‘What will I be getting for my money?’ His voice is suddenly cold and hard.
I blink. It is all wrong. I shouldn’t be here. In this dress, or shoes, sitting in front of this obscene piece of filth hiding behind his handmade shirt, gold cufflinks and plummy, upper class accent. This man degrades and offends me simply by looking at me. I wish myself somewhere else, but I am here. All my credit cards are maxed out. Two banks have impolitely turned me down and there is nothing else to do, but be here in this dress and these slutty shoes…
My stomach in knots, I smile in what I hope is a seductive way. ‘What would you like for your money?’
‘Forget what I would like for the moment. What are you selling?’ His eyes are spiteful in a way I cannot understand.
‘Me, I guess.’
That makes him snort with cruel laughter. ‘You are an extraordinarily beautiful girl, but to be honest I can get five first class supermodels right off the runway for that asking price. What makes you think you’re worth that kind of money?’
I take a deep breath. Here goes. ‘I’m a virgin.’
He stops laughing. A suspicious speculative look enters his pale blue eyes. ‘How old are you?’
‘Twenty.’ Well, I will be in two months’ time.
He frowns. ‘And you say you’re still a virgin?’
‘Saving yourself up for someone special, were you?’ His tone is annoying.
‘Does it matter?’ My nails bite into my clenched fists.
His eyes glitter. ‘No, I suppose not.’ He pauses. ‘How do I know you’re not lying?’
I swallow hard. The taste of my humiliation is bitter. ‘I’ll undergo any medical tests you require me to.’
He laughs. ‘No need. No need,’ he dismisses genially. ‘Blood on the sheets will be enough for me.’
The way he says blood makes my blood run cold.
‘Are all orifices up for sale?’
Oh! the brutality of the man. Something dies inside me, but I keep the image of my mother in my mind, and my voice is clear and strong. ‘Yes.’
‘So all that is left is to renegotiate the price?’
I have to stop myself from recoiling. I know now that I have committed two out of the nine sorts of behaviors my mother has warned me are considered contemptible and base. I have expected generosity from a miser and I have revealed my need to my enemy. ‘The price is not negotiable.’
His gaze sweeps meaningfully to my champagne glass. ‘Shall we give this party a go first and bargain later, when you are in a…better mood?’
I understand his thinking. He thinks he can drive the price down when I am drunk. ‘The price is not negotiable,’ I say firmly. ‘And will have to be paid up front.’
He smiles smarmily. ‘I’m sure we’ll come to some agreement that we will both be happy with.’
I frown. I have been naïve. My plan is sketchy and has no provisions for a sharp punter or price negotiations. I heard through the office grapevine where I worked as temporary secretary that my boss was one of those men who are prepared to pay ten thousand pounds a pop for his pleasure and often, but I had never imagined he would reduce me to bargaining.
While Rupert stuffs himself with cheese and biscuits I excuse myself and go to the Ladies. There is another woman standing at the mirror. She glances at me with a mixture of surprise and disgust. I wait until she leaves, then I call my mother.
‘Where are you, Lana?’
‘I’m still at the restaurant.’
‘What time will you be coming home?’
‘I’ll be late. I’ve been invited to a party.’
‘A party,’ my mother repeats worriedly. ‘Where?’
‘I don’t know the address. Somewhere in London.’
‘How will you get home?’ A wire of panic has crept into her voice.
I sigh gently. I have almost never left my mother alone at night; consequently she is now a bundle of jittery nerves. ‘I have a ride, Mum. Just don’t wait up for me, OK?’
‘All right. Be careful, won’t you?’
‘Nothing is going to happen to me.’
‘Yes, yes,’ she says, but she sounds distracted and unhappy.
‘How are you feeling, Mum?’
‘Goodnight, then. I’ll see you in the morning.’
‘I love you very much.’
‘Me too, Mum. Me too.’
I flip my phone shut with a snap. I no longer feel cheap or obscene, but strong and sure. There is nothing Rupert can do that can degrade me. I will have that money no matter what.
I look at myself in the mirror. No need for lipstick as I have hardly eaten—just watching Rupert gurgle down the oysters made me feel quite sick, and how was I to know steak tartare was ground raw meat. For a moment I think again of that sinfully sophisticated man, his eyes edged with experience and mystery, his lips twisted with sensuality, and I am suddenly overcome by a strong desire to press my body against his hard length. But he is gone and I am here.
I return my phone to my purse and go out to meet my fate.
‘Shall we go?’ Rupert asks, and before I can agree, he imperiously clicks his fingers for the bill. Outside, Rupert hails a black cab. It is such a warm evening that I carry my coat in my hands. Rupert gives the address to the cab driver and we climb in. My dress rides up my thighs, and when I try to pull it back down, Rupert puts his meaty, white hand over mine and in a firm voice orders, ‘Leave it.’
Embarrassed, I look into the rearview mirror. The taxi driver is observing us. Wordlessly, I drape my coat over my exposed thighs and knees and turning my face away from Rupert, stare out. Damn him. As I gaze unseeingly out I feel his hand slide under my coat and settle on my thighs. Biting my lip I try to ignore the hand, but it is steadily slithering upwards. When it is almost at my crotch I catch the offending hand in a firm grip. I turn to him and look him in the eye.
‘We don’t have a deal yet.’
‘True,’ he says in a mild and reasonable way, and retracts his hand, but the smile on his face is taunting and smug. He has already figured out that I need the money desperately and my body is my last option.
The rest of the journey passes in silence while my stomach churns. I am so nervous I actually worry I will lose the few vegetables I did eat on the floor of the cab. Fortunately, the taxi turns into Bishop’s Avenue and we come to a stop outside a large, white, three-story Regency house. There are fancy cars parked bumper to bumper along the length of the street.