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Authors: Roberta Latow

Her One Obsession

Her One Obsession

Roberta Latow

Copyright © 1998 by Roberta Latow

For Peter Dyne
in gratitude

To love him even more is erotic intensity,
corrupting sensual delight that rides on the wind.
A never-ending storm of obsessive love.

The Epic of Artimadon

Chapter 1

The house was quiet except for the sound of the electric mixer beating a batter for her pineapple upside-down cake. It was hot with not even a breeze to ease the stifling heat she loathed and Gideon adored. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand and visualised her husband in his studio, naked save for a pair of navy blue swimming trunks. They were always navy blue, boxer-style, his Fire Island summer working costume. Gideon, his chunky muscular frame glistening with sweat as he worked feverishly on a painting, was still after thirty years the passion of her life.

She walked from the kitchen counter to the refrigerator, opened the pair of stainless steel doors and perused her morning’s work: a clear glass bowl of creamy white potato soup with a sprinkling of snipped fresh chives; a platter proffering a mound of lobster chunks bound in her home-made mayonnaise, the orange-red claws already cracked and arranged round it; long, green asparagus dressed with her special vinaigrette; a plate of crispy Cos lettuce, to be served with a Roquefort dressing, looking crisp and crunchy; ramekins of rich chocolate mousse and crème caramel. This was
her
work of art, all the things Gideon liked to eat, food she had mastered the making of to perfection.

She felt a sense of pride at what she saw, just imagining Gideon’s delight on opening the fridge and declaring what he wanted for his lunch excited her. Pleasing her husband was, after all, what she lived for. It was her excitement, satisfaction, somehow enormously erotic to her. She closed the fridge doors and returned to her mixer, checked the batter, and began laying pineapple rings in the bottom of the square baking tin.

The kitchen smelled of fresh-baked bread, cinnamon, cooking apples and sultanas from a pie she had made earlier. It was her
domain, but not her only one. She was the mistress not only of the Fire Island compound but of a house on another island, Hydra in Greece, and besides that a three-floor loft space where Gideon worked and they lived, in SoHo, New York City.

Dendre Palenberg lived in three homes and two worlds: her husband’s, and her own very private world of dreams and imaginings of how she would like Gideon to love her, rather than how he actually did. A fantasy to play with, nothing more. She had come to terms with that soon after they had met and married. How he loved her had not stopped her from loving him and the life he provided for her. She was a lady who knew how to live happily with compromise.

She heard the sea plane before she saw it coming in over the ocean. It circled the house once, twice: the signal that the passenger or passengers aboard expected to be met.

‘Oh, damn,’ she said aloud as she looked over the kitchen sink through the window. To herself she added, Where are the girls when I need them?

Gideon never met the plane. The children, if they had been there, might have, especially if the visitors were a mystery as these were. Who had Gideon asked for lunch and forgotten to tell her about? There was no surprise in that. It was rather the norm for him whose habit it was to extend a spontaneous invitation then forget all about it. A collector? A dealer? Some fun people to amuse him for a few hours? A pretty girl who inspired his lust enough to be a muse for him, at least for a while? His latest short-lived mistress? An artist friend of whom there were many? Yet another art historian? For certain it was not an art journalist or magazine editor. His dealer, Haver Savage, would have handled that and put Dendre on notice. That was about the only time the famous dealer ever communicated with her. Was it Haver himself?

Well, whoever it was, it was up to her to see that the plane was met. And that in the middle of assembling her pineapple upside down cake. What a nuisance! Especially so since she had fantasised all morning that she and Gideon might have lunch alone together. And that
was
a fantasy. They almost never had lunch alone together. Dining at the Palenbergs’ Fire Island compound was always a plethora of food and people. There was the extended family to be considered: Gideon’s three
assistants and two handymen; Dendre’s house staff of two – the indispensable Yukio, who acted as
major domo,
and Kitty the cleaner and cook who was rarely allowed in the kitchen; then there were the Palenbergs’ three daughters, Daisy, Pieta and Amber. And one never knew who else would knock at the screen door and join the table. Usually if they dared they were welcome.

Gideon had been especially attentive when he’d awakened that morning. The sex they’d had together had been fiercely exciting for them both. Dendre could always tell what mood he was in by the manner in which he took command of their waking moments which happened most every time they slept together. This morning he had been happy, bursting with life and energy, powerful in his lust. He had told her as he sometimes did, in moments of passion, ‘I will always love you more than any of the others.’

Dendre believed him. That was how she had survived years of his sexual peccadilloes. She could empathise with the other women’s infatuation; she was herself still burning for Gideon, still a victim, as were they all, of his power as a man and a great artist; still ready to be seduced by his charismatic sensuality and his genius.

She was aware that she loved him obsessively and accepted that happily as
her
life. The way the art world laughed at her behind her back for being a dupe, for never having risen above her Brooklyn Jewish roots and being the kitchen drudge, the house-proud
frau
, meant nothing to her. She had the man they all wanted. It was
they
who had to toady to her to get to him, not the other way around. In the eyes of the world she was ‘the painter’s wife’, the model for the many portraits that hung in prestigious museums and on the walls of collectors’ homes in five continents. For that reason alone she was perceived as an important figure.

The plane buzzed the house one more time. That was unusual. Dendre turned off the mixer and snatched her daughter Daisy’s sarong that had been left draped over the back of a kitchen chair. She wrapped it round her to cover herself and her one-piece black bathing suit,
her
daytime Fire Island wardrobe. From the rack at the back door she grabbed a battered wide-brimmed straw hat and slammed it carelessly on her head over the bright yellow scarf already covering her long, naturally curly, black hair. Stepping from the kitchen on to the wooden deck, she looked across the
sprawling compound for someone. But it was quiet, with no sign of life anywhere.

She selected one of the small red wagons from a line of them under the deck and, taking hold of it by its long black metal handle, started across the sand to the boardwalk that led to the bay and the rickety wooden dock where their guests landed either by plane or boat. The wagon was for the luggage or any parcels that might be arriving on the plane.

Fire Island had no cars. People and goods arrived by private or public ferry boats that criss-crossed the bay from mainland Long Island to the various communities stretched along the long narrow strip of sand dunes that made up this island retreat for holidaying New Yorkers. The more affluent arrived and departed regularly by plane. However, no matter how they arrived on the island, residents and guests usually had to walk to and from their houses dragging wagons to carry their groceries, luggage, and all manner of goods deemed necessary to summer survival.

Only the sound of the rubber wheels bumping across the wooden slats of the long narrow boardwalk broke the uncanny silence. Dendre’s feet were burning from the intense heat of the bare boards so she stopped and retrieved a pair of sandals she kept in the wagon and slipped them on. She had covered only a short distance and was approaching Gideon’s vast studio when, much to her astonishment, she saw her husband emerge from it at a run towards the landing dock.

He seemed to glow with excitement. His light brown hair, streaked blond from the sun and mixed with strands of grey, shone in the brightness of the day, as did his tanned, muscular and seriously sexy body. He looked every inch the erotic soul, the passionate heart, a man familiar with both agony and ecstasy. The power of his passions, his grip on life, was awesome, more so because of his near-nakedness, save for the blue swimming trunks. But had he been dressed in a suit and tie it wouldn’t have made much difference. It was all there in his eyes: large, of a brown so dark they were nearly black, and sparkling with life and intelligence. They were mischievous, sexy eyes set wide apart in a large square masculine face with a straight Roman nose, high cheekbones, a dimple in the right cheek.

For a brief moment Dendre was able to gaze into his eyes.
He did not see her. It was as if she were invisible. That hurt. So much so that she stood still and watched him run, unable to utter a word. She blanked from her mind yet again that look she had seen too many times in Gideon’s eyes: the thrill of the chase for someone other than herself. Dendre turned the little red wagon around and headed back to the house to finish her pineapple upside-down cake.

It was nearly two hours before Gideon and Adair walked arm in arm into Dendre’s kitchen. Two of the girls, Pieta and Amber, had come in from the beach with a young man, a concert flautist who lived several houses away from the compound. Adam Soral on occasion played his flute for Gideon in the studio while he worked. Pieta and Amber, after a brief but friendly greeting to Adair, snatched their father away from her and dragged him over to Adam.

Dendre smiled across the room at Adair and told her, ‘Nothing fancy but a good lunch. I’m glad you were able to come and share it with us.’

Adair smiled back, wondering at Dendre’s composure. Surely she must understand after the six months of open affection Adair and Gideon had displayed for each other that they were seriously involved in both a loving and a sexual relationship? Adair could never quite decide if it was just composure or if Dendre was in fact much cleverer than she appeared to be. Was she hoping to ride out this affair as she had so many others? Well, not this one, Adair told herself.

It wasn’t very often that she thought of Gideon’s wife. But somehow today she found herself taking stock of her rival. Dendre did have a good body, very sexy, and surprisingly youthful-looking for a woman her age. For a few seconds she imagined Dendre out of her black bathing suit, Gideon poised lustfully over that body. Then she dismissed it from her mind. Dendre simply did not exist for Adair as anything other than the nearly invisible wife. She was, after all, no threat, this drudge whose face was more interesting than mannequin-beautiful, with the long aristocratic nose that seemed to fill it. But the dark, nearly black, almond-shaped eyes, full of passion and intelligence, appeared frozen in a middle-class vacuum that stopped her from being more than she was. How
wasted the high cheekbones and lovely sensuous lips, that long slender neck, because of Dendre’s lack of style. Adair saw in her a kind of inverted snobbery and, no matter how well hidden, an arrogance. She believed herself above cosmetics, designer labels, any sort – no matter how restrained – of Fifth Avenue chic. She still dressed and looked humdrum bargain-basement Brooklyn, this woman whose husband’s paintings fetched millions of dollars.

Adair felt pity for Dendre Palenberg. The younger woman found everything about her pathetic: her enslavement to Gideon, her obsessive love for her husband, her adoration of domesticity which Adair saw as a trap that ate up a woman’s life. The way she behaved to Gideon in public irritated Adair as well as much of the art world; to her he was just a husband, not a genius. She was most definitely a bourgeois wife, not a true muse. That was just fine with Adair who had no desire to replace her. Adair had just the relationship she wanted with Gideon. They met each other’s needs, added to each other’s lives. Sex and intelligence, a passion for greatness in art, bound them together. Not home-made mayonnaise.

Looking across the kitchen at Adair standing alone, glowing with youth and beauty and the bloom that comes when a woman has been made love to as well as fucked, Dendre realised for the first time that Adair was offering Gideon everything that Dendre herself never could. For a few seconds the two women gazed into each other’s eyes and Dendre felt Adair’s indifference to her. She, Dendre, Gideon’s wife, was not even a rival to be dispensed with, just an object to be ignored.

Dendre broke that gaze with the excuse that she had to go to the larder for something. It took a great deal of self-control not to lose her composure and run from the kitchen because she sensed in that look Adair Corning’s sheer disbelief that Gideon could love this woman.

In the larder Dendre sat down on a butcher’s block, placed her hands over her face and took deep breaths to regain her composure. Then she did what she always had when another woman had come into their lives and Gideon strayed: she blocked out her fear of losing him by coming to the conclusion that a fling is not a wife, and
she
was Gideon Palenberg’s wife. The woman he could never live without.

Dendre remained in the larder for a few more minutes, thinking dispassionately about Adair Corning. It had been that gaze that had thrown her off balance. It had somehow undermined her denial of who this woman was and how far she had infiltrated their lives.

She remembered seeing the impressively beautiful and chic Adair Corning in the upper echelons of the artistic circles the Palenbergs travelled in long before they ever met. Dendre had watched her from a distance, this Bennington graduate who had majored in art for most of her life, and was the intimate friend of great painters and sculptors who vied for her attention. She was the budding art historian with something special to offer. Adair was fêted: a sharp wit who had in equal measure a fierce intelligence and a sureness of self, a sensuality that seduced, an independence that excited those men she wanted, got, and hung on to until she tossed them away when they no longer added anything to her life but only infringed upon it.

Dendre had for a long time envied her for the string of suitors craving her attention, even though it was well known that Adair had a penchant for older married men of great talent and power who embraced her and her ability to be a muse to them. She was a formidable presence in the art world, giving more than a few art historians a run for their careers.

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