Laying my head back against the black leather seats of the Jag and gazing ahead, I lifted a finger and touched my lips that were swollen from his kiss. The weariness of the past few weeks was beginning to take over, weighing on my eyelids as they began to droop. I should have been reassured by the man sitting next to me.
I shifted in my seat so I could watch him as he drove on. He was a force that even nature had no hold over. There was an urge to reach out and cling to his broad bicep, a need to feel the security of his physical strength, aching somewhere deep inside of me.
We didn’t speak as he pressed all his weight onto the accelerator, urging the car until it was over the speed limit. I half expected the shine of blue lights to fill the inside of the car, with sirens blaring around us. But they didn’t. Of course they didn’t. Even if a marked car was to pass, I doubted Vance Ellery would slow down, and I had even less that the police would attempt to pull him over. I suspected that the personal phone number of every single high-ranking officer in the country, was tucked away in a neat Rolodex on Vance’s desk or even stored in the memory bank of his mobile phone for easy access.
The silence should have been soothing. I should have been able to let my lashes flutter against my cheeks, and slip into a relaxing slumber. Instead the lack of conversation added to the tension that built behind my eyes. I closed them, hoping that soon I would drift off into a deep sleep, where I would be surrounded by falling flowers, rainbows, and sunlight. Ha! If only I was deserving of such luck. There were no pleasant dreams awaiting me after the sandman visited. Only nightmares wanted to be part of my night. They tormented me, bringing memories that I’d tried to bury and forget. They hounded the darkness, giving me nothing but misery and pain and suffering. It was as though all my sins from a previous life had been rolled over into this one.
If the visions of his face, the sound of his voice had been the only elements of my slumber, then I might have been willing to slip away and let the desperation of rest take me to the shadowed places I dreaded. My soul was destined for torture though. I was to be punished for his crime.
The mere suggestion of sleep forced my blood to pulsate until it was the only thing I could hear, throbbing in my temples. The searing pain of anxiety and panic stabbed at my chest, pins pricking my skin, as I let my eyelids fall. A shudder fell down my spine, waking me from the light doze I’d stumbled into.
Breathe in, breathe out. In with the good, out with the bad. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Breathe in, breathe out. A mantra, taught to me by a yoga instructor years before hell had entered my life, repeated over and over in my mind. I inhaled the cool air through my nasal passages, allowing it to slip down into my painfilled lungs, exhaling all the bad out of my mouth in a gigantic whoosh.
Ahead, the roads were empty, weaving out of the village and headed towards Richart Courts, the hotel that was to be my sanctuary for the next couple of days before I had to face the next challenge. New York City.
How anyone could expect me to go back there was beyond belief. The only logical explanation for their plans for my future was that facing New York was the lesser of the two evils that haunted me, threatening to rip away the seams that had begun to fray around my already tattered edges.
I reached above my head, flipping the visor down and peering at my reflection in
the tiny mirror. My God, I looked a mess. I’d always strived for perfection. I worked and played in a male-dominated world, living with two fully-grown boys, spending my free time being rugby tackled or defending myself against a martial arts master, and until recently, acting as a secretary-cum-personal-assistant-cum-receptionist at a local car body shop. My appearance had been an escape, showing off my femininity and sexuality. I wore my brunette mane long, although it spent most of its time restricted by a piece of elastic. I made sure that my wardrobe was bursting with dresses, fitted jeans, and heels of a ridiculous height. My makeup was always immaculate.
Not now though. I stared at the ghost in the mirror. Ashen skin in desperate need of a deep cleansing facial, lank hair that could have been anywhere between dark blonde and light brown, but the grease on it made it difficult to tell, and puffy, naked eyes, ringed by a distinct lack of rest.
I made a mental note to book myself into the spa once we arrived at the hotel. I was long overdue for some pampering. A Swedish massage wouldn’t go amiss either. The idea of a good-looking man, pressing down into the aching sinew of my shoulders and neck brought a small smile to my lips. Perhaps I would take a long-needed trip to the hairdressers as well, maybe even treat myself to a makeover…
Flipping the visor back into place, I glanced towards the man driving and wondered if he’d oblige on the massage request. It was doubtful. Vance Ellery paid for masseuses, he didn’t act as one. Not unless it was leading somewhere that would pleasure him as well. I clucked my tongue against the roof my mouth and shifted back into my seat, keeping my eyes on him.
A smirk flickered across his lips as though he could read my sordid thoughts.
Chewing on my bottom lip, I stared straight-ahead as Richart Courts came into view. Illustrious and grand were the only words I could think of to describe the hotel, with its rolling grounds that spread over at least a hundred acres, if not more. I knew that behind the building was a state-of-the-art eighteen-hole golf course Vance played on when conducting business with local councillors and MPs.
Inside was as palatial, with gold-leaf filigree, marble flooring, and impressive Colonial columns supporting an expansive ceiling. And that was just the hotel lobby.
The rooms were even more decadent.
The Jag rolled to a stop at the bottom of the steps. Vance stepped out, and I waited as one of the young boys, dressed in a fine combination of cream trouser, wine-red coat with gold buttons, and gleaming white gloves, standing by the front of the hotel skipped down the stairs and opened my door for me. Words were exchanged along with keys, but no tip was given. Why would he hand a few notes over to the lad when he already paid his wages? It still hadn’t sunk in that my lover not only owned Richart Courts, but hotels around the world, including in New York, as well as several other affluent businesses.
We walked past the front desk without saying a word. There was no need to inform reception of our arrival, sign ledgers, or accept key-cards when the entire top floor was ready for him at all times. I followed in his shadow, side-stepping into the lift, and watched as he pressed the button marked ‘Private’. I’d never noticed that before…
I glanced up at him. Dark indigo eyes stared straight ahead. The muscles in his cheeks twitched. I could watch him all day, with those hooded eyes, always looking beyond my skin, and that straight nose leading to lips that urged me to kiss them.
I opened my mouth to say something to break the silence, but nothing came to mind. What would I say? Sorry? He wouldn’t want to hear it. Thank you? Again, a pointless remark that would garner me nothing but an astute glare and perhaps a kiss to shut me up. The thought of a kiss was almost tempting. I could… No. I was powerless beneath him, even when we didn’t touch. He was a formidable man, one that most feared to anger. Yet somehow, it was the one thing I was good at, infuriating him.
Shifting my stance, I felt the cold glass behind me press into my back and shoulders. It was almost as soothing as a hot bath would have been at that moment.
I opened my mouth and let out a sigh of relief. He looked down and smirked. Goddamn his smirkiness. It was a trait I’d noticed ran in his family, finding its way to his son’s lips as readily as it did his. A snarl rumbled in the base of my throat as I thought about him and his son.
That was it. My mind sprang towards Matthew Jackson, the other man in my life. I hated myself for the way I’d left things with him. But it was for the best, or so I kept trying to convince myself. The best for whom? Certainly not me. He’d confessed his undying love to me. Well… Perhaps not undying… But he had said that four letter word most women long to hear. It only hurt that it had come from the wrong person.
Still, looking up at the man beside me, I knew that he loved me. He didn’t have to say it. He showed it on a regular basis. The way he held me, the way he would do anything to protect me… I didn’t need to hear it slip from between his lips.
The bell of the lift dinged, the sound reverberating off the reflective walls, indicating our arrival. We stepped out and headed towards the door that separated the hallway from our privacy. I took a deep breath before stepping over that threshold, preparing myself for the future I was about to bring upon myself.
I had to face up to my past. But I was unsure. Was I ready for the fight that lay before me? Only time would tell. Time, and Vance Ellery.