I sighed. “Well, what a waste of hi s time. I wish someone could talk some sense into him.”

“Believe me, Buttercup, I have tried.”

We were escorted back to the refreshment waiting area. Mina offered me more snacks and drinks. I took more tea, trying jasmine oolong that time.

We changed back into our street clothes before being ushered into the salon portion of the spa. I took very careful inventory of my jewelry as I put it back on.

I went for the full hair treatment as well, needing a trim. My hairdresser was pleasant and friendly. She immediately started trying to talk me into some highlights.

Mina interrupted her, her tone apologetic. “Mr. Cavendish left instructions not to color her hair,” she explained, then moved away.

The hairdresser looked nonplussed. She seemed to shake herself out of it. I almost wanted to tell her to give me the highlights, anyways. Who cared? It was just hair. But I would feel terrible if it somehow got her in trouble, so I left it alone. James was her boss, after all.

She indicated a spot on my forehead. “What about short, straight bangs for you? It would set off your eyes, and your hair is straight enough to pull off the style that’s really hot right now.”

I gave a little shrug. “Do whatever you think would look flattering. My hair only ever stays straight just like this, so keep that in mind. I usually just trim it, and keep it like this. I wouldn’t mind a change, as long as it doesn’t require a long time to style.”

She nodded decisively, seeming to know just what she wanted to do. I closed my eyes and let her work.

I was rather pleased with the finished product, despite my apathy. It was flattering, and it did bring out my eyes, the short bangs making them seem bigger in my face.

Everyone seemed to agree, and I flushed a little at all of the compliments thrown at me.

We got our cosmetics done next. The woman who did my makeup tried to instruct me as she did so, handing me a large bag of cosmetics when she finished. I liked what she had done, the effects subtle but flattering, the smoky eye not too heavy on my pale face, as I would have thought. I thought it went particularly well with my new haircut.

We were ushered back to the tea room again to finish up, the hostess asking me if they could provide any other services.

I checked the time on my phone, surprised to see that it was nearly time for us to start heading home to prepare for work that night.

“No, thank you.”

“I hope you were satisfied with our services, Ms. Karlsson.”

“Very much so. We had a great time. Thank you.” As I spoke, James walked into the room, as though he had timed the entire thing down to the minute.

He grinned wide when he saw me, looking happy and…mischievous. I knew instantly that he had done or was planning to do something outrageous.

“What are you planning?” I asked him as soon as he was within earshot.

His grin just widened, and I got a little worried.

He glanced around at everyone, smiling warmly. “How was it?”

He got flooded with enthusiastic answers, all positive, of course. Who could complain about a free spa day? He seemed pleased, though, that everyone had enjoyed themselves.

“I got you something,” James told me, that happy smile never leaving his face. He was positively beaming.

I bit my lip, tilting my head back to look up at him. I was scared to ask. “What is it?” I asked, not even trying to hide my worry.

He laughed. “I’m not sure I can do it justice by explaining it. I’ll have to show you. And your friends, too, I think. I did promise.”

I was perplexed when he started to unbutton his shirt, still grinning, his eyes glued to mine.

“What on earth are you doing?” I asked him.

Someone, I thought it was Judith, hooted in encouragement.

Was he giving me a striptease? I wondered, genuinely confounded. And unwillingly turned on.

I gasped, my heart stopping when I saw the blood red letters inked on his perfect chest. Right over his heart, I thought. He had marred his perfect skin for me. I felt tears prick my eyes.

The room around us went straight into chaos mode, Marnie and Judith shamelessly screaming and jumping around like maniacs.

I heard a disgruntled, “What the fuck, man?” from Stephan.

I took deep breaths, my eyes glued to the Bianca written in small letters cleanly over his heart.

“It’s fake, right?” I asked him. “It’s a joke, right?”

His smile didn’t falter as he wiped a horrifying tear from my cheek. “Why the tears?”

“Your perfect skin. You shouldn’t have marked it for my sake. You have the finest skin on earth. It seems like a shame,” I told him, my voice whisper soft.

That surprised a laugh out of him. “You’ll get used to it. I think you’ll like the other one better,” he told me.

“Please, tell me the other one is on your dick!”

I sent Judith a stern look for that one. She just dissolved into helpless giggles.

James bit the bottom lip of his pretty mouth, turning to show me his back.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

The tattoo was etched directly over the clean slab of his right shoulder blade. And, like the man himself, it was exquisite.

I stood, brushing close to him to study it intently. Tears ran liberally down my cheeks, embarrassing but irrepressible.

It was a portrait of my face, my hair flowing out to shape into lilies that formed a perfect frame, as though it were a painting. He had taken one of my self-portraits and etched it permanently into his skin. It was the sweetest, craziest, most romantic thing I’d ever witnessed, and I didn’t know what to make of it. I loved the tattoo on sight, though, loved having my painting turned into something so wonderful. Even the lilies used to frame the portrait had been copied from my work, I recognized. I was suddenly glad that I had spent so much time on the paintings he’d used, trying to get all of the details just so.

James was shooting me expectant looks over his shoulder, his face as happy and carefree as I’d ever seen it. “Well, what do you think?”

“Oh, James,” I said, my voice catching. “It’s exquisite. It’s more colorful than any tattoo I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen one that looks like this. It’s more like a painting than a tattoo. Why does it look so different?”

“I didn’t use any black ink for outlining. I used lighter colors for that. And with James’s dark skin, I was able to use white ink for the skin color, which gave it a very painting kind of feel. He’s one of the best canvases I’ve had the pleasure of working on. I’ll have to thank you for helping me finally get my hands on him. Obviously, you inspired his sudden interest in ink.” I hadn’t seen her approaching until she spoke, but the tattoo artist, Frankie, was suddenly beside me, pointing out details of the tattoo on his back, standing nearly as close to him as I was. I stiffened.

I knew it was illogical, and unreasonable, but realizing that another woman had done the tattoo, one he was obviously fond of, made me a little crazy. That red haze I was beginning to recognize as jealousy was now a pernicious film over my vision.

“Can I cover it now, James? Have you finished the show and tell?” Frankie asked him, sounding sassy but playful, her smile very warm on him.

He grinned at her, still looking over his shoulder, letting me look my fill.

I still studied the incredible portrait. I wanted to run my fingers over it, but even with my limited knowledge on the subject, I knew it was too new for touching. My hand gripped the top of his shoulder instead, as I leaned in very close and studied it intently, trying to ignore the woman standing too close, and too familiarly, beside James and I.

I was smiling in the picture, a slight, sort of enigmatic smile, my eyes heavy-lidded and mysterious. She had even matched the blue of my eyes astonishingly well. She was very talented, I had to admit. I had never even known a tattoo could look like that. Most of my friends had one or two, but they were usually outlined in heavy black, or else entirely black. What Frankie had done looked so much softer than that. It was hard to even think of James’s marking as the same thing.

“It’s beautiful. You’re very talented. I didn’t even know that a tattoo could look like that,” I told Frankie, trying to be civil, but my voice was stiff and a little cold.

James seemed to notice my tone, his eyes flying back to my face, studying me intently, his happy smile wilting a little, his eyes becoming solemn.

I felt instantly contrite. Just the wrong tone of voice, and his ridiculously happy mood seemed to have been subdued.

I tried to give him a smile, but I could feel that it looked forced. “I’m finished looking at it, if she needs to tend to it,” I told him, stepping back from him.

Frankie stepped in instantly, rubbing a clear gel over the entire inked surface. I watched her hands on him, and felt the strangest urge to move between them.

I moved away, turning my back to them.

Frankie’s voice was still friendly as she addressed me. “You’re very talented. I just did my best to do your picture justice. It was a real treat for me to get to work on a picture like that, on a body like James’s. Talk about a work of art.” Her voice turned over the top flirtatious on the last sentence, and I knew she was talking about his body.

I counted to ten, hating myself for being so weak and so insanely jealous.

I heard Frankie giving James care instructions briefly.

“So, um, nice meeting you, Bianca. I’ll see ya around,” Frankie said, her voice still friendly, but a bit uncertain.

A brief glance at my group of friends showed most of them looking at me, wide-eyed, as though they weren’t sure what to make of my behavior. I couldn’t blame them. I felt ridiculous, but I still couldn’t look at James, worried that if Frankie was still near him, I would do something completely insane.

Stephan was the only one of the group who seemed oblivious to my strange reaction, his intent glare focused narrowly on James.

I just tensed up more when James hugged me from behind.

“We need a minute, guys. Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” James addressed the group, politely but briskly, his tone a courteous dismissal. He gripped the back of my neck, in that dominant spot, leading me into a room.

I recognized the room immediately. It was the faux hot springs room. One of the attendants followed us in. “May I help you with anything, Mr. Cavendish?” she asked, her voice nervous.

“Yes. Please make sure we’re not disturbed until we’ve finished in here.”

They were at my back as they spoke, and I looked resolutely at the low pools, a hot blush coloring my face. I knew what would be assumed, of course. I didn’t even know myself what James had planned.

“Of course, Sir. Please let me know if I can further assist you.”

I heard the door shut just as she finished speaking. The sound of the door clicking closed echoed in the huge room.

James was silent for a long moment, his hand heavy on my neck.

“You seem tense,” James told me in a sort of offhanded way, his voice almost disinterested. He removed his hand, and I heard clothes rustling behind me. I held me breath, trying intently to hear what he was doing.


Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic
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