Carmen Cabrera pressed a freshly manicured finger against the penthouse doorbell. She turned to adjust her hubby, Adriano’s dinner jacket, when Cassandra, the evening’s host and stunning beauty from their earlier elevator encounter, answered. Carmen saw her appear the way the wealthy did in those period movies where the grande dame makes a breathtaking entrance.
As Cassandra threw open the double doors, Carmen and hubby were greeted with a smile, broader, more honest, and more welcoming than either of them expected.
Carmen hated and loved how effortless Cassandra’s golden curls ran past her shoulders. How her youthful bangs framed the softness of her round, vibrant face. Carmen also couldn’t help notice Cassandra’s subtle makeup scheme—a touch of shimmering peach gloss across a pair of full lips and a thick smattering of mascara that accentuated a pair of already seductive lashes. It was just what Carmen needed: a night full of women batting sexy lashes at her man to diminish her own makeover efforts.
Before crossing the threshold through the penthouse doors, everything in Carmen’s body warned her. The sweaty palms. The clenched teeth. The heavy boulder-like sense in her gut. The nausea. All tell-tale signs she should run, not walk, as fast as possible away from this dinner party.
But Carmen ignored her gut and entered the Cassandra Crawford headquarters in the name of new beginnings. Act Two here we go!
Despite Carmen’s own transformative makeover, Adriano couldn’t stop staring at Cassandra’s short black cocktail dress. The way it hugged the contours of her curvy shape. It covered her arms with three-quarter length sleeves for added elegance, but the plunging V-neck showcased the entirety of her cleavage. Adriano and Carmen tried not to stare at a pair of plump boobs but failed. The short designer dress also revealed a pair of long legs on an eight-hundred-dollar pair of Yves Saint Laurent ankle strap sandals, featuring black suede and gold metallic trim. Adriano was afraid that Carmen had been right: this couple was “dangerously gorgeous.”
“Wow,” Cassandra complimented Carmen and spun her around by the hand, like a ballroom dance partner showing off her beautiful companion. “Let’s leave these here. It’s nice and warm inside,” Cassandra suggested as she pivoted away from Carmen to help Adriano out of his jacket and scarf, “Lincoln’s just finishing up.” And with a gentle toss of Adriano’s things onto a nearby settee, the sexy Cassandra led the Cabreras through the foyer.
Carmen surprised herself. She never thought she’d be keen on being touched and twirled by a perfect stranger—but if there was ever a perfect stranger to do it, it was Cassandra. Adriano’s cheeks, on the other hand, turned bright red when Cassandra grabbed and eased him out of his jacket. And then again when she pulled at his scarf with both hands. His flush face had contrasted sharply against the white of his dress shirt. Instead of feeling angry or irritated by his usual behavior, Carmen found herself amused by his momentary embarrassment and gave his chin a loving squeeze. A gesture that confused and worried Adriano. He couldn’t figure out if it was a you’ll-pay-later gesture or a you’re-being-very-cute sort of squeeze.
The Cabreras followed Cassandra down a narrow hallway filled with ambient lighting, music, and the smell of freshly cut flowers that mixed with spices and aromas drifting from the kitchen ahead. They became both hungry and horny at the same time as a jazzy number featuring the sounds of a smooth saxophone hovered across the high ceilings. Carmen and Adriano often discussed the mystery behind how the sax evoked sex. They had always found it terribly interesting how a single instrument had the power to thrust them into lusty moods that were only quenched by long hours of passionate lovemaking—something they’d first discovered back in college during their “hot sex” phase twenty-some years ago.
The Cabreras exchanged a glance after taking in their surroundings. After more than twenty years a married couple could talk without saying a word. They both knew that the mood was too sultry for a crowded dinner party, but neither was forward enough to question Cassandra. They simply hoped the vibe would turn more neighbors-gathered-in-friendly-banter and less adult-couples-retreat by the time they reached the living-dining area.
As they reached the end of the long hallway, the unit unfolded into an impressive open-concept floor plan boasting a large state-of-the-art stainless steel eat-in-kitchen to the left and several lounging and entertainment areas to the right. A full bar dominated the wall adjacent the kitchen. Beyond the bar, wall-to-wall French doors led out to their terrace and rooftop garden retreat. The recessed speakers continued to blow the sultry sexophone notes of old love songs, and the Cabreras became confused. A major ingredient was missing from the dinner party. People. There were no people! No people usually meant no party.
Had they mixed up the nights? Were they terribly early or embarrassingly late? They panicked glancing back and forth at one another.
“Baby, you remember the Cabreras,” Cassandra paraded them so Lincoln could inspect them.
“Hello Cabreras, welcome.” Lincoln abandoned his post in the kitchen and came around the large island. “Welcome to the party.”
What party? There’s no party. There’s no one else here! Carmen screamed in her head.
Lincoln bent and lifted Carmen’s hand in a formal, almost royal gesture. “Carmen, of course.” And with that complement, Lincoln bent further to kiss Carmen’s hand. Lincoln did not address Adriano and quickly returned to stir something in a stockpot bubbling behind them.
Carmen took in the overwrought sensual indulgence of the space as the smells of food fused with the men’s subtle cologne. She felt dizzy with confusion and a plethora of new, exhilarating sensations. The only bright light in the penthouse came from the kitchen where Lincoln waved from the grandeur of his cooking space with ease and confidence. He wore a white long apron under which Carmen couldn’t help enjoy a tight-fitting black dress shirt that hugged his biceps and the matching pair of black dress pants that hugged a very nice ass—the perfect complement to Cassandra’s lacy black tight ass-and-tits ensemble.
Lincoln looked as focused and frantic as Adriano did when he cooked for Carmen, “Almost done prepping this sauce.” Lincoln assured his dinner guests.
Carmen stole another glance and saw Lincoln toss the kitchen towel over his left shoulder and solidified that professional chef’s mien she loved so much.
For reasons that became obvious to him later, Adriano hated what was happening in the kitchen.
With quiet shame, Carmen watched Lincoln wipe his hands on the kitchen towel and throw it causally over his shoulder again before grabbing sprigs of rosemary from a row of little clay pots lining his backsplash.
Adriano couldn’t help watching too. Lincoln wasn’t just pretty to look at, the man knew his way around the kitchen. But the kitchen had always been Adriano’s domain. As far back as their college days, when he took pride in impressing Carmen with the simplest of meal preparations, he had perfected his culinary craft and knew despite his marital shortcomings, he was the only man who could satisfy Carmen in the kitchen.
Adriano would have to wait and worry the night away to see who was in fact the better man.
“Did we get the time wrong?” Carmen looked around the huge penthouse devoid of guests. Hearing their doorman tell it, Carmen had expected to walk in and find the Crawford penthouse invaded by hordes of spoiled socialites waving their empty glasses in the air and demanding more cocktails and hors devours as they drowned themselves in self-affirmation, gossip, and ruthless commentary.
“I think we mentioned seven, but don’t worry about the time, Carmen. We weren’t gonna start with you. Besides, we got cocktails and appetizers and some get-to-know stuff to get through first. That way we give my Lincoln some time to finish up dinner.” Cassandra reassured them and walked them over to a row of stools that stretched the length of the bar area.
“So, we are late?” Carmen confirmed their late arrival for a second time.
“Lincoln disagrees with me, but I always say, fashionably late is the only way to travel.” Cassandra pointed to the bar stools. Adriano and Carmen took their assigned seats. Cassandra spun around the bar and started whipping up some cocktails. She placed a bottle of rum on the bar top to stir up a couple of her famous Mojitos, “I call these my Hemingway Mojitos because much like the writer, I prefer the recipe with a splash of champagne instead of the traditional club soda.”
Carmen loved the Hemingway factoid but circumvented the information because she’d much rather find out where the hell the rest of the guests were, “But if we are fashionably late, where is everyone else? Horrendously late?” Carmen insisted on an answer but was equally concerned about mixing Mojitos and wine later—she was a lightweight. She had to be extra cautious with her alcohol consumption. She couldn’t risk making a spectacle of herself or embarrass Adriano. After all, it was their first official dinner party in, well, ever. Stunning makeover aside, she wanted to make a good impression.
“Actually, tonight will be just the four of us. Lincoln and I decided against a crowded, loud, and impersonal welcome. You’ll thank me later when you meet some of our more eccentric neighbors. This is much more intimate, don’t you think?” Cassandra winked at Carmen then Adriano as she shook the icy rum contents in a stainless-steel cocktail mixer. Carmen and Adriano secretly enjoyed how the gentle up and down motion made her boobs bounce.
Cassandra lined up four rocks glasses, added the mint leaves, lime juice, and brown sugar then poured the velvety rum, filling the glasses only a third of the way full. She topped it all off with a sparkling splash of champagne to the rhythms of the saxophone playing Savannah Nights. If Lee was the house chef, Cassandra was undoubtedly the seasoned bartender—a performance worthy of the stage—a true professional. But Cassandra was not your garden-variety bartender. She was a vision in black lace as she leaned over the bar top to sip her Mojito.
The Cabreras looked at each other as if to say, Damn it and me without any singles!
“Carmen, that is a stunning color on you,” Lincoln entered the bar scene and extended Adriano a firm handshake without eye contact. He was too busy taking Carmen in from top to bottom, “All due respect, you clean up real nice.” And as if by some seductive magic the saxophone ensemble above started blowing to the slow sounds of Chris De Burgh’s Lady in Red.
“Don’t be crass, my love.” Cassandra worried Lincoln was being too Lincoln before she got a chance to properly prime her guests.
Adriano didn’t like Lincoln gawking at his wife. He liked Lincoln’s comment about his wife’s stunning red dress even less. He was also pissed that earlier he had offered Carmen some phenomenals, one spectacular, and an amazing, but not a single stunning for her new look and it hadn’t had the same affect as this guy’s compliments had on his wife whose face was beaming with pride with a side of adolescent shyness.
Adriano was overtaken by conflicting feelings, like two fierce lions fighting inside him. On one side there was the Proud Lion—the one that puffed his chest with genuine pride that his wife was so damn gorgeous and was all his. The second was the Protective Lion—the one that would rip intruders to shreds if they came near said gorgeous wife. Adriano felt like Lincoln had awakened the two beasts from a deep slumber.
Carmen was also having a tough time registering all the stimulus in the room. She still had not processed that she and Adriano were the only guests for dinner when Lincoln’s compliments flew across the bar. But if she kept quiet, she would risk appearing rude. On the other hand, responding to Lincoln’s flattery would be worst. She couldn’t say what had popped in her mind when Lincoln finally emerged from the kitchen to join them. What would they think if Carmen suddenly blurted out, And you, Mr. Crawford are delicious. Can we put you on tonight’s menu?
Instead, Carmen deferred to Adriano’s favorite avoidance technique and simply changed the subject, “Cassandra, these are really good,” she lifted her Mojito and was grateful that Lady in Red, which had made her so self-conscious, had melted away into another smooth but unrecognizable tune.
“These, that’s nothing…” Cassandra said with a flirtatious smile, “…wait until you taste Link’s cooking. His Steak Au Poivre is to die for, right L?” She held her Mojito close to her lips and sipped it while twirling a few golden curls with her free hand. Carmen noticed the dark red polish of Cassandra’s fingernails pop brilliantly through the contrasting blonde strands—a hypnotic swirl of innocence and sensuality. Carmen expected her husband to be staring at the striking Cassandra and found Adriano locked on Lincoln instead.
“Don’t give away my secrets,” Lincoln squeezed his wife’s face and kissed her before making his way back to the kitchen.
“And Carmen, please, call me Cass,” Cassandra lowered her free hand and placed it over Carmen’s before coming around the bar. “Why don’t we take a quick stroll outside so you can see the garden,” Cassandra linked her arm around Adriano’s to lead him outside and gave Lincoln his instructions. “And you, mister. You go check on our appetizers.” She sent her husband back to the kitchen with a slap on the ass.
Adriano and Carmen glanced at each other again and couldn’t figure out how they felt about the whole party-for-four scenario or how they might get out of it if they chose to.
The temperature outside was a comfortable sixty-nine degrees and the sunset had left behind remnant ribbons of indigo and purple across a cloudless downtown sky. They heard ambient noises from the street life below fused with the sexy sounds of the sax that escaped from hidden speakers along the garden path. They strolled past large fig trees in black oversized pots lining the perimeter and the medium sized Eureka lemon trees with their bright yellow fruit that followed the wooden footpath.
Carmen and Adriano walked shoulder to shoulder behind Cassandra and glanced at each other. Adriano’s eyes burned with questions about Lincoln. Carmen worried and looked ahead at the night in question. Finally, and without words, she shrugged her shoulders and threw her hands up at Adriano, as if to say, Why not?
In the space between the trees and the footpath, the Crawfords’ trimmed grass shared the lawn with an assortment of colorful perennials: the pops of red and yellow from the Blanket flowers; the bluish-purples of the Veronicas; the fuchsia and fragrant pleasures of the tall Garden Phlox mixing with the light lilac touch of the equally tall Russian Sage; the brilliant white Asters; and the small pockets of lime-green Switchgrass. At the end of the path, surrounded by playful Black-eyed Susans, the Cabreras were surprised by an eight-person hot tub lit up with soft blue recessed lighting that took them back to their failed rooftop pool escapade. Carmen couldn’t help wondering if the night would bring more failure and if so, would she be disappointed or stick to her goal of no expectations to avoid letdowns.
“This is tough living,” Adriano shared his first joke of the night. Carmen’s shoulder shrug had convinced him to just play along and engage.
“Yeah, I know. Whenever Link’s looking for me, he knows to look out here first. I just can’t get enough of this.” Cassandra took a seat on one of the round daybeds under a nearby cabana and placed her watered-down Mojito on an end table.
The Cabreras followed suit in an attempt to be good guests and rested their cocktails on their side tables too. The Crawford cabanas were littered with throw pillows. It was all a modern mismatch of round memory foam beds and plush chaise lounges. Adriano took safe residence away from Cassandra on a chaise opposite her daybed. Carmen opted for a risky approach and slid down on the daybed with Cassandra. Carmen smelled her expensive and intoxicating Versace scent. The trio sat silent. They sipped on watery cocktails and allowed the sounds of Fourplay’s After the Dance and the fragrant rooftop breeze to wash over them.
Carmen could not decipher how she felt about the dinner for four. It was unprecedented for her not to have an opinion one way or the other. She was the most opinionated person she knew. How could she not know what she wanted to do? How could it be she was unable to figure out if this intimacy was uncomfortable, unacceptable, or flattering? If given the choice, would she stay to play with the Crawfords or retrieve to the safety of her own unit? This was unfamiliar territory for Carmen and Adriano alike, and the Crawfords were like no other people they had ever met. It was clear they were overtly sensual, unencumbered and totally carefree. It was as if the two couples were speaking different languages: foil characters in a stage play.
“Okay ladies, here we are,” Lincoln arrived with his hands full and slid an ottoman in front of the ladies with his foot. He placed the tray on the daybed, forcing Adriano to get closer, “C’mon, try these,” he motioned for Adriano to take the ottoman next to his by patting the cushion.
“L, what a spread,” Cassandra only called him L when she was genuinely proud of his accomplishments, culinary or otherwise. The rest of the time it was Link.
Lincoln leaned over the platter and kissed his wife again. “Okay, so these are,” he pointed to the assortment of appetizers, “potato and mozzarella croquettes twice breaded with a tomato-basil dipping sauce.” He pointed to the next ones, “These spicy guys are chorizo-filled dates wrapped in bacon. And these crispy ladies are cauliflower fritters topped with a dollop of mint yogurt sauce and caviar.” Lincoln took a slight pause, like a true artist saving the best for last, “And finally, my favorites. Crab and radish canapé with black-olive butter on marinated endives. Dig in!”
Holy-Great-Chef-Batman!!! Adriano thought. He decided in order to digest the situation better, he’d need to put things into their logical order. Do some hard math. Number One: Link was way too handsome. Number Two: Link was way too wealthy. Number Three: Link was way too confident and a complete flirt. Number Four: Link had a gorgeous wife that was way too comfortable with him acting like a complete flirt. Number Five: Link knew his way around the kitchen too damn well. Number Six: Link didn’t just know his way around the kitchen but actually produced fine dining quality food worthy of a Michelin Star. Number Seven: Link was trying way too hard to impress Carmen. Number Eight: Carmen was way too impressed with Link. Number Nine: Adriano hated Link but was equally impressed.
After organizing all the Link-related details in his mental Rolodex, Adriano looked down at the platter of appetizers and forced one last thought. Number Ten: Maybe…just maybe…all this wonderful food looks a lot better than it tastes?
“These actually taste better than they look. And they look amazing, right Hun?” Carmen spoke with a mouth full of crab and radish canapé and licked a bit of the delicious black-olive butter off her lip as she crunched through the marinated endive.
“Yup,” Adriano agreed with a mouth full of the complex flavors from the concentrated sweetness of the date and the spicy kick of the Spanish chorizo wrapped in the smokiness of the bacon.
“Guys, these would pair so well with crisp sparkling wine. What do you think about a lively Prosecco from northern Italy?” Cassandra grabbed a crab-radish canapé and got up to go inside for more drinks. Carmen and Adriano both hoped she wasn’t expecting a pairing answer from either of them. They were not familiar with Proseccos from any part of Italy or ever experienced such fine-dining aperitifs.
“A Prosecco should do the trick. And while you’re in there, be a doll and stir my sauce,” Lincoln gave his wife a naughty wink and a proper slap on the ass—fair game given the fact that Cassandra had opened the ass-slapping door when she smacked him at the bar earlier.
I wish Adriano would smack my ass like that. Carmen sighed between yummy bites of crunchy cauliflower fritters dipped in the minty yogurt-caviar.
If I ever smacked Carmen’s ass like that in public, she’d kick my ass. Adriano thought between bites of hot and gooey potato-mozzarella croquettes.
“I’ll stir your sauce Mr. Crawford but you better behave, or I’ll have to give you a proper spanking.” Cassandra’s ass swayed side to side in her Valentino dress down the lit path. Her Yves Saint Laurent heels clicked and clacked to the rhythm of her every step.
There’s a lady that knows how to wear a pair of heels. She won’t waddle or end up snapping the heel clear off in a misstep. Carmen was still kicking herself about snapping her Birman pump days ago. She became envious of Cassandra’s effortless steps. She knew she would feel better if she did a head-to-head comparison: One: She is truly gorgeous, but I got five “phenomenals” a “spectacular” and an “amazing” earlier, so there! Two: She is rich but I, too, am independently wealthy (of sorts) since my early retirement allows me to stay home, so there! Three: She and Link share such a strong bond, they reek of confidence and sexuality, and we don’t even come close, so damn, she wins!
Mouthful after mouthful of delicious appetizers, Carmen, Adriano, and Link sat in the comfort of the cabana being lulled by the warm breeze and the constant hum of the nearby Jacuzzi.
“Maybe after dinner, you guys can grab some suits and we can finish the night off with a dip in the hot tub and some celebratory champagne to seal your official induction to the Market Street Lofts Hall-of-Fame, whatta you say?” Link looked down the lit path to check for Cassandra.
“Won’t it be too chilly by then for a—” Adriano tried to push back on the unwelcomed idea.
“Just think it over. You don’t have to decide now. Will you guys excuse me a sec. I’m gonna see what’s keeping Cass.”
Carmen and Adriano exchanged a what-are-we-gonna-do glance and washed the last of the appetizers with gulps of watery Mojitos. They were tipsy and scared. And Carmen feared what she’ do. What her newfound sense of marital adventure would have her agreeing to. But she licked her fingers and looked at her husband as if to say, I want to stay. This is so good, I wanna stay.
Adriano was afraid Link would cross the line from flirtatious socializing to full-on seduction. Afraid Link’s advances and Cassandra’s irresistible pull might push the Cabrera marriage to a point-of-no-return. Afraid of how far Carmen would go. Afraid to find out what she really wanted. What she would choose. Adriano was afraid she might exclude him. That she’d forget all about him as she has her fun with Link, Cassandra, or both.