‘She doesn’t understand our ways. She won’t have the stomach to do the necessary things.’

A veil comes over his eyes. ‘I don’t want her to do any of those things. I want to keep her out of all that. We will be a normal family.’

‘But you have taken the vow.’

‘The only vow I have taken is silence. And I won’t break that.’

‘From the path thou shall not stray.’

‘I already have.’

I frown. ‘You’d give up ultimate power for her?’

He smiles sadly. ‘Oh, Victoria. How little you know me. I was not even going to ask you to do those things. I don’t want the power. I detest what we are doing. I went along because I didn’t know any better. Let the others fight it out for the ultimate power. The only reason I remain is because leaving is not an option.’

I reach out a hand and touch his sleeve and… He recoils. Imperceptibly, but it is there. An inhuman claw inside my chest squeezes tighter and tighter until I feel I almost cannot breathe at all. So this also is love, I reflect with wonder. No one can imagine just how poisonous is the hate in my heart for that beastly woman who stole my man.

Lana f**king Bloom.

She had no right. I rock with helpless pain.

Instantly, he reaches for my hand. It is satiny soft, but icy and quite lifeless.

‘Are you all right?’ His voice seems muffled, as if he is talking to me while I am under water.

I nod. I must gather myself. I can still turn this around. I take a deep breath, stop rocking, and, dry-eyed, turn to look at him.

‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ he repeats.

I fix a bright smile on my lips. ‘Of course.’

‘You deserve to find someone who will love you. We didn’t love each other. We were marrying for all the wrong reasons. I know that now,’ he says with breathtaking masculine selfishness.

Yes, you found your slut and now you just want to push me away. I recall again how I had decided to offer myself to him when he called me this morning. To show him how good we’d be together.

I nod. ‘You are right. This is probably for the best. We would probably have ended up in the divorce courts.’ I smile again. Conciliatory.

He reciprocates with a smile of his own. He thinks it is all over. Just like that he can wash his hands of me.

‘You have a son?’

Twin lights blossom in his eyes. If he takes out his wallet and shows me a picture of their blasted baby, I swear, I will scream, but he doesn’t.

‘He’s the joy of my life,’ he says simply.

In those few words I see a world I can never have. In my head a voice is sneering, ‘Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’ Of their own accord my delicate fingers start drumming dangerously on the glass-topped coffee table. I see his eyes shift to my hand. I jerk it away and clasp it in my other hand. I need to do something quickly. He is fixing to leave. I swallow hard at the lump in my throat and stare at the glass surface. How insidiously smooth and unyielding it is. My vision takes in the edge of the plate with the uneaten scone, the butter knife… It is sheer madness, I could even put my eye out, but in a split second I make my decision.

I let my body pitch forward as if my bones have suddenly melted. The smooth hard glass, the knife’s gleaming blade, and sharp edge of the table rise up to meet my face. Anybody else would have halted their fall, saved themselves, given in to the instinct to protect themselves. I didn’t.

And what a good thing that I was brave.

I risked gouging out my eye and won. Just inches away from the pointed end of the knife, hard hands catch me by the arms. I am bodily lifted and held close to his body, the scent of him assailing my senses. God, I love this man so much. I keep my eyes closed, my body limp and floppy. My dress has ridden up my thighs.

‘Victoria,’ Blake calls urgently, but I allow my neck to droop over his arms, so my throat is bared to him and he can savor the vulnerability of my lifeless limbs in his arms. Let him feel masculine and strong and protective. The position is awkward and he stands lifting me up with him. It is unexpectedly and deliciously romantic, and I feel like one of those women on the jacket covers of the voluptuous romances my mother reads.

I wish he could hold me like this forever, but he lays me back on the divan. However, he is so gentle about it that I suddenly realize he must love me. He doesn’t know it, but it is I who am the one he truly loves. He must just use her for sex. It is me that he loves. Always me. He pulls my dress down over my thighs. What a gentleman. He could have taken advantage of me. Peeked at my sex. Or even had sex with my inert body.

That is a great fantasy of mine.

That I would lie on a table as if in a swoon and a total stranger, someone dark and dangerous, someone like Blake, would come and roughly thrust my thighs open, and f**k my plump little sex mercilessly, painfully. I would feel everything, but I would be unable to make a single sound of protest as his enormous organ would split me remorselessly.

But as the man realizes how hungry and wet I am for him, he understands that I crave the thorough use of my body. Then he becomes sublimely cruel. My own silence deafens me. I weep silently as he does terrible things to me. Until I am hardly human. Afterwards, he will leave even before I wake up.

Sometimes I would even fantasize that a group of men come, all colors and scents, to use my body while I am lying there. None of them would use condoms. They would use every orifice. They would speak of me as if I was nothing but a piece of meat.

Blake is sliding his hands away from under the backs of my knees and my neck and I sense him standing. Seconds later my head is lifted and a cushion placed under it. I hear him striding towards the bathroom. He returns with a cold face towel that he lays on my forehead. I moan softly and allow my eyelids to flutter slightly. He calls my name. I open my eyes and allow them to roll a little.

‘What happened?’ I ask weakly.

‘You fainted.’

I attempt to rise to my elbows, then pretend as if the effort is making me dizzy. My head sways unsteadily.

‘Take it easy. Lie back down.’

I let myself fall back with a sigh. I look up at him. He is frowning.

‘Does this happen often?’ he asks.

I shake my head. ‘I’ll be fine in a minute.’

‘Can I get you anything?’

‘I feel cold.’

He looks around and, seeing nothing with which to cover me, takes off his jacket and lays it on my upper body. The warmth of his body lingers and I just want to close my eyes and savor it. Oh, why, oh why did she come and steal him away from me? Everything was going fine until she came into the picture. He loves me really. We are not strangers. We have grown up together.

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