"Move closer to it. You'll be surprised what you can see."
Cath glanced at the man who had moved up beside her in front of the art photo. She gave a little shiver from just the quick glance. He exuded self-assurance and power—and a slight sense of evil, sensuality, and cruelty. She was accustomed to predatory men and knew how to handle them. But he didn't seem predatory exactly—more so confident in himself that women came to him. Although Cath had no idea why that would be. He wasn't a handsome man. His face was craggy and his demeanor almost gaunt. But there was something in the eyes. Their eyes had met for the briefest second, but she had sucked in air from that fleeting connection. And although, when considered separately, each feature she caught in the brief glance was imperfect and even thuggish, they seemed to work together in an effect that took her breath away.
She instinctively turned full face forward, looking at the framed art photo on the stark-white gallery wall again, determined not to focus closer on it if only because the man had invited her to do so.
Where was Grant? She looked away from both the photograph and the man, back into the interior of the gallery, down a long row of photographs similar to this one. Grant was chatting up the gallery owner, turned away from Cath, so that she couldn't catch his eye with a begging expression of needing to be rescued. He was taking business cards out of his wallet and cajoling the gallery owner to take them. The woman seemed no less susceptible to Grant's charms than any other woman, and she was holding her palm out to accept the cards.
Cath could see that there was no rescue to be had from that quarter for another minute or two even as it seemed that Grant and the gallery owner were parting; Turning from the gallery owner, Grant had spied a patron who looked vulnerably bored with art work the man's wife was gushing over with another patron. His back still to her, Grant was circling this man for the kill.
But why did she need to be rescued? The tone of the voice of the man standing close to her—a deep baritone—wasn't threatening or even challenging. And this was an art opening. There was no reason why the patrons who had come wouldn't be chatting with each other freely.
"I'm afraid of what I may see," she said. "I can get the hint of it. But the colors and patterns are so interesting. I think I prefer to see it in the abstract."
"Too shy to fully appreciate it then, I think—or perhaps a bit prudish?" the man responded. "What do you make of the title?"
Cath bristled at the mention of "prudish." She'd heard this taunt recently from Grant as well, and perhaps she was a bit slow in picking up the freewheeling lifestyle of New York, but that didn't mean she was prudish—necessarily. "The title? I hadn't noticed that they had titles."
"Yes, of course they do. This one is called 'Rachel Afterward #3.' Perhaps if we were to find numbers one and two, we would see yet another dimension in the art. But, then, if you are reticent even to explore the added dimensions right before us within this self-same work . . ."
"I enjoy it just in the dimension I can see from here. I work with colors and patterns, and I could easily design the furnishings of a room to play off these colors and patterns. The artist has a good eye for those elements."
"Ah, an interior designer then, are you?"
"And you've come to buy something to use as a foundation for an interior you're designing? Perhaps we can stroll down the line and just discuss the merits of these photographs in the dimension of color and patterns—although I do believe you are missing the most interesting aspects of them."
"I've just come along with my date, Grant Treadwell," Cath quickly said. "We were going to dinner and he suggested we stop in here—I think because we are early for our reservations and the restaurant is nearby. He's more interested in the art patrons than the art, I think. And he's coming just now. So, thanks for the offer, but . . ."
Cath hoped she wasn't sounding too breathy. The man hadn't actually touched her, but she felt the goose bumps rise on her bare arms as if he had. But now that she thought about it, she sensed that there had been a hand lightly touching the bare skin of the small of her back. She immediately regretted having picked the cocktail dress with the plunging back on it.
"Ah, I see that you've met . . . but where is he? Have I scared him off?" Grant had reached her side, appearing at last with the glass of white wine he had left her side several moments before to fetch. Cath had known he would be a while in reappearing, though. Grant was a stockbroker. He didn't attend these openings for the sake of the art; he attended for the sake of the wealthy art collectors—or, more precisely, their bored husbands, who had been dragged from behind the protecting series of reception desks in their high-rise office buildings. Grant found it easier to run them to ground in venues such as this than in their bastions they called offices.
"Who? Oh, him," Cath responded. A glance to her right told her that—surprisingly with a slight twinge of disappointment, she realized—the man she'd been listening to had evaporated. For the briefest moment she shivered again with the fleeting thought that he had been some sort of phantom; that he hadn't existed at all. And perhaps more from the realization that he had given up so quickly.
"No, he was just a man who wanted to talk about the art work," she said.
"Oh, he wasn't just a man. Tried to sell one of these to you, did he? He's the photo artist, you know. Or perhaps you didn't. These are his art works. That was Hunter Winslow. Quite the recluse. I'm surprised that he came to the opening, even if it is his. He must have given you some interesting insights into this art. They all seem to be variations on the same theme. Rather intriguing, though. And very sensual."
"He tried to discuss them with me, yes," Cath admitted. "But I was afraid he was just trying to pick me up."
"You should be used to that," Grant said with a laugh. "I know I tried to pick you up for ages before you'd give me a look and a roll. Not that the effort wasn't worth it, of course."
Cath couldn't help but frown slightly. Grant had been much like a possessive puppy dog ever since they'd first had sex—he'd almost done a victory dance around the sofa they'd done it on, and she had felt at the time that he had been itching to text someone about what he'd finally managed. She assumed he'd done so as soon as he'd left her apartment. She indeed had made him work for it, even though his athletic, yet boyish blond good looks undoubtedly usually got him what he wanted without much of a struggle. Even now Cath could see the slitted eyes of the gallery owner following Grant around the room.
But he wasn't as reserved as Cath was comfortable with—another difference, she knew, between New Yorkers and the men she had known in Maryland. She didn't sleep around all that much. When she'd come up to New York, she'd been told that she had to be prepared to move into a hedonist world, but she'd just laughed and said that Annapolis hadn't been any tamer—it just wasn't as open about it. As the daughter of the governor's chief of staff, she'd been pursued closely by a succession of beautiful, young, full-of-themselves Naval Academy midshipmen, and she'd let more than one of them inside her guard—but only if she could vet them as being very discrete. Grant was just as beautiful as any of those young men, but perhaps not as discrete as she might like.
"Maybe we should get dinner over as quickly as possible," Grant was saying. "These photos have made me horny and I'm anxious to get on with the evening."
Horny? Cath thought. Is that it? Is that what I've been afraid of in moving in any closer to these photographs? She turned her eyes to the one the artist had said was titled "Rachel Afterward #3" and looked more intently at it. It was a purposeful maneuver. She didn't want Grant to think she was panting for what he planned after dinner quite so much as he was, although she had been panting for it most of the day. Grant was a good lover. She hadn't achieved an orgasm with a man that easily and intensely before she met Grant, and he routinely could give her two. He spent time with the sex; not like the puppydog midshipmen who came as quickly as possible and just as quickly evaporated over the academy walls to avoid a curfew detention. He paid her a lot of quite effective attention in the foreplay, not stopping until she had been satisfied—and then he had the staying power and depth to satisfy them both in the penetration.
Intellectually, she had already become a bit bored with Grant. Physically, though, she was still able to pant for him. Not husband material certainly. But a perfectly tension-relieving satisfactory stud.
From where she stood, the photo art was arresting. She hadn't lied that the colors and patterns—a swirl of blues and purples and reds—would be great to use as a pallet to furnish a penthouse apartment or mountain vacation home. But now that the somewhat threatening atmosphere that the stranger had exuded—the artist, Hunter Winslow, she now knew—and wanting to cool Grant's heels a bit, Cath did what she was reluctant to do before. She moved in closer to the photograph. It was large and had been printed to canvas. She had seen a hint of its camouflaged secret already, but as she moved in closer, she saw that it wasn't just an abstract pattern of swirling colors. It was a human figure—a woman. Nude. She was reclining on her back on a chaise lounge, and the riot of colorful swirls danced over her body. What was intriguing, though, was that the flow of the patterns wasn't interrupted by the margins of her body, but continued on over the chaise and the surrounding floor, so that the body was almost fully camouflaged. And you only could discern that it was a human figure—and a nude—by coming in closer and making your eyes focus on the edges where the body ended and the surrounding furnishings began.
As she stared at the photo art, Cath began to feel tingly and breathy—and she had the urge to touch herself intimately. The title. The title must have something to do with how the artwork made her feel.
She no longer saw the work as appropriate for a living room. It would need to be in a bedroom or a dressing room. It was much too sensual and sexually powerful to be displayed in a public area. Perhaps over the bed of one's mistress. Intellectually, she felt she should be disappointed at this limitation, but she couldn't take her eyes off the nude now that her eyes had focused on it. It was just too sensual for Cath to see it in any other light now than the erotic.
"Dinner?" Grant whispered, touching her on the arm, as if he was gently trying to coax her out of an entirely different world and back into his presence.
"Could we eat later?" Cath answered in a low, thick voice. "I'd rather go back to your place now—at least for a while."
Cath was panting and still moaning deeply from the release Grant had given her. She was laying on her side, in his arms, cuddled into his chest, his hard, yet-to-be-employed cock rubbing gently against the small of her back. One hand was cupping one of her breasts and teasing her nipple, while the fingers of the other hand, having made her explode, were still moving in their dance of rubbing between her folds and stroking inside her. Two fingers buried inside her, he palmed her mound and squeezed and then released; squeezed and released; and Cath moaned a deep, gravelly, almost animalistic moan.
She sighed as he pulled away from her, and she listened to the sounds of him fiddling with a condom packet. Then, still behind her, he pulled her up on her knees, wrapped one arm around her chest, and cupped her chin with a hand. He slowly slid into her from behind and the fingers of his free hand moved into her fold again, finding the clit. She moaned at the depth his cock was reaching and then started to groan as he began to pump her with powerful strokes.
She collapsed on the bed on her back after her second orgasm, and lay there, arms akimbo, purring with satisfaction. Looking up, she could see herself in the mirror Grant had positioned in the canopy over the bed. She'd always thought this was a silly, juvenile fetish of his and had resisted watching their reflection as they made love, even knowing that Grant found it a turn on and that it undoubtedly increased his drive and stamina. This was the first time they had made love in his bed before nightfall, though, and the mirror was more noticeable.
As she lay there, the revelation of the photo art in the gallery, struck her. She began to breathe heavily again, and her hand involuntarily moved down her belly and into her folds. Seeing this, Grant, laughed and reached for another condom packet on the bedside table.
What she saw in herself in the mirror, mirrored what she had seen—and not fully understood—in the Hunter Winslow art photo. And now the title of the work became quite clear. "Afterward." The key was the word "afterward." The pose and expression of the model in the photograph—most likely a woman named Rachel—was postcoital. The woman had just had sex, exhausting, no-prisoners-taken sex. And the photo, one of at least three, had undoubtedly been taken immediately afterward.
Cath momentarily lost sight of the mirror while Grant moved on top of her, covering her body with his. But he moved from between her face and the mirror when he nuzzled his face into the hollow of her neck and as he positioned the mushroom cap of his cock at her entrance with his hand. As he slid inside her, Cath lifted her pelvis to give him deep penetration and moved her hands to his shoulder blades, reveling for perhaps the first time in how finely muscled his back was. And how his back tapered down to a thin waist and hips. Her hands ran down his back and cupped his finely mounded buttocks, enjoying the rhythm of their tightening and loosening as he stroked hard and deep inside her. His cock pulsed inside her, and her channel walls shimmered in response. They gave a mutual moan trailing off into a sigh in harmony.
"Oh, yes, yes," she groaned, as his cock head came out to rub across her clit and then dove—and then again, and again, and again. Panting hard, slamming her pelvis against his . . . feeling each drag of the mushroom cap across her clit and deep inside her. Clinch and release; clinch and release. Moooaan. Faster and faster; harder and harder. Tightening, fireworks, release, collapse.
* * * *
"You want me to do what?"
Cath had come out of the bedroom of the Fire Island beach cottage Grant had lured her to for the Memorial Day weekend. She'd brought a variety of swimwear and finally decided to go brave with a bikini. But when she'd come out of the bedroom, it was to find Grant standing, in the buff, at the sliding glass doors out onto the deck.
She had to admit that he looked really good in naked one-quarter profile silhouetted in the glare of the sun's rays bouncing off the sand of the beach and into the main room of the beach house.
"This is Fire Island. Everyone goes nude on the beach here," Grant answered. "Besides, it's Nude Day, and we have an obligation to mark it properly."
"I'm not everyone," Cath answered. "And I'm sure you are making it up about Nude Day having conveniently fallen on the very day we came to a private beach."
"Oh, you are such a prude. And this is Fire Island. Every day is Nude Day here."
"No I'm not a prude." Cath could feel her flesh heating up and blushing. "This just isn't my lifestyle."
They'd had this exchange before even though the circumstances were entirely different. Cath didn't want to have the exchange again. She never felt like her arguments won the day. She had come to want Grant for one thing only, really, and having him think she was a sexual prude took the edge off the thrill of enjoying what was hanging between his legs.
"There are only two houses on this beach, Cath, and the guy living in the other one is never here. You were pretty uninhibited in bed after the gallery opening. I'd thought we'd had a breakthrough here. You've got a beautiful body, and there's only me to see it here, so—"
"Oh, all right," Cath broke in in a rather irritated voice. "I've always wanted an all-over tan." She tugged at the strings of her bikini top as Grant smiled, slid open the glass door, and went out onto the deck. His arms were full of oversized towels. Cath managed to lighten up her mood, glad to see that the sand would be well-covered. She'd been looking forward to having sex on the beach for much of the week, but each time she'd thought about it, she'd thought about the itch of having sand everywhere—and she meant everywhere. This thought had flashed in her mind while Grant was whining about her being a prude, and she'd almost laughed. Of course it was prudish worrying about being nude on the beach. She had fantasized much of the week about being fucked on the beach. She didn't think that would happen with them wearing bathing suits.
She gingerly walked out onto the deck and then down the stairs and onto the sand. Looking all around she saw that Grant had been right. Their cottage, which Grant said the owner of the bigger house next door let him use, and the bigger house were perched over a secluded beach out on a bit of spit jutting into Great South Bay between the Robert Moses Causeway and the island town of Kismet. The neighborhood, set on a loop road off Burma Road, was residential and exclusive, and it looked like most of the home owners were enjoying their Memorial Day weekend somewhere else and seeking to avoid the raucous crowds that took over the island on holiday weekends such as this.
The beach at this point was small, but, more important, it was secluded. Massive boulders went down to the water on either side that evidently staved off any interest of beach strollers—or even interlopers—in invading the private stretch of sand. Grant had spread the towels and already was loping toward the water when Cath focused on him again. With a sigh, she dropped her beach bag, which contained, among other paraphernalia, lubricant lotion and packets of condoms—just in case Grant had forgotten them—and, casting her flip-flops off of her feet and turning them so the sun's rays bounced off the bottoms rather than where her feet would have to touch, she followed Grant to the water.
Grant was swimming strongly out beyond the surf and toward distant Long Island as Cath stood in the waves breaking on the shore and acclimated to the frigid water. She wanted to swim out toward Grant too, just to prove that she could. Her parents had a condo in Ocean City, Maryland, and Cath was no stranger to the sea. She was still waist high in the surf, though, when Grant was back and pulling her farther out into the water.
He rose up out the water and held her there briefly to his chest. She arched her back as his mouth went to her nipples and he sucked hard and worked them gently with his teeth. Reaching down for him, she found that not only was he hard but he also had already rolled a condom on.
She knew they were going to fuck out here in the bay. That was fine with her. She raised her knees to straddle his hips and wrapped a hand around his engorged cock, moving it to her clit and rubbing herself with the sheathed head. They moaned almost in unison. She pushed the cock head lower, ready to impale herself on it, but Grant jerked away and started drawing her farther into the water.
"What?" she murmured.
"Not here. Swirling sand in the surf. It'll get everywhere. A little farther out."
She laughed. Grant always thought of everything. The relentlessly invading sand was all she'd been thinking of most of the week, and once he'd gotten her all hot and bothered, she'd immediately forgotten about the logistics of it.