‘I’m sorry,’ he says softly.

I know he is. It is that filthy bitch who has him all tied up with sex. I should have slept with him, I would have him now. My heart is full of bitter regret that I never slept with him.

‘It’s not your fault,’ I whisper. Tears begin to flow from my eyes.

He kneels beside me.

‘Do you know what I regret the most?’

‘No.’

‘I regret that we never made love, even once. Can we? Just once. For old times sake?’

My tears dry as suddenly as they began. I look up at him through damp lashes. He is staring at me without revealing any emotion, but my heart and my eyes are full of hot, hungry craving for him. My whole being is on fire for him. Right then all I want is to feel his burning lips on my lips, face, throat, br**sts, between my legs…until I am driven out of my mind. I snake my tongue out, run it along my lower lip.

‘Just this once.’ My voice is husky and thick, my eyes half-hooded.

He is still staring at me sans expression, so I bend my head so my hair parts and exposes the defenseless white curve that is the nape of my neck. For a moment Blake makes neither move nor response, until unexpectedly, in the downcast line of my vision, I see his leather shoes quietly turn away from me. And start to head towards the door. He is leaving. He is actually going.

The bastard!

For a precious few seconds I lie shocked, silent and paralyzed, the blood running cold in my veins. Even my brain refuses to think. It never, never occurred to me that he could simply walk away from me. What now?

Then I stand and call him.

He doesn’t stop.

My stomach lurches. ‘You can’t leave me.’

He stops and turns around to face me. His laughter rings hollow, rasping and devoid of humor. ‘You see something you want, you just reach out and take it, don’t you?’

‘You’re a fine one to talk,’ I retort. Shit I shouldn’t have said that. I stare at him in a panic. It has all gone so wrong.

‘You’re so f**king spoilt.’ His words do not match his eyes, though. They are weary, the eyes of a man who has had enough. He shakes his head and starts walking away from me. He is already at the door. His hand is reaching for the handle. And suddenly I know. I know exactly how to stop him in his tracks. And I know how to make it convincing, too. I take a rush of air into my lungs.

‘I know what it tastes like. I’ve taken part,’ I cry out. My voice is like a bell in the silent room.

His hand freezes. He turns slowly. ‘What?’

Fifteen

His expression is one of great shock. My father is not a lowly member to offer his daughter in such a way. There is a seed of distrust in his eyes, and yet there is compassion and softness. She has changed him. I have never seen this look in his eyes.

‘I was just a child. I never made a sound. I never saw their faces. They took turns. I can never forget,’ I whisper. I am a convincing actress.

He strides over to me and puts his arms around me. ‘I’m sorry, Victoria. So sorry. I didn’t know. He should have protected you.’

‘It doesn’t matter now. I just wanted you to know that I’ve suffered too.’

‘I didn’t plan it this way,’ he says softly. ‘It just happened. I fell in love with her.’

I look up at him with great, big eyes. ‘I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not even angry with you or her. But I am hurting. Real bad. It’s simple for you. “Let’s be friends,” you say, but it’s not so easy for me. I love you. I always have and I always will. It’s inside me, day and night eating at me relentlessly. My heart is bleeding, Blake. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I know you didn’t ask for my heart, but I gave it, anyway.’ I smile bitterly. ‘You’d be shocked if you knew how much I hurt. I feel as if I am going mad.’

He looks into my eyes, saddened, incredibly so. ‘Oh, Victoria.’

‘The heart was meant to be broken,’ I say, quoting Oscar Wilde. I know he will recognize and smile.

He half smiles. ‘I didn’t know it was like that for you. I don’t know what I thought. These arrangements,’ he opens his palms out helplessly, ‘they are not meant to be like this.’ He stops for a moment. ‘I didn’t think because I didn’t care for you, for me, or anyone else for that matter. I was a brute.’

‘Welcome to my world,’ I say.

I can see that he pities me.

‘I have to go,’ he mutters.

‘Look after my heart. You hold it in your hand.’

He kisses the top of my head and then he is gone, shutting the door quietly behind him.

‘I prayed for you,’ I whisper at the closed door.

How long I stood staring at the door, utterly devastated and uncomprehending, my dreams and hopes scattered around me, I don’t know. Perhaps I thought he might still return. Ring the bell and come in, tell me it has all been a dreadful mistake. I even waited past the obligatory one hundred and eighty seconds while my mind replayed the humiliation of my total rejection. I only really come to when I feel silky fur rubbing against my bare legs. I look down. Tia purrs gently.

I bend down and pick up her warm, soft body. I press her pliant silkiness against my chest and look into her beautiful face. She stares at me with her one blue and one copper eye, blinks and tries to snuggle up between my br**sts. Even the cat has found contentment in its life.

Without warning that intense hot bubble of poison that is always lying in wait in the very depths of my bowels shoots sickeningly into my head. It explodes in a shower of red-hot sparks right between my eyes. As if hit by lightning I react. I lose it. Go ape-shit crazy. With a wild cry of fury and with all the viciousness of a female cobra on a nest of unhatched eggs, I hurl the unsuspecting cat against the wall. She crashes into the wall in a screaming confusion of distended nails and flying fur. The animal rights itself, curses, spits and hisses at me before fleeing in a chocolate streak of confused terror and pain.

My curled nails bite deeply into my own flesh, but I feel no pain, only the need to destroy. I turn and look at myself in the mirrored wall. My face is flushed and blazing with color, my eyes are savage, my mouth is open and breathing hard as if I have been running, and my br**sts are heaving.

Something sick swirls in my stomach. My heart begins to race. I hear a rattling in my head and my mouth fills with the taste of metal. I feel the tremble begin in my fingers. It’s happening. At first slight, so slight it is like the shaking of an alcoholic in the morning before his first drink. But it becomes stronger, more insistent. I let it. It is a fine feeling. The way it sweeps into my body, takes over and becomes a roaring ball of pure energy.

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