‘Does she also believe Elvis is still alive?’
My eyes flash and I glare at him. ‘We can dress this arrangement up and play it any way you want to, but don’t you dare criticize my mother. Even the dirt at the bottom of her shoes is better than you,’ I cry passionately.
He gazes at my flushed cheeks and glittering eyes without anger, almost speculatively. ‘You brought her up,’ he says softly.
My anger subsides as suddenly as it came. ‘Yes, I did,’ I agree flatly, and must have looked as lost and as naïve as I felt for he reaches out to cover my hand with his. I pull mine away.
He takes his hand back to his end of the table and looks at me coldly. ‘OK, have it your way,’ he says, and looks for the waiter.
A waiter appears almost immediately.
The waiter looks at my plate. ‘Was everything all right, mademoiselle?’
‘It was fine. Just not hungry.’
‘Perhaps you have left some space for dessert?’ he suggests with a tilted head.
I shake my head and the waiter looks at Blake. ‘Monsieur?’
‘Just the check.’
‘Of course,’ the waiter says with a nod, and raises his eyebrow to another waiter hovering by a pillar. The man comes and begins clearing away the plates. The bill is presented discreetly in a black wallet and Blake drops his card into it. When his card comes back, Blake says, ‘Shall we?’
He stands and, with his hand on the small of my back, leads me out.
The drive is completed in tense silence. When we get into the softly lit apartment, Blake tosses his card key on the side table and turns to me. ‘Money’s in the bank?’
I nod again.
‘I gave you what you need; now you will give me what I need.’
I nod, ashamed by my own rudeness. It was a deal and he did keep his side of it.
‘I’ll pour us a drink. Change into those and meet me in the bedroom,’ Blake says, gesturing towards the flat box that Tom brought in and put on the side table earlier. Then he turns his back on me and walks down that beautiful corridor into the living room.
I take the box and turning into the first door in the corridor, make my way into the main bedroom. Someone has come in and turned on the bedside lights, and turned down the bed. I go into the bathroom and close the door. Inside the box are wisps of lace and silk. I take them out.
A little dress in some transparent white material, an all lace bra, a thong, suspenders and silk stockings and a pair of platform shoes very similar to the ones I was wearing the night we met. Except for the fine baby blue ribbons on the suspenders, everything is in pure white. I glance at the size on the bra.
Of course. 32B.
I slip out of my clothes and get into the bra and suspenders. Then I carefully pull on the stockings. I have never worn suspenders before and the little hooks are fiddly and take me a long time. I hear a noise in the bedroom. Blake has already come in. Nervously, I pull on the lacey white knickers and look at myself in the mirror. I can hardly believe it is me. I rinse with mouthwash, take a deep breath and, opening the door go into the bedroom.
And just stand there staring, my heart crashing against my ribcage.
Good God! He is lying shirtless on the bed, propped against pillows, all sexy and toned and… and bristling with animal magnetism. There is not an ounce of fat on that sleek body. This is definitely not a man who imbibes Hobnobs. His legs are crossed at his ankles and his eyes are hooded. There is no expression in his face and no way of knowing what he is thinking. There is also something very bad and exciting about being in that lush bedroom with a cold, cold banker who has paid for you.
‘Come closer,’ he invites.
Clubland chart music is playing in the background. ‘Give Me a Reason’ by Pink and Nate Ruess comes on. Pink is singing, Right from the start you were a thief. You stole my heart. And I your willing victim.
I walk slowly into the middle of the room: my stomach is in knots: my mouth is dry: my eyes are saucers.
When I am two feet away from the bed, he says, ‘Stop.’
I freeze with shock.
He laughs. The sound is soft but carries some hint of cruelty. He is the cat playing with a mouse. From his position of dominance and control he says, ‘I won’t say relax, I’m not going to eat you, because I am.’
I straighten my back and step out of my platforms.
‘No,’ he commands. ‘Not the shoes. Keep those on.’
Silently I step back into them. I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. No man has seen me nude. I untie the ribbon in front of the diaphanous dress and shrug. It slips off me, whispering and sighing.
For a moment I stand in my lacy underwear, suspenders and stockings.
Pink and Nate are belting out, Just give me a reason. Just a little bit’s enough.
For a second I think of Billie saying every puss needs a good pair of boots, and I tell myself, sure, why not? It is just sex. I twist my hands behind my back and take my bra off. Let it dangle at the tip of one finger before I let it drop.
I see his chest rise with an indrawn breath, and I slip the fingers of both hands into the bit of lace and string and ease it slowly down my legs. I come up slowly resisting the urge to cover myself with my hands.
‘You have a very, very beautiful body, Lana Bloom,’ the man on the bed says. His voice is thick with lust.
We’re not broken, just bent. And we can learn to love again.
I face his gaze again. His eyes are eating me alive. I have never seen hunger like that.
I turn around.
You’re pouring a drink. No, nothing is as bad as it seems.
‘Now spread your legs.’
We’ll come clean. We’re not broken, just bent.
I step outwards.
I oblige. My calf muscles strain to hold the position in the high shoes.
‘Touch the floor.’
I spread my fingers, lay them on the floor, and hear his gasp. For some long seconds I am bent forward, my legs spread far apart, and my ass high in the air. His eyes are a hot tingle on my exposed skin. The pose is blatantly demeaning. I should feel degraded and humiliated. Instead there is an unfamiliar heat between my legs. And my belly is clenched with feral excitement.
I drop to my knees and crouching low, turn around. He is sitting on the edge of the bed. I stand and go to him. His strong hands span my waist and before I know it I am travelling in the air. I land on the bed with a slight bounce and a shocked gasp. On my back I watch him with widened eyes. His eyes are black and impenetrable. His body hard and big, the muscles rippling.