I am so happy I start sobbing.
To celebrate, Blake takes me out to dinner at Le Gavroche. I have already dined on the most delicious cheese soufflé cooked in double cream followed by grilled scallops, and my dessert, a raspberry millefeuille in praline-flavored chocolate, has just been put in front of me.
Blake has ordered the Le Plateau de Fromages Affines and I watch him cut a slice of strong cheese. It is almost transparently thin. He places it on a small square of cracker and slips it into his mouth. I imagine the flavors building up in his nose, the cheese melting on his hot, silky tongue, and cheesy liquids traveling down the back of his throat. I watch the movement in the strong column of his brown throat. The entire operation is fluid, elegant, almost a ceremony. It is his education. There is no greed in him.
Not even for me.
I look away and meet the eyes of another diner, a man. He is looking at me with the same expression I must have had in my face while I was looking at the banker. Now I know what lies in the belly of all those men who have ever gazed at me with desire in their eyes. I look down at my dessert, dip my finger into the praline-flavored chocolate and place it on my tongue.
I raise my eyes and Blake is watching me. ‘You are in bad trouble,’ he says.
I don’t take my finger out. ‘What kind of trouble?’ I mumble.
He smiles and is about to answer when a flash of surprised annoyance crosses his face. Its appearance and disappearance is swift. Very quickly his face resumes its neutral expression. I turn curiously to see what caused the disturbance. A silver-haired man is walking towards our table. When the man arrives, he totally ignores me, and looks only at Blake.
Blake’s lips twist. ‘Father, meet Lana. Lana, my father,’ he introduces.
His father glances at me. His eyes are pale blue stones. He pushes his glasses up his nose. He looks quite mild and harmless. If I had seen him in the street, I would have smiled at him.
‘Run along to the ladies and powder your nose or something. I need to speak to my son,’ he says.
His impatience and rudeness is so unexpected it makes me gasp. I pick up my purse automatically and make to rise, but Blake’s voice is like a whiplash. ‘Stay,’ he commands.
Surprised I meet his gaze. He is staring at me, his eyes forbidding and stern. I put my purse down, and he shifts his eyes from me to his father.
‘When I have finished dinner I will come to you,’ he says softly, and stands.
The old man says nothing. It is obvious that he is livid, but he turns around and leaves the restaurant.
Blake sits. ‘Sorry about that,’ he apologizes. ‘My father can be brusque sometimes.’
‘It’s all right,’ I say, but the incident has changed him. He has become remote and preoccupied.
He looks at my uneaten dessert. ‘Do you want coffee?’
I shake my head and he calls for the bill. He puts me into a cab and watches as I am driven away.
Blake Law Barrington
After putting Lana into a cab I hail another and tell the driver to head to Claridges. I check my phone: my brother has called. I call him back.
‘What’s up, Marcus?’
‘Have you seen Dad?’
‘On my way to him now.’
‘Any idea why he suddenly decided he must see you?’
‘Nope,’ I lie. We chat a bit more and then he hangs up.
I don’t immediately to go up to my father’s rooms. I stroll into the bar and order myself a large whiskey. A girl comes up to me.
‘Hi,’ she says. She is very expensively dressed and very seductive. A call girl. I can tell a mile off. ‘Want to buy me a drink?’
I sigh and raise my hand. Instantly, the bartender comes to my side. I move my thumb in her direction. ‘Get her a drink too,’ I say.
The girl smiles at me. Ah, the clothes were bait, the hook is her smile. She is very beautiful. She has long, shining blonde hair that I can see is natural and pearly teeth. I so want to be distracted.
‘You must be very rich and powerful,’ she says.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘The way the bartender left what he was doing to serve you first. It’s always a good sign of big money.’
‘Where are you from?’
‘Russia.’ I nod and almost smile. Cliché of clichés. Of course, she is Russian.
‘And you? You are American?’
‘You are a very beautiful man. I’d really like to spend the night with you.’
I have never paid for sex. And then it hits me suddenly. I am paying for sex! It makes me laugh out loud.
‘What is so funny?’ the Russian asks.
‘Why did you become a hooker?’
Her eyebrows arch. She is pure sophistication. ‘Because I like nice things.’ Then she deepens her voice until it is like hot caramel. She is very good at this. ‘And I love a hot f**k with good-looking strangers.’ She eyes my crotch greedily. She does it well and if I didn’t know better I would think she was desperate for my body and not the contents of my wallet.
Lana’s white face when my father ordered her to leave the table flashes into my mind. I down my drink and signal to the barman.
‘Charge everything to my father’s room,’ I say, and leave a fifty-pound tip. My father is tight and actually goes through his hotel bills.
‘Enjoy your drink,’ I say to the Russian beauty, and make my way to the lift.
Upstairs, my father is waiting for me. As I expected the meeting does not go well.
‘Do you think you are the first Barrington to be tempted?’ my father asks me coldly.
‘Tempted to throw it all away for a bit of flesh.’
‘I don’t want to throw it all away.’
‘It honestly hasn’t crossed my mind.’
‘Do you think I am a fool? Do you think I cannot see what she is to you? Each one of us has a personal siren summoned from some demonic place, who enters our lives in the most mundane way, leads us to the very edge, and sings as we fall to our destruction. I had mine. Many years ago.’
I stare at him. A memory struggles to surface. A voice in my head, ‘Don’t go there, boy.’ So I do not. Instead, I turn almost gratefully to my father’s story. Even the thought of my father being in love is foreign, impossible.
He smiles frostily, his voice is calm and unemotional, but the memories must have been bitter for his mouth is a tightly controlled slash in his face. ‘She was a redhead, a fledgling star. Every time I saw her, I could have ruined everything for her, but I fought it with every ounce of my being.’