Rupert shrivels the way a leech that has had salt thrown on it does. ‘This is why you invited me here, isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

‘What a joke!’ he taunts, but his jibe lacks any real bite. ‘The great Barrington can’t find his own whore. He has to steal mine.’

‘I didn’t steal her,’ Blake notes reasonably. ‘I just offered to pay more.’

Rupert’s eyes bulge, bug-like. ‘She’s just a cheap bloody tart. I’ve just finger-fucked her out there,’ he lies maliciously, jerking his dandruff-laden head in the direction of the door.

I feel Blake’s hand tighten around my waist. ‘Consider it an unearned freebie, then,’ he says quietly, but there is warning in the calm words. A warning that is not lost on Rupert. The air becomes tight with tension. I look from one man to the other. It is like watching two lions fighting for supremacy. But my body knows which lion it wants to win this fight.

Rupert shrugs. He knows he’d be a fool to go against a Barrington. He has much to lose. ‘If you think I’m going to fight over her you’re mistaken. Have her.’

He turns on his heel and leaves.

Blake lets go of me and I realize I am trembling. I lean against the desk, hating myself, but unable to stop—nothing is more important than the money—I ask, ‘Did you…did you mean it about the money?’

‘Yes.’

A sob of relief escapes my throat. I cover my mouth with both hands. ‘Thank you.’

He looks at me with narrowed eyes, as if surprised by the intensity of my reaction, but he does not offer any comment. ‘Did you have a coat?’

I nod, unable to speak.

‘Give me the ticket. I’ll get it.’

I rummage through the purse hanging by my hips, my hands unsteady, and shake my head glumly. For the life of me I cannot remember what I have done with it. ‘I’ve lost it. I think it might have fallen out in the…’ I am about to say loo when I decide I am not like them and I won’t pretend to be something I am not… ‘Ladies room.’

‘Let’s go. I’ll buy you another.’

‘I can’t leave without it. It’s not mine,’ I whisper.

He sighs. ‘It’s all right. I’ll get it. Is the coat…er…orange?’

I look at him carefully—there is an insult there, somewhere—but his face is blank. ‘Yes.’

‘Wait here. Don’t go anywhere.’

I stand in the middle of the room feeling light-headed. I’ve got the money and I don’t have to get raped for it. My hands find their way to my mouth. That kiss. The way it made me feel. Just thinking about it makes me long for the feel of his solid body melded into mine.

The door opens, and oh shit—Rupert walks in.

‘You look frightened. Why? I don’t wish you harm. In fact, I realize now that I am actually very interested in your offer. If I seemed unappreciative before please forgive me.’

‘There is,’ I say, shaking my head and taking a step backwards, ‘nothing to forgive.’

‘Is he really paying double?’

‘I don’t need more than what I asked you for.’

‘Then why go to him? He is no different from me. He will drop you like a bad mortgage when he is finished with you too.’

I nod. ‘Of course he will, but like you said, I came with a price. You wanted to bargain and he was willing to pay it.’ If only I can keep him talking until Blake returns.

‘So am I, now.’

‘Besides, you want fifty shades of gray and he just wants a woman.’

‘Perhaps I’ve changed my mind. Perhaps I just want a woman too.’

He comes closer.

‘Blake has gone to get my coat. He’ll be back any time.’

‘Not without this he won’t.’ He holds out my ticket.

He puts out a hand suddenly. I try to move back, but he grabs me by the arm, his grip vice-like, his fingers digging painfully into my flesh. He hauls me closer.

‘You’re hurting me.’

‘You’ll be surprised how much pain the human body can take.’

‘What do you want, Rupert?’

‘I feel aggrieved. Something I wanted and was promised to me has been stolen by another. I was given a taste of something, which I very much liked. You resist beautifully, Lana. Perhaps, you will do both of us. I will pay you too.’

I blink. I can’t believe what I am hearing. If it wasn’t so humiliating, it would be surreal. The surroundings I am in, the obviously powerful men who are suddenly apparently willing to pay huge sums to have sex with me.

‘I wouldn’t do that to Blake.’

‘He’ll never know and even if he does, he won’t care. It’s not like he wants to marry you. You’re just a f**k, Lana,’ he pronounces dismissively.

The door opens and Blake stands at the threshold with my orange coat folded over his arm. His face is like a closed steel door. He comes into the room and Rupert lets go of my arm and I immediately move away from him, rubbing my stinging flesh. Already there are red marks on it. Blake eyes them silently, then helps me into my coat.

‘Ready?’ he asks.

I nod.

He turns towards Rupert and socks him hard on the chin. So hard the ex-rugby player falls to the floor with a grunt.

‘She may be a cheap slut, but I’m paying what you baulked at, so she is my cheap slut now. You’d do well to remember that,’ Blake throws casually over his shoulder.

Rupert clutches his busted, bleeding lip and shows his fury to the only person he dares to. ‘You’re fired, Bloom,’ he shouts impotently.

Blake takes my arm and leads me out of that place. There is not a single person at that party that does not turn to watch us leave.

Five

Blake’s monster of a car, a gleaming sable-gray Aston Martin is parked beside a lamppost. It is one of those old-fashioned wrought-iron ones with a fluted surface. I stand on the curb and loop my hand around its rough, cold metal.

‘Get in,’ he says.

‘What if I’m sick in your car?’

‘My secretary will have it valeted.’

I unhook myself from the metal post. Is life really this easy? With these shoes and the drink in me it is impossible to get into the low-swung seat elegantly. Blake’s eyes are on my legs. He is going to be seeing a lot more soon, so I swing the last one in and shut the door.

The interior of his car is plush and luxurious. It even smells expensive. I have never been in such a car. The sound system is excellent and superb music fills the car.

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