‘You left the table on purpose, didn’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

‘Because you have to get used to it. Marcus’s disapproval is subtle and mild. If you can’t hold your own with him, my mother will decimate you.’

‘You’re scaring me.’

He takes his eyes away from the darkness and focuses them on me. They are full of an emotion I cannot place. Maybe because, even though I love him with every ounce of my being, I don’t know him well enough. Maybe because I am a fool in love with a man I cannot understand.

All I know is I love him no matter what.

‘I’m preparing you. I wish I could always be by your side to protect you, but I can’t. You must learn to fend for yourself. You must realize on your own that they are nothing. You are better than all of them put together.’

I break eye contact and look down at my hands. I am the girl from the council estate. I won tonight, but with great difficulty.

‘Be confident, my love. Don’t ever ask for their approval or work for it. They will respect you more for it. You will never be one of them, but that’s OK. I’d hate it if you were.’

‘Are all of them going to be hateful to me, then?’

‘They won’t dare say anything while I am around, but you’ll have to learn to handle the odd catty remark in my absence.’

‘Right.’

‘Marcus looked like a whipped dog when I came back to the table.’

‘He did?’

He grins wolfishly. ‘Absolutely.’

I smile but I am thinking of the woman in black who stood next to Blake at the funeral. I know he is her favorite son and she will hate me with a passion. ‘When am I meeting your mother?’

He laughs. ‘We’ll avoid that torture for as long as possible.’

‘She’s going to hate me, isn’t she?’

‘Yes. But as the two of you will hardly ever meet that shouldn’t bother you at all.’

I sigh loudly. ‘They all want you to be with Victoria.’

‘That’s never going to happen and it’s time they got used to it.’

I thrust the box of petits fours into Billie’s stomach and she opens it immediately. Blake goes on into Sorab’s room, and I stand talking to her as she eats the sweets and looks at me with shrewd eyes.

‘Anything to tell me?’ she whispers as soon as Blake is out of earshot.

‘Tell you tomorrow.’

She nods. ‘Mmmmm… These are delicious.’

I reach out and brush a crumb from the corner of her lips. ‘God, Billie, how I love you.’

‘You should go out to dinner more often with Marcus,’ she says.

And for the first time that night I laugh.

Twelve

I look down at my sleeping son and savor the delicious pleasure of his warm weight in my lap. I stroke his downy head. So exposed, so vulnerable. I feel Blake’s eyes on me and look up at him. He is looking at both of us with an expression that I can only describe as fierce pride and possession. I feel cocooned in that savage light. As long as he is around we will both be safe.

Blake settles Sorab in his cot while I get out of my dress. I hang it up carefully and start removing my make-up. I don’t take off my new jewelry. Blake loves to have me wearing nothing but the jewelry he has put on my body. I brush my hair and teeth, wrap myself in a fluffy bathrobe—it is deliciously warm from the radiator—and go out into the bedroom. He is unbuttoning his shirt. He pulls the ends out of his trousers.

‘Come here,’ he says.

I go up to him.

‘Have I told you how beautiful you looked tonight?’

I nod.

‘Have I told you how proud I was of you tonight?’

I nod.

‘Hmmnnn… I am in danger of being boring.’

‘I love boring men.’

One end of his lips curve.

‘Whoa… High alert… Edible sexy ahead,’ I whisper.

‘Serve warm, eat whole,’ he says as his hands move to the belt on my robe. He undoes it deftly and slowly leans into the gaping material to plant a kiss on my right nipple. My heart starts crashing against my chest. His large hands disappear inside the folds of the material and slide sensuously down the sides of my body. They come to a stop at my hips. He squeezes.

‘Amazing how I never tire of looking at your body,’ he murmurs into the side of my neck, while his fingers caress my throat and the blue stones encircling it.

The robe drops off, my head drops back. A trail of kisses follows. A small sound escapes my throat. Amazing how my body quivers like jelly as soon as he touches me. His hands grasp my wrists and pull them upwards until they are held high above my head.

He holds my wrists in a potent grasp with one hand and looks down at me, while his other hand roams my body freely, possessively. As if I am a slave in an auction that he is considering buying. I look up into his eyes. They are bold and dominant. I let my lips part.

‘My Jezebel,’ he says huskily, and takes my lower lip between his teeth. He holds the plump flesh between his teeth and pulls so I am forced to move with his head. I stand on tiptoe, skin burning all over, and wet between the legs. He lets go of my lip and moving his dark head away from me, gazes down at my body, arched and stretched out in front of him. There is a look of great satisfaction on his face.

He turns me around. ‘Hands on the bed.’

I open my legs, bend over, and put my palms on the bed, shoulder width apart, waist dipped down, ass high in the air. I know what he is doing. He is making me wait.

Anticipation.

I twist my head and watch him unhurriedly shrug out of his shirt, very deliberately pull the belt out of his trouser loops, release the button at the top of the zip, pull down the zip. Hook his fingers inside his underpants. Pull down. He stands behind me. Hot, hard, ready. I watch his glorious body eagerly.

‘Who do you belong to?’ he purrs.

‘You.’ My voice is hoarse.

‘Which parts belong to me?’

‘All.’

‘All?’

‘All.’

He kneels behind me, his face inches from my sex.

‘I can smell your arousal,’ he says.

I shut my eyes. I am so open, so exposed. Seconds drip by. I wait. I know it’s all a game. Patience and anticipation. My skin prickles. I feel his hot breath fan my wet flesh. The shock of his silky tongue swirling between the swollen folds makes my head jerk back. Instinctively, my hips tilt upwards, in a begging posture. I need him inside me. Now.

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