‘Yeah, but nice touch—the blonde wig.’
‘Thought you might like a change.’
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too,’ she says softly. I imagine her sitting in the back of the Bentley.
‘Text me when you get home.’
She makes a kissing sound and then she is gone.
I look at my watch. Ten minutes left before my next appointment with the Crown Prince Muqrin Bin Abdel-Aziz of the House of Saud. I ring the twenty-hour butler service and ask them to summon housekeeping. The Head Butler, Daniel Jordan arrives in less than five minutes with three foreign-looking chambermaids in tow.
In two minutes they have put right the bed and bathroom and out of the door, smiling broadly, their tips snug inside their tight fists. Daniel discreetly removes the gum from the sideboard, and perfumes the air with attar of roses. Afterwards, he takes up his position in the dining room, which is actually my favorite part of this particular suite. Soon food arrives on trolleys and waiters start gathering in the kitchen. Laura calls—His Highness and his entourage are in the lobby and on their way up. The butler starts walking towards the door.
I shoot my cuffs.
We build our temples for tomorrow,
strong as we know how,
And we stand on top of the mountain,
free within ourselves.
When I come back from the church, Blake is awake. He must have heard the car in the driveway. He is standing in the living room waiting for me. There are bluish shadows under his eyes, which make his eyes seem as if the entire sky has been boiled down and rendered in those two small points. He smiles faintly, like he does not quite know how to react to me, and my heart breaks for him. I remember reading George Orwell: You wear a mask and your face grows to fit it.
I go up to him and lay my cheek on his chest. He has had a shower and he smells clean and fresh. Like my idea of heaven. I feel him nuzzle my hair. It is like a prayer for which there are no words, and my love increases and ripens, the way fruit does in the autumn. He will never again have to pretend to be anything he is not. Or wear his mask with me. I think of Beauty dancing in the great ballroom with Beast. I am madly in love with Beast.
‘I woke up and found you gone,’ he said. His voice is different, softer.
‘Did you think I’d run away?’
‘You can never run away from me, Lana. I would journey into the underworld to find you. You are mine.’
‘I went to church.’
‘Yes, Brian said. I thought you didn’t believe in God.’
I look up at him. He is heartbreak in a shallow basket. ‘For short there is tall, for sad there is happy. For dark there must be light. I wanted to align myself with the God of goodness. I wanted to ask his help.’
‘Oh, Lana. You and all the believers of this world. You pray and you pray and all your billions of unanswered prayers are like wailing cries somewhere. Your God doesn’t exist.’ His voice is so sad.
‘How do you know?’
‘Because if he did the world wouldn’t be the way it is. And even if he does exist he is definitely not the lord of this world.’
I look up into his face. Already the weight of being the head of the Barrington dynasty is changing the shape of his face.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Look around you, Lana. The entire planet—land, air and sea—has been poisoned by sheer greed, your food is toxic, you are governed by sociopaths who wage war after war with impunity while promising peace, and humanity itself is poised on the brink of extinction. Who do you think is in charge? Your God of love and light, or mine?’
There is a tap on the door. Blake closes his eyes and sighs. ‘Maybe this conversation can wait till later,’ he says. He looks so tired, so burdened, I wish I could take him away from all this.
I nod and move out of the circle of his arms.
‘Come in,’ he calls. And I see the transformation in him—the way the mask of power slips back into place—and lament it. Vulnerability has no place in the world of gaudy wealth.
By the time Brian opens the door and comes in the mask is firmly in place. The man who had nuzzled my hair has dissolved.
‘Your brother is on the line.’
I notice the look of surprise on his face. He takes the phone and Brian leaves, closing the door behind him.
‘Quinn. Yes. No. You will come? Three thirty p.m. Of course, they’ll be there. But you have nothing to fear, I will be there.’ I feel the strength flow back into his voice. ‘While I am alive they can do nothing. Have you spoken to Marcus? You should call him. This has affected him greatly. He was very close to…Dad. When will you come? Good I’ll send someone to pick you up. Goodbye Quinn.’
He ends the call and looks at me. ‘If ever anything happens to me, the only one you must trust is Quinn.’
Fear like l have never known slams into me. And a pain takes root so deep inside myself that I find myself gasping the next breath. ‘Why do you say that? Are you in danger?’
‘I don’t think so, but it is always wise to be safe. I have made extensive plans to protect you and Sorab in the event anything does happen to me. You will be safe. You will have money and a new identity.’
I gaze at him in horror. At that moment he becomes my greatest enemy. Money? Is he mad? ‘Fuck you!’ I scream suddenly. ‘Extensive plans to protect me and Sorab? If you die on me I don’t want a f**king penny from you. It’s blood money.’
He strides towards me and crushes me tightly against his broad chest. I crumple inside his arms. ‘Nothing is going to happen to me. I just said that as a precaution. The way other people take out life insurance.’
‘You are my angel,’ I sob. ‘I cannot go on without you.’
‘I cannot lie to you, Lana. If I have to I will sacrifice myself for you, over and over. But you must be strong. You have Sorab.’
‘Has it become hot in here?’ I feel feverish, as if I could faint.
Immediately he tilts my face up to his. ‘You’re pale.’
‘No kidding,’ I say, but my voice seems to come from far away. My eyes burn.
‘I’m not trying to scare you, Lana. I’m trying to make you feel safe. I could die tomorrow in a car accident. I want you and Sorab to be safe and well. That’s all.’
‘Fuck you.’ I wish I could wrap my arms around him and tell him not to go anywhere.