“Do you remember that one day when we were out in the woods?” Rennie asked in a whisper. “When we were sitting on a blanket together, and I took everything off so I could feel the sun and the breeze on my body?”
“Of course. I’ve never forgotten that.”
They were back on the plane, and most of the other passengers were asleep. All the lights inside the cabin were off, but a few night-owls still had their tablets and e-readers out. Just a few minutes before, Pete had gotten a blanket out of the overhead compartment and spread it across himself and her… and now, he could feel her hands working to undo the front of his pants.
“Really, honey? This late in the game, after all the exotic and insane things we’ve done… now you want to go for a membership in the Mile High Club?” he teased softly.
She flicked the tip of her tongue along the edge of his ear. Her welts and bruises, concealed beneath her clothes, stung and ached deliciously. Still excited from his wielding of the whip, she was feeling especially bold.
Once his naked cock was in her hand and she’d begun stroking him, she continued, still whispering: “I remember how your hands felt, tracing trails of tingles all over my skin. I think about that day perhaps more often than you realize.
“And whenever I think about it, I find myself wishing that I could do so many things while naked. I think about how beautiful it would feel to sit in the passenger seat of the car, completely nude, while you drive us home from someplace at night. Or maybe in broad daylight, on an Interstate freeway– I think that would be especially fun.
“Or what about sitting in a booth by a window in a busy restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, having lunch, naked? Or riding a bus naked? Or walking through a park wearing nothing but boots? Or sitting quietly in my seat in a theater while watching a play? Or sitting with you at an outdoor table at a café or on a hotel balcony, having coffee?
“I always imagine myself being the only one who has no clothes on, and at the same time, nobody except you taking any real notice of my nudity. Everyone else reacting to it like it’s so normal it doesn’t even warrant mention– that is to say, of course, not reacting at all. My fantasy is the polar opposite of those ‘naked in public’ nightmares we all have from time to time. I can only try to guess just how exhilarating it would be, in reality…”
She trailed off, letting that thought hang in the air for a while as she kept pumping and gliding her hand along the length of his cock, which was now slippery with pre-come.
Then, she leaned in again, close enough for him to feel her lips brushing against his ear, and quietly mused, “I wonder if anybody around us has figured out what we’re doing.”
He coated her fingers in sticky, thick, hot love-cream.
Meanwhile, back in Amsterdam, Isabelle had cleaned the implements from her last session, closed up early, and gone out for a drink.
Now, she was standing on the doorstep of her most recent ex. She rang the bell.
When he answered, he seemed surprised for all of a few seconds. Then he invited her in, acting as if he had been expecting her, despite the fact that they hadn’t spoken to each other in months.
“Is there anyone else here?” she asked as they sat down across from each other in the living room.
Reading between the lines of her question, he responded, “No, it’s just me here.”
Isabelle hesitated a moment before rising, walking only as far as the midpoint between her chair and his, lowering herself onto her knees, and saying, “You were right about me all along…”
It was morning when the plane touched down.
As they were taxiing across the tarmac, Pete said, “This is it. The beginning of the endgame.”
Most of their first day in France was taken up with figuring out their way around in the airport, retrieving their luggage, renting a car, getting settled in at their hotel, and recovering from jet-lag. But after dinner, they felt like doing a bit of exploring, and went out for a walk.
Just a few blocks away from the hotel, they came upon a bar with a sign hanging out front that read “Le Salon Du Chocolat.” Through the establishment’s open door, they could hear the voice of a sultry chanteuse, accompanied by a pianist, performing a song Pete and Rennie were very familiar with– Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars. It sounded especially beautiful being sung in French. Intrigued, they went inside.
The lounge was furnished with big velvet armchairs and low, round wooden tables, and decorated with blown-glass hearts, brass cherubs, and roses in bud vases. The whole room, from the curtains to the wallpaper and the lamps to the rugs, was done in burgundy, brown, amber, and gold.
Once they’d seated themselves, they realized that Le Salon Du Chocolat was as much a confectionery and bakery as it was a bar. There was a whole menu consisting of desserts from around the world, and as one would expect, its focus was upon every variety of chocolate known to man. And although champagne and a few other standard libations one could find at just about any lounge– all selected, of course, for their abilities to complement the tastes of different types of chocolate– were available, most of the drinks on the bar’s menu had chocolate as an ingredient in some form or fashion.
On Pete and Rennie’s table, there was a miniature crystal vase. In it rested a tea rose, scarlet and open, as luscious as a pair of kiss-ready lips. Looking at it while they each sipped the first of their drinks, he reflected that there was one thing red roses never failed to remind him of.
The year they’d moved into the country house outside of Cambridge so Rennie could open the B&B, he’d had a bouquet of red roses delivered to her for their anniversary. Upon reading the accompanying card, she’d gotten so turned on that she’d taken one of the flowers up to one of the guest rooms, locked the door, gotten a fire going in the hearth, laid on the bed, spread her dark pink, velvety lips with one hand, and used the petals of the half-blooming rose to tickle and tease herself to climax.
From there, she’d alternated between drawing the thorns across the flesh of her breasts, and caressing her clit with the head of the rose.
He hadn’t been there to see any of this, unfortunately, as he’d still been in town, working. But she’d told him about it a few hours later, in detail, while they made love in their own room and the snow fell outside.
The following month, for Valentine’s Day, he’d gotten her a dildo that was made of clear glass, with a red glass rose at the base of it.
Pete and Rennie couldn’t help noticing that Le Salon Du Chocolat’s clientele consisted almost entirely of other tourists. The place was on the gimmicky side, there was no denying that. The barroom actually had a tiny gift-shop section attached to it, which sold chocolate-themed cookbooks, wineglasses stamped with the lounge’s logo, gift baskets, and heart-shaped boxes of truffles.
But they thought it was all rather cute, and enjoyed their time there, embracing the bar’s kitschy charm while celebrating their arrival in Paris.
Around 11:00, buzzing as much on sugar as on alcohol, they bought a box’s worth of pieces of chocolate-covered fruit, and went back to their hotel with a certain bedroom game in mind. It was one they’d played in the past, but that was alright. They knew what they’d flown all the way across the Atlantic for, and now that they were here, it only made sense to pace themselves and have some fun, for their days and nights on the earthly plane were numbered.
The next day, they went to visit Ray. Rennie had only gotten to meet him once, at a Christmas party, before he’d left the States. She was glad to have the chance to get to know him a little better.
His apartment looked a lot like she’d imagined it: a small, old penthouse, cluttered nearly to the rafters with books, tools, heavy-duty survival gear, computer parts, and more books.
The three of them spent several hours catching up. She noticed that the younger man still addressed her husband as “Dr. Banbaur,” even though it’d been quite some time since he’d been a student of his.
Near the end of the morning, Ray went onto his laptop and showed them a site for a company called Hidden Tours.
“I thought you might like this, because their tours are based around the lives and works of different French writers,” he explained. “You won’t see any brochures around here advertising them, and no search engine will pull them up if you just type ‘Paris tours’ or whatever– you have to put in the web address verbatim. As far as I know, they’re legit–”
Pete laughed. “As far as you know, huh?”
Grinning, he answered, “Honestly, I think they go to all that effort because they want to keep it a small, unique, off-the-beaten-path kind of thing. But I just had to tell you about it. I’ve been on the J.-K. Huysmans Tour myself. At first, it seemed a lot like a normal tour of the city, just with a very specific theme. But as it went on, it went into more and more obscure stuff, and by the time it got near the end, it was pretty out-there. It was fun– weird, but fun! If you’re interested, I’d suggest making a reservation while you can. They let a maximum of eight people on each tour, whichever one you pick.”
Just then, Ray’s phone rang. He checked the number, and sighed resignedly.
“I’m really sorry, but I have to take this call. I’ll try to be quick,” he promised.
While Ray was in his bedroom, Rennie pulled up a chair and sat behind Pete, watching him scroll down the website’s homepage. Along with the Huysmans Tour, there was an Octave Mirbeau Tour, a Paul Verlaine Tour, a Charles Baudelaire Tour… and a Marquis de Sade Tour.
Pete clicked on the last of these.
It so happened that the next English-spoken De Sade Tour was scheduled to take place one week from then. They read the itinerary, which included a “mystery destination” at the end.
Pete was busy filling out a form when Ray returned.
“You can go ahead and give them my address, if that would make it easier,” Ray offered when the site got to the part where it asked for Pete and Rennie’s address. “The only reason they’re asking for that is so they can mail you an invitation, which you’ll need to have with you to be allowed on the tour.”
Because the Sexus Divinus was associated with death, it seemed logical to begin by looking for it in places of death. This didn’t narrow it down much, considering how extensive the darker side of the history of the land on which the City Of Lights stood was. But Pete and Rennie were nothing if not determined.
They didn’t know what it was about this place, but something about it– perhaps its ghosts, perhaps the undeniable sexual energy it exuded, perhaps its architectural beauty, or perhaps its abundance of art– energized them for this, their final adventure. In any case, they spent their nights– and, occasionally, mornings– making love, and their afternoons combing Paris’s cemeteries.