Love In The Afternoon
Click on image to enlarge.
by Bruce Cooke
Description: Fighting depression, loneliness and self-loathing after her abusive womanizing husband dies, fifty-year old Joanne Montgomery meets fifty-three year old Richard Collins who re-ignites her life. They fall in love but Joanne's daughter, Becky, who thought of her father as a saint, is aghast that Joanne would even consider dating another man, especially a larrikin like Ritchie. Just as they overcome the resentment, Ritchie's gold digging ex-wife arrives on the scene after being thrown out by her lover. She wants back into Ritchie's life and will go to any lengths to split them up. When she convinces Joanne that she is back sleeping with Ritchie, Joanne's world comes to an end, as she feels betrayed once again. But Ritchie won't let a lie destroy the happiness he has found and fights to get Joanne back.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: November 2007
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [225 KB]
Reading time: 147-206 min.
"Here is one story with an apparently simple plot. Simple? Not so much. While I will admit the plot is rather uncomplicated, there is a big surprise awaiting all the readers, and this is the author's delightful writing voice. Mr. Cooke's mastery of relationships and the characters he creates in Love in the Afternoon is simply to be applauded. Rarely have I read of a hero more worthy of being termed a hero--Ritchie, despite being in the afternoon of life, is a man any woman would find hard not to fall for. The interaction of the characters in this set-up is simply marvelous, especially where Ritchie and his daughter Sally are concerned. I had one laugh after another with these two. This is one story to curl up with and read in one single go. It will fill you with a soft warm glow, and you will fall in love along the way."--Zee, Enchanting Reviews
"This is the first romance I've ever read written by a man, and I have to say it was a wonderful experience. This story revolves around two people who find each other late in life. Joanne is newly widowed and whose poor quality of marriage she kept a secret from her kids. If you enjoy romance stories about second chances at love, Love In The Afternoon does that and more. It's sweet, endearing, uplifting and life affirming. If you are in the mood for a feel good romance, again, this fits the bill. As we all know, love can happen at anytime, not just in the afternoon. So read this anytime. You'll be glad you did. Rated: 4 1/2 books!"--Xeranthemum, The Long and Short Of It Reviews
The cold fingers of death strike at the most inopportune times.
It seemed to be a lonely place at one thirty in the morning. Hardly a car could be seen on the usually busy road and a light fog began to drop, obscuring vision for at least one hundred meters. The car was cozily warm and the couple of drinks made him a little drowsy. At least his wife wouldn't complain about his late arrival. She had learned that lesson many times before. The car radio played a late night talk back show and some woman complained about the prospect of the local council rates about to rise. He glanced down at the speedometer to see he was ten kilometers above the limit; but, hell, there was little traffic around at this time of the morning and it would be unusual for cops to be out with their radar guns.
"Whining bitch," he muttered and reached for a cigarette. He placed it in his mouth, while steering with one hand, and lit it with the car cigarette lighter. Then he settled back to concentrate on his driving. Maybe he had more drinks than he should, but she insisted. A smile broke over his face as he thought about how she licked the champagne from his navel as they lay together in her bed. He remembered every antic they had got up to in the last couple of hours. Naked writhing bodies, touching, nibbling, thrusting. It went on for hours. Her long legs, pert breasts, slim body and blonde hair were a delight.
She easily matched the efforts of other women he had bedded.
Smoke stung his eyes and he reached for the cigarette to take a puff. Again he released one hand from the steering wheel and accidentally knocked the cigarette from his mouth, sending it into his lap in a shower of sparks.
"Shit," he yelled and looked down to find it before it burnt a hole in his trousers. It was a fatal mistake. His car veered across the road and he watched in horror as a huge semi-trailer loomed up seemingly from nowhere. His car ran straight into it as he tried to swerve out of its path. With a frightening crash, the car disintegrated on impact, sending the car body back some two meters in the direction it had come and removed it to half of its original size. He hadn't even bothered to put on his seat belt and now paid the price. An expensive late model Falcon was now a mangled wreck, hardly recognizable.
When the police arrived, he still sat in the car body, blood all over his face, crushed by the impact. The ambulance had arrived and the body was lifted from the wreck, not without difficulty.
"They never bloody learn," said one of the policemen in attendance. "Probably pissed and speeding."
The other scratched his head. "Yeah, now some family is going into mourning for years to come. Grab his wallet so we can identify him." * * * *
The church filled a half an hour before the service was due to begin. In front of the alter, the coffin lay with a solitary wreath placed on the top. Flowers decorated the church in large vases in full view of the congregation. Soft music filtered around the interior and people greeted friends in a whisper.
A video screen had a photo of a smiling Daryl Montgomery, family man, successful businessman, admired community leader and ex-mayor.
Dignitaries took their seats and women checked out the dresses and attire of some of the mourners. It may have been a funeral, but the social snobs weren't going to let others go unchecked.
Photographers from the local press stood in the aisles by the side of the church, ready to snap important people who would be attending. They weren't disappointed. Politicians, counselors, charity workers and a TV celebrity attended.
The program bearing the photo of the deceased had been handed out as people entered the church. Others broke up their gossip and hurried to claim a seat.
At last the family arrived led by Daniel Montgomery assisting his mother Joanne. The mourners waited until Joanne, son Daniel, daughters Becky and Tania, Kevin, Becky's husband, and the grandchildren were seated.
The minister, the Reverend Harold Burgess, conducted the service, but Joanne heard little of what was said. She stared ahead, thinking about her thirty-two years of married life. The early joys, the hardships, the struggle of raising a family and a home, flashed passed her eyes. Well, she was going to have plenty of time to reflect now.
The screen lit up with sections of Daryl's life--business conferences, his inauguration as mayor, the opening of various community projects. Family movies of the children were shown, the building of their first home and a host of other activities. It was almost like a Hollywood extravaganza.
There were shots of him as a young man, a football hero, family barbeques, and a progression of his life until his death.
Eulogies were given by politicians, counselors and friends, until at last it came to an end.
The coffin was wheeled out to the hearse to be taken for burial, followed by the mourners, who congregated outside the church to offer their sympathies to the family. Tears flowed and conversations resumed for fifteen minutes as the family regained their composure.
The burial at the cemetery was conducted with the usual decorum. Rose petals were thrown into the open grave after the coffin was lowered. After the burial, the mourners were traditionally invited to participate in refreshments in the church hall, the only venue big enough to take them all.
Joanne sat staring into space as the car took them on the return journey to the venue. She put on a brave smile as people chatted with her, giving their sympathies. Sandwiches, cakes and other finger foods were generously placed and church members served the guests with tea and coffee.
At last the crowd began to disperse as people made their farewells, giving her sad smiles, a peck on the cheek, a touch of her arm and in some cases, a hug.
Daryl's business partner along with his wife hovered around, waiting their chance for their goodbyes.
Roger Hare patted her arm softly and his wife, Hetty, gave her a kiss when Joanne was temporarily alone.
"We can't express how sorry we feel, Joanne. If you ever need anything, then don't hesitate to ring."
"Thanks, Roger, but Daryl left me quite well off. Money won't be a problem."
"Good, but sometimes money is not enough."
"I know what you mean. Couples are invited out, but singles are often forgotten, especially when you've turned fifty."
"We won't leave you out," Hetty said. "You're always welcome to our do's."
"I appreciate that, Hetty, thanks."
Next in line was Yvonne Harris, Daryl's secretary, twenty-four years old, blonde. Great face and figure. A real eye catcher. Her long legs brought many stares from the male employees present, who let their gaze travel from boobs to legs, then back to boobs again. Joanne was sure she knew she was a stunning looking girl and used her looks to advantage.
"Joanne, I'm so, so sorry," Yvonne said, kissing her cheek. "He was such a good boss; I'm going to miss him."
"Thank you, Yvonne, it's good of you to say so."
"He was so friendly and considerate, the best. Generous and caring."
Joanne smiled sadly. "He was like that to everyone."
"Well, I must be on my way. Take care," Yvonne said, patting her hand.
"I think these are yours, dear. They look very expensive and must be quite valuable."
Joanne placed two diamond earrings into her hand and closed Yvonne's fist around them.
"Why, thank you. I've been looking for these everywhere. Wherever did you find them?"
"Under my bed, dear. Goodbye."
The color rose to Yvonne's face and she looked embarrassed. Turning quickly, she moved off, happy to leave.
As soon as Yvonne left, Becky came walking up. "That was Dad's secretary, wasn't it?"
"Yes, Yvonne Harris."
"I can't stand her. There's something phony about her."
"She was just paying her respects, dear. That's all."
Becky hesitated for a second. "Mum, I know this is delicate, but are you okay--financially, I mean. Do you need help?"
"There's no need to worry about me, Becky. I saw the solicitor yesterday and he assured me that, apart from the house, your father left me quite comfortable. Real estate is unbelievable and the house would sell well if I needed to. If I'm careful, I can survive quite nicely on that."
"Good, I don't want to see you in the poor house."
"Little fear of that, dear, but thank you for worrying."
"Okay, if you need help at home, just call. Tania and I will come running."
"You have enough trouble taking care of my grandchildren. If I need you, then I'll ring."
Becky gave her a hug and left her with her thoughts. * * * *
Moorabbin was in the sand belt of Melbourne. A nice suburb and close to the beach. A place where some wealthy people had built their homes amid pleasant surroundings, a commercial airport nearby, good shopping and a good place to live. However, the next twelve months proved to be as she predicted. The invitations dried up and she seemed to be ignored. Of course, people fussed over her in the first few months, but that soon disappeared; and she became a house recluse, but not by choice. Many a night she would open a bottle of wine and sit alone drinking until the bottle was empty. After staggering into bed, she cursed her stupidity next morning when she woke with a raging headache.
She knew it wouldn't solve any problems, but at least it dulled the feeling of hopelessness that seemed to embrace her.
When Becky arrived one evening, she found her blind drunk.
"Mum. Mum. Things will get better soon. We all miss him."
Joanne knew Becky presumed she was suffering the depression of suddenly becoming a widow. She had no idea that Joanne drank to hide the self-loathing she held in picking a man such as Daryl for a husband. She hated to admit it, but she was glad he was gone.
It seemed that, now, boredom and depression were her life. If only things would improve.
Joanne looked at the calendar. She couldn't believe it had been twelve months since the funeral. She sat at her table holding a cup of coffee, thinking about her past and the life she had endured. The ring of her doorbell startled her. Becky or the other kids seldom appeared at this time of day and when they did, they usually walked right in. When she opened the door, she saw a young woman of around twenty-five, holding an eighteen-month-old child.
"Can I help you?" asked Joanne, wondering who she was.
"Mrs. Montgomery?" the girl said.
"You don't know me. My name is Diane Button. Can I come in and talk about a delicate matter?"
"Of course, please do. I don't get many visitors these days."
Joanne invited her in and when she was seated, they stared at each other for a few seconds. The girl's face began to color before she spoke. Joanne felt for her embarrassment, whatever caused it.
"This is very awkward, but I knew your husband before he died."
"Really," Joanne said. "Where did you know him from?"
"We met at a business conference. I'm ashamed to tell you this, but we had an affair--a very passionate affair for over six months."
"I see. Why are you telling me this now?"
"As a result of our affair, I had a child--this child. Your husband supported me for a while, but it dried up. Then he started up with another woman."
"I know about her; it was his secretary," Joanne said, staring at the child.
"Yes. The child became a financial drain and he wanted to forget us. Look, I know I have no claim on you, but things are very difficult and I don't know what to do."
"You want money?" Joanne said, her face bland.
"I'm desperate. If you could help, I'd be grateful." The girl lifted the child up and down on her knee. Joanne stared at the child, trying to see a resemblance to Daryl. She thought there was around the child's eyes.
"My husband was looked upon as a pillar of strength, an honest man who was respected by all and a strong family man. If my children heard about this, it would shatter them."
"I'm not trying to blackmail you. I just need help."
"Where are you living?" asked Joanne, thinking about the girl's plight.
"In a two bedroom flat in Caufield. I'm renting and I still have a job, but child care is killing me."
"And if I don't pay you, you'll go to the press or to my children?"
The girl looked horrified. "No, no. If you don't help me, then you'll never see or hear from me again."
Joanne looked at the girl and could see tears in her eyes. She seemed obviously distressed. It must have been hard for her to confront Joanne with this.
"I believe you. Come back tomorrow. I'll see my solicitor and draw up a paper, which you will sign. It will say that you will return all money if you tell anyone about this."
"I promise. You'll pay me?"
"Yes, I'll give you a check for fifty-thousand dollars. I hope this will help."
"More than you can imagine. I really loved him, you know, but I soon found out what sort of person he was."
"So did I, and a lot sooner than you. Come around twelve tomorrow and I'll have the papers."
The girl hugged her gratefully and Joanne felt warmed by the fact she was able to assist her. Others would see it as blackmail, but Joanne could see the girl genuinely needed help.
As soon as she left, Joanne contacted her solicitor, told him what had happened and the arrangements were made. Next day the girl came, signed the paper and took the check. It seemed to be one disaster after another.
A month later Roger Hare rang her.
"Joanne, it's Roger. I need to talk with you."
"Roger, nice to hear from you."
"This is not exactly social, Joanne. I have some news."
"Really. You sound upset."
"I am. Hetty and I have separated. I found out she has been having an affair behind my back."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Roger. Is there anything I can do?"
"No. Look, this is awkward."
"You're going to tell me she had an affair with Daryl."
"How did you know that?" His voice reached another octave.
"Just a guess. I'm sorry, Roger. Keep in touch."
It wasn't hard to come to that conclusion. It seemed Daryl spread himself around to whoever was available. Things were going from bad to worse. * * * *
When Becky came to visit, Joanne gave a wry smile. She sometimes thought Becky had taken over the role of being her mother. She made Joanne feel as though she were an old lady who couldn't cope by herself. Becky saw her as the grieving widow, condemned to a life of misery and had to rely on her children for support. No way did Joanne want her children to know what a bastard her husband was.
"Come in, dear. It's nice to see you."
"Hi, Mum, I'm here on a mission."
"A mission? That sounds ominous. Have you come to lead me to an old people's home?"
"Of course not. It's about time you got out of the house. I want to see you enjoying yourself."
"You've been very good to me, dear. We've been to a garden show, some movies, an art show and numerous other events. You don't have to come around and mother me. You have your own life to live."
"It's no trouble. I can't let you mope around the house forever. You have to get out and start a new life."
Innocently, she thought Joanne was just depressed and still trying to overcome Daryl's death.
"No argument, Mum. This Saturday, Kevin and I are going to a business barbeque in Toorak, and I insist you come."
"What on earth would I do there, dear? The place will be filled with businessmen and their wives, most around your age. I'd be out of place."
"Nonsense. This is a social event. A get together by a major company where business will be discussed, but everyone will have a good time. It's in a mansion that has a swimming pool and all the facilities."
"And everyone will have a partner while I sit alone watching."
"I'll keep my eye on you. It's a chance to socialize. You haven't been out meeting people for ages."
Joanne thought hard for a reason to avoid the barbeque. "I'm quite comfortable here. I don't want to intrude on your social life."
"Rubbish. You're going and there will be no argument." Becky looked smug as she stared into Joanne's eyes. Joanne sighed. It looked as though she was trapped.
"All right, dear. It will bore me stupid, but I'll go just to please you."
She felt some satisfaction in the thought that Becky was trying to cheer her up, and she was grateful Daryl's secrets remained safe. * * * *