They do not have dinner.
He takes her to his apartment, in the loft he keeps under the roof of the hotel. It is white as a padded cell, with no sign of masculine disarray. ‘The advantage of maids,’ he tells her as he brings her to the bed.
If only maids could tidy her feelings.
She knows she should have withheld her favours to give them more value but the force of his passion is like a gale blowing a dancing leaf through empty halls. If he rifles her hair she might snap like a twig. She needs to keep her roots in the ground so as not to be blown over. Or let the wind take her where it will. She is in two minds.
There is texture in the dusk as it falls but the light has no hue. She is cold, even though the heat emanating from his body embraces her as warmly as arms.
‘This is not about sex,’ he tells her as they stand a fingertip apart. ‘In case you’re wondering.’
‘Do you think it could be?’ she asks. It would be so much easier.
He leans forward and kisses her on the mouth. He tastes of something that is not meant for mouths, musky and sweet, like perfume. Once she is over the shock of it, she kisses him back hard.
‘Slow down,’ he says, taking a step backwards. ‘It might all be over before we begin.’
She puts out a hand, but he keeps her at a distance.
‘Now let me see,’ he says to her, not quite smiling.
‘What you want, Violet.’
He studies her thoughtfully.
‘Are you inspecting me?’ she asks.
‘This is the only time I’m going to see all of you,’ he says. ‘After this, I won’t look at you the same way.’ ‘What will be different about me?’ ‘It’s what will be different about me. I will be in love with you.’
She pretends to herself she hasn’t heard. Because underneath it is an unspoken demand: love me. And she is not sure, not sure at all, that this is what she wants. In her liaisons with other men she has created a pragmatic Violet to keep herself safe. That Violet is not so easily dispatched.
Rahul comes to her now and his fingers pop the buttons on the front of her dress. She thinks she can hear his quickening pulse, but it is in fact hers, thudding in her ears. She helps him by pushing the dress off her shoulders, reaches to undo her bra.
‘Wait,’ he says. He unclips her bra adeptly. He sighs when she shakes it to the floor. She knows the effect her white skin has. She stands there while the soft pads of his fingers circle every mole. He turns her around and kisses the base of her spine. Then he pulls her against him and slides his hands under the elastic of her knickers.
She pushes his hand deeper in.
‘No,’ he says, extricating himself. ‘Too soon.’
‘Then let me touch you.’
He is not much taller than her and when she turns and steps close to him, their nipples graze. She runs her hands inside his T-shirt, over his thick arms and down his tapered waist. He is fit and hard-muscled, but the flesh that covers him is hairless, smooth and plump, like he has been spoiled by a mother’s cooking. His scent, too, is of nurseries, like sweet milk.
Her hands find the gold bracelet on his wrist. ‘Who gave you this?’ she asks.
‘Jealous already?’ he whispers.
‘You’re wondering if there’s another woman?’
‘Don’t worry. My mother holds the key.’
She laughs, thinking this is a joke. She snakes her hands inside the waistband of his shorts. He is, of course, already mahogany-hard. The shaft of his cock is rimmed by the thickness of circumcision.
He puts his hand over hers. ‘My mother is Hindi and my father is a Sephardic Jew. They argued over whether to circumcise me or not until I was six. I remember it clearly.’
‘It just makes me extremely sensitive.’ He moves her hand away. ‘Be careful.’
‘What shall I do?’
He places his hand between her thighs. His fingers find her opening and then withdraw again. She watches him turn and find a rattan chair. He brings it back and places it facing the bed. ‘Take off your underwear. Sit on the chair.’
She does what he asks.
‘Sit more on the edge of it. Now, open your legs.’
He sits on the bed opposite her, very near, but not touching.
‘Show me what you do to yourself.’
‘I want you to do it to me.’
‘Not yet. I want to see.’
She feels exposed in a way that is nothing to do with bare skin. She is used to being looked at nude but it’s not her physical nakedness that is on display. As her fingers move she closes her eyes not to see him seeing. The heat between her legs spreads up to her neck. The rash prickles her skin like ants running all over her.
After a while, he asks, ‘Do you always close your eyes?’
She opens them again. ‘Sometimes.’
‘And what do you see when you close them?’
She shuts them tight. ‘Me. Sitting here. From my perspective.’
‘If I try.’
‘I don’t want to be the person you see when you try. I want to be the person you see when you’re not trying.’
He places his hands on her thighs. She looks at him. There’s a fiery aura around him. It can’t be the cold dying sun.
‘Close your eyes again,’ he says. ‘Don’t think of any other men.’
Her eyelashes graze her cheek. Behind her lids the veins are red. She touches herself again. But his command has had the opposite effect. She tries to think of other men.
He takes her hand away from her pubic hair and then runs his thumbs along her inner thigh, gently separating her lips. He says to her, ‘Do you know what you look like? One of those lilies with petals like a hood, tightly wound… I think it’s time to open you up.
He places his hands on her waist and draws her to him. The chair falls backwards with a clunk on the floorboards, echoing a sensation at the pit of her stomach. He kisses her eyebrows, the tip of her nose, her collarbone, her chin, the corners of her lips. The strength of his arms around her and the radiant heat of his body make her feel as if she were something fragile and wilting, like a bruised gardenia too long in the sun. She doesn’t give into it. She pulls him harder against her. His cock nudges her legs apart so that the shaft slides against her swollen clitoris. She waits while he rolls on a condom. She can hardly bear the tension now and stretches on one toe, throwing the other leg around his thighs before reaching down to grasp the root of his cock and force the head into her. He obliges by thrusting deeply and then lifting her so she can wrap both arms and legs around him while he moves slowly inside her. He does not quite fill her up, but the ridge around his shaft makes an exquisite friction. When they become unbalanced, he deposits her on the bed without withdrawing and pushes a pillow under her buttocks.
When he comes it is with the roar of a lion. She tries to delicately roll away from under his weight but he clings to her like she’s a life raft in a perfect storm. She is content with his pleasure but unsatisfied herself. She thinks he doesn’t notice.
‘Do you think we’re finished?’ he whispers from what she thinks is a deep sleep. Her orgasm is excruciating when it comes, not pleasure or pain, but like an explosion inside her that twists her womb, a cluster bomb of torment and tenderness. She has fought it all the way. She doesn’t want to lose control of herself to this man who wants more than she can give.
He pulls her off the sheets so that her thighs are over his knees. His arms encircle her back. Into her neck he whispers urgently, ‘Look at me, Violet.’ It’s quite dark in the room now but his eyes smoulder like the black heads of matches. ‘Think about me.’