‘No, it’s not that—’ he interjects.

But I am not done. ‘In your heart of hearts you think I’m not good enough, one of the unwashed masses. How stupid of me to ever think that we could be equal partners in a relationship. I’m just a doll to you, aren’t I? One day you’ll get bored of playing with me, and then you’ll just put me away and totally forget I even exist.’

Hot tears begin to gather in my eyes. I try to blink them away. I am not going to cry, but the more I try to stop the more sorry I feel for myself and the faster they spill out.

He does a surprising thing. It stops my blubbering instantly. He fists my hair and lures my head lower until it is inches away from his face, and then he lifts his head, and licks my tears. First one cheek, then the other.

My reaction is instant and unexpected: fresh desire sizzles through me.

‘Don’t… Don’t ever again say such things. They were true once, but not anymore. In fact, I don’t believe they were ever true. From that first night I saw you, I had a reaction to you that I have never had with anyone else. You took my breath away.

‘I tried to tell myself that it was because you were so extraordinarily beautiful, but I’ve been with so many beautiful women, some who have brazenly thrown themselves at my feet, others who have played hard to get, and then there were the truly shy ones, but never have I felt that irresistible need to brand them as mine.

‘To lock them away and never let another man near them, let alone touch them. When I met you the rest of the world stopped existing. There was only you and I in my world. I wanted nothing else.’

He presses his forehead against mine, his words curling softly around us. I feel him everywhere. I love him so much it feels as if I should scream it from the rooftops. And yet I worry—my life has taught me that every time I love something, even if it be an animal, my heart will eventually be wrung out and broken.

‘You must believe that I am telling you the truth. My heart was in a coffin, safe, dark, motionless…until I found you in a secret place, among the shadows of my soul. You saved me.’

He smiles softly and weaves his fingers through mine, his brows dipped low. I stare into his sad eyes. He has laid his heart at my feet. How would I have thought that he would turn out to be a gentle warrior? Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. My heart melts. I forgive him.

‘So why do you hide so much away from me, then?’

He sighs softly. ‘If you knew a room was full of needles, would you let Sorab crawl in it?’

I frown. ‘I’m not a baby.’

‘Let me make myself clearer. I am afraid for you. I am afraid you will be taken away from me. Even the thought of losing you makes me feel sick to my stomach. You are the only person I can ever imagine myself with now. If all else—the mansions, the mines, the cars, the business, the yachts, the planes—perished and you remained, I could still continue, but if everything else remained, but you were gone, I’d be a broken man.’

His eyes are suddenly wet. He has never cried before. It breaks my heart. He is my love, my heart, my everything. I will leave it for now. I must know, but I will find out on my own. Somehow I will find out.

‘Could you not sleep last night?’

‘No, there is too much to do. The phones never stop ringing. People from all over the world offering condolences.’ His lips twist bitterly. ‘If only they knew.’

‘When is the funeral?’

‘Day after tomorrow.’

‘Where?’

‘New York.’

‘When do we leave?’

‘You’re not coming.’ His voice is suddenly hard.

I step away from him. ‘Why not?’

‘Because you never take your beloved gerbil to a viper’s den.’

‘But I want to be with you.’

‘I’m only going for a day. I’ll be back the next day.’

I gaze up at him. ‘Blake, I want to be with you during that time.’

‘No.’

I cross my arms. ‘So you don’t want me at the funeral?’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘All right, I will come with you but I won’t go to the funeral.’

He shakes his head. ‘No. Then I’ll be worrying about you in New York.’

‘All right. I won’t leave the hotel.’

‘You’ll be bored.’

‘I’ll read and I’ll order room service.’

That takes the wind right out of his sails. ‘Why do you want to come so bad?’

‘Because I want to be with you during that time. I think it is important.’

‘All right. But you have to promise that you won’t leave the hotel without me.’

‘I promise.’

‘What about Sorab?’

‘If it is only for one night I’ll leave him with Billie.’

He frowns.

‘Blake, if you don’t take me with you I will fly there on my own.’

Suddenly he looks tired. ‘I can never resist you. Yeah, you can come.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Don’t make me regret it.’

‘By doing what?’

‘By leaving the hotel or making me worry about you.’ He looks at me warningly.

‘I won’t. When are we leaving?’

‘Tomorrow.’

Five

At first, I am amazed by the suite. Wow! This is what forty-five thousand dollars a night buys! So: top of the list are 360-degree views of Manhattan through bulletproof, floor-to-ceiling windows. I walk through the tall, spacious rooms alone, in a daze. The attention to detail is mind-boggling. The master bedroom is made from hundreds of thousands of painstakingly cut and ironed straws! Yes, very beautiful, but God!

Another room has calfskin leather walls. All the walls of the library are covered in French lacquer. The bathroom has an infinity bath and each sink is cut from one solid crystal piece. I lie on the horsehair mattress. Very, very comfortable. I open the lid of the grand piano and let my fingers trail tunelessly on the gleaming keys. I stand for ages on the balcony seven hundred feet high up looking down on the entire sprawling, throbbing city below my feet. I look at the book I have brought along and pass it by. And wonder what Blake is up to.

Eventually I get so lonely and bored I Skype Billie.

‘How’s Sorab?’

‘Asleep. The shot of vodka did the trick.’

‘I don’t know that that’s even funny, Bill.’

Billie laughs. ‘He has to start sometime.’

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