Authors: Primula Bond
For my boys.
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.
The pure and simple truth is rarely pure, and never simple.
I can resist anything but temptation.
Table of Contents
I pinch myself. Hard. I still can’t believe I’m finally here. I can’t believe Serena Folkes has travelled halfway across the world and tonight has her face pressed against a triple-glazed window high above New York.
The distance between the cold cliffs of Devon where my journey began two months ago and these fiery, multi-coloured showers of New Year exploding over Central Park is, literally, an ocean. And just before Christmas I flew over that ocean with a one-way ticket in my hand, my mentor and lover Gustav Levi at my side, and the promise of a new life, a new home, awaiting us both.
A rocket shoots up into the air, level with where I’m standing. An umbrella of sparks spatters Manhattan as the rocket’s discarded tail spirals away like a dead leaf into the boating lake. That papery shred could be the symbol of my unhappy childhood, adopted as a foundling by a neglectful, absent pair who every single day considered me a thorn in their flesh, never bringing themselves to touch me or love me, let alone call me their own.
Thanks to Gustav that past life finally nose-dived into the water two weeks ago. That’s when he took me up in the London Eye to toast the sell-out success of my debut photographic exhibition which he had helped to launch. Little did I know we were about to toast our future as well.
As the big wheel lifted us through the falling snow we glimpsed the gallery where he had showcased my work, and Gustav told me he was packing up the London house and moving to New York for a while, a year at least, to oversee his US businesses. For a moment there my heart did some plummeting of its own. A year might as well be forever. So much had happened between us in such a short time. The fighting, the making up, the silver bracelet he’d given me and the symbolic silver chain that bound us together. And then the sex, oh, the sex! That slow burn of passion had warmed us through the winter, but now I thought he was cutting loose. I thought he was telling me that our agreement, that I would be his until the last photograph in the exhibition was sold, was just that. An agreement.
But as the Eye spun slowly back to the ground Gustav Levi kissed me until our lips were swollen and told me just the opposite. He didn’t want anything to end. His feelings for me were every bit as strong as mine were for him, despite, or because of, the weeks it had taken for me to win his trust. And then he gave me that plane ticket and asked me to come to New York City.
So now I’m up here in his stunning penthouse apartment on New Year’s Eve watching these fireworks rain down on the city. Far below me festive cheers rise to hysteria and police sirens race each other up and down the streets whooping like arguing toddlers. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.
But there’s one thing missing.
‘Yes, ma’am, you have to be gold-plated to live up here.’
Gustav couldn’t hide his satisfaction. We had abandoned our suitcases and half-eaten pizzas and were wallowing in the huge oval Jacuzzi on our first night in the apartment. The sun was slow to set over the Hudson River and I was jet-lagged after the flight from London.
‘And this is a gilded palace, that’s for sure,’ I murmured sleepily as he lifted my naked body, glistening like a seal.
The bubbles buffeted my skin, making me tingle. ‘Who would have thought it? The urchin who ran away from the house by the sea, who even lived in a caravan for a while, now rescued by her handsome prince and installed in this beautiful tower.’
‘That’s why I call you my Rapunzel.’ His laugh was low, stirring in his chest as his fingers trailed over me. ‘And I might have to lock you in here to keep you safe.’
‘I can always escape using this!’ I flicked at his face with a twisted rope of my long hair. ‘Oh, Gustav. I’m going to treasure every single moment of our adventure.’
He laughed softly again. He balanced me on the surface of the water with his strong arms and made me study myself in the mirror alongside. Made me watch as he pushed an egg-shaped soap slowly over my breasts so that the nipples pierced the caps of foam like raspberry icebergs. He moved it over my stomach and let his hand rest on my navel, rising and falling with my breath.
‘If there was such a thing as a mermaid, this is how her top half would look.’
He pulled my legs apart, dangled my ankles over the sides of the tub, and stroked the egg of soap down, down into every nook and cranny.
I moaned sleepily and wriggled and slithered down his chest, my bottom bumping over the stiff jut between his legs. The physical desire sparking in response and unravelling inside me was arguing with the mental jumble in my head. After the last few tumultuous days my mind was like a snow shaker.
There was the pride and excitement of my first-ever exhibition selling out, then that trip in the London Eye when I had no idea what Gustav had planned for himself or for me. Then the euphoria when he asked me to fly away with him, the fantastic, blinding clarity that we were going to be together after all. Packing up the house in London, our faithful assistant Crystal helping to fold my new clothes, treating me to an expensive hair-do ‘to tame that bird’s nest’, instructing the stylist to put in some golden highlights but not letting him take too much off the auburn tresses that tumble nearly to my waist.
Then Gustav’s chauffeur Dickson speeding us to Heathrow airport, flying First Class, clinking champagne glasses as we hurtled through the skies before landing in an icy, glittering New York. The streets were bright with lights and decorations and shoppers as we motored up Broadway, hit the upper West Side. And arrived at our new home.
We had to stifle our giggles at the bowing doormen guarding the marble foyer of the condo. They looked like bouncers outside an East End gambling den. Their white gloves seemed too tight over their stubby boxers’ fingers as they pushed the button to summon the lift to take us skywards. Then finally we were alone and Gustav was unlocking the heavy double doors to our new penthouse.
But there was a separate bass note beating beneath all this that could not be ignored. That was actually getting louder.
Something else had happened that snowy night in London.
else. We came off the London Eye with a bump, returned to the gallery to count our blessings, and a face from the past had appeared out of the blue and nearly stopped everything in its tracks.
Despite the warm water of the Jacuzzi a shiver ran through me. Because we might have crossed the Atlantic but there were people demanding our attention, demanding answers, who were over here, too.
I rolled onto my front and stretched myself over Gustav’s firm body. It was time to talk.
Gustav’s quiet, dark face watched me, sharp cheeks and determined chin shadowed with the rarely fulfilled promise of beard that so turns me on. He was reading my mind. He knew what was unspooling inside my head. A hesitant smile nagged at his mouth, not quite flowering. His black hair was slicked back by the water, showing the sharp peak of his hairline and the perfect shape of his head.
‘You look more chilled than I’ve ever seen you,’ I murmured tenderly, smoothing my hand over his chest, keeping my eyes on his. Very calm, very quiet. ‘Is it being here? Getting away from everything? I know you said we weren’t going to be in New York forever. A year, maybe two. As long as it takes for me to make a name for myself, and for you to water your flowering empire. But it still feels like a new start, yes?’
‘I’m relaxed because I’m alone with you. The more time we spend together, the more right it feels.’ He played me over him, stomach to stomach, letting me slip between his fingers like an eel. ‘What makes it even more special is that this is the first real home I’ve owned here in the States and I’m going to be sharing it with you. But I’m still a gypsy. I might take off at any moment. You know that, don’t you?’
‘Yes, but you have to take me with you next time.’ I swayed in the water so that a warm wave lapped dangerously over the edge of the Jacuzzi and our limbs were tinged apricot from the sun’s sudden surrender. ‘I’ll go anywhere, any time, so long as I’m with you.’
He grasped my hips and pressed me down on him. His hardness against my softness. ‘So the world’s our oyster. We’re not shutting any doors. Only opening them.’ His mouth settled into a serious line, the lower lip pushed out slightly as he pondered. His fingers ran down my spine, over my bottom. ‘You’re so good for me, Serena. I can’t wait for our first Christmas together.’
‘Me neither.’ I paused. ‘But I keep thinking about that showdown back in London just before we came out here. Your brother Pierre appearing at the gallery with no warning, all guns blazing. The terrible things he said.’
‘The terrible things we both said.’ Gustav grabbed at my wrists. ‘Do you have to bring that up? Just when I was getting really, really horny?’
I resisted his grip with a couple of feeble tugs, his cue to pluck at the delicate bracelet glittering round my wrist. He locked on the silver chain that had been coiled neatly on the shelf amongst the bath oils, and looped it round the taps. I stretched my bound hands and, turning my head sideways on his chest, blew bubbles across his skin.
‘It won’t go away, Gustav. We have to talk about it. About him. It’s all part of this new start. Ever since we first met, your five-year estrangement from Pierre has plagued you. And yet suddenly there he was, just when you least expected him. I’m only human, Gustav. I can’t just make light of what happened any more than you can! I don’t ever want to have something bothering me that I can’t share with you. So. Don’t you want to talk about it?’
Gustav sighed, tugged my wet hair back from my face and wound it tight around his knuckles.
I let my head fall back and waited, looking up at him through half-closed lids.
‘How could I make light of that torrent of old grievances that poured out between us, all those painful reminders? I’m still processing it, I promise you. Pierre and I will talk more when he joins us for New Year.’ Gustav rubbed his knuckles, gloved in my hair, thoughtfully across his mouth. ‘But I’m glad he came to the gallery that day. Despite all that lip, I couldn’t have gone to my grave without seeing him again.’
‘You’re centuries away from any grave,’ I muttered, dipping my face into the warm water, briefly letting it filter into my nose, mouth, eyelids. ‘But it was more than just lip, Gustav. He was getting off trying to make you squirm. He was vibrating with resentment, like a giant wasps’ nest.’
Gustav shifted me a little to keep me half floating, half lying on top of him.
‘It all needed saying. Like lancing a boil.’ He kissed my hair away from my forehead. ‘I’d forgotten how bitter his ranting could be. I wonder if it’s only siblings who can twist the knife? We’ve both caused each other a lot of pain in the past, intentionally and unintentionally, and catching me off guard like that somehow cracked the ice. I know there’s a hell of a lot still to say. We both have so much explaining and forgiving to do. But when we’re through to clear water, Pierre and I can be brothers again.’
‘I wouldn’t know anything about brothers twisting knives. Or sisters for that matter. I don’t have anyone except my cousin Polly. But I never want to see anyone attacking you like that again.’ I pushed my face against him for another kiss as uneasiness still stirred inside me. ‘And if they do, I’ll defend you to the death!’