Authors: Carol Marinelli
Lavinia ached for more contact. She could feel the throb between her legs. But she just held his gaze. She would not stop him, because so badly she wanted him, but he would do nothing more till she begged it of him.
When he held her she forgot not to trust him.
Zakahr liked sex.
Not the build-up to it, nor the come-down after itâthough no lover of Zakahr's could tell. He was detached, he performed, he got what he needed, she got what she wanted.
But here, in this stand-off, he was loving the build-up, was here, right here in the moment, aroused by her pleasure.
He stroked on till her neck arched backwards. He stroked on till her lips clamped hard on her plea. He stroked on till it was Zakahr who ached for more contact.
He pushed up her cami, saw her pretty naked breast, and lowered his head.
Lavinia could not believe the bliss of it, the thrill of it. There was nowhere to go but backwards. She leant on the fabric behind, his mouth her only contact, and she watched.
She watched his tongue flick her nipple, watched him softly blow, closed her eyes as he suckled, and then watched again as he drew his lips back on the length of her nipple.
He was so hard. There was no choice for Zakahr but to cease contactâand for Lavinia there was both regret and relief when he did.
âI have to go.'
âActually, I do.' Lavinia pulled down her top. She could see a damp circle form as the fabric met her breast, and pulled her jacket over to cover it. âI'm meeting Rachaelâ¦' This was madness, she knewâjust madness. âI'm supposed to be proving to Ms Hewitt what a responsible woman I am.' Her voice choked at the irony of it all.
âI could come with you,' Zakahr said. âPerhaps if she thought you were in a steady relationshipâ¦'
âSteady!' She shot out an incredulous laugh. âYou've got
written all over you.'
He didn't even try to deny it.
It was madness, Lavinia told herself again. Dangerous too. âI have to go.'
She practically ranâwhich was just as well, because Zakahr too craved distance.
What the hell was wrong with him? That he'd even suggested going with her wasâ¦ He was cross with himself as he strode back towards the lift. Cross that now another afternoon would be wasted, pondering the mystery of her, another night of ruing her games. He wanted her in his bed, not his head.
âThis just came.'
The receptionist rushed over, and Zakahr took the thick gold envelope, recognising its royal seal. But his mind was still on Lavinia as he scanned the invitation.
She was way too distracting, Zakahr decided.
Then he read the invitation again, and decided maybe some distraction was meritedâjust not at work.
An idea was forming, and his lips stretched in an unseen smile as a plan took shape. Back in the office, Zakahr picked up the phoneâand then glanced at his watch, realising it was too early to make a call to the UK. But with his decision made he fired off an e-mail to Abigailâhe had already put her on standby: it would come as little surprise that he wanted her to join him immediately.
Then he made another call, delivered a rapid RSVP to the lavish invitation while flicking through the photos of Rula and admiring the private secretary's discretion as he went through the finer details.
Actually, it would be great having Abigail here, Zakahr decided, as Lavinia's phone rang out again and again, till finally it diverted to his. Abigail didn't take endless breaks, and if she was away she ensured that at least his calls were covered.
He clicked on his pen as someone in Legal asked if he had signed the contracts. He was about to say yes, to tell them they could send someone to come and get them, then he looked again at the photos on his desk. He thought of an already too-thin Lavinia, who had been considered too big for Kolovsky, and then Zakahr thought again.
âI'm not signing them.'
There was a beat of silence, followed by a shout of incredulous laughter, then a suggestion that he was joking.
Zakahr assured the voice on the phone that he wasn't.
of itâwould be made so much easier if only Lavinia was sure Rachael wanted her.
Lavinia picked her up from her foster familyâsaw her pinched little mistrusting face peeking out from behind her foster mother's leg.
âShe's tired,' Rowena said, after introducing herself, and then told her a little of Rachael's day. âShe's had a big morning at kindergarten.'
âI won't keep her out long.' Lavinia forced a smile she couldn't feel as she offered her hand, but her sister didn't take it.
Rachael trailed Lavinia to her car and quietly let herself be strapped in. âI thought we could go for a milkshake,' Lavinia said brightly.
âI hate milk.'
âSince when?' Lavinia grinned, but Rachael didn't answer.
âMaybe we could go to a park?'
Which was far easier said than done. Lavinia had no idea of the local area, and they ended up on a rather sad strip of faded grass, with a slide, a rickety old see-saw and two swingsânot even a duck in sight.
âIs Rowena nice?' Lavinia attempted, when Rachael climbed down from her dutiful swing, but Rachael just shrugged. âI
trying to get things sorted for you,' Lavinia started, but there were so many things Ms Hewitt had said not to discuss with her.
âHow?' Rachael asked.
âI just am.' Lavinia had to settle for that. âLet's go on the see-saw.'
âBefore you take me back?'
They didn't even last the hour. Lavinia tried to console herself it was because Rachael was tired, but the reality was that their time together was hard work.
âI'll try and see you again next week,' Lavinia said, not wanting to make promises Ms Hewitt might not let her keep. Securing her into her seat, she went to give Rachael a kiss, but she pulled her head away.
She dropped her back to the foster home, gave her a hug that wasn't returned, and, driving back to work Lavinia, who never cried, was precariously close to it. She'd had so much pinned on that hour, and there were so many things she had wanted to say. Nothing had transpired. If anything, Rachael was more distant than before.
She dashed to the loo in the foyer, blew her noise, touched up her make-upâthough she needn't have bothered.
No one even noticed Lavinia enter the office, so furious was the argument taking place. The room seemed filled with people from Legal, Accounts and, loudest of all, Katina.
Katina's lips were white with rage. âYou cannot do this! It's too late. You
âI'm not doing anything,' came Zakahr's clipped response. And, just as Lavinia had surmised on the first day, he didn't shout, didn't raise his voiceâsuch was his authority he simply didn't need to. Zakahr overrode everyone. âYou
to sign!' Katina insisted. âYou have toâ'
to do anything,' Zakahr interrupted, and Lavinia froze in realisation. The shots of Rula were scattered over his desk, but Zakahr was ignoring them. As chaos reigned around him he was typing away at his laptop as if there was nothing more annoying than a fly in the room.
âYou're trying to ruin the House of Kolovsky,' Katina spat. âYou tried before, with your cheap suggestions to Nina, and nowâ¦' Katina was so furious she tripped over her words. âNow with this decision you will ruin it.'
âWhy?' Now Zakahr
look up. âBecause I refuse to endorse a few images?
â' his manicured hand swept the photos on the table ââis not the vision I have for Kolovsky. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do. I suggest you have the same.'
One of the hardest women Lavinia knew actually cried as she left the room.
âThat's months of work you've just destroyed,' Lavinia said when they were alone; her heart was thumping in her chest yet Zakahr seemed unmoved. He stood and stared out of the window, down to the city streets below.
Maybe, Lavinia reasoned, he just didn't comprehend what he had just doneâor maybe, and she paled at the very thought, maybe Katina was rightâ¦ â
you here to destroy Kolovsky?'
âYou're being ridiculous.'
âAm I?' Lavinia asked. âYou tried to destroy it before.' She watched as his shoulders stiffened. âWhen Nina didn't know you were her son you bombarded her with ridiculous suggestionsâyou were going to put a Kolovsky
range in supermarketsâ¦'
âA one-off!' Zakahr did not turn. âWith a portion of profit going to my charity. Why would I want to destroy what I own?'
âBecause you hate her?'
was a word that sounded wrong coming from Lavinia; there was no venom behind it, just a bewildered question.
âWhat is it with the overreaction?' He turned, irritated now. âThis has nothing to do with my family or destroying Kolovsky. Why the melodrama? I've said that Rula can come back for a re-shoot when she is a healthier weight, or they can find another model. I refuse to put my signature on a page that encourages a seventeen-year-old girl to starve.'
âYou can't change the industry.'
âReally?' Zakahr frowned. âI thought I just did.'
Her questions had been too close for comfort; Zakahr dismissed her with a turn of his head and stared unseeing out of the thick windows, only resting his forehead on the cool glass when he heard the door close behind Lavinia. To keep up the faÃ§ade it would have made more
sense just to sign. A week or so from now it would be over anywayâthere would be no Face of Kolovskyâyet he could not put his name to this madness, could not condone what his parents had.
He turned as the door opened and Lavinia entered.
âI've thought about it, and you're right.' Her words surprised him. Her opinion should not matter, and neither did he need her approval, yet even if not sought there was a curious pleasure in having it. âI was wrong,' Lavinia added. âYou can make a difference.'
âHow was lunch?' Zakahr asked, changing the subject, because guilt was a visitor he did not welcome. She trusted him, Zakahr realized. Trusted in his decisions, trusted that his intentions were for the greater good. For the first time he had trouble meeting her eyes.
âSpent bouncing up and down on a see-saw.' Lavinia smiled, but it changed midway. Somehow she just couldn't feign happy right now. âIt was hard work,' Lavinia admitted. âMaybe I'm kidding myselfâmaybe she doesn't even want to live with meâ¦'
âDon't doubt yourself.'
âIt's hard not to,' Lavinia choked. âShe doesn't want to spend time with me.'
He did not want to get involved with this part of herâhe wanted only Lavinia the woman. Yet she came with a whole lot more, and Zakahr knew his insight could help. Surely he could share that without getting involved?
âShe resents you,' Zakahr said.
âYou come in dressed in your gorgeous clothes,
smelling of perfume, like some fairytale princess come to rescue her, and then you send her back.'
âI have no choice.'
âI'm just telling you how she feels,' Zakahr said. âShe would probably prefer that you do not come.'
God, he could be brutal.
âHow can you
Because he knew it. Because he'd lived it. Zakahr gave a rare piece of himself.
âWhen I was in Detsky Dom a family looked to adopt me. I was a good-looking child, cleverâ¦' Zakahr's voice was analytical. âFor two weekends they came and took me out. I stayed in their hotelâthey wanted me to enjoy, to be grateful, to laughâ¦' His eyes were actually darker, if that was possible, almost black with the memory of many years ago.
âSo I shouldn't visit?' She hated what he was saying, but she hated the ramifications moreâcouldn't stand the thought of not visiting Rachael. Again she had read him wrong.
miss a visit,' Zakahr said. âNo matter how rude, how appalling her behaviour, how ungrateful she is,
you are there. She's testing you,' he said. âShe's waiting for you to prove that she's right.'
âRight about what?'
âThat you don't really love herâthat one day you will turn your back. Rachael is testing you. To her, she's just expediting the inevitable process.'
âI'm not going to change my mind.'
âGoodâbecause while you were out Ms Hewitt rang,' Zakahr said, and watched her eyes widen. âShe only got
as far as speaking with Reception, but she is ringing back next week for a reference check. That must mean they are seriously considering you.'
And suddenly ruined photoshoots and skinny models and tricky access visits, even the stunning man before her, all faded as a long-held dream perhaps began to be realised.
âI could be getting herâ¦' Lavinia was actually shaking. âThey're actually taking my application seriously.' Her hand moved to her mouth as the news sank in. âI could have her next week.'
âDon't go racing aheadâ¦'
âI could, though.'
âThen you should enjoy this weekend,' Zakahr said. âYou more than impressed the King. He doesn't want to reciprocate with dinnerâhe has a yacht chartered in Sydney, his family are enjoying their visit, and he has asked us to join him on the yacht on Saturday, stay overnight as his guests.'
That brought Lavinia back to earthâa shaky earth, a changing earth, an earth that moved beneath her feet, that blew her towards Zakahr whenever he reached for her.
âWe can't.' Lavinia shook her head.
âIt would surely be rude to refuse such an offer?'
âYou can easily refuse.' Lavinia's mind flailed at the prospect. She wanted to say yes, but was scared to. âYou don't have to say yes. The King would understandâ¦'
âMaybe I want to say yes.'
She heard her own swallow as Zakahr paused.
âPerhaps you want to too?'
She had to tell himâhad to somehow find the words to explain that the woman he saw, the sensual woman he had held, only came to life by his hand.
âIt is separate rooms?'
âOf course.' Zakahr sounded affronted. âThe King would not be so crass.'
Finally she could breatheâbut only for a second.
âI will ring his aide.'
âI haven't said yes.'
âThen say no.'
She was trapped. Not by his directness, but by her own desire. Trapped because even if he was dangerous, even if she should say no, even if she knew he would soon break her heart, for the first time in her life Lavinia wanted to say yesâwanted to give in to the call of desire.
âDon't assumeâ¦' Lavinia attempted.
âI never assume,' Zakahr said.
Which he didn't.