A Certain Age book cover

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A Certain Age

Beatriz Williams

 

The Roaring Twenties come brilliantly to life in this enchanting tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal in New York Society, brimming with lush atmosphere, striking characters, and irresistible charm.

As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.

But when Octavian meets Miss Sophie Fortescue, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression.

This title will run until April 30.

Chapter One

Long Island, New York, on the second day of 1922

During the night, I dream that my husband arrives unexpectedly from Manhattan, in a plume of sultry exhaust from the engine of his Buick Battistini speedster, and let me tell you, the intrusion is most unwelcome.

To be sure, outside of feverish dreams, the possibility’s remote. I have no doubt that, at the instant my dream-husband’s wheels disturb the dream-gravel outside, the genuine Mr. Marshall lies in cetacean slumber on the bed of that jewel-box apartment on Sutton Place he’s bought for his mistress, this being the second night of the New Year and one conveniently placed on the calendar for adulterous pursuits. In any case, he’s not the sort of man to storm down a frozen highway at dawn. Mr. Marshall’s manners are impeccable.

Still, the very suggestion is enough to awaken me, lathered and breathless, from a state of abandoned repose. The room is heavy with that charcoal light that arrives just before dawn, and since it’s a small room, unheated, unpainted, perched above the dusty remains of a pair of carriages made redundant by the ilk of Mr. Ford, I can’t quite decide where I am, except that the place feels like home.

A mattress sags beneath my hips, and the sheet is flannel, musty, like an Adirondack cabin. I’m borne down by the weight of a thousand wool blankets, and someone is smoking a cigarette.

I roll on my side. “Boyo?”

The Boy stands by the window, matched in color to the smoke that trails from his hand. His shoulders are the exact width of the sash, and just as level, from clavicle to humerus. I have forgotten the substance of my dream, or why it terrified me; my breathing returns to normal at this indisputable proof of a male companion. Without turning, without even twitching—he is absolutely the stillest man I’ve ever known—he says: “I keep wondering, are you going to call me that when I’m sixty?”

Yes, the room is dark and cold, and the blankets are heavy, and underneath those blankets I’m as naked as an innocent babe, though the resemblance to both babes and innocence ends there. I sit up anyway and hold out my arms. “You’ll always be my Boyo. My lovely laddie.”

He steps to the bed and sits down on the edge, entering obediently into my embrace. His skin is icy, the flesh underneath as hot as blazes. “There’s a car outside,” he says, after kissing me, as if this piece of information is of no consequence whatever.

I sort of startle. The Boy’s arms, which are planted on either side of my hips, prevent me from startling too much.

“A car?”

“Yes.”

“What make?”

“Can’t tell. It’s too dark.” He picks up my arm and kisses the skin of my inner elbow.

“Saloon or coupé?”

“Coupé. Sit still, will you?”

I struggle to drag my arm away from his lips, and he won’t let me. “For God’s sake, Boyo, have you gone loony in the night? Where are my clothes?”

“Why? He’s not getting out.”

I swear. The Boy, who doesn’t like me to take the name of his Lord in vain, applies the pad of his thumb to the center of my lips. I open my mouth and bite him.

“Ouch!”

“It’s Sylvo. It’s got to be Sylvo.”

“So what?”

“So what? My husband’s at the door, and you have to ask?”

“He’s not at the door, Theresa. He’s sitting in the car. Smoking a cigarette. Probably lit.”

“But he’s going to come out eventually.”

“Maybe.” The Boy shrugs. “No need to rush him, though.”

There is little purpose to stirring up the Boy when he won’t be stirred. His cold nerves kept him alive in France, and I guess they’ll keep him alive now. It’s Sylvester I’m worried about now. I sink back into the pillows. The Boy follows me. “You have to hide in the cupboard when he makes up his mind,” I tell him.

“I’m not hiding in any cupboard.”

“Yes, you are. I don’t want a scene, Boyo.”

The Boy finishes the cigarette at his leisure, exhaling the smoke directly from his mouth into mine, and crushes out the stub in the sardine tin on the floor next to the bed. (The Boy is awfully clever at improvising ashtrays from the raw materials at hand.) He knows exactly where the target lies, and his gaze remains on my face throughout this little operation. I think that’s one of the little tricks that drew me in, all those months ago: his concentration.n His refusal to be hurried. “There’s only one reason your husband’s here,” he says, “and that’s because he knows I’m here. So there’s no point hiding in cupboards, even if we had a cupboard, and even if I were inclined to hide. Which I’m not.”

“Why do you want to make things difficult for me?”

“Why do you make things hard for me?” He takes a piece of my hair between his thumb and forefinger, rubs it once or twice, and curls it tidily behind my ear. “I play by your rules, don’t I? I do what you want.”

“Most of the time.”

“All right, then. So let me handle this one.”

He lowers his head to my neck. I place my two hands on his shoulders and push, without much result. “How can you kiss me at a time like this?”

“Because I’m your Boy, aren’t I? You’re my baby. Kissing you is what I do, after a hard day’s work. It’s what makes me tick. It’s who I am.”

The Boy is built like a reed, or maybe a rope—that’s it—coiled neat and tight into a knot you can’t break. If he wants to sit here kissing me, I’m not going to stop him, at least not by force. You can’t force the Boy into anything, you have to uncoil him first. Only his lips are soft.

It’s who I am, he says. But who are you, Boyo? I’ve been puzzling that for a year and a half, and I could go on forever, at this rate.

So I think of something. “I’m no baby. When you’re sixty, I’ll be eighty-two.”

“Well, now. Here’s what I figure. As long as I’m your Boy, you’re my baby.”

As long as he’s my Boy. But then who am I, Boyo? What am I doing here, puzzling over you? How did I—Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue, Manhattan—become one half of you-and-me?

I don’t think I know the answer. Something is lost. Something has gone missing inside that you-and-me, and I suspect it’s me.

He is twenty-two years old, my Boy, and therefore a man, in the eyes of his almighty Lord God and of the law. He looks like a man, all the more now than when I first saw him. That was the summer of 1920, a year and a half ago, and he was a man in a boy’s skin, let me tell you, a perfect pink-cheeked Boyo, young lips and old eyes. How he fastened on me. It’s a heady thing, you know. And it was July, a late-night Long Island Fourth of July party, warm and slow and syncopated, dark and dreamlike, the sweat melting off the highball glasses and entering your palms. Someone told me he flew airplanes in France, had only just returned, the sole man in his squadron to survive, but then they always say that, don’t they? The only man in his squadron to come home alive! He’s never one of three survivors, or ten. All the other poor sons of bitches have to die, in order to render the cocktail conversation more breathless, the chitchat tip-top, the midsummer ennui less oppressive.

He was standing near the swimming pool. I thought he was much too young for me, but maybe that was why I was interested. As I waded through the air in his general direction, I became conscious of his puncturing gaze, and the wavelets glimmering on the skin of his face, the exact size and shape of a leopard’s spots. This general impression—the Boy as predatory cat—aroused all my early interaction with him, and it was not until much later that I realized just how wrong I was.

By then, of course, it was far too late.

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