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Page 41 of Owned (The Billionaire Banker 1)

‘Remember,’ he warns. ‘Do not take this ensemble off after we leave this room. No matter what happens the mask and the robes do not come off. Do you understand?’

My mask nods in the mirror.

He opens his box and dresses himself in the black robes that are inside. His mask is gold with a beaked nose. Unlike mine his seems sinister and forbidding.

‘Ready?’

‘Yes.’

He puts his hand in the small of my back and guides me out of the room. We cross the large empty space and go through another door. It turns out to be the back door of the lodge. A man sitting on a horse-drawn coach is waiting. He does not turn to look at us but stares straight ahead. The bizarre and forbidding alchemy of the moment causes me to blankly note the white socks on the horse. We climb in and the coachman immediately sets the horse to a trot. We follow a path that snakes through woods until we suddenly come upon a grand mansion perched on higher ground.

My breath is swept away by it. Made of cut gray stone, it is like something found in a windswept ghost story. Awestruck, I stare at the roaring gargoyles and the many soaring gothic spires that pierce the purple sky. Hundreds of windows stare out like glassy dead eyes. Unless I am very much mistaken one of the windows blinks, a flash of yellow iris, before it snaps shut. Someone was watching our arrival.

The coach comes to a stop on the entrance stairs and we climb out. I feel Blake’s hand on my waist as he helps me out.

‘Remember, the mask does not come off, even in the ladies.’

‘OK.’

‘And don’t tell anyone your name.’

‘OK.’

‘Don’t speak unless spoken to.’

‘Right.’

‘I’m serious, Lana.’

I look up into the eyeholes of his mask. ‘You’re making me nervous, Blake.’

‘It’s important.’

‘Then don’t leave my side.’

‘I’ve no intention of doing that.’

We go up the shallow stone steps. When we reach the top, I turn to look down upon the magnificent garden maze. In the purplish light it is very beautiful. At the entrance, a totally expressionless, bone-thin man, dressed in black coat-tails, nods at Blake and slowly waves his hand towards the interior of the house.

There are more ushers and silent staff dressed in black who nod at us and wave us deeper into the interior. The funereal garments and the silence begin to seep into me. I recognize them to be poisonous.

Finally, two men open a pair of double doors and we enter a large hall full of masked, robed people standing around and talking in whispers. There is a stage at one end with a throne on it. The room reminds me of an old-fashioned theater with balconies. There are also many doors that lead away from the hall. A strange throbbing music is playing into that odd air of expectancy and waiting.

I look up at Blake. ‘This reminds me of Eyes Wide Shut.’

‘Yes, Stanley Kubrick’s movies are filled with hidden messages.’

A waiter brings a tray. Blake shakes his head. When I try to reach for a glass, I feel the subtle pressure that he exerts on my hand. I shake my head and the waiter moves on silently. It is at this point that I realize that there are other women besides me who are wearing the exact same robe and mask as me.

‘Hello,’ a man’s voice addresses us from behind.

We turn. A stocky man in an odd gray and silver mask is standing about a foot away from us. ‘You brought…someone,’ he says, his eyes glittering blackly through the eyeholes of his mask. I feel Blake tense beside me.

‘Yes.’

‘Will you be going into the main room?’ the man asks.

‘Of course,’ Blake says smoothly, but I feel the tremor that goes through his body.

‘Good, I will see you there. If I don’t, tell your father I send my regards.’

Blake nods, and the man turns on his heel and disappears into the crowd of robes and masks.

‘Come,’ Blake says urgently, and leads me towards the entrance. The large doors open, and we retrace our steps out into the evening air. We go down the shallow steps and into a waiting coach.

When I turn to Blake, he puts a finger to his lips. The coach drops us off outside the lodge house, we traverse that strange empty room, and go back out to where the hired car is waiting. Blake unlocks the car.

‘Take your cloak off and drop it on the ground,’ he orders as he takes his own cloak off and chucks it into the back seat.

I do as I am told and get into the car. My hands are trembling. Blake’s fear and tension have transferred themselves to me.

Blake starts the engine and the car screeches away. He says nothing and drives very fast.

‘Chuck the mask out of the window,’ he says when he has been driving for about five minutes. He takes his mask off and flips it onto the back seat where it lands on his black cloak.

‘Why did I have to throw mine away but not you?’

‘Yours is generic; my cloak has my family insignia sewn into it and my mask is distinct to me.’

Ten minutes later, Blake pulls off the road and, turning around, takes me into his arms. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘I shouldn’t have taken you there. I don’t know what I was thinking of. You’re just a baby.’

‘It’s OK,’ I say, confused. ‘Nothing happened.’

He looks into my eyes. He is full of secrets. ‘Yes, nothing happened.’

That night he jerks awake in a cold sweat and sits upright. The movement wakes me.

‘Did you have a nightmare?’ I ask, my hand reaching for his back.

‘I dreamed I took you into the main room,’ he says. His voice is hoarse with horror.

‘What happens in the main room?’

He turns to me and in the dark his eyes are tormented pools of terror. ‘Oh, Lana, Lana, Lana,’ he whispers in my hair.

‘Tell me,’ I urge, but he shakes his head.

‘My world is ugly and corrupt. It only looks good from the outside. When our time is over, I must return you the way I found you, pure and innocent.’

Gently he opens my legs. ‘Let me hide a little while longer in your world,’ he rasps and buries his mouth in my sex.

His mouth is warm and soft. My body responds, arches; my hands come out to grasp his hair; my legs entwine like ropes around his head, and I come with a gasp while I am wonderfully full of him, but through it all I never forget what he said—when our time is over.

Twenty seven

I wake up and turn around to look at the man beside me. In the dim light I stare at him. He is so heartbreakingly beautiful when he sleeps he makes me want to cry. That hard mouth softened, the thick, stubby eyelashes dark-blue smudges on his face. I slip out of bed quietly. I am ravenous these days. I smile to think it must be all the sex. I close the bedroom door softly and pad into the kitchen where I switch on the light and head towards the fridge. My hands reach for the tin of caviar and a jar of marmalade. I go to the breadbox and cut two slices of nutty bread. Those I pop into the toaster and stand by the counter, yawning.

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