You wouldn't call Maidstone a pretty town. It used to be a market town, where local farmers brought their livestock and produce to sell. Little of the old town remains. The markets have long since been replaced by shopping malls and office blocks. The river, which is its most picturesque attraction, runs through the centre of the town; but on the whole people go to Maidstone to work or to shop.
None of this bothered Maria as she made her way from the station to the hotel. She was there for one purpose only, and the sooner it was over the sooner she could get back to her children. Male heads turned as she walked down the street, dragging her suitcase behind her. It's said that for men there are two types of women, the type you want to take to bed and the type you want to take home to meet your mother. Maria managed to get a foot in both camps. She was five foot six, taller in her heels, with a trim figure that belied the fact that she had borne two children. Her long, dark hair bounced off her shoulders, framing an oval face with piercing blue eyes. She had the elegant walk of a woman well used to high heels, and her hips swung as she walked. Today she wore a black skirt suit. The tailored jacket showed off her trim waist; the hem of her skirt fell to a little above her knees.
She first saw him as she approached the hotel. He was tall and broad shouldered, with a confident stride. Early forties, she thought as she looked at him. His hair was short and dark but starting to grey, not salt and pepper yet but it wouldn't be long. He wore a linen suit of an off white colour. The brown loafers on his feet completed the image of a man smartly dressed but relaxed. She tried to imagine her husband William wearing clothes like that. She thought it would have suited him but William, sometimes Will but never Bill, never looked relaxed. At his insistence, she even pressed creases into his jeans. Thinking about her husband brought a tear to her eye. It will soon be over, she told herself, knowing in her heart that it would never be over.
She reached the hotel entrance and pushed with her left hand. The door didn't budge. She changed hands so that her case was now in her left hand and pushed hard with her right. Still the door didn't move.
"Allow me" came the voice from behind her. A linen clad arm reached past her and pulled the door open.
She was overcome with embarrassment. "You must think me such a fool", she said, as he held the door open for her.
"Not at all, your mind was obviously on other things. I'm glad to be of service. Now please, after you."
Her face was still flushed as she reached the reception desk to check in. She noticed the man kept his distance while she handled the check in and received her key. She looked back at him as she took her key.
"Thank you, for the door thing. Are you staying long?" What was she doing, asking a strange man how long he was staying? She'd meant it as polite conversation, but it could be taken as an expression of interest.
"Just the one night. I don't expect to be around much after tomorrow."
Just one night, he'd said, that eased her feelings of embarrassment. She didn't fancy him being around all week, imagining she was interested in him. Maria got into the lift, and as she turned around she saw he was looking at her. She smiled and gave him a wave as the doors closed. As the lift started to move, she cursed herself again for that wave.
The hotel was only three stars. She'd chosen it because of its location, so she was relieved to find quite a pleasant, clean room. She lay down on the bed and found it quite comfortable. In no time, she'd unpacked and showered. She sat on the bed and called her mother, who was looking after her children. Tears formed again as she spoke to her children; she missed them so much. She saw the news on TV, and wished she'd brought a book with her. Making a mental note to buy one the following day, she went down for dinner.
In the hotel restaurant, she was shown to a table. She didn't see him come in, but as she lifted her glass of wine she was aware of someone's eyes upon her. She turned, and as she caught his eye he smiled at her and raised his glass. Throughout the meal she would look across and find him watching her. She found herself in a quandary. On the one hand she didn't want to encourage him, on the other she desperately wanted to talk to someone; and he seemed like a nice man. She felt a hint of disappointment when he got up and didn't come over, but left the restaurant and walked out of the hotel.
Finishing her meal and draining her glass of wine, Maria walked out of the restaurant. She noticed the bar across the foyer. Maybe there would be someone there she could talk with, to take her mind off the business of the day to come. She was on her second vodka and tonic when he came in and sat on a stool next but one to her. The barman came over and the man ordered a St Clements.
"Can I buy a girl a drink?"
"It's just a drink", he said. "I need some company, and you seem to be on your own. My name is Paul, by the way."
She smiled at him. "Pleased to meet you, Paul, I'm Maria. I'll have a vodka and tonic, if that's OK?"
Paul took his drink and ordered another for Maria. The barman returned and Paul picked up both drinks. He nodded in the direction of a vacant table.
"Shall we take these over there where it's a bit more private?"
They moved to the table and sat down.
"I thought you'd gone out for the night" she said.
"No, I just went for a walk down by the river. I probably won't be able to do that for some time to come, so I thought I'd make the most of a fine evening."
"I didn't even realise there was a river walk in this town, but that can't be what brought you to Maidstone."
"No, I'm here for what amounts to a final interview. If it goes the way I expect I'll be going away for a few years."
"Hmm, that sounds intriguing. Where will you be going?"
"I don't know, exactly. I don't think that's been decided yet."
"Ooh, you make it sound so mysterious. You're not going to be some kind of James Bond, are you?"
"No, nothing like that, although I will be working for Her Majesty. What about you? What brings a beautiful married lady to a Maidstone hotel to talk to a strange man?"
Maria took a sip of her drink and rubbed her rings. "I'm widowed, actually, and I don't think you really want to know about me."
"Oh, but I do. Besides, you look like you need to talk to someone. I'll get the drinks in, and you can decide if you want to talk to me."
Paul got up and came back with another St Clements and a vodka and tonic. As he put her glass down Maria touched his hand, running her fingers down his ring finger.
"There is a depression where a ring used to be. Was that for my benefit, or is it the reason for the sadness in your eyes?"
"That's not a story you want to hear."
"But I do. I do. I'm a good listener, and you need to tell. Come on, you tell me your story, and I'll tell you mine."
Paul noticed she'd started to slur her words a little and hesitate while she formed her sentences.
"OK, I'll tell, but then it's your turn."
"Right, you first then me." Maria took a sip of Paul's St Clements. "There's no alcohol in that. You're supposed to be keeping me company."
"I need a clear head for the morning, can't go into an interview with a hangover. Now do you want my story?"
"OK. I used to work at the university. I loved it, doing research and helping the students. The problem was the lousy pay. I never earned enough money for Josie, that's my wife. She always needed more. When the two children came along, Alex, he's seven now, and Kate, she's five, money got even tighter."
"Josie started working evenings, and I pushed for an increase in pay. The thing is universities have set pay scales, and you can't progress without having your work published. I needed to publish more but didn't have the time. I couldn't work on papers during the day without neglecting normal work. I would have done it in the evening, but I was looking after the children while Josie was at work."
"Even with both of us working there was still never enough. When Josie's brother told me he made a lot more money as a self employed driver, I thought about it. The trouble was, Josie thought about it, too. To her the increased income meant more that the fact that I loved my job."
"Cut a long story short, she used the children as emotional blackmail to make me quit my job and buy a tractor unit. Her brother gave me all the contacts, and soon I was delivering loads all over the country. Josie got a day time job, and we were OK for a while. Then I found out that while I was away she'd found herself a boy friend."
"Oh, Paul, that's awful. How did you find out?"
"Her boyfriend told me. He sent me a multi media message. Pictures and videos of him screwing her, and her sucking his dick. The thing is, he used her phone to send it. I expected to get a loving message from my wife and I got a gloating message from her lover, and all those pictures. She tried to tell me it was one time only, and that he sent the message because she'd told him never again."
"Didn't you believe her, then?"
"You should have seen the look in her eyes as she sucked him. She hadn't looked at me like that for years. She was ecstatic when he screwed her. I couldn't look at her again without seeing those pictures. Divorce was the only option. Once Josie realised I was serious about separation, she turned nasty. Told me he wasn't the first, and he wouldn't be the last. It was all my fault for not making enough money for her to stay at home. After the divorce I was supposed to have access to my children, but I haven't seen them for five months. Either they are not well, or they are on a special day out. Then they go on holiday during my access time."
Maria stood up, went to Paul, kissed his cheek, and hugged him to her breast.
"Oh, you poor man, you poor, poor man. How could they do that to you? No wonder you want to get away. What about her lover? What happened to him?"
She started to wobble on her high heels, and Paul felt the need to help her back to her seat. Once she was seated again he continued.
"Well of course he was married, but there's no point in going after him. He died in a road accident about three weeks after he sent me that message."
"Does his wife know?"
"No, I don't think so. I don't see any point in making her suffering any worse. The poor woman has lost her husband. What good would it do for her to know that he was really a worthless shit?"
"Well if it were my Will, I think I would want to know. It will help her move on. She will be looking on him as some sort of saint, and no man will ever match up. If she knows he's a bastard it makes it easier for her to find someone. You must tell her, Paul, you must. She'll hate you for it, at first, but later she'll be glad you did. Promise me, promise me you'll tell her."
Paul shook his head. Maria stamped her foot and spoke sharply. "Promise me, or I won't tell you anything."
"OK! OK, I promise."
Maria took another sip of her drink. "So now you want to know why I'm here. I'm here to face up to the man who killed my husband, my William."
"Somebody killed him? Oh my god, that's awful. How did it happen?"
"Well, they call it an accident but he killed him, just as sure as if he'd pointed a gun at him. He may not have meant to, but he did nothing to avoid it."
"Maria, you're talking in riddles here. How did he kill William?"
"He ran him down. Poor Will sat in his car at the side of the road, and that man ran into him with a forty ton lorry. Straight over the top he went, crushed the car like a matchbox with my Will inside it. He never stood a chance."
Tears ran down Maria's cheeks. Her anger brought on an adrenalin surge and her speech became less slurred. She mopped her cheeks with a tissue. Paul waited for her to calm down.
"But it was an accident, right? I mean he didn't deliberately run him down, did he?"
Maria started to sob. Paul put his arm around her and held her to him. The sobbing stopped, and she continued.
"He was texting, Paul. People saw him. He held his phone up on the steering wheel and he was sending a text. That's why he lost control of his lorry. He was doing sixty miles an hour down Detling hill, and he was texting. My Will had to die so he could send a text."
Paul held her head to his chest as she cried. The barman started to come over, but Paul held up his hand to indicate that it was OK. Maria put an arm around him, and pushed her face hard against him. Slowly she regained control and pushed herself away.
"I'm sorry, Paul, I thought I could handle it." She took another sip of her drink. "Excuse me, I need to go to the ladies."
Paul watched as she staggered across the floor towards the toilet. When she returned her face looked better, but he noticed she had to hold on to the bar. She got the barman's attention and ordered another drink. She asked Paul if he wanted one. He shook his head. She made her way back to her seat.
"What must you think of me, breaking down like that?"
"It's perfectly understandable. I'm not over losing my family yet, and they're still alive. Do you want to stop now, or would you like to continue?"
"I don't know, what else there is to tell?"
"Well, you could tell me about William. What kind of man was he?"
Maria's face brightened and her eyes got some of the sparkle back. "My Will, you want me to describe him. Tall, dark, and handsome is a start. He had gorgeous eyes. I could lose myself in those eyes. When I was with him I felt like the most important woman in the world. I could see the other women looking at me wondering what I did to deserve such a man. Even the girls at work, they all wanted to dance with him at the Christmas parties. When he left them I could see the envy in their eyes when they looked at me."
"So he was good looking, but that's not everything, is it?"
"No, it's not, and that's not what he was all about. He was the best husband and father I could wish for. Unless he was out on the road, he attended all the children's school functions. We wanted for nothing, and he was the kindest, most loving man. I used to see other people struggling to keep their marriages together, and I felt so privileged."
"He sounds like a complete angel. No wonder you miss him so much."
Maria smiled at him. "Oh no, Will was no angel. At work he was quite ruthless. He would do anything to make a sale. Then of course there was the rugby."
"Don't tell me, he was a bad loser."
"Will always said there was no such thing as good losers, only losers. To make it worse he was a terrible winner. Will never understood the meaning of magnanimous in victory. When his team won he really had to rub it in."
"So there was another side to him."
"Oh yes, but he never brought any of that into the house. That man robbed me of a model husband."
Talking about her husband had definitely brought the colour back to Maria's face.
"Well, what does this driver bloke have to say for himself?"
"Nothing, and that makes it hurt more. He's not even said he is sorry he did it."
"Ah, well, he wouldn't be allowed to do that. His insurance company would have a fit. In legal terms saying sorry is like an admission of guilt. He'd need insurance to continue working."
"You mean he could still be driving, I hadn't thought of that."
"Well, he may have a family. He's still got to put food on the table."
"Oh, yes, I suppose so. I'd imagined him on his own, but you're right. He probably does have a family. That makes it worse, really. If he has a family he should be more responsible."
The barman brought her drink. "That'll have to be the last one, the bar is closing now." he said. He went back to the bar, and started pulling down the shutters.
"So how do you intend to confront him?"
She took a large sip from her drink. "That's why I chose this hotel. It's convenient for the law courts. He is supposed to stand trial tomorrow. I'm going to be there. He's going to have to look me in the eye and know what he's done."
"I see. And what do you want to happen?"
"I hope they lock him up and throw away the key, but that's not likely to happen. He might even get off; the police never found the phone, so they haven't got the best evidence."
"What will you do if he gets off?"
"I don't know, I've not thought that far ahead." She drained her glass, and stood up. As soon as she got up she fell back down again. "Oops! It looks like I've had more to drink than I thought."
Paul got up and took her hands. "Allow me to help you", he said, pulling her up from her seat. She stood, and Paul stood beside her and put his arm around her waist. She put her arm around him.
"Now, my knight in shining armour, would you like to escort me to my room? It's number 211, do you think you can find it?"
"I'm sure I'll manage," he said as he guided her to the lift. As the doors closed she turned to him.
"You know, Paul, I really don't want to be alone tonight. Do you think you could..."
The lift started to move. "Oh, Maria, I don't think that's a good idea. You've had too much to drink. You'll hate yourself, and me, in the morning."
"I won't, and you'll be gone in the morning. We'll never have to see each other ever again."
They walked out of the lift and down the corridor. Maria was holding on to Paul as tightly as she could.
"Just because I'm not here doesn't mean you won't hate me, or yourself."
They arrived at her door, and Maria turned to Paul. "It's OK, Paul, I understand. Why would a man like you be interested in an old widow woman like me?"
"That's not true, Maria. If things were different, wild horses wouldn't keep me out of that room."
She turned away, found her key, and opened the door. She reached out and took Paul's hand.
"Please, Paul, I don't think I can take being alone tonight. Don't make me beg."
Paul reluctantly followed her into the room. Maria took off her jacket and threw it on the bed, then walked over to the mini-bar.
"Don't you think you've had enough?" Paul asked.
Maria turned around with two bottles of water in her hand. "Would you like still or sparkling?"
Paul smiled, and opted for the sparkling. She brought the water to him, and as he took the bottle she pulled his head down and kissed him. He felt his resolve slipping away. Despite what his head kept saying, he knew that he wanted her as much as she wanted him.
"You're a lot like him, you know."
"William, my husband, you're a lot like him in some ways." Paul took off his jacket and draped it across the back of the chair. Maria looked at him. "He was maybe a little more muscular. He worked out a lot, and then there was the rugby of course."
"Maria, are you sure you want to do this?"
She walked over, sat on his lap, and started to stroke his cheek. "Will you stop worrying about me? I need to be with someone tonight, and from what you say you may not get the chance to be with a woman for some time to come. Why shouldn't we help each other out?"
She kissed him, and this time Paul was very responsive. As they broke the kiss Maria got up, undid the waist band of her skirt, then allowed it to fall to the floor. As it fell it revealed the most beautiful, shapely legs he'd seen in a long time. She was wearing stockings and a suspender belt, which was always a turn on for Paul. He watched her as she picked up her suit and hung it up in the wardrobe. Next came the blouse, revealing a delicate lacy bra that supported a pair of gorgeous breasts. Her nipples were clearly visible, pushing through the material.
Maria was still unsteady on her feet as she walked back towards Paul. She bent and picked up her skirt and jacket, and hung them in the wardrobe. Walking back to Paul she stood in front of him with her feet apart. She looked down at the bulge in his lap.
"I see you find something to like in this old widow lady."
"There's nothing old about you, and yes I find everything about you attractive. If things were different you'd be beating me off with a stick."
Maria took his hands in hers and pulled him to his feet. She kissed him.
"No more protests. I really need to be loved tonight. You seem like a nice man; you are divorced so I'm not hurting anyone else. Just give me this night, I promise I'll still respect you in the morning."
She unbuckled his belt, and pushed down his zip. The trousers fell to the floor. His erect manhood made a pronounced bulge in his boxer shorts. She sank down on one knee and eased his shoes off. Paul stepped out of his trousers, and as she stood she picked up the trousers and draped them over the back of the chair. Unbuttoning his shirt, she ran her hands over his chest.
"Hmm, not bad, you keep yourself in shape."
"Well, I'm not into body building but I like to keep in trim."
She eased the shirt off of his shoulders and dropped it onto the chair. Stepping back, she turned and put one foot on the bed and unfastened the suspenders from her stocking. She slowly rolled the stocking down her shapely legs. She turned to Paul.
"Will used to love to watch me do this."
"I can understand that, it's so sexy."
"You see, I told you that you are a lot like him. Would you like to do the other leg?"
Paul sat on the bed with his legs apart. Maria eased her foot out of her shoe, and then out of her stocking. She put her foot back down, then moved over and put her other foot between Paul's legs. She unfastened the suspender, and waited for Paul to move. As he touched her inner thigh, she felt a shiver run through her. With a hand either side of her leg he started to stroke downwards, rolling the stocking down. He smiled up at her.
"This is the most erotic thing I've ever done."
"And we haven't started yet."
She pulled her foot out her shoe and stocking. Standing back on the floor, she removed the suspender belt.
"The rest is up to you."
Paul stood up and took her in his arms. As he unfastened her bra she held onto him, kissing his neck. With the bra released, he stepped back and slowly eased the halter straps off her shoulders and down her arms. He stood and looked at her newly released breasts. Exquisite was the only word he could think of to describe them. He cupped them both, gently stroking her stiffening nipples with his thumbs. He slowly stroked her sides from her arm pits down to her waist. She sighed as his hands came to rest on her hips.