Authors: Carol Marinelli
your daughter?' Lavinia asked Eddie as he held the limousine door open for her. Today she was the guest of a king, today she was the âplus one' of Zakahr, so there was no question of her driving. But his limousine was out of place at eight a.m. on Saturday in her ordinary suburban street.
âI'm a grandfather!' Eddie gave a proud smile, but it was a touch wan. âThey've called her Emilyâshe's tiny, but a real fighter.'
She would have to be. Lavinia knew that Emily had been born not only premature, but with a heart condition that would need surgery. âThis is for Emily.' Lavinia said, and handed him a package and then another smaller one. âAnd this is for Princess Jasmine, so it's to go on the plane. Can you tell them to be careful with it, as it's fragile?'
As is your heart, her inner voice warned as she climbed into the limousine. To her surprise, she saw that Zakahr was there.
âI thought we'd be coming to pick you up.'
âYou are my guest today and tonight,' Zakahr said. âAnd shall be treated as such.'
Even so, she took the seat opposite him. The implication, however subtle, was thereâshe was not his PA today but his guest, and she would be his loverâ¦a woefully inexperienced lover. Somehow she had to find the courage to tell him.
Wanted to tell him.
Lavinia turned her head away, tried to think of something light and witty to say, but nothing was forthcoming. She knew she was playing with fire, knew all about the heartbreak reputation she was ill-equipped to handle, but for the first time in her life there was a man who didn't evoke her usual cautionâthere were feelings, experiences that she wanted to explore, and she could only envisage doing it with him.
She could handle it, Lavinia had told herself when she'd accepted his offer, and, really, since then she'd been too busy to think.
Everything would be taken care of, Zakahr had assured her. She did not have to do anything other than choose her wardrobe. And, given she had the Kolovsky design team at her disposal, and because he was male, he assumed it was as easy as that. Yet, as a female, the moment she had said yes to his dizzying offer a frantic dash to the imaginary finishing line had ensued.
Yes, her wardrobe had been skilfully sorted by Katina, but there had been stockings, panties and new lipstick to buy, a trip to the hairdresser's, then a last minute bikini wax to ensure that
her hair was neatly taken care of. And then the extremely difficult task of buying a small gift for someone who literally had everything!
All Zakahr had had to do was roll out of bed.
He hadn't even shaved.
She flicked her eyes to him, and then back out of the window. Her heart was leaping, as was her stomach, at the daunting sight of him. She had only ever seen him in a suit, but Zakahr in smart-casual was just as giddyingâperhaps more so. He was, from her quick peek, wearing charcoal-grey linen trousers and a white fitted shirtâimpossibly elegant, dangerously relaxed, achieving effortlessly what Lavinia had spent the past hours striving for.
âWill it be very grand?' Lavinia asked, nervous not only at the prospect of Zakahr.
âThe King is supposed to be a marvellous host, so I'm sure it will be pleasurable. You got on well with Jasmine at dinner.'
The journey was awkwardâso much so that in the end Lavinia opened the partition and spoke with Eddie, asking more about his granddaughter and sympathising with him as to the stressful times that lay ahead.
Zakahr checked his e-mails, trying not to listen, trying not to hear that Eddie's son-in-law was taking time off work to be there for his wife and new daughter, and that Eddie was stepping in to help them out financially, so they could concentrate on Emily rather than worry about bills.
He did not want to hear it.
himself hear it.
He did this month in, month outâyear in, year out. It was no different from any of the other companies he
had closedâstill, it was a relief when they turned off for the airport, bypassing all car parks and queues.
For once it was Lavinia being driven straight on to the tarmac, but only as she climbed the steps to a small jet did a different set of nerves catch upâan unexpected set of nerves. For a second she stalled.
âOkay?' Zakahr checked as he walked up the stairs behind her, and Lavinia forced legs that felt like jelly to move forward, smiling to the waiting cabin crew and stepping inside.
It was divine, but it did not sootheânot the plush leather seats or the thick carpet. As she sat, even idle conversation wasn't happening, and she wished he'd flick open a newspaper so she could just close her eyes and go into herself as the plane started taxiing. But instead Zakahr was looking at her as Lavinia tightened the strap over her lap.
âAre you a nervous flyer?'
âIt would appear so.'
âIt's only an hour.'
It was going to be the longest hour of her life, and Lavinia blew out a long breath at the prospect.
âWhy didn't you say something before?' Zakahr frowned. âYou could have taken somethingâ'
âI didn't know,' Lavinia interrupted, and then turned to him. âI've never flown.'
âI've never been to Sydney either.' Lavinia was more than a little embarrassed by her admission, and to mask that her voice came out a little more snappish that she had intended. âSo don't expect me to play tour guide.'
Again she had surprised him. He'd been sure that she was used to being whisked away. But she was like a glorious butterfly, cooped up in Kolovsky and unable to fly.
âIt's very safe.'
first flight; there had been no nerves, just the feeling of excitement that he was finally on his way to make real his dreams. An elderly man sitting next to him had talked to him, so Zakahr did the same now. He told Lavinia about that first flight, when he had been a teenager, on his way to England, hardly speaking the language, hoping that an old friend from the orphanage he had contacted would be meeting him, his nerves that Immigration would turn him around.
He did something else too.
Zakahr held her hand as he spoke, and she could feel it hot and dry around her cold one, and instead of worrying about the noise and the speed she was listening, trying to imagine being so young and so brave.
A light breakfast was served, and still he spoke. Lavinia chose warmed blueberries smothered in cold yoghurt, the ripe fruit bursting on her tongue, and she finally got her champagne, with a small hibiscus flower placed inside the glass that slowly unfurled as the bubbles streamed over it. And it wasn't just the flower opening up under her genuine interest. So too did Zakahr.
âHow did you start?' Lavinia asked. âIf you had no formal qualifications?'
âI lied.' A slow smile spread over his face. âOnly at first. I didn't have to for long. I was clever, I had
confidenceâpeople respond to that.' He told her how he had waited on tables and cleaned houses for a year, studying not just the language but his options, working out what it would take to get on that first step of a golden ladder, then buying a second-hand suit. âNot any suit,' Zakahr said. âI found good second-hand shops. That suit was more expensive than a regular new suit, but with the right shoes, the right briefcase, the right haircut, the right addressâ¦'
âThe right address?'
âI made sure I cleaned at the right address. Every morning at ten the letters landed on the mat.'
Lavinia gaped at how he had reinvented himself.
âFor one year I saved for my interview outfit. I had three shirts, five ties, one suitâ¦ With my first pay packet I bought another second-hand suit; after one year I had my first suit tailor made. I had no need to lie about my qualifications then. I knew that once I was in they would not want to lose me.'
âWow!' Lavinia blinked. âI can see I've gone the boring way about it.'
âBoring?' Zakahr questioned, because here was a woman who never had bored him.
âI'm not brave enough to lie,' Lavinia said. âAnyway, I actually needed that bit of paper to get in to university.' She saw she wasn't making much sense. âWhen I finished school I went to TAFE part-time.'
âLike college,' Lavinia said. âI finished my schooling, but it took for everâfour years, part-time.'
âYou still study?'
âChemistry.' Lavinia nodded. âThough that's happening ever slowerâmore so if I get Rachael. At this rate, by the time I'm thirty I'll have my degree and be teaching.'
âYou're studying for a Chemistry degree?'
âPainfully slowly,' Lavinia admitted. âBut, yes.'
It was like watching a pleasing movie and then being handed 3D glasses. All the colours, all the nuances that were Lavinia, were amplified with every look, and he knew that there was more. Normally it would have troubled himâfor when it wasn't business Zakahr never wanted more detail, never wanted extra involvement. Only with Lavinia he did.
They were preparing for descent, the short journey over, their table cleared. Aware she would be nervous, he carried on talking and offered his hand. But she just laughed and didn't accept.
âI'm not nervous any more.' Lavinia grinned. âThe closer we get, the better I feel. I think I rather like flying after all.'
She just adapted, Zakahr realised, staring out of the window. Sydney was spread out in the most stunning riot of ocean and rocks, and it was impossible to see this view and not be moved. He could smell her hair as she leant over him, could feel her elbow in his chest as she drank in the view. And he didn't want her to pull back, would have loved to undo the belts and pull her onto his lap.
As Lavinia moved back to her seat, her cheek moved past Zakahr's face, and whether it was his will or want she hesitated, turned to him with eyes that were
crystal-clear. Contact would be both the solution and the problemâreleasing a volatile energy she wasn't sure she could deal with. But how she wanted toâ¦
It was Lavinia who kissed him, but there was nothing bold about itâno first moveâbecause the moves had long since been made.
She kissed lips that she wanted, that wanted her, she tasted champagne on his tongue and the only place in her mind was
There was an awakening within her that he had triggeredâone she had suppressed, one she had ignored, one that needed to come to its own natural conclusion. Like caesium reacting with water, her body fizzed and danced on the surface of his caress. He spoke her name into her mouth and his fingers bunched in her hair, and he kissed her deeper, with the delicious warning of intent, his mouth more possessive now, telling her without words that tonight would be explosive.
But first there was a truth that needed to be told. She had to untangle her lips from his, every cell protesting at the disengagement, but she knew that her provocation, the bold, sensual woman he'd kissed, was a product only of
, and tonight it would be too late to reveal.
âThis could be a weekend of firstsâ¦' Lavinia pulled her mouth away a smudge, and Zakahr smiled in triumph at her confirmation that tonight they would finally be lovers.
âZakahrâ¦' She didn't know how to just come out and say itâso, being Lavinia, she just came out and said it. âIt will be my first time.'
âYou haven't been on a yacht?'
âNo,' Lavinia said, and it was an impatient no. âWell, yesâI
been on a yachtâ¦' It would be far easier to go on kissing him than to say it. âThat's not what I meant.' She took a breath. âI haven't slept with anyone.'
âLaviniaâ¦' He actually smiled at the impossibility. âI think we both knowâ'
do you know, Zakahr?' Lavinia asked. âOr what do you assume?'
It was only then that he realised she was being seriousâexcept it made absolutely no sense.
âI know all the rumours. I know people assume I was sleeping with Aleksi, some think Levander too, but they're just thatârumours. People judge me because I can have a laugh, a flirt. Because of my past people just assume that I'm easy, cheapâ¦' She shot him a look. âYou did.'
âI did not,' Zakahr immediately corrected her, because even if his relationships were generally without substance there was no disrespect for the women who had been his lovers. Sex was a necessary reward, and Zakahr would have loved to give more of himself to each and every one of them, but there was no self to give. âI assumed from
actions,' Zakahr went on, âthat you wanted me as I wanted you. It was not your refusal that offended, but the mixed messages, Lavinia.' He could not get his head around it. âYou cannot go around leadingâ'
âI don't,' Lavinia said. âI've only ever been like that with you.'
Her words hung between them as they came in to
land. Lavinia leant back in her seat at the force of landing, though it was pale in comparison to the power of the man beside her.
There was no second offer of his hand, his distance immediate. He had thought her teasing at first, but now he knew he was hearing the truth, and it was too much for Zakahr.
âI am not looking for a relationship.' As the plane slowed down, he turned to her. His sentence was curt, but there was nothing lost in translationâhe wanted the coming weeks over, and he wanted no part of the family that still invited him in. He did not want his mother, or his siblingsâhe wanted distraction, not involvement. Lavinia was to have been a stunning reprieve in grim proceedings.
Zakahr wanted Lavinia, but he wanted the silver-eyeshadowed, smart-talking Laviniaâthe one who laughed and poked her tongue out at the world, who knew men, knew the rules that he could deal with. What he struggled with was the
Laviniaâthe Lavinia who seemed to be dragging him into a world that he had always refused to inhabit. Lavinia oozed feeling and emotion. Zakahr did his best to avoid both. Yet there was no one without the other with the woman beside him.