Lemon Cheese Cake


Disclaimers: Not mine. No money made. “Desperate Housewives” in all its evil brilliance belongs to Marc Cherry, ABC & Co. All I own is my brain that concocted this little story, which I lay personal claim to.

Pairing: Bree/f; 1st Time. Even though I was converted to Bree/Rex towards the end of Season 1, there was a time in mid-season where I couldn’t help but notice how easily Bree could be read as gay.

Timeframe: after “Come Back To Me”; spoilers up to “Come Back To Me” – what would have happened if Bree hadn’t asked George out, but had instead looked elsewhere?

Rating: PG to NC-17. lemon and cream.

Archives: Passion & Perfection, Eye Bags and var[title] only

Thanks: Annie, who stayed with this from the “What if…?” through the end. Caren, for her comments and for the Free Parking. E.B. for working her magic all over again. Ricke for the Reich-Ranicki.

Banner: I apologize for using an image of Monica Bellucci in the banner as a stand-in. When it comes to the image of Italian femininity I’ve tried to convey, she’s simply one of the best examples. Caps: www.capzap.fr.st (M. Bellucci).


The seamless steel blade cut effortlessly through the layers of lettuce, Dijon mustard, turkey and whole grain toast, leaving two perfectly symmetrical triangles on the cutting board. Shifting the knife to her other hand, Bree Van De Kamp reached for the pre-cut squares of wrapping foil. Her gaze trailed along the kitchen counter – spotless safe for the growing stack of lunch packages – while her fingers methodically folded the edges of the wrap twice to prevent any leaking. The space around her seemed larger than usual, which, Bree reasoned, made no sense at all.

She had toyed with the idea of canceling the kids’ participation in the camping weekend with the church, but that might raise questions she really didn’t want to answer, if she even knew the answers. And perhaps, a few days in a more Christian environment would also help Andrew realize the magnitude of what he had done. And that only because he hadn’t been caught by the police, running Gabrielle’s mother‑in-law over with his car wasn’t any less condemnable.

Meticulously, Bree picked a few scattered breadcrumbs from the counter before she reached for the next pieces of toast, beginning to pile the condiments in even layers.

It wasn’t as if she couldn’t handle being on her own for a weekend. She had done so plenty of times, taking the extra time to work on things around the house. The simple knowledge that this time Rex wasn’t at a medical conference shouldn’t make any difference. She was home alone just the same.

Bree sliced though the next set of sandwiches with vigor.

Through the open kitchen door, she heard the children rushing down the stairs with their backpacks, Andrew’s heavier steps followed by Danielle’s lighter tread.

“She’s coming this weekend?” he asked. “Are you sure?”

“Of course.” Danielle took the last few steps in a jump. “Julie told me. The big dinner is tonight.”

“Damn, we’ll miss it.” Andrew let his backpack slump to the floor at the feet of the stairs. “Too bad we can’t take some of Renata’s food along to the camp.”

“You’d rather take Renata herself along,” Danielle said in a sing-song voice followed by Andrew’s rather indignant, “I wouldn’t!”

“Would too! You think she’s hot,” Danielle insisted.

“No way – she’s like what, forty?” Andrew sounded very defensive. “I just like that lemon cheese cake she always makes.”

Bree looked down at her latest sandwich wrapping, noting with dismay that she had folded over the wrong corner.

Renata Bentivoglio was a distant cousin of Susan’s – so distant that Bree couldn’t recall how exactly the women were related – who visited Wisteria Lane twice a year with unwavering regularity, insisting that family should see each other. At least she said so now, ever since her divorce a few years ago. Bree had never really seen her around before.

Weekends where Renata visited usually involved a big Italian-style dinner for half the neighborhood, and, at some point, a panicking Susan who was afraid she’d never get her kitchen back the way it had been while she complained about how unfair it was that Renata was not only the better cook, but had also gotten the better looks.

Bree didn’t care about Renata’s beauty, but she bristled at the Italian’s supposed culinary skills. Ever since she had brought a lemon cheese cake – her own special recipe – to one of Renata’s first dinner nights, only to discover that Renata had made a lemon cheese cake of her own, which during the course of the evening had been praised by everyone present while her own offering had remained almost untouched, Bree disliked Renata with a passion. That her own son openly preferred the Italian’s baking skills only added to the humiliation.

Taking note of how Andrew’s carelessly dumped backpack creased the hallway carpet, Bree wondered uncomfortably what exactly her son’s thoughts of Renata Bentivoglio entailed. She supposed Renata would rate as ‘hot’, even for a teenager.

…Did Rex think of Maisy as ‘hot’?

The thought was there before Bree could block it, leading to other unpleasant musings – was Rex thinking of his mistress while he was recovering in his hospital bed? What exactly had made him have that heart attack? Was he glad to be away from his wife? Was Maisy visiting him instead?

Unasked for, the image of the other woman painted itself across Bree’s mind – the overdone hair, the too glossy lipstick, the overuse of make-up either way, the garishly patterned blouses, and that inappropriate smirk. The smirk that had assured Bree wordlessly that, yes, Maisy had fulfilled Rex’s ‘sexual needs’. Those needs that she had, not even knowing what they were, offered to brave herself – and asking hadn’t been easy – and he still hadn’t even told her. Just like he hadn’t touched her, not in months.

Bree busied herself with packing the stack of sandwiches into the oversized lunch bag, her movements brisker than the task required.

Maisy wasn’t ‘hot’. She had no taste, and no style, and she was cheap, and vulgar, and — and she had something that Rex apparently wanted. Something Bree herself didn’t have.

She needed two tries to tie the cords on the lunch bag into neat, double-knotted bows.

“Mom, we’re gonna be late!” Danielle called from the hallway.

Andrew said nothing. They still quite weren’t on speaking terms again after the incident involving pot in Andrew’s sports locker.

Bree absently brushed a hand over her eyes, surprised to feel wetness against her fingers. Taking a deep breath, she willed a cheerful smile onto her face. “I’ll be right there.”

*****

It hadn’t gone that badly, Bree mused while sorting cutlery back into the dining room drawers. Andrew had even said something to her without anger before they had taken off, even if had been no more than “Mom – who’s supposed to eat all this?” Still, the house seemed larger without the children. Larger, and emptier.

Nobody at the church had said anything to her about Rex, apart from asking her to convey their wishes for a speedy recovery. Polishing an overlooked water stain off a knife, Bree wondered what they would say if they knew, how quickly their sympathy would change to false pity and secret gloating. Part of her was astonished that people couldn’t see the betrayal and shame written all over her face, but then, if Bree Van De Kamp had ever excelled at something, it was at keeping up appearances.

The muted sound of the drawer being shut echoed strangely through the dining room. She couldn’t imagine the house this empty for good, without the sounds of the children hurrying up and down the stairs, and the rattling of Rex’s key in the door in the evening.

The glass of the china display case looked as if it could need another cleaning; there were fingerprints visible in the midday sun falling in through the windows.

That was how the door bell caught her – leather cloth in one hand, the glass cleaner in the other – making her wonder briefly whether her lawyer had come by to drop off a first draft of the legal papers already. On her doorstep, however, awkwardly twisting her hands, stood Susan Mayer, her smile just nervous enough to make Bree uncomfortable about what was going to be asked of her. She doubted that it was about Susan canceling the afternoon tea with the girls.

Bree swallowed the sensation of foreboding. “Susan – is everything alright?”

“Yes!” Susan’s answer came a little too quickly. “No. – I mean, nothing’s wrong, but you know how things are finally getting somewhere with Mike, and our last romantic weekend already got blown off…” She pushed her hands into the front pockets of her jeans – actually a little too tight for a woman her age, Bree thought, but it wasn’t as if Susan couldn’t wear them – and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “And now Renata is visiting over the weekend –“

“And?” Bree inquired politely, not quite seeing where this was leading.

“And she’s a Catholic!” Susan pointed out desperately. “I don’t even know how to tell her about Mike!” She balanced on the balls of her feet, finishing in a rush. “And since your house is empty over the weekend with the kids away and Rex still in the hospital, I thought she could perhaps stay with you, just for Saturday night? Please?”

“Why aren’t you having your romantic weekend at Mike’s place then?” Bree stalled, her voice calm, but lined with steel. There was no way Renata Bentivoglio was crossing her threshold. Least of all her kitchen threshold.

“I need to be at my place, have my things around me,” Susan tried to explain. “I’m nervous enough as it is! You know how these things are…”

Bree nodded noncommittally as Susan trailed off, obviously catching up with the fact that, no, Bree with her storybook marriage wouldn’t know how these things were.

“I know you don’t like her,” she added hastily. “And I don’t really like her either, but if I keep postponing Mike, he’ll start thinking that I don’t really like him. And I really do. Like him.” Her gaze was pleading. “I know I’ll be forever in your debt, and I’ll officially name you the sole savior of my love life, but please, please, please, help me out.” Susan clearly wasn’t above begging. “Your house is so huge, you’ll hardly even see her – and perhaps it will help take your mind off your worries. And you’d be alone anyway, it’s not like it would interrupt anything for you.”

No, subtlety or tact had never been Susan’s strong points, Bree observed, carefully arranging her features into a bland expression. She was about to reply something to the effect that if Mike really liked Susan, he wouldn’t mind waiting a little longer and certainly wouldn’t run off with somebody else, but then stopped herself.

Again, the memory of Maisy’s smirk rose to the forefront, taunting her. She remembered the feeling of humiliation when, weeks earlier, she herself had pleaded with Rex to open up to her sexually, only to be rejected by him – not once, but twice. She recalled her tentative hope of patching things back together either way, only to have Rex tell her that she should go date someone else, and that he himself was moving on. That he was fed up with their life in general, and had, apparently, been for a very long time.

No, Bree didn’t think she was qualified to give out any relationship advice at the moment, other than that Susan should grab her happiness with both hands and hold onto it tightly, before it inevitably turned on her.

She did have the house all to herself this weekend, and no other plans – Susan was right about that. With an inward sigh, Bree resigned herself to a Saturday night in the company of Renata Bentivoglio. “Fine,” she said, swallowing her discomfort. The enthusiastic smile Susan gave her in reply made her feel strangely wistful. Had she ever been that giddy about a date? She couldn’t remember.

“You’re the best,” Susan declared happily. “Thank you so much. I promise, she won’t be a bother.” She clasped both of Bree’s hands between her own, her eyes sparkling from her smile. “I’ll bring her over for the poker game this afternoon, then you can settle the details.” She must have registered the startled expression that flitted over Bree’s face. “We are still on for this afternoon, aren’t we?”

“Of course,” Bree replied evenly. “As you said, I have a huge house all to myself.” The smile didn’t reach her eyes.

*****

She was already regretting her decision by that afternoon as she set the table for five instead of four, imagining how she would have to do so for two the following night. She had no idea what to talk about with Renata for an entire evening, not knowing much more about the woman than that she was Catholic and divorced, lived in New York, had an impeccable dress sense and enjoyed throwing dinner parties. Bree reluctantly had to admit that, also, she had never witnessed Renata be anything but kind.

And she still didn’t like her in the least.

Bree adjusted the position of a pastry fork with a fingertip, surveying the arrangement one final time when a rap on the door interrupted her.

“The dining room today?” Lynette asked by way of greeting. “Are you remodeling the kitchen again?” She stopped to take in the place settings. “…Italian guest of honor?” she guessed after a moment.

Bree nodded, not really trusting her voice to remain neutral if she were to actually comment.

“If it weren’t for her dinner parties, I’d have choked her years ago,” Lynette confided cheerfully, leaning with her hip against the table as Bree went to answer the door again. Lynette tended to reason, with Susan dejectedly agreeing, that Renata was the kind of woman other women had no choice but to hate, be it for her homemaking skills, the way her hair always seemed to fall just so, or that underlying edge of easy sensuality she exuded. Even Gabrielle, who certainly had catwalk beauty and the advantage of youth over Renata, tended to complain about the other woman.

And the worst was, as Lynette groused, that you couldn’t even hate Renata without feeling petty about it.

“Well, she is divorced,” Gabrielle pointed out, closing the door behind her and joining the gossip round. She took a seat and reached for a deck of cards, shuffling it. “Which means that there is at least one thing she has done wrong.”

The clatter of Bree’s tea cup against the saucer was drowned out by the doorbell, announcing a stressed-looking Susan and a smiling Renata, who, to Bree’s consternation, held a covered dish in her hands. Her cheeks were a bit flushed, probably from working over a stove. Dark hair was loosely curling over one shoulder – just so – and even though her plain skirt ended modestly at mid‑calf, something about her shoes drew the gaze to the small expanse of bare leg. “I’m sorry we’re late,” she apologized, her voice just carrying the barest hint of an accent. “I had to get the sauce for tonight started.”

Bree had wanted to reply something, but then noticed the blouse the woman wore, light purple with a satiny sheen, unbuttoned just enough to show a delicate golden necklace with a cross underneath. She barely heard Renata’s polite question, “How’s your husband doing?”

Maisy had worn light purple, low-cut and figure-hugging. And a necklace with dark, shimmering pearls. And that smirk… Bree absently touched her fingers to her own necklace, feeling the smooth, cool surface of the pearls against her skin. “Oh, he’s doing fine,” she said, answering Renata’s light smile with a blatantly false one of her own. “He’s currently in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack that seized him while in bed with his mistress.”

For a few seconds, the silence in the room was absolutely deafening.

Susan looked at Bree helplessly. “I hadn’t mentioned that…” she murmured.

Bree focused on her guest again. “Tea or coffee, Renata?”

“Coffee please.” Renata said, giving Susan an uncertain look, clearly thrown by the odd turn of conversation. She nodded at the dish in her hands. “I brought some cherry cobbler.”

Bree forced another smile onto her face. “How lovely.” She fought the urge to bristle as Renata followed her into the kitchen, her kitchen, and busied herself with unwrapping the cobbler she had brought.

Bree wordlessly started the coffee maker, then reached for the powdered sugar and a small sieve and spoon, spreading the white dust mechanically over the surface of the still warm rhubarb galette she had taken out of the oven only minutes ago.

For a while, there was no sound except for the rhythmic rumbling of the coffee maker and the quiet scratching of the spoon against the sieve.

“I’m sorry about your husband,” Renata offered suddenly.

Only the slightly deeper breath Bree drew indicated that she had been caught off guard. “Sugar with your coffee?” she then asked coolly.

“Please,” Renata replied just as guardedly. Another protracted moment of silence passed before the woman spoke again, nodding at the dessert in front of her. “Would you have a knife for me?”

Bree gestured at the knife block at the end of the counter, watching Renata’s feet as she walked the few steps over there. It might have been something about her heels, or about the way she set her feet, walking so easily around a strange kitchen, that left Bree feeling lacking, even in her own space, her own home.

She reached for the napkins, folding the first one with precise movements, sharpening the crease with a nail. From the corner of her eye, she watched Renata cutting the cobbler with practiced ease.

It suddenly struck Bree that she couldn’t even look down on Renata anymore for being a divorcee. For one wild moment, Bree felt hate, although she couldn’t have said at whom it was directed, Renata or herself. She reached for another napkin. It didn’t matter either way. Her nail slid along the crease.

Something about her posture must have been off because Renata turned half around, surveying her closely. “You know how I learned that my husband wanted to divorce me?” She lay down the knife, the abrupt movement startling Bree as much as the unexpected question. “He sent the paperwork to the charity office where I was working.”

Bree cringed at the thought of that scenario, her reaction instantaneous. “Oh God, what did you do?” Only belatedly, she realized what Renata’s offhanded anecdote was: an offer of truce.

“I signed them,” the Italian said, not sounding as casual as she had perhaps intended to. “And then I looked for a new charity to work in.”

“I’m sorry,” Bree offered, and she was surprised to find that she truly was. The thought of the impeccable Renata being humiliated like that was strangely comforting. Bree wondered whether there had been other similarities involved in the woman’s divorce. “Did your husband have an affair?”

Renata shrugged. “Now and then.” Her tone was resigned.

Even though Bree knew it wasn’t a very Christian thing to do, she couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit lucky. At least Rex hadn’t been cheating for the chase. …Or had he? Had there been others?

“The worst was to feel so vulnerable in front of everyone,” Renata admitted quietly, leaning against the counter, arms crossed over her chest. “Being on my own all of a sudden was one thing. But being stripped of my pride was far worse – knowing that he didn’t respect me enough to come to me with it first.”

The words echoed though Bree. “I guess one would feel very small,” she allowed with reserve. “And left alone. And…” She hesitated. “…not very attractive.” She looked straight ahead, methodically picking up the sieve and spoon again, adding another layer of powder sugar to the cake.

Renata’s voice sounded from right next to her, unexpectedly soft. “I’ve always thought you were very beautiful.”

The small sieve slipped out of Bree’s grasp, leaving a trail of powder sugar on her shirt as she reflexively clasped it to her. Her dismayed “Oh, shoot!” mixed with Renata’s quick “Sorry – let me help.” She watched the other woman reach for a kitchen towel, stopping her with an extended arm. “No… don’t rub it in.”

“You’re right.” Renata leaned closer, her expression something close to amused as she surveyed the white stains dotting the neckline of Bree’s shirt and cardigan. She leaned in even closer.

And before Bree could say anything, there was the sensation of warm breath against her neck, gently blowing over her skin just where the top button of her cardigan was left open. Bree started, awkwardly balancing herself with a hand against the counter as she watched tiny clouds of white dust swirl through the air unhurriedly before they finally settled on the kitchen floor. Tendrils of warmth, most likely embarrassment at her own clumsiness, spread through her chest and she suddenly found herself trying to remember the last time somebody had hugged her.

She was distracted from her idle musings by Renata, who delicately brushed the last, possibly imaginary, bit of sugar dust away with a fingertip. “All done,” she stated, stepping back. There was a smile on her face, softly curling her lips, and when Bree looked up into her eyes she was startled by the warmth they exuded. For one peculiar moment, she seemed unable to notice anything else but those eyes, dark and deep. Suddenly sharply remembering the feeling of heat from only a minute ago, she briskly shook her head and gestured at the floor. “I better clean this up.”

*****

Renata’s dinner party that night turned out to be a full success and Bree wryly mused that Susan would probably spend the better part of the night cleaning up her own kitchen and rearranging her own furniture. Looking over the mingling dinner guests, she found Susan sitting away from Mike, awkwardly trying not to look at him and failing miserably.

At this rate, Bree thought Renata would have it all figured out even before the party was over, no matter how Catholic she was. And religious or not, Renata knew how to throw a dinner party. Granted, it wasn’t as orderly as Bree herself would have done it – instead of a seating arrangement and place cards, there was a buffet and paper napkins and people were walking around, talking loudly, but also laughing loudly and clearly having a good time.

Tom and Lynette had left a while ago to relieve the babysitter, but even at the late hour, most of the other guests were still present. Bree herself didn’t feel like returning to her empty home. For most of the night, she had been sitting with her arm around Gabrielle, taking turns with Lynette in comforting her about Carlos’s absence. As far as Bree was concerned, a husband in jail was far more humiliating than a husband recovering from a heart attack; however, if people knew just how Rex had acquired his heart attack – having his ‘sexual needs’ fulfilled by Maisy Gibbons – the odds would easily be reversed. And even though Carlos was sleeping on a jail bunk right now instead of resting in a comfortable hospital bed, and even though everybody knew about it, everybody knew just as well how much Carlos adored Gabby, and would never cheat on her.

“He’ll be home soon, Sweetie,” Bree said soothingly, swallowing the edge of bitterness. “We all know it’s just been a terrible misunderstanding, and I’m sure he’ll be cleared any day now.”

She was grateful that the dinner was a relatively small affair tonight, with all of the guests already well aware of Gabrielle’s predicament and openly supportive of her. It would be different if this were an assembly like last December’s Christmas bash where Renata had insisted Susan invite half the neighborhood to stop by for a glass of punch – and some gossip – including even people like Maisy Gibbons and her husband. On a sharp breath, Bree admitted that she wasn’t sure whether she could have kept her ire in check if she had been forced to stay in the same house with Maisy tonight. Thankfully, Renata seemed content to merely feed her cousin’s closer friends and acquaintances this time around.

Looking around for the hostess of the evening, Bree found her standing by the buffet tables, acting by all means like the lady of the house as she served young Zach what had to be his third helping of the infamous lemon cheese cake. Involuntarily frowning at the reminder of her defeat, it took Bree a moment to notice the way Renata was smiling openly. In the middle of carrying dishes in and out and serving people who were much more her cousin’s guests than her own, she seemed relaxed. Happy, even.

Bree regarded her with envy, knowing from experience that hosting a dinner wasn’t a very relaxing experience; there were so many things that could go wrong. And looking around, Bree could tell that some things definitely had gone wrong tonight: There were not enough chairs – she counted two people sitting on the landing – they had run out of white wine, and also out of paper napkins, improvising with kitchen towels. But somehow, nobody seemed to think of Renata as a bad hostess for it. Not even Renata herself, who still stood at the buffet table, now stacking empty dishes.

If this were her party, Bree thought, there would be no dirty dishes in sight.

What could it be that made Renata’s outings turn out perfectly well, when they so clearly were half improvised, and when Renata wasn’t even aiming at perfection? – Perhaps it was genetically predisposed only in Italians. Dolce vita.

And that wasn’t the only aspect of dolce vita when it to came to Renata – Bree sharply took note of the way Zach was glancing at Renata’s departing figure on her way to the kitchen. It clearly had nothing to do with the cheese cake on his plate.

Thinking Zach much too young for that kind of awareness – and trying not to dwell on the fact that her own son might have given Renata much the same look, had he been present tonight – Bree found herself surveying Renata through the open kitchen door, trying to pinpoint what it was that made her turn heads.

It wasn’t as if Renata dressed provocatively – Bree briefly looked over to where Edie Britt was leaning against the sideboard in one of the tiniest miniskirts she had ever seen – or even flirted much. No, Renata was not the person to flaunt anything. Neither in her attire, nor in her manners. Even now, the only indulgence on Renata was a heavy golden bracelet on her wrist, set off against the simple black dress she was wearing. Of course, being Renata, she looked anything but simple in it. It was something about the way she carried herself, Bree decided. Renata exuded an elegance that was born not of poise, but of natural grace.

…Would Rex find a woman like Renata appealing?

Thinking of how he had lashed out at her, calling her distant and cold, Bree felt faded. She involuntarily glanced at Renata again, who was just then laughing out loudly at something Julie had told her.

Renata evoked images of warm colors, soft lines and smooth curves.

Bree wondered what her own appearance evoked.

“I’ve always thought you were very beautiful.”

The afternoon’s compliment, spoken so softly, echoed through her mind.

“…Would you rather have some dessert?” The object of her contemplation stood suddenly right in front of Bree, the question issued at Gabrielle who was only picking at her plate of vegetable lasagna. “Perhaps some tiramisù or lemon cheese cake?”

Up close, Bree could see that the right shoulder of Renata’s dress was slightly askew and her fingers were itching to correct the asymmetry. “The lasagna was good,” she answered apologetically for Gabrielle, who continued to stare ahead. “I’ll really have to think about what I can come up with tomorrow night!” The empty phrase came off more competitive than Bree had intended to.

“Fine, then I’ll bring dessert,” Renata countered easily, picking up Gabrielle’s plate along with a few others.

Renata in her kitchen again. Bree smiled icily. “Wonderful.”

They had arranged the sleepover as coolly as if discussing war plans earlier, with Renata clearly just as joyful about being exiled from Susan’s as Bree was about having her.

Already walking away, Renata turned around once more, balancing the plates in her outstretched hands. “That shirt really suits you, by the way.” She nodded at the richly green knit sweater Bree was wearing. “Brings out your eyes.”

With that she was gone, leaving behind a startled Bree, who was dismayed to find herself blushing.

Gabrielle had watched the exchange with a worried expression. Even though she spent hardly any time around the kitchen, she knew enough to be sure that challenging Bree Van De Kamp about cooking – and in her own kitchen at that – was a very stupid thing to attempt. And possibly a very dangerous one, too. “She really doesn’t know where the boundaries are,” she commented warily.

Bree mentally compiled a shopping list for the upcoming morning. ”Not yet.”

*****

Renata hadn’t come over yet. Taking another glance at the clock in the hallway, Bree wasn’t sure whether she was irked that the woman was late, or relieved at having to spend a little less time with her. Though to be honest, the idea of spending the evening alone in her empty house with nothing but her own troubled thoughts for company was even less appealing than dinner with Renata – who, she had to give her that, had been downright compassionate yesterday. It wasn’t her fault that Bree loathed the thought of being pitied.

Catching sight of herself in the hallway mirror, she reached up to adjust her neckline, tucking a delicate strap of red back underneath the matching dress that had threatened to slip off one shoulder, pausing for a moment before she straightened. She absently touched her fingers to the pearls around her neck, wondering whether she had gone a little overboard in dressing up. She got so few chances to do so these days. And with the divorce now underway, there would be no more parties to attend with Rex. No more annual medical functions with wine tastings and dancing. No more dinners to host for his colleagues and their wives.

She surveyed herself critically. Perhaps pinning up her hair had been a little too much, but at least there wouldn’t be any sympathetic looks at her wardrobe from the always elegant Renata. In the kitchen, another check on the simmering Beef Wellington and perfectly tempered hors d’oeuvres – parmesan tulips with eggplant caviar and grilled peppers – left her with the comfortable feeling that there wouldn’t be any condescending looks when it came to her cooking, either.

The ring of the doorbell – eight minutes late – jolted Bree out of her rather smug inventory. Untying her apron strings, she took her time walking up to the door, wondering why she was nervous.

The door revealed Renata standing on her doorstep, a small overnight bag in one hand, a covered dish in the other, and suddenly, Bree was very glad that she had decided to dress up a little. Stunning was the first word that came to mind as she took in Renata, from the simple black halter neck dress to the casually graceful way she leaned against the door frame. For a moment, Bree wondered whether Renata perhaps didn’t get too many chances to dress up, either.

Renata shrugged with a smile. “Just because neither of us wanted this, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and enjoy the evening.”

Bree had to concede that the other woman had a point. She gestured for her to enter the house, eyeing her warily as she stepped into her private territory and made a direct line for the kitchen. She watched Renata deposit the covered dish in the freezer, taking note – again – of the heavy gold bracelet she wore, brushing against her forearm as she moved.

“What did you bring?” Bree hadn’t really wanted to ask.

Again, Renata was smiling. “It’s a surprise.”

The seam of her dress brushed gently against the curve of her calves, just below her knees, as she walked up the stairs ahead of Bree, towards the guest room. And when Bree was coming back from the kitchen with the hors d’oeuvres a few minutes later, she found the other woman with her back to her, slowly walking along the photo shelves in the living room, taking her time in studying every image. Her slightly bent head drew the viewer’s gaze to the line of her neck, bared by her done up hair, so that the dark knot of the halter neck was the only thing to offer a contrast to the exposed skin of her shoulders and back.

Bree stood for a few seconds, looking down at her hands holding the antipasti tray, and then up at the other woman again, puzzled by how Renata’s skin tone was so different from her own – not really that much darker, but with a much more olive tint. It looked smooth.

“I brought some wine,” Renata turned around, gesturing at the bottle on the table. “And some music, if you don’t mind.” She held up a CD case.

Bree gestured at the stereo. “Suit yourself.” Renata really seemed determined to make the most of her evening in exile. The wine bottle was already opened to breathe, and Bree acidly thought that for the hors d’oeuvres, the perfectly chilled chardonnay she had in the fridge would certainly have been the better choice. But, she had to remind herself, this clearly wasn’t going to be a nice quiet night of chardonnay and Chopin. Instead it was – she checked the label on the bottle – Barolo, and something that sounded like it was straight out of the 1960s, only that it was in Italian.

“I know it’s sentimental,” Renata admitted, but she was smiling. “Thank you for indulging me.”

Bree supposed she could listen to Chopin again tomorrow night.

Renata poured the wine before she sat down, having to lean slightly across the dining table that had never been intended for just two. Bree looked away when she couldn’t help but notice that from this angle, the v neckline of Renata’s dress was a bit more revealing than intended.

“I propose a toast.” The Italian raised her glass. “To this evening – unwanted as it may be, let’s hope it won’t be too unpleasant.” She clinked her glass lightly to Bree’s, who suddenly felt petty about her unwillingness to let Renata stay with her. Being more or less tossed out by Susan for the night probably wasn’t too thrilling, either.

“I hope Susan is at least having a good time with Mike tonight.” Renata sat her glass down. “He seemed nice enough.”

Bree blinked in surprise. “…you know?”

“I’m not blind,” Renata said curtly. Then she shrugged. “I think she could have picked another weekend for their romantic date than the one out of twenty-five when I am visiting, but other than that, I’m happy for her.”

“It’s just…” Bree shook her head, remembering Susan’s nervousness. “You’re a Catholic!”

Renata laughed. “Doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” She leaned over the table a little. “I’ll let you in on a secret. Catholics do the same things everyone else does. We just go to confession about them.” Bree wasn’t sure, but she thought Renata had actually winked at her. “And afterwards, we do them all over again.”

Bree hoped Renata was kidding, but the woman seemed suddenly serious. “Do you know Mike?”

“Not really,” Bree said carefully, sipping at her wine. “He only just moved here – but he seems to be nice. And I think Susan really likes him.”

Renata pursed her lips. “As long as he likes her, too.” She took another long swallow of wine. “She deserves someone who is better to her than her ex.”

Bree was a bit surprised at the honest concern. “You care about her.” With how little Susan talked about Renata, she wouldn’t have predicted those two being close.

“Of course,” Renata replied around a bite of hors d’oeuvre. “She’s family.” She motioned at her plate with the small antipasti fork. “This is fantastic, by the way – Did you make the tulips from scratch?”

Bree nodded, inwardly wishing that it were that easy in her case. That being family would be enough of a reason to stick together.

Instead, here she was, dressed up, sitting across from a virtual stranger, whose presence she was using to escape an evening alone with her thoughts. Thoughts about a husband who rejected her, a son who defied her, and the ever returning question of what she had done wrong to cause this. At least with fussing over tonight’s dinner, she’d had a little less time to fret over more essential issues.

Was this pathetic? – But even if it was, right at this moment, Bree wasn’t feeling too bad about it. It wasn’t as if Renata had anything better to do, either, and she seemed to actually enjoy herself. She had complimented her on the hors d’oeuvres not once, but twice, and asked for seconds. And in between, she had been admiring Bree’s dining room chairs and she had seemed honestly impressed upon learning that Bree had upholstered them herself.

This time, it was Bree who filled their wine glasses while Renata was describing the dining room she had always wanted to have, with Bree adding an idea here and there until Renata asked her if she could hire her if she ever were to redecorate.

Bree had waved if off, of course, but the pleased smile at the implied compliment still hovered on the corners of her lips. She took another sip of the dark, heavy wine, astonished to find that she was enjoying the evening, despite the unfamiliar music and despite Renata, who was attentive and friendly. Charming, even.

She even got up to help with the plates when Bree announced she would fetch the main course and Bree barely resisted the urge to bristle at the unexpected gesture. It must have transmitted either way because Renata shook her head. “Relax,” she said easily, holding the kitchen door open. “I’m not trying to take over your kitchen.”

“You’re the guest…” Bree protested, not liking how Renata seemed to see right through her. She gathered up the Beef Wellington and gratin, dismayed to see Renata reach for the sauce.

“You don’t have three arms,” the Italian pointed out practically, already walking ahead.

Only when they had settled down again, Bree noticed the small tear in the puff pastry covering the filet, the meat underneath pale and dry. She should have shut off the oven completely, or at least noticed how much more time than anticipated they had spent over the hors d’oeuvres. “That has never happened to me before!” Bree looked at what was one of her most famed dishes in mortification, blushing with embarrassment.

“Just bribe me with an extra slice of it and I won’t tell anyone,” Renata promised teasingly.

Bree looked up sharply, but couldn’t find anything gloating in the other woman’s expression. She shifted uncomfortably, feeling her face reddening further under Renata’s amused gaze.

“It smells delicious, Bree.” Renata raised her hand as if swearing an oath before her smile turned teasing again. “And if you messed it up, we’ll simply finish off the antipasti tulips, have more wine and then eat dessert right away.”

Bree failed to see the humor in that. “You wouldn’t consider this so funny if it were your dish,” she stated primly.

“Probably not,” Renata agreed cheerfully. “But I wouldn’t let it mess up my evening, either.” She looked at Bree squarely who, again, was taken aback at the darkness and warmth of those eyes. “And I’m having a good time. Much better than I thought I would. – Aren’t you?”

Bree picked up the heavy steel knife to cut the filet. “Yes,” she had to concede with some reluctance as she concentrated on cutting the meat into perfectly even slices.

Renata reached for the wine bottle again. “Then why worry?” She refilled their glasses and then nudged her plate forward, expectantly leaning forward on her elbows. Her movement made the light reflect off the silky fabric of her dress, casting shadows down the line of her throat and down her cleavage.

The Barolo really was heavier than her usual chardonnays, Bree thought flustered. The sentimental music was still playing in the background.

“You should get out there. Meet someone.” She heard Rex’s voice echo in her head, puzzled as to why she was thinking of it now. Perhaps it was because Renata was divorced as well, reminding her of her own separation and the loneliness that would follow once Rex moved out for good.

“So are you living alone?” she asked, still unable to imagine that she would at some point live in this house on her own, seeing Rex only at church, in another pew, and the children only when they would come home from college.

Renata blinked. “Yes, I am.”

“Don’t you feel lonely sometimes?”

Renata put down her fork even though she hadn’t touched her food yet. “Sometimes.”

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Bree admitted. Voicing her fears was strangely easy – it had to be because Renata was more or less a stranger – but they were still something she hated to bare. She smiled self-depreciatingly, playing with her knife. “It is almost a bit scary.”

“A bit!” Renata placed a hand atop Bree’s impulsively. “It is one of the scariest things anyone could go through!” She gave the cooler fingers underneath her own a reassuring squeeze. “But you’ll be fine. You’ll meet new people, and find you have the time to try out the things you’ve always wanted to do. – You could even work crafts – just look at your furniture! I have friends in New York who would kill for handmade upholstery like that.”

Bree smiled uncertainly, not sure whether she should be insulted by the sudden protectiveness directed her way, or flattered by the obvious trust in her abilities.

“That’s right,” Renata observed, letting go of her hand and leaning back in the chair. “You also shouldn’t forget how to smile.”

It took Bree a second before she could answer Renata’s look, and she thought it strange that now, in looking at her, the foremost association she had was not competition, or dislike, or capriciousness, but warmth.

Warmth that spread up her own cheeks when Renata finally tried the filet and mock‑scowled at her for making such a fuss about something that hadn’t made the dish any less excellent. After a careful bite, Bree had to agree that as long as they ate around the tear, the filet was indeed still edible.

“Of course you could always open a catering service, too,” Renata commented dryly, nodding at her plate. “And you won’t be alone,” she picked up the earlier thread of conversation again. “How could you? You have children!”

“You have family, too,” Bree protested politely.

“Not really,” Renata paused between two bites. “Most of my family lives in Italy, and they still can’t accept my divorce. We aren’t exactly on speaking terms.” She smiled sadly. “Why do you think I make such an effort to connect with a cousin as distant as Susan?” For the first time, Renata looked defeated. “And I don’t even think she really cares.”

“Of course she does,” Bree protested and knew she was lying. Renata probably knew it, too. She tried to switch the topic without being too obvious. “So when did you leave Italy?”

“When I was nineteen.” Renata shook her head at a memory Bree didn’t know. “My family had ties to New York, and I came here more or less to be married off. On my first Christmas in America, I was already Mrs. Bentivoglio.” She lifted the wine bottle only to find that it was almost empty, and after a moment of hesitation, politely poured the last sips into Bree’s glass.

“I think we still have a Tempranillo on the shelf…” Bree excused herself, returning a minute later with a bottle of Spanish red. Renata surveyed her intently as she walked up to the table, making Bree wonder uncomfortably whether she had spilled something.

“I like your dress.”

There was something about the way Renata looked at her that made Bree blush again. “Thank you.” She sat the bottle down on the table. “It’s just that I get so few chances to dress up anymore…” She trailed off abashedly.

“I hear you.” Renata nodded in agreement. “I almost envied Susan earlier, nearly losing her mind over what to wear and running around the house close to hysteria.”

Bree chuckled at this. “When Susan decides to dress up, she is very pretty.” She remembered Susan’s appearance at the fund-raiser fashion show a few weeks back. She hadn’t been pretty. She had been beautiful. “It seems to run in the family.”

Only when Renata gave her a strangely shy smile in return, Bree took note of her own compliment. And of the fact that smiling like this, Renata was indeed very beautiful.

“Between Julie and me, Susan looked great by the time we left,” Renata continued easily, perhaps not having noticed the odd few seconds of silence. “I just hope Mike deserves it.” She turned her head towards the window, trying to make out Susan’s house across the street. “I wonder how they are doing.”

Bree picked up her wine glass again. Susan’s house was dark, with only a glimmer of light outlining one of the windows on the second floor.

This time, the silence lasted longer.

Over a long sip of dark wine, Bree tried to pinpoint the last time she and Rex had really taken time for one another. Or any time at all. It had to be the wine that made her unable to remember. She took another sip, the fragrant smoothness suddenly tasting bitter on her tongue.

“The worst is to feel like such a failure.” She didn’t realize she had spoken aloud until the other woman replied.

“Failure?” Renata sounded disbelieving. She gestured, encompassing the house. “You have so many talents. – Just look at your picture book household! You are the perfect wife.”

Bree pressed her lips together, thinking about the sound of Rex’s key rattling in the lock in the evening, and how it was all over now. “It still wasn’t enough.” Her voice sounded brittle to her own ears. “He still left.”

Renata eyed her pensively for a moment. “Perhaps it’s not about something that you couldn’t give him. Perhaps it’s about what he couldn’t give you in return.”

Was Rex’s dissatisfaction and detachment something she couldn’t have prevented either way? The image left Bree with mixed feelings. “Was that why your marriage broke apart?” Normally, she wouldn’t have asked such a question, but it helped to hear a story so similar to her own and Renata didn’t seem to mind.

“There was something I couldn’t give him.”

“…children?” Bree guessed hesitantly.

“No,” Renata said vehemently, startling Bree. “No. He couldn’t…. I would have loved to…” She trailed off, shrugging helplessly. “He wanted his own or none.”

“I ’m sorry, ” Bree said, her heart going out to Renata. She couldn’t imagine not having children. That certainly was a reason to break up a marriage, but it didn’t seem as if that had been the issue with Renata. If she had been sober, Bree would have been mortified at her own bluntness, but she needed to know. “What was it that you couldn’t give him ?” Whatever she had expected, it wasn’t what Renata said.

“My heart, I guess.” Off Bree’s shell-shocked look, she tried to explain. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved him dearly and I would never have betrayed him, but I think he needed something else – something more passionate. And I couldn’t give him that.”

Bree took in Renata’s calm with fascination. “Didn’t you try to fight for him?”

“Of course!” A brief flash passed through Renata’s eyes. “But I couldn’t change what he needed, or who I was. He wanted something that just wasn’t there.” She shook her head at herself. “We married so young, and I was so naïve… I never even thought that we could have different needs.”

Bree wondered whether those needs had been ‘sexual needs’.

She thought of the reserve Rex had shown, the cruel bluntness with which he had told her was unhappy with her, his embarrassment when she had tried to talk to him. Her own feelings of humiliation, between being rejected and trying to accommodate him. Part of her still refused to accept that a marriage should break up over something as mundane as sex, but that clearly hadn’t stopped Rex from cheating.

Bree didn’t think she’d ever asked for anything in bed. It was nice as it was, and not all marriages were terribly passionate in that regard. They didn’t need to be –Renata’s apparently hadn’t been, either. Well, it might have been that way for her and Rex in the very beginning, during the first year, perhaps, but then she had had Andrew, and there had been other worries. And of course there had been less lovemaking when the children were little and prone to wander into their bedroom at night, and even less when the children were not so little anymore. And then later, there had been even less still.

Looking at Renata, Bree wondered if her husband had ever called her cold, or robotic. Whether she, too, had been humiliated in marriage counseling only to be left anyway. Feelings of sympathy mixed with feelings of solidarity, and she was grateful for Renata’s courage to share. Knowing that she had gone through the same anger, the same fears and still battled a few lingering resentments made her look oddly human, a far cry from the image of the arrogant and poised overachiever that Bree had always had of her. This Renata, the wineglass dangling from her fingers and her eyes sparking agitatedly as she talked about her ex-husband’s notions of ‘missing passion’, was downright likeable. Her dress had shifted slightly to the left while she gestured, and Bree noted that it made the framed v of her cleavage just a bit asymmetrical.

Hastily, she took another sip of wine, finding it hard to imagine Renata as anything else but passionate, in any regard. Come to think of, it was actually strange that Renata hadn’t remarried, or had at least gotten a boyfriend, if Catholics did that sort of thing. With the looks Renata had received at yesterday’s dinner alone, Bree had little doubt that there would a long line of interested suitors.

“My husband said the same things,” she commented absently. “About passion.”

Renata seemed surprised. “Really?” She looked at Bree curiously, until Bree crossed her arms over her chest, feeling unnerved by the scrutiny.

“What?” Her tone was defensive. Renata seemed suddenly flustered, and Bree noted that she was not looking her in the eye, instead concentrating on a spot on her empty plate. When Renata finally raised her head to meet her gaze again, Bree was startled by its intensity.

“Oh, just look at your place, at the dinner you made!” Renata gestured in exasperation. “In everything you do, there is so much dedication and attentiveness. So much willpower and care. And competitiveness – don’t forget you nearly killed me over a cheesecake once.” She overlooked Bree’s mortified expression at that. “That is passion.” She leaned back in her seat. “If anything, your husband has a problem seeing it.”

“Oh…” For a few seconds, Bree was speechless and the somewhat incredulous smile that spread over her face then was entirely involuntary. And then Renata was smiling, too, and her eyes were warm and dark. Just as Bree realized that they were still looking at each other, Renata broke the gaze.

“So your divorce…” Bree’s hand, reaching for the wine glass, was unsteady. “Don’t you have any regrets?”

“No,” Renata said immediately. She shook her head, two loose curls falling against her temple with the movement. “I won’t lie, it was ugly and I felt terrible during it.” Only after a long swallow of wine did she continue. “But it also gave me a chance to rethink my life, and I took it. I changed. And if Vito came back to me today and apologized, I would kick him out this time around.”

That last sentiment, Bree understood perfectly.

“Of course there are also things I miss,” Renata added soberly. “Like the knowledge that someone is there with you. Being a couple.”

“Vacations.” Bree nodded wistfully, thinking of their early travels to Europe. “And dinner parties.”

Renata nodded. “And dancing.”

“Yes,” Bree agreed with a sigh. A few moments passed silently between them.

“Actually, this would rate as a dinner party of sorts,” Renata then mused lightly, gesturing at the table.

“Minus the dancing,” Bree pointed out, images of parquet floors, rustling gowns and swaying together to soft music rising in her mind.

“Says who?”

Renata pushed back her chair to stand and there was an odd second of silence where one could almost hear the mood in the room tilt on its axis, teetering on the brink for a precarious moment that got longer as Bree could only stare at the hand extended to her, carefully manicured fingernails painted a lush pale purple.

“What are you…” Bree shook her head in confusion, the music in the background sounding loudly all of a sudden. “I couldn’t –“

The teasing sparkle was back in Renata’s eyes. “Are you chickening out?”

If there was one thing Bree Van De Kamp hated, it was to admit defeat. Two more sips of wine emptied her glass and she stood, cocking her head to the side as she tried to pick up the rhythm. “A rumba.”

Renata took a step closer. “I concur.”

With only the tiniest hesitation, Bree placed her left hand lightly on Renata’s shoulder just as Renata did the same. She blinked.

Renata arched an eyebrow at her. “Who says I get to lead?”

“You asked me to dance,” Bree reminded her coolly.

“But you’re the hostess.” Renata smiled. “Besides, you’re taller.”

Bree was about to argue the point – she couldn’t possibly have more than half an inch on Renata, who wore heels – but Renata had already grasped her left hand, leaving her to settle her own right tentatively on the other woman’s waist, somewhat awkwardly arranging them in a dancing stance.

But after the first few bars – Bree was still trying to gain her footing – Renata had effortlessly maneuvered herself into her arms, making their position a lot more comfortable than before. Another few steps, and they had found a rhythm, moving smoothly. Bree noted it wistfully, wondering how long it had been since she had danced, and how she hadn’t realized how much she missed it.

Renata had closed her eyes, her face tilted downward, and just then, her hand slid a bit lower on Bree’s shoulder, and Bree missed a step at the sensation of fingers against her skin. Renata adjusted to her steps again within the moment, but Bree was preoccupied with the sudden touch, and with how sharply she noted it.

The lightheaded tingles spreading up her arm were followed by the humiliating realization of how lonely she must be when such an absent gesture could leave such a painfully strong impression on her senses. The scent of somebody else close by, a hand in her own, and beneath the other, the mixture of silky fabric and warm skin underneath. Her hand had slid a little lower on Renata’s waist, resting lightly on the curve of her hip that shifted a bit against her palm with every step. When Bree concentrated, she could even feel how Renata breathed, and then she drew her a little closer so that Renata couldn’t see the tears forming in her eyes.

That one little touch could unravel her so had to be related to that second bottle of wine. She simply wasn’t accustomed to heavy reds.

“You’re not a bad dancer.”

Renata’s eyes seemed even darker at close range, and Bree couldn’t help but notice how Renata was looking up at her from half under her lashes. “Neither are you,” she replied evenly, marveling how they hadn’t stepped on each other’s feet yet. Feeling a little bolder, she spun the other woman out and around.

Renata laughed when she fell back against her, a little closer this time. “Nice move.” Bree could feel her breath against the skin of her neck, and almost stumbled again. But she didn’t, and in the end, standing in front of each other a little uncertainly, she had to think that they hadn’t stepped onto each other’s feet at all.

“See, you can have dinner and dancing on your own,” Renata observed softly, leaning back a little without really stepping away from Bree. “This is something just for yourself.” She had yet to take her hand away from Bree’s shoulder, and the accent in her voice was heavier, or perhaps Bree just noted it more.

She didn’t know why Renata smiled, or why she herself was smiling in return. She only knew that something was drawing her in, and she thought that it was perhaps Renata’s eyes that were warm and fathomless. It had to be that look that left her feeling cold in comparison, reminding her sharply of her own loneliness, and that had her aching for some kind, any kind, of caring contact.

She leaned in, slowly, not thinking any further, and felt Renata’s lips against her own.

Impossibly soft. Impossibly smooth.

Bree wasn’t sure what she had expected, if anything, but it hadn’t been this – not the warmth spreading through her. Not this exquisite touch, unimaginably careful and tender. Not the bout of lightheadedness as Renata kissed her back.

At first, the touch was so soft and fleeting that she didn’t even think of it as kissing, but then it was as much kissing as she’d ever known, with a tongue sliding against her own, and pressure and teeth and ragged breaths. And then it became more – more than kissing, or perhaps she had never been kissed like this, as if she was falling into something, being pulled under and swirled around deep inside herself, where she didn’t dare look.

Overwhelmed, Bree broke the kiss – and could only stare at Renata who was looking at her from half-lidded eyes, breathing heavily, her lips still slightly parted. She leaned closer again as if hypnotized. Hands reached up to caress her face, the touch feathery light, almost reverent. Sinking forward into the kiss again, Bree almost gasped when Renata’s mouth opened under her own. She felt something inside of herself crack open and melt away within her.

Renata’s mouth was satiny and smooth and slick and sweet, tasting of red wine and something darker and heavier still. It beckoned Bree to stop thinking, enveloping her in a wave of warmth and awareness. She felt hands slipping around her neck, a warm body delicately pressing against her own, and only when Renata moaned into the kiss in reply, she realized that her hands had been moving up the other woman’s sides, up to where the dress left her back bare. The sensation of soft skin under her fingertips was dizzying, and there was another sensation accompanying it: Want.

Feeling guilty at her own emotion, Bree drew back. The intensity of her response stunned her and she wondered how it was even possible. But with how Renata was looking at her, that was exactly how she felt. Warm. And wanted.

Bree hadn’t felt desired in a long, long time and she wasn’t sure how she could be reacting to it now, after all Renata was only a woman, just somebody else who was as lonely as she was. Not somebody who should spark desire and look at her in a way that made her feel beautiful and breathless all at once.

Renata was a woman, and this was wrong. Bree shook her head, trying to remember why she shouldn’t enjoy this. “It’s not right…”

“Does it feel wrong?”

Renata’s finger lightly traced the modest cut of her neckline and Bree found herself just this side of gasping, clamping down on the sound before it could escape her lips. For a moment, she was back in yesterday afternoon’s kitchen scene, Renata’s breath playing against her skin. She shifted her stance, not understanding how this mere idea of a touch could affect her so, making her want to give in and leave her responsibilities behind – not being the scorned wife, the worried mother, the supportive friend everyone leaned on, but instead somebody who was desired and who could decide whether she said yes or no.

In the end, her conscience won out. “I can’t react to this…”

Renata’s fingertips brushed against her collarbone. “But you do.”

She didn’t need to touch anyone, Bree reasoned even as her fingers were drawn again to the smooth expanse of skin on Renata’s upper back. She didn’t need to touch anyone at all, but it had been so long – she hadn’t realized how long – since someone had looked at her like that. And she knew in that instant that Renata wouldn’t stop her. She could feel it in the simple gesture of Renata reaching to smooth back a tendril of red hair, a tendril Bree knew wasn’t there – if she did her hair up, she did it right – but then she didn’t see the need to point that out when Renata’s fingers caressed her temple, not demandingly, not even asking for anything, just…reveling in her.

This was something just for herself, just once.

Her face hardening for a moment, Bree thought how nothing had helped, no amount of caring or understanding, not even God. She had done everything she could think of, and Rex still had gone and cheated on her, only to leave her for good.

He had told her to go find someone. Well, Bree thought defiantly, she had.

She recalled the appreciative glances Renata had gotten yesterday. It would be the perfect revenge.

With determination, she placed both of her hands on Renata’s hips and pulled her close, bringing them together awkwardly. Feeling a little queasy at her own resolve, Bree wavered for a second before she closed the last bit of distance to brush her lips against Renata’s neck – and realized she hadn’t known.

She hadn’t known skin could taste like that, could be that soft on an adult, could smell that sweet. Curiously, she touched her tongue to the skin under her lips. Renata’s breath hitched, and Bree felt a twinge of something like pride, but more instinctual than that. Something like the victorious tension just before pulling the trigger.

Handfuls of her dress had ended up between Renata’s clenched fingers and she let herself be pulled in further, for a moment afraid they’d lose their balance, but then she heard the thud when they hit the dining table, leaving Renata pinned in between her and the long forgotten dinner. But Renata didn’t seem to mind, and she didn’t seem to mind what Bree was doing to her neck, either. Bree didn’t mind that much herself. She was a bit startled when Renata – her dress must have ridden up a little – hooked a calf across her own, but then she was kissing her again and it was just too hard to concentrate on anything else.

It took a second until the clatter of silverware against china registered in Bree’s mind.

“The food will spoil…” She had already spoken before she remembered what had happened the last time she had stopped to worry about food while trying to seduce someone. Rex had stopped cold and thrown her out of the room, leaving her utterly humiliated when she had been at her most vulnerable – out of her depth, unaccustomed to the seductive pose, asking for once and being denied.

Bree tensed in anticipation, but Renata only drew a shaky breath and tugged her dress haphazardly back into place. “I’ll help you.”

Bree found herself wondering whether she’d now ruined the evening as they silently stowed away the leftovers. Even the tearing of aluminum wrap played like a touch against her sensitized nerves, and she found herself hoping that she hadn’t killed the mood, although she didn’t know how she should actually ask Renata to be with her. She didn’t even know how that was supposed to work, with two women. But Bree wasn’t about to let such petty details deter her. It was the perfect revenge, she reminded herself. She closed the fridge and took a deep breath before she turned to face Renata with a determined smile plastered across her face. “So…”

But she didn’t get any further as she found herself with her back against the cool surface of the fridge, a pair of lips attached to the hollow of her throat, hands kneading her sides with intent.

How long had it been since he had touched her like that – had he ever even done that? She couldn’t remember, and then she had trouble remembering anything at all as Renata’s jaw brushed against her chest. Her head fell back and she gasped out loud, only then realizing with some amazement that she had made that sound.

A few magnets clattered to the ground and she automatically reached to pick them up, only to find Renata standing over her, a sight she was comfortably certain half the men of Wisteria Lane would have given their right arm for – with her dress askew, a vision of bronze skin and soft curves, breathing heavily, her hair nearly undone and still falling just so over her shoulder.

She found her hands involuntarily stroking up Renata’s thighs, the dress crinkling under her fingers, until Renata drew her out of the mesmerized moment, impatiently tugging her level with herself again. Seeing how she had further disarrayed Renata’s dress, Bree reached out to adjust it, but then she tugged it to the side some more instead, stroking the exposed skin, pressing a kiss just slightly above —

“Perhaps we should take this elsewhere.”

Renata’s voice sounded unsteady, and Bree felt that little jolt of pride again. Only then did she wonder how Renata didn’t seem too fazed at the idea of taking things further, and she wondered if Renata knew what she was doing. “Did you plan this?”

“No.” Renata laughed at the guarded question. “I never dared…” Then she shook her head, regarding Bree in an unfathomable manner with those dark, dark eyes. “Do you think that is what this is? Me seducing you?”

No, Bree thought primly, this was supposed to be her seducing Renata. But with the energy charging between them, it was suddenly hard to tell who exactly was leading in this game. Her lips were on Renata’s again and she thought she would worry about it all after she’d kissed her just once more, after just once more reveling in the warmth of her mouth, in the ease and luxuriousness of the shared touch. Just once more feel Renata’s breath become ragged, and to know that she had caused that. She liked the curious feeling it gave her – the weakness in her knees, the breathlessness in her mind. Like falling head first into a cloud, smooth and lush and incredibly soft, like the lips against her own. Just one more time, Bree thought dizzily, her fingers toying with the heavy silk knot of Renata’s halter neck. And she didn’t want to know why, or whether there had been others like that before her.

She found the light switches without looking, leaving only the small illumination above the stairway. With Renata’s hand in her own, they slowly made their way up the stairs. In front of the guestroom door, Bree hesitated. Renata was still looking at her warmly, and the fingers tangled with her own were just as warm.

Cold, he had called her. Robotic.

Renata’s thumb drawing circles across the back of her hand sent tingles down her spine.

It was just her and Renata now. No one else. No dying Juanita, no unrepentant Andrew, no cheating Rex and no smirking Maisy Gibbons.

The doorknob gave way with a soft click.

Only when she saw the neatly made bed from over Renata’s shoulder, Bree became nervous, despite the strangely comforting feeling of Renata’s arms wrapping around her. She could only think that she had no idea how to do this. She had never slept with anyone but Rex, and he had gone elsewhere to get his ‘sexual needs’ taken care of.

Willing herself to put her doubts aside and relax into the embrace, Bree reminded herself that Renata didn’t need to know any of this. After all, it couldn’t be that much more complicated with a woman. Her momentary tension still seemed to have filtered through, though, because the arms around her suddenly stopped moving and just held her close.

“Do you feel good?” Renata voice sounded close to her ear.

“Yes,” Bree conceded with no little surprise. How long had it been since someone had simply held her?

“So do I,” Renata murmured, brushing her lips against Bree’s jaw. And then she kissed her until Bree thought she would melt away. Almonds, she thought dazedly. Renata tasted like almonds and honey.

Still she tensed when Renata’s fingers searched for the clasp of her dress.

“Relax…” Renata breathed against her cheek. “I’m not the enemy.”

“No?” Bree asked archly, not liking it one bit that Renata had called her on her fears.

But the Italian just took a small step back, sat down on the bed and smiled disarmingly. “How can I prove it?”

Bree took a seat next to her. “Give me your lemon cheese cake recipe.”

Renata raised an eyebrow at the demand. “It’s a family secret.” She moved backwards to give Bree more room, kicking off her heels. “You’d have to marry one of my brothers first,” she pointed out playfully. With one hand, she reached to pull down the comforter. “Or me.”

“People have done more extreme things for a good recipe,” Bree replied, her expression deadpan. She enjoyed the moment of confusion on Renata’s face before the other woman laughed, and then gasped when Bree leaned closer and untied the knot of her dress with strong, nimble fingers.

The dress slid downwards, pooling around Renata’s waist and for a moment, Bree just stared, anything else – even breathing – forgotten. Until she became conscious of the fact that she was staring at another woman’s body with a lot more than friendly appreciation. A light blush crawled up her cheeks.

Renata seemed unfazed by the scrutiny, only her eyes – small bands of brown around large pools of black – and the quicker rise and fall of her chest indicating that the situation was affecting her just as much. Unhurriedly, she pulled the dress completely off of her, letting it slide to the floor next to the bed and Bree felt as if she had been drawn into the tableau of an old painting. Something so far away from current time and reality that many of its layers now remained mysterious to the viewer’s eye, while an undefined sensuality – that had once been described in a far away place in a language long forgotten – effortlessly shone through.

Reclining against the pillows in graceful lassitude, loosened hair curling over one shoulder, Renata looked like the statue of an ancient pagan goddess, evoking thoughts of abundance, luxury and secret riches. Full breasts over a small waist, wide hips and smoothly curved thighs, a sybaritic heaviness to her long limbs and the black underwear Bree would never wear herself, tempting and lacy and sheer.

Looking down, Bree folded the crumpled comforter precisely corner to corner, smoothing out the wrinkles until Renata’s hand covered her own. Renata sat up, leaning closer and Bree stole a quick fascinated glance at how her breasts moved lightly with the motion. Renata’s other hand brushed across her cheek and she closed her eyes at the tenderness inherent in the gesture, blinking only when she felt Renata reach up to easily remove her hairpins. Of course Renata would know how to do that, Bree pondered, and without any embarrassing fumbling at that. She held still as her hair – slightly curly after hours of confinement – fell down to frame her face.

“Beautiful,” Renata whispered, the compliment echoing through Bree like a touch on its own.

So different. More than the fact that it was a woman courting her this way, Bree wasn’t used to this kind of attentiveness, the way Renata was following her every move. Curiously, she reached out to touch, trailing her fingertips over the nearest thigh. It was really as soft and smooth as it looked, she noted in amazement, the tentative caress effortlessly shifting into something else.

Then they were kissing again, passionately, interrupted only when one of Renata’s curls got caught in Bree’s necklace, leaving them with their faces inches from one another, smiling at each other more giddily than awkwardly. It was hard to concentrate like this, Bree thought as she worked to untangle the mess, while breath hit her neck in irregular gasps and made her dress feel hot and rough against her skin. The simple and familiar feeling of the string of pearls gliding down her neck was suddenly so overwhelming that she unconsciously arched into the contact.

“Wait…”

Bree moved to place the jewelry properly on the vanity table, and then nervously looked at Renata, half expecting to be rebuked for the interruption even as she quickly reached to smooth out yesterday’s cardigan – stain remover soaked into the collar – that was hanging over the nearest chair. But Renata just smiled at her, obviously content to watch her as she leaned back on the bed with an expression that could only be described as sultry. Never taking her eyes off Bree, she casually removed her golden bracelet and placed it on the polished surface of the nightstand before she leaned closer again. Caught in that look, Bree didn’t resist when Renata hooked two fingers under her dress, pulling her closer until she came to rest half atop of her, sinking into soft curves and warm skin.

Indescribable.

It was not five minutes later that Bree Van De Kamp didn’t even raise her head to look where the dress landed that Renata had finally managed to tug off her – there had admittedly been some moments of mutual distraction.

Renata looked hungry, Bree thought – hungry for her body. Not as if it were some duty to touch her, or something she thought could be rewarding, but rather like she had to touch her now or die.

Her heart beating so fast it was dizzying her, Bree was the first one to reach out.

The concave arch of a slim waist. The pliant heaviness of a breast, firming against her palm. The generous curve of hips. Thigh against thigh, sliding without any resistance, too soft to be real.

There was nothing she had ever done before and still it was strangely familiar.

Renata drew one long fingernail down her cleavage and Bree gasped, looking to find that her breasts were suddenly straining against the material of her bra. Her body wasn’t supposed to react like this. She looked at Renata for a clue – as to what the other woman might want or expect, but Renata just seemed to want her. As she was. Fingers brushed a bra strap down her shoulder, followed by teeth, then tongue. But even though there was urgency to Renata’s touch, there was no haste.

Bree wasn’t used to any of this. Not to the attitude that seemed to be so much more about giving than about taking, and not to the way Renata reacted to her every touch, trembling and gasping. Not to being on top. Not to feeling no fear of rejection.

Emboldened, she trailed her lips over Renata’s neck again, biting down lightly. Renata’s reaction was instant, curving into her with a moan that echoed low in Bree’s stomach. She wound her fingers more tightly into long dark hair, blindly drawing Renata into another endless kiss, awed by the way she seemed to melt into her, moving in perfect unison.

This wasn’t as it had been with Rex, two bodies struggling for a connection. This was a connection already, limb fitted to limb with inarguable completion. Bree wondered what they were striving for instead, half afraid the borders between their bodies might blur so much that she wouldn’t be able to tell them apart anymore. Every gasp echoed through her already, making her uncertain who had actually uttered the sound.

Bree had never really seen herself as somebody who could make another person lose their mind in bed, but as Renata hooked a thigh across her hip, nails trailing sharply down her back, a breathless “Please…” the only utterance she still seemed capable of, Bree was ready to revisit that theory, with no small amount of pride on her side. But then theories didn’t matter much anymore when Renata impatiently tugged her down, her lips closing over an achingly taut nipple. All Bree could do was hold on for dear life – feverishly musing that she couldn’t feel as good as she did. Nobody could possibly be allowed to feel that good.

How could her breasts feel so heavy? How could her blood pump so fast that it was dizzying her? How could her own skin burn so hotly against someone else’s?

Why had it never felt that way with him?

She had no words, only touch – a line of sharp bites to Renata’s neck, followed by teasing strokes of tongue. Fingers splaying across heated skin, lips kissing and caressing, and the curious sensation of silky wetness pooling against her thigh. She stroked the back of a knee, feeling Renata twitch against her, and then move more purposefully when she inched her fingertips up the slope of an impossibly soft thigh, over and over again, until, on a strangled gasp of “I need…”, Renata pulled the teasing hand between her legs, pressing Bree’s fingers firmly against her.

Something flickered through her at that, perhaps the most primal memory there was, of slick heat and smooth darkness. It felt strange at first, but then she saw the reaction in Renata’s eyes, swirling with sensations for which there were no words, heard the incredulous whisper of “Oh madonna…”, and it wasn’t strange at all anymore.

Renata just seemed to melt into her, into her body and her movements, and Bree didn’t know whether it was her fingers that were trembling, or Renata against them, as if they had turned into a single many-limbed entity, moving towards something neither of them had known yet, so alike, and yet so different. Her pale arms seemed to glow against the bronze of Renata’s skin that was shimmering with a fine sheen of sweat. She tasted salt on her own lips, surprised at first, and then suddenly triumphant – she didn’t feel cold. She wasn’t cold. Or any other of the things he had accused her of.

The feeling of searing heat increased, so much that it seemed she was on the brink of some kind of transfiguration, shifting and changing, like a white hot flame, or melting marble, straining towards something that had to be coming…

Fingers were brushing up her inner thigh.

“May I…?”

Had she ever been asked? Bree could only nod, too far gone to analyze this intoxicating mixture of respect and relentlessness Renata was showing her, taking nothing for granted but holding nothing back, either.

And then Renata was touching her back, strong fingers pressing against her, into her, and it wasn’t incomplete or just a substitute, or anything else she might have thought. It just was, bigger than both of them, something without pretense or any chance at distancing themselves from it, sweeping them up in something they had unleashed without knowing it could be there, clashing them against each other gloriously.

It was everything she could have needed, and she found herself thinking dizzily that she should enjoy this as long as possible. It was the best revenge she could have imagined.

The scary thing was, it didn’t feel like revenge at all.

Looking down at Renata’s face, contorted with passion, she felt nothing but fierce protectiveness, and a wild pride at having caused this.

And then she suddenly had to blink against tears when Renata wildly arched into her, moaning something in Italian that she didn’t understand, and her entire body seemed to convulse around Bree’s hand, leaving Bree in awe at being able to witness the change in her body – how Renata blinked her eyes open, minute trembling still running through her, how she focused slowly on Bree before her face broke into a wide smile of wondrous contentment, her attitude so unguarded that Bree thought she could feel each of the sensations herself.

Unbelievable.

A tinge of disappointment slid into the feeling of wonder as Bree found herself regretting that it was over now. She was so startled when Renata didn’t stop touching her that she tensed for a moment, trying to withdraw. Renata should retreat into herself now, resting and recollecting herself …or shouldn’t she?

But Renata had already reversed their positions, seemingly without any effort, and the next thing Bree knew, she was being covered by Renata under an onslaught of heated skin, wildly disarranged curls and impassioned kisses.

But how could she…?

Before she could dwell on this any further, Renata’s intent caresses made it impossible to think and Bree noted dizzily that Renata must have an impeccable memory since she clearly recalled everything she liked and that she had reacted to earlier, and also things she hadn’t even known she liked but that she found herself arching into now, losing herself in the sensation of being touched with such enthusiasm and desire, of dissolving into something between wild kisses and nips and hands that shook where they touched her skin. A tongue stroking roughly across her stomach. A startled yelp, not her own, and she realized that her fingers were digging into Renata’s shoulders.

Her perception seemed to be altering, her body feeling heavier, everything around her consisting of touch and sound and taste. For one short moment she was looking at herself from outside, heard sounds being torn from her lips she didn’t know, saw her body writhe with an abandon she didn’t recognize, and then she was pushed back into her body tenfold, feeling every sensation magnified, every limb and every nerve ending overwhelmed with such intense pleasure that she could only gasp helplessly, carried away on some wave that seemed to bend space and time into one another. Briefly, there was the panicked thought that with her borders torn open and melted away like that, she would be lost beyond return, but there was Renata’s touch that anchored her, tethering her securely to her body that seemed to soar in and out of itself.

And even as her breathing slowly, slowly quieted and her body stopped shaking, there was Renata’s voice, whispering things to her she would never remember.

When Bree finally dared to open her eyes, she found herself curled up, her body feeling impossibly light and unreal. She ignored the tears that were falling down her cheeks, shying away from Renata’s outstretched arm. She couldn’t allow herself to need this. “I’m perfectly fine.”

Renata just smiled disarmingly. “Doesn’t mean you can’t be held.”

The soft voice echoed through her and Bree had to admit that she didn’t want to fight this. Nobody could see her being weak here, and it didn’t seem as if Renata wanted to rub it in – there was nothing but tenderness in her expression. She let herself be pulled closer, somewhat awkwardly resting her head on a slim, curved shoulder and felt soothing fingers rake through her hair. It was so comforting that she didn’t even have the energy to care how her hair must look, with Renata mussing it up like that. Perhaps it wasn’t about weakness after all.

A few minutes passed in silence, her breath evening out again, until Bree became conscious of just how closely she was pressed – cuddled, even – against Renata’s body, oddly aware of every curve and limb resting against her. Her skin tingled where they touched. Opening her eyes, it was impossible not to look at Renata’s chest. Rather, it was impossible to look anywhere else, smooth curves blocking her view of anything else. She observed the steady raise and fall for a while until she realized that her own exhalations seemed to have an effect on Renata, her nipples firming almost imperceptibly with every tiny brush of breath. Curiously, she touched her tongue to the exposed flesh and was again startled by the intensity of Renata’s reaction – her head slamming back into the pillow, her back arching, a startled moan wrenching from her lips.

The odd flutter low in her stomach returned and Bree leaned in further, her lips closing over taut flesh, sucking experimentally only to feel Renata’s fingers tighten near painfully against her scalp.

Bree couldn’t suppress a satisfied smile against the skin under her lips. Then she repeated the movement. More firmly.

Renata gasped something in Italian, her hips bucking violently, and although Bree didn’t understand what she was saying, she didn’t think it had been anything discouraging. Lost in touch, stray thoughts fluttered through her mind – images of secret gardens and overflowing tables, and something about sweetness…

She looked up in surprise, something having occurred to her. “We completely forgot about dessert.”

The pointed look Renata gave her in return made her blush to the roots of her hair.

Thankfully, Renata refrained from any teasing remarks, instead swinging her legs over the end of the bed with an amused sigh. The robe she fished out of her overnight bag was exactly what Bree thought she might wear, silky and black, with just a little lace.

“Just a minute,” Renata murmured, pressing a quick kiss to Bree’s temple before she slipped out of the door.

Bree heard her walk down the stairs in her bare feet and absently touched her fingers to her temple, ridiculously moved by the almost unconscious affectionate gesture. She hadn’t really meant to break the moment, but now that she thought about it, she was surprised to find that she was indeed hungry. She sat up in bed, arranging the sheets around her when she caught sight of herself in the mirror atop the vanity – and stared at herself in shock for a moment.

Her face was glowing and there was a sparkle in her eyes she had forgotten she was capable of, her cheeks were flushed, and the grin quirking her lips was downright devilish. She looked so much younger. She looked good. But there was more to it than mere afterglow; it was the sensual knowledge that she had something to offer in this game, as well – that she didn’t have to hope and pretend, but could evoke a response, any response, just by being who she was. It was intoxicating.

The sight of Renata closing the door with a foot, balancing a bowl and two spoons in her hands, shook Bree out of her musings. “What did you make?” she asked curiously.

Renata held the bowl out of sight. “Try…” She scooped out a spoonful and Bree felt indignant for a moment at the prospect of being fed, but thought it impolite to refuse.

It was sweet and icy, sparkling lightly on her tongue, with just a hint of cinnamon in the aftertaste.

“Champagne sherbet,” Renata said, sitting down on the bed again and handing Bree a spoon.

The thought of sticky food on her crisp sheets made Bree frown, but in looking down at the bunched up comforter and crinkled tangle of linens around them, she guessed that it would hardly matter anymore. And the sherbet was good. Culinary curiosity won out. Closing her eyes over another bite, she asked, “How did you get it to be so creamy?”

Renata asked what she would get in return for another of her famed recipes, and Bree had to laugh at the incredulous expression on the other woman’s face when she made a suggestion that was perhaps a bit unconventional.

Still laughing, she accidentally spilled some sherbet onto Renata’s bare stomach – the robe had fallen open again minutes ago, not that Bree complained – who squeaked in return and Bree was for a moment caught up in a teenage memory of pillow fights, painted toe nails and a girlfriends’ sleepover. She smiled mischievously. “You Italians just aren’t used to the cold.” And with that she purposefully let another melting spoonful trickle onto Renata’s stomach, drinking in her startled gasp.

It left her distracted enough for Renata to get her back, drawing the cold backside of her spoon across her ribs.

Bree jumped, but then her eyes narrowed speculatively. “I’ll get you for that,” she promised, grabbing Renata’s wrists and pushing the offending spoon out of reach.

Renata all but grinned at her in reply, her look daring Bree to try. “Please do…” Her tone of voice raised the hair on Bree’s neck, making her tighten her hold on Renata’s wrists and pushing her deeper into the mattress.

Lower lip caught between her teeth, fighting a smile that somehow seemed too feral to allow it, Bree looked down at Renata, her gaze suddenly oddly shy as she wondered how she could ask for it, again.

It turned out she didn’t have to ask at all.

Laying entwined with Renata later, a dark head pillowed on her shoulder, Bree was surprised to recognize her emotions as somehow familiar: a mix of possessiveness, tenderness, and heightened awareness of physical contact. It was similar to the way she had felt when she had told Susan that she was beautiful during the fashion show. Or when she had been hugging a desperate Lynette in comfort – she could still recall the sensation of her fingers stroking through Lynette’s hair.

Just then Renata snuggled closer, already half asleep, and Bree decided that she didn’t really need to think about what her emotions might mean. Not right now. Or at any other time.

Instead she pondered how falling asleep like this was different, with Renata curled up against her as if she trusted her to keep her safe and warm through the night. With her arm around the other woman’s shoulder, holding her close, it left Bree feeling strangely protective.

It wasn’t a bad feeling. In fact, it was a rather enjoyable feeling, making her feel just as safe and warm, and assuring her that, if she could take care of somebody else like this, she would also be able to take care of herself. The idea of a divorce was a lot less scary all of a sudden.

The last thing Bree felt as her eyes fluttered shut was another sensation that had never been high in stock for her: contentment.

*****

The sun was already falling high through the guest room window when Bree blinked her eyes open. Shifting slightly in Renata’s embrace she found that she was feeling tired in a way she last had as a newlywed, but better. More confident. More relaxed. Smiling contentedly, she relished the half forgotten feeling of waking up in someone else’s arms – not alone, with him on the couch, or rolled up on the far end of the bed. Instead, here she was, curled up in the arms of another.

Just like she had woken up in the middle of the night, in awed disbelief at the warm body next to her, breath ghosting against her skin reminding her of her nakedness under the sheets. When she had reached out to touch, just to assure herself that she wasn’t dreaming, she had been unable to tear her fingers away again, softly stroking across a smooth hip until Renata had turned into her, eyes near liquid in the darkness. And then it had happened again. And again.

Stretching languidly, Bree turned her head to check the time only to find it was past nine.

“I can’t believe I’ve slept that long!” She tossed back the covers to immediately realize that had been a bad idea. Stretched out lazily in the morning sun, shadows playing over every curve of her body, Renata was breathtaking. Her mouth suddenly dry, Bree was treated to a few vivid flashbacks of the night before. She tried valiantly not to blush.

Renata opened her eyes, smiling as if she knew exactly what Bree was thinking about. “Not long, just late.”

Her gravelly voice did strange things to Bree, making her stomach flip-flop. She primly reached to fold the covers down. “We have to get up…”

“Why?” Renata was slowly raising up on one elbow. “Susan and Mike will be happy about every minute of delay.”

Faced with the look directed at her, Bree wanted to say that she would be quite happy about every minute of delay herself, but then shied away from admitting to it. Instead, she wordlessly reached to pull the covers over them again.

Later, while Bree whipped up a few quick scones from scratch, Renata – dressed in a deceptively modest black blouse and skirt, the golden bracelet once more gliding over her wrist – made the coffee. It was dark and very sweet and a lot stronger than Bree was accustomed to, but she supposed she could use it. She couldn’t quite imagine facing the girls in the afternoon and her children in the evening, feeling much too close to her own surface still.

She also couldn’t imagine that Renata would simply walk out of the door after breakfast, back to New York and out of her life. Not when right now, she was still smiling at her like this, continuing to brush their hands together as if accidentally.

And not with the way Renata kissed her later, dropping her overnight bag that she had already picked up and letting Bree back her against the kitchen door frame. It took another minute before Bree walked her to the door on slightly unsteady legs.

Feeling oddly shy, Bree tried for nonchalance. “I’ll see you in six months, then,” she offered, not knowing what to say, and just wanting to hug Renata close once more. “Or perhaps you’ll visit again sooner..?” She wondered if she really sounded as hopeful as she thought she had.

Renata blushed prettily. “Actually, I’ve been thinking about moving back to Italy for a couple of years.” She looked down at her hands, her expression remorseful. “One of my granduncles passed away recently and has left me his country house.”

“Oh…” Bree knew she shouldn’t feel that disappointed.

“It’s just outside of San Gimignano.” Renata smiled at something Bree wasn’t privy to, making her realize sharply that there was so much about her that she didn’t know. “If you ask for the Amati estate, everyone in town will be able to tell you how to get there.” Renata’s smile broadened. “You’re very welcome to visit. Anytime.” Her eyes held Bree captive. “If the divorce gets ugly, or if…” She took one of Bree’s hands into her own once more, just looking at her for a few moments. Then she leaned in, softly brushing her lips across a pale cheek. “Take care.”

From the doorstep, Bree watched Renata cross the street. She didn’t stop herself when she realized that she was following the sway of Renata’s hips with her eyes. Instead, she enjoyed the feeling of warmth it evoked. She smiled.

*****

The increasingly doubtful looks Lynette and Gabrielle cast at the lemon cheese cake that was sitting in the middle of the kitchen table served only to amuse Bree as she checked on the tea. She had to hide a smile when Susan hurried in late – mumbling something about traffic on the way back from the airport where she had taken Renata – and cast that same guarded look at the afternoon’s culinary offering.

And at the hostess, who seemed downright cheerful, and looked the part, too. “Has something happened I’m not aware of?” It wouldn’t have been the first time that Susan wasn’t the first to hear the latest gossip. “You look so… cheerful.” She couldn’t tell if Bree had blinked in reaction, or whether it was her own lack of sleep catching up on her.

“What could have happened?” Bree asked with measured calm. She reached for Susan’s cup. “Tea?”

“No, she’s right. You look cheerful. – Positively radiant, in fact,” Lynette observed with curiosity. She cast a pointed glance at Susan. “Almost as much as you do.”

Susan blushed appropriately at the knowing grins directed at her, but smiled brightly despite the teasing. “Thank you again for helping me out,” she then addressed Bree. She tried for a contrite look without much success. “And I’m really, really sorry about this morning…”

“It wasn’t too bad,” Bree stated demurely. She focused on her teacup and tried not to blush at the vivid memory of kissing Renata in the hallway just this morning, making her leave another few minutes later.

“Really?” Lynette looked surprised. “Don’t tell me you actually had a good time.”

A heartfelt moan from Gabrielle saved her from having to answer. “God, this is perfect — “

Susan tried the cake, her expression one of astonishment. “That’s Renata’s secret recipe.” She took another bite. “How did you get her to give it up?”

Gabrielle seemed doubtful as well. “Yes, did you hold one of your guns to her face?”

“I just asked.” Bree shrugged, recalling how Renata had dictated the recipe to her over breakfast, having her promise to memorize and then burn it.

“You asked something?” Lynette’s tone was skeptical. “Of Renata?”

“She isn’t so bad,” was all Bree said while she’d rather have grinned like she felt and declared that Renata was in fact very good. Better than good. She shifted delicately in her chair.

“I know,” Susan sighed. “She’s just so hard to live up to.” She struggled to explain, clearly feeling chastised. “So hard to satisfy…”

Bree didn’t say anything. She looked down at her hands, again trying not to blush.

Gabrielle reached for another small slice of cake, nodding at Susan. “So, did Renata get off all right?”

None of them understood why Bree suddenly choked on a bite of cake she hadn’t eaten.

It wasn’t until Bree had put the remnants of the cake into the fridge and cleared the table that the quiet of the empty house caught up with her, echoing strangely now with last night’s vivid sensations – the brush of silk against her hands, Renata’s warm laughter, the aftertaste of their kisses, the dizziness she’d felt when Renata had arched into her, moaning helplessly…

Briskly focusing on her household tasks, Bree transferred the sheets from the washer to the drier. She noted with dismay that her movements were somewhat jerky and pushed the start button with more force than necessary, looking for the next chore to accomplish, something to wipe or to scrub, until she couldn’t feel the blood rush through the very tips of her fingers quite so hard anymore.

Leaving a spotless top floor behind an hour later, Bree advanced into the dining room, which she had already straightened out earlier. A bit of extra attention couldn’t hurt, though, she pondered as she set out the polish and cloth. Absently reaching for one of her Chopin CDs to distract her further, she was surprised to find the drive of the stereo occupied. Renata had forgotten her Italian music. Bree hesitated for a moment, then she pushed the play button before she picked up the leather cloth again. There were still a few spots on the glass of the china display case.

The easy sentimentality of the foreign songs enveloped her effortlessly, evoking sensory memories that left her between guilty blushes and a feeling of smug incredulity as she vigorously scrubbed at the spotless glass. She was surprised to find herself humming along after a while, after she had switched to polishing the aged wood of the dining table with the same intensity.

By the time she left to pick up the kids, Bree had not only polished the chairs, as well, folded the laundry and reorganized the guest room, but also cleaned the large hallway carpet, neatly arranging its fringes – which proved to be a wasted effort when the kids stormed in and threw their backpacks into the hallway corner before they barged into the kitchen to raid the fridge.

“Mom, this is so good,” Andrew stated around a mouthful of lemon cheese cake and Bree was so happy he was talking to her again that she forgot to chide him for his lack of manners.

“Guess I’ll be out for dinner then,” he added casually, carrying his plate with him into the dining room.

Bree followed him in consternation. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Out.” He shrugged, only the insecure flicker in his eyes betraying his attitude.

Blinking incredulously, Bree decided that she didn’t need Rex around to put the parental foot down. “You’ll be sitting at this table at seven p.m. sharp, young man.”

There was a second of dangerous tension before Andrew put his cake down and walked away in defeat. “Yes, Master Sergeant.” He had his back to her, but he hadn’t spoken quietly enough.

Bree hid her pain behind a practiced smile, amazed at how much it hurt. Andrew’s attitude was hard to take in stride, especially in contrast to the solicitous and respectful way Renata had treated her. Had it really been only yesterday, just this morning, that…

The phone interrupted the wistful thought, and Bree found herself talking to Rex, who asked her to bring him another pair of pajamas, and a suit. And told her when she could pick him up at the hospital. It took a minute until Bree became conscious of the fact that this was the first time she was talking to her wedded husband after having cheated on him.

He didn’t ask about her weekend once. Bree was amazed at how little shame she felt.

She agreed to come get him automatically, already thinking of which outfit to bring him when she hung up. The neighbors would talk if she made him take a cab.

“Mom,” Danielle called down the stairs. “I need the blue shirt for tomorrow!”

She hadn’t even asked, Bree thought after a minute, when she was already sorting through the laundry. Some things would have to change around here.

For a brief moment, in the middle of loading the washing machine again, checking on dinner and laying out an outfit for Rex, she had a mental image of herself standing in an old stone tiled kitchen, burnt sienna fields visible through the open windows, a string of garlic hanging from a wooden shelf. She breathed in deeply, feeling happy and at ease. Renata’s arms were wrapped around her, her head resting on Bree’s shoulder and even though she couldn’t see Renata’s eyes, she knew what they would look like: velvety and dark, and sparkling with barely banked desire. Breath brushed warmly against her neck. “Beautiful…” Renata murmured.

The loud pumping of water cascading into the washing machine jolted Bree out of her daydream.

She smiled, straightening, and she held her head just a little higher as she walked back into the dining room to set the table. If she had stopped to look at herself in the mirror in passing, she would have noticed that there was a bit of a sway to her hips.

*finis*


~ Anik LaChev 2005 ~

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