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There is no one but him for me—I would take the bad, the good, even the indifferent—but he places a silencing finger on my lips. He does not want words from me. He wants only claim of my body and only when he wants it.

All he was doing was defining me as his. As my eyes flutter shut I hear him step out of his trousers and feel the mattress give under his knee.

Ah, it’s not over yet.

Twenty two

Blake Law Barrington

It is late, nearly twelve, when I slot my key in the door and enter the apartment. The sliding doors to the balcony are open and a gentle breeze plays with the curtain. I see her asleep on the sofa and feel a frisson of some strange emotion. I stand over her and watch her.

In the soft light, the pattern on the lavender wallpaper looks like thorn vines that the prince from Sleeping Beauty has to hack through. I can still remember reading it for my sister. So many times. It was her favorite. I f**king hated it. Corny nonsense. I sit next to her and her sleeping body tilts twenty degrees towards me. I run a finger along her cheek and she opens her eyes.

‘You smell of whiskey. Where have you been?’

I chuckle. ‘Doing my rounds.’

She puts a hand to my cheek. ‘You’re cold.’ She moves the hand to my chest. Through the shirt material, her fingertips register the beat of my heart.

‘You reminded me of Sleeping Beauty.’

‘That must make you Prince Charming then.’

A cloud of sadness settles in my chest. My hand gently traces the line of her cheek. ‘Don’t deceive yourself, Lana. Our liaison can only ever be temporary. I am spoken for.’

My words stab her like a knife. I see the pain spread through her eyes. Her wounds are whispers. ‘Who is she? Where is she now?’

‘She’s from an old family like me. She has to finish her education. She is only twenty-two. Next year I will be thirty-one and she will be twenty-three. Then we will marry.’

‘Are you in love with her?’

The thought is almost amusing. ‘No.’

‘Is it like an arranged marriage?’

‘Something like that. There is some leeway, there has to be some attraction, but marriage for us has always been a merger of two great families. The Lazards marry their sons to Rockefellers and the Rockefellers marry their daughters to Hapsgoods. It works well.’

‘Is love ever a part of the equation?’

‘Love is vastly overrated. We consolidate our wealth and position and make arrangements to cater to our specific tastes.’

‘Specific tastes?’

‘Some of us are g*y; others are pedophiles.’

She looks at me in shock. ‘Are you condoning pedophilia?’

‘I’m not condoning anything. I’m stating a fact.’

‘So you wouldn’t report a pedophile who was abusing a child?’

I shake my head. ‘That is a matter between the pedophile and God as God made him that way.’

‘What about the child?’ she demands.

‘Time’s march is a web of causes and effects, and asking for any gift of mercy, however tiny it might be, is to ask that a link be broken in that web of iron. No one deserves such a miracle—Jorge Luis Borges.’

‘What an unkind world you live in.’

‘Your tragedy is that you live in the same world as me only you do not perceive it, and that makes you careless.’

‘And your tragedy is your fatalism.’

‘On the contrary. It means I recognize the threat. Cause and effect. Unlike you, my wife and I will guard our children in such a way that they will never be exposed to dangerous situations.’

She gazes at me with horror at the calm and shamelessly way I discuss my bride to be with her. ‘If you are already engaged to be married why are you never seen together and why are you being touted as the most eligible bachelor alive?’

‘You will never understand us. Don’t try.’

‘Is it the same reason your family doesn’t appear in the Forbes rich list?’

My lips curve. ‘That’s better. Now you are beginning to understand. The greatest fortunes are all secretly earned, ferociously guarded.’

‘So… You are the most eligible bachelor because…’

‘The impression of meritocracy must be maintained at all times.’

‘Ah, the taint of elitism.’

‘No, but close.’

‘Why so evasive? I am bound by contract. I couldn’t speak even if I wanted to.’

‘If you controlled eighty percent of all the wealth in the world… Wouldn’t you want the status quo to carry on? We prefer to trade anonymously behind a façade, behind the public faces. Kings, prime ministers, tsars, sultans, and emperors come to power and lose it to the jealously and dissatisfaction of the people. We have, uninterrupted, ruled from behind the scenes for centuries. Our secrets are precious.’

‘What time is it?’ She sounds defeated.

‘Time you were in bed,’ I say, and lift her into my arms. Her hands go around my neck.

‘You’re getting long, Bloom.’

‘Too long for you, Barrington.’

‘Never too long for me, Bloom.’

She turns her head and sees our reflections in the mirror on the opposite wall. Her long nightgown trails behind her and in the soft light from the nightstand she really does seem like a princess in need of rescuing.

‘We look like the romantic hero and heroine of the black and white movies my mother likes to watch.’

I don’t say anything.

‘Only we are not,’ she adds sadly. ‘All your plans don’t include me.’

The thought is depressing. It makes me feel sad when she buries her face in my neck.

‘To sleep?’ she whispers.

‘Not quite, Bloom,’ I reply quietly.

I drop her in the bed with a plop and look down at her tousled hair on the white pillows. In the shadows her eyes are unreadable.

‘What is it?’ she asks.

I bring my mouth towards her and her mouth lifts to meet me. This time our kiss is special. I feel myself heat up at the answering purr of her body. It is as though we are drinking from each other. Our bodies meld together.

And when we are lying sated in the dark I become fearful of her and have to spoil it. ‘I love it when you come and your pu**y grips my cock.’

She shuts her eyes and turns her face away from me in despair. She understands what I am doing.

Always, she must be reduced to an orifice.

Twenty three

Lana Bloom

Today, I feel happy. Billie called to tell me the good news. The antineoplastons that my mother is on are working. The tests are back—the tumors are regressing. My mother will have to carry on her treatment for another three months, but she can return in two days’ time to England and carry it on here.

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