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Her hair smells of jasmine. In her, spring reaches back to the winter of your self-imposed solitude, finds and fans the last ember of the life you were killing through want of fuel. Outside it is January, the chill light of a Paris afternoon, but here time has stood still, and it is always and never.

You have never lain like this, a woman's head between your breasts, a woman's hand between your thighs. Her skin tastes of sun and salt, and in her you remember the days of your girlhood, by the sea at Marseille.

You never wanted to remember.

She stretches to kiss you, and in her young face you see old eyes. She has lived three lifetimes, and you have never lived.

You think that these lips that kiss you last kissed Edmond, that these hands that caress you last caressed Edmond, and then you remember that Edmond has not been Edmond for a long time, and will never be again.

You tell her: 'I've never...' and she hushes you, and says, 'Don't worry.' Her breath is warm across your breasts, and her lashes flutter against your throat.

You have never felt the insistent lapping of a woman's tongue against your nipples, the nipping of sharp teeth along your collarbone. (You think, suddenly, of Edmond – the Count – as you last saw him, and you shudder. But it is more than half a shudder of pleasure.) You have never had someone part your legs by stroking your thigh so gently, so skilfully, that all you want is for her to reach more of you.

Nobody has ever touched you there. All you want now is for her never to stop. You have never known such desire. The movement of her fingers is firm, rhythmic. She pinches a nipple with the other hand, and the sudden sharp pain is exquisite. She slips two, three, fingers, you can't tell, inside you, and her thumb moves fast.

Never, never, before now, has your world exploded in dense, velvet blackness; never has your body moved in such urgent waves, never have you moaned in such ecstasy.

Never have you been so moved at the sight of another woman weeping.