Conventions; trade shows; conferences. Call them what you like, you do get to meet some characters. Like the guy who's all talk, smattering TLAs throughout the conversation in the vain hope it covers up the fact he plainly doesn't know what he's talking about. At the other end of the scale is the nervous geek who should be locked away to do the coding and never allowed to meet the customer. And in the middle is me: a girl in a predominantly man's world who can appreciate the difference between HTML and XML but doesn't brag about it. Petite and unassuming on the surface; devious in the bedroom; wilder in hotel rooms after dark.
The annual shindig for hobnobbing with the doers, managers and wannabes was the generically-titled "Online Information" at London Olympia. I was there because my boss told me to go; apparently, he said, to keep my ear to the ground in the world of IT. Clearly he'd never been to the show and was simply wowed by the marketing propaganda as I'd have probably learnt more about IT from Ozzy Osbourne. But I had a few meetings lined up and it was a great excuse to be free of the office for a few days. And it was at the show, jammed on benches in front of a glitzy-looking stall awaiting the speaker, that I met her.
She shuffled along the row trying hard not to step on toes and sat down beside me. I caught her fragrance first but couldn't place it; light and airy, slightly floral. Not as heavy as Obsession yet more imposing than CK. She set down the black leather strappy bag by her pale calf and rearranged her skirt, brushing away an invisible thread.
Looking down at her hands resting in her lap, I noticed a gold wedding band and nails that were well manicured -- just long enough to peek over the pads of her fingers -- painted a subtle red. Her fingers were long and if she wasn't a pianist, probably should have been. She must have sensed my stare: when I glanced up our eyes met for a fleeting moment before I looked away.
A commotion the other side of me diverted my attention. A slender guy with small, metal-rimmed glasses was clambering over patrons to reach the space the other side of me. Was I Magneto-girl today or something? I inched towards the woman, our thighs touching briefly, as he plonked himself breathlessly to my right, wedging me between them. I didn't mind. He was cute and slightly nerdy. Had I not been spoken for I might have considered letting him buy me a drink later. He gave an apologetic grin just as the speaker began tapping the headset microphone and introduced his team.
The talk was interesting yet somehow uninspiring in equal measure. At least, the parts where I was concentrating. My mind kept inexplicably wandering; first to the woman on my left, and then to the man beside me. I found myself comparing and contrasting. She was a brunette, bordering on chestnut while I was darker. She had a dusting of tiny freckles on her fair cheeks, while I had none. And her lips -- in a soft red to complement her nails -- were full and pouting beneath a button nose. Overall she was taller and thinner than me, and where I had fairly large breasts for my frame, the way her delicate blouse hung indicated hers were smaller.
I glanced right as the speaker droned on. My boyfriend was usually clean shaven but this guy had slight stubble. Back home, a chiselled jaw line and prominent cheekbones gave Adam the appearance of an outdoor hiker; though to my knowledge he had only ever hiked to the corner shop and back. In contrast, the smoother curves and softer features of the man beside me belied much more of a penchant for indoors. He had paler skin than Adam and mousey blond hair. I caught myself imagining what it would be like to have his face gently scratching and tickling my neck as he kissed it. How would it feel if he traced his kisses along my collar bone, sliding my blouse and bra strap aside so he could concentrate on my shoulder?
I shook my head. Get a grip, woman! What was I thinking? What would Adam say if he found out? I scolded myself inwardly for being caught up in the cramped conditions. Truthfully I always preferred to be in close quarters with other people in public. It made my mind race with untold possibilities, despite my self-assurance that I'd never act on any of them. I especially enjoyed the forbidden touches of person against person as commuters jostled for position on the Underground or strangers brushed by me in bars.
Then I forgot all about him when the woman next to me raised her hand and spoke. Knocked me off guard with the soft, drawn-out vowels and lilting tone of an American. Perhaps from one of the Carolina states.
"Why would I use Silverlight instead of Flash? If you'll pardon my ignorance, hasn't Flash been around a lot longer and is more widely deployed?"
The speaker thanked her for the excellent question but was evidently a little riled about having to defend his company's product. He did a good job of deflecting the naysayers but I only half listened to the answer. I replayed her question over and over in my mind, focusing on her accent. Something about her voice appealed to me. No, it was more than that; it attracted me. There was a sharpness about her, but also an innocence conveyed in those few words. Perhaps it was the fact she was four thousand miles from home, feeling out of place in a foreign city surrounded by an up-tight nation of people. London is hardly the friendliest place on earth. No stranger to travel I knew the curious awkwardness of being that person, seemingly alone, having very little in common with the people bustling around me. But also the thrill of being able to stand out in the crowd; daring to be different, and expressing my individuality because nobody knew me. Anonymity and distinctiveness were a delicious mix.
Over the years I'd discovered nowhere demonstrated this conflict better than a hotel room. Lazing in front of the TV with Adam, hands wandering over each other's bodies, gradually raising the temperature, goose bumps forming on damp skin. Fingers walking tantalizingly over my erogenous zones, nipples hardening to his touch and then becoming rigid under his hot breath, as the tips of my breasts are rolled between lightly clenched teeth. Excitement mounting, ultimately finding myself unable to take any more and wordlessly climbing on top of him, riding his length furiously, feeling him split my raging pussy in two until I let go and cry out into the night space, not caring who may be listening in neighbouring rooms. And as I begin to come down from the high my audience in adjoining rooms would begin to... applaud? What the...
I became aware of clapping around me, petering out to be replaced with the hubbub of people moving. I focused on my hand which was slowly, almost imperceptibly rubbing my exposed thigh just above the knee and became suddenly self-conscious. Quickly standing, slightly flustered, I gathered my belongings and followed the woman along the row, admiring the way she glided away from the stall. I shook my head again. Something was definitely wrong with me: I feared I was turning into a nymphomaniac. Adam had unleashed some beastly desires inside me, and since the day he'd introduced me to anal sex I'd been utterly insatiable the past few months. I'd started fantasizing of office trysts, daydreaming of group sex and now what: another woman? I had to stop before my inner desires consumed me and made me do something I regretted. But that backside of hers wiggling in her pencil skirt made my heart leap to my throat. It took every ounce of self control to restrain my mind.
She looked back and stopped. Had she sensed me staring again? Could she tell what I was thinking? The briefest of pauses elapsed and I thought of darting away from her into the milling crowds. But before I could react she extended her hand and, in the inimitable way that Americans do, introduced herself.
"Jess. Or Jessica on Sundays. Didn't get a chance to say hi back there."
I took her soft hand in mine and shook it.
"Uh, Belle. No change on Sundays. Pleased to meet you."
"Belle, that's a pretty name."
"Pretty unusual, I'm told."
She smiled, freckled cheeks rising and catching the diffuse light. Our hands stayed together a few seconds longer than convention would dictate for people who had just met and I felt a faint tingle down my spine. I pulled my hand away, perhaps a little too quickly, and searched for something to say.
"So are you here just for the conference?" A short, sweaty man talking loudly into a mobile phone barged between us on his way to a nearby trade stand. "Or for all these hot specimens of mankind?" I concluded.
She laughed a little, eyes twinkling. "No. I'm on vacation and they said they'd pay me to take a few days here while I was in the country."
"That's good of them. And your family don't mind?"
"Left them in Birmingham." She pronounced each syllable separately: Bir-ming-ham and then added, "To explore."
"There's a lot to explore. I live near there. When I'm not here."
"Oh, really? You'll have to tell us what to see. Stuff we really shouldn't miss."
An open invitation, but I shouldn't accept. Might put her off. Better not to appear easy, I was always told. It seemed my mouth wasn't paying any attention to my brain. "Is now good for you? I could do with a coffee."
She pondered a little. "How about later? Got a lot to fit in today; you know how it is."
I did, but tried to hide my disappointment. Maybe she picked up on it, because she then asked, "How are you fixed for dinner?"
"Table for one."
I nodded and let the pause in conversation breathe a little.
Jess spoke. "So I'm staying at the Novotel down the street. Company wouldn't stretch to the Hilton."
"Ha ha me too. Kind of them to care about their workforces isn't it?"
"Yeah, banks huh? Got a lot to answer for. But it's worked out good to be frugal this time. How about the lobby at 7? We can choose a place to eat then. You familiar with this area?"
"A little. I know a good Italian place nearby."
"Perfect. I need a tour guide. First time here."
We both stopped, the awkwardness catching up with us both at once. It was Jess who broke the silence again in her soft drawl.
"So, I'm sorta going that way," she pointed over her shoulder. "You?"
I looked around and indicated left. It was more than a little random and highly likely someone with a shiny brochure and some false charm would try and sell me something en route.
She nodded. "OK then. See you at 7."
"Yes. Looking forward to it."
And I was.
With that she turned and sashayed away into the throngs of people, leaving me standing, anonymous and alone before wandering off in search of something to justify my paycheque.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I spent the remainder of the day flitting from stand to stand, picking up brochures, listening to sales patter and well-oiled speeches. My feet ached and they thanked me for the freedom as I kicked off my heels in the hotel bedroom. I sank to the bed and fell back into the queen size mattress, splaying my arms wide, kicking my stockinged feet idly against the frame.
My thoughts turned to Jess. What was I doing meeting a stranger for dinner? That wasn't my style at all. A few months ago I was a lot more shy and reserved -- at least in public -- and I'd never have agreed. Even now after having been awoken to my sexual prowess and pushing the boundaries of my desires I wasn't sure why I'd agreed. It simply wasn't my manner to act on impulse with anyone other than Adam. But there was something mesmerising about Jess. From the moment I'd heard her voice I'd been a different woman. Something in her had triggered a chemical change in my body that I couldn't fathom. Whether it was shared loneliness in a faceless city or the way her eyes sparkled when she smiled -- or perhaps a bit of both -- I had a warmth in my belly that I couldn't control.
As I lay there I wondered where this might lead. I'd always been faithful to my past boyfriends and had never even considered kissing another woman, let alone going any further. But something about Jess' touch, her lilting voice and her emerald eyes made me glow inside.
Over the years I'd enjoyed listening to couples making love in countless adjoining hotel rooms: regular sex, bondage, masturbation, vibrators, anal, I'd pretty much heard it all. I'd even once enjoyed hearing some girl-on-girl action which was incredibly hot. Clearly there was something very wrong with me. Voyeurism and listening in on people's intimate moments was a male fetish, wasn't it? Perhaps I had spent too much time in a male-oriented industry and the testosterone had rubbed off. Perhaps I needed help? I mean, now I was contemplating being that other woman in the adjoining room.
I cast my mind back to our meeting earlier in the day and wondered if I was misinterpreting Jess' body language; maybe I'd simply misread the signals and it was all wishful thinking. Would it be better not to try anything in case it was just culture differences and she became offended? Perhaps what I was feeling wasn't attraction but confusion. Or frustration at being away from Adam. Recently I found I had a higher sex drive than normal and needed... servicing more frequently than my friends seemed to require. To the extent I always packed at least one -- and sometimes a selection -- of toys for my trips away.
But Jess' face and her voice were etched in my mind. What's a girl to do amid this much emotional turmoil? I considered bailing; torn between a night in with the assurance of my playthings or a night out in the company of someone I didn't know. Either way, I felt the energy crackle across my skin, left then right, down then up my legs, circling my belly. I couldn't resist and hiked my skirt up above my waist. To my surprise, I found the crotch of my panties to be damp and ran my fingers over the outline of my pussy lips through the thin fabric, tracing them slowly, imagining it was Jess. How can a heterosexual woman be turned on by the thought of touching someone else's wife? It's simply not right, but it felt right. I suddenly wanted her between my legs, using her tongue on my sex, spreading my pink lips, lapping my clit. I closed my eyes and let the hot thoughts take me, fingers stroking my legs and up to my sensitive centre, breathing becoming heavier.
As my hand glanced over my panties and I felt the heat emanating from beneath I lazily rolled my head from side to side against the bed sheets, eventually resting my cheek against the soft duvet. Through half-opened eyes I came to focus on the bedside clock. 6:20. Shit. Pleasure would have to wait.
Reluctantly I hauled myself from the comfort of the mattress, quickly stripped and showered, paying extra attention to tidying the tiny wisps of hair on my pussy. I loved being shaved bare, leaving the tiniest strip of fur just north of my clit. It always drove Adam wild when he had my hairless pussy to slather with his talented tongue. I returned the razor to the soap dish and admired my handiwork in the mirror before turning to look at my shapely bottom. Good enough to eat.
Wrapping a large bath sheet snugly around me I thumbed through the wardrobe and chose an outfit. Being on business meant a limited repertoire but I always made sure to pack one or two posh garments. Even when dining alone I loved dressing up to go out; sadly these days it seemed to be a dying custom.
When I was dry and had applied a light spray of Giorgio I slipped into a new pair of sheer panties, matching bra and silk hold-ups. My legs shone in the hotel light and I loved the way the hold-ups made me feel and look so glamorous. It was all Adam's fault I'd started wearing them again. _That_ night.
The black dress hugged my figure as I shucked into it and zipped it up, rearranging my breasts for best effect. Despite the slight over-indulgence visible in my waist that the gym hadn't yet helped shift, I felt sexy. I gave a little twirl and liked what I saw. The pièce de résistance was my four-inch Louboutin heels and a delicate necklace which plunged to my ample cleavage. I checked my reflection: the height of the heels naturally diminished my slight belly and accentuated my bottom and boobs. What a package!
Three minutes to seven. I grabbed my clutch purse and as I pulled the heavy door and exited the room to the corridor I hoped Jess wouldn't think I'd gone overboard.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As it happened I had chosen well. When the lift door pinged open I saw Jess by the yucca plant. She was slightly more conservatively dressed in a trouser suit and cream shirt with a generous V neckline. A heart-shaped pendant nestled between the upper half of her breasts and she wore her hair down, pooling effortlessly at her shoulders. A pair of slingbacks emphasised her body's natural slender curves.
I smiled and approached; she smiled back radiantly.
"Very elegant, Belle."
I blushed. "Thank you. I'm glad you dressed up too."
"Are you kidding? When else do we get an excuse to wear such great clothes? I love your necklace."
"Thank you," I repeated. "My boyfriend bought it for my birthday."
"He has good taste."
A waiter spied us and offered a table but I declined, indicating that Jess and I were leaving. We stepped into the large revolving door together then out into the cool night air -- much milder than usual considering Christmas wasn't far away -- and began to walk towards Hammersmith station.
I found out that she was at an ePublishing firm, trying to gain traction in the marketplace as traditional publishers muscled in. Said she enjoyed it but it was frustrating. For my part I mostly listened to her dulcet tones, interjecting occasionally to furnish her with parts of my working history.
We arrived at Bianco Nero and took a table towards the back. It was already busy with waiters threading their way between the square tables carrying pizza, pasta and salad to hungry guests. We ordered pizzas and wine -- a crisp house white -- and settled into the moulded plastic, yet oddly comfortable, chairs.
"Jess, can I ask what part of America you're from?"
"North Carolina. A place called Lindley Park, Greensboro."
"Never heard of it. Is it nice?"
"The park's great. Wide open space with beautiful trees in summer. The neighbourhood kinda grew around the park. Lots of colourful characters lived in my street. It's where I developed my charm."
I smiled. "Your charm's just fine. For an American."
"Careful! So you must be doing ok for yourself, given the business we're in. How do you cope with all the testosterone in the office?"
"I just wear heels and don't take any shit."
That got a laugh. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders and reflected deep reddish-brown in the artificial light as she shook. "They don't stand a chance then. Anyone who wears 600 dollar shoes demands respect."
I looked down, a little bashful. "To be fair I bought them at a discount shop. Last season's look for a tenth of the price."
Jess arched her eyebrows. "Wow. You'll have to show me. Mine are wearing out."
As we ate, the conversation flowed smoothly along with the wine. Jess was easy to get along with. Topics ranged from organic farming, shopping, music and pets to religion, men and travel. I let her do most of the talking, happy to listen to the sing-song accent. A few times I caught myself staring at her lips and had to look away. I still felt some anxiety about being with her, wondering what she thought to me, hoping she approved.
Perhaps it was the first-date nerves, perhaps the company, but I found myself drinking a little more heavily than usual and it was starting to have an effect. I didn't notice at first of course; I always find it difficult to gauge how much I've had. The amber light was when, on the travel topic, I drunkenly confessed to enjoying listening to other people having sex in hotel rooms.