Électrique was introduced by Max Factor in 1955. I love this sexy magazine ad: “Dazzling moment, when the thrill of Électrique kindles the night with excitement.” Pure enchantment was to be had for only $2.50! In this week’s installment of Opération Séduction, Peter creates more than a little of his trademark electricity. Will Cynthia fall prey to his charm offensive?
The wine was exquisite, the service impeccable yet unobtrusive, and they agreed that their meals were delicious. As they ate, they continued to discuss the perfume show, and Cynthia began to enjoy herself, realizing that Peter was, in fact, good at conversation. He asked her about her work and showed interest in her answers. He entertained her with anecdotes from his journeyman days in Grasse, and observations on the French from the perspective of an American francophile.
“I suppose you learned to kiss hands in France,” she said. “Is it a sales technique, a social skill, or both?”
“Both,” said Peter. “In France, the baisemain is a little old-fashioned now, but it’s still a useful skill. When I’m introduced at a party, or meet a female client for the first time, I don’t actually touch her hand with my lips. That would be too intimate.” Cynthia nodded. It was on the tip of her tongue to observe that feeling a man’s warm breath on one’s fingers could be just as sexy, but instead she asked, “When would it be appropriate to make actual contact?”
“After you have achieved a certain emotional intimacy, whether as friends or lovers. But even then, the contact is very gentle.” He was smiling again, and she realized that she had unwittingly steered the conversation back in precisely the direction he desired.
“I see. Well, it’s very charming. No doubt all the Philadelphia matrons have laid their hearts at your feet.”
“Perhaps a few,” he allowed. “But you should see the reaction from some of the elderly ladies when I kiss their hands. It makes them feel beautiful, and that’s something I enjoy giving them. American men don’t understand how to make a woman feel beautiful.”
“What if she’s not beautiful?”
Peter shook his head, his expression serious. “Cynthia, every woman is beautiful.”
She laughed. “You must sell a lot of perfume.”
She was about to change the subject when he suddenly said, “There’s one more variation on the baisemain that I haven’t described. Give me your hand.” She wanted to refuse the request, but that might seem childish, so she extended her right hand across the small tabletop. His hand was warm as he closed it around her fingers.
“In this type of kiss, the man goes a step beyond the affectionate kiss by brushing his lips lightly against the hand, like so.” He bent forward, raising his eyes to her face, and his slightly parted lips caressed her middle knuckle where it met the back of her hand. Again, she could feel the heat of his breath as his lips moved over her hand. The kiss lasted only seconds, but it was very sensuous. “The man watches the woman’s face as he kisses her, to enjoy her reaction,” he said. “That’s the most challenging part to execute properly.”
Even though her hand was back in her lap, it still tingled from his touch. “You said the other kiss was for people who are lovers. What’s this one for? Wives?”
“No. It’s only used when a man is inviting a woman to share his bed for the first time.”
“I see,” she said, a little breathless, and conscious that he could see the blush rising in her cheeks. “And is there some special signal that a woman uses to say no?”
He shook his head. “Absolutely not. Instead of saying no, she keeps him waiting and wondering. Even if nothing ever happens, it’s much more interesting that way.”
To Cynthia’s relief, the server arrived to clear their plates and present the dessert menu. He moved away before she could refuse it, so she said to Peter, “I’ll just have black coffee.”
“What? Nothing at all, not even to share? There’s a devil’s food cake with cherries that’s almost irresistible.”
Just like you, she thought. But aloud she said, “Get thee behind me, Satan. I’m on a diet, as a matter of fact, and I don’t need the temptation.” She beckoned the hovering server and informed him that she would take coffee, black.
Peter chose the Oban single malt, and as soon as the server left, he gave her a mischievous grin. “I’m not Satan. I’m Saint Peter.” Then he said, “You don’t need to diet, not at all. You’re very attractive just as you are.”
“Not to me. I’m determined to come down a size or two.” She caught his eye. “I’m doing this for myself.”
“I understand,” he said. “If it’s that important to you, I can help.”
She raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“You might be surprised at what useful advice I can give. I have a lot of experience at this.”
“All right. Let’s have it.”
He paused for a moment, regarding her over the last of the Albariño. “Scent can be a very satisfying substitute for taste. People often eat not because they’re hungry, but in order to address… other desires.” This hit close to home, and she kept her face completely still.
“Cynthia, don’t ever play poker,” he said suddenly. “You blush so much that I can almost read your mind.”
“For your information, I used to beat my brother at poker all the time. He might be able to tell the first time I have a good hand, but after that, it got more difficult.”
He nodded. “Touché. I withdraw the remark. A gentleman would not have offered it in the first place. Somehow you’re putting me off my game.” He looked a little disconcerted. The server brought their after-dinner drinks along with a small tray of candies. “Excuse me for a moment,” said Cynthia with a smile.
She went to the ladies’ room, and on the way back, she stopped by the reception desk and told the hostess she wished to pay the bill. “It’s a special surprise for Mr. Noel,” she said with a wink. “Please add a 20% gratuity.” The hostess grinned and took her credit card. She signed the slip, went back to the table and sat down, trying not to look at the candies. “Now, tell me more about your patented weight loss technique.”
He picked up his Oban and inhaled slowly, taking his time. “Like I said, scents can be very satisfying. Every time you want a snack, you should take a whiff or two of something delightful. It doesn’t have to be perfume,” he said quickly, before she could remind him that perfumes irritated her throat. “It could be a block of cedar, or some orange zest, or a flask of rose water. Just smell it, and let yourself enjoy it. If you inhale several times and wait five minutes, you’ll find that the urge to eat something has passed.”
“Sounds reasonable,” she said. “Anything else?”
“Yes. You like to draw, and you’re good. Have you ever drawn yourself?”
“A self-portrait? No. I only draw objects in our collection, or in other museums.”
He leaned forward. “Listen closely to what I’m going to say before you reject it. Take off all your clothes, and stand or sit in front of a mirror. Draw what you see. Then, once you have that image, draw another one —a realistic one— of what you would like to see, what you’d be happy with. Every night, instead of getting on the scale, compare yourself with that picture.”
She stared at him. Was this just another form of flirtation? It felt uncomfortably intimate to be discussing such things with Peter. And yet, she liked his idea. “I’ll think about that,” she said slowly. “Thanks.” After a moment, to change the subject, she said, “So, Peter, do I have your agreement to participate on the board?”
“Yes, but I have a favor to ask in exchange,” he said.
“You do? What is it?” she asked warily.
“Are you busy for Thanksgiving?”
“Thanksgiving?” she repeated. What on earth? “Why do you ask?”
“I know this sounds strange, but my parents are in Rimini, and they like a full table. They always invite international students or professors for the holiday, to give them a taste of American culture. This year, one of the students is from China, and she wants to go to graduate school in Classics. She’s particulary interested in the Romans, and I thought you could give her some advice.”
“Oh.” Once again, he had surprised her. She considered the invitation carefully. It would be a full table, and a holiday celebration, not exactly a prime venue for seduction. She didn’t have any plans, as a matter of fact. And it was hard to turn down a request to help a fledgling Classicist, especially one from China.
“All right,” she said. “My parents usually expect my brother and me for the holiday, but this year they’re taking a Mediterranean cruise.”
“Perfect. I’ll call you with the details,” said Peter, as the server came to drop off Cynthia’s leftovers, and to ask whether they needed anything else. “Just the check,” smiled Peter.
“That’s been taken care of,” said the server. “Have a wonderful evening,” he added, nodding at Cynthia and retreating. She enjoyed seeing the confident smile wiped off Peter’s face. He turned back to her, rubbing his forehead. “Cynthia Gooden, you are a woman of unexpected challenges.”
“Why, thank you for the compliment, Peter. Shall we go?”
Copyright 2014 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Peter really does believe that every woman is beautiful. It’s something he learned in France.