His eyes narrowed slightly as he studied her. ‘You’re very pale. Are you all right?’
‘Yes.’ She tugged her wrist out of his hold. ‘Excuse me. I’ll be back in a minute.’
The lapel-fingering woman said something to him in French, looking at Cara as she spoke. No doubt she too was asking if Cara was his latest lover. The latest in a long, long line.
Taking advantage of his momentary distraction, Cara slipped out of the door. This time the adjoining room was full of partygoers all talking and laughing loudly. A small queue had formed by the bathroom.
She didn’t want the bathroom. She wanted to escape. She wanted to get as far away from Pepe and all the women who had shared his bed as she could.
As she stood there, feeling helpless, not knowing what to do, the opportunity for escape presented itself.
A door in the far corner flew open and a latecomer, dressed in a long coat and carrying a box of champagne, burst into the room. This was clearly someone who hadn’t bothered to observe the rule of using the outside entrance.
Screams of laughter greeted the newcomer’s entrance. Cara took her advantage and skirted her way past the crowd to the door.
The staircase was dimly lit and narrow, but she easily made her way down the first few flights until she reached the first floor. There, she shrank back to avoid a couple of bustling waitresses exiting large swing doors to the left, expertly carrying plates of steaming food.
Making sure no other member of the café staff was waiting to use the swing doors, she carried on to the ground floor and found herself in the centre of the café, right next to the bar.
A young man pouring a bottle of lager into a glass spotted her. ‘Je vous aider?’ he said, openly appraising her.
Not having a clue what he’d just said, she grappled for the right words in a language she hadn’t spoken in over a decade. ‘Un téléphone, s’il vous plaît?’
‘Oui. Je voudrais un taxi.’ She couldn’t hide the desperation from her voice. ‘S’il vous plaît.’
He appraised her a little longer than was necessary before nodding. ‘Une minute,’ he said, then left the bar and walked to a table where four middle-aged men were loudly slurping coffee. They all turned to look at her.
‘Hey, English,’ one of them called to her.
‘Irish,’ she corrected, inching closer to them.
She hesitated before nodding. She might be desperate to get out of this place but she’d heard every horror story going about single women getting lifts with strange men.
He pulled a wallet out of his back pocket and showed her his ID, proving he wasn’t a mad axeman as her hackles feared. He was a taxi driver.
‘You have money?’ he asked, no doubt referring to her lack of a bag or clutch.
‘It’s at the house,’ she said, thinking of her precious forty-eight euros. She gave him the name of the street where Pepe lived.
He looked her up and down, no doubt estimating the cost of her silk dress before inclining his head and getting to his feet. ‘Wait here. I get car.’
She cast a nervous glance over her shoulder to the direction of the staircase. It wouldn’t be long before Pepe noticed she was missing.
Actually, with all those women fawning all over him, it was likely he wouldn’t notice she’d gone for hours. All the same, she didn’t want to take the risk.
If she was to see him now, she had no idea how she would react.
‘Is it okay to pay you when we get there?’
He slipped his jacket on and shrugged.
Taking the shrug as assent, she followed him out into the cold night air, hugging her arms round her chest and wishing she’d had the chance to grab her wrap, which had been whisked away as soon as they’d walked into the loft. The taxi was parked around the corner, but she made no attempt to soak up her surroundings, her entire focus on getting back to Pepe’s house, getting her passport and getting the hell out of there.
The journey back passed in a blur. The only thing she saw on the entire journey was those women’s hands touching Pepe as if they owned him.
When they arrived on Pepe’s street, she got the driver to crawl along until she recognised his distinctive red front door.
‘Give me a minute to get my money,’ she said, turning the handle. And then God knew what she would do. The fee was thirty euros.
To her disquiet, the driver also got out of the cab and followed her up the steps to the front door.
She rang the bell. And rang it again. Then banged on it. Then rang it again, all the while aware of the driver standing beside her impatiently.