. “At least, not when I’m around. Get the idea, dear?”
Hsiao-ling clutched her again. “Yes. Oh, yes.”
“His won’t vibrate, though.”
“I doubt I’ll notice.”
With a dramatic flourish, Hsiao-ling thrust open the front door of her apartment. As she’d
hoped, Alex was sitting on the living room sofa. She stood there and allowed the door to frame
her in her new finery. Alex’s expression went from his usual familiar pleasure at seeing her to
puzzlement and thence to hypnotic wonder.
Hsiao-ling turned profile, leaned slightly backward to pull up her bosom, and cocked one
leg before the other, knee slightly bent. She could feel Alex’s gaze travel over her white silk
blouse, her black suede miniskirt, and her ruby stiletto heels. He rose from his perch unspeaking,
moved to her and took her hands in his.
“What’s the occasion?” he said. “Good news from the doctor?”
She smiled. “No, love. But that doesn’t matter. Are you in a mood to make do?”
He nodded, and she led him to their bedroom.
When Alex phoned with his news, Hsiao-ling congratulated him warmly, told him she
loved him, and set the handset down with a look of utter contentment. Though she’d said nothing
out of the ordinary, and all of that at an ordinary telephone-conversation volume, every pair of
eyes in the lab came to rest on her.
It was hardly a minute before Chen Nyuk-hsi came to her desk.
“Is everything all right, dear?” Under the tone of pretended interest, the delicate sneer was
still there.
Hsiao-ling smiled and nodded. “Alex was just made an associate professor. Full tenure and
a fifteen percent increase in salary.”
Nyuk-hsi’s mouth fell open. “At his age?”
“In the mathematics department, Professor, ability is far more important than age. Or race.
Or your willingness to conform to other people’s opinions of proper romantic choices.” She rose
from her desk and picked up her handbag. “If you’ll excuse me, my husband and I are going out
to celebrate.”
Nyuk-hsi stepped backward, astonished into speechlessness.

“You see, Professor, if you pick the right
guey low faan
to attach yourself to, he comes with
prospects just as good as any Chinese. Not that I had that in mind when we were courting, you
understand.” She waved a hand in dismissal of all care. “I’ve always been willing to make do.
Better a dinner of herbs where love is, you know. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Trained To The Gun
Ed Blankenhorn suffered through his week with one and only one refuge in mind: the
woods of northern Onteora County, where he went to hunt each and every weekend.
He didn’t hate his job as a draftsman at Arcologics. The work was within his capacities, the
working conditions were pleasant, and all his coworkers were perfectly cordial. The job simply
didn’t consume him enough to keep his mind off his one true love. Only when deep in the forest,
garbed in his camo gear, perched well up a tree with rifle at the ready, peering through the ‘scope
for a target, did he feel truly alive. He could hardly cease to think of it, no matter how occupied
his hands might be with whatever task had been brought to him.
No one had ever lived a more monochromatic life. He hunted all the daylight hours of
every Saturday and Sunday. He spent his evenings leafing through sportsmen’s catalogues,
picking out bits of clothing and equipment, pondering accessories for his guns, and planning his
next foray into the woods. He had no social life, no friends, and no small talk suitable for any
company not as obsessed with the hunt as he. Though tall, fit, and pleasant looking, at thirty-two
years of age he’d never had a girlfriend, much less a wife.
Perhaps it was well that he was so alone, for his passion was concealment for his one great
Ed started at the sound of his name, looked up to find Jeanne Iverson, Arcologics’ company
ombudsman and the wife of its owner, standing by his drafting table, and immediately assumed
his “company smile.”
“I just came from Todd’s office,” the petite blonde beauty said. “He called me in to tell me
that we’ve won the Rochester Towers contract. So we’re closing early today and heading to
Costigan’s to celebrate.”
Ed frowned. “Right away? I still have work –”
She waved it aside. “There’s always work. There isn’t always a reason to pat one another on
the back, and this is a big one. Todd’s already booked Costigan’s for the afternoon. Coming?”
“Please? You didn’t make the last get- together.” Jeanne’s grin assumed an impish tinge. She
laid a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll make it worth your while. Have you met Val Grenier?”
“Uh, no.” He felt his smile freezing into place.
“I’ve been meaning to introduce you.
pretty girl.”
A fear tremor coursed through him. He strained not to let it show.
“Thanks, Jeanne, but –”
“Oh, come on!” Her expression became severe. “Unless you have a date or a dentist’s
appointment, I’m not taking no for an answer this time.” While he gaped, she hooked an arm
through one of his and yanked him out of his seat.

“Grab your jacket, bucko,” she said. “You’re going to have a good time tonight whether you
like it or not.”
Jeanne didn’t relent. She packed Ed into her car like so much luggage and drove resolutely
down Grand Street as if she were ferrying him to a critical appointment. From the moment she
wheeled through the turnoff onto Cayuga Boulevard, the sounds of a large celebration in
progress were vibrantly audible. The Arcologics crowd filled Costigan’s Pub and spilled out onto
the sidewalk. The outside bar had been activated and manned, and was surrounded by
partygoers. Costigan’s waiters and waitresses roved the crowd with trays of drinks and finger
foods. It was a conspicuous departure from the bustling sobriety normal for the Onteora business
district at that hour on a weekday.
Jeanne snagged the last remaining parking spot in the municipal lot and dragged Ed out of
the car without preliminary. She urged him toward the outside bar, deftly maneuvered them
through the throng, and flashed a V sign at Pat Costigan, who hurried to greet her.
“What’s your pleasure, Jeanne?”
Jeanne glanced up at Ed. “What’s your favorite way to euthanize a few brain cells, Ed?”
He shrugged, and she scowled.
“Make it two Cobblers, Pat,” she said.
Costigan grinned and went to work.
“What’s a Cobbler?” Ed said, too bewildered to deal with his unwilling and nearly
unprecedented immersion in so large a crowd.
“Just give it a try. You’ll either love it or hate it.”
Costigan shoved two tall glasses across the bar. Ed raised his and sniffed at it. Jeanne
clinked it with hers. “To sunny days and funny nights!”
The drink smelled like a fruit stand. Ed sipped at it tentatively. A delightful bouquet of
apples and peaches spread through his palate and pervaded his sinuses. He took a full mouthful,
and then another.
“Whoa! Slow down, boy. I don’t want you to get horizontal before I’ve paired you up
He laughed uncertainly and eyed the glass. “It’s really good.”
“It’s Pat’s specialty,” Jeanne said. “Calvados, peach brandy, and a dash of Grenadine in
seltzer. But it creeps up on you, so take it slowly. Whoops! Here come my reinforcements.”
“Jeanne,” he said, but she’d turned away. He followed her gaze and saw her husband Todd
Iverson, owner-proprietor of Arcologics, shepherding a tall, buxom young woman toward them.
The girl’s heart-shaped face was framed by dense waves of shimmering chestnut hair that flowed
just past her shoulders. Despite ordinary business dress and flat-heeled shoes, she moved with
the sinuous allure of a runway model. Her eyes sparkled with unknown intent.
“My God, you really managed it,” Iverson said. “How?”
Jeanne grinned. “I didn’t give him a choice.” Her eyes moved toward the young woman.
“Looks like your job was a little easier.”
Iverson chuckled. “No sweat. Ed,” he said, “I’d like you to meet Valerie Grenier. She works
with Jeanne. Val, this is Ed Blankenhorn. He’s in Design and Prototyping.”
The young beauty offered her hand, and Ed took it. “I’ve been looking forward to this,” she
“Hello.” It was all the response he could force through the constriction in his chest.

“Pat,” Jeanne called out. “Could we have two more Cobblers over here? Strike that, make it
four more.”
After ten minutes of office-related small talk, the Iversons excused themselves to mingle
more widely. Val smiled impishly as she watched them thread their ways through the crowd.
“They’re awfully nice, aren’t they?”
Ed nodded. “How long have you worked for them?”
“Oh, only about four months, now. I keep Jeanne’s books so she can concentrate on what
she does best.”
“What’s that?”
She giggled. “Frighten the hell out of insurance company CEOs and their big-shot lawyers.
How long have you been with them?”
“About three years,” he said. He sipped at his second Cobbler. The cold sweet beverage
was exceedingly hard to drink slowly.
“Doing what?”
“Drafting Todd’s designs, mostly.”
“Is it fun?” Her interest seemed sincere.
He shrugged. “It’s work. It’s what I do to pay the bills.”
Her brow furrowed. “So what do you do for fun?”
He started to speak, halted and looked aside. “I don’t think you’d be interested.”
“Hm? Why not?” She laid a hand lightly on his forearm.
“Well, most girls aren’t.”
“Ed,” she murmured, “I’m not most girls.” She caressed his arm all but imperceptibly.
“Some of the things I enjoy might surprise you.”
“What sort of things?” he said.
Her eyes widened slightly and her grin turned naughty. “I’d rather show you than tell you.
Are you feeling brave?”
Perhaps it was the two Cobblers. He was certainly feeling looser and more amiable toward
the young beauty than he’d felt toward a woman in a decade. Or perhaps it was her easy way of
drawing him out, an artfulness that appeared entirely natural and unpracticed. He tossed off the
balance of his drink and looked straight into her eyes.
“Okay, show me.”
“You draft Todd’s designs for him,” Val said as she unlocked the door to her apartment,
“but I’ll bet he’s never given you anything like
designs to work on.”
She pushed the door open, stepped back, and gestured him in. He took three steps in,
stopped, stood stock-still, and gawked.
Val’s living room walls were covered with large, mural- like pen-and-ink sketches, so many
and so closely spaced that it was a challenge to discern the color of the walls. Most were
carefully matted on dove-gray mounting boards; the rest were framed in dark wood or brushed
aluminum. Every one of the sketches was both beautiful and powerfully erotic. The most
conventional of them pulsed with a sexual energy that seemed to burst from the page. Others
depicted bondage and discipline fantasies that went beyond passion into a realm of darkness.
The short wall immediately ahead bore two sketches. One was of a woman fellating a
muscular man. While her cascade of hair hid the details of the act, there could be no question
what she was doing. The other was of a woman gasping through the moment of orgasm, a piston-

driven dildo distending her vagina to its limits, while a brawny figure held her in his lap and
fondled her nipples.
The long wall to the right bore three sketches. The leftmost showed a woman allowing her
twine-bound hands to be attached to a hook dangling over her head. The middle one showed the
same woman with her eyes closed and head tipped back, meekly accepting a ball gag. The
rightmost one showed the woman with her legs spread wide, writhing in ecstasy as a man gave
her cunnilingus.
There were three more sketches on the wall to the left. The leftmost showed a naked,
gagged woman being locked into a set of old-fashioned wooden stocks by a pair of men. The
woman had to stand on tiptoe to accommodate the height of the stocks and prevent them from
strangling her. The artist’s perspective was behind the woman, so that her posterior and vulva
were clearly visible. The middle sketch showed a man inserting a dildo into the woman’s anus as
tears dripped past her gag. The rightmost one showed a man violating the woman while fondling
her breasts, as her legs quivered and the dildo vibrated within her.
All the male figures were depicted with their heads beyond the frame of the drawing,
rendering them faceless. But in all the sketches but one, the woman’s face was clearly visible and
meticulously detailed. It was Valerie Grenier’s face.
Ed felt his sanity cracking as he regarded the drawings. He’d never before confronted such
explicitly sexual artwork, nor scenes of such implicit dominance and submission. As beautiful as
they were, they terrified him with their power and animal urgency.
He started violently as Val’s arms closed about his waist from behind.
“Shhh,” she whispered. Her breath was warm against his neck. “It’s okay.”
“Did you do these?” he breathed.
“All of them.” She squeezed him gently. “They’re my fantasy gallery.”
He shuddered despite his best attempts to remain still. “Is this…do you want…?”
“Maybe,” she mur mured. “Don’t they look like fun?” She brushed her lips against his ear.
“Would you like to find out with me?”
He broke her embrace with a single convulsive twist, turned, and ran from the apartment.
Ed had run about six blocks, turning and dodging traffic and passersby almost randomly,
before he stopped to catch his breath. He leaned against the door of a side-street shop as he
struggled to calm himself and clear his head.
The door wasn’t properly latched. Under his weight it gave way, precipitating him into the
little shop. He staggered and barely recovered his balance without falling. What he saw around
him once he’d regained himself nearly set him to flight again.
“Excuse me, are you all right?”
The soft alto voice came from behind him. He whirled to behold a sight so erotic that it
banished Valerie Grenier’s sketches from his memor y.
She was young, not especially tall, but her high heels raised her nearly to his height. Her
oval face, framed by waves of abundant black hair, recalled depictions of the Madonna. Her
figure was classically perfect: full-bosomed, narrow-waisted, gently generous at hip and buttock.
Her red silk blouse and black glove-leather miniskirt displayed her assets to perfection.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Excuse me, I didn’t actually mean to come in here, have a nice
evening.” He turned to leave, stopped when she laid a hand on his bicep, and turned to face her

“Please, relax,” she said. Her smile was gently curious. “Unless you’re in a hurry to catch a
bus or something?”
“Uh, no. I was…just…”
“Out for a casual stroll?”
To his surprise, he felt his tension subside. He chuckled. “Not exactly. I had a…a fright.”
She nodded. “I got that impression.” She held out a hand. “I’m Martine.”
He took it. “Ed.”
“Did someone threaten you?”
“No, not exactly, but…” He grimaced. “Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it.”
“Maybe you should.” Martine’s eyes compelled his complete attention. “Fear festers when
you refuse to confront it. It can make you sicker than any physical infection.”
He wanted to ask her
why do you care?
, but the candid, apparently sincere interest in her
eyes dispelled the question before he could form it.
“Is this your shop?”
She nodded. “Welcome to Evenings To Remember.” She swept her arm around the
displays of lingerie and erotic devices. “Do you have a wife or a ladyfriend? Someone special
who might appreciate a special gift?”
“Uh, no.” His anxieties started to rise again. Martine must have noticed, for her smile
turned impish without losing warmth.
“Well, come have a cup of tea with me, anyway.” It was then he realized that she had not
released his hand. She pulled him gently to a rear corner of the shop, where a table bearing a tea
service and a plate of small white cakes awaited them.
“Hunting? Nothing else?” Martine said.
Ed shrugged. “I don’t enjoy anything else nearly as much.”
“Well, what do you do with all the meat?”
“Hm?” He plucked a white cake from the platter and nibbled it.
“You said you’re single. You can’t possibly eat the meat from all that hunting all by
yourself. You don’t waste it, do you?”
His face filled with blood. He set the cake down on his plate and stared down at it, plainly
He’s got more than one problem.
“I don’t…” He paused, swallowed, and shook his head. “I don’t kill anything. I can track
them just fine. Deer, rabbits, wild turkeys, anything. I can draw a bead on them and never be
seen or heard. But I just line them up in my sights. I don’t…pull the trigger.”
“Oh.” She reached across the little table and took his hand. “You don’t want to hurt them.”
He shook his head again. “It’s not that. Not really. I mean, I eat meat from the supermarket.
I know animals have to die so we can have meat. I don’t have a problem with that. I just… It
There’s something deep going on here.
“Ed,” she said, squeezing his hand gently, “are you a good shot?”
He nodded. “I’ve won a couple of rifle competitions.”
“So you know you could take their lives without making them suffer a lot?”
Another nod.
“But you don’t want to.”

“No,” he said. “I do want to. Much too much

“Oh. And that feels…?”
“Wrong,” he said. He slumped in his seat. “Way wrong. No one should want to kill that
much. Killing is necessary sometimes, but it should never be something you want to do!”
She kept silent, passing her thumb gently over the back of his hand.
Presently he straightened, squeezed her hand, and leaned toward her, intensity and irony
mingled in his eyes.
“And you know something? It’s the same damned thing with women.”
“I’m trying to figure something out,” Ed said.
Martine parted the curtain of amber beads and led him into the rear gallery. “What’s that?”
“Why I trust you.”
She chuckled. “It’s a gift of mine. I couldn’t do the work I do without it.”
“Selling sex aids?”
“That’s mostly window dressing,” she said. “But you’re about to find out.”
If you
trust me.
He gawked at the mirrored room. “What do you do back here? Fashion shows?”
“No, dear.” She led him toward her therapy table, loosened the friction locks, turned the
padded surface almost vertical, and retightened the locks. He watched in silence.
“Ed,” she said, “I’d like to do something for you. You’re not going to understand it at first.
It will probably make you very afraid. But from what you told me about your encounter with
Valerie, I think it’s exactly right. In fact, I think you might have met exactly the right girl for
And God bless your employers for that!
“But you need a little…”
“Therapy?” he said.
“Something like that. Let’s say, help learning how and when to pull the trigger.”
He regarded her uncertainly. “You can do that?”
She nodded. “I think so. Trust me?
trust me?”
He hesitated, then nodded.
“Take off all your clothes.”
His mouth fell open. “Are you serious?”
“Were you serious when you said you trust me?”
He chewed his lower lip for a moment, then began to disrobe. She watched without
When he was nude, she inspected his body briefly. He was a fine specimen of young
manhood: taut and trim, nicely proportioned, free of blemishes and scars. His erection was
unexpectedly impressive as well. She nodded and removed her own clothing. Presently she stood
as nude as he, except for her chastity belt. From the instant it came into view, he couldn’t look
away from it.
“Why do you wear

“You might say it’s a condition of my employment.”
“What? Is this a franchise?”
She grinned. “Sort of. But that’s not important.” She spread her arms. The multiple
reflections in the mirrors around them followed suit. “Do you find me attractive?”
He swallowed. “Much too much.”
She petitioned the Power for permission, received a wave of assent, and unbuckled the
chastity belt, freeing her loins for his inspection.

“But if I were to offer myself to you, you wouldn’t make love to me, would you?” She
looked directly into his eyes. “You don’t trust yourself enough.”
He nodded and looked away.
She urged him back against the therapy table, bade him raise his arms over his head, and
swiftly cuffed them.
“Hey!” He immediately strained against the bonds.
She put a finger to his lips. “I know what I’m doing, and I will not hurt you. You have to
believe that for this to work.”
He relaxed.
She cuffed his ankles in similar fashion, then stood back and regarded him for a moment.
“Why did you let me do this, Ed?” She ran her fingertips along his torso, past his waist and
down his legs. He shuddered as she tickled her way along his calves
“Huh? You said –”
“I know what I said. Why did you let me do this?” She reversed course, stroking lazy
circles ever upward, lingering over his nipples and tracing his lips with her fingernails. His eyes
were open to their widest stops.
She took his balls in her hand and caressed them with a rolling motion. He stiffened and
moaned faintly.
“Because I trust you,” he murmured.
She nodded. “Trust is fundamental. Without it, you can’t have any kind of relation with
anyone, sexual or otherwise. You can’t trade. You can’t love. You certainly can’t strip naked and
allow someone else a free hand with your body.”
She wrapped her other hand around the shaft of his penis, set the pad of her thumb against
the coronal ridge, and stroked it gently, and he moaned again.
“You’re completely restrained,” she said. “I have my hands around your genitals. If I
wanted to hurt you, I could hurt you worse than you can imagine. But you’ve trusted me not to
hurt you. You’ve granted me the most complete, unfettered access to your most sensitive parts.
And all I’m going to do with it is give you pleasure.”
She increased the speed of her massage, careful not to bruise his testicles or chafe his penis
unduly. His tension increased steadily, until she had him teetering at the edge of orgasm. She
held him there, carefully keeping him just before the point of ejaculation.
“Ed,” she said as he surged under her ministrations, “it’s up to you. May I pull the trigger?”
“Yes!” he gasped.
“Tell me when, Ed.”
“Now! Do it now!”
She did.
When Ed had ceased to gasp and shudder, Martine released him from his bonds, and he
staggered into her arms. Though they were both stippled with his semen, they held each other
and giggled without inhibition, like two children who’d made a mess in the kitchen but were
certain that Mom wouldn’t mind. When the fit had passed, they sat on the floor of the gallery and
grinned at one another in silence for a long while.
“So,” Martine said at last, “what did I just show you?”
He started to giggle again, caught himself, and looked down as if suddenly bashful.

“That you trusted me,” he said, still subject to the occasional chortle, “just as much as I
trusted you.”
“And therefore?”
His brow furrowed. “Therefore what?”
“Come on, Ed. If I trust you, then…?”
“I should trust myself?”
She nodded.
“But how far? With everybody?”
Trust has to be built. It has to be earned: with good behavior, and consistent
respect, and attention to your obligations.” She paused and considered briefly. “If Valerie made a
mistake of any kind, it’s that she showed you too much trust too quickly. But that’s more of a
compliment than anything else. You carry yourself in a very appealing way, even if you don’t
know it. A lot of men your age would have been all over her thirty seconds after meeting her.
You stayed proper and polite until she gave you a clear invitation.”
He looked levelly at her. “Was
an invitation?” His gaze dipped to her loins.
“No, not really,” she said. “It was a demonstration of trust. Like Valerie showing you her
drawings. Anyway, I’m supposed to stay celibate.”
His eyebrows shot up. He leaned forward as if to share a secret. “A sex shop manager has
to stay celibate?”
She nodded. “This one does. It’s…another condition of employment.”
She rose, retrieved her chastity belt, and buckled it tightly around her once again.
“This isn’t really a sex shop, Ed. I’m not here to make a profit. I’m here to help people. It’s a
weird kind of business, and I won’t say it doesn’t have its little ironies, but it’s the work I’m called
to do. Have I helped you?”
He hesitated, then nodded.
“I’m glad. Thank you for trusting me.”
She fetched moist towels, and they cleaned themselves and dressed in silence. When they
were both fully garbed, she beckoned him into her arms, kissed him softly, and led him out of the
Ed transferred the bouquet of jonquils, tulips, and peonies to his left hand, laid three sharp
raps on the apartment door, and stepped back. A few seconds later, Valerie opened it and stared
at him dumbfoundedly.
“I’d like to apologize for yesterday,” he said, his voice slightly rough. He held the flowers
out to her, and she accepted them.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “Would you like to come in?”
He nodded, followed her inside, and sat with her on her sofa.
“I wasn’t sure what happened,” she said.
He nodded. “I have a few issues you didn’t know about. You’re a very impressive woman.
I’m not sure I measure up to your standard.”
She grinned. “Am I allowed a say about that?”
“Todd and Jeanne speak very well of you, you know.”
“They do?”
She nodded.
He grinned. “It’s been a day of surprises. Day and a half.”

She reached out tentatively and took his hand. “I’m sorry if I frightened you. I guess I
moved a little too fast.”
“Not your fault,” he said. “You couldn’t have known I’m…”
“I was going to say ‘such a mess,’ but I guess ‘shy’ will do.” He paused and gathered his
courage. “Would you like to try again?”
She canted away from him and let her eyes rove over her sketches. “Which one first?”
He threw his head back and laughed uproariously, and she joined him. When they’d
subsided, he wiped his eyes and said, “I was going to suggest dinner. If you’re hungry, that is.”
She nodded. “Where would you like to go?”
“How about Costigan’s? I think I’d like another of those Cobbler things.”
She smiled. “So would I. Maybe tonight you’ll tell me what you do for fun?”
He nodded. “Maybe.”
Hand in hand, they rose and set forth.
Commission Discharged
Helen squeezed Martine’s hand. Her smile, though faint, was as warm as ever.
“You’ve had an interesting time of it,” she said.
Martine nodded. “It wasn’t always easy. But I kept telling myself to make you proud, even
if you weren’t there to see me do it.”
“Did the chastity belt help?”
It was Martine’s turn to smile. “More than I would have guessed.”
She looked briefly away as she remembered the handful of male lovers she’d had before
Helen recruited her. None of them had been more than a passing fancy. None of them had
offered her the kind of life-consuming commitment, or the degree of fulfillment in achievement,
her vocation as a priestess of desire had called forth.
I haven’t missed them at all. Not them, nor any of their brethren.
“I think,” Helen said, “it might be time for you to stop wearing it.”
“Your control is well established, isn’t it? You can marshal your desire to any level you
need, without surrendering to it. That’s all the belt was intended to do.” She grinned. “I haven’t
worn one for centuries.”
“Well,” Martine said, “If you think it’s okay.”
“It’s not what I think that matters, dear,” Helen said. “You’ve been permitted a lover or two,
haven’t you?”
Martine smiled. “Just one. But she’s a joy and a revelation. You know, Helen,” she said
with sudden energy, “we’re not the only ones in…in contact.”
“I know, dear,” Helen said. “It would have been too cruel for words, otherwise. And God is
not cruel.” She paused to summon her forces, visibly gathering what remained of her energies.
“Are you ready,” she said, “to carry the load for both of us?”
Martine opened her mouth to answer, closed it and pondered.
I’m still new at this. I can’t claim anything near to Helen’s depth of experience or
accumulated wisdom. How could I step into her shoes?

How could she expect me to be able to do so?
“You’re thinking,” Helen said abruptly, “that with your far slenderer experience, you
couldn’t possibly do what I do without me to guide you. But Martine, dear,” she said, “how have
you done it to this point? You haven’t come to me with a single question. If you’d made any
serious missteps, I can’t discern them from what you’ve told me.”
“No…no,” Martine murmured. “So far, it’s been pretty smooth. But won’t there be tougher
cases? People with problems I can’t think of a way to solve?”
Helen chuckled. “Probably, dear,” she said. “I’ve faced my quota of such. But the Power
doesn’t expect you to be all-powerful or infallible, any more than God expects His priests to be.
We’re asked to do the best we can. To remain true to our calling, to give from our hearts and our
best judgment, and never, ever, to turn away a soul in need. From all I’ve heard, you’ve lived up
to the highest standard any priestess in our lineage has ever attained.” She paused and breathed
deeply. “I expect that eventually, your name will be listed among the greatest of our kind.”
Martine was shorn of words. She bowed her head.
This is my proper calling. Time to rise to the occasion.
She met Helen’s eyes and nodded.
With that, Helen’s irises swelled to occupy the whole of her eyes. Martine found herself
unable to look away.
“Then know this, dear,” she said. “The Power we serve has a name. It’s as old as Man upon
the Earth. It’s been blackened repeatedly by men consumed by power-lust and hostile toward any
competition, but it remains pristine in the sight of God. Everything the Almighty makes has its
place. He allows no waste. And that name, and the being that bears it, will now pass from my
care to yours.”
Helen’s eyes moved to the dark recess in the corner of her apartment. A sleek feline form
emerged from the shadows there, sauntered toward Martine and leaped gracefully into her lap.
Martine’s mouth fell open. “Astarte?”
Helen nodded. “One of the angels not spoken of in modern theology. There were not two,
but three camps among the angels at the time of Lucifer’s revolt: his rebels, and Michael’s
loyalists, and a group that preferred to wait out the conflict on neutral ground. On Earth.”
Martine stroked the cat, still unable to believe. “Astarte was part of the third group?”
Another nod. “For their pose of neutrality, God barred them temporarily from Heaven. He
assigned them to labor among us mortals, until Man’s time on Earth is done. Astarte’s task was to
company and guide the priestesses of fleshly love.”
The young priestess looked down into the cat’s eyes and found a bottomless well of
compassion and wisdom.
Thou art surprised, I know,
the feline gaze said.
Be not afraid. This is our role, to which I
am assigned and thou hast committed thy life. I shall company thee as I’ve companied thy sister,
who shall shortly go to her repose. Together we shall spread healing among men, that they
might have some foretaste of the limitless love of the Father. And when the Trump sounds, and
all is deemed accomplished, we shall rise with the rest to dwell in eternal bliss. Think you that it
might be otherwise?
“No,” Martine whispered. “I am yours. And His. Use me as you will.”
She looked back to Helen. Her mentor’s eyes had slid closed, but her hand enfolded
Martine’s still.
“Remember me, dear one,” Helen whispered. “I go to my rest.”

A brilliant light bloomed from beneath the bedclothes. Martine threw an arm across her
eyes in reflex. The body of Helen Leverrier became incandescent, and then steadily more
translucent, until all that remained was that glorious light. When the light faded and was gone, so
was Martine’s mentor.
Martine sat in silence by the empty bed for a long time, with Astarte curled in her lap.
When her thoughts had ceased to tumble and swirl, she rose, tucked Helen’s journal under her
arm, lifted Astarte to perch upon her shoulder, and made her way out of the shop.
Francis W. Porretto is an engineer, fictioneer, and commentator. He operates the
Eternity Road
Website (
), a hotbed of pro-freedom, pro-American, pro-Christian
sentiment, where he and his Esteemed Co-Conspirators hold forth on every topic under the Sun.
You can email him at
. Thank you for taking an interest in his

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