One Hot Night
Carolyn Wellsley Bochar was the wealthiest woman residing on the Cap d’ Azure. She was able to lay claim to the title thanks to the genius and wealth of her late husband Norman who knew a great deal about fine wine, valuable real estate and beautiful women. In the instance of wine he had made a fortune in the Alexander Valley of California , growing a Cabernet Sauvignon which, even at an average release price of five hundred dollars per bottle, was snapped up each and every year by connoisseurs from Boston to Beijing. He had proven no less talented when it came to identifying property which always seemed to increase in value-- sometimes geometrically and sometimes exponentially --depending on the minerals which lay beneath the surface or the proximity of the purchase to a fast growing metropolis. When it came to beautiful women his taste was displayed on his arm. He had spotted Carolyn while on holiday on Mackinac island. She was sunbathing in a bikini which hid very little but still maintained the mystery the wearer. Norman was smitten. He was nearing sixty, she was twenty three, the beautiful product of a broken marriage with two years of community college under her belt and an eye cast for a man like Norman, a man of taste and great wealth and old enough to die within a reasonable period of time and leave his fortune to her.
Norman and Carolyn made the decision to move to France when he turned seventy. They bought the chateau at Cap d’ Azure because it was located above the sparkling sea in a hilly swale which gave them both a modicum of privacy while affording a stunning view of the town and the ocean beyond it. Norman adored Carolyn. Carolyn was fond of her husband. It was a match made in heaven. Their chateau rose three stories with bedrooms on every level as well as a pantry kitchen on level three just outside the master suite. A music room spread out on the second floor and the half-sized Olympic indoor pool on the first level became a favorite site for cocktails and dining when the weather cooled. All this opulence naturally required the full time attention of a considerable staff and it was Carolyn who chose the employees. She expected them to be invisibly visible, going about their duties like living ghosts, never to speak unless spoken to, moving about in soft soled shoes so as not to distract either her or her husband.
For Carolyn’s thirty fifth birthday Norman threw a party at the chateau , surprising her with the unveiling of an enormous painting of Carolyn done from a recent photograph. The Bochar’s stood together half way up the spiral staircase in the grand foyer while their guests stood below murmuring in admiration. In the portrait Carolyn’s raven hair cascaded past her shoulders like twin waterfalls and her emerald eyes focused down on the viewer in a way which mesmerized with a promise of something both daringly sensual yet coyly secretive. Her figure was highlighted by a blouse of satin topped with lace and unbuttoned just enough to disclose the pale white tops of her breasts while a diaphanous skirt revealed the underlying shadows of two shapely legs until they disappeared discreetly into the material.
Carolyn knew the photo. She frowned a bit and turned to her husband. “Norman dear,” she said, “I well remember the picture, but I was wearing something else when it was taken.” Norman smiled. “Indeed you were.” And with that a tuxedoed staffer appeared on the second landing and slowly descended to hand Carolyn a large box cross tied with two enormous bows. “Please open it”. Carolyn untied the bows and stared at the contents, her mouth open. Inside were the exact items which draped her in the painting, the same delicate blouse of satin and lace, the same skirt. The guests applauded this second surprise until Norman raised his hand and cleared his throat. “My darling, the blouse I’m presenting you is of Leavers lace, the finest in the world, made in Northern France on machines created by the Englishman John Leavers in 1831. The satin of the blouse is Lotus silk, equally rare because the Cambodian silkworms feed not on mulberry leaves, but rather on the stem of the lotus flower.” There was a smattering of gasps from several of the female guests who recognized the near pricelessness of the materials.
Later, when they were alone in the privacy of the master suite, Norman laid the blouse and skirt gently on the bed. “Please put them on,” he said in a whisper. And so Carolyn did, slowly pirouetting for her husband. Then Norman ran his tongue over his lips and said: “Now please take them off”.
Norman died a few months later and Carolyn got busy redecorating the house and adding another enormous walk-in alcove off the master suite where she kept her clothing and shoes in neat rows on a mechanical revolving rack of the type favored by dry cleaning establishments. There was always the challenge of what to wear when she was invited out, what to wear when entertaining formally or casually at home, and what to wear to bed. She was assisted almost always by Madam Rouchette, the woman who had held the esteemed title of Maid of the Boudoir since Norman and Carolyn had bought the chateau. But what gave Carolyn her greatest pleasure was being alone late in the evening and activating the toggle switch, watching the dazzling display of her wardrobe move past her until, inevitably, she stopped the serpentine parade at the stunning satin and lace present given her by her late husband. She would reach out to touch the blouse and let her elegantly manicured fingers trace lightly over the lace and down along the satin. In the soft lighting it seemed to quiver, as if it possessed a life of its own.
Six months after the death of Norman Bochar, Madam Rouchette announced she was leaving Carolyn’s employ and retiring to a cottage she had purchased on the Bay of Biscay. Carolyn thanked her for her long service and immediately began looking for a replacement, soliciting applicants through the network of wealthy women she had met at the Cap as well as in Lyon and Paris. One by one she reviewed the written applications with the required attached photos and divided them into two neat piles, one of ‘possibles’ the other of ‘unacceptables’. Both piles grew in size over several weeks, though the ‘possibles’ were far fewer. The women who attracted Carolyn’s attention had to be older than she----not less than ten years—speak excellent English along with French, have experience in managing the difficulties of a massive wardrobe, prove they possessed an eye trained to spot the slightest smudge or discoloration and have served not more than two patrons because Carolyn hated fickle employees.
She had begun interviewing the ‘possibles’ and was about to cut all further applicants when she received a manila envelope from Burgundy addressed to her in a large flourishing hand. Her surprise was immense when she opened it to find herself staring not at another middle-aged woman, but rather at the photo of a striking young man with black hair swept back from a high forehead, dark eyes, a razor sharp nose and, she noticed with catch of breath, a mouth of savage proportions that seemed ready to jump forward through time and space and kiss her hard on the mouth. The resume was as impressive as the picture. His name was Pierre LaConte, son of a former ambassador, graduate of the famous Parisian fashion school Ecole National de Mode et Matiere, an expert in Turkish woven art of the 18th Century and a Formula One enthusiast who had driven competitively in several races including a second-place finish at Le Mans. His former and only employer in the profession was Simone Artoise, the wealthiest woman in France.
Carolyn was nobody’s fool. Her first instinct was to throw the envelope in the rubbish. A man applying for the position? Likely a charlatan and a thief. Still, intrigued, she decided not to discard the application. Instead she picked up the phone and called an acquaintance who was planted firmly in Artoise’s circle. It took only an hour before Simon Artoise herself was on the line. She sounded distraught. “My dear, he has made application with you?” Carolyn confirmed this. “Oh, my. My heart is filled with joy for you, yet I can’t bear the thought of losing him…” (A curious choice of words, Carolyn thought. Not ‘lose his services’ but ‘lose him’) Now on a first-name basis, Simone confirmed everything in the envelope was as presented. Pierre had announced simply that after several years he needed a new challenge. He had chosen only five women to approach, Simone said. “ Carolyn, it is a great honor to be one of the five.” After several more minutes of conversation the call ended with Carolyn inviting Simone to visit her at the Cap at some point and Simone replying that would give her great pleasure even if it meant the torture of seeing Pierre employed by another woman should she choose him and should he accept.
The interview with Pierre LaConte was held on the marble breakfast patio with its magnificent view of the town and the ocean below. Carolyn told the staff to prepare a table and tea for two at 3 P.M. LaConte arrived at five minutes to three and was shown to the terrace where Carolyn had seated herself, a broad brimmed sun hat lightly shadowing her beautiful face, a dignified but gaily printed dress downplaying the contours of her figure though short enough to reveal manicured toes in sandals and the long slope of her white calves. “Mr. LaConte.” Carolyn rose and took his hand. He was every bit as handsome in person as he had been in the photo and Carolyn held his hand a bit longer than she intended.
Pierre LaConte was dressed in a light blue summer-weight suit that announced the athletic body beneath it. He wore a dark tie above which his strong chin was split by a canyon-deep cleft. “Madam, it is a great pleasure to meet you.” Carolyn noted his English was flavored with just the slightest hint of his Gallic heritage.
Carolyn poured them both tea and offered a silver dish filled with biscuits. “I must say I never expected a man to apply for the position offered. But having spoken with Simone I fully understand how valuable you were to her. If I were to choose you to replace my Maid of the Boudoir I would expect you to stay on the job at least as long as you did with Simone.”
To Carolyn’s surprise the savage lips opened in a whimsical and perfect smile. “If you were to hire me, I might never leave,” said Pierre. “But I would insist on one thing.”
“And what would that be?” Carolyn asked as she sipped her tea and tried to keep her hand steady.
“That I would be called the ‘Man’ of the Boudoir.”
Carolyn waited a diplomatic three days to announce her decision but her mind was made up before Pierre LaConte left the terrace that afternoon.
Pierre moved into the large end room on the second floor recently vacated by Madam Rouchette. His duties were the same as hers, to advise Carolyn on what to wear and when, to make sure all garments were properly cleaned and pressed and to prepare, in case of an emergency, for a second and even a third set of appropriate garments ready at a moment’s notice if an affair was being held at the chateau, or stowed carefully in the trunk of Carolyn’s chauffeured Bentley if the event was being held elsewhere at the Cap.
As a rule Carolyn closed the doors of the master suite promptly at 10 P.M. if she was home without guests. It had always been this way with Madam Rouchette. But with Pierre, things changed. He suggested at least twice a week they should rotationally bring dresses and other outfits onto the balcony area of the suite to see how they looked in moonlight and after exposure to the night air. If they wrinkled even slightly, that piece of clothing would not be suitable for evening wear he said. He added it would take weeks to do a full inventory of her collection, but it would be worth it. Carolyn didn’t object. Rather she found herself looking forward to those evenings which often stretched into the wee hours of morning at which time she would bid Pierre good night--then find herself tossing in bed with thoughts of, well, she knew not what.
One late evening they stood together in the cavernous closet with the soft whirr of the motor for accompaniment as it moved the wardrobe past them. Pierre suddenly stopped the machinery at a spot Carolyn knew well. His eyebrows leveled and his jaw set itself as he looked at the item of clothing and the over at Carolyn. “Leavers lace and Lotus silk,” he said softly. “I have never seen the two combined before. This is stupendous.” He reached out and let his fingertips trace the upper part of delicate lace, exactly where Carolyn’s throat would have been were she wearing the blouse. Then Pierre brought his other hand up and let it join the first one moving in tandem slowly to where satin and lace met, and then with his hands cupped, downward along the satin to where her breasts would have been. “A gift from my late husband,” Carolyn managed as something akin to electric current coursed through her body.
“It would have cost him a fortune,” Pierre said still looking at the blouse.
“Yes,” was all Carolyn could get out in response.
Pierre turned toward her and offered a nod, a bow of sorts. “I cannot imagine anyone it would look better on, Madam…well, perhaps only one other.”
Carolyn tossed about more than usual that night after the doors were locked. Was Pierre thinking of a former girlfriend? Perhaps a movie star? She felt twinges of both passion and jealousy as she nestled her head deeper into the pillows. Her connection with Pierre was so strong, her emotions in such an uproar that she knew things could not go on as they had.
Not long afterward there was a power failure in Cap d’ Azure. It happened on the hottest of August nights, a night without a moon. First the lights along the beach front went dim and out, then the town was thrown into darkness followed by the villas on the lower slopes. Finally the chateaus suffered the same fate. Carolyn’s staff scurried about locating candles and flashlights with which to illuminate the rooms. Windows were thrown open to ease the oppressive humidity which made the very act of breathing a challenge. The power failure continued and gradually the chateau itself fell into slumber. The chatter of the staff faded away as they made their way to their quarters to wait out the night. Maybe it was the feral atmosphere of the moist still air coupled with the sound of her heart beating in her ears that drove Carolyn to pick up a flashlight and enter the boudoir closet. There was no power to activate the machinery there, so she wove her way through the stands of hung clothing the way an explorer would make her way through a rain forest. The beam of light revealed only that which was directly in front of it, but Carolyn knew exactly what she was looking for. After several minutes, near the back of the thicket of clothing, she came to a halt and held the flashlight steady.
A few minutes later she descended the staircase to the second floor. Silently she padded down the carpeted hallway past the darkened rooms until at last she came to the last door. A dim light creased the darkness at the bottom. Her heart pounding, Carolyn entered. There, with a solitary candle on the dresser for illumination, stood Pierre. “Madam,” he said turning to face her.
“Not a word,” said Carolyn as she moved toward him until they were only an arm’s length apart. Then she whispered: “Take off my blouse.” Gently handling the satin and lace, he did so, placing it with great care on a nearby chair. “Now take off my skirt.” Again Pierre complied, running one hand along it before it joined the blouse. “And now remove my bra and panties.” Once again the Man of the Boudoir complied.
Standing before him, her face moist with perspiration, Carolyn looked at Pierre LaConte, directly into his candle-lit dark eyes and then up and down his athletic body and spoke the words which she knew needed to be said:
“Don’t ever let me ever catch you wearing my clothing again.”