‘I don’t want any man near you, let alone to touch you. God, I can’t even bear it when I see them looking at you. You’re mine.’
‘He wasn’t trying to bed me.’
He closes his eyes in exasperation. ‘You don’t understand men. Whenever one approaches you he has already thought of bedding you.’
‘So you think the receptionist is pretty.’
‘What?’ I gasp.
He laughs. ‘I was teasing you. There is no one else but you, Lana. You’ve got me so I can’t even think straight.’ His eyes move hungrily over my face. ‘I crave your mouth, your skin, your hair. Every morning I wake up ravenous for you, then I pace around during the day starving for you, and at night just after I’ve had you I start to crave your hot, sweet body all over again. Do you really believe any other woman could nourish me? The last thing on my mind is having sex with another woman.’
Inside I melt. ‘But you think she is pretty?’
‘Not really. Sorab is better looking.’
‘But you must have noticed her to mention it.’
He groans. ‘Oh for f**k’s sake, Lana, I just said the first thing that came into my mind.’
‘I just want you to know that I don’t appreciate being dragged through hotel lobbies like some recalcitrant child.’
He runs his knuckle tenderly down my cheek. ‘Then don’t flirt with strange men in silly hats.’
‘For the last time, I wasn’t flirting.’
In response he cups my bu**ocks.
‘I’ve really missed you today,’ I say a little breathlessly.
‘I bet you say that to all the boys,’ he says, as his mouth moves down to crush mine with such passion that my feet lift off the ground.
I am given a choice between the four-starred Le Bernadin with its formal dress code and its prestigious three Michelin stars or a red sauce joint in Greenwich Village called Carbone, where, Blake tells me, excess is de rigueur and the diner must abandon any hope of moderation. After staying inside the hotel all day, of course, I choose Carbone. They book thirty days out, but, of course, Laura, who seems forever on the job, swings us a table.
‘Doesn’t that girl ever sleep?’ I ask.
‘I never thought to ask,’ Blake says, shrugging into his jacket.
I look at him standing there in a charcoal suit and a black, turtle neck sweater and—gorgeousness overload—my stomach does a little flip-flop.
Carbone is packed, lively and loud. Designed to look like the stage set of an old-fashioned Mafia movie, it carries that instinct for entertainment throughout. From the floor pattern to their choice of music—songs my grandmother used to listen to: Sinatra, the rat pack—and strutting, jovial waiters dressed in shiny Liberace style maroon tuxedos. They show us to our table in the VIP section: a rear room made to look like the kind of place where powerful Godfathers might have met—red and black tiled floors, brick walls and no windows.
Deeply fragrant shellfish reduction stock wafts up from the next table as we sit. My eyes are drawn to four flushed men tucking into their food. On other tables the waiters seem to be character actors who have perfected the art of the flashy, bossy restaurant captain. I watch them, with cocky smarminess, lean in conspiratorially, improvise dialog, and kiss the tips of their fingers, as they make wildly exaggerated promises of excellence to sell their wares and smile approvingly when their recommendations are taken.
We are handed menus that are at least three feet long.
Blake orders the veal parm and I am ruthlessly cajoled into having the lobster fra diavolo (the best you’ll taste in your lifetime). A four hundred dollar bottle of Barollo is opened with flourish, the cork sniffed appreciatively, and offered to Blake to try. He arches his eyebrow at me. My glass is filled. We clink glasses.
‘To us,’ Blake says.
‘To us,’ I echo. The wine is big and rich and very strong.
‘What was your day like then?’ I ask.
‘Grim. I spent all day with people I’d rather not ever see, and then I come back to the hotel and catch you flirting with some hick in a cowboy hat.’
‘I wasn’t flirting.’
His eyebrows shoot up. ‘So, what did you do, besides flirting with strange men?’
‘I wasn’t flirting!’ I say forcefully.
He smiles. ‘I love it when you are fierce.’
‘Well, I don’t like it when you are. You are downright scary.’
‘Then don’t piss me off.’
I sigh. ‘I went downstairs because I couldn’t read. I was worried about you.’
A waiter comes with appropriate cutlery for us.
‘I wouldn’t like you to get bored while I am at work. Is there anything you’d like to do with your time?’
‘I want to set up a charity to help children,’ I say, quite timidly.
‘Really? What sort of charity?’
I lean forward eagerly. ‘I haven’t decided yet, but I do know that I want to make a huge difference.’ I take a sip of wine. ‘If you were me, what would you do? What is the most significant thing I can do for the children of the world?’
‘If it is the children of the poorest countries, then I’d give them the most precious commodity in the world—water,’ he suggests quietly.
‘Yes, clean fresh water from tap spigots. Currently two million children die every year from drinking unsafe water, but those figures are about to go through the roof.’
‘There is a global water crisis and water is being privatized.’
That surprises me. I know so little. I had much to learn before I could set up my charity. We are still deep in discussion about the mechanics of starting a trust fund when the food arrives. I lean back and finally understand what Billie meant when she said the food portions in American restaurants are the size of garden sheds.
Blake’s veal is shock-and-awe huge and served with a fried shaft of bone, ovals of browned buffalo mozzarella, and bright red, fresh tomato sauce. Mine is a two and a half pound lobster that has been de-shelled, cooked with Calabrian chilies and Cognac, and piled back into the shell. It is polished and glistening and reeking of garlic butter. Bread like Mama used to make arrives.
Blake and I tuck into the delicious food. It is the best lobster I have tasted.
For dessert we order zabaglione. It is prepared using the yolks from goose eggs in a round-bottomed copper pot over a flame at the table. Afterwards, I have homemade limoncello and Blake knocks back a fig grappa. By the time we leave the premises I am feeling decidedly tipsy.