Edward moved on before she decided to come out and make
conversation. His mouth was too dry to talk anyway. Instead he
fingered the letter he held in his coat pocket. There was a post box
on the next street corner. He hurried his pace. He might yet make it
to the office on time.
The morning passed slowly for Edward. He had some sums to do for an
important client meeting, but every time he looked at the column of
figures on his computer screen they all seemed to blur together. He
doodled a few notes, but his mind kept wandering back to the Groves
bakery. He imagined he could still smell fresh bread baking in the
air. He could see Rebecca bending down to fill one of the shelves, her
dark hair framed in pale winter sunshine. Just as he was about to take
in another deep breath, he sneezed.
He stifled the sound self-consciously and then
giggled at the idea that an imaginary smell of baking had made him
sneeze. Well better that than the thought he might be coming down with
He returned his attention back to the column of figures, but
his concentration was gone. He shut the spreadsheet and found a fresh
page in the notebook by his side. On the paper he began writing:
At lunch time Edward made his way back to Park Street. He was hungry, so
he didn’t need to invent an excuse for his trip. The bakery was a
buzz of conversation. Two of the older assistants were busily teasing
Rebecca about her love life.
“So that’s the fourth letter you’ve received now?” one
“And none of them signed?”
Rebecca nodded again.
“How romantic, to have a real life secret admirer.”
Rebecca rolled her eyes and moved over to serve Edward. She
seemed glad of the distraction.
“How’s the world of high finance then, Ed?”
Edward, who was still thinking about the conversation he’d
just overheard, sighed theatrically: “Complicated.”
“Are you implying I’m too stupid to understand it?”
Edward laughed. “No. I’m implying I’m too
stupid… I need some sustenance to help me out.”
“Can’t work on an empty stomach, eh?”
“Something like that. I need one of those special cheese and
onion pasties to keep me going.”
“Only one? Ed, I swear you’re going to fade away some day.
Do you only eat on special occasions?” Rebecca grinned and placed
the pasty into a bag for him.
“Hey, who’s being teased now?” Edward complained. He
patted his thin frame self-consciously. As he picked up his food he
couldn’t resist adding: “I bet I know who your secret admirer
Rebecca stared eagerly at him. “C’mon then, spill!”
“Ahh, but then it wouldn’t be secret anymore.”
“Isn’t that part of the romance? The mystery, the intrigue,
“Ed, you’re a worse tease than those two fishwives over
there.” She pointed to her colleagues
and then laughed. “Hey Mr finance guy, do you fancy taking in a
movie tonight? Maybe if I buy you a drink afterwards I can wheedle a
few secrets out of you.”
Edward agreed, and even though they’d been out on several such ‘neutral’ dates before, he couldn’t help feeling a small prickle of excitement. The smell of the bakery was enervating and for a moment Edward had the weird sensation he might sneeze again. He was glad when it passed. He really did hope he wasn’t getting sick.
Edward brushed distractedly at a stray crease in his trousers. His
meeting had gone better than he could’ve dared to hope. He reflected
on how in the right surroundings he felt an inner confidence he
usually lacked. Most of business he’d learnt was about bluff. It
felt good when he could compete on an even footing. He picked up his
briefcase and balanced it on the side of the desk. He ought to tidy up
the paperwork, but already his mind was thinking ahead to his trip to
As far as relationships went there was no room for bluff. He
couldn’t help feeling he’d known Rebecca too long. He was the safe
date, the confidante, or worst of all, the big brother figure. When
they were together the conversation never got much beyond the usual
jokes, the standard banter. Yet he couldn’t stop his mind from
wandering to more exotic places. And when he’d thought of the bakery
this morning he’d sneezed. It was as though Rebecca was exerting a
physical hold over him he was powerless to resist. He wanted to tell
her how he felt, but the words somehow stuck in his throat. He
supposed that was what the letters represented. A safety valve. A
reached for pen and paper, only for the phone to ring.
“Hi Ed, how are you doing?”
“Rebecca?…” The pen fell from his hands as though it had
suddenly grown red hot. If the woman on the other end of the line had
been with him she would’ve seen a distinct blush of embarrassment
colour his cheeks.
“One of the girls went home sick so I’m going to have to
stay and lock up tonight. You can meet me at the bakery if you
“Sure. No problem.”
“Good day at work? Made your first million yet?”
Edward laughed. “Actually I’m concentrating on my second
– apparently it’s much easier than the first.”
“Good. Then I guess you’ll be buying the drinks tonight.”
Edward heard the sound of the shop door opening. Rebecca dropped her
voice to a staged whisper. “Customer. Gotta go. I’ll see you
“Yeah. See you…” Only after the line had gone dead did he
add, “I love you.” He felt vaguely foolish as he listened to the
words echo in the silence of the empty room.
It was dark by the time Edward left his office.
The air was mild outside, but the town seemed subdued under the
streetlights. He walked briskly among crowds of people who were
returning home from work. The sign on the door of Groves bakers had
been switched over to show ‘Closed’. Only a faint light from the
back of the store gave any indication that there might still be
someone inside. Edward paused for a moment and then knocked on the
few seconds later a figure emerged and ushered him inside.
Rebecca kissed him briefly on the cheek and smiled. “Hi, Ed.
I just have a couple of things to put away downstairs and then I’ll
be ready. The movie doesn’t start for another forty minutes so
there’s no rush.”
Edward followed her behind the counter to the back of the
store. A set of narrow stairs led them down to a compact basement area
where a large oven dominated one of the walls. There was a work
surface lined with empty baking trays and beside that, a small sink
and drainer. The place seemed imbued with a cosy warmth. Across the
room were a table and two chairs.
“Take a seat if you want,” Rebecca offered.
He sat down and watched as she collected a couple of trays from
the oven and stacked them by the sink. There was a whooshing noise as
a tap was turned on. Rebecca took a cloth and rubbed down the work
surfaces with vigorous strokes. Edward was quite happy to sit and
watch her at work, to enjoy the moving shape of her body as she went
about her business.
“Is it cold outside?” Rebecca asked him.
“No. It’s actually rather mild.”
She switched off the tap and the silence rendered everything
more intimate. “I got this new scarf at the weekend. Perfect for the
winter…” She produced a patterned length of silk that was coloured
a pale blue. “Don’t you think the fabric feels nice?”
She moved in behind him, stroked his arm
gently and wrapped the scarf around one wrist and then the other. The
fabric tickled the hairs on his arm. Edward found himself distracted
by the contact. He could smell Rebecca’s perfume and instinctively
he turned his head towards her.
“What are you doing?” He found his wrists caught between
the back of the chair and the fabric of the scarf, as though she were
wrapping him up like an exotic parcel.
“Um, nothing…” She leant down and kissed him briefly on
the lips. “There.” She pulled the knot she’d made tighter and
Edward tensed his arms.
“I’ve always fancied having a man at my mercy.”
Rebecca moved back to face him properly. Her saw that her eyes
were wide open, watching him greedily.
“This is just like one of those cop movies.
Maybe I should be asking you probing questions.”
“What questions?” Edward felt vaguely worried. It
couldn’t be about the letters, surely. There was no way she could
know the truth about the letters.
“I seem to be getting teased mercilessly these days. I figure
it’s someone else’s turn for a change. And right now it looks as
though you’re going to be it.”
“Honestly Rebecca, I tease myself more than anyone else. You
know it’s just a bit of fun.”
“Well maybe I fancy having a bit of fun too.”
As though she’d worked out every step of this encounter,
Rebecca picked a large sack of flour from the floor. She poured a
small mound into the cupped palm of her right hand and moved toward
Edward. For a moment, as she crouched down, they were looking at each
other eye to eye. He couldn’t help delighting in this chance to
admire the sleek beauty of her face at close quarters. She leant in
closer and smiled.
Rebecca released a sharp gust of breath and a cloud of flour
exploded into his face. “Oops…”
He blinked rapidly, took several sharp breaths
and shook his head to try and disperse the flour. He felt his nostrils
prickle as part of the cloud found its way up his nose.
He didn’t want to sneeze, but he couldn’t help himself. His hands
were securely bound and he couldn’t even stifle the sound.
Rebecca laughed. “Oh dear. I’m so sorry Ed, that flour
seems to have got everywhere…”
Edward felt his skin reddening. He was acutely uncomfortable. His nose itched like mad. In his head he recalled the earlier image of Rebecca and the shop and the sneeze that had followed; all somehow inextricably linked. Even now, in this strangest of circumstances, he couldn’t help noticing he was feeling a little aroused.
He tried to steer his thoughts back to the matter at hand.
“Why did you … why …” but he couldn’t complete the question
before another sneeze, this one louder than the last, exploded out of
“Poor Ed, you look so uncomfortable. Trust me, I know what it’s like working here. Breathe in too much of that flour and you can find yourself sneezing for hours.”
Edward didn’t have an answer. He sniffed gallantly and then
succumbed to another sneeze. “Heck-asssshoo.”
Rebecca smiled. “You know what I’d recommend? You need to clear your sinuses. A good blow ought to do it.” She took out a neatly folded handkerchief from her coat pocket and waved it towards Edward. “Hmm. I’d lend you this, but you don’t seem to have a free hand right now.”
“You could always untie me.”
“Yes, but this is so much more fun. I suppose I might be
persuaded to release you. Maybe in exchange for a little bit of
“Inf -” Edward gasped, caught on the brink of another
sneeze. “What information?”
“The mystery admirer. I’d like you to tell me who it is.”
“Oh that…” Edward looked wearily at the handkerchief that
Rebecca had placed just out of his reach. Each time he sniffed it felt
as though the agony in his nose got worse. He wanted to let it all
out, his senses felt ready to burst open.
It was hard to disguise the exquisite torture he felt and yet at the
same time the fact that it was exciting him was becoming patently
obvious. He bit his lower lip and prayed Rebecca wouldn’t notice.
“I was just messing,” he pleaded. “I don’t really know
Rebecca stared coolly at him. “I don’t believe you.”
Edward tried to think of an answer he could give that might
persuade Rebecca to untie him, but his mind was blank. The irritation
in his nose was incredible and without a free hand to stifle it he
felt utterly helpless. The relief when he sneezed again was so intense
it almost took his breath away. He had no desire to be the centre of
attention, but right now the thought of another sneeze of that same
intensity seemed almost too good to contain. He let out a sigh that
was part relief and part longing.
“Maybe I got this all wrong. You’re supposed to be in
agony, but it looks to me like you’re enjoying yourself.” Rebecca
placed a hand on his trousers and ran her fingers back and forth along
the pronounced outline of his penis.
“I’m sure there’s a name for people who enjoy being teased
Edward shook his head and then sneezed again. “Huh … hupshooo!”
Rebecca grinned. “No, I don’t think that’s it.”
He drew another laboured breath, aware of a strong desire to
The thought alone seemed to fascinate him to the point of distraction.
Rebecca was watching him, her eyes bright with curiosity. “I
have a man at my complete mercy only to find he’s enjoying it more
than I am. How strange. Maybe
instead of interrogating you I should find something more productive
to be doing with you.” She stroked his penis again, pushed her hands
up higher, feeling under his shirt to his smooth skin and bony frame.
“Yes, I reckon that
could be much more fun.”
Edward sneezed. He flexed his hands, not quite able to believe
he was still tied up, and tried to reach for the handkerchief that lay
near his feet. Before he could test the strength of his bonds further,
Rebecca climbed on top of him.
“You can clear your sinuses later. Right now
there’s something more important I want you to concentrate on.”
She unzipped his trousers and pushed them roughly to the floor.
Her coat was off and she was hitching up her skirt.
Edward turned his head away and sneezed again. “Huh-mmmpf!” Alarmingly he noticed his penis give a quick jolt, as though a small spark of pleasure had passed through him. And perhaps it had. He could no longer discern any sense in what was happening, but each sneeze was being released like a miniature orgasm and leaning over him now was the woman he’d fantasised over for months. She was grinning like a cat who’d snared a prize catch.
Rebecca put a finger to his lips and purred: “See if you can
stop sneezing for a few seconds and give me your undivided
He sniffed forlornly and tried to steady his breathing.
Rebecca ran her hands hungrily across his shoulders, dug deep
into the skin on his back. The room seemed to have grown warmer, as
though someone had switched the oven on. She pushed his penis inside
her, watching him the whole time. He could feel her warmth, her
wetness, the sense that she might consume him then and there if she
could. He was unused to being outmanoeuvred, but any struggle he made
just seemed to heighten the sensation as she moved against him. Unlike
his business meetings, there was no bluff here.
Edward was so busy trying to reconcile these conflicting
emotions that he forgot all about the incessant itch in his nose. Out
of nowhere he sneezed again, not once, not twice, but three times in
“Hushoooo! Hushooo! Heckshewww!”
His head was buried below her shoulder. “I’m sorry…,”
“That’s okay. It feels kind of interesting when you sneeze.
Your penis sort of twitches. Actually you feel very nice.”
She rocked up and down against him, forcing him in deeper and
deeper. Her hands stroked his hair and she whispered: “You know what
Ed, I’d quite like it if you could sneeze again.”
A part of Edward’s mind considered the request. He wasn’t really conscious of what he could or couldn’t do, but by sniffing in air through his clogged up nose it seemed to make the irritation much more intense. He lost the rhythm of her movement for a moment as his whole body tensed. And then:
“Hahshooo! Chewww! Ahhhshoooo!”
He felt his body spasm, muscles clench and unclench. Rebecca
shivered and gave out an audible groan. He was desperate and hungry,
no longer able to hold himself back. His breath came in deep gasps. He
felt as if he were falling or the room was rearranging itself around
him. At the moment of orgasm he cried out in spite of himself.
Afterwards Rebecca held him.
The motion between them lessened and soon all he could hear was his
own heartbeat. Rebecca buried her head against his shoulder and then
leant across to kiss him.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “It’s been a pleasure doing
business with you.”
She moved to untie the scarf from around his wrists and then
carefully rearranged her clothes. Almost as an afterthought she
retrieved the handkerchief and passed it across to him. He clutched it
gratefully, stifling a final sneeze in the process.
Rebecca laughed. “Oops, I think we missed our movie.”
Edward was too dazed to reply. He sniffed and then blew his
“I hope you don’t mind what happened. You see it’s been
driving me nuts, all these letters, all this secret admirer stuff. I
simply had to know. And I’m so glad I finally found out.”
Absently Edward folded the handkerchief back up. “But I
didn’t tell you anything …”
Rebecca hugged him again and then kissed him firmly on the
lips. She smiled. “Yes, well perhaps I’ve worked it out for