The Party

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Richard met Laura at a party.

She was short, scarcely more than five feet, with long dark hair parted in the middle and a gamine face full of energy and life. She was wearing an embroidered Indian shirt above denim flares, and the chemical attraction was instant. He could not remember ever having such an immediate physical attraction to a woman; indeed, it had been several years since he had been attracted to a woman at all. And the reason for that should have been here with him tonight, except there had been yet another last-minute emergency requiring Bill's personal attention.

Usually he was able to laugh at himself when he felt like a neglected spouse, but tonight he just felt pissed off. There had been too many of these occasions lately, as if he had slipped down Bill's priority list to about number ten, after his job, his colleagues, and, oh yes, his job. Richard had tried hard not to feel resentful of his partner's career, he really had; after all, he had his own work that kept him busy enough. It was just that lately he had been feeling abandoned. Were they just going through a bad patch, like most couples at some stage or another, or was Bill losing interest? He smiled warmly at Laura. "Hi, I'm Richard Philips. Can I get you a drink?"

The party was to celebrate the success of Laura's second book, "Rose Killer". Her heroine was a strong feminist who managed to wipe the floor with her male antagonists. A thread of black humor wound through the story, and Richard could tell her honestly that he had enjoyed the book. They found they had a lot in common and talked about books and writing for much of the night.

When the party wound up just after midnight, they agreed to meet for coffee the next morning so Richard could give her a copy of his first book, which she hadn't read. They shared the same publisher, so they found themselves running into each other over the next couple of weeks, occasionally chatting over a coffee and once going out to lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. Richard told himself it was great to have found a new friend.

Despite being in a relationship for a couple of years now, Richard and Bill still had their own flats. Given Bill's position in the police force it would have been impossible for them to move in together, so it was some time before Bill became aware that Richard was preoccupied by something. In fact, come to think of it, he hadn't been around for a while. Feeling oddly uneasy, Bill decided to make sure he attended the party on Saturday night that Richard had invited him to a few weeks earlier. At the time he had turned it down, expecting to work, but perhaps he should make the effort, rearrange his schedule and give Richard a surprise. He loved Richard so much, but sometimes it was hard to make enough time for him.

When he got to the party, about an hour after it had started, he found Richard wearing earth-brown Indian cotton trousers and a bottle-green embroidered shirt, talking to an attractive young woman. He wouldn't have given it a second thought except that he recognized the expression in her eyes as she looked up at Richard, a smile on her lips. It was the same expression he had when he looked at Richard: desire.

His eyes flew to Richard as he moved nearer. He could tell by Richard's body language that he was attracted to her, the way he leant toward her as he listened to what she was saying. Would he see desire in Richard's face, too; guilt, even? How far had this gone? His heart felt like a block of ice in his chest. "Richard?" He cleared his throat, and the two of them turned to face him. Richard looked self-conscious and the woman curious.

"Hi, Bill, I thought you said you couldn't make it. Oh, this is Laura—Laura Wright, Bill Harper."

"Pleased to meet you." The woman shook his hand and looked from one to the other. "I'll see you later," she told Richard. She smiled at both men and left them together.

Bill looked at him questioningly, struggling to hold himself in check. "Richard?"

"She's just a friend, Bill," Richard reassured him.

Bill felt wound so tight he could hardly breathe. "I would really, really like it if you could leave and come home with me now, right now."

"All right." Richard touched his arm lightly. "I'll just say good night."

Bill went out and stood in the passage, breathing deeply to get control of himself. He had to be calm about this, civilized. Richard came out a few minutes later, looking at him warily. Bill summoned up a smile from somewhere. "Sorry about that, you scared me. Did you drive here or take a taxi?"

"Taxi."

"That's good. I've got my car—you can come with me."

As they drove, Richard explained how he had met Laura; Bill replying in monosyllables and only processing a fraction of Richard's words. As soon as he shut the door of his flat behind them he grabbed Richard and spun him around to face the wall, placing Richard's hands on the wall and his feet in the classic search position. Then with both hands he pulled Richard's pants down to his ankles, tearing the material in his hurry. He unzipped himself and, still fully dressed, took Richard hard with short, fast thrusts. If he'd had a branding iron with his name on it he couldn't have said it any clearer: mine!

A few minutes later he drew Richard around to face him, feeling guilt and triumph warring on his face. "Sorry about that, but you scared me," he repeated, pulling Richard close. He could feel Richard's heart pounding against his chest.

Richard stepped out of his ruined trousers and said hoarsely, "Let's go to bed."

Later that night as they lay together, Bill turned to Richard. "I love you so much. Never leave me, will you?"

"I love you, too. I'll stay with you as long as I can."

It was not the answer Bill had been hoping for.

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