It never crosses my mind to move my head back or spit out the se**n. I swallow. It’s only protein. And I like protein. For a moment I am shocked at my own behavior. I am normally so fastidious and yet, after I have swallowed it all, I lick his steaming c**k as if it is a lollipop. I lick it until it is clean of every last drop of cum.

‘Your mouth is so warm and sweet, I wish I could fall asleep with my c**k in your mouth,’ he says.

Instantly, I take the semi-hard meat back into my mouth, but he pulls me upwards so his dick slips out with a slapping sound, and brings me up to his face.

‘My heart just skipped a beat,’ he says.

‘That’s funny, so did mine.’

We smile at each other. His lips touch my eyelids. It is tender and intimate. I sigh with pleasure. He tightens his hold on my arm and I tremble. A craving stirs in my veins. This man is mine. What the hell is that thought all about? It brings me up short. It is like a bucket of cold water in my face. Jack is mine. Not him.

He is just teaching me…things. I am going to recreate everything I am doing with him with Jack. And it will be so much better and greater because I love Jack. I pull away from him, disengage my body from his, and plonk myself on the pillow next to him.

‘If Yehonala was a virgin, who taught her?’ My voice sounds cool.

‘In Yehonala’s time sex was seen as an art and the climax of human emotions. To achieve the right sexual alchemy meant years of dedication, application and energy. Before she could enter the bedchamber and lie on the red silk sheets of the Emperor, she knew she had to become master of her craft.’

‘The craft of sex.’

‘Yes. There were women in Yehonala’s time who could take a pistachio nut and an egg yolk into their mouth, and spit out chewed nut and a whole yolk. Today stone eggs are used as a cheap sexual trick. In her time they were placed inside the body and used as a point of resistance against which the vaginal and pelvic floor muscles could be strengthened and trained in conjunction with a series of complicated exercises. An adept could massage a man’s penis in opposing directions. Yehonala would have been taught other closely guarded secrets that are only revealed to the Emperor’s concubines and she would have practiced on skillfully crafted, bronze prostheses of male organs.’

‘Where did you learn all this stuff?’

There is a pause. ‘Mostly in India and China. And some things in a monastery in Tibet. I’ve got some books I’ve asked a friend to send over. They’ll be here in the next couple of days. You can study them, if you want.’

‘Thanks.’

There is something else I want from him. ‘So: your family worked for Blake’s?’

Instantly I sense it, the imperceptible stiffening. The pitch of his voice shifts to non-committal and elusive. ‘Yes.’

‘And you all grew up together?’

‘Mmnnn.’

I turn on my side and face him. ‘What was life like?’

He sighs. ‘Why do you want to know?’

‘Why wouldn’t I want to know about a world peopled by royalty, tycoons, celebrities, high society parties and fancy lives?’

He looks at me with a despairing expression. ‘You watch the Kardashians, don’t you?’

‘Of course. The best show on TV ever. Now, tell me about the Barringtons and don’t leave anything important out,’ I demand.

‘It was a jewel-encrusted cage,’ he says abruptly.

‘Why do you say that?’

‘Because it was. Marcus, Blake and Quinn lived in magnificent palaces stuffed with the furniture of Louis XV, the paneling of Bourbon kings, priceless paintings, Gobelin tapestries, and ate from Sèvres porcelain set on golden server plates stamped with the family crest. More than thirty people worked in the house as butler, head housekeeper, chef, footmen, maids, nurses, chauffeurs and at least another sixty were employed on the farm, stable and gardens.

‘The children ate sitting straight-backed, eyes ahead and mostly silent with footmen in livery and spotlessly white gloves standing behind their chairs. The food was of the highest quality and prepared by a renowned French chef. Thousands was spent on fish alone, but their menu never varied. Mondays was fish, Tuesday was fowl, Wednesday was meat, Thursday was back to fish and so forth. Everything was controlled, from when they awakened to when they went to bed, what they ate, how they dressed, what they did. Every hour had to be accounted for. It was a very strict upbringing.

‘All the Fabergé eggs, all the gilt and the gold did not make life less stiflingly immaculate or incessantly boring. The simple fact was their childhood was one of physical luxury combined with personal neglect. It was designed to make one emotionally ill, but unable to express the trauma as nobody would understand. Blake once told me his only friends were his horses.’

I stare at him with surprise. ‘Why? Did they have no friends then?’

‘Very few, and even those they met only occasionally. Eventually they understood they were different from everybody else. It is very difficult to trust anyone when you know that almost every person that befriends you is motivated by self-enrichment.’

I immediately think of that day when Lana told Blake her father wanted money, and there had been not even the least trace of surprise in him. In fact, he had expected it. Still, I wanted to hear about their parties.

‘Did they not have fantastic lawn parties full of beautifully dressed people then?’

‘Of course. The Barringtons, like all the other families, tried to outdo each other in the lavishness of their parties. I remember gardeners used to carry cherry trees around the dining table so guests could pick the fruit themselves.’

This is more like it. ‘Who were the guests?’

‘It was a heady mix of the rich and the rarefied, artist and royalty, beauty and brains, Indian maharajas and smarmy politicians. They came to sample every imaginable pleasure. It was an amazing sight, people dressed in all their jewels and grandest most opulent dresses streaming up the stairs from the ballroom. But what I remember most is how dark and gloomy it always was, after all the glamorous people were gone and the chandeliers had been switched off. It was a suffocating existence. A place to escape.’

Twenty-one

Thursday, after I leave Vann’s flat, turns out to be the most boring day of my life. From the moment my alarm jerks me from sleep I go through the entire day like a zombie and I am almost joyfully thankful when my head hits the pillow—the day is over. When I wake up on Friday it is with sheer excitement. I have so much adrenalin rushing in my veins I run to work, rush through my chores, leave work early, bathe, dress, and am out of my flat like a bat out of hell.

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