It was a nice enough little house, in a decent if not particularly prosperous neighborhood; I would probably have little trouble marketing it. The place still looked fairly well kept up. There was a Ford F-150 in the driveway that had that slightly skinned up look that says 'work truck, ' rather than 'toy.' I sauntered up the walk and rapped on the door.
The woman who answered looked about forty, brunette, thin, and worn out. "Yes?"
"Ms. Harkness? My name is Roger Smithson. I understand that you're having some financial problems..."
She held the screen tightly closed. "You aren't a process server or anything, are you?"
"No, Ma'am," I replied solemnly. "I'm here to help, if I can."
A hard-muscled individual with a grey beard and shoulder-length lank grey hair to match made himself visible beside her. "And how would you do that?" he enquired.
"Would you be Mr. Harkness?" I asked. "Mr. Clement Harkness?"
"I might be," he replied. "What do you want with me and my sister?"
That set me back — I'd assumed that they were married. Both names were on the deed and the mortgage... "I, uh came by hoping to offer you a way out of your current difficulties," I stammered. "Maybe get you back on your feet. I specialize in real estate solutions."
Ms. Harkness eyed her brother. "That's a new one. What do you think, Clem?"
"As long as he isn't packing paper we might as well talk to him," Clem opined. "Let him in, Rachel." He eyed me as his sister opened the door. "Just how do you propose to solve our problems?"
I shrugged. "It's probably best that I hear more about them before offering anything specific," I ventured. "Why don't you tell me what else there is besides what I know from the legal notices?"
"There's no work, obviously," Clem said, leading me through the neat living room and into the kitchen. "That's why we're where we are..." We settled into chairs around the kitchen table and Clem looked up at Rachel. "Why don't you make coffee?" He turned to me. "I'd offer more, but we ain't got it."
I nodded. "I understand."
Slowly, it all came out. Rachel and her husband had bought the place fifteen years ago for ninety thousand — but they'd divorced. Clem had bought half-interest and moved in so Rachel could buy her husband out. Art -- Rachel's other brother, who'd wandered in about twenty minutes into the conversation — had come in a couple of years ago when he'd fallen on hard times; he had no interest in the house, though, and no say in what happened to it. He leaned against the counter and listened while Clem and I hashed things out. Rachel was up and down, clearly agitated.
The math looked like this: They'd bought the house for ninety thousand, and mortgages being structured the way they are, they still owed sixty thousand halfway in — but the house's fair market value was a hundred twenty thousand, which is where I would make my money. I made my first offer: "I'll take over the mortgage, pay off the penalties and fees, and give you five thousand to move and set up elsewhere. That'll help your credit and make the transition easier."
Clem shook his head. "Probably won't cover the truck. They're gonna come for it any day."
I grimaced. "How much do you owe on it?"
Clem shrugged. "A year at three hundred a month?"
"How far behind are you?"
I pounded the calculator — it would be around $4500, worst case. "Okay. Get a payoff. I'll give you a check for the balance so you can get out of trouble and you'll own it, free and clear."
Clem nodded. "Still got nothin' comin' in."
"You'll have the five thousand to hold you," I reminded him.
"Been living off credit cards for three months..."
A little more digging and scratching and it was clear that between Rachel and Clem, there was another five thousand out — and they were maxed out, with nothing else available. I sighed. "Okay, I'll cover that, too." My sixty thousand dollar profit was down to around forty five — which still wasn't chicken feed. At least the house required little or nothing in the way of repairs...
Clem was sold. "I think we're about there," he allowed.
"I don't know --I just..." Rachel hadn't said more than a half-dozen words, but she was seriously agitated — and she owned half interest.
"What haven't we addressed?" I asked her.
"I don't want to move," she said softly. "This is my place. I don't want to go somewhere else..."
I sighed. "You're going to lose it," I reminded her. "Very soon. You can walk away with your head up and a little money in your pocket, or you can be totally ruined — but you can't stay. I'm sorry, but that's how it is..."
"Maybe," she nodded. "This all sounds wonderful — except I lose my house." She rubbed her face. "I can't think straight!"
Clem leaned in. "She hasn't been eatin'..."
I was unsurprised to hear this; the more I looked at her, the more she looked like a Holocaust victim. Her clothes fit like sacks. Her legs, where they extended below her over-the-knee skirt, were bone and gristle and a little bit of sinewy flesh. "You all look like you could use a good meal..." I said as I peeled five one hundred dollar bills from my money clip. "Somebody should make a run to the grocery store, maybe."
Clem's eyes lit. "I'll take Rachel — we can talk about the deal. Art, show Mr. Smithson around the house while we're gone." He hauled Rachel up out of her chair and I watched them head out the front door and get into the truck, Clem leading her by a hand around her upper arm.
They were gone for two hours; in the meantime, Art showed me the house. There was, frankly, nothing wrong with it — and it was exceptionally neat and clean. "Rachel's a neat-freak," Art related, "and she ain't got nothin' to do since they laid her off at the restaurant. She's one of them women who needs to stay busy. Havin' a man and some kids would've been the best thing, but she couldn't afford to be picky, and she picked wrong." He grimaced. "I don't figure Clem and I have helped any..."
I nodded noncommittally. A woman living with her two grown brothers probably generated some negative gossip — and you had to wonder how much truth would be in the conjecture... Art eyed me and shook his head. "Nope. We don't do nothin' like that. Both of us got lady friends — or know where to get it for money. Sis isn't bothered that way." He grinned a little sheepishly. "It's probably best we talked about it — Clem would've been pissed..." THAT might have ended up painfully for everyone, I figured.
Rachel and Clem got back and spent some time sticking things in cupboards and munching on this and that like starving people. Clem took me aside and said, "Rachel's gonna be a problem — this place is all she has."
I nodded. "What should I do?"
"Take her out to dinner and talk to her. I've done about all I can, but I can't make things as clear as you can, probably. She has some wild ideas... Best you shoot 'em down somewhere where she can't make too much of a fool of herself," Clem advised. "Once you shrink her head back down to size, she'll settle down."
"Okay." I turned to Rachel, who was closing cupboards. "I understand that I need to negotiate with you separately. Would you like to have dinner somewhere and talk?"
Rachel flicked a grateful glance at Clem. "That would be nice," she said, smiling tentatively. "Let me change clothes..." She headed off.
"Let's go in the living room," Clem suggested.
I settled on the couch; Clem sat in a recliner but didn't recline, and Art dropped in an upholstered rocker. "She's gonna be 'Hell on Wheels' — you don't have any idea what she's put herself through to keep this place," Clem sighed.
"Am I going to win?"
"Yeah, but it'll be messy and emotional."
"Great." I glanced around. There was a photo of the three of them on the end table — or at least I THOUGHT it was them. I frowned. "Is this Rachel?"
Clem glanced at the picture. "Yeah."
"When was it taken?" The men hadn't changed much...
Clem cocked his head thinking. Art piped up, "A year ago February. Make it eighteen months."
The woman in the photo weighed probably sixty pounds more than the one changing clothes in the other room — and had curves and a soft-looking cleavage, nice calves, a sunny smile... She looked ten years younger. "Is Rachel sick?"
Clem shook his head. "Nope. She's pretty much stopped eating to save money. Says Art and I have a better chance of gettin' work if we ain't wasting away..." He sighed. "Not that it's helped."
"So she's starving herself?"
"The woman has an iron will," Clem sighed, "at least where she herself is concerned. It shames me that I haven't found shit to do."
"What DO you do?" I asked.
"Carpentry, landscaping. Art's a plumber's assistant."
"Can you hang sheetrock?" I asked.
"Sure. That's simple shit."
"What about plaster? Metal studs?"
I was setting up an office in a building downtown that I'd purchased; I was going to turn it around, remodeling the storefront into offices, and work there for a while, then put a realtor and a couple of lawyers in the place and tenants upstairs in the second and third floor apartments. I planned to put a property management company in place and move on in a year or so. "I can give you a little work and a place to crash." I described the remodel. "I can give you a decent wage while you redo the place and the apartments above it. You guys can use one — or both — while the renovation is going on. It'll be cheaper than this..." I waved an arm at the house. "And I need to be able to show it. It'll be that much longer you won't have to live on the five thousand, and if things work out, you'll have a recommendation. I might even be able to throw a couple of jobs your way later -- no promises..."
Clem settled back in his chair. "That's a better deal than anything else I've gotten lately."
Clem was sold, and I was doing good deeds — but that left Rachel. Clem seemed to feel that I could handle her objections, though...
Rachel surfaced in a loose white blouse, a black, knee-length skirt, and low heels. I flicked a glance at the photo; that stuff hadn't been nearly as loose a year and a half ago. She smiled tentatively and said, "I'm ready..." and I stood to escort her out, being as chivalrous as I could manage -- after all, such things wouldn't hurt our deliberations. Clem just grinned from the screen door as I loaded her into my rented BMW. "Good luck!" I didn't know which of us he was wishing well — and I figured he wouldn't want to have to be clear about it.
"Where to?" I asked.
"I know a place... Do you like Italian?" she asked.
"I worked there for a while, before business slacked off. Now it's family only..." she muttered. "Take a right at the end of the street."
The whole town was going through a rough stretch — which was why I was there. They would come out the far side — and I would make a buck or two in the process. I'm not rich, or anything — but I'm comfortable. I got into real estate a while back and over time it replaced my day job right handily. By some measures, I'm in debt to my eyeballs — but income covers it and brings me five thousand to live on and another ten to stick in new investments, so I'm good. I lived about a hundred miles away, but I wouldn't miss my apartment — it's just a place. Hard work kept me away from women -- except for the occasional financial transaction; I don't look rich and I'm not handsome and women don't rush to slide between my sheets. I'm a very logical person, and I appear to be cold, but I'm not — I don't smile much, a habit left over from my time in the Army — basically, there aren't many attractors.
Rachel guided us to the restaurant, where she was greeted warmly and I was treated well as a result; apparently, there had been no ill-will at their parting company. Rachel ordered lasagna and I ordered the veal parmigiana and I got us a bottle of wine. Conversation was pretty limited until the food was gone totally; Rachel ate everything in sight, poor thing, from the rolls and breadsticks they brought initially right through the main course. At one point, she burped. "Excuse me," she mumbled, embarrassed, "I'm probably gonna get sick from all this. It's the most I've had to eat in..." She shrugged.
I tended to agree. "You don't look like you need to diet."
"I don't," she agreed through a mouthful of lasagna. "Somebody had to tighten their belt so we could get through this thing..."
"I'm sorry that it hasn't turned around for you," I muttered. Dammit, she was all over my soft spot... There were other things going on, too. She was leaning forward a lot; the plump cleavage from her photo was gone, but what she had left swung forward to push out the blouse and gave you that shot at her breastbone and points south that guys are conditioned genetically to drop their eyeballs into. The bumps had thimble-sized tips, too; she hadn't put on a bra. That said a lot; I would be willing to bet she hadn't gone without a brassiere in public in a decade. She was playing one of her few remaining cards — which, unfortunately, due to her wasted condition, wasn't an ace... I thought about it and decided that I could allow myself to get caught looking, since it would be deemed complimentary and would make her feel like she had a weapon — but I felt bad; in her prime, I'd have had to keep my eyes off a nice, soft, plump pair of jugs, but what she had left were droopy wasted remnants...
I don't consider myself a tit man — or an ass man, or anything else specific. Most women have something that recommends them to the eyeballs -- and those that don't generally still have personality. I generally work with the pluses and ignore the minuses as best I can — it's not like I can be picky, anyway. Rachel was a wreck — but the iron will that allowed her to go to the wall for her home and family were admirable, and, frankly, I'd had worse.
Finally, we settled back over coffee, awaiting the arrival of some lemon ices. "Okay, what can I do for you?" I asked her.
"You can let me keep that house," Rachel said forthrightly.
"I can do that, but that will just leave you to the bankers and the collection agencies and the repo men," I told her. "I'm trying to do you a favor."
"That house... It's a place to Clem and Art, but it's my home!" Rachel leaned forward earnestly, bringing her popguns to bear. "I have roots!"
I realized that the display wasn't deliberate; she'd forgotten to vamp me — or probably felt bad about it. "You can't pay these people. You're starving to death. You just can't stay there!"
"But I have to!" she insisted. "I just can't go somewhere else and start over! It's all I have — all that is familiar to me!"
"To be fair, you don't own it any more," I said gently. "In some ways, it owns you!"
Rachel looked startled for a moment. "So, if you sold the house to someone else, they would own me, too?"
"Well, no," I replied. "The object of the exercise is to get you out from under."
"Well, wait a minute — can you sell me with the house?"
I blinked. "What?"
"As a maid or something, maybe..."
"That would tend to make resale difficult to impossible," I replied. "I would likely lose money trying. That house isn't big enough for servants -- besides, the new owners would probably want to make changes that would render the place, well, not yours any more." I eyed her. "Besides, what can you do that would make you worth having?"
"I cook and clean..."
"Obviously," I agreed. I would be willing to wager that there wasn't so much as a dust mite in that house...
"I can wait tables... just one would be easy..."
"No doubt," I agreed, "but that won't earn your keep, never mind convey ownership of the house — even in part."
"Mine isn't the only house you're looking at, is it?" she asked.
"So you'll need someone to clean and pick up at other places."
"So you're in town for a while? Where are you living? In a hotel?" she pressed.
"Yes," I admitted.
"If you're going to buy the house, wouldn't it save you money to live in it while it's being shown and sold?"
She had me there — hotel rooms cost a thousand a week. It was a cost of doing business, but one I could cut... "I need maid service."
"You wouldn't." Her eyes locked on mine.
"What do you want?" I asked her.
"I want not to have to move. Do you HAVE to SELL the house? Can't you rent it? Can't we do some kind of trade?" she asked anxiously.
"What's in it for me?" I asked her. "I'll be stuck with your mortgage. The place isn't set up for apartments. If you live there, what will you do? Take in boarders?"
"That's what Clem and Art are," she replied simply. "Buy my brother out. I will work for my part of the place, keeping things clean and ironing your clothes and cooking your meals — and doing other houses in the daytime. You can take a room — mine or Clem's — and set up an office in Art's room, which will be a business expense. You'll get your money's worth..." She eyed me and licked her lips nervously. "You'll own the house and you'll own... me..."
I rocked back in my chair. "What?"
"You said it," she pressed. "The house owns me. You won't want to make serious changes, so it will be mostly the same as it is now — I can live with that. I'll do all the stuff I'm doing now there and I'll work on your other places outside and I'll answer the phones and..."
"I plan to sell that house!" I erupted.
"When, though? Can't you turn a profit on it any time?" she asked. "Wouldn't paying the mortgage be cheaper than living in hotels?"
"Maybe," I grunted. "But if I take over the mortgage, it buys you out, too — or the whole thing has to be re-negotiated. We're trying to save the three of you from credit woes..."
"Rent me my space for what I do for you, then," she said desperately. "When you're done here and the time comes to sell it, maybe I'll feel differently about it. I need time..."
"So, I'm to take you on as an employee and leave you in the house in return for some kind of personal services contract — until I sell the house..." I muttered.
"Yes." Rachel nodded. "I like that. Personal services."
"Well, maid work. Cooking, cleaning, external cleaning at other sites..." I backpedalled. Dammit! How did she figure out that I had a gooey center? When did I fuck up?
"You don't have to set limits..." she said softly.
"I probably should..."
"I don't want you to," Rachel replied.
"Why not? It's for your protection..." I blurted.
"I don't want to be protected," she said softly. "I've been protected for years. I want you to feel free to demand... other things... You'll own the house and you'll own me..."
"W--what other things?" I was totally on the defensive. My mind was conjuring up all kinds of wild scenarios. Surely she didn't mean...
Her eyes were hypnotic. "Man things. The things men demand from women. I've been TOO protected — two brothers in the house... People think things. Men stay away. I'm thirty four — and men haven't made demands on me for a long time..."
"You're thirty four?" I blurted. I was in total rabbit mode — scared shitless. I'd been sure she was forty plus — but the picture had said different...
Her expression turned rueful. "I know, I'm no bargain — but I'll gain weight again when I start eating and I'll do whatever it takes to look good for you — and in the meantime, you don't HAVE to look..." She glanced around and then ducked sideways and disappeared under the table.
"Y--you don't have to..." I stammered as her hands settled on my thighs, then went for my belt.
"Do you have any idea how long it's been?" she husked. "I WANT to! Think what you're doing for me! It's been... years... since a man has even taken me to dinner!"
"But it's business!" My belt was open and my zipper was going down. I was looking around the restaurant, trying to tell if anyone had noticed...
"That's right. You own me. We have a contract. Raise up a bit." I did it — my dick and my brain were on different wavelengths, and my dick had the rest of my body, while my brain apparently only had my mouth. Rachel tugged my slacks down to the floor and then worked my briefs over my erection. Dressing was going to be a bitch...
"We, uh, don't yet..." I gasped.
"I'm interviewing," she said softly. "Oh... my... God..." Warm breath washed over my cock. "It's HUGE!" Her hands enveloped my shaft, working it gently.
"Well," I muttered. "Not really..."
"My husband claimed to be bigger than average," Rachel breathed. "He didn't have HALF of THIS!"
"He lied, then," I whispered, "I'm only a little over the average, maybe."
"He lied a lot," Rachel said simply. "Damn him! I was pretty sure from videos..."
"Rachel, really, you don't HAVE to..." I said, my brain still desperately trying to maintain a 'proper' relationship. Besides, I'm a bachelor — women don't just go reaching in my pants. I was scared to death! What kind of trap would the woman spring next?
"Oh, I have to," Rachel purred breathily. "If I let this go, I would never forgive myself!" Warm, soft lips wrapped themselves around my glans and I knew I was lost — at least temporarily.
"Aaaahhhh!" 'Shit, did I say that?' I glanced around; yeah, I'd made a noise... "This is... too public!" I gasped.
"I can't let go now," Rachel moaned. "Try to enjoy it quietly." She started pumping her lips over my shaft from the tip to several inches in. After a couple of strokes, she choked and let up.
"Are you okay?" I whispered.
"Uh huh." I heard her swallow. "Just like riding a bicycle — but mine didn't have wheels this big... I'll get used to it." She dove on me again and I gripped the table top, fighting to remain collected-looking while the pleasure rolled over me.
It was agony, and it was ecstasy. The waiter came with the lemon ices and asked, "Where's Rachel?"
"She, uh, had something she wanted to take care of," I told him, flicking a glance at where I thought the Ladies' Room was.
"You look kind of nervous..." he opined.
"She's a little overwhelming..." I got out. Rachel had stopped loudly slurping and was suckling my glans and washing the sensitive underside with her tongue.
"She's a wonderful woman," the waiter opined. "She worked here and I hated to let her go — but business wasn't good enough and Mama was worried that she would steal me from her..." He shook his head. "She's had no luck with men, and living with her brothers... not a good idea..." He straightened up. "Don't hurt her. You could do a lot worse!" He headed off and I slumped in the booth, gasping.
Rachel started bobbing again, then backed off to lick. "I could do this all night."
"I think I would have a heart attack!" I gasped, "Besides, your ices are getting warm."
"Okay, we need to finish then. Why don't you drive?"
"What?" I blinked.
"Take my head in your hands. Use me. Do whatever feels best," she murmured.
"Are you nuts?"
"No. I like it, actually. Or I used to." Her hands snaked up from below to take my wrists. "Do it."
So I did. Gingerly. The one-touch driving school. She followed any touch willingly, so it didn't take much — and, of course, there was the psychological component. I'd never had that much control over a woman I hadn't bought and paid for — even then, I didn't really do anything like THIS! Things got incredible quickly; after a rapid series of strokes, I pushed her back, hissing, "Gonna shoot!"
"Goody!" She broke my hold and dove on my cock, sucking and licking, and I tried not to scream while my cock made like a pumping station on the Alaska Pipeline. "Jeezus fucking Christ!" I gasped behind a hastily raised napkin. I think I must have squirted a dozen times into her mouth before I started shooting blanks; I'd never EVER had head like that!
I flopped back, panting, and in a moment, Rachel surfaced. She was thoroughly disheveled, but wore a Mona Lisa smile — and I realized that the woman had a hammerlock on my emotions. She licked her lips, looking vastly satisfied with herself, and lifted her spoon to taste her lemon ice. "Just the thing," she muttered.
I actually blushed. "You didn't have to swallow..."
"I wanted to. It's nutritious," she replied, smiling at my discomfiture, "but it DOES have an aftertaste..."
"Your hair is a mess, I'm afraid," I observed. Her lipstick was ruined, too.
"In a minute," she said quietly, patting at her hair. "I'll make myself presentable before we leave." She eyed me. "See? You don't REALLY want limits, do you?"
We ate our ices — hurriedly — and Rachel swayed off to the Ladies' Room while I got the check. I remember watching her go and shaking my head -- that swivel really needed more to move than the stick figure she currently was. When she came back, I stood to escort her out and she stopped in the middle of the restaurant. "Do we have a deal?"
Bang! She had me by the short hairs! I rubbed my face. "Conditionally, subject to — jeez, I don't know what, actually, but I'll come up with something..."
She smiled and turned away, heading for the door, and I followed, wondering just how I was going to manage to get out of the fix I was in.
Once outside, though, she tossed away her tactical advantage, turning to me and taking my hands and saying, "Thank you! I know I didn't play fair and you are probably going nuts trying to figure out how you can get out of this — and maybe you will; it wouldn't be the first time I've been taken advantage of. But I'm desperate, and desperate people do things they're not proud of. I believe that you're a man of your word, so even if I don't get what I'm hoping for, I know you'll do the best for me that you can."
I pursed my lips and nodded, looking away, still wondering when I'd revealed my gooey center. She let go of one of my hands, but not the other -- or, at least, not until I settled her in her seat. Once the car was in gear and we were in traffic, she added, "I'm a woman of MY word — I want no limits. What you may think of as me paying the price won't be — I look forward to... being intimate... and I hope you do, too."
"No limits at all cover a lot of ground," I argued. "You don't know what kind of wolf in sheep's clothing I am."
"I think I'm pretty safe," she retorted, "and if I'm not, well, I'm catching up. I could stand a few adventures..."
"Adventures..." I mused. "The mind boggles."
"Whatever you're thinking, remember it. We'll do it. Just let me know what it is — or surprise me, if that works..." She put her hand on my arm. "I want to do... wild things, for once in my life."
I couldn't think of anything to say...
Back at the house, I broke out my laptop and portable printer and started modifying my boilerplate sales contract. When Clem asked what agreement we'd come to, I let Rachel handle it.
"Roger has agreed to let me stay on here until he sells the house," she related. "To pay the rent, I'll be doing — well, what I've been doing for you two, among other things — for him. I'll also be cleaning up other places, too, and doing odd jobs. Roger is going to move in here to keep his hotel costs down and I'll be cooking and cleaning and answering the phone and stuff..."
Clem pursed his lips. "Won't that look bad?"
"Worse than how living with my brothers looks?" Rachel shot back. "Compared to what people think WE'RE doing, what Roger and I might be doing is tame!"
"Well, we know better..." Clem argued.
I saw a door opening. "Clem, I agreed to this to please Rachel, not because I'm looking for anything..."
"Clem!" Rachel burst out. "If you screw this up, I'll NEVER forgive you! I made the suggestions, and I had a hard enough time selling them! Roger has been nothing if not decent and considerate! I'll do anything to stay in this house!"
"You don't need to do THAT!" Clem erupted.