The Chinese waiter has carried away the remnants of their meal, the coffee has been served, and a small wooden bowl containing steaming, lemon-scented towels has been placed between them. It is the perfect moment to learn what she desires of him, what she expects of their encounter.
The woman regards him coyly across the rim of her cup, her lips still sealed for the moment. Her expression – a concoction of lust and doubt and shame – is little different to that of any woman with whom he’s dined for the first time. She knows exactly why she has come here today, and yet there is something in his question that compels her to respond as though sex was the very last thing on either of their minds. With most of the women he meets, he finds it endearing: watching the familiar hesitance as the guilt crashes over them, knowing that their uncertainty will melt away completely the instant that he kisses them, cups their breasts in his steady hands, fits the firmness of his loins against the softness of theirs. It is simply part of the dance, a component of this debauched ritual that gives him life.
Yet today … today, her diffidence vexes him. He doesn’t know precisely why. He only knows that he feels the irritation of her tardy chasteness. He turns his head to the left as he lifts his coffee, staring through windows that look out onto Romilly Street and Frith Street. His ever-questing gaze settles upon a statuesque redhead making her way towards the bistro that occupies the corner plot opposite. He wonders if her mound is adorned with hair the same shade of fiery copper, and his mouth waters. In his experience, true Titians have a dramatic taste all of their own; it’s been too long since he last sampled it.
He feels the toe of his companion’s court shoe caressing the inside of his calf. It’s not the first time that she has made such a gesture this evening, but this time he feels her insistency through the smooth leather, feels the gesture beckoning to him, calling him back to her. Perhaps she has glimpsed the clouds darkening his expression, and now fears that her prize – the reason for all this subterfuge and guilt and deliciously decadent adrenalin – is slipping away from her before she’s even had the chance to taste the delicacies of true sin.
Her foot presses against his leg more urgently.
He ignores her silent pleading a few seconds longer, until he has seen the redhead disappear beneath the bistro’s bottle green awning. Only then does he turn back to his companion.
“I’m sorry?” he says politely. Courtesy costs nothing, his mother taught him when he was a small boy, and he tries to hold true to her maxim, even though she left him for the final time more than a decade ago.
She speaks more quietly, even though the noise of their fellow diners will cover a conversation held in regular tones. “You asked me to tell you what I want.”
He nods. ”And you all but blushed.”
“I know.” She glances down at the table. When she looks back at him, her eyes are brilliantly liquid, but her gaze is steady, holding his own unwaveringly. “I’m sorry.”
“You’ve nothing to apologise for,” he lies.
“I…” It’s clear she’s realised right away that speaking off the cuff won’t help her avoid the minefield into which she’s strayed. She sips some more coffee, organising her thoughts.
He scrutinises her face, relishing her discomfort. It lifts the worst of his annoyance. He realises that he’s brought the shadow with him to this assignation, the dark libertine that dwells deep within him. He wonders what it’ll mean for her.
He waits for her to break the increasingly heavy silence.
She raises her gaze to his once more and starts over.
“I told you when we spoke on the phone yesterday that I’d never done this before. That was a lie. Once, a long time ago … I cheated on my boyfriend. I was at university, and there was a lecturer who … who….”
Her voice trails off as she drifts away, falling back into the mists of memory.
She returns to him, regains her focus with a brief shudder. “He fascinated me. I don’t know why. Whenever he came into the lecture hall, whenever I saw him around on the campus, I couldn’t draw my eyes away from him. And he knew it. He knew. He would look right back at me, and it was as though he was peering into my mind, into my soul.”
She swallows the last of her coffee. “I could use some more wine.”
“Would you like another glass? A fresh bottle, perhaps?” He looks for their waiter.
“No, it’s fine, honestly.” She smiles at his considerateness. “Some memories are better faced with a little Dutch courage to hand, that’s all.”
She continues. “He … he made me feel conflicted. Conflicted that I should desire him so strongly when I loved my boyfriend, loved him deeply. Conflicted about the things I believed I should feel as a woman, that I wanted as a woman.” Her eyes – a startling grey-green – hold his intently, and he sees revulsion and naked, wanton desire reflected within. “He turned all of my expectations on their head, and I loved it and hated it all at once.”
She starts to reach for her coffee cup again before she remembers that it’s empty.
“At least have another coffee?” he asks.
She shakes her head. She looks about her and then leans closer, conspiratorially, her elbows resting on the table. She is wearing a white blouse, unbuttoned to the beginning of her cleavage, and as she leans forward, his gaze is automatically drawn to the deepening valley between her full breasts.
“I’ve never known excitement like it,” she says, her voice barely more than a whisper. “Before or since.” She stops abruptly. It’s as though she’s realised how close they are now, how much of herself she’s revealed to this man, still little more than a stranger.
She eases herself back in her seat.
“That’s what I want,” she says. “I want my expectations turned on their head.”
He considers her words for a few moments, and he smiles.
“Then we should get going.”
They walk to the hotel where he’s reserved a room. It’s less than half a mile from the restaurant, not worth bothering with a taxi. There was still some light in the sky when they arrived to dine, but now night has spread all of its cloak across the city. He cuts through the side streets to Charing Cross Road and then turns north. They use the subway at Oxford Street to cross the still busy road. Two dozen more paces and he turns into the side street where the hotel nestles almost unnoticed. Her look of doubt is obvious. It fades when she sees the expanse of gleaming glass in the building’s frontage, when she glimpses the marbled lobby beyond.
“I never even knew this was here,” she comments as he leads her up the stairs, past the reception desk and to where the lifts ascend to each of the hotel’s 12 floors. They share the lift with a Dutch couple, their his-and-hers backpacks resplendent with the trinkets of the day’s sightseeing.
The doors slide open on the seventh floor. He steps out and turns to wait for her. The Dutch couple remain inside. The lift doors close once more with a hiss, and for the first time since they began their journey, they are alone.
The muted hush of the corridor feels heavy with the portents of the evening.
She looks at him, the barest hint of a mischievous smile playing about her lips. She waits for him to step close to her and kiss her.
He smiles and turns away. Room 714 is twenty paces away, on the right. The pile of the carpeted floor is reassuringly deep beneath the leather soles of his John Lobb Oxfords as he strolls towards the door. After a second or two, he hears her cushioned footsteps begin to follow him.
He smiles again.
The door unlocks the first time he slips his key card into the slot. He pushes the door open for her. She takes a tentative couple of steps inside the room. The shadow’s voice tells him to drag her back outside and to tell her to forget it, forget everything. He pushes the darkness back into the depths of himself and follows her inside. The door locks with a reassuring thunk.
She glances around her new surroundings. “Not exactly a suite, is it?”
The room was all that the hotel could offer at short notice. Take it or leave it. “I didn’t think we’d need a ballroom.”
The words come out sharper than he’d intended. The shadow lingers still. She turns to regard his face with a look of distrust. He smiles to show her that his words were meant in jest, and the suspicion fades from her expression. The easy rapport they’d struck up online and then on the telephone threatens to evaporate. How quickly this could all turn to dust, escaping through their fingers, never to be recaptured.
But she wants her expectations turned on their head.
He walks over to her, cups her face in both of his hands, tilts her head fractionally and presses his lips softly against hers. Her mouth is warm, hesitant, willing, gentle, sensuous, timid, damp, passionate, greedy, melting. Their kiss melds, finds a waxing, waning rhythm unique to the two of them. Their kiss. It becomes a thing of its own, and they lose themselves in it, surrender themselves to it, enthralled by its tender allure.
He draws back. Her eyes are closed, lips parted, breathing fast and shallow. He can almost smell her anticipation. He slips the leather coat from her shoulders and lets it fall to the floor. The buttons on her blouse part effortlessly before his practiced fingers, and he peels the cotton wide. Her breasts are small, perfectly formed, cradled in virginal white lace. He brushes his thumbs across the darker circles that delineate her nipples – already beginning to tent her brassiere – and she gasps.
He turns her so that she faces the same direction as him, draws the blouse down her arms and tosses it aside. He unbuttons and unzips the back of her skirt, then kneels as he eases it over her hips and down her thighs. He plants light kisses across the smooth white cotton stretched taut across her buttocks. He inhales, a florid scent of fabric softener and blossoming desire. He breathes the fragrance in again, and then again, as he runs his hands – relived of her skirt by the tug of gravity – along the outsides of her stockinged thighs. Her shiver gives him pleasure.
He stands back up. She nods towards the window, the patches of brilliant light that pierce the black cloak. “The curtains are still open.”
“I know,” he says. He unfastens her bra, flicks the straps aside and grips her shoulders as his mouth comes down on the very point where her slender neck curves towards her shoulder. He bites lightly, feeling the vampire’s power as she writhes against him, forcing her arse back against his loins. How easy it would be to bite harder, deeper; to taste her lifeblood, to mark her as his – as one of his – for all time.
His hands slip over her breasts, his cupped palms easily covering them. She presses herself into his grasp, the hard peaks tantalising his flesh. He embraces them lightly, slipping his hands over her curves until her nipples lie between his forefingers and thumbs. He squeezes the taut flesh, rolls the peaks, pulls on them until she cries out and says, “Yes.”
The harder he squeezes, the more she writhes against him.
He pushes her towards the bed; she immediately puts her hands out to stop her fall. As she tries to retain her balance with a degree of grace, one knee resting against the mattress, one foot on the floor, he hooks his fingers into the waistband of her panties and yanks them down her legs. Threads crack under the force.
“Draw the curtains,” she says. “Please!”
“No.” He lifts her feet in turn so as to remove her lingerie.
“We might be seen!”
“Yes.” He kisses her arse as he did before, but now his kisses are greedy, rapacious, raining down on her naked flesh. He rests his hands over her cheeks and opens her as though she is succulent fruit, presses his lips to hers, breathes in the balminess of her musk, tastes her glistening sap.
She stops protesting. Instead, she gasps with every flicker, every stroke, every plunge of his tongue. She comes in a couple of minutes, and when he releases his hold on her, she falls face down across the bed.
He strips off, his eyes never straying from her panting body for a second. Once he’s naked, he reaches for the inside pocket of his jacket.
“Roll over,” he tells her.
She complies straight away; her eyes widen when she sees what he’s holding in his hand.
He pushes her thighs apart and kneels between them. He takes the chopsticks he’d surreptitiously liberated from the restaurant and lays them across her breasts, one just above her nipples, the other just below. He rolls a rubber band over one pair of ends, then a second over the other. Now her taut nipples are trapped, squeezed between the narrow rods of smooth bamboo.
She watches him work incredulously, saying nothing. With thumbs and forefingers, he rolls both rubber bands towards the centre, tightening the bamboo’s grip. She whimpers as the force grows, but she does not utter a word.
“You like that, don’t you?” he asks, but it is less of a question and more a statement of fact.
She swallows and nods.
He leans forward and licks her nipples in turn. They’re flushed bright pink, and the passing of his tongue leaves them glistening like diamonds.
“Roll over again,” he says as he gets to his feet. She does as commanded. The bamboo prison holds in place against her chest.
He runs his palms over her back and along her flanks, admiring the smoothness of her skin, the sweep of her curves. She shivers as he traces her spine with a single fingertip. He brings his glans to her slick heat, draws it slowly around her vulva, skirts it back and forth along her now-saturated cleft. Finally, he begins to thrust … but not inside her; instead, her holds himself so that with each thrust, the tip of his cock glances across her clitoris, coaxing another gasp of delight from between her lips. He keeps his strokes steady, controlled, prolonging the pleasure for them both.
It’s not just about prolonging pleasure. He’s building her anticipation towards a point of critical mass. He wants her body howling for his before he takes her. And when that exquisite moment comes, when she feels the thickness of his cock irrevocably entering the secrets of her cunt for the first time … he wants the sensations of her body to crash into the realisation that she has taken another man as her lover, has willingly given herself to a trespasser, a defiler of sacred vows. He craves that moment when the needs of her body and the promises of her soul collide inside her, and she realises that her lust has betrayed her. He wants the first thrust of his cock to make her come in an explosion of ecstasy and remorse.
But remaining outside her when she is so close, when it would be so easy – so fucking easy – to be inside her … it is a special kind of torture.
He fucks her clitoris until, finally, she cries out and reaches hurriedly beneath herself to grasp him; her manicured nails clutch at the underside of his shaft as she finds his hard flesh, as she guides it into the beginnings of her.
“Fuck me,” she gasps. She looks back over her shoulder, and her eyes are ablaze. “Fuck me hard. Do it now.”
He doesn’t make her wait, doesn’t enter her gradually. He thrusts forward, his eyes closed, head thrown back, as her oiled silk sheathes him, as the delicious sensations consume him.
“Oh fuck,” he half whispers, half cries. “Oh fuck.”
She presses her face down against the bed, rubbing her cheek against the softness of the counterpane as he begins to thrust within her. As his speed and vigour increases, her fingers clutch at the covers, the pillows, the sheets. Her nails rake across the cotton like razors. She bites down on one of the pillows to try and still the rising sound of her pleasure, and then fails as he reaches forward and grasps the ends of the bamboo shafts, squeezing her nipples even harder.
“Yes! Fuck, yes!” she shouts, loud enough for passersby in the corridor to hear, loud enough to have any neighbours there might be dialling for the reception desk to complain. He leans over her, so that his mouth brushes against her ear.
“See that building over there?” he breathes. “There’s a man inside, watching us. He’s filming us. I told him to.”
With each sentence, she squeals a little more, writhing beneath him, forcing herself back to meet his thrusts with ever increasing fervour.
“Really?” she gasps, her voice a mixture of horror and excitement.
“Really.” He nips at her earlobe, presses his lips to the side of her neck, and then brings his teeth together about her flesh once more. She shudders and tilts her head to bare more of herself to him. The tantalizing possibility of women in search of the pleasure of Gothic role-playing flickers across his mind.
Just before she comes, he presses the pad of his thumb against the alluring resistance of her anus. He barely invades her flesh, but it’s enough to make her cry out again, thrashing the pillow she’s been clutching onto the floor as her body quivers beneath his. She carries him with her, his cock throbbing wonderfully as he spills himself into her heat.
The Shadow is already fantasising about claiming her ass, his length embedded in her as his seed spurts uncontrollably into the forbidden darkness.
She falls forward onto her face again, rolling onto her side immediately to remove the chopsticks from her breasts. They rattle together briefly as she drops them onto the floor.
Her eyes sparkle as he stretches out next to her.
“Very inventive,” she says.
“One tries.” He reaches out and lightly brushes the crown of one nipple with his finger. “Are they sore now?”
“A little. I like it, though. I can feel them more, which makes me feel … I don’t know. Aware? Alive?” She smiles with sheepish uncertainty.
“You’re definitely that.” He rolls closer and kisses her lips tenderly, then shuffles himself so that he is also lying on his front.
She nods towards the unmasked window. “Is there really a man over there, filming us?”
“Do you want there to be?”
“No.” Then she smiles, a sly, wanton curving of her mouth. “Yes.”
He raises an eyebrow. “So: part of you will hope that I turn up next time with a DVD … and part of you will hope I arrive empty handed.”
“Assuming that you want there to be a next time.”
“Yes.” Her response comes fractionally too quickly; like a dog snapping at a treat that might be taken back at any moment. Her enthusiasm flatters and disconcerts him all at once.
His gaze leisurely traverses the length of her gleaming body; he concludes that he’s more flattered than disconcerted.
“So your expectations…?”
“Suitably upended,” she says. “For the time being, anyway.”
“And in the meantime….” He reaches out for her, drawing her nakedness back to his. “My friend over there probably still has film in his camera. It would be a shame not to use it all, don’t you think?”