The finger retreats. I inhale.
He puts the finger in his mouth. I exhale.
I pour out two glasses of sambuca, place three coffee beans on their surfaces and set them alight. Over the blue flames I catch Blake’s eyes. In this light they are so dark they are almost black. The intensity of his gaze makes me catch my breath. I forget about the burning drinks, until he lowers his face without breaking eye contact and blows out the flames.
He dips his finger in the sambuca and smears it on my lips, and lifting me off the chair carries me to the bedroom to be ravished.
‘I’ve had enough.’
‘The dishes,’ I whisper into his neck.
When I wake up again, it is because of a cry or a moan. I turn my head and he is not in bed. I roll out of bed and go into Sorab’s room. Blake is holding him and softly crooning him back to sleep. Our eyes meet over our baby’s head. His are soft, softer than I have seen them.
I wish I could capture the moment forever.
He brings one forefinger to his lips. So I don’t say anything. Simply memorize that magical moment. When a man’s beautiful soul is unearthed by his son. When we are all connected. He, Sorab and I.
‘Tonight you get to meet my brother. We are having dinner together.’
I look at Blake, surprised. ‘Quinn?’
‘No, Marcus actually.’ He watches me carefully.
I bite my lip. The memory of his brother’s cold, blue eyes is seared into my memory forever. ‘I have met him. At the hospital, when you were in a coma.’
‘He told me. But briefly, right?’
‘Yes, incredibly brief.’
‘Didn’t go too well, huh?’
‘Nope. He didn’t want me in the picture.’
His lips tighten. ‘You are in the picture now. He’d better get used to it.’
‘Maybe you should go on your own this time. I’m sure I’ll get to meet him on other occasions.’
He puts his finger under my chin. ‘You are coming tonight.’
I send Sorab over to Billie’s early and I bathe and start getting ready hours before Blake is due to return. I try on a dozen outfits, but nothing looks good to my critical eye. I look at the clock. Blake will be home soon. Black. Black always works. I hunt for something black. I find a simple black dress with a sweetheart neckline and zip myself into it.
I look at myself in the mirror unhappily. I look pale. The solution might lie with red lipstick. I apply some and blot my lips. I still don’t look or feel right. There is a ball of apprehension in the pit of my stomach. It feels as if I am about to enter an exam hall unprepared. I’ll stick like glue to Blake and that way I know I will be safe. My thoughts are interrupted by Blake’s appearance at the bedroom door.
‘Oh!’ I whirl around startled. ‘I didn’t hear you come in.’
He grins. ‘I wanted to surprise you.’
I clutch my chest dramatically. ‘You succeeded. I nearly jumped out of my skin.’
He is carrying a bag that he drops on the bed on his way towards me. When he reaches me he holds me by my elbows. ‘You look very, very…very…very beautiful, but that is not what you are wearing today.’
He shakes his head slowly as his hands turn me around. For a moment I feel his finger on my bare skin, then the zip starts its downward journey. He turns me back around and gently pulls at the sleeves of the dress. It slips down my body. He winks at me.
‘Love the underwear, by the way.’
‘Thank you,’ I reply primly.
He goes back to the bed and upends the bag he has brought with him on to the bed. A shoebox and something else drop out. The something else is soft and covered in tissue. He shakes it loose of its wrapping and my mouth parts. The dress is stunningly beautiful. Above the waist it is entirely blue appliqué lace design with a V-neck. Below the waist it is a sleek electric blue taffeta figure-hugging skirt. He holds it up.
‘Of course. What’d you think?’
He helps me get into it and touches my skin through the lace. Then he walks away and opens the shoebox. He brings it to me and, kneeling at my feet, grasps each in turn and fastens the delicate straps around my ankles. I grip his shoulders. When I am securely fastened in my new shoes he stands, and looking at me smiles with satisfaction.
He takes me to the mirror, turns me around so I can see my own reflection. Then he fastens around my throat a necklace glowing with deeply blue stones.
‘Sapphires,’ he says. ‘To match your eyes.’
I touch them wonderingly.
He reaches for a tissue and gently, as if I was made from the most fragile glass wipes off the red lipstick. My lips part to allow him access. He drops the tissue on the vanity top and picks up lip gloss. Nude. Carefully he dabs it on the insides of my lips.
When he turns me back to face the mirror, I understand what he has done. I meet his gaze with grateful eyes.
‘Thank you, for selling yourself to me,’ he says with a soft smile.
‘Thank you for buying me.’
‘I think we should live happily ever after, don’t you?’
I look at the blaze of his eyes, the belief shining in them and my heart feels as if it would burst with happiness. And for a moment I even forget the ordeal of sitting down to dinner with Marcus.
‘Where are we going?’ I ask nervously.
‘Your favorite restaurant. The Waterside Inn.’
I smile, remembering the red carpets, the tranquil view of the river, a kindly civilized ambience, unobtrusively attentive waiters, and milk-fed lambs roasted and expertly carved into leaves of flesh at the table. ‘Thank you.’
We arrive before Marcus, which is the way Blake planned it, so I would have time to settle myself. Blake parks and comes around to open my door. He helps me out and we stand a moment looking around us. The autumn wind picks up a few brown leaves swirls them in a dance drops them again a little farther down the road.
‘Come on,’ he says. ‘I promise I won’t let him eat you.’
‘I’m not really scared of him.’
‘That’s my girl.’
The staff remember us and greet us with genuine warmth, which immediately makes me feel a little more confident. We are shown to a round corner table in the elegant waiting area. I sit back and stare unseeingly at my menu sans prix.