The passenger jet taxied from the terminal, carrying away Mary's reason for living. The tears she held back a few minutes ago now streamed down her face.
"Excuse me. Is everything all right?"
Startled, Mary swiped her cheek with a palm. "Yes. I'm fine."
In a whisper, the cultured voice said, "Parting is such sweet sorrow."
She laughed, turning toward the stranger. "Yes, it is."
The man's gray temples and sparkling eyes made Mary's chest tighten. Her gaze returned to the plane. "But it's not Romeo and Juliet sorrow. Just a worried mother, sending her son off to college."
"Ah, I understand." He handed her a tissue. "Mother is the bank where we deposit all our hurts and worries."
She laughed. "So, you're a philosopher?" said Mary, dabbing her red eyes.
"Hardly. I'm just an old man with experience."
Glancing back, she said before thinking, "Not so old."
His smile broadened, revealing straight white teeth. "Thank you. I feel younger for hearing it."
Mary's face warmed.
Suddenly awkward, she said, "I'd better get going, and beat the rush hour traffic. Well... thank you for your thoughtfulness."
"It was nice talking with you," he said, while reaching into his suit coat pocket.
Holding out a business card between well-manicured fingers, he added. "If you're ever bored, stop in and say hi."
Without looking, Mary hastily took the card and put it in her pocket. "Thank you."
Four days later, while preparing the laundry, Mary found the card in her jeans pocket. The card read, 'The Lyons Den Gallery' -- Daniel Lyons, proprietor. Along the bottom, a lion reclined in gold relief.
"An art dealer. Nice."
A week later, bored, lonely, and full of self-pity, Mary picked up the business card on her dresser and decided it might be fun to pay a visit to the 'Lyons Den'.
On Saturday, she locked her car and hurried toward the gallery storefront. An autumn wind chilled the afternoon sunshine. Mary's cold legs made her regret wearing a dress. The warm anticipation she felt, while getting ready for Mr. Lyons, evaporated. It was a silly, girlish notion to think he'd even be here on a Saturday, or unattached for that matter.
A small, silver bell tinkled when she opened the gallery's front door.
A familiar voice yelled from somewhere in the back, "I'll be with you in a moment."
Mary's skin warmed again. She tried to calm herself by perusing the photographs adorning the walls -- some of them were landscapes but most were portraits. There were pictures of men and there were pictures of women. As her gaze swept toward the back wall, she spied photos of men and women together, captured in romantic embraces.
She jumped at the sudden exclamation. Her voice cracked when she said, "Hi. I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd stop--"
"I'm so glad you did. Welcome, mother-from-the-airport." He took her hand and held it gently with Old World charm. "Would you like some tea or coffee? I also have some fresh Danish that will melt in your mouth."
The way he stared at her lips gave her goose bumps. Mary looked away and studied the nearest photo. The nervousness receded to where she could breathe. "No, thank you."
His grip turned into a friendly handshake. "Let me introduce myself officially. I'm Daniel Lyons, photographer, entrepreneur, and libertine."
Mary's throat constricted again, to the point where her voice squeaked. "I'm Mary Fuller. Nice to meet you, Mr. Lyons. Libertine? Well... thanks for the warning."
"Very nice to meet you, Mary. I'm harmless, really." He released her hand and stepped back. His eyes wandered over her, as if he were appraising her value as a potential conquest. "Please. Call me Dan or Danny. There are no pretensions here."
Mary found his candor refreshing and little disarming. Bad boys were in her past, way in the past, she didn't think they had any power over her anymore. She turned back toward the wall, and said, "I like the way you captured the reflected sunlight in this shot."
He stepped beside her and looked at the photo. "Ah, yes. This is one of my best sunrises. I remember it well. I froze my wide angle ass off to get that one just right." Once again, his gaze fell heavily on her profile. "You have a good eye for composition, Mary. Are you an artist?"
She steeled her heart and met his gaze. "Yes, I paint when I have a chance."
Daniel smiled. "I knew it." Pointing at the next photograph, he said, "I prefer doing portraits. What do you think of this one?"
The picture was taken in black and white. A gray-haired man sat behind a large desk, talking on the telephone with his feet up. The desktop was empty, except for the phone and a miniature cannon. Through the window behind him rose a towering city skyline along a curved lakefront.
"Hmm, it's very powerful. It says, 'I'm the man'."
He laughed. "That's exactly what he wanted it to say, too."
"Is that Chicago?"
"Why yes, it is -- 1989. That's my father. He had a corner office in the Hancock building. A captain of industry."
"You captured it perfectly."
"Thank you." His searing gaze returned to her face. "I think you're very photogenic, Mary. Have you ever modeled before?"
"As a matter of fact, I have." To put some distance between them, Mary strolled to the back wall. The pictures of embracing couples did nothing to relieve her tension.
She felt him close behind her, before he spoke again.
"Interesting. When did you pose?"
Not to be intimidated, she straightened to her full five-foot six-inch height and faced him squarely. "When I was young. I made some extra money posing for figure drawing classes."
His knowing smile made her face hot. Afraid of the next obvious question, she turned back to the wall of romantic portraits. Thankfully, he moved away without asking, 'Nudes?'
"Mary, I have some clients arriving shortly, so I have to prepare. Stay as long as you like. If you're interested, I have more explicit photographs in my private gallery through that door."
He pointed to the left at another door. A sign read, 'No one under 21 admitted'.
"You're welcome to have a look. But I warn you they're explicit. I think the body is beautiful, and I'm not ashamed of my work. I'll be in the back. If you need anything just give me a shout." Daniel disappeared with a smile and a wave.
Alone, Mary fought the desire to look inside the explicit room. Although she'd been celibate for a decade, she wasn't a prude. Instead, she studied the photographs in the main gallery. The portraits of couples were beautifully arranged. The subjects were in various states of undress, but all were tasteful and discreet. They looked truly affectionate. She wondered if they were actual couples or just posed models.
Mary had put her life on hold for her son. These pictures dredged up desires long suppressed. The air temperature in the room seemed to rise. Her heart double-timed as the wall clock tick-tocked.
The front door creaked opened and the little silver bell tinkled.
Mary jumped with embarrassment, caught with her mental pants down.
A young couple entered, and Mary recognized them immediately. She was standing in front of their semi-nude portrait. Her face burned when they both smiled, like they read her dirty mind.
The man grasped his companion's hand, and said to Mary, "Hi. We're the Baxter's. Are you our Clotho?"
Flustered, Mary said, "No. I, I... I'm Mary Fuller... just visiting."
Their look of disappointment made Mary tingle.
The petite brunette smiled, and looked Mary up and down as they walked through the door to the back room. "Maybe you'd like to be. Maybe the Fates brought you here for us."
Frozen, Mary stared at the door they entered and listened closely, trying to overhear the indistinguishable conversation.
A minute later, Daniel came out and, as he walked to the front door, said, "Mary, I'm going to be busy for a while with the Baxter's. So I'm going to lock the front door. When you leave, please pull it closed and make sure it's secure."
The metallic clunk from the lock had a trapped finality about it.
"If you'd like to observe the shoot, the Baxter's are fine with that. I told them you're an artist, as well. But I warn you; this is an erotic photo shoot. If explicit sexuality offends you, then please stay out."
His abrupt departure left Mary a little insulted for some reason. Or maybe it was something else, a different emotion. Disappointment perhaps.
Faintly, Beethoven began to play. Mary loved Beethoven. The idea of porn being shot to classical music made her uncomfortable in a peculiar mix of disdain and curiosity. She turned to leave, walked to the door, and had her hand on the doorknob. Then she heard them laugh. They were enjoying themselves. What kind of people are they?
Pensively, she toured the main gallery again, until she stood by the door leading into the Lyon's den of iniquity. Ten feet inside the door, the hallway turned right. Mary tiptoed to the corner and peeked down another hallway. Five feet away, a door on the left was brightly illuminated. The music came from there. That had to be the studio. Quietly, Mary moved to the edge of light and glanced inside.
Mrs. Baxter spotted her immediately. "Mary! Come in! Join us!"
The men turned and smiled.
Daniel poured a third glass of wine. "Here, Mary, a little vino to calm your nerves?"
Hesitantly, Mary entered the studio. It was a big room, as large as a theater stage. There were different areas sectioned off by backdrops. Most were storage for furniture and props. The area lit up by the bright lights resembled a Victorian bedroom. A white-lace canopy bed gave the scene an air of innocent femininity.
Mary took the offered wine, and said simply, "Thank you."
As she sipped, the others returned to their interrupted conversation.
"Okay. The consensus from the feedback on your last post is that your subscribers want to see Jennifer in some light bondage." Daniel nodded toward the bed. "Nothing better than a four-poster for that."
He led them to a wardrobe and opened the doors. "I have a night gown for you Jenny, and a top hat, ruffled shirt and breeches for you Bruce."
Jennifer pulled out the gauzy nightgown and smiled. "So, what scene are we acting out?"
Bruce began removing his clothes. Briefly he glanced at Mary, and said, "This is going to be fun."
They all looked.
Mary, feeling self-conscious, turned away to study other areas of the stage.
The threesome began to speak in secretive tones.
This really wasn't something Mary wanted to be involved in, but to leave now would mark her as uptight. She was above this sort of tawdry quirk, but it would be interesting to witness how these porn shoots were done. On an empty stomach, the wine was soon doing its job by numbing her anxiety.
After inspecting a stuffed Grizzly bear for minutes, Mary turned back to the bedroom scene in time to see Bruce pull his breeches up over his bare ass. His back was well muscled and flexed as he buttoned his fly.
Jennifer had already donned the translucent nightgown. Her erect nipples marked by dark circles beneath the fabric. A pubic shadow accentuated her groin.
Bruce finished buttoning up a ruffled shirt, picked up a riding crop, and said, "I'm randy. I mean... ready."
Daniel placed his arms around the shoulders of his models. "All right then. Places everyone!"
The way he let his hand slip down to Jennifer's bottom did not go unnoticed by Mary. Neither did Jennifer's return wink.
Bruce exited through a door next to the bed and Jennifer lay down on her back.
Daniel turned down the music, grabbed a complicated looking camera and tried the flash a few times. Remote strobes went off around the bed. Nothing would be left hidden in the shadows today. He stood beside the bed and focused the camera on Jennifer. "All right, Jenny. Action!"
The camera flashes went off in rapid succession, as Jennifer began to writhe sensuously. She removed a clasp and untangled two feet of dark, chocolate-colored hair. Her hands slipped down over her chest and then back up. The motion pulled the fabric above her waist, exposing her sex.
"Nice. Very nice, Jenny." Daniel's camera clicked away as he encouraged her. "Everyone that sees this will feel your desire."
Jennifer looked at Mary, and said, "I hope so."
Mary's face smoldered.
Daniel laughed. "They'd have to be dead not to." He knelt on one knee. "Now remember, you're husband has neglected you for weeks."
Jennifer closed her eyes. "I'm so horny." One hand slipped down and rubbed between her legs. "I need a release to ease the tension."
Mary drained her wine glass, her body feeling what her eyes witnessed. She never was someone who needed to masturbate often. She just lived without. Watching Jennifer brought new desires. How many years had it been since her last orgasm?
Mary refilled her wine glass, while the woman on the bed filled herself with one finger, and then another. She held her legs up and wide open, bent at the knees. They pumped against the air.
It was a wanton display, and Mary was strangely entertained.
The half naked woman knew no shame. Her body, under the glaring lights, became shiny and taut with effort.
Daniel's camera clicked away. "Whom are you fantasizing about, Dear? What's his name?"
Jennifer's hands were busily at work, distracting her mind. "Not a man... Woman."
Daniel climbed up and stood on the bed for a bird's-eye shot. "What woman, Jenny?"
She pushed up her nightgown, exposing her breasts. While twirling a nipple with her fingertip, she looked at Mary longingly and whispered, "The governors wife."
At that moment, Bruce burst into the room, and yelled, "Jennifer! What in God's name are you doing?"
Quickly, she sat up and covered herself. "Nothing."
"I saw you! I know what you were doing!"
Daniel backed away to get both of them into the viewfinder. "Good. Make it real."
Bruce swatted the bed with the riding crop. "You're acting like a slut again. I told you what would happen if you didn't stop."
Jennifer covered her face with her hands. "Please, forgive me. I won't do it again." She jerked away when he tapped her leg with the riding crop.
Mary tensed. Her heart thudded in her chest. Jennifer's fright looked authentic and she pitied the girl.
Jennifer didn't obey.
"Roll over now. It will be much worse if I have to make you."
Reluctantly, Jennifer whispered, "Yes, Sir," and rolled onto her stomach.
Bruce marched to the wardrobe and grabbed scarves from the shelf. "I don't understand you, Jenny." He strode to the foot of the bed and began to bind her ankles to the foot rail. "Get on your knees."
Jennifer obeyed without comment.
"You knew I would be home today, and yet you can't wait for me to satisfy your need. In fact, it's as though you want to be caught abusing yourself. Why did you do it?"
Jennifer didn't answer.
Her husband moved to the headboard and bound her wrists to the posts. When he was done, her face was pressed into the mattress, her knees were tucked underneath, and her bottom stuck up.
"Any last words, before punishment?"
"I love you."
"I don't believe it."
Mary flinched when the first stroke landed on Jennifer's white buttocks.
Daniel moved in for a close up of the red stripe.
Bruce's voice cracked, when he added, "If you loved me, you'd wait for me."
He applied another lash and Jenny cried out in pain.
"Who were you thinking about, Jenny? What's his name?"
Bruce threw down the crop and spanked her with an open palm, leaving a pink handprint. "Tell me his name, damn it!" Another loud thwack punctuated the question.
Several blows later, Jennifer yelled, "Please! Stop!"
With his hand poised to continue, Bruce asked, "Are you going to answer my question?"
Between gasps, Jennifer whimpered, "It wasn't a man. It was a woman."
The puzzled grin that Bruce gave to Daniel revealed a change in plot. "A woman?"
Daniel clicked the camera and smiled. "Just go with it."
"A woman! What woman?"
Mary put down her empty glass and decided she'd seen enough. This just wasn't her 'thing'. Regretfully, she didn't have a 'thing'. In fact, she didn't have a life, but this was not doing it for her. She decided on a quiet and hasty retreat, until she heard Jennifer's answer.
"Mary Fuller, the governor's wife."
Mary's head snapped around at the mention of her name.
Daniel pointed the camera at her. "Say cheese."
Startled by the flash, she recoiled.
Grinning wolfishly, he looked down at the camera's digital display. "You should see your face, Mary. Priceless."
Hot with embarrassment, she said, "Delete that! I didn't say you could take my picture."
"The camera likes you. You're beautiful. Very photogenic."
Mary marched over and grabbed for the camera.
Daniel pulled it away. "Go easy, now! I'll erase it." He showed her the display and hit a button. Her wild-eyed portrait vanished. "There now. All better?"
She turned and started to walk away. "You people are crazy."
Bruce asked, "How'd you like to make $200?"
Mary spun around and glared. "I'm not a whore!"
"Of course not. No one thinks that. I was just wondering if you'd like to play a small role. Act the part of Jenny's governess in one, quick scene. All you need to do is rub some lotion on her sore ass. Daniel will take some pictures of your hands, soothing her red bottom. That's all."
"Great idea!" said Daniel. "Your subscribers will love it!"
Tied Jenny turned her head and smiled at Mary. "Couldn't you use the extra money?" She wiggled her ass back and forth, pleading her case.
The proposition caught Mary off guard. She could use the money. It would be nice to send her son some extra cash.
Bruce walked to the wardrobe and pulled out a bonnet. "Wear this. It'll hide your face and hair. Put on this black dress and no one will ever recognize you."
Soft Beethoven filled the room, as Mary actually considered the offer. After all, she'd modeled before for money. She'd modeled nude, in fact. This one scene would be like a day at the beach. It would be like rubbing sunscreen on a friend. She could do that.
"Okay, I'll do it. But... I want to see the pictures afterwards and have the right to delete any that I disapprove of."
Bruce clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "It's a deal. Fantastic!" He held out Mary's costume, and said, "There's a dressing room in the back. Put on your costume and Daniel will prepare the consent form for you to sign."
A little dazed by her rash decision, Mary wandered to the dressing room and slowly put on the Victorian costume. She stood before the full-length mirror and didn't recognize herself. When she turned sideways the bonnet hid her face completely. This would be the easiest money she'd ever made.
A knock on the door was followed by Daniel's warm voice. "Mary. I have the form for you to sign."
When she opened the door, he looked her up and down, smiling. "Is Mary here?"
"Very funny." She took the paper, pretended to read every word, signed it, and handed it back.
"Okay. Wait outside the door. Bruce will bring you in when he's ready. Act demure and embarrassed when you come in."
"That'll be easy."
They shared a laugh.
Daniel stepped back into the bedroom and, like a big-time director, said, "Places everyone."
Seconds later, "Action."
Mary waited and listened, hoping to be summoned right away, get this charade over with, and leave.
In the other room, Bruce said in a mournful tone, "Jenny, haven't I given you pleasure? Doesn't my touch, doesn't my caress, fulfill your needs?"
The rapid click of Daniel's camera, and the low moaning from Jenny, indicated Bruce was also talking with his hands.