Note from Julie:
Jack, Catherine's boss at the silk mill, is recently widowed. He invites Catherine to come to his house and help him pack up his wife Mary’s clothes for charity.
When she stood up to leave, she noticed that the servants were nowhere in sight. “Where did everybody go?”
“I gave them the afternoon off.”
“Is that proper...?” she asked in a shaking voice. Catherine moved to get her coat, but Jack caught her hand. “Would you mind staying? I need help sorting through Mary’s clothes. I don’t know what to give to whom. I can’t seem to do it alone. If you help me, we can fill some boxes I’ve marked for Catholic Charities and the WPA program.
“If you need me...”
Jack cleared his throat. “If you find something you like, you can take it home—”
“I’d feel like I was stealing from Mary,” Catherine said.
“Not at all. Mary liked you; she’d want you to have her things. And it’s important to get the stuff out of here and get on with it. Anything you want; take it, unless it’s been photographed in the newspapers. That might start up the gossips.”
“I don’t usually see the newspapers, Jack; how would I know what’s been in the papers?”
“Then we’ll go through them together.” He took her hand and led her up to the bedroom he’d shared with his wife.
A hush fell over them as they pushed through the door. The lush Oriental rug deadened the sound as it had the night she first saw Mary lying in the double bed. The thick lined draperies were pushed back, allowing the waning afternoon light to radiate into the room. The bed, its spread matching the curtains, was made up tight. The closets stood open, the rose sachet fragrance gone. Jack had placed packing boxes around the room in anticipation of her agreeing to this chore. Did he know she’d be willing? Catherine approached the largest closet remembering the night of the party when Mary had offered her the red dress.
“She told me she had small feet.”
“Yes. No point in saving the shoes for you.” He laughed, pointing to the shoe rack below. “Let’s put them into these two boxes first.”
They worked for almost an hour. Catherine took the dresses off the hangers and folded them in tissue paper prepared for the boxes. Jack sealed and marked each box as it filled. Eventually, she came to a cloth bag that held Mary’s heavy fur coat. She unsnapped the top and peered in. Pulling it free, she ran her hand over the luxurious dark sienna and black fur. “A genuine mink. This is gorgeous. You shouldn’t give this to charity unless you plan to auction it for a monetary donation.”
“It’s sable, Catherine. Would you like to have it? It matches your hair.”
“I couldn’t! It’s not proper. Anyway, it would make my other clothes look out of place.”
“Um.” He stood back, his eyes roaming over her, appraising her figure. “I think it’s perfect for you. Try it on.”
Catherine blushed, but slipped the silk brocade-lined fur over her arms and shoulders. She stood, self-conscious as it tickled her knees. It was a perfect fit and enveloped her like cream in a warm bath.
“Mary said it took someone with more color in her face to wear it. She was right.” He licked his lips. “She usually wore the squirrel cape. You must keep that coat.”
Catherine shook her head and began removing it. Jack raced across the room and grabbed her elbows. “Leave it.” He was panting, perhaps from the sprint. She smoothed the sleeves, tears beginning in her eyes. “It’s beautiful,” she breathed, “but I can’t take Mary’s lovely coat.”
He looked down at her. “You deserve it.” He touched her lips with the tips of his fingers, then encircled her waist and pulled her close to him. “You’re a delicious morsel in this coat,” he said hoarsely. “You would be beautiful, in it or out of it.” He slid his moist lips down her neck and kissed his way back up to her lips. Then he took her breasts in his hands, kneading them, making them swell. Her nipples were marbles. She gasped and sagged in his arms. He caught her, lifting her onto the bed. His hands traced the line of her legs; his fingers worked at her garters. Her back arched.
“This is wrong, Jack. I’m your employee and you’re out of your mind with grief.”
“I’m out of my mind with . . . with you,” he growled. He lay down close to her and buried his face in the crook of her neck, trembling. “I know it’s wrong.”
She felt his tears soaking through the collar of her blouse.
“I can’t stop,” he said. “I want you.”
She rolled away from him, and slipped off the bed, but he caught her hand, kissing her palm. “Forgive me. It’s just that I’m so dammed lonely.”
She nodded and sat on the edge of the bed, her feet to the floor. She smoothed her blouse and pulled her skirt over her knees. “That’s no excuse,” she said primly.
Books by JEP: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Julie-Eberhart-Painter?store=book&keyword=Julie+Eberhart+Painter
Champagne is: http://www.champagnebooks.com/julieeberhartpainter.htm
Bio: Julie Eberhart Painter, a Pennsylvania transplant now living in Central Florida, is the author of ten books when Morning After Midnight arrives on the scene in January 2014.
Julie is a regular contributor to http://thewritersvineyard.com/ and featured writer for http://www.wix.com/cocktailsmagazine/fictionandgossip, an online slick. She writes essay/blogs for www.writerbeat.com Her flash fiction appears under http://bewilderingstories.com/bios/painter_bio.htm