Then Blake and I are leaving, holding hands, as if we are real lovers. As if he has not paid me to have sex with him. As if I am not the living, breathing doll that he expects to get bored with in a few weeks.
Outside, Kensington hops off the car bonnet when he spots us.
‘Good job,’ Blake says and slips him the other fifty.
‘Cool. What about a ride, then?’
‘Another time,’ replies Blake, opening the passenger door for me.
Blake is very quiet in the car. Suddenly he reaches past me to the glove box and takes out a velvet box. He tosses it into my lap. ‘I got you a present.’
‘On your birthday?’
‘I thought it would look great on you. Besides, what’s the point of having a rich lover if you don’t unearth expensive baubles out of him.’
I release the catch on the box. It opens and I gasp. On a bed of satin lies the most beautiful seven strand pearl necklace with a large oval sapphire centre.
‘Oh my!’ I say, staring at it.
At the next red light, he takes the necklace from my stunned hands and puts it around my throat while I hold my hair up. I feel his warm fingers on the back of my neck. Then the light changes and his fingers are gone. I turn around to face him, full of anticipation.
He takes his eyes off the road. ‘Beautiful,’ he says.
I look at myself in the visor mirror. Even in the dim light, the diamonds set around the large sapphire sparkle like stars. I didn’t get him anything.
‘I didn’t get you anything.’
His eyes drift away from the road and rest on me briefly. ‘I didn’t expect anything from you.’
‘Did you get lots of presents from your family?’
‘We don’t do presents. We already have everything we could want. When we were younger we did give each other joke gifts. But how many times can you give someone a blow-up doll or a penis enlargement gadget? It was a relief when that stopped.’
When we get to the apartment he picks me up in his arms, throws me on the bed and lunges in after me.
‘This is a dangerously sexy pair of white shorts, Miss Bloom,’ he teases. ‘Do you have the necessary license to operate such a weapon?’
‘It’s not mine. It belongs to Billie,’ I answer primly.
‘Ah, Billie of the ear biting fame. Do you think she might let me buy it from her?’
‘Oooo I don’t know. It did come from a very exclusive market stall in Kilburn. There are only five hundred thousand others like it.’
His eyebrows rise, his lips curve. ‘That rare?’
‘I better make my bid good then.’
‘Good idea, Mr. Barrington. Kill the competition in one fell swoop.’
‘As her agent, what do you suggest I offer?’
‘I believe she is hankering after a pink car.’
His eyes gleam. ‘Are you sure, Miss Bloom, that I am not better off approaching the market dealer directly?’
‘Of course you can… But it will not have the Lana Bloom scent,’ I say daringly.
His eyes widen and fill with delicious longing. ‘You never said a truer word, Miss Bloom.’
His long fingers very deliberately pop the top button and pull down the zip. The sound is exciting in the silence. I can hear my own ragged breathing. He slides the shorts off.
‘Ah, these legs… So long… So silky… I swear I never met a girl with skin such as yours.’
The shorts slip over my ankles and end up clutched in his big hands. He crushes them, brings them to his nose and inhales deeply. ‘The Lana Bloom scent. I’ll miss it,’ he whispers, almost to himself.
And suddenly I tense. All this will end soon.
This apartment, this bed, these clothes, this delicious banter, this man…will all disappear into nothing. I will be left only with memories. I clutch his forearms, pull his mouth down to mine, and kiss him desperately, opening my mouth, begging him to be inside me. He has already left his mark on me. I must leave my mark on him. I lie under him naked but for my necklace, and realize I don’t know how to.
When the desert wind blew it covered everything in sand.
‘Remember when you said you wanted to be part of my world? Do you still want to?’ he asks me.
‘It is very ugly.’
My answer is instant. ‘I don’t care. I want to know.’
For a moment, he hesitates, there is doubt there, and then an indescribable expression flashes in his eyes. ‘All right. Let’s go.’ He leads me to a BMW parked up the street. I look at him questioningly.
‘Hired,’ he says briefly.
‘Where are we going?’
‘Somewhere in the New Forest.’
We drive in silence, the atmosphere in the car, taut and foreign, and come to a stop outside what seems to be a lodge of some kind. The building is small and unremarkable. There are other cars parked in the car park, but something feels off key.
‘They are all hired, aren’t they?’
‘Yes,’ he says shortly. ‘Come.’
While I look around me, he gets out of the car, opens the boot and takes out two boxes. I look at my watch. 10.00p.m.
We go into the low building and enter a large empty room with many doors. All the doors are open except one. I shiver. Something about the place doesn’t feel right. We enter one of the rooms and Blake closes the door behind us. There is nothing in that room except a table and a mirror. Blake puts the two boxes on the table.
‘You wanted to come into my world. Here’s your chance. Are you sure?’
He looks different. His eyes and voice are cold. He is hoping I will say no, but I want to enter his world. So badly, I throw caution to the wind. I lick my suddenly dry lips, swallow, and nod.
He holds out the box tied with a red ribbon and I take it from him. It is not heavy. ‘What’s in it?’
‘Open it and see.’
He watches me untie the ribbon and lift the lid. I push aside the tissue and find a mask. White and pretty. I raise my eyes to his. ‘Do I put it on?’
I put the mask aside and take out the bulky red garment inside. It is a cloak with a hood. I look at him, my expression begs the question, ‘What? What is this all about?’
He ignores my unspoken query. ‘Wear it.’
I slip into it and he steps forward and does the large button at my throat. The cloak is thick and voluminous and covers me entirely. Deftly, he pulls the hood up, and fits the mask on my face. He stands me in front of the mirror.