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Young wives like Kitty were an irresistible challenge to every male at the vacation colony.
AN “INSIDE” NOVEL OF CHAIN-REACTION INFIDELITY AMONG “RESPECTABLE” PEOPLE
She slid softly into his arms. She kissed him with a slippery, trailing tongue. He was trembling. He needed training as a lover. She set a cautious pace, pecking at his throat and cheek, letting him pull her gown open and fondle her.
The heat swarmed into her mouth, making her pant She knew what she wanted. His hands, his lips, like last night. He had to be her puppy dog. That was how it must be.
His mouth moved between her breasts. She gasped, breathed hoarsely. She wanted more of this. Her body jerked. “Darling, darling—”
She laughed as a great final craze came within her reach.
She gasped, “No, no. I must have more....”
KITTY pulled the swimsuit straps down her shoulders. Her long fingers paused, resumed their languorous movements, teasing the silky material down her breasts, revealing her pink-tipped mounds.
She and Port Ogden were in the loft of the boat shop. Dust shimmered in the air. The July afternoon was hot in the enclosure of the loft. A wind out on the lake riffled wavelets that reflected flickering light through the cobwebbed window behind Kitty. But here in the loft the air did not move.
Port Ogden held a soldering gun in his hand. He had been downstairs in the boat shop soldering an aluminum patch on his canoe when Kitty had come in. She had beckoned him upstairs. Now he looked for a place to put the soldering gun. The loft was sparsely furnished. An oar with a broken blade leaned against the wall by the window. Packed sails, gray with age, made a tumbled heap in a corner. A couch was wedged against the slant of the rafters. He found an upended nail keg, laid the soldering gun on the round wooden bottom.
He glanced at the couch. Port's immediate world was reduced to Kitty on the couch. He watched her emerge from the skin-tight bathing suit and cursed himself. A real man would turn his back on Kitty, would laugh at the petulant, dream-soft lower lip, would walk away. A man would finish repairing the canoe and go fishing.
Or throw Kitty down on the couch and use her— then go fishing, letting only his flesh remember the high breasts with their silken resilience, the long legs that tangled about a man with the avidity of octopus tentacles.
Port Ogden knew that he was no longer a real man.
Kitty's long and expressive hands gripped the onlooker's attention. They drew Port's gaze down the sleek white-gold torso she was slowly denuding. They reached her waist, felt their way around it to the zipper in back. The zipper parted. The swimsuit bagged and hung loose on flaring hips.
She said, “Throw me a cigarette.”
Port fished a rumpled pack from the pocket of his shorts, the only clothing he wore. His hand shook. He tugged out a cigarette, his ringers clumsy. He tossed Kitty the cigarette and then his lighter. She stood up, hips forward and the swimsuit hanging loose on her middle body. She lit her cigarette, dropped the lighter into the gaping folds of the suit.
Why? He frowned. He had difficulty organizing his thoughts enough to guess at her reasons for the inane gesture. His senses were too full of her. He still heard the echoes of her melodic demand for the cigarette—she never simply asked—smelled the sundry pine odor of her hair, saw only the sinuous golden torso, punctuated by curves and the small pink dots of her nipples. Her blue-green eyes laughed at him but his thoughts were bent inward, on himself, on this false person and failure called Port Ogden. He cringed with the certainty that Kitty saw him for what he was.
Kitty smiled like a cat full of cream.
“You're afraid of me, Port.”
Her long legs were straight and firmly planted. One hand rested on her hip, the other held the cigarette to her lips. She squinted against smoke, still smiling. The smile was the one she used on ex-lovers —why was she using it on him?
Port glanced in the direction of the window. Kitty said, “Yes, Sybil is out there.” Sybil was his wife.
He went to the cobwebbed window. His eyes narrowed against the glare from the corrugated lake surface. Light came at him in blinding spatters from the wind-roughed water. Pine boughs across the lake heaved and slashed at gusts of wind. A storm was brewing.
Sybil was sunbathing on the dock in front of his cottage. She was partly shaded by a green and white nylon beach umbrella that the wind was beginning to jostle. The sight of her brought no warmth or reassurance to Port. Sybil's frigidity had driven him to women like Kitty—although no woman was like Kitty, none so bent on cruelty.
Kitty was as ungiving as a cat. She used her body as a plaything, her claws sheathed but waiting to claw any exposed back. He and she had avoided each other during this summer of turmoil. They had exchanged oblique glances at cocktail parties. Each had understood the other clearly. They were two frauds at love, two breakers of hearts, two handsome destroyers armored by vanity.
Kitty was a fine specimen of the long-stemmed American beauty to a casual onlooker. She was exuberant in manner, warmly smiling, her eyes blue until one searched out their green flecks of emerald ice. Kitty could best be seen in the face of her husband, Jonathan—in his drawn mouth and cheeks and the driven lines of debauchery that told of his efforts to drown himself in whiskey.
Port imagined himself less deceptive than Kitty. He was tall and dark, not quite handsome. He had discovered and used an easy smile that ate into women's hearts. Jean Hume had so described it, admitting that he had already seduced her in spirit. She had, also smiling, thrown herself on his mercy. Jean lived two docks down the lake. He saw her daily but he had not slept with her. Her conquest would be too easy—she sought only love. No clash of wills or egos could spring up between them—so why bother?
Combat was part of sex. A woman's game, its effect on a man was castrating. Port recognized himself as not much of a man to start with. He had married wealth. He taught college English during winter only to hide his useless self behind a respectable occupation.
He despised himself.
He and Sybil had come to the lake this summer to escape their lives. The lake was a lovely blue, gilded by the sun and edged with sand, rock and pines. He had blazed an amatory trail among the discreet cottages screened by the lakeshore pines but nothing in his sight now could keep him from playing the love game with Kitty. Certainly not Sybil, who would only grudgingly offer him her body. And not Jean. His last shred of decency had refused to let him involve Jean in the corruption of his life as expressed by this summer.
He turned slowly away from the window and toward Kitty.
* * *
Sybil Ogden thought, Port, what a fool you are...
She lay on a white air cushion on a dock that extended like a half of a suspension bridge from the bricks before the house of plate glass and redwood, the house, too, was suspended—it hung head-high above the ground from steel cables attached to a center post, the rough trunk of a tree five feet in diameter. Port had said it was just and proper that the house hang from a tree trunk that was like a male protrusion. In his house, such construction was fitting.
Few of Port's dirty jokes amused Sybil. It was fashionable today to hang houses instead of supporting them. She had accepted the architect's suggestion without a thought of what dirty meanings Port might derive from the design.
Sybil felt comfortably alone. She watched the wind ripples on the lake. Their bright gold made the water beneath look black. She thought Port a fool, not for any immediate reason. A memory of his telephone conversation this morning with her father had crossed her mind. She had overheard Port tell Daddy that the lake was stifling, swarming with noxious insects and that a storm was brewing. Daddy, Wilson Arms-worth, some three times a millionaire, had been thinking of coming to the lake for the weekend. Port, who had an allergy to Daddy's millions, of which he only needed a part, had tried to keep him away. Daddy had made a standing offer to hire Port as a top executive—Even if he can't tell a lawnmower from a tennis-court marker—and Port was ducking the bid. Daddy manufactured garden tools.
Daddy had phoned while she had been out of the house. After getting Port off the phone she had managed to soften Port's bad-mannered report on the lake's weather. Daddy had been resentful of Port's attitude. But if he finished work in time he would drive up this afternoon.
Her back now felt dry and tight from the sun despite the beach umbrella and sprayings with sun-tan lotion. Sybil turned to lie on her back, cupping her hands over her nude breasts. The bikini bra was tangled somewhere beneath her.
Why had she ever married Port?
He had taken her virginity, for one thing. And had made her, in that same moment of pain, go through a roaring ecstasy that she, an innocent, had taken for love.
Still, she had already been in love with him. At the all-girl college where Port still taught, the girls had their choice of falling in love with instructors or janitors. Instructors casually took their pick of the prettiest. Port had plucked her three years ago.
Sybil had enrolled in Port's course in her senior year because he had attracted her.
She had gotten her man because she was pretty and wealthy—and had learned to live with the knowledge.
She brushed the past from her mind.
She glanced over at the boat shop where Port was repairing that damned canoe that he was so fond of. The shop looked like a garage, built on pilings with a big door open to the lake. Upstairs was an attic loft, a storeroom.
What was keeping him there so long?
Sybil no longer liked the lake. The shores were cluttered with nondescript cottages where people drank beer and laughed loudly. Port's laughter had often been the loudest. He would often disappear after supper, would come home paddling the canoe and banging it into the dock. One night he had fallen overboard. When he had come into the house he had smelled vilely of beer, which he had said was the most ancient of beverages, with ten thousand years of recorded history. To Sybil beer had merely been vile and vulgar that long.
The only other house on the lake worth noticing was the greenish stucco monster to the right of the boat shop, its ugliness fortunately partly hidden by big pines. The house reflected the taste of Jonathan Bell's first wife, the alcoholic one. It was said that Kitty, the second Mrs. Bell, had ordered a repainting job that would erase the last vestiges of her predecessor. Kitty...
Sybil's jaw tightened. Was anyone hated on the lake as was Kitty Bell? Every gathering of women anywhere around the lake hissed when Kitty's name was mentioned. If a man uttered the offense—and some fools did—silence fell upon the women present like a softly thudding rock.
Kitty bitch... Kitty hell's Bell... Kitty slut...
Port had once remarked that in ancient days women would have recognized Kitty as a soulless sylph visited upon them for their sins and that even today the women of the lake should have gathered around the Priapus shape of Sybil's house-supporting tree trunk to pray to the gods to destroy the blond succubus.
Then Port would have grinned.
Little good it would do them. Kitty has simply got it, the thing they all wish they had...
Sybil had been curious despite her rage.
What has she got?
Not just beauty, whatever that is...
Of course not beauty. The women all knew that. Kitty's arms and hands were too long. Her hair was too thick and heavy for a blonde. It looked false. There were better bosoms. Sybil herself had beautiful breasts. Kitty slut's hips were too small. An abrupt curve of her vertebra gave her a jaunty, perky fanny, round and bobbing, that men liked and women considered indecently small. Kitty's eyebrows and lashes were pale and thin when washed clean of make-up after swimming. And her face—the mouth was too big for the nose, the teeth too little-girlish, the cheeks puffed. Not a beautiful face, surely.
But when Kitty entered a room all eyes glued to her.
Even Port usually ogled her as a kid might a candy-store window.
Sybil was overcome with righteous anger. She sat up, holding her hands cupped over her breasts. She saw her reflection in still water under the dock. Curly black hair and enormous black eyes, full lips drawn back to expose regular white teeth. A lovely woman who drew clusters of males when Kitty was not around. Sybil wore gowns cut low to expose the V between her breasts. Her body was small, blessed by larger breasts than a woman of her slight figure had any right to own.
She was probably the only woman on the lake whose husband had not been seduced by Kitty. Her reflection in the water showed why.
She must use some face powder tonight. Her face was sun-darkened almost to monotony. It needed color.
She glanced about at the docks. Jean Hume was playing with her two small children three cottages down. Jean was a divorcee and lonely but Port did not seem attracted to her. If Daddy brought along Harry McReedy, his administrative assistant, Jean would serve as a safe date for Harry.
Sybil's eyes narrowed as she glanced at Jean's children. She envied Jean's having them. She herself had dreamed of having a little girl—just one—whom she would dress in black velvet with a white lace collar and take to theater matinees. The vision was a fleeting one. She had only to think of the trials of childbearing—the swollen body and the pain, the damage to one's figure—to make the vision go away.
She waved to Jean and smiled, glad there was one woman at least who was no worry to her.
* * *
Jean Hume sat on the dock before her small cottage. Timmie and Lisbeth were laughing and bobbing in the lake like a pair of corks in their life jackets. They were aged two and three. During her short married life Jean had considered yearly pregnancy a normal and satisfactory condition. All that had ended when, one day, she had walked unannounced into the examining room of her husband, a doctor specializing in women's problems. She had found him on the examining table with one of his patients. She might have forgiven him that one lapse from fidelity but on the following day a girl had appeared at her front door in a state of hysteria, blaming Jean's husband for her pregnancy. Jean had then gone to a sporting goods store and bought a shotgun with intent to ventilate her husband's head. But she had accidentally blown the kitchen sink through the back door while trying to learn how to use the thing. She had settled for divorce and now cringed whenever she saw or heard of a gun.
But she had found that she was not a woman for a single bed. Six months ago, frustrated beyond endurance, she had begun having an affair with an old schoolmate, a sworn bachelor who had insisted that he had no intention of marrying. The experience had been unsatisfying. When he had left her at night to go home she had felt as though a piece of flesh were being ripped from her body. Now she went to bed every night biting her pillow to subdue the aching emptiness in her loins.
Her falling in love with Port Ogden could probably be blamed on his constant presence. Most men came to the lake on weekends and were instantly involved with affection-hungry wives and children. They had no time to spare for a lonely divorcee. Port was available and open to adoration. Jean tried to laugh at herself and think that being in love with Port was merely a way to amuse herself. He was too absurd to take seriously. He had romanced every susceptible female, married or unmarried, on the lake—except one Jean Hume. Why should she not fall in love with so transparent a butterfly?
She glanced at Sybil's dock. Sybil did not seem to mind Port's behavior. At least she put up with it. What was wrong with Sybil that she could endure his bouncing from bed to bed?
Jean glanced across the lake to the boat shop. She had seen Port paddle his canoe to the shop and haul it inside an hour ago. She had watched his lithe strength as he had hefted the canoe. Her heart had hammered annoyingly for a dozen minutes.
A squall in the water at her feet drew Jean's attention. Timmie was jumping on the smaller Lisbeth. Jean dropped into the water and separated them with gentle hands. Both children were crying. She put them on the dock and then sat between them, holding their heads against her broad bosom to quiet them. Their squalls had been more frequent lately. They needed the rigid, steadying figure of a man to strengthen their spirits. They needed a father.
Jean looked longingly at the boat shop. She remembered too vividly one night last week when they had gathered at the Ogdens' for cocktails. Port had stared long at her as she was leaving.
I wish you weren't the kind of girl that men marry, Jean. I'd like to go to bed with you...
She had tossed him a flippant reply that she could not now remember, had run home blinking at tears.
Poor, damned, confused man...
On another night he had drunk too much, had told her that he was a failure. He was ashamed of using his wife's money. He believed that he was tolerated at the college only because his father-in-law was a trustee and a big contributor to scholarship funds. She had listened with her eyebrows raised in surprise. She had always thought that Port must be a superb teacher. She had often listened with fascination as he turned accounts of humdrum affairs into story magic.
Or had his stories sounded good because she was in love with him?
She did not know. She hoped that the summer would end quickly and that Port would go off to his world of the college, far away from her, without her learning the truth.
KITTY watched Port turn from the window to face her. His dark gaze washed down her curves with a glistening, wet sensuality, causing a tingling within her. Sometimes this hot regard by men's eyes made life complete, suffused her body with vital awareness, allowed her to feel exquisite pleasure in each sway of her breasts, each perky lift of her hip, each languorous push of a long hand at her mane of gold-red hair. At such moments her mind became flesh, reveling in her body as an object that walked through crowds of people and sucked to itself the attention of every man, the hatred of every woman. At such times she had neither future nor past. These were her happy moments. Without them to brighten the black despair forever lurking within her she would again cut her wrists.
The thought made her rub her right forearm against her bare waist, as though to erase the white line that wiggled across the delicate flesh covering the tibial arteries. She remembered the razor blade, blued steel with silver edges, pressing a thin white line against the tender skin. Then the crazy thrill as she slashed. The pain, the red spurting—she had looked at it with fascination. She remembered seeing Mrs. Quinn rushing toward her, panting as she waddled. Kitty had heard her own throat scream wordlessly.
But her mother had not been present—only Mrs. Quinn, the housekeeper. And Kitty had laughed with insane delight as she had fainted into Mrs. Quinn's arms.
Now Port's gaze was feeling over the curves of her body. Kitty held the loose swimsuit against her hip with one hand, giving in to her instinct to tease. Port's cigarette lighter made a vaguely male shape between her thighs. Her mind flicked over the reasons for her having dropped the lighter there. Had some dark psychological urge made her weight the swimsuit? She felt heat at her throat, suddenly embarrassed with the thought that Port had guessed at some such intention. His eyes were at times too piercing.
The inanimate steel of the cigarette lighter touched her thigh. Port's look of wet-eyed lust vanished. His gaze stabbed at the bulge made by the lighter. She was sure he was about to laugh at her—but he glanced away, his dark look embarrassed.
She was seized by fear. She should have kept away from Port Ogden. She had dodged him for good reason, because she was afraid of him, afraid that the facade she presented to the world would not mask her from his piercing gaze. But she was committed now, the swimsuit unzipped and dangling on her hips. She sought refuge in the cigarette, always a symbol of security to her. She took a drag on it, felt the smoke swell her lungs. Port's gaze laved over her lifting breasts. His eyes warmed again. He licked his lips. But he knew too much about women for her to play the game safely.
Kitty abruptly missed not having on clothes. She could do things with clothes—things that made men want to rip them off. She had sought to surprise Port into a condition of defenselessness by stripping for him—but it had not worked out. Now she must say something harsh to him, catch him off balance.
She said, “Well, are you going to brood all day? Do you have to drum up your courage before you can be unfaithful to Sybil?”
“Sybil?” he asked absently.
He turned and gazed through the window again. He asked, “Is this boat loft your regular place for whoring?”
She smiled mockingly. She felt happier now that his blunt language let her assume the spiritual posture of the infamous Kitty Bell.
He glanced back at her.
He asked, “Do you ever fall in love here?”
She laughed. “What a silly question. Would I love anybody?”
“I guess the question was silly.”
“I love only Jonathan.” Her smile continued to mock him. “Jonathan is rich and he spoils me. So I love him.”
“As I love Sybil?” His lips twisted in derision.
“You despise the little bitch. I love Jonathan for what he gives me. Besides, he looks like my father, who treated me in a bastardly way. Loving Jonathan in my peculiar way gives me vengeance on my father.”
He grinned. “Father image, eh? Instant psychology? No. I won't buy it, Kitty. It is too pat, something your analyst told you or that you read in a book.”