‘That is how I feel about you. You are my doll. I like the idea of dressing you the way I see fit. I want you to look good. Besides, I like that every stitch on your body has been paid for by me.’

I feel a frisson of electricity run up my spine. ‘I’m not a doll.’

‘To me you are. A living, breathing doll.’

‘What happens in three months’ time?’

‘Did you eventually get bored with your doll and stop playing with her?’

‘Yes.’ My voice is soft. I know where this conversation is going.

‘So will I and when I do I will put you aside as you did your doll.’

‘Well, that’s clear enough.’

‘Good.’ His face is expressionless. ‘What would you like to eat?’

I look at the menu. There is fish and chicken. I hope he will order one of those. But there is also foie gras, which I’d rather die than eat. The waiter appears at Blake’s side. ‘Are you ready to order, monsieur?’

Blake looks at me enquiringly.

‘I’m just going to have whatever you’re having,’ I say breezily.

‘Mussels in white wine to start followed by the herb crusted lamb cutlets.’

‘Pommes sables or pommes soufflé?’ the waiter enquires.

I look blankly at Blake.

‘Try the potato soufflé,’ he says. ‘You might like it.’

‘OK, potato soufflé,’ I agree. When the waiter is gone, I take a sip of wine. It must have been good, but I am so nervous I register it only as a cold liquid. ‘So,’ I begin, ‘You are a banker.’

‘And you have been on Google.’

‘Wikipedia actually. I was curious. All my life I imagined bankers were thieves utilizing fractional reserve banking to create money out of nothing, and then they take your house and car and business when you can’t keep up the repayments.’

‘Ah, this is like all bankers are thieves, all lawyers are liars, and all women are whores.’

‘I’d rather be a whore than a banker.’

‘That’s handy then. I’d rather be a banker who buys a whore.’

‘Why do you need to buy a woman, anyway? With that flashy car of yours, they must be leaving their phone number by the droves on your windscreen wipers.’

‘You were an impulse buy.’ His eyes crinkle at the corners. I amuse him.

I look at his perfectly cut suit, his beautifully manicured hands, and the Swiss precision watch glinting on his wrist. ‘There is nothing impulsive about you.’ My eyes take in that delectable lock of hair that falls over his forehead. ‘Other than your hair.’

He laughs out loud. I look at him. The man has lovely teeth.

‘This might turn out to be a lot more interesting than I thought,’ he says.

The mussels arrive in tiny, covered black pots. When Blake opens his I follow suit. The smell is maddeningly good, but I wait until Blake reaches for his utensils before I copy him.

‘Bon appétit,’ he says.

‘Bon appétit,’ I repeat.

The mussels are meltingly soft in my mouth.

‘Good?’ asks Blake.

‘Very.’

But the portion is so small it is quickly gone. ‘I don’t understand something,’ I say, daintily dabbing the corners of my mouth. ‘How come the paparazzi never follow you around like they do other celebrities and eligible bachelors to expose all your escapades and wrongdoings?’

‘For the same reason my family and the other great families are not on the Forbes richest list. We don’t like publicity. Unless it is sanctified by us you won’t see it in the papers.’

‘Are you trying to tell me your family has that much power?’

‘I’m not trying to, I’m telling you. It’s easy when you control the media.’

‘Your family controls the media?’

‘The great, old families do. It is in our interest to work as a group.’ His eyes glitter in the soft light. Suddenly his lips twitch. He leans back and flashes a smile. ‘But enough about me. Tell me about yourself.’

‘What do you want to know?’

‘Other than the fact that you live on a council estate and don’t earn enough, I know nothing at all about you.’

‘That’s not strictly true. You know I am AIDS free, don’t have any sexually transmitted diseases, own a clean bill of health, am on contraceptives as of today, and have had a full body wax.’

His smile becomes a wolfish grin. ‘How was the waxing session? Not too painful, I hope.’

‘Not at all. You should try it sometime.’

He laughs outright. ‘The day you pay me to have sex with you, I will.’

I don’t smile back.

The lamb arrives. I look at my plate. Blood has eddied under the meat. I cannot eat that. I sigh inwardly. It will be vegetables and potato again.

‘Where do you get your unusual coloring from?’

‘My grandmother on my mother’s side was Iranian. The hair is from her and the blue eyes are from my father’s side of the family.’

He lets his eyes wander around my face, lingering on my mouth. ‘Have you been to Iran before?’

‘I went once as a child, but it is my dream to take my mother back there.’

‘It’s dangerous there now.’

‘For you maybe, but not for me or Mum it isn’t.’

‘Still, don’t you think you should wait until all this talk of war is over?’

‘There will be war. It is better to go now, before Iran becomes another Iraq or Libya.’

‘What was it like when you were there?’

‘When I went it was a wonderful place. We stayed in the desert. It was very beautiful. At night there was pure silence. And the sand dunes sing.’

‘You can go to Saudi Arabia for sand dunes.’

‘You don’t understand. Isfahan is in our blood. I remember when my mother was leaving she climbed to the top of the steps of the plane, then she turned around and did this.’ I open my arms out as if to gather something in the air and bring my arms back towards my face and kiss the tips of my fingers. ‘I asked her what she was doing and she said she was kissing the air of her motherland goodbye. I remember thinking even then that I must bring her back to that beloved land of hers.’

‘I’ve never been to Iran.’

‘Of course you haven’t. Iran doesn’t have a central bank. My mother says it is why the world wants to wage war with it.’

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