Yes, that’s exactly what Olivia Bram is—you’re a smart woman, but not smarter than me.
“When you order food at a restaurant,” I say with no expression, “don’t you expect it to look exactly as it does on the menu when they serve it to you?” I wave my hand at Izabel and Nora. “As with all of my girls, it’s just a preference.”
She ponders my words for a moment. “You are a very interesting man, Niklas,” she says.
The doors open to the right of us and in walks Emilio as sour-faced and distrusting of me as ever.
“Your room is ready, Sister.” He looks only at me when speaking; cold, threatening…jealous? Hmm.
“Good.” Francesca gestures at me with her hand. “Come with me,” she says.
I stand and Izabel follows suit.
Francesca stops, looks back and says, “Oh, and if you don’t mind, have your girl remain undressed. You can punish her in my room for her display in my great hall earlier.” She turns and proceeds toward Emilio waiting for her at the door.
I look at Nora, still standing in the same spot, in the same obedient position all this time, and I smile even though she’s not looking at me.
“Come, Aya,” I tell her, and she does exactly as I say.
I’m gonna love the shit out of this.
We take an elevator to the top floor, five floors up, and step out into a room unlike I’ve ever seen—because I’ve never been to a crazy narcissist’s house before. The entire floor that could hold a dozen large rooms is one massive space overlooking the four floors beneath it from a circular balcony in the center. Twelve great arched windows are positioned in the wall, bare of curtains, the glass filled up with the night sky; the wall rises up many feet seamlessly to form the ceiling shaped like a dome above us. More life-sized Greek and Roman statues stand tall on their marble and white stone bases. White. This woman loves the color white; everything is saturated in it: the walls and floor and even the furniture; the only colors that offset the blinding shit are the swirling grays in the white marble, and the black in the fringes on the sofa pillows, and the black and grays in the Italian rugs.
At least twenty slaves stand waiting in various spots within the room, all dressed in sheer white cotton dresses with nothing on underneath; no shoes on their feet.
As if the room wasn’t proof enough of how powerful and spoiled this woman is, there’s a throne, an actual throne sitting impressively at the far end of the room atop an enormous marble dais five steps high. The throne is even white, made of wood, with intricate carvings along the legs and arms, and plush white cushions on the seat and back, which is at least two feet taller than her head if she were sitting in it. Long sheer white pieces of expensive silk and lace fabric drape the throne: over both arms, across the seat, over the tall back, and flow out into the floor.
Francesca leaves us and makes her way through the room as if she were a queen, moving effortlessly over the cool marble floor. Slave girls approach her immediately, knowing what to do; one takes the dress from her hand at the exact moment Francesca places it there, while two other girls slip a long white silk robe onto Francesca’s outstretched arms. Everything is precise and fluid, like a well-rehearsed ballet: the way the girls move around to Francesca’s front at the same time and enclose her naked body inside the fabric, to the way they step away from her at the same moment, bow their heads low and then turn to face each other as Francesca walks between them.
Two girls await her at the throne, one on each side; the one on the left stands beside a silver tray that appears to hold all sorts of makeup and tools to apply the makeup; the one on the right stands with a comb in one hand and something in the other I’m assuming might be hair decorations of some sort—I’m surprised no one has come in and put a crown on the bitch’s head.
Emilio walks past the three of us and goes toward his sister. I notice that although he does whatever she tells him to do, he’s not afraid—for the most part—to approach her when he wants, to speak to her freely when he wants, or to touch her when he wants. No one else would be able to do that. Francesca would probably kill them swiftly. Or, at least in the case of her sisters and her mother, they might just get the shit knocked out of them—they are Francesca’s blood after all.
Emilio leans in and touches his lips to the edge of Francesca’s mouth, and as he pulls away slowly, his eyes move to look at me in a sidelong stare; a grin dances on his lips.
“Please,” Francesca says, unfolding her hand toward me, “make yourself comfortable.” She gestures toward the furniture placed not far from the bottom step of the dais.
Emilio descends the steps just as we make our way to the sofa, and the moment Emilio moves out of the way of his sister, the two slave girls who had been waiting on the left and right of her, get to work on her hair and makeup; another comes up and sprays perfume in her direction.
I take a seat on the sofa; Izabel sits next to me; as always Nora sits at my feet on the floor next to my briefcase.
“Emilio,” Francesca says, “bring Niklas my whip.”
“Of course,” he says with a sly grin.
I want to glance at Nora, see if she looks nervous, but I don’t. Besides, I know she’s not afraid of me—she let Fredrik torture her.
Emilio moves somewhere on the other side of the vast room; I keep my eyes on Francesca.
“I have a few cyprians for you in mind,” Francesca speaks up. “I will have someone bring them here soon for you to look at. But as they do not reside here in my mansion; it may be an hour or so before they arrive. I trust an hour isn’t too long to wait?” The girl putting on her makeup always pauses when Francesca speaks, and then starts back up again when she’s done.
“I can wait two hours if I need to.”
Emilio appears in front of me, leather whip dangling from his hand. With a crooked smile he holds it out to me.
“Unless you’d like me to do the honors,” he suggests, glancing at Nora.
I think on it. “You know what,” I say, “I’d like that very much. Be my guest.”
They didn’t expect that; Francesca and Emilio lock eyes momentarily. Then Emilio turns his attention back to me and says, “Well if you insist,” and he reaches down and grabs a hold of Nora’s elbow, yanking her to her feet.
“You would let another man punish your girls?” Francesca inquires suspiciously.
“Sure, why not?” I answer indifferently, with the shrug of my shoulders. “I wouldn’t let another man touch Naomi, but Aya might benefit being whipped by someone other than me. It’ll make her envy Naomi more than she does already, and maybe she’ll work harder to earn the same respect. Besides, I came here to do business and I don’t really want to waste time dealing with other issues.”
“Naomi, she’s still very…obedient for someone who isn’t a slave,” Francesca says.
“Yes, she is.” I look at Izabel next to me. “Naomi is however she wants to be; just so happens she chooses to be what I adore most about her.”
Izabel as Naomi smiles bashfully, her green eyes skirting mine.
“And what do you adore most about her?” The more Francesca talks about Izabel the more I feel like she’s working her way toward something.
Reaching out and cupping Izabel’s chin within my fingers, I turn her head to face me. “Her kindness,” I answer Francesca, looking into Izabel’s eyes. “There’s a dangerous fire inside this girl, but she covers it up with compassion and love—things I’m incapable of possessing—she’s greatly flawed; sometimes she acts too quickly, is too impatient for her own good; she speaks before thinking; and I admit sometimes she maddens me. But most of all, Naomi is very…human. And I admire that about her.” I stop long enough to give Izabel a thin grin that only she can see, and something flickers in her eyes. Then I shake it off, whatever the fuck that was, and look away from Izabel, dropping my hand from her face.
“She’s still obedient to me, sure,” I tell Francesca, “but despite her obedience, she can still get herself into trouble with me sometimes.”
“I want you to kiss her,” Francesca says, and it feels like a dare without being obvious.
My heart stops beating all of a sudden.
I turn to look at Francesca sitting up there on her throne; the slave girls working furiously on her hair and makeup. Francesca gazes down at me through gleaming eyes, growing darker as they’re painted in black and gray eyeshadows.
Something as simple as a kiss shouldn’t be a reason for pause, much less question—I’ve already paused, so I know I can’t question it or Francesca will know I’m full of shit and that ‘Naomi’ is no more my girl than Claire is anymore. But kissing Izabel is anything but simple, and although I never expected to finish this mission without having to violate Izabel in some way, a kiss is the last thing I wanted. Of all the unspeakable things I could’ve been forced to do, kissing her is the worst. It’s too intimate of an act—fucking her senseless would’ve easier.
I dip my head toward her and slowly touch my lips to hers; my hand carefully wrapped about the side of her neck. I want to squeeze it, like I would any common whore like Jackie who I can fuck my aggressions out on, but I can’t. I can’t and I don’t know why. Instead, I slip my tongue into her mouth and find hers. And I can’t take it; I feel my lips slowly crushing against mouth as we drink in each other’s breath. I want—need—to pull away, but I can’t do that either. I kiss her long and deep and hard until I feel like I’m running on the fringes of my emotions; they’re tearing away at me like hands in Hell reaching out for me as I leap over the flames, trying to pull me down with them into sin, and as hard as I try to get away, a part of me wants them to take me. I want to sin. I want to kiss her.