He puts his hands on either side of my cheeks, butterfly light. There is no fire in his eyes. There is no lust. There is only the light of love, such love that the breath catches in my throat. It pours out of his eyes, drowning me, leaving me speechless, parting my mouth. He smells of soap and some cheap aftershave. But clean. And good. And wholesome.
Gently, gently his lips descend.
And when they arrive I tremble at the surprise that is Jack. All my life he has constantly surprised me, by the unfathomable depths of him. Like that time he was shirtless and turning on himself like a wild animal, growling ‘Who next?’ to his attackers. He is truly unknowable.
His kiss begins gently and without any hope, but there is such skill and technique that on a purely physical level my body begins to react to him. Where did you learn to kiss like this? My shocked mind wonders distractedly. And suddenly I am not standing in a concrete corridor in a council block of flats kissing my brother. I am making love to a beautiful, surprising man who is in love with me, and who I could have fallen in love with if only he had kissed me like this a year and a half ago.
Shit, what the hell am I doing?
I put my hands on his chest to push him away. Immediately he moves back.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I whisper.
‘I didn’t think you were ready,’ he says bitterly, and begins to walk away.
He turns slightly.
‘Please take care of yourself.’
He doesn’t answer. Simply walks away. I watch him until he disappears down the road. Then I gently shut Billie’s front door and begin to walk. Sorab will be safe with her for a few hours. I don’t have a destination. I simply walk in the general direction of St. John’s Wood. I feel ripped apart. I truly never suspected. Now he is going to a dangerous war-torn country and he may never come back. I don’t know how long I walk, but suddenly I am very close to the apartment and mind-numbingly tired. I cannot face the walk back to collect my son. I realize my mobile phone and my handbag are in the pram.
I find a phone box and make a collect call to Billie and she agrees to keep Sorab for another hour. I will go back to the apartment. Rest for half an hour and then go back to Billie’s. I wave to Mr. Nair and go into the lift. In the lift I sag against the wall. I used to be able to walk for miles and never feel this tired. Billie is right. I am only a shell of what I used to be.
I open the front door of the apartment and Blake is standing in the corridor. I stop and stare at him. Why is he home? There is an expression on his face that I have never before seen.
In a flash he crosses the room and closes the door. He bends his head to kiss me and rears back as if burned. His eyes blaze into mine. Then things happen so fast they are blur to my tired mind. He grabs me by the upper arms and the next moment I have been lifted off the ground and I am lying dazed and flat on my back with him crouching over me like a predator, his eyes so ferocious I do not recognize them. He pulls my skirt up and tears my knickers open. Then he grabs my legs by the kneecaps and opens them wide. He jerks his face between my legs, and to my eternal horror, sniffs me. Like an animal.
I am so shocked and humiliated, I freeze.
When he raises his head and looks at me I am staring at him, speechless, horrified. The wild, aggressive expression on his face is gone as quickly as it had come. I look at him almost in disbelief. I have just seen him lose control. I find my strength, my fight, and raising myself on my elbows, I place my feet on the carpet and push hard and away from him. He grabs my foot. I kick out with the other. He grabs that one too and pulls me toward him. I slide helplessly along the carpet, like a rag doll towards him.
‘Don’t,’ he growls. ‘I smelt a man on you.’
I am flat on the ground. His face is very close to mine. I close my eyes. ‘I kissed Jack.’
‘Because he is leaving for a war-torn country. Because I may never see him again. Because he asked me. Because he has never asked me for anything before,’ I sob. The tears are running down my temples into my hair. I feel shocked and bruised. I am in love with a man who wrestled me to the ground and sniffed my sex organs for the smell of another man. Another man’s scent on me has brought out dormant territorial and protective instincts in the cool banker. The instincts are destructive, feral.
He scoops me up in his arms ‘Shhh... I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you,’ he croons.
But I cannot stop crying.
‘Please don’t cry. You didn’t do anything wrong. I just can’t bear thinking of you with anyone else. I don’t even want you in the same room with other men,’ he confesses.
‘What is happening to us, Blake?’ I whisper.
‘Nothing is happening to us. I just lost my head for a moment. I didn’t think. It was pure instinct.’
‘What’s going to happen when the 42 days are up, Blake?’
He looks pained. ‘I don’t know, but will you trust me that everything I do is in your best interests?’
‘And what is in my best interest, Blake?’
He sighs heavily. ‘In thirty-one days you will know.’
Softly he starts kissing my eyelids, my cheeks. He ends on my mouth. He kisses it hard, forces my lips open and lets his tongue sweep into my mouth. Possessively, staking claim on what is his, erasing the mark, even the memory of the other man’s mouth. His hands are unbuttoning my blouse, cupping my br**sts. I am lifted and the bra clasp flicked open. The blouse is being pulled out of my skirt. It slips easily from my shoulders. The skirt follows.
We have sex on the floor beside the front door. The shock and the pent-up emotion make the climax explosive, and afterwards, I feel so exhausted I wish I could sleep where I am. He picks me up and carries me to the bed.
‘I have to go and pick Sorab up from Billie,’ I whisper.
‘Tom is already on his way. Sleep.’
I sleep for many hours. When I wake up it is 7:00 pm. I see the light from beneath the connecting door of Sorab’s room. I pull on a dressing gown and pad towards the door. I open it and stand for a moment unnoticed. Bands of steel around my heart. Blake is holding Sorab in his arms and rocking him. I have denied Sorab a father. I have denied Blake his son. I had never thought to see Blake so domesticated. He looks up and smiles.
‘Ah, you are awake?’
‘Did you sleep well?’
‘Yes, thank you,’ I say, but I did not. These days I wake up unrefreshed, tired. I hope I am not sickening for something. ‘Here, give him to me. He probably needs to be changed by now.’