Gavin bent and dutifully kissed his wife on the cheek, as she sat, calm as ever, her red-brown hair and golden tan making a splash of colour against the whiteness of the hospital sheets and pillows.
"I'll be back in the morning, in time for…" he began.
She smiled and cut him off. "I'm sorry for the fuss, love. Such an overreaction to a touch of tinnitus, I know, but Liam was so insistent that I didn't want to argue."
"Liam is a good doctor. If he thinks you need a CAT Scan, then you do. I'd rather have a little fuss now than ignore it, and regret it later."
And that, of course, was the last word on the subject, as his pronouncements always were. He patted Emma's hand, kissed her again and left, walking briskly away through the dark maze of corridors that would have warmed a troglodyte's heart, the heels of his expensive shoes making a staccato tapping on the polished floors which echoed, ringing, off of the sterile walls.
He had left the car in his park at work, taking a bus across town to the hospital, claiming disingenuously that parking would be impossible. The truth was that he could have parked easily, but if he had done that, given the hospital was considerably closer to home than work was, he would have had no excuse to be in Mission Bay in the evening, if anyone he knew was to see him there.
A taxi took him back to the office, where he quickly freshened up, changing his blue shirt for a crisp white one, and his sober tie for something trendier. He turned off his mobile, dropped it into the glove compartment of his Commodore, and reversed out of the parking space. Less than fifteen minutes later, he was sitting in Positano, watching Adrienne walk toward him.
He was balancing precariously on a dangerous tightrope this time, he knew. Other affairs had been conducted quietly, with meetings in out of the way places, where he could be secure that he wouldn't be recognised. If a woman ever became too demanding, asking for more than surreptitious trysts and fleeting couplings, he had simply walked away, with a parting gift large enough to ensure that his mistress didn't feel aggrieved or embittered enough to go running to his wife.
Because he was not prepared to lose Emma, and never had been. In his own, faithless way, he loved her, and he relied on her cheerful calm and quiet competence to keep him grounded when his enthusiasm, ambition or mercurial temperament got the better of him. She was warmth and comfort to him, as solidly reassuring and satisfying as a full English breakfast on a cold winter's morning.
This time was different though. He watched the woman -- no, the girl -- walking across the restaurant floor, and acknowledged ruefully that there was virtually no risk that he wouldn't take to keep her. For if Emma was bacon and eggs, Adrienne was crème brûlée: wicked, sinful, and utterly irresistible. From the wild tumble of dark curls at her head to the long toes that were hidden in the high, slim-heeled shoes she wore, she was a walking wet dream, curving where curves should be, slender and trim where extra flesh was undesirable. As she sat, smiling her hello, he heard the soft susurration of silk on silk and just the sound brought him inevitably to erection.
While they ate, their conversation was desultory. They had little to say to each other, but this relationship, Gavin reflected, almost bitterly, had nothing whatsoever to do with talking.
It had been about sex from the beginning.
She had walked into his office, and sat opposite him, crossing her legs, the skirt she wore (much too short for an interview) riding up to display a glimpse of ivory thigh framed between stocking and garter belt, before she ostentatiously pulled it down again.
He had been the one who had blushed, not her, as he had hastily dropped his eyes to the CV in his hand, but he had not been able to hide the tenting of his pants and she had smiled. She looked at him boldly as she answered the routine questions, her startling blue eyes holding his gaze, challenging him. He had decided firmly not to give her the job, considering how uncomfortable her proximity would be, when he asked his final question "What unique qualities do you have to offer that would set you apart from the other candidates?"
She hadn't spoken. She had simply slipped to her knees, unzipped his pants, and taken him into her mouth. He could have stopped her, but he didn't.
And that had been that.
He had given her the job, breaking his primary rule that he would never have an affair with anyone who worked for him, and one by one, every other rule that he had carefully laid down to keep his extramarital flings manageable and within limits had started to come tumbling down.
She was too young, for a start. He had always sworn that he would only get involved with women close to his own age – mature women able to understand, and abide by, the laws of adultery. Adrienne was barely twenty-two, less than half his age, and if she didn't like a rule, she ignored it.
She called him at home, giving some transparent excuse about work, and then murmured explicit suggestions at him about what they could be doing if he was only there with her, until he was feverish with desire. At first he had turned to Emma, and slaked his needs at home, but as Adrienne introduced him to new, and ever more exotic, pleasures he found himself creating pretexts to go to her when she called.
She demanded he take her out, not to quiet secluded places but to bustling fashionable spots and he capitulated. She set her own timetable for when she would see him, ignoring any commitments he might have elsewhere, and more often than not, he made excuses to fall in with what she wanted.
She touched him, fleetingly but suggestively in public, daring him to brush off her caresses – and he didn't dare, for fear of losing her, and the heady, dizzy feeling that gripped him.
And, with just a closed door, not even a lock, between him and total exposure, she laid herself on the rimu top of his desk, pulling him onto her, and into her, and enfolding him in sensuality, so that his horror was swamped in excitement.
Since Adrienne came into it, his life was completely out of control, and he wasn't even sure he wanted to rein it in.
"How's your wife?" She asked, a finger running provocatively up and down the neck of the wine bottle on the table.
"I don't want to talk about my wife, Adrienne."
"She's fine. Everything's fine. Change the subject please. Now." His eyes were fixed on the fingers as they curled themselves snugly around the deep green glass, the thumb caressing it idly, but his voice was steely. He would not talk about Emma with Adrienne, not ever. Just thinking about his wife when he was with the younger woman made him feel base, knowing how deep the betrayal and disloyalty went this time.
It made him feel like an addict, high on the cheap intoxication of the girl, paying for his fix with what rightfully belonged to Emma.
Suddenly, as if sensing the change in his mood, Adrienne released the bottle, and stood up, quickly.
"Pay the bill," she ordered, her voice loud, "and take me home. I'd rather fuck than eat."
Several heads turned sharply to look at them, and Gavin could barely stifle a surge of hot anger at being turned into an exhibition. His lips tight, he hustled her to the door, throwing down more than enough money to cover the bill at the cash desk, and then propelled her towards the car.
"Can't you show some discretion?" he snapped.
"I don't need to be discreet," she retorted, "I'm not married, remember. You are."
And then she moved closer and pressed herself against him, kissing him desperately and violently.
"Don't be angry with me for wanting you, Gavin" she whispered, huskily, tracing around the rim of his ear with a long fingernail, "I can't help it."
And he was lost again, helpless against her flagrant eroticism and his body's reaction to it. He flung himself into the car and drove swiftly, carelessly, back to her house – the house he paid for, carefully disguised within the company's account books. A small well-appointed home in a leafy suburb, next to a quiet church , far too expensive for a secretary's pocket. The original idea had been that this would be their primary meeting place, discreet and comfortable, and that she would think herself too lucky to complain. Things hadn't worked out that way, maybe, but this was still their place to be together, and to be as wild and noisy as they chose.
Tonight was as wild as it had ever been. They were both struggling out of their clothes before the door swung shut and then they were on each other, hungrily devouring flesh as if it offered them more sustenance than their abandoned food. There was no gentleness, no mercy, only frenzy and fire, urgency and need.
Her cries were shrill and piercing, his harsh, as they found release, and clung together, trembling, afterward. He lay a while, then disentangled himself from her grasp, dressed, and walked to the window.
Looking out over the graveyard and the church, he broke his last rule but one. "I love you, Adrienne," he said, not turning to look at her, and see the effect of the words. "God help me, but I love you so much."
He walked back to the bed, where she sprawled like a broken doll, just as he had left her, silent. He bent and kissed her deeply, before he murmured, "I have to go, I've got an early start in the morning. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."
When he got home, the answering machine was flashing, a livid red beacon. He pressed the button.
"This is Dr. Rumanga at Greenlane Hospital, Mr. Barclay, please call as soon as possible. My number is…."
"Gavin, it's Adrienne. I love you too. I love you, and I want you, and I'll be thinking of you every moment till I see you again."
He couldn't suppress a smile as he dialled the Doctor's number. No doubt there was a delay in the scan, he thought fleetingly as his mind drifted back to Adrienne and how young and open her voice had sounded.
"Dr. Rumanga? Gavin Barclay. You asked me to call."
"Ah, yes. Mr Barclay. I, um… I have some bad news for you."
"Has the scan been cancelled?"
"No. It's your wife Mr Barclay. She suffered an aneurysm this evening, a burst blood vessel in her brain. It was very quick…"
He sat, heavily, in the chair beside the telephone.
"Are you telling me that Emma is dead?"
"I'm very sorry, Mr Barclay, very, very sorry."
He hung up the phone, cutting off the doctors protestations, waiting for tears to come, trying to pull his wife's face into his mind and feel something real at the thought of life without her. Instead, all he could see was hungry blue eyes and pale skin, and black hair swirling around a young face, the lips moist and parted, breathing deeply in satiated lust. All he could hear was a girlish voice saying "I love you too."
He imagined a life dining on nothing but crème brûlée
The thought sickened him.