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CHAPTER ONEJeanne Gallano's anger-bright eyes went to the clock on her kitchen wall. Damn! Only eight minutes since her gaze had swung toward that clock the last time. She tossed her shoulder-length blonde mane in a fury of frustration.The bland face of the clock, with the slow-moving hands before it, seemed to mock her. She fought a wild impulse to rip it from the wall, to smash it to bits on her just-waxed kitchen floor.As her straining ears caught a sound at the door, she paused in her restless pacing, her luscious figure as stilled with listening as though she suddenly had turned to marble.A knock sounded.Nuts, she thought bitterly. That certainly wasn't Ray. One's own husband doesn't knock, no matter how late it is. He walks right in, gives his wife a pat on the fanny, and asks why the hell supper isn't on the table.Jeanne went to the door. It was the paper boy, his freckled face polite but closed away, uninterested in grownups."Collect?" he asked automatically.Wordlessly, Jeanne went for her purse, hoping against hope that she had enough cash left to pay the kid.I can't stand it, she thought, I can't stand his contempt, if I'm a quarter or a dime short.She just made it, silently handing over the correct amount, then fighting the impulse to slam the door as the boy left.It's not his fault, she told herself wryly, eyeing the three pennies left in her change purse. It's Ray's. Damn his balls!Even more upset now, Jeanne went back to her pacing and to her clock watching.Nervously, she switched on the TV, not caring what station the dial was set for. Anything to drive her thoughts from herself, from her own hot, wanting flesh, her bitter mind.What came on was a commercial. What's your score as whistle-bait? Naturally, you were whistled clear to hell and back if you used Breeze-Clean, the clover-fresh deodorant. Jeanne just stood, listening. Her mood was desperate enough to try anything ... perfume, soap, you name it ... anything that would impel Ray to fling her to the bed, to practically rape her.She was going crazy, she needed sex so bad. The restless feeling had been going on all day, beginning when she got up in the morning.Ray had come in very late last night. Half asleep, Jeanne had barely roused, when he had crawled in beside her, not touching her any more than he had to.Too considerate to awaken her, or just worn out from a hot session with some strange stuff?Jeanne was only too well aware that Roy cheated on her, frequently and all too openly. The hardest part about it was that she couldn't bring herself to leave him. She was acutely conscious of the sly glances they both got from friends and acquaintances. Jeanne imagined tongues wagging behind hers and Ray's backs, even behind hands in their presence. Jeering at what a prize dope Jeanne Gallano was, not even to guess what was going on!"That man of yours must have a powerful lot of stamina," Myra Lotowsy, a close neighbor had said not long ago, her voice sly, mocking."He sure has," Jeanne had answered evenly, looking her tormentor straight in the eye, wondering if Myra knew from experience.But it wasn't easy....Another housewife was being interviewed now. As she half listened, Jeanne felt as though she were magically growing, as though she had been bewitched to expand into a figure large enough to cast its shadow over the entire area. Spirit of all frustrated, hurt, pushed-aside housewives who still wait for their husband's hands on their breasts, between their thighs, who patiently mend and shop and scour and cook and minister, all for the sake of that occasionally blinding, searingly blissful moment when the great man condescends to take care of his homework for a change!Jeanne walked to the stove, glared at the prepared food that she just couldn't cook in advance because it might cool completely before Ray showed up, then lose its tastiness in having to be re-warmed. Meat loaf, savory with its chopped onion, chopped green pepper, with all her own ingenious touches, expertly added, a hint of sage, Worcestshire sauce, dry mustard, with milk mixed with spicy catsup to moisten the loaf. There were potatoes in a small pot, cut up, ready to boil, peas with mushrooms, a little square pan of corn bread.Just as she thought, if only he would call, the phone rang. She flew to lift the transceiver. Her 'hello' was husky."Hi, doll!" It was Ray's careless, unrepentant voice. "Say, can supper wait for an hour or so longer? Me and a few of the guys have got a good game of pool going. Maybe take about half an hour more, then I'll cut right out for home. Okay, babe?"She drew a deep breath, speaking carefully:"It's after six now, Ray. Twenty after. I'd like to get the stuff on to cook. Can I count on seven?"He hesitated."Oh, you sure can, lover," he said at last, too heartily. "Come to think of it, the old breadbasket is beginning to rattle."Jeanne made herself laugh."I'll put the meat loaf in the oven ten minutes from now. Be sure to come when you said you will. I'll count on it."Her body felt swollen; she was too conscious of the curve of her own hips. What she really wanted to have ready for her husband's gusty appetite was not a meal, but herself. In the close darkness, in the heavy intimacy of their bedroom, with its always-drawn drapes, she wanted to let her throbbing self fall on the bed, too heavy with need to lift her own dress past all the parts of her body that craved him, that screamed for his knowing caresses. She wanted just to lie there, already feeling intensely, until he came and took her, cooling in the only possible way the terrible fever that raged through every inch of her flesh, through every vein.She wondered how many women waited as she did, too keenly aware of their own nakedness under their housedresses, waiting for bedtime or sooner, waiting for strength hard enough, sure enough to use every bit of their yearning, responsive strength-weakness."Ohhh," Jeanne moaned, as though in actual pain. Her wanting was acute now, not to be denied. It obsessed her, driving all reason from her mind.She didn't like it. She didn't like being claimed like this by an urge stronger than self, far stronger than pride.No wonder he gets away with everything, she thought. Why shouldn't he get away with murder, when most of the time she said nothing, when she accepted his extravagance, his neglect, his infidelity, all of his selfish faults as though they were a natural part of woman's lot, as a wife.He had come right out and admitted that he was gambling right now. Not on the horses this time, but what difference did it make what form the gambling took? Poker, pinochle, pool, the races. Between them, they took a chunk of his wages just about every week.Women took another chunk. Drinks. The juke box. Incidentals. Maybe even, occasionally, the price of a motel room. Ray had been faithful to his near-virgin bride only as long as it took for the newness to wear off ... and that wasn't long.He felt strongly that he had been tricked into marriage. In her secret heart, Jeanne went along with this feeling, for she had done the tricking. She had yielded once to his pleadings, mostly because her own mother had not merely sanctioned but had advised 'a trial run ... to make sure that you're mated'.After that one episode, half pain, half ecstasy, Jeanne had been firmly convinced that she and Ray were mated. It had been wonderful, and it had held promise of far better things to come. Ray had been all for trying it a few more times, but her 'no' remained firm. Because she was the only girl who ever had held out on him after 'sampling his wares', Ray had married her."It was the only way back into your pants," he had told her half teasingly, half resentfully, many times.Ray was inordinately proud of his skill as a stud. His most frequent boast, 'After abroad feels what I've got to give her, I can't get rid of her', reached Jeanne's ears in a roundabout way. She had to admit that he really was good, especially at getting and at keeping women. Even the fact that he was a married man didn't seem to deter them one bit.It didn't deter Ray, either.Jeanne's brow darkened. Come to think of it, she hadn't heard a single raucous male laugh, not one loud bantering voice, when she had spoken to Ray over the phone. There hadn't been any sound of a juke box going, of pool balls being clicked against each other, of a glass being thumped on the bar or on a table.Ray wasn't playing pool. She knew that as well as though she had been there, had seen him. He was with some woman. She was sure of that, too.Her hand stroked the slight curve of her stomach, in a kind of agonized trance. After not touching his own wife for three nights running, he surely couldn't be spending his strength, his manhood on another woman ... or could he? Not tonight, surely. Not when she needed him so.Tears of rage burned in her eyes. She loathed him and she craved him, wavering between the two gripping emotions that nearly tore her apart.Again, her pace grew agitated. How much could a woman-any woman-stand? Wasn't it enough that he spent his money-their money-buying drinks for avid-eyed, lush-mouthed wantons? Wasn't it more than enough that he squandered most of what was left of his check on his lousy stupid gambling? Wouldn't you think he would finally smarten up, when he almost always lost?Angrily, Jeanne jerked open a small drawer, between that containing the smaller cooking gadgets and the one that held their cutlery (courtesy of trading stamps which Jeanne assiduously collected.)She glared at the few dollar bills, at the handful of coins the drawer held. Her purse, she knew, after paying the paper boy, was nearly empty. The money was her contribution, but it ought to be hers to spend. It was her piddling unemployment compensation which would have to do until she was called back to work at Bradley's Pretzel and Potato Chip Products Company.Meanwhile, she could at least enjoy cooking and keeping house, lovingly mopping and waxing floors, shining windows, making every inch of glass and wood glow and sparkle. And, at home with one's own greedy body, the hot greed could build to a fever pitch.Jeanne closed her eyes against the vision of Ray's hand just leaving another woman's already sated flesh.Part of her inner being seemed to crouch, egging her on to spring at him in rage, at the first sound of his laggard footsteps. That part of her mind seethed with the angry words she longed to spit in his face.But another part of her held the fury in check, was wise in the ways of wanting. Careful, it cautioned, lest you be left stewing in your own hot juices. There was only one possible winner here. Jeanne had been through all this before. Over and over and over. It always turned out the same. Ray gave only what he wanted to give, only what would give him maximum satisfaction in return. Not money. Not loyalty. Just lust.She heard the click of the latch, peered out. Yes, this time it was he.Trembling, she watched his lanky length stride up the walk, noted the cocky tilt to his cap, to his head. A silent cry wailed through her. Hurry, darling, hurry!He was whistling a little tune. An old song that very well could be Ray Gallano's theme song:"I am so often misunderstood ... oh, lady, be good to me...."CHAPTER TWOAs soon as Ray stepped inside the door, Jeanne flew to him. She pulled his arms about her, pressed her body as close to his as she could get it, lifted her mouth for the kiss that was routine between them.By the way his mouth just lightly touched the moist, clinging fullness of hers; by the way he quickly lifted his dark, curly head, his face, and tried to laugh, Jeanne knew, with a sinking heart, what was coming.He had been with a woman. Her instinct hadn't deceived her. After three days and nights of no nookey, he would be more than ready to play, if he hadn't been playing an hour or two already ... in somebody else's play pen.Ray watched his wife's face twist with disappointment, with rage. He watched, wary, while the sweetly formed, candy-box beauty of her features turned into a white, frozen, almost-ugly mask."What the hell's the matter with you?" he blustered. "Cripes, whatta ya want, sugar? You said seven ... so it's only eight minutes to! I'm earlier than I said I would be! Ya want I should get a time clock to punch, in and out?"She turned away, blinking back her tears.Damned if she would cry, if she would beg the bastard for what he probably couldn't deliver, anyway. The bitch he was with tonight must really have taken it out of him. Judging by his half-frightened reaction ... as though he feared she might rape him on the spot ... to her hot reception of him, he was drained, but good.With jerky movements, she lit the oven, using a lit soda-straw as she always did to ignite the oven jets ... she was lucky to have food to cook, let alone a new stove on which to cook it ... shoved the meat loaf in. She forced herself to check the clock, to concentrate on getting the food done all at the same time: forty minutes at three-fifty oven temperature for the meat, then turn up the heat the last fifteen minutes and pop the cornbread in. Turn on the potatoes after the oven had been going a while. The peas and the coffee the last few minutes. Her head ached. Had she remembered to salt the potatoes? She dipped a slim finger in the water and tasted. No sense giving his Royal Highness a chance to change the subject, to use that old dodge, attack is the best form of defense.Her stiffly turned back was eloquent enough, her icy words were clipped:"Must have been some pool game. The kind where you don't get the balls in the hole, just pretty damned close to it!"He got the message, loud and clear. He laughed uneasily."What am I supposed to do?" he complained. "After this, I'll ask one of the boys to take Polaroid shots all the time we're playing. Instant proof to keep you from being green-eyed. I said I was playing pool! So you just take it or leave it! Supper almost ready, and if not, why not, with seven on the dot such a big deal? Another thing, if you don't mind, could I eat in peace tonight, just for a big fat change?"She peeked at the meat loaf which was browning nicely, switched on the gas flame under the potatoes, then turned to face him. Her eyes, as hard as blue steel, raked him up and down. They paused, riveted on a small, telltale spot on his neck.In two quick steps, her hot breath almost scorched his throat, almost melting the lipstick imprint."Hmmm, must be a new one," Jeanne grated sarcastically. "A brunette? That figures, with the one before a redhead, and the two before that blondes. Looks like a raspberry shade."She scanned the incriminating mark more closely, while he flinched, feeling highly uncomfortable."Must be a little higher class than the type of cheap tramp you usually pick," Jeanne went on, mercilessly, grimly enjoying his discomfort. "That red smear looks expensive!"His pleading look sought to calm her. He backed away, as though it might be possible for her to hurt him, physically. It was almost funny; his big-muscled frame cowering before her petite smallness."Honest, baby ... I didn't...." he began lamely.Before her frozen scorn, his voice faltered, then died away. They stood, each groping for some way out of the impasse until, at last, he found one."So okay," he flung at her sullenly. "I was with a broad! You can believe this or not, just as you damned please, but I didn't mean it to go that far. It just sort of got started, then it just sort of kept right on going, and then ... well, then there just was no stopping."With her mind a red haze, Jeanne's hands worked of their own accord. Automatically, they sliced meat loaf, whipped potatoes, turned them into a bowl, turned on the coffee to perk, and heated the vegetable. They filled a platter, another bowl, cups; they pulled chairs back, poured cream, cut up squares of cornbread.Silently, Ray sat down and began shoveling in food. Jeanne watched, almost jealously. Her own guts were twisted to the point where she didn't dare try to down a mouthful.She couldn't stop herself now, couldn't just drop it, let it go. Not tonight."Well, it's one way to work up an appetite," she remarked acidly, watching him lavishly butter another square of cornbread and help himself to a scoop of buttery potatoes."Lay off," he growled, not looking at her. "How was I supposed to smell from that distance that you were gonna have red-hot drawers tonight?""Would it have made any difference?" she flared.He swung his gaze around to hers, exuding indignation."'Course it would!" he said, in an injured tone. "It's my job to take care of you, when I know you need it. You oughtta know that!"She could see he meant it. The stupid sonofabitch actually was sincere! He would have put off the other girl if he had known that his own wife needed to be serviced. Jeanne choked back a laugh. If she ever started to laugh, she would "have hysterics. How can you love and hate a man so much, both at the same time?Her loins still tingled and yearned. How would she ever get to sleep beside him tonight, without receiving the relief of his exciting hardness? Tossing and turning, in her restless itchiness, at least she would keep him awake. Maybe after a few sleepless hours, he would summon the strength...."It isn't just that you give them the love I have a right to ... anyway, I have a legal right to it," she said bitterly. "It's the money they cost you; money we can't afford!"Immediately, he bristled."Not this time!" he denied triumphantly. "This broad is both stacked and loaded-loaded right to the ears. She bought the drinks! Every damned one of them; she paid for everything. Man, the bills in her gold-initialed wallet ... wish mine was one-fourth as well padded!""Where does the kind of broad you go for get that kind of loot?" Jeanne jeered. "She must've rolled some slob last night, or call girl prices must be going up.""Now, you just listen here!" Joe almost shouted, pushing back his empty plate, starting to rise. "Pick on me all you're a mind to, but this babe is tops, I tell you. You let her alone. She's not a tramp! She's head of a big advertising company, has a whopping income, a hell of a lot more than most men drag down. And she didn't have to tell me she's fussy who she flops with! Hell, it was written all over her ... but after all, she's still human, you know."Jeanne knew. How well she knew the animal magnetism her husband possessed. It wasn't just his looks, his glossy hair with its rich natural wave, his ruddy complexion which boasted his superb health, the sensuality of his full, often-mocking lips, not even his magnificent build which women immediately sensed was not a fooler. Heat glowed from his dark eyes, teased through his smile, radiated from his body. Women melted before the flame that burned into their mesmerized stares.She didn't say, How come, then, she fell for you? The only mystery now was how did a woman such as Ray described happen to be in a bar such as he frequented, the only kind he ever went into? A doll like that-one who exuded class along with dough-you would expect to find in a swank cocktail bar, a lounge with luxurious decor. Sipping Manhattans or martinis, or maybe Scotch on the rocks. But, hell, even the fat bartender at Mike's could slap a cocktail mix into a glass, sweep up the half a buck he would charge.Nuts, why strain the brain? Jeanne shrugged. Maybe the broad was slumming. Maybe she was hard enough up to get a little nooky, herself.Ray eyed the speculative look in his wife's eyes. Having seen that look before, he shifted nervously."Now whatta ya thinking about?" he challenged."Oh, I was just wondering how she happened to be in Mike's, or in the Blue Note, or in the Big Night, or in whatever dump you happened to be helping support, when you met her."Ray was quick to notice the way her rage had lessened. He wasn't about to question the reason for the change; he was just glad it had happened. He settled back, more at ease now, ready to beat the subject back and forth, if that's what Jeanne wanted.At first, he had tried to hide his philanderings, but it hadn't worked. His wife was too smart to buy it.Now, he took the course of least resistance, not making a point of it, but not exactly lying, either.What the hell? All she could do was leave him. Actually, he didn't want that. He needed his wife, for a lot of reasons. But he no longer worried much. If she were going to walk out on him, she would have done it long ago.Inwardly, he preened, smugly. Once any female got a whack at that prize banana of his, they all came back for more....He knew that Jeanne had more on her mind, that she had to get off. Okay, so let it come. He waited, still half wary. His emotional wife was kind of unpredictable. It paid to be on your toes with her, braced for anything. This time, it wasn't long in coming."Well, if you say it didn't cost you anything, she must've furnished the pad," Jeanne said. "Where is her joint, and what's it like?""She doesn't have a pad!" Ray said, with dignity. "She lives at a Y.W.. We went to a motel ... and she picked up the tab. I told her before we started out I was low on bread."