On the platform at Union Station, snow embellished the encroaching dark with shifting skeins of swirling white. Eloise could feel the chill through the silk stockings on her calves.
She was twenty-five years old, already a widow after four years of marriage to a man who had never given her cause to feel strongly one way or another about anything. Twice during this marriage, her husband’s cousin, a successful rancher “out west,” had visited the couple. Henry Pickles was a plainspoken, plain-featured, socially awkward, largely humourless fellow, but he had won Eloise with his frank admiration of her and envy of her husband. Henry had waited exactly one year from the day his unfortunate cousin succumbed to a virulent influenza before penning a short, sincere, and persuasive message, asking Eloise to be his wife.
She had no other prospects and was eager to leave the claustrophobic world of the upstate New York town where she had passed a quiet and unremarkable life. Henry had included a photograph of her new home, a stucco ranch house with a deep porch, a tiled roof flanked by two large mystery trees, and a truck parked to one side. A rancher’s wife, she thought. She might learn to ride a horse.
Henry Pickles, her family agreed, had done well for himself, and Eloise’s hope that her new husband might be more attentive to her feelings than his cousin was strengthened when he sent her a first-class ticket to Reno.
As she bustled along the platform, she spotted the porter who had taken her bags earlier waving her to a carriage with the word “First” stencilled in gold on the door. She climbed the three steps to the vestibule and stepped into a narrow, carpeted hall lined with tall windows on one side and shiny wine-red door panels on the other, each marked discreetly with a gold leaf number. Hers was number 3.
After a solitary meal in the dining car, she returned to her compartment and stripped off her clothes. She stood at the sink, soaping her armpits and breasts, her stomach and crotch, then rubbing herself everywhere she could reach with a cool, wet washcloth, and finally rinsing herself down with the handheld shower. She pulled on her gown, unpinned her hair, and sat on the desk chair brushing it while the miles slipped away beneath her feet.
A flash of light on the wall made her turn to the window. The train was passing through a town; a few cars were lined up at a crossing. Eloise crawled across the bed and knelt before the window, switching on the reading light. She opened her gown and shrugged it from her shoulders. It made her feel reckless and oddly powerful to know that some stranger waiting listlessly in his car at a crossing might look up at the bright window of the train streaking past and see her kneeling there, her bare flesh golden in the lamplight—then gone in a flash, like a dream.
"Her bare flesh golden in the lamplight, then gone in a flash, like a dream"
The reading light was still on when she awoke to a screech of brakes and a jolt. The train screamed and clattered to a halt. Raised voices filled the air. Through the window she could see two men with flashlights running toward the front of the train. There were popping sounds—two, then one more. Gunshots? She heard the heavy carriage door clanging open, the sound of running footsteps down the corridor, then the door at the other end, opening and whooshing closed.
She sat up, groggy and confused, hastily pulling on her dressing gown, tying the sash at her waist. Again the whoosh and whine of the carriage door, this time from the front. Footsteps approached, not hurried. Almost hesitant. It must be the porter, she thought. She could ask him what was happening. She went to the door to open the latch, but just as her fingers turned the steel deadbolt, the panel jerked abruptly from her hand, slid halfway open, and a bear burst into the compartment, knocking her to the floor.
The creature yanked the door closed and lurched across the bed. As it surged past her, she felt the cold rising from the luxuriant fur and heard more running and shouting outside the train. The bear flicked off the light, and the moonlight flooded the bed with a pearly glow. She lay flat on her back on the carpet, utterly confused. Was this a dream?
The bear turned its head, looking back at her. “I really have to thank you for not screaming,” it said.
Of course, it was a man. The bear was a coat. The man had black eyes, long, straight black hair. How improved relations between the sexes might be, Eloise thought, if every man began his acquaintance by thanking the woman for not screaming.
He moved to the edge of the bed, looking down at her, his brow furrowed with anxiety. “Are you hurt?” he asked. “I didn’t mean to be rough, but I needed to turn out the light. They can see in if it’s on.”
Eloise raised herself to her elbows, panting lightly. The gown had come open; she was utterly exposed, her legs splayed apart, her breasts lifted. She made no effort to adjust her garment. “I’m okay,” she said. “Just shocked.”
“You look like an angel thrown down from heaven,” he observed cheerfully. He unwrapped a gray silk scarf from around his neck. “My partners got the gold, but it looks like I found the real treasure.” He began unfastening the coat. “It’s warm in here,” he said. He shrugged off the coat and spread it out, fur side up.
“Did you stop the train?” she asked.
“We did. The plan went fine, but I got caught between the cars, and they came after me.”
“What will you do now?”
He looked around the little room, then back at Eloise. She hadn’t moved. “I know what I’d like to do.”
“And what is that?”
“Pick you up off the floor and lay you down on my coat here.”
“And then what?”
He smiled, a toothy, lupine grin. He was clean-shaven and square jawed, with high cheekbones and a smooth complexion. His black hair had fallen across his face and he pushed it back with one hand. “Start slow,” he said. “With a kiss.”
Eloise was caught between the sense that she should be terrified, and the certainty that she wasn’t frightened at all; that, in fact, this man enlivened her in a way she didn’t recognise. She sat up and held her arms out to him. He leaned forward, catching her across her back and beneath her knees, and lifted her in one quick movement, settling her down smoothly on the chilly fur.
“Just lie still,” he said, leaning over her. He took up a pillow, lifted her head, and fanned her hair out over the linen. His lips touched her forehead, then he sat back and began unbuttoning his soft chamois vest. Two voices shouted, one answering the other, then with a shudder, a huff, and a jolt, the train began to move. “What’s your name, my dear?” he asked.
“Eloise,” she said. “What’s yours?”
“It’s probably best you don’t know that. You can make up a name for me if you like.” He stripped off the vest and then the flannel shirt underneath. There was yet another shirt under that. She repressed a little surge of impatience.
“I’ll think of something,” she said.
Off came the undershirt, revealing a strong, furless chest. “And where are you bound, all alone in this fancy accommodation?”
“I’m going to Reno to be married,” she said simply.
“Ah,” he said. “Not yet a bride.”
“He will be my second husband. My first one died.”
He stood up, sliding his trousers down, turning toward her as he processed this information. “So,” he said, with undisguised relief, “not a virgin.”
No underwear, she observed, glancing quickly at his cock, which stood at half-mast. It moved lightly, as if waving at her.
She laughed. “No.”
He sat down again, struggling with his boots. She turned her gaze to the moon, which seemed to be tethered to the train, bobbing along helplessly as the engine accelerated. When she looked back, he was naked, leaning toward her with one arm braced against the mattress. Their eyes met and held. Eloise caught her breath. So much in that look—so much curiosity, so much excitement, so much trust. He laid his palm along her cheek, while his eyes traveled down to her feet and, slowly, appraisingly, back again. “You’re lovely, Eloise,” he said.
Eloise felt a rush of blood to her cheeks, but she wasn’t blushing from modesty. She was thinking that she felt lovely. His hair brushed across her face as he closed the space between them, until his lips were pressing hers. It was a slow, exploratory kiss, his tongue lightly seeking hers, quickly withdrawing.
"It was a slow, exploratory kiss, his tongue lightly seeking hers"
She put her arms around his neck and clung to him as he shifted his body alongside her. Then he did with his hands what he’d done with his eyes, moving from her neck to her breasts, circling her waist, down her back to her buttocks, exploring her, pulling her in closer, while her hands played across his shoulders and she brought her mouth to his sternum, pressing little kisses there.
He lifted his torso, readjusting her against him so he could press his mouth against her breasts. He circled the nipples delicately with his tongue, then took one in his mouth, sucking gently. She felt this first as a surprise and then as a plunging sensation, like a fishing line weighed by a lead sinker, down through her center to her womb. As if to follow it, his hand moved to her groin, and with the flat of three fingers massaged the flesh over the pubic bone, slowly and circularly, gradually sliding down and inside, while the insistent sucking at her nipple kept her motionless and rapt.
She opened her eyes and gazed blankly at the coffered ceiling while sensations of ease and sensual pleasure washed over her, and from somewhere deep in her throat a vibration started that issued from her parted lips as a deep, guttural sigh. Her lover covered her mouth with his own, then slipped down her torso, leaving a trail of kisses until his mouth found her sex and he replaced his fingers with his tongue.
This tongue was like a living creature, now pointed and forceful as a finger, now flat, warm, and wet, lapping lazily at her until she sighed from deep within her chest. Holding her hips between his hands, he pulled her down until her head slipped from the pillow. Her hands drifted down and clutched his hair, her fingers riffling through it tenderly.
He rose up over her, his eyes clouded with desire. Smoothly, he fitted his cock inside her and she lifted her legs around his back, holding on tight. It seemed to her that her whole body was drawing him in ever deeper, while the rocking motion of the carriage, the dull roar of the engine, the racket of the pistons, and steady churning of the wheels combined to drive all thoughts but one from her mind, and that one a single word: Yes.
They rested and shared their wonder at finding each other. “When that latch flipped to open, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said.
“I was calling you,” she said.
He nuzzled her neck, whispering into her hair, “You were calling me.” They lay still, side by side, nestled deep in the fur.
Her skin felt electric beneath his touch, as if his fingers drew a current through her veins. He gripped her buttocks. “Hold on,” he said. “We’re turning over.” And over she went, coming out on top. She sat up, stretching her back, her neck, still joined to him, yet free. She rested her hands on his chest and pushed her hips down hard. “Oh,” she said, touching her flesh below her navel. “It feels like you’re up to here.”
“I’m heading for your heart,” he replied.
She squirmed, raising her arms over her head while he began thrusting up and up beneath her. She held on tightly with her thighs, laughing at the wildness rising in them both. She felt her eyes roll back in her head. Her hands, fluttering frantically about for anything to hold, found his shoulders and gripped with all their strength. Her orgasm was not the pleasant shivering she had experienced earlier, but a powerful, convulsive clenching and unclenching that wrenched a cry of joy from her throat. For a moment, the world went red.
"Her skin felt electric beneath his touch"
When her vision cleared, she looked down to see his brow knit as in concentration. He gasped for air, his eyes closed tightly. Then, as his back stiffened beneath her, he opened his eyes and a deep, throaty groan answered her cry. She folded over him, burrowing her face in his chest as his arms came across her back, holding her firmly in place.
They rested again. They were sweating, and wet from sex. Eloise got up and fetched a cool cloth from the bathroom. They wiped each other down, ate all the chocolates. They talked, giddy with their secret pleasure.
He would have to leave the train after they crossed into Nebraska. The first stop was Cheyenne, but that wasn’t until mid-morning. Somewhere in the midst of a caress, they fell asleep in each other’s arms.
“I’d better get ready,” he said the next morning. He glanced at the clock. “We’ll be in Cheyenne in fifteen minutes.”
They faced each other, dressed and presentable, like an ordinary couple. Tears filled her eyes as he drew her to him for a final embrace, a kiss so hungry and deep her knees buckled and she clung to his neck. The train had slowed to a crawl. “Cheyenne,” the conductor shouted.
He released her, stepping back as she opened the door into the hall. “Now,” she said. Without looking back, she walked briskly down the corridor.
By the time Eloise returned to her compartment, the train was pulling out of the station. Her startled eyes fell upon the coat, arranged like a living creature with its arms stretched out wide across the bed. The collar was open and a folded sheet of paper stood propped against it. She picked it up, read the three words printed there: I’ll find you.
As the train picked up speed, churning and surging ever westward on the last leg of her journey, Eloise pressed the page to her lips and fell back into the warm embrace of the coat. “Find me,” she whispered to the empty room. “Please, please, find me.”
This was an extract from Anonymous Sex, edited by Hillary Jordan and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, which is out now.