CHAPTER 10: More than the whole world

Tara's equilibrium, her senses, seeped back. Her eyes were closed; she rolled her head a fraction, and a moan escaped her heart. A delicious desire for rest, and respite, engulfed her. A desire to stop thinking; to forget oaths and obligations; career and Crown. Just to melt into a forbidden, erotic embrace, forever. To be held; and treasured. And loved. Deeply, physically, spiritually, loved. Not holding back, but reaching out. From somewhere an image of a plush canopy bed, its sheets turned down, flickered through her memory. Waiting for her. Beckoning her. What she wanted, truly wanted, more than... more than...

But it was time. Time for the final reveal. All but her most intimate corner had been unveiled. She was ready. The bridges were burned. There was no turning back.

She lowered her gaze. The lighting crept up by degrees. And at her feet, just upstage, was revealed a bra; a plum silk blouse, sans brooch; a wraparound skirt. Then a ruin of flowers... and atop them all, a scarlet ribbon. Tara looked upon the ribbon – and she understood. From her lips came the orison, "Behold thy handmaid. Be it unto me, according to thy word."

Fingers seemed to touch her temples, and her head craned upward, towards the Kleig-lit heavens. The part of heaven with the precious privilege of overshadowing Tara King. It was time; this was hers. Framed by her beauty. Gifted to her, from the inception of the world. Fulfillment of all desires. Alpha and Omega. For her, now, to give.

In prelude, she began to move her hips sensuously, hypnotically, back and forth. Back, and forth. Then she slowly turned – the turn the whole world had been waiting for. And with that lustful, abandoned countenance that only coming can bring to a woman, she faced the transfixed multitude. Her eyes closed; her head rolled a final time, in a full circle; her torso swayed. Her breasts, with a sheen of sweat from the orgasm, swung gently. Every eye staring at them. Every heart lusting for her. Throughout the theatre was heard the silence and symphony of life eternal.

She stopped, with her hips canted to the side. No more hesitation; no more resistance. She was exactly where she was meant to be, doing what she was meant to do. The Fresnel spot, churning from the furnace of its flaming hot filaments, passionately caressed her... and she knew she had to, and yearned to, give those last concealed inches to its touch. And with the most tantalizing smile, she reached her fingers to the front of the panties... and slipped them in. Then she began, ever so slowly, moving her hips again. Down she slid her fingers, beneath the scarlet silk. The fingertips just within the hem. Sliding down, and up. Then down an inch further, and up, beneath the silk. And down, even closer, ever closer, to the focal point of the madding crowd. In her ears she heard the thunder of ten thousand pounding hearts. At a crescendo in the music, she did a pirouette, a 180... to stretch their frenzy one final degree. She touched the bare cheeks with her fingertips, even as she had once touched a photograph, so long ago. Then on the counterbeat, she turned again to the front... and began edging the panties down. With the most exquisite slowness, she slid the silk further downward... and lower... showing more, and more, and more... sliding down, and towards... down, and towards... and at that moment, the bracket clock struck. One_Two_Three. Tara's hands stopped. Her eyes blinked. The chimes re-echoed in the far reaches of the theatre, one... two... three... two... three... two... three...

The music faltered, and fled; the spotlights winking out. The audience fading away. The dream breaking apart, this time, forever. With the final note, she was back in the boudoir, before the 3-way mirrors.

It was over – but not over. The mirrors pressed anew, with the fever of the vanished crowd, Don't stop... You can't stop...! Loosed from the fantasy, Tara balked... but now the glistening increased. Brighter, and stronger, from the endless web of mirrors within mirrors. You have to keep going... you have to go all the way. Her will began to buckle. And with just the faintest tremor, her perfectly manicured nails touched the lacy edge. Keep going...! Her body started to bend, a final time – arching back to present her most intimate self. On another level of awareness, she begged for a shred, a thread, of dignity. But her unclothed beauty, displayed, foreclosed any plea. Her nearly nude body was too arousing; too overwhelming. She couldn't be allowed to stop. "I have to go all the way," she whispered again. A hint of surrender... surrender at last... was in the whisper. The wanton embrace... her back to the Earth...

Her thumbs slipped into the hem – her head tilted to the side, her eyes bedazzled by the mirrors – and down she pushed the panties. Centimeter by precious centimeter. Ever more tender, more intimate. Her hips lolled forward. The silk sliding off the flesh beneath, kissing it en passant, and revealing it. Not as a Judas betrayal, but as a gentle farewell to innocence.

Then, finally, the dark tuft. The first brunette wisp, just visible above her hidden doorway. In the other hidden doorway, dials were thumbed to the absolute maximum. Gunning the hypnosis off the scale. Tara's eyes orbed; her lips parted. Keep going, came the reprise. Her mind was almost gone. Hanging by a thread, as tenuously as the panties. There was just her hands, and the panties. Until she could fight it no longer. The bed awaited. And the thread snapped.

Downward she pushed the panties. Down... and down... and off of her. The scarlet silk surrendered, and dropped to the floor. The last leaf, fallen. And Miss Tara King's impossibly lush, gorgeous, sable beauty was finally yielded in its full glory...

...and a figure – as enthralled in his own way – emerged from the shadows. Escape from prison was his; the chance was now. But he walked past the door. Knowing only what he saw before him. What he desired more than the whole world.

As Tara King stood at the mirrors, ad imago Deae, a hand placed into her brunette tresses a single, perfect orchid. And she knew as well. She knew, at last, the Dark Side. And John the Revelator, from his own final prison on Patmos, did write, "Lo, I beheld the City of God Most High, descending from the heavens / Adorned like a bride for her bridegroom, entering unto the bedchamber."


EPILOGUE

When Steed and the police finally arrived, a slightly disoriented Tara let them in. A search of the premises uncovered no sign of the missing peer, and the manhunt was turned over to Interpol. Four weeks later, Tara was shocked to find out she was pregnant – although she'd had no lover in nearly a year. Dismayed and mystified, she confided the news to Steed, and asked for his help in quietly arranging an abortion. He instead asked for her hand in marriage.

After plumbing her gallant friend's true feelings, she took a weekend alone at the North Sea coast, to search her own heart. It was the site of an early case with Steed; a place that had stayed with her, for some reason. At midnight there, past the now abandoned Carmadoc light, she walked the windswept cliffs under the August moon. Against the chill she held a woolen breaker, with a silver clasp. Waves thundered in the distance, as plumes of mist, off the sea, haunted the night.

To her surprise she saw, in the pale light, the traces of a path. It looked years, even centuries, old – yet she could swear it was never there before. She followed along it, passing wraiths... of fog?... to her left and right, until she came to a silent, grassy circle at the end.

She stood at the edge, and gazed upon it. Thinking, feeling, just being alive... in this corner of the Earth, of the universe. A patch of mist drifted aside – and ahead she saw something glimmer in the grass, at the centre of the space. She went forward, and picked it up; and turned it in her fingers. Counting its rim stones; touching its plaits. Then she held it to her breast with both hands. And pinned it on.

Her arms lowered, and she stood facing eastward... as if looking upon a different world, beyond. The fresh breeze riffled her hair in the moonlight, and whispered, "Welcome home, Tara... at long last." Her eyes then lifted – not by unseen hands this time, but her own volition – and overhead, speeding yet motionless, shone an emerald green comet.

After a further review, Interpol concluded the fugitive had committed suicide in the Thames the previous year – probably within days of his crime – with the body borne out to sea. Any subsequent reports were deemed false, and the case closed.

John King Steed was born Easter morning at St. Bart's Hospital – a handsome, healthy son, with an aristocratic mien – and the couple lived in happiness and love ever after. The End.