6. Explorations

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Valerie and Lorne dried each other, exploring and teasing as they did, then they went back to the bed to experiment with ways to pleasure each other. A long while later, as they lay under the duvet in an intimate conversation, conjoined and gently shifting their hips, she asked, "What time is dinner?"

"Nineteen thirty — seven thirty."

"International is fine. I always switch when away, unless I'm in the States. Any idea what time it is?"

He glanced at the windows. "Dark. Past sunset."

She rose and spotted the radio-alarm on a beside table. "Eighteen ten." Then churning her hips, she continued, "We should finish here. Can you see me well enough in this dim light? It's far past your turn again."

A quarter hour later, as they stood again in the shower washing each other, Lorne said, "I've never imagined it could be like this."

"Nor have I."

He tilted his head. "What? Nor have you what?"

"Imagined it would be like this."

"But you said you weren't a virgin. You've experienced this before."

"The mechanics, yes." She reached up and stroked his cheek. "I've had so few with depth and soul; far too few. I can do the mechanics on my own and be more satisfied. Without the complications."

"So, what can I do to make it better for you?"

"Nothing." She shook her head. "I cannot think of anything that would."

"So, separate rooms?"

Valerie snapped her head. "What? Why?"

"You're not satisfied."

"Oh, God! Where did you ever get that idea?"

"You said there is nothing I can do to make it better for you."

She laughed as she nodded. "Okay, I see how you may have interpreted it that way. But consider also that I cannot imagine sex more sublime than what we've been sharing." She pulled his face down for a kiss.

"So, it was good for you."

"Far beyond good, Lorne. You have no idea how far beyond. I may have been unlucky with previous relationships, but most were what I call G-men. Get it in. Get it off. Get it out. Get on with life. There is far more to sex than simply the physical, and you offer that." She trembled. "Oh, God! And I quiver just from my thoughts of the physical."

They finished their shower, and after they had dried each other, he sat watching in fascination as Valerie blow-dried her hair. "You seem in a trance, Lorne."

"In a dream world. Experiencing so much new. It seems surreal."

They chatted as she finished drying and brushing her hair and arranging it in a loose French braid. When done, she rose from the dressing table to make a slow turn in front of him, warmed by his awed expression and chuckling at his fast erectile response. "You really are visual, aren't you?"

He looked down and shrugged. "Around you, it has a mind of its own,"

Valerie bent to give it a kiss on her way to her open suitcase. "We'll deal with that later. You realise we haven't even unpacked?" She sorted through her clothes and unrolled a black dress, then shook it out and examined it. "I love how this doesn't wrinkle."

She stepped into it and pulled it up over her hips, put the single strap over her shoulder, adjusted her breasts into place and pulled up the side zipper. Lorne watched with his mouth agape "That's it? Nothing beneath it? I'll be stiff all night just thinking."

"Part of the plan." She winked as she pulled a flesh-coloured thong from her suitcase. "But I do need something to hold my hots for you."

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As the chauffeur drove them toward Crissier, Lorne talked about the restaurant which Frédy Girardet had started in 1971. "After repeatedly being called the greatest chef in the world, about twenty years ago, he sold the business to Philippe Rochat who had worked with him for a decade and a half."

"I read about that," Valerie interjected. "He was young and at the top of his career, and everyone questioned why he had decided to quit."

"Not that young; he was sixty. Word is he had sold during the prime of his career to avoid the fate of other chefs. He had watched his father and others unable to sell when they wanted. Watched them die early from the stress of running a restaurant."

"Like the one in the Burgundy a dozen or so years ago. The one who committed suicide after losing a star."

"That was Bernard Loiseau, but he hadn't lost a star. There were only some rumours that Michelin would demote him to two stars."

"Stressful life at the top. But back to Girardet. How did the restaurant fare after he sold?"

"It was soon confirmed again as the best in the world, and it retained its high praise and esteem until Rochat sold to Benoît Violier four years ago. Voilier had been with him for several years, and he maintained the high standards, including the three Michelin stars. The latest accolade was when France's La Liste two months ago named it again the best restaurant in the world."

"And what's your opinion of it?"

"I was too young to experience Girardet's cuisine, but I've enjoyed both Rochat's and Violier's rather often. It's been my Valentine's Day dinner destination for years."

"And always alone?"

Lorne nodded as he sighed. "Yeah. Silly, isn't it?"

She put her hand on his chest and stroked. "No. Not silly. Honouring a memory. It shows your strength and the depth of your love."

"But it also shows..." He paused as the chauffeur opened the door. Once outside, Lorne offered his arm and led Valerie to the restaurant.

Brigitte greeted as they entered, "Good evening, Monsieur Benton. I'm pleased you've come in these difficult times."

"Valerie, this is Brigitte Voilier, the one who keeps things organised here." He smiled at Brigitte. "And this is Valerie Redburn. I should have notified you we'd be two."

She ran her eyes over Valerie, smiling as she assessed. "Welcome. It is not a problem. Your table will take two with ease." She passed them on to the maître d' who led them to a corner table in the main room.

As they were seated, Lorne said to Valerie. "I hope Benoît isn't resting on the laurels of his La Liste award. I want you to see him at his best."

The maître d' asked, "You've not heard?"

"Don't tell me he's won another award."

"No, Monsieur." He lowered his eyes. "Chef Voilier was found dead two weeks ago."

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