Soon I am accepting the complimentary glass of Michel Roux’s champagne. We clink glasses.
‘To tonight,’ Blake says, and we sip our aperitif. It is perfectly chilled.
‘Do you know what you want to eat?’
I shake my head and look again at the menu, but I cannot concentrate on the words. I will have what I had before, it was glorious—salad of crayfish tails and flaked Devon crab with melon and fresh almonds.
Butterflies flutter in my stomach. Canapés appear. I ignore them.
‘The smoked eel tempura is nice,’ says Blake encouragingly.
I bring it to my mouth. Chew and swallow having tasted nothing.
I shouldn’t be so nervous. There is nothing he can do to me and if he disapproves of me so what?
And then Marcus appears.
Blake stands. I am not sure if I should stand, and eventually I don’t. Marcus shakes his brother’s hand, but also touches his shoulder in the way that politicians engaging in power games do. Then he turns and nods at me.
‘Marcus, I don’t believe you have been formally introduced to Lana. Lana, this is my brother, Marcus.’
‘Hello,’ I say. My voice comes out cold and distant.
But Marcus bends slightly from the waist, tilts his head as if it is a great honor, and allows his good-looking face to curve into a genuine open smile. He offers his hand to me. ‘I have to admit I am jealous of my brother. How on earth did he pull off getting a girl as beautiful as you?’
The friendly gestures and words throw me. ‘Um…’ I close my mouth and take the proffered hand.
His handshake is the right shade of firm. He sits down opposite us, and starts chatting. He is utterly, utterly charming. I find myself staring at him with bewilderment. Could this be the same man I met in the hospital? Was I in such a state of shock that I misread him? I watch him throw his head back and laugh at something Blake has said to him.
The family resemblance is very strong. They are both tall and broad, but his brother lacks the strong sense of purpose that surrounds Blake like a crackling vibrating energy. I can see now why Blake’s father decided that it should be Blake who should take over the helm of leadership.
The waitress comes by. Our table is ready.
Marcus stands politely and holds his hand out to help me up. Since he is closest to the door, I have no choice but to put my hand in his. Our eyes meet. His betray nothing but a polite desire to help me up. And yet, there is tension in my body. Before I can extricate my fingers from his, I feel the tug of Blake’s hand on my waist.
I look up into his eyes and I realize he was perfectly serious when he said he cannot bear any other man to touch me. Not even his brother, not even in the most innocent social setting. We are shown to our table. I slide into the long seat and Blake slides in after me.
Bread appears to my right. I point to a roll, and it is gently deposited onto my side plate. Our wine glasses are filled with straw-colored wine. Waiters start arriving with our starters. I pick up my fork. Parmesan cream with truffles. There is conversation going on around me, over me. I nod. I smile. I say thank you and I find myself drinking more than normal. Stop, right now, I tell myself.
‘Have you been to the opera?’ Marcus asks me. His voice is smooth.
I suddenly remember the way I was that night, and flushing bright red with embarrassment and confusion, look to Blake.
‘Yes, we went to see L’incoronazione de Poppea in Venice,’ Blake cuts in smoothly.
Marcus nods approvingly. ‘The only place to experience Monteverdi.’ He turns to me. ‘Was that your first time?’
‘Yes,’ I mumble.
‘Did you enjoy it?’
The memory makes me blush. I turn my head towards Blake, and my eyes are caught by his. There is hunger in his.
Marcus coughs delicately. I tear my eyes away. ‘Yes, very much,’ I say huskily.
‘Freya, my wife, and I love the opera. We were at the Met for Rossini’s La Cenerentola last week.’
Blake glances at me. ‘Cinderella,’ he says by way of explanation.
I nod gratefully.
‘I’m afraid it was a grotesque, painfully anti-musical burlesque, only intermittently redeemed by virtuoso vocalism by the central waif.’
Marcus sips at his Latour.
I bite my lip. Suddenly I feel ignorant, uncultured and inferior. I realize that Blake has been careful never to let me feel less educated than he is. The truth is his world is totally different from mine. I remember Victoria telling me that no matter what I wear or do they will smell me out. In their eyes I will never be good enough. Will I ever be able to wear this mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance that Marcus wears with such ease? Will I ever possess this studied carelessness that hides all that is real about a person? Marcus is still talking. Surreptitiously I sneak a look at Blake. He is buttering his roll and nodding. Will Blake be ashamed of me one day?
‘And what about you, Lana?’
Shit. I wasn’t listening. ‘Um… Please excuse me. I have to go to the…loo.’
The moment I say that word, I actually feel light-headed. I remember that it was that beast, Rupert Lothian, who taught me it. His sneering words come back to me, ‘This lot call it the loo.’ I stand up and both men get to their feet. For a moment I look at them confused, and then I realize, of course, it is their way, an exaggerated politeness in the presence of a lady. I nod and walk towards the Ladies.
There is no one in there, and I lean against one of the walls, and close my eyes. Why am I so affected by Marcus? Why have I allowed myself to become such a mess of shattered nerves? Is it because we met in my moment of great fear and confusion that I have allowed him to grow into such a monster in my mind? I go to the basin, wash my hands and look at my own reflection.
‘You have nothing to fear from him,’ I tell myself. Then I take my mobile out and call Billie.
‘How’s it going?’ she asks.
‘Er… I’m not sure.’
‘It’s a yes or no with reptiles.’
‘It’s a no.’
‘Hmmnnn… Your son is giving trouble.’
‘What kind of trouble?’
‘He doesn’t want to sleep. He thinks he should be allowed to climb through the window, on to the balcony, and probably over it.’
‘It’s not one of his best ideas.’
‘I’ll say, but he is surprisingly fast for such a little thing.’
‘Tie him up or something. I’ll be there soon.’
‘Lana. Reptiles are creatures of instinct and repetition. A mammal can out-think them any day.’