Three hours later, I’ve relaxed into some kind of party spirit. The Scottish dancing helped as did my gorgeous and very tall Australian partner. Tim has obeyed my injunction and stayed away from me, even though I can spot his shirt at the back of the room in the middle of a group of locals. Kate’s blond hair creates another beacon of light nearby. I don’t care.
The revellers are now split into three groups: the business-minded, the fun-loving and the seriously drunk. The first ones are discussing big issues. Jen has been collared by one of her Italian suppliers who’s trying, with much arm waving, to renegotiate the terms of a recent promotion. She looks harassed but my attempts to disentangle her are rebuffed by her smiling but inflexible gaoler.
At the bar, a Spaniard and a Chilean compare notes in hushed voices. They keep on looking around them in a worried way. The Spaniard has pulled a worn-out document from his pocket. He’s ironing the creases out of it with his thumbnail while listening with rapt attention to his new best friend. I can make out the Tesco logo at the top of the page.
Next to them, a wannabe store manager panders to a loser from head office while a lone German drowns his sorrows in a pint of Guinness.
The fun-loving guys are partying hard. I’ve lost my dancing partner to one of The Wine Shop’s pretty sales manager. From the greedy way they’re eyeing each other, I think I won’t be seeing him again tonight. Matt is siring the brand manager of a Bordeaux brand on the dance floor. He’s using every opportunity the Dashing White Sergeant provides, to grope her in the most inappropriate way while keeping a straight face. The poor girl looks desperate for the music to stop.
Crouching near the dance floor, but lost in a world of their own, Dave and his cronies are working their way through countless bottles.
‘When are you thinking of leaving?’ Philippe asks.
‘Are you tired?’
‘It was a late night yesterday and I had to get up early to catch my flight. I don’t want to be knackered on Monday.’
‘Shall we go now?’
‘If it’s all right with you.’
I look around the room one last time. Tim’s got his back to me.
I take a deep breath. ‘Let’s go.’
We button up our coats to face the cold outside and walk in silence through the inner yard of the Castle. The moon and a million bright stars light the battlements and the towers above us. I walk with my nose up in the air while trying not to stumble on the uneven cobbles.
‘This is beautiful,’ I say.
Philippe’s elbow digs into my ribs, and he points to our left. A young woman I spotted earlier in the crowd is wrapped panda-like around Mons Meg, the most famous cannon of the Castle, her jeans round her ankles. The pale skin of her exposed thighs and buttocks shines against the dark metal. A man whose face is in the shadow is thrusting into her with great vigour, his hairy bottom an insult to the full moon.
I grab Philippe’s arm. ‘Do you think she’s alright?’
‘How do you want me to find out? Walk up to them and ask for the time?’
I shake my head. The girl’s thin body is lolling on her support. ‘I can’t believe she’s comfortable or a willing partner in this charade of love. She must be blind drunk.’
Philippe crosses his arms. ‘Go on, I’m here for backup.’
I take two hesitant steps in the direction of the girl and her partner. A discreet cough fails to attract her attention.
‘Are you okay?’ I ask.
I walk closer. ‘Is everything fine?’
She turns her head in my direction, her eyes glassy. ‘Never better, thanks.’
I hover on the spot, unsure of the best course of action when her partner hails me, ‘Hey lady, you waiting your turn or you just enjoy watching my cock?’
I run back to Philippe, the girl’s giggles following me.
‘Happy now, Mother Theresa?’ he asks.
‘Never mention that scene again.’
We’re almost at the taxi rank when Philippe says, ‘You do know I’m not staying at the Parliament House Hotel?’
I stop. ‘Did you tell me? I can’t remember.’
‘They don’t take bookings for just the one night.’
My hands fly to my throat. ‘Damn, I’ve left my scarf at the Castle.’
‘Do you want me to get it for you?’ he asks.
‘No, I’ve used and abused you enough for one day. You grab a cab and I’ll go back.’
‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’ Philippe asks.
‘I’ll be fine.’
He shrugs and walks towards a waiting taxi.
I retrace my steps, hands deep in my coat pockets. I feel cold and lonely. The cannon girl and her server prey on my mind. What’s right? What’s wrong?
‘I thought you’d gone without saying goodbye.’
Tim’s voice contains a hint of reproach.
‘I had but I left my scarf behind.’
‘What colour is it and where did you leave it?’
‘Off-white, on the back of a chair by the dance floor. I’ll get it now.’
He raises his hand to stop me and grabs his mobile. ‘Matt, sorry to bother you, mate. Chris just texted me. She’s back at the hotel and she’s left her scarf behind, a white-ish one. Could you pick it up for her?’
He pauses. ‘No, I’m on my way to a club. I left ten minutes ago.’
He pauses again and turns away from me. ‘If she asks, tell her what I’ve just told you. Look, I need to go.’
He takes my arm and breaks into a half-run towards the exit.
‘Tim, slow down, where are we going?’
‘Back to the hotel, where else?’ he says.
I fail to think of a reasonable objection and follow him.
He sits very close to me in the taxi but doesn’t touch me. He doesn’t talk either. I try to keep calm. I’m squeezing my hands between my thighs and I struggle to remain upright when the car turns this or that way. Tim’s warm masculine scent envelops me. I close my eyes. He wears Safari. I’d never noticed before or maybe he’s just changed scent. The citrus and spicy notes balance the hot, salty smell of his body. I’m taking sharp little breaths to catch more of the intoxicating blend.
I feel him getting closer. His breath is warm on my neck.
‘Keep your eyes shut,’ he says.
He takes my face between his hands and turns it towards him. The tip of his tongue follows the outline of my lips. I gasp. He follows my eyebrows in turn with his index finger.
‘You have the most perfectly defined eyebrows I have ever seen.’
His voice sounds different, deeper and almost devoid of the usual Irish lilt.
His lips are on mine now, soft, his tongue in my mouth. He tastes of wine. I love wine.
The taxi coming to a halt brings us back to reality. Tim peers at the dark street.
‘We’ve beaten the bus. Come on.’
Five minutes later, we’re in the lift, kissing again.
‘I feel like I could eat you.’ The image he conjures makes me forget almost everything but my dirty knickers and socks, lying on the floor of my bedroom.
‘Wait,’ I say.
I rush inside my room, scoop the lot and chuck it in my travel bag. I run to the bed and back to the bathroom. I mean to wash my hands but I remember I’ve left Tim outside. I stop and turn around.
He’s leaning against the door frame, like a modern version of Richard Gere in American Gigolo. ‘Are you warming up for a marathon?’
‘I don’t know.’
I try not to look at the bulge in his trousers.
He walks in, pulling his shirt over his head. His chest is smooth and pale with a few freckles. He takes my hand and guides me towards the bed.
‘Do you intend to keep your clothes on?’ he asks.
I shake my head. My brain has gone numb.
He sits next to me and starts to unbutton my top with great concentration. He stops half-way to slide a hand inside my bra. He kisses me again, harder this time, and I fall back on the bed.
He nuzzles my ear. ‘Are you on the pill?’
I nod. It’s a lie but my period is due anytime now. There’s no way I can get pregnant tonight.
He undresses me and him with great care, kissing and licking as he goes. My yearning for him is so strong, I feel almost nauseous. Soon we’re both naked and I pull the duvet over us. He cups my face in his hands and greets me in a soft voice, ‘Hello stranger’. He slides into me, and all I can think of is to move with him and against him.
I keep my eyes closed, my body intent on savouring the moment. He moves with great deliberation, slowly at first and then faster and faster until he whispers, ‘Sorry, can’t hold on any longer,’ and comes in a long grunt.
I open my eyes. ‘The joy of sex,’ I say.
‘Indeed,’ he says, rolling over with a sigh. ‘You didn’t come.’
‘I couldn’t. I was too excited if it makes any sense.’
He leaps out of bed, butt-naked. He walks around without an iota of self-consciousness. After a few minutes trying to pretend I’m not looking, I find myself staring at his still erect penis.
‘Do you mind?’ he asks, waving a homemade looking cigarette in my direction.
I shake my head and he opens the window just enough to blow the smoke outside.
‘I didn’t know you smoked,’ I say.
‘Only in very special circumstances,’ he says. ‘Shame the bus is back, I have a bottle of Champagne in my room we could have put to good use. It will have to wait for another occasion.’
He leaps back on the bed.
We make love more slowly second time round. We explore each other’s bodies with intensity rather than urgency. He tells me he wants me to get to know every bit of his body. Despite the blatant invitation, I refrain from going down on him. I feel oddly shy.
I come this time, racked by waves of pleasure that make me arch my back and almost throw him off.
‘Sorry, it’s been a while,’ I say, wiping my eyes.
‘I make it half an hour at the most,’ he says, patting my bottom.
I sleep for a while, fitfully, waking up, looking at him and closing my eyes again. At four o’clock, we fuck again, without a word but with as much hunger as if it were the first time.
A shrill beep wakes me up at six. Yet I’m positive I didn’t put the alarm on. Tim is sitting on his side of the bed, watch in hand.
‘Sorry darling, I need to get back to my room before anybody comes down for breakfast.’
I stroke his back, using my nails to scratch him a little. I shuffle closer and hug him from behind, my naked breasts against his skin. I let my hand slide between his legs. He shivers and turns around, his sex responding to my caress.
‘Is it wise?’ he asks, checking the time again. I nod with great energy. I’m so excited I could make love all day long.
He pauses mid thrust and says, ‘I want you to spend all day today thinking of my hard cock inside you.’
Amazing how the same word can sound different depending on who’s using it and when. I’m on the edge of ecstasy when I feel a cramp forming in my left calf. Pain and pleasure compete for my attention. I try relaxing my leg and taking little shallow breaths.
Tim pauses mid-thrust. ‘Are you alright?’
I dig my fingers in his buttocks to get him going again. ‘Yes, yes, please.’ It’s now a desperate race. I want to come first. ‘Ouch!’
My calf has seized up and I throw Tim off.
‘Cramp,’ I say, while massaging my leg.
He sits there, looking contrite, both hands on his deflating penis.
Despite the pain, I burst out laughing. ‘You look like a little boy who’s been punished.’
‘That’s what it feels like,’ he says.
He puts his clothes on, returns to the bed and pushes the hair away from my face.
‘You don’t look sleep deprived at all, young lady. That’s unfair.’
He kisses me on the forehead and adds, ‘You’re a great fuck when you don’t get cramps.’
Then he’s gone, leaving me ridiculously pleased with his endorsement of my sexual talents.
I check the clock. I can squeeze in another two hours of sleep. The duvet wound tight around me, I drift off, feeling so happy I’m sure to wake up and find I’ve been dreaming.
When the alarm goes off, it takes me a while to emerge from the deep sleep I’ve fallen into. I stretch a little and curl up again in the warm bed. The blue tartan duvet cover still smells of Tim and I bury my face in it. Pity I can’t take it home with me. A few dark thoughts about where last night will lead us creep in but I manage to push them away.
I’m relieved to find only a smattering of The Wine Shop staff in the breakfast room. The book I’ve taken with me gives me an excuse to sit on my own.
Getting on the bus proves more awkward and I wish I could borrow Dave’s sunglasses to hide my eyes. Nobody has any reason to suspect my nocturnal activities but I still blush every time somebody looks at me for more than a few seconds. I feel like I have a neon sign on my forehead proclaiming, ‘I had sex with Tim.’
The object of my thoughts is at the front of the bus and appears normal and composed, which I find a bit disconcerting. I can’t look at him for long though, or I’d give myself away. He squeezed my arm when I boarded the bus, saying ‘Hello sweetheart,’ in what I think of now as his special voice.
He’s gorgeous. I can’t believe I used to find him overrated. Everything about him is perfect, especially his taste in women.
Philippe’s beaten me to the stand again this morning and has already uncorked a dozen bottles of wine.
‘Did you find your scarf?’ he asks.
‘The one you left at the party?’
‘Matt has got it.’
‘Yes, Matt. He thought I’d gone and he picked it up. He texted me to let me know.’
‘Didn’t you go back on the bus together?’
‘He went early.’
I hope he doesn’t ask Matt for his side of the story.
I turn my back to him and concentrate on tasting the wines he’s opened. Out of fifteen, only one is corked. Not bad.
The 2005 Saint Emilion is showing well. The primary red fruit aromas have calmed down a little to give way to hints of truffles. The texture is pure silk. I swirl it around my mouth, eyes closed. Vivid memories of last night bring a rush of blood to my face, together with the memory of Tim’s command for today. A wave of pleasure ripples through my body. Punters today are guaranteed to find me in an excellent mood if not quite focused. I allow myself a little giggle.
‘You look very pleased with yourself.’
Kate is facing me, hands on hips, face like thunder.
‘Shouldn’t I?’ I say, maybe with a touch more provocation than I should.
‘Do you think he cares about you?’
I retreat behind the counter. ‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Let me tell you something. Tim fucked you last night because he thinks you’ve got the ear of the old bitch in Bordeaux. But you won’t keep him long.’
I can take her insults but the disgusted look on Philippe’s face hurts more than I thought it would.