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Page 43 of Seduce Me (The Billionaire Banker 4)

‘I’ve been doing some research on them, and—’

‘Don’t.’

‘Don’t what?’

‘Stay away from them. They have existed from time immemorial. They will be here when you and I are gone. You cannot defeat them. When you gaze at something long enough you become it. Even what you fight, you become. Keep away from it. Stay pure. What they hate more than anything else is a pure heart. When you are pure they cannot touch you. And the longer that Blake gazes at you, the purer he, too, will become. You are not here to take them on. You are here to protect your son and every child that your charity can reach. Go and tell Blake he did nothing wrong.’

‘I will.’ Lana walks up to him and, standing on tiptoes, kisses him on his cheek. ‘Thank you, Vann.’

He says nothing, simply looks at her kindly.

She goes to leave and then turns back towards him. ‘Have you told Julie who you are?’

‘No.’

‘She may seem like an air-head sometimes, but you can trust her. I would.’

She walks to the door. When the door clicks shut I come out of my hiding place and stand in the entrance of the room.

‘Who are you?’ I ask, but I already know. Of course, I know. It should have been obvious to anyone with eyes. I should have known from the first day.

Invictus

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

—William Ernest Henley

Twenty-nine

I, Quinn Adam Barrington

‘You’re Blake’s brother, aren’t you?’ she accuses, her voice, a shocked whisper.

She is wearing scarlet. I love her in scarlet. I can hardly remember her from the days she used to dress in shades of pink. She has changed so much. Her hair is loose and she is wearing red lipstick. In the glow of the light from the lampshade her creamy skin glows with the luminescence of the polished ivory sword handle that had hung in my father’s study.

She is my beautiful love. My heart feels heavy. Why didn’t I tell her myself? Something has always held me back. I know why. I know exactly why.

I incline my head. ‘At your service.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

I shrug. To tell her would be to leave me defenseless.

She smiles suddenly, brightly, and advances into the room. ‘It doesn’t matter, I realized today that I love you,’ she says excitedly.

I freeze. I actually freeze. Now I know why I never told her. But I thaw surprisingly fast. There is no pain. Maybe later. Definitely later, I will think of those words and how much I wanted them to be true. Now I am like the man whose shoulder is inside the lion’s jaws. The pain is so great that shock cracks a whip, and a weird flat state of being takes over; it is notable only for its total absence of pain. I always knew she was shallow, but this shallow? Not even I could have expected that.

‘Why? Because I am not from a family of servants you have suddenly decided that you love me.’ My voice is bitter. I have never heard it so. So much about me she has brought forth.

She frowns then turns white. ‘You heard us.’

‘Yeah. I came to say goodbye, but after hearing how scornfully you dismissed me just because you thought I was the son of a servant, I walked away.’

She licks her lips. Her eyes turn desperate. I look at them emotionlessly, curiously. How far will she go?

‘It’s not what you think,’ she pleads. ‘I knew I loved you before I figured out that you are Blake’s brother.’

I raise a disbelieving eyebrow.

‘I came here to tell you.’ Her voice is rising, desperate.

I say nothing. I wanted her to love me for myself. Not for my family name. But I have been living in a fool’s paradise for the last few weeks. I so much wanted to believe that she is more, that she could be more. But what I feared most has happened.

‘You have to believe me.’

‘And what about Jack?’

‘I realized that I didn’t love him this afternoon and that is why I came here.’

‘What an amazing coincidence.’

‘I’m telling the truth, Vann… I mean…Quinn.’

Wow, she is a really good actress. ‘Don’t call me that.’

‘Why don’t you want to be known as a Barrington?’

‘I wanted to be recognized as an artist, purely for my talent, not because of my surname and heritage.’ I’ll never tell her the real reason why I don’t want to be associated with the name.

‘I love you.’

I laugh. ‘Well, I don’t. We had a good time and now it is over. I’m leaving at the end of the week.’

She takes a step back as if I have slapped her. Her eyes become huge. She is right though, they are not green. Flecks of gold and brown in them. They are only green when passion comes into her body.

‘You’re leaving?’ she gasps. Her mouth remains open. This is not acting. This she did not expect.

‘Yup. I’m done here.’

For a few more seconds she simply stares at me. I long to cross the space and hold her, but I don’t. I stare at her, my beautiful Sugar. Then she turns around and runs from me. She doesn’t slam the door, but closes it quietly with a click.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I stand there, my thoughts a mess. Some part of me tells me to go after her. Let things carry on as before. But another part of me knows that it can never be like it was before, and whatever we have will be a pale imitation of what I really want. It is for the best. I don’t want her to pretend to love me. I need to be free of the long shadow cast by Jack. A song is playing in my head. Mama, take this badge off me. I can’t use it anymore. I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door. Knock, knockin…

The phone rings.

I answer it and listen as Blake explains that he has ordered Croix, my dealer, to put a minimum price on the paintings: £150,000 on the smaller ones, £250,000 on the two larger pieces. These giddy prices… The arrogance is breathtaking.

Abyssus abssum invocat: one hell summons another.

Here it goes again—the meme that money is absolutely everything. I am reminded of Munch’s Scream. His terrible visions, profound insight and his shudder of despair at the human condition reduced to a price tag: 120 million dollars. The hollowness had chilled me then. And it chills me now.

In ordinary circumstances I would have gone mad, told my brother to f**k off, stay out of my business. But today it doesn’t matter. I don’t actually care one way or another.

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