I arched a brow at him. “You’re reading my mind now?” I asked him. I was only half-joking. The man had an uncanny ability to read me.
He sighed. “In a way. I could tell by looking at you that you were having doubts about us. About me. I can’t change my past, Bianca. All I can do is be honest with you, and I’ve done my best.”
I tried to make him understand. “I understand that. But understanding and feeling okay with it aren’t always the same. Your past, all of the other women…intimidate me. There’s no way I can compete with all of that.”
His eyes got a little wild at my words. His voice held a hint of cold anger when he spoke. “I’ve never asked you to. You have no competition for me, Bianca.” Someone should tell his ex-lovers that, I thought, but even as I had the thought, I knew it was petty.
He studied me, visibly calming himself in that mercurial way of his. “Let’s go dance,” he murmured, leading me in the direction of the ballroom.
“I really don’t know how,” I said to him, voice pitched low so I wouldn’t be overheard.
“It doesn’t matter. I want to show you something. Come.”
He led me purposefully into the ballroom, and onto the dance floor without further ado. He pulled me into a dance as though it were the most natural thing in the world. And it turned out to be just that. He led, and I followed. He held me close in his arms, barely a breath between us, and moved us as though we’d practiced a thousand times.
He murmured into my ear as he led us through the steps that turned out to be easy and natural. “You may not like my experience. But it has it’s uses. It made me see very early on that you and I are different.
This thing we have is different. Take this dance, for example. It comes so natural, the leading and the following, because you and I are so perfectly matched. And I knew it would. I had no doubts, and I was correct. That’s how it’s always been with you, Bianca. You are not experienced. And perhaps that’s why you can’t see how perfect we are together. Not how I see it, anyways. That’s why you need to learn to trust me. I’m sure of this, sure of us. I will endeavor to convince you as well, my love.”
I let him lead me through the dance, and it felt like a dream. He took control and it was magic. A heavy violin added a thread of melancholy to the dance, but it added emotion as well. I looked at him as we moved, but I could have closed my eyes, it came so naturally. There were times when I could let him take control, and it was perfect. I had thought that effect could only work in the bedroom, but apparently he dominated the dance floor as well.
“Oh, James,” I sighed, not knowing what to do with him. He was a force of nature. “This is all so fast.
You overwhelm every part of me.”
I hadn’t meant to ruin the moment, but I felt him stiffen instantly at my words.
“That sounds ominous,” he said, his voice very low and carrying an almost imperceptible hitch. I wondered sadly if I had put the vulnerability in his eyes. If I was the reason for his oh-so-careful demeanor. But then I mentally chastised myself. I was giving myself too much credit. Perversely, the thought made me feel both sad and reassured.
He led me from the floor as the music died briefly. He ignored the music as it started up again, a slow, sensuous chord strong in the instrumental song. I just knew that I had darkened his mood.
“I need to use the restroom, James,” I told him quietly. Mostly I needed a moment to myself. I had only spoken the truth. I was utterly overwhelmed by him. Still, it hurt me to displease him, as I knew my constant reluctance did, and I needed a moment alone to compose myself. A wave of sadness rocked me.
I was supposed to be the innocent one here, but I simply couldn’t trust James in the way he seemed to trust me. The very idea was impossible to me. I didn’t even trust my own feelings. Every emotion he made me feel was met with my reluctance, and my skepticism, and my doubt. I felt like half of a person, the part that could trust other people somehow missing from my soul.
“Of course. This way,” he said, his voice just as quiet as mine had been, leading my by a hand gripped just above my elbow.
I felt an urge to reassure him, or even to apologize, for what, I wasn’t quite sure. In the end, I was silent.
He led me to the restrooms, pointing down the hallway as we parted. “I’ll be waiting in the antechamber to the dining hall.” He walked away.
Even the restroom was daunting, huge with cream and white marble along the floor, and thick columns that seemed out of place in a bathroom.
The stalls were made of glass that frosted over from transparent to opaque as you clicked the lock into place. I’d seen the trick before in a few hotspot Vegas clubs, but I was still vaguely impressed with the effect.
I just stood there for the longest time, door closed, taking deep, painful breaths. I tried to place what was affecting me so. I felt myself falling, once again, so deeply under James’s intoxicating spell, but some part of me just couldn’t trust him.
But was it him? Or was it me? Was I so superficial that, just because he was so impossibly beautiful, I didn’t believe he could ever really fall for me the way I’d so easily fallen for him?
He had an angel’s face, but his eyes were so hypnotically tarnished, a mirror of my own pain in their depths. I had never been superficial, and I knew that his looks hadn’t been what made me fall for him. It was the soul underneath all of that beautiful packaging. I had seen that he was more, so why wouldn’t I let myself trust that? Why had that seductively beautiful submissive, so much closer to his physical equal than myself, shaken my faith in him with just a brief encounter? Was I insecure, or just realistic? I berated myself, again and again, for being foolish. If he had wanted to be with Jolene, he wouldn’t be with me… Finally, when I felt I had given myself a good enough pep talk, I let myself out of the stall. I nodded politely to the bathroom attendant as I washed my hands.
I was checking my makeup carefully in the mirror when two figures breezed through the door. I stiffened when I saw who they were.
Jules practically beamed when she spotted me. Jolene’s look was even more confusing. It was feral and almost…smoldering.
They moved to flank me, moving together as though they had planned it. I towered over both of them, but they still managed to make me feel overwhelmed.
“Bianca,” Jules murmured, running a hand over my hair affectionately.
I stiffened until I felt a little brittle. Her smile grew wider, and perversely, warmer. “How are you, love? Is James sweeping you off of your feet? He’s very good at that, you know. No one so beautiful was ever so charming as our James. Wouldn’t you agree, Jolene?”
Jolene was studying me in the mirror, barely blinking as her stunning eyes drank me in. “He’s irresistible and completely relentless when he wants a new woman. In the beginning, he pursued me with such passion and fire that I still dream about it sometimes. I’ve never felt as beautiful or desirable as I did when I was with our James. It was the most exhilarating year of my life.”
My breath caught, my heart pounding in my chest nearly loud enough to drown out the last of her words.
A year? My head began to spin.
“Tell her everything, Jolene,” Jules prompted the other woman. It was an order, really.
“I was under contract with Mr. Cavendish for a year and two months. I belonged to him for that time, exclusively unless he said otherwise, to do with as he wished, completely at his disposal. I was in my own personal heaven.”
Under contract? I tried to take it all in. I had known a little about the contract she spoke of, though he had never tried to do the same to me. Perhaps because he had been afraid to scare me off, perhaps not.
But a year and two months? He had claimed never to have had a girlfriend before, but this sounded far more serious than having a girlfriend… “How long ago was this?” I asked Jolene, keeping my face very carefully blank, my tone very empty.
She ran her tongue over her teeth, and the gesture struck me hard, as though she had learned it from being so familiar with James. She must know him so much better than I do, I thought. “Three years ago.”
I was somewhat mollified. I arched a brow at our reflections. “A bit long ago for you to still be so hung up on him, don’t you think?” I asked her. I didn’t mind at all if I came off as a bitch with these two women. The last time I had encountered Jules, her words had crushed me, and I had fled like a wounded animal. I wanted her to know, this time, that I was not such an easy mark.
Jolene’s eyes were earnest, as though she felt not even a hint of my malice. “Three years ago was the end of our written contract, but far from the end of us. He still calls me often, between whatever fresh conquests he’s obsessed with. Just six weeks ago he flew me out to Vegas on his private jet to spend a night with him.”
That one hit it’s mark squarely, and I felt myself trembling. I did some absent math in my disconnected brain. He had admitted to being with a woman only one day before he had met me. The dates added up for her claim. At least he hadn’t called her while we were on a break… I turned my eyes to Jules, studying her and trying very hard to remind myself that this woman was just trying to cause trouble. And still, it was working… “And what is your purpose in all of this, Jules? Are you going to map out your own relationship with James for me?”
She gave me that warm smile. The most sincere fake smile I’d ever seen. “I’m not his submissive, if that’s what you’re asking. He’s always seen me too much as his equal to ever treat me that way.”
She doesn’t get it , I thought, a little shocked. It wasn’t about equality. If anything, James had always made me feel that I had most of the power in the relationship, outside of the bedroom. After all of the trouble this woman had caused us, to realize that she wasn’t even his type, and that she didn’t understand him at all, was stunning.
“I’m his social equal,” she continued, “and we have always been perfectly matched. I’m self-confident enough to allow him his kinky little side affairs.”
All I could think as she spoke was how pathetic she was. “You realize that he has a completely different opinion about your relationship, don’t you? He said it’s been at least a year since you’ve had sex. He claims that you’re just a friend.”
Her face tightened nearly imperceptibly, but I saw the tension around her mouth. It was written on her young face like an old bitterness. “He’s sowing his wild oats. I’m an understanding woman. He needs that in a partner. It’s something only someone from our social class could really comprehend.”
I had nearly forgotten about Jolene until she pressed her large, soft breasts against my arm. My gaze swung to hers in the mirror. Hers were smoldering at me.
“We don’t need to be your enemies, Bianca,” she said, her voice nearly breathless. “If you’re going to last for any length of time at all with our James, you should know that he only stays interested in women who like other women.”