Grandfather invited me down for a week, to reconnect with him and participate in a foxhunt. He is an accomplished equestrian and a prominent member of his rural Virginia foxhunt club.
I was squeamish about hunting down a defenseless little fox until Grandfather explained that no real fox was involved. In its place, a horse dragged a roped burlap bag, soaked in fox urine. The "hunt" was more of a social event nowadays. The moneyed gentry of the area gather for an afternoon of riding through the countryside with old friends and business connections.
The landing gear hit the runway with a jolt startling me, as the engines reversed thrust, pinning me hard against my seatbelt. Those commuter flights were a real nuisance. The trip from New York City to Richmond was dreary with all the waiting and standing in lines. Travel was tedious but I was so happy to finally be here; happy I was finally going to see my charming, successful grandfather after two long years.
I wouldn't be hard to recognize. My long red hair, faint freckles, and fine features always turned heads. I was at baggage claim when I saw Grandfather's driver. My heart sank with disappointment. Luis, a polite, middle-aged man of Latin origins, gathered my bags before ushering me to a shiny black Lexus.
The ride from the airport through the Virginia countryside to Grandfather's home was long but relaxing. I stretched out my long, toned legs and sank into the soft leather seat, getting comfortable. Looking out the window, the rolling hills eventually gave way to a wide, shallow valley. Autumn was late with the leaves just starting to turn color this early November, bathing the landscape in a wash of green, scarlet and gold.
The car turned off the main highway and veered to the right for several miles down a smaller road. Eventually, the low, white rail fence of my Grandfather's property came into view. The hard gravel road transitioned into a wide circular brick driveway that ended at the front door of his grand, three-story estate.
I was admiring Grandfather's house when Luis jerked opened my car door. Marie, the housekeeper, was on her way out to greet me. Her long black hair was done up in a bun that accentuated her high cheekbones and medium brown skin. She had been grandfather's cook and housekeeper for almost fifteen years.
"Miss Amanda, welcome back! It's been such a long time," her voice sang out with a strong Central American accent.
"Where is my Grandfather?" I demanded, taking my disappointment out on her.
"Miss Amanda, your Grandfather will be home in a few hours. He suggested you relax and freshen up in the meantime. Would you like me to fix you something to eat after your long journey?" Marie asked solicitously.
"No thank you. I'll wait for my Grandfather." I snapped, not even trying to hide my disappointment as I headed up the stairs to the guest room. As I lay on the bed, my mind drifted back to the past few years, to some of the men in my life. The common thread was, they were all handsome, narcissistic and in the final analysis, not very manly. The truth was simple: none of these so-called-men was much of a challenge for me. I knew I needed a change and I hoped getting away from familiar surroundings for a week would help clear my head.
My thoughts then drifted to the last time I was with my Grandfather. We were at a charity ball two years ago. It was quite the elegant affair. I was wearing an expensive gown and a diamond necklace one of my former 'trust fund baby' boyfriends had given me in his futile attempt to seduce me. Grandpa was holding court in the far corner of the room, a champagne glass in his hand. A group of distinguished looking men and their trophy wives surrounded him. Grandfather's date for the evening was a striking Bollywood babe with perfect brown skin, fine features and long, straight, black hair. She kept gawking at him like a schoolgirl with a crush on her English teacher. For his part, Grandfather had his arm entwined with hers but rarely looked at her. He wore her as other men wore a wristwatch and with about as much regard. For me, it was a giant turn-on to watch the way he treated his beautiful companion.
Ever since that evening, Grandfather held a spell over me. His cool detachment, his complete control of every situation exuded power from every pore. He never worried about impressing other people; it was up to other people to impress him. His strength, his overpowering self-confidence were a potent aphrodisiac to me. How I wished I could find a challenging man like that for my very own!
The charity ball was an elegant affair. The men wore tuxedos and the women mostly wore floor-length gowns. I wore a blue gown that was cut high in the front to show off my long legs to good effect. Grandfather wore a black tuxedo that combined with his strong jaw and full head of grey hair reminded me of an arch villain from a James Bond movie. Wherever Grandfather went, he commanded attention and tonight was no exception. We drew a crowd wherever we went that night, or should I say, Grandfather drew a crowd. No one knew who I was but everyone made a point to pay homage to Grandpa. I must have met every judge, politician and CEO in the state of Virginia that night as they all came by to make pay respects and make the usual banal cocktail party small talk. I was oblivious to most of what was said; instead I took in the sights and sounds of the entire room. A small orchestra was playing in the background as a sea of designer gowns, trophy wives and tuxedos swirled around me. This was my grandfather's world, a world dripping of wealth and power and it was intoxicating.
I excused myself to go to the ladies room. As I was at the mirror checking my makeup, I overheard three young women huddled in the corner.
"Who is that short guy with the bad toupee?" The tall one asked.
"Oh, he's a judge, he's loaded, from what my daddy says." Replied a petite blonde.
"Evidently he doesn't spend his money on decent toupees."
They all chuckled at that.
"Did you see Arthur Talbot?" The third one asked.
My ears pricked up because Arthur Talbot is my grandfather.
"Oh, the guy with the nice head of grey hair? Yeah, he's a real big deal from what everyone says," the blonde added. "And you know what else about him, right?"
"No, what?" The other two girls asked in unison.
"He's hung like a horse."
All three giggled like naughty schoolgirls.
"No, really, my sister's best friend, you know, that stuck up bitch, the bikini model? Well, she spent the weekend with him a few months ago and she said he's really put together down there, if you know what I mean and she says he rode her hard all night long. Pretty impressive for a guy his age."
"Wow, all that and rich, too!" The tall one added.
"HMMM," I purred to myself. "My dashing grandfather is a man of many abilities." Honestly, the notion of Grandfather bedding a sexy young girl made me jealous. On the other hand, just thinking of my darling grandfather as a well-hung ladies man made me tingle between my legs especially considering I was his date for the evening. I was beginning to feel a little wet so I quickly thought of something else and headed back to the party.
Upon my return, Grandfather was at the epicenter of a throng of distinguished-looking middle-aged men and their glamorous wives or companions. I grabbed two glasses of champagne from a passing tray and steeled myself to wade through the sea of humanity to reach Grandfather.
"Ah, there she is." Grandfather announced as he looked at me. "Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce my lovely granddaughter, Amanda."
I heard a smattering of applause and I beamed from the approval. I handed Grandpa a glass and put my arm around his waist.
I was busy smiling at everyone but Grandfather hardly noticed me, even though I still had a hold of him. He was busy sounding off about some ideas about free markets and government intervention as I shot him an admiring gaze. His remarks were punctuated by occasional laughter from his audience. The crowd parted as a very lovely woman, mid-forties I would say, snaked her way through the crowd, making a beeline toward Grandfather. She was a beautifully groomed woman with long, blonde hair and dripping with diamond jewelry. Her long satin gown was slit up the sides to reveal her long, toned legs. In her wake, she was towing a young brunette, about eighteen or nineteen, the beauty pageant type.
"Arthur, it's so nice to see you again," She said to my grandfather. "I want to introduce my daughter Elizabeth. She's been anxious to meet you."
Elizabeth offered her hand, giving Grandfather a seductive smile.
"Gretchen, lovely to see you again. You look stunning, my dear! And this is your daughter? Elizabeth, it's a pleasure to meet you. You're a very beautiful woman. Gretchen, you must be very proud of her," Grandfather said.
So that was it! Mom was throwing her dear little Elizabeth Grandfather's way. I held him even tighter now, as if to establish ownership of my dashing Grandfather. My jealous nature came out in spades and I wondered how many other women offered their beautiful daughters to him. I know he had his pick of desirable women; the rumors about Grandfather's conquests were too persistent not to be true.
Grandpa made a few more pleasantries to the pair before he leaned in close to Gretchen whispering, "She's lovely. Call my assistant, Miss DiMartino, at my New York office. She'll be expecting your call. Perhaps the three of us can meet for lunch when I'm in the City."
"Or perhaps just the two of you, if I can't make it," Gretchen answered slyly.
I'm sure I wasn't meant to hear any of that but I picked up every word and I fought hard to conceal my anger. This was MY night with Grandfather and I didn't want to share him with anyone. The rest of the evening was pleasant and I tried not to think of Gretchen shamelessly pimping her daughter to my darling Grandfather.
Back home after the party, Grandfather took me by the arm and led me into the livingroom for a late night drink by the fireplace. The only light in the room came from the flames as they danced across the walls and onto the ceiling, creating a symphony of light and shadow. Grandpa offered me a cognac and the strong taste burned as it trickled down my throat.
"Grandfather, how can you drink this stuff, it's so strong?"
He laughed at my distress, "I felt that way the first few times I tried it but I got used to it and over the years, I've come to appreciate a fine cognac very much. I drink to your beauty, dear Amanda. You look stunning this evening. I was so proud to have you on my arm."
I was beaming. Grandfather finally let down his façade and gave me a compliment.
"Grandfather, you flatter me. You look so dashing in your tuxedo. My gawd, you deserved to have a glamorous starlet on your arm tonight instead of plain old me." I gushed, shamelessly fishing for a compliment.
"Darling Amanda, you could NEVER be plain. You were the highlight of the evening. I daresay you put every other woman there to shame"
"Every other woman, including Elizabeth? I heard every word you and her mother whispered. You're going to meet her in New York and take her to your bed, aren't you?" My eyes were two laser beams boring a hole in his forehead.
Grandfather paused and looked directly into my eyes and held his gaze, "Whether I do or not is of no consequence to you, Amanda. Doubtless you've heard many things about me. I know your mother, especially, loves to gossip about all of my conquests, real or imagined. I make no secret of the fact I have my pick of very desirable young women. Tonight, however, no one even came close to measuring up to you and I mean that."
I heard my heart beating faster and faster. My hands trembled slightly as my nervous system went into overdrive from my grandfather's compliments and the matter-of-fact way he talked about women.
"Well, thank you for your compliment, Grandfather. I hope I never disappoint you." I gushed.
Grandfather leaned in to gently kiss me on the cheek as he whispered, "I hope you never do either, Amanda."
My heart sank at the sound of those words; coming from a man as powerful as him, they sounded like a warning. I had no idea what he was getting at and I quickly put it out of my mind. It was time for bed and we had to get up very early the next morning for the fox hunt. I wanted to end the evening on an up note so I stood up and leaned over my dashing grandfather and pronounced, "Well, Grandfather, as your lovely date for the evening, I am going to exercise my prerogative, I'm going to give you not one, but two good night kisses. "One here," as I leaned over and kissed his cheek, "And one right here" as I put my moist lips directly on his and gave him a closed mouth kiss. I made sure I held the kiss a long time before I pulled away.
He looked up at me and for an unguarded moment, I swore there was a look of desire in those steely grey eyes.
"Good night, Grandfather, don't let the bedbugs bite," I laughed as I seductively slinked up the stairs.
I looked back over my shoulder to gauge the effect I was having on him but he was already back to studying a message on his Blackberry. He was a cool customer, that grandpa of mine!
Flirting with Grandfather made me giddy. I enjoyed toying with him. No man in my life had ever been a challenge to me until now. My good looks and self-confidence always gave me the upper hand with men but there was always something lacking. I needed a real man in my life, someone I couldn't intimidate. I wanted a man who was just out of reach. Naturally, my mind instantly ran to thoughts of Grandfather and I let out a nervous laugh at the thought of him running his big strong hands over my smooth, yielding body. Before my impure thoughts consumed me, the long evening of standing, small talk, and alcohol overtook me and I fell asleep thinking about the foxhunt that began in the morning.
I woke up even before the alarm clock went off. I was really excited to see Grandfather in his riding clothes and riding his horse like a fine country gentleman. We arrived early at the riding club for the traditional pre-hunt breakfast where lots of his old chums and business acquaintances dropped by to say hello and make a bit of small talk. The unceasing barking of the hounds, primed for the day's adventure, echoed faintly in the distance.
"Grandfather, please don't let me hold you back today. You're a much better rider than me so you just stay up ahead with your friends. I know everyone wants some time with you today."
"Don't you worry about a thing Mandy. I'll hang back a little to keep an eye on you. You are my number one priority today. I want you to enjoy this so just take your time, I'm sure you'll do just fine." Grandpa said as he patted my hand reassuringly.
Soon after, the Master of Foxhounds called for everyone to assemble and mount up. The hounds were brought up from the assembly area to the front of the pack of horses and their barking grew louder and louder. I hoped Grandpa had picked a gentle mount for me because these horses looked so big and I was more than a little intimidated. He cut quite the dashing figure in his red riding coat and white breeches. He sat ramrod straight on his mount, reminding me of a cavalry officer from a picture in a history book.
Soon the hunt was on and I saw movement up ahead as horses and dismounted participants moved forward. Dismounted handlers kept the hounds bunched together and moving forward in pursuit of the "fox."
The trail opened up to a wide, open field. A sea of scarlet jackets bobbed up and down in the early November sunlight; their mounts in hot pursuit of the prize. I was content to trot along at a slower and more controlled pace. There were a few horses behind me so I wasn't in danger of getting lost. I was actually starting to feel confident. This was going to be a fun day after all.
I lost all sight of Grandfather but I concentrated on my own horse and I made good progress. At the end of the field was a low hill. The other side of the hill fed down into a low area blocked by a hedgerow. Most riders jumped the hedge with ease but since I had never jumped a horse, I chose to go around.
The countryside was stunning. The hills still had some green color and the trees clung to their last red and gold leaves. My horse seemed to know the way better than I did so I felt relaxed. My bottom was getting a little sore from slapping up and down on the English saddle as the first dark clouds moved overhead. The trail elevated again as it penetrated a thick line of trees. I was now in a thick maze of trees and undergrowth. The trail narrowed to more of a dirt path. Off to the right was a high hedge. To the left, a wide creek snaked through the woods. I was beginning to feel claustrophobic and my horse neighed nervously.
Suddenly, grey clouds turned black overhead and the sharp report of thunder reverberated throughout the valley. My horse spooked as it halted then spun around uncontrollably. I pulled the reins in the other direction to get him turned back down the path but he kicked up his legs and almost threw me. He startled me and I yelled. He moved back and forth as if he was scared or confused. I was still trying to get control of this animal when I saw a blur in the corner of my eye.
It was my grandfather, his horse popping up from the creek bank. "Honey, are you all right?" Grandfather yelled.
"Grandfather, I can't control him! Make him stop!" I shouted.
Grandfather rode near enough to grab my reins and pulled my horse near him. He flicked the reins of his horse and kicked his spurs. Both horses shot forward and I screamed in panic.
"Grandpa! Grandpa! Stop! Stop!" I cried.
"Hold on tight and keep your head down!" He commanded.
"YAW! YAW!" He yelled repeatedly at his steed to drive him forward even faster. Both horses were galloping at top speed down the narrow dirt path, the creek winding precariously near. I had no idea why Grandpa was riding so fast and all I got in reply to my plea to slow down was more "YAW! YAW!"
"Grandfather, PLEASE!" I protested as each horse veered hard right directly into the thick hedgerow.
Overhead, thunderclaps resounded again and the sky opened up. Raindrops hissed as they pelted tree limbs and leaves.
"Keep your head down!" Grandfather commanded.
Suddenly his horse disappeared into a narrow, almost imperceptible opening in the hedge, pulling my horse close behind. I pulled my arm up to shield my face from branches reaching out to swipe my head and shoulders.
We continued the wild gallop up a small rise, hooves kicking up dirt as they flew down the rough path. Off to the left we flew before the path veered sharply back to the right and finally leveled off. We were in a different world now. Overhead a canopy of dense trees obscured the dark grey sky. On either side of the narrow track was a dense, impenetrable thicket of forest undergrowth.
My heart almost leaped out of my throat and I suddenly realized I had been screaming at the top of my lungs ever since we entered the thicket. The rain continued to pour, turning my blouse to a wet dishrag. My soaked breeches sloshed as I bounced up and down on the saddle. I was about to yell at Grandfather again to slow down when suddenly the claustrophobic path opened up to reveal a small two-story cottage in a clearing directly in front of us. The sky opened up even more now and I was soaked to the skin. The only part of me that was dry was my hair, which I had pinned up under my riding hat After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the back of the cottage to an enclosure where Granddad tied up the horses to protect them from the rain. I was still on my horse and delirious from my ordeal when Grandfather grabbed me by the waist and in one single motion, swung me off my mount. As my feet hit the ground, he grabbed my arm as we ran to the front porch of the cottage; our riding clothes no protection from the unceasing rain. He unlocked the door and gently pushed me inside.