‘Doesn’t feel like it right now.’
‘In that case give him a black eye. That always works.’
‘Thanks for the advice. I’ll be sure to bear it in mind.’
‘See you soon.’
‘Use all your strength.’
I end the call, reapply lip gloss, and walk back to the table. Again both men stand while I seat myself. A brand new napkin has been put beside my plate. I open it and place it on my lap.
‘I was just saying to Blake that both of you should come to Victoria’s birthday party.’
My eyes widen. I feel the blood leaving my face.
Blake weaves his fingers through mine. I turn my head towards him.
‘Victoria is Marcus’s second daughter.’
I turn to face Marcus. He is looking at me innocently, but suddenly I know. He knew I would think he was referring to Blake’s ex. He wanted to rattle me. But his revealing action has the opposite effect on me. I feel a little stronger. It was not knowing what I was dealing with that made me so weak. Now I know, it is better.
‘When is it?’
Blake’s voice is very dry. ‘More than three months away.’
So he knows too.
The main course arrives. I thank the waiter and gaze at the Challandais duck, poached quince and chestnut polenta with dismay. There appears to be too much on my plate. How on earth am I going to eat all this when I feel sick to my stomach?
‘Bon appétit,’ Marcus says and tucks into his escalopes de foie gras.
‘Bon appétit,’ Blake calls out to me.
‘Bon appétit,’ I mumble, duck, spice and honey on its way to my mouth.
When the table has been cleared Blake excuses himself, and rises from the table.
‘Where are you going?’ I ask in a panic.
He winks. ‘I’ll be back for you, babe.’
I watch him disappear out of sight before bringing my gaze back to Marcus. He is watching me. I smile weakly.
‘So,’ he says, leaning back in his chair. ‘You caught a very big fish in your net. What will you do with it now?’
‘I don’t know what you mean, and I resent both your tone and the implication that I have somehow trapped your brother.’
‘What would you call it?’
‘I love your brother.’
‘You don’t have to pretend with me. I don’t care who my brother f**ks. It’s totally his business if he wants to take every little whore he comes across into his bed.’
‘If you are that unconcerned, why do you ask?’
‘Just curious,’ he says and smiles pompously. At that moment he reminds me of his father, but less dangerous, by far less dangerous. I was afraid of his father, but I am not of him.
My mother’s voice is quoting Rumi in my head. You are searching in the branches for what is only in the roots. Thank you, Mum. At that moment, I stop feeling inferior. Why should I? He is not more than me. I have done nothing wrong. He is the despicable one. By a quirk of fate he is thousands of times more privileged than 99.99 percent of the population, but that doesn’t make him special or give him the right to treat everybody else as if they were beneath him.
‘Please forgive me if I refuse to indulge your curiosity.’ My voice is deadly calm.
He laughs. His eyes glitter. Malice shines in his face. ‘Here’s some free advice, sweetheart—Blake will tire of you. Start your going away fund right now.’
A waiter comes, removes Blake’s used napkin and replaces it with a brand new napkin by carefully sliding it off the plate he had brought it in. He smiles and goes on his way unconcerned with the battle Marcus and I are engaged in.
‘Why do you care if I am with Blake or not?’
‘I told you I don’t.’
He is lying. Of that I am sure. Will I unmask him? ‘Ah, but you do.’
He raises his eyebrows, summons an expression of incredulity, but I am not fooled. I have love on my side.
‘You’re jealous,’ I say. ‘You’re jealous of Blake and you are eaten up with envy because he has found something you don’t have. You don’t love anyone you’d give everything up for, do you?’
I see a flash of real anger in his eyes. Where is the studied carelessness now? He pretends to laugh, the sound unnatural, ugly. The façade is scratched, the mask slipping. Underneath the water the effortlessly gliding swan is kicking like crazy. He is nothing but a courtier. Trained by his father to put on a performance. Now he is lost to the façade he has put up. He is not to be reviled but pitied.
‘Jealous?’ he sneers.
I say nothing.
His voice becomes venomous. ‘Of Blake?’
I maintain my silence. Keep eye contact.
‘Because he has you? A two bit whore that he paid to acquire.’ His voice is contemptuous.
‘Love even in the arms of a two bit whore can be precious.’
From the corners of my eyes I see Blake walking towards us. I turn eagerly towards him. He is watching my face carefully.
‘Everything all right?’ he asks.
‘Yes,’ I answer, but my expression is stony. At that moment Alain Roux who is doing his customary tour of the dining room stops at our table. I smile stiffly and assure him that everything was wonderful. He nods graciously and moves on. I am ready to go home, but there is still the cheese trolley to endure.
Marcus pronounces the Auvergne cheese flawlessly ‘kept’, whatever that means.
Blake shrugs non-committally.
‘How’s your soufflé?’ Marcus enquires, suave mask tightly in place.
I look him in the eye. ‘Faultless.’
Marcus’s smile does not reach his eyes. Mine slide over to Blake and he is smiling into his cheese. I spoon a mouthful of raspberry soufflé into my mouth and know that I have won this round.
Blake orders a box of petits fours.
I look at him questioningly.
‘For Billie,’ he says and winks at me, and I feel a surge of joy. He is nothing like his brother. This horrible ordeal with Marcus is almost over and it will be just us again.
We say goodbye by Marcus’s Bugatti Black Bess. Marcus shakes his brother’s hand and touches his shoulder in an attempt to ingratiate himself with Blake. I stand apart and he does not attempt to kiss or touch me. I nod coldly—now you will have to win me over. Hands entwined we watch the lights of his car disappear into the darkness.
‘I was proud of you tonight.’