Undercover Lover

Furtively she scanned the darkness and, satisfied she hadn’t been followed, Stephanie Steel leaned a hand against the weathered pylon of the Harbour Bridge. Hardly daring to draw breath, she bent down to finger the chink in the bottom-most sandstone brick. Then, from the hollow behind it she withdrew the message from her lover…

Maggie clucked with annoyance as she snapped shut the cover of Undercover Lover. As exciting as the romantic thriller was, if she didn’t get some shuteye she wouldn’t be able to function at work tomorrow. She grimaced at the clock. How could it be 1 a.m. already?

A long sigh escaped into the quiet of the bedroom. Compared to the thrilling fictional world in which she’d just been immersed, the mundaneness of real life was becoming more and more intolerable. In bed by ten, George snoring by five past, while she read avidly until weariness overtook her and she could sleep. She leaned over and, as she did every night, planted a kiss on the balding head next to her before switching off the light.

Tonight, though, slumber evaded her. She thumped the pillow irritably, then rolled onto her side, only to find her eyes open and focused on her husband’s profile. She couldn’t make out his face in the dark but when she closed her eyes an image of his lively blue eyes and boyish grin imprinted itself on the back of her lids. She grinned half-heartedly.

George was a lovely husband, no denying that. Always affectionate and thoughtful. He bought her a bottle of her favourite perfume every birthday and took her to ‘their’ restaurant every wedding anniversary. He knew the type of novel she liked, even enjoyed reading them himself. And there were still flashes of that sense of humour that had first attracted her to him. But he was just so…predictable.

The last of their three babies had left home two months ago, and life as an empty nester had become entirely routine. There was just no excitement any more. Maggie tossed onto her other side, a sudden impatience with her lot having driven away all desire for sleep.

The beginnings of an irrational anger welled inside. She rolled onto her back and shifted away from George, uncontainably restless. Why was it that the only exhilaration she felt these days was in reading about someone else’s secret love affair? It was hardly fulfilling. She gazed resentfully at her husband’s sleeping form.

As if he sensed her thoughts, George flung out an arm that came to rest across her body. The contact caused a sharp stab of conscience and she glanced apprehensively at him. He couldn’t know what she was thinking, could he? She took a deep calming breath. No, of course not. They may have been married for thirty years but that didn’t mean they could read each other’s minds.

For several moments she watched George as he slept, trying to recapture some of the feeling that had kept them happily together for so many years. But it was no use. Her disillusionment was overwhelming.

Dragging in a ragged breath, she tried to think rationally. George had changed but, to be fair, time had changed her, too. The slim, smooth-skinned brunette who’d once gazed back at her from the mirror was, these days, looking more and more like her own mother. But that was only a superficial change. Beneath this aging exterior she was still the crazy, fun-loving girl she’d been when she and George first met…wasn’t she?

For a few seconds she trembled with self-doubt before pushing that uncertainty behind her. Of course she was! She was every bit as adventurous and wild as Stephanie Steel. And Ms Steel wouldn’t be lying here lamenting the lack of excitement in her life; she’d be out there creating her own. Maggie sat bolt upright.

That’s exactly what she’d do. Right now!

Going for a drive would relieve her tension and might just help to clear her head. She slipped from the bed to dress without disturbing her husband.

Once out and about, Maggie was struck by a strange sense of unreality. Here she was, a mature mother of three grown children, driving around Sydney’s Rocks area in the wee hours of the morning, disgruntled because her life wasn’t as exciting as that of the heroine in the book she was reading. She jerked the car over to the curb and laid her head dejectedly on the steering wheel.

Moments later, she glanced up to see the pylon of the Harbour Bridge lit up before her. She blinked. Was that shadow in the sandstone a chink in the brick?

The decision to get out of the car was made without having to think. Hardly daring to draw breath, she bent down to remove the rock and, from the hollow behind, withdrew a piece of paper.

Hi Hon. Good book, isn’t it? I knew you’d be crazy enough to check if this really exists. It’s one of the reasons I still love you as much as ever. G.

Sheer delight lifted the corners of Maggie’s lips as she pressed the message to her lips. Then, pulse racing as it hadn’t done for years she headed back to the car.

Who needed Stephanie Steel when her own not-so-secret lover was waiting for her under the covers at home?