‘Oh God, Lana. Don’t do that to me again.’
He takes a step away from me. ‘He grabbed you. Did he hurt you anywhere else?’
I shake my head, but he pulls the sleeves of my coat and examines my arms. He touches the light bruises and looks at me. There is pain in his eyes. ‘I have taken care of that bastard. He will never hurt another woman in his life again.’
I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you so much nothing else matters. But I don’t say it. I can’t. Something is very wrong. I cannot only think of myself. There is more than just me in this equation. There is Sorab. And I will love him the way my mother loved me. I will give him everything. And everything could mean no Blake EVER. Victoria’s mother’s words are still fresh. ‘You and your son are in grave danger.’ It would appear she was right.
I swallow the lump in my throat. I am in such pain I feel sick.
‘What?’ he asks worriedly.
‘Nothing,’ I say. But I actually feel dizzy. If he was not here, I would throw myself on the bed and howl—because I cannot have this man. I grit my teeth.
‘Come,’ he says and taking my hand leads me to the bedroom. His plan is simple. As Billie would say—he is a man, what can you expect? He wants me to sleep. When I wake up it will be all OK.
So I let him put me to bed. I watch him with blank eyes. I know he doesn’t understand. And that he never will. Men are strong in a physical way, they don’t know how to be strong in an emotional way. He thinks if I have no bruises I have no pain. I grasp his hand. ’Why did you have me followed?’
He runs his hand through his hair. He moves away from me. Paces the bedroom carpet like a caged creature. Then he sits beside me. ‘Do you really want the truth, Lana?’
‘Even if it makes a liar of you?’
‘Because I couldn’t trust you with my son. Not in that horrible place you live in.’
My jaw drops.
‘Jesus, Lana, what did you expect me to do? That place is crawling with drug addicts and low-lifes. I can’t even bear it when you go there let alone a helpless thing like him.’
I gasp. ‘You knew all along?’
‘Oh, Lana, Lana, Lana. You must take me for such a fool. Did you really think I would not know he is mine? I knew from the moment I laid eyes on him.’
I am so shocked I can say nothing. Then I remember how silent he had suddenly become when he first looked at Sorab. And then he had blanked his eyes and casually asked me, ‘Does he cry a lot?’
And that was the first day he had stayed the night. That was the first day he stopped drinking heavily and the first day he began to look at me without hate. It was the day he understood that I had left him not because I had been paid, but because I was pregnant. The next day his things had arrived and he had begun to live in the apartment with me.
‘This elaborate charade… It was for you. For whatever you were playing at. I wanted to know what kind of woman you were. What kind of woman are you, Lana? You lie with me every night and you never think to tell me I have a son?’
I sit up. ‘I was afraid.’
‘Of what? Me?’
‘I was afraid you or your family would take him away from me?’
‘What are you talking about? I would never take him away from you.’
‘It is in the confidentiality agreement I signed. If I have your child I will have to give it up.’
He sits on the bed and leans his forehead against his hand. ‘This is all so f**ked up.’ He turns to face me. ‘I’m sorry, Lana. I was so stupid.’
‘What happens now?’
‘Nothing. For now.’
A thought suddenly occurs to me. ‘So you were having me followed because you are worried about Sorab’s safety?’
He nods, but his eyes are careful, watchful.
‘I didn’t have Sorab with me today.’ My voice is flat.
‘You have your own detail. Do you think I would protect my son and not his mother?’ His gaze is hard, uncompromising, refusing to be ashamed by his underhand methods.
‘I don’t like being watched. Call off my shadow?’
‘After today? Are you kidding me?’ He stands up and puts some distance between us. He turns to look at me. ‘It’s for your own protection, Lana.’
‘Today was an exception. I don’t need to be protected.’
‘What’s your real objection, Lana? It’s not like it’s in your face, is it? You didn’t even know until today when Brian had to break his cover.’
‘That doesn’t make it better.’
His jaw clenches. ‘I can’t work. I can’t concentrate. In fact, I think I actually go quite crazy when I don’t know that you are all right. Can’t you just humor me on this one thing?’
‘Why are you so paranoid? Is there something that I should be fearful of?’
He comes to me. ‘I have my reasons. You and Sorab are my first priority.’
I look at him stubbornly.
‘Is it really so much to ask, Lana?’
He breathes a great sigh of relief. ‘Thank you.’
I touch his hand.
‘There was a time I used think Arab men were mad to keep their women covered and hidden. Now I know where the need comes from.’ He jabs his finger into the hard wall of his stomach. ‘In here.’
God, I love this man so much it hurts. It actually hurts.
I wake up in the cold, bluish light of dawn. For a moment I lie in the elaborately carved four poster bed confused by my surroundings, and then I remember. We are in Bedfordshire, at the Barrington’s estate where Blake’s sister lives. We arrived at the wrought iron electric gates in the dark, and ran up the curving stairs in the light from the moon. It was how I imagined young lovers of ancient times met, in secret and in the dark. We fell into bed and I ravished Blake after we had drunk a whole bottle of vintage champagne directly from the bottle.
I burrow into the delicious warmth of his body. He does not wake but puts a heavy hand on my stomach. I turn my head and smell the sheets. Starched sheets. My grandmother used to have starched sheets in her house.
Blake said I could explore the house and garden as long as I keep away from the west wing, where his sister lives.
And now I long to go into the extensive garden. I lift Blake’s hand and edge out from under it. The morning air is surprisingly chilly. I dress quickly. There is a large extra blanket folded at the foot of the bed. I throw it over my shoulders and slip out of the room. The entire house is dim and silent. I walk down the corridor and stand at the top of the beautiful staircase. I am drawn to a painting.