s and wished her a pleasant stay.
It all started with an innocent question. In a letter to Nico, Nora wrote, “Americans envy the French their fashion sense, cheese, wine, and romantic language. What do the French envy about America and Americans?”
Nico’s answer surprised her.
“I can’t speak for the whole country, but for me, I envy your Halloween. We don’t have a holiday like it in France. I’ve always wanted to experience a real American Halloween.”
Of course, Nora knew they didn’t have Halloween in France any more than America had Bastille Day. But it never occurred to her that Nico or any other Frenchman would envy a children’s holiday that meant nothing more than an evening of costumes, candy, and legally-sanctioned bad behavior.
She’d written Nico back—snail mail, as it was his preferred method of communication—and asked him what specifically it was about Halloween he envied. A reply arrived two weeks later.
Candy, he’d said.
Costumes. Of course.
Legally-sanctioned bad behavior.
She should have guessed.
“In France, as a kid in school,” Nico wrote, “we studied Halloween. We had to practice saying ‘trick or treat’ in English. In French it translates to something more like ‘candy or mischief.’ American movies make it look fun and crazy, but every October thirty-first came and went without any mischief or candy.”
Her poor boy. Nora decided she would most certainly be the absolute worst domme in the known world if she didn’t give her darling submissive his first real American Halloween. He was twenty-six years old. It was long overdue. She knew she was spoiling her boy, but what was the fun of owning your own personal gorgeous French vintner (a mere eleven years her junior) if she didn’t get to spoil him a little every now and then?
Thus “Operation Candy and Mischief” commenced.
Step one involved persuading Nico to fly to America. She hadn’t expected this would be too difficult, as his winery’s harvest had ended in mid-September. Even if he was still preoccupied with work at the end of October, she could order him to come visit her in the States. Of course, it didn’t come to that. He was game for anything, as long as he got to see her again.
Step two involved finding somewhere in the US where they could stay for a few days and go Halloween-crazy. It had to be somewhere that celebrated Halloween for several days, not just the thirty-first. There were two options: West Hollywood, or Salem, Massachusetts. Nico wanted the full American Halloween experience and that meant crisp autumn weather, leaves changing colors on the trees, smoking chimneys, and apple cider. So Salem it was.
Just out of curiosity, Nora asked Nico what else he envied about American culture.
His answer? Cheerleaders.
Apparently, French sports didn’t have cheerleaders, and Nico found the whole concept rather sexy and exotic. Well, now Nora knew what she’d be wearing on All Hallow’s Eve.
Step three meant cramming together twenty-six years of Halloween experiences into the three days Nico could spare away from the winery. They were too old for door-to-door trick-or-treating, but Nora had a few other plans in mind. After all, no one was ever too old for candy and mischief.
Especially not her.
Not so coincidentally, the dates of their vacation coincided with a conference her lover, Søren, had to attend in Petaluma, California on some incredibly boring topic like “Jesuits Helping Build a Bridge of Compassion Into the Future.”
“Bridges of compassion?” Søren had said with disgust. “I remember when Jesuits were still the terrifying priests in the Church.”
“Don’t worry, sir,” Nora said. “You still scare the holy living shit out of everyone you meet.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Coming from you that is high praise indeed.”
She told him she’d be out of town as well while he was gone, and he knew better than to ask why. They’d made a pact to give each other privacy with their respective significant others. Nora didn’t ask Søren about his time with Kingsley, and Søren didn’t ask her about Nico. The system worked well enough despite the occasional hiccup.
One hiccup occurred when Søren walked into her bedroom on October third and caught her trying on a cheerleading uniform. He stared at her as if he’d never seen a thirty-seven-year-old woman wearing a New Orleans Saints cheerleader uniform, her black hair in an obnoxiously high ponytail, wearing white tennis shoes and bobby socks, standing in the middle of what was supposed to be a dominatrix’s wicked red bedroom. He paused, seemed to want to say something, then clearly thought better of it.
“Don’t ask,” she said to him. “Just...for your own good, don’t ask.”
Without another word, he left her all alone in the room. For about three seconds.
Then he came back in, pointed at the outfit and said, “Keep that one for later,” before leaving again.
During a planning phone call, Nora couldn’t get Nico to tell her what his Halloween costume was because he wanted to surprise her. She told him not to dress like Kingsley in one of his Regency suits, since that’s what Søren dressed as for last Halloween. And she told him not to dress as a priest since that’s what Kingsley went as last Halloween.
“They traded clothes for Halloween?” Nico asked.
“Um...yes,” she said.
“One day you’re going to explain their relationship to me,” Nico said.
Nora considered this request. “Do I have to?”
Nico promised he’d dress as neither a priest nor a king. She could have ordered him to tell her his costume, but where was the fun in that? If he wanted to be mischievous, well, mischief was the entire point of the trip, wasn’t it?
Of course candy. Mischief and candy were the two entire points of the trip and nothing else.
Except for sex. Lots and lots of sex. That was also the point of the trip.
Mischief and candy and sex.
If necessary they could skip the candy.
The second Nora arrived in Salem, a few hours ahead of Nico, the old familiar, homey atmosphere of New England fall enveloped her. She was wearing her favorite gray wool slacks, a cozy black turtleneck, and her cat-eye frame glasses. Her hair was up in a loose bun. Her seat mate on the flight had guessed she was a librarian. Nora said, “Close enough.”
She’d once fucked a librarian. Surely that counted for something.
After stopping for supplies—wine and candy and lube—she drove to the Victorian B&B where she’d rented the honeymoon suite for her and Nico. Mr. Sheldon, the owner of the B&B, met her at her car with a welcoming. He was late middle-age, balding, bespectacled and be-sweatered. Nora tried to stop him from lifting her luggage, but he waved her off, which he came to regret immediately.
“Oh my,” he said, his face reddening as he hefted her black leather toy bag. “What on earth do you have in here? Bowling balls?”
“Floggers, canes, whips, handcuffs. But the real heavy things in there are the spreader bars. They’re made of steel.”
The man stared at her blankly. He blinked slowly.
“I’m a dominatrix,” she said, taking the toy bag back from him. He blinked again. “For Halloween.”
“Ah!” her host said, his face lighting up with delight. “Wonderful idea. I usually go as a rock star. I have a big Bon Jovi wig. Horrifies the grandkids, which is half the fun of it. What do you do in real life?”
“I’m...” She pondered that question for a split second. “I’m a librarian.”
“I could have guessed. You’re an angel all year and you get to be wicked for one night. Or two,” he said with a little wink.
“Right,” Nora said as he showed her up to the suite. “Or two.”
He gave her the key
“My boyfriend’s going to arrive around eight, I think,” Nora said before he left, “unless his flight is late. So if a really handsome guy who looks too young for me shows up on your doorstep, that’s him. You can send him up.”
“Where’s he coming in from?”
“France,” she said. “He’s never celebrated Halloween before. I’m trying to give him the grand tour.”
“What’s on the agenda?”
“He had three requests since we’re both a little old for trick or treating. He wants to go to a costume party.”
“Easy enough. You can’t go five feet in old town without running into someone in costume.”
“And he wants to visit a haunted house, the cheesier the better,” Nora said.
“We have them by the dozens.”
“The third one might be a little difficult. I’m ninety-percent sure he was kidding, but…he says he wants to see a ghost,” Nora said. Her host didn’t seem particularly surprised by that. Living in Salem, he probably heard stranger things from tourists.
“Hmm...” he said, nodding and stroking the non-existent beard on his non-existent chin. “A ghost. Well, there’s always St. Patrick’s. If there’s a ghost in town, that’s where you’ll find her.”
“St. Patrick’s? A church? Hospital?”
“Cemetery,” he said. “Catholic.”
“Does St. Patrick’s have a ghost?”
“The Smiling Girl,” he said. “Went to meet her boyfriend there for you-know-what. Got stabbed by a madman instead. Supposedly when they found her body she was smiling. People say she’ll walk up next to them if they’re foolish enough to take a stroll through the graveyard at midnight.”
“Perfect,” Nora said. “I am definitely foolish enough.”
While Nora waited for Nico’s arrival, she unpacked and got settled into their temporary home. Their suite took up the entire third floor of The Painted Lady B&B. The floors were honey-colored hardwood, covered in faded rugs. The living room was cozy, with an antique sofa and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with tour guides, novels set in Salem and Boston, and non-fiction books about the town’s dark history with witches. The bedroom had a gas-log fireplace and a queen-sized Colonial canopy bed covered in an antique Amish bedspread. Nora tested the four posts of the bed. It was sturdy as iron. She hopped up and down on the mattress and heard nary a squeak. A well-made piece of furniture. She and Nico would have very good—and very quiet sex—in this bed. But she needed to remember to take the bedspread off first. The Amish might not appreciate it if they got semen stains on their handcrafted quilt. Or maybe they would? She’d never met an Amish person. They could be kinky motherfuckers, too. Who knew?
Evening came and Nora showered and changed into something more comfortable—her favorite short black silk nightgown and matching robe. When that was done there wasn’t much left to do but pace the suite while waiting for Nico’s cab to arrive.
She would have picked him up at the airport, but he declined the offer. He preferred to keep their reunions private. It was one of his little quirks. He was quiet and self-contained, but deeply emotional, and nothing made him more emotional than seeing her again after a long separation. He called the one time they reunited in an airport “miserable” (a word meant to be spoken with a French accent) and swore he’d never do it again. If he couldn’t kiss her in public the way he wanted to kiss her, what was even the point of kissing? She couldn’t argue with that, so she continued her pacing, phone in hand so she could answer long-neglected emails while she waited. Anything to distract from peeking out the window every thirty seconds.
At eight, it already looked like midnight outside. For Nico, on French time, it would be the wee hours of the morning. He’d either be exhausted from his flight and want to go to sleep immediately…or he’d be wide awake from sleeping on the plane and jump her the second they were alone.
Nora put her money on the jumping. There were perks to having a twenty-six-year-old boyfriend.
At last, she saw the flash of headlights on her window. She pushed back the white lace curtain and saw Nico standing next to the yellow cab, paying the driver. He must have seen movement in the corner of his eye because he looked up to her window and smiled.
Nora waved. He kissed the air to her in greeting before hefting his bag over his shoulder and walking to the house. Her heart leapt a few inches skyward in her chest. Her stomach twisted itself into a knot. Her hands trembled, ever so slightly.
“Grow up, Nora,” she told herself. It was a tiny bit embarrassing how infatuated she was with Nico. She hadn’t known how much she’d needed a submissive of her very own until he’d come into her life and she discovered what she’d been missing all along. Sometimes it seemed impossible he should be hers. He was handsome, of course, like his father. The longer she knew him, however, the less he resembled Kingsley and the more he became unique and incomparable. He had deep olive-skin, even darker than Kingsley’s, and celadon eyes inherited from his Persian mother. His dark hair was often unruly, especially when he’d been sweating in the sun.
He dressed nothing like Kingsley, which she found all the more appealing. No suits. No ties. No military coats. No boots except for work boots, the sorts with steel toes since he was often found in his vineyard with a rake or a hoe or a shovel in his calloused hands. Jeans. T-shirts, jackets in autumn, coats in winter. Mud on his boots in all seasons.
Her other heart.
Now she knew how Søren felt, with his twin love for her and Kingsley. Not a heart divided but a heart doubled. Maybe that was why her chest felt so tight when she heard Nico’s footsteps on the stairs. Loving Nico made her love Søren even more, because he gave her room to be herself, room to love with two hearts as she’d given him room to love her and Kingsley. When she got back from Salem and he from California, she would show him just how much that meant to her.
Before Nico could knock, she opened the door for him. He stepped across the threshold, the slightest smile on his lips.
“Happy Halloween,” Nora said.
“Trick or treat?” Nico asked.
Nora grinned. He was so good at this already.
“For you right now,” she said, “all treats. No tricks.” She reached for his hand, pulled him into the room, and shut the door behind them.
His arm was around her waist before his bag hit the floor. Nora put her hands on his face and kissed him. Eager and hungry as they both were for each other, it was something of a miracle that all they did in that first minute together was kiss.
It was no ordinary kiss. It was long and deep. Nora bit Nico’s bottom lip, tasted his tongue in her mouth. Her hands caught in his hair. His hands stroked her bare neck and shoulders. By the time the kiss ended she’d pushed his back against the door.
She couldn’t hold off touching him one second longer. Nora unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, and grazed her fingertips lightly, ever so lightly over the lowest part of his stomach, that nice little tender place right before things got interesting. Nico inhaled softly and Nora grinned.
“So...which do you want first?” she asked him. “Candy? Or mischief?”
Because he was such a smart man and a quick learner, he answered exactly the way she wanted him to.
Nora took him by the hand and led him into the bedroom. She already had the gas log fireplace burning and the lights turned low. This was a short trip and Nora didn’t want to waste a single second.
“Need anything before I tie you to this bed and leave you there for about an hour?” she asked him.