Mark stood less than two feet away from me.
The heat from my face would have warmed a small hospital wing for a week. I quickly flicked the little silver card from the leather wrap. Lucy James.
He was Mark James. My mind raced back, recalling the smile on his face whilst reading the card.
“Mark this is Tara Flemming. Hopefully we will be representing her book if we get today right.”
His eyes sparkled with humor. He actually found this funny.
“Hello, Tara Flemming, nice to meet you.”
“You knew? All along on the train? You knew?” I didn’t care if he wanted our previous encounter to be a secret, I was freaking out.
“Yes I knew. Are you mad with me?” He folded his arms in front of his chest, mocking me again.
“Have I missed something? Do you two know each other” Lucy James, the lady I’d prepared myself to impress, looked from Mark to me.
“We met on the train, and I did tell her she would see me again.” Mark was talking to his sister but his eyes were completely focused on me.
“Well Tara this must be your lucky day. You have the owner of Taylor James Literary Agency and his top agent at your disposal.”
I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like being sick.
“Did you just call yourself my top agent?” Mark now looked at his sister as only a sibling could. Mocking her with his tone.
“Yes I did and you know I am.” She slapped his arm and turned her attention back to me.
“Tara I had Janie bring some paper work and contracts with her for you to take your time looking over, she’s available to you all afternnon to offer any help.”
Janie didn’t looke too pleased about that at all.
“Maybe we could meet at my office tomorrow and go over any questions you have or changes you’d like to make. Does that sound okay with you?” Lucy flashed a perfect white smile but my attention was drawn to the other ladies at the table.
I looked towards the seated dragons. Smoke definitely seeping from them, there eyes filled with jealousy. Mark was obviously a prize they considered for themselves.
I took a deep breath, still taking in Marks presence.
“Yes that sounds fine. Hang on, does that mean you want to take on my book?”
“Yes we do. But I understand that it will be a big decision for you.”
Decision? What decision? There was no way I was passing this up.
The smile bolted from my lips before I had a chance to contain it.
“Thank you. You have no idea how this feels.” My hand shook frantically as I closed it over Lucy’s.
Mark was leaning back on his chair, a smile just as broad as mine stretching across his face.
“Good, now the business is over let’s order lunch.” Mark called the waiter over and ordered champagne in celebration. I couldn’t help but stare at him. I knew men like him existed, but only in novels written in another time. His manners, arrogance and impeccable dress sense would rival any modern day Mr. Darcy.
“Mark, I thought you were going back to New York today?”
My eyes shot across to him, waiting for an answer to Lucy’s question.
“No I’ve decided to stay an extra few days.” He was staring again and this time Lucy was watching too.
“Ooh! So does that mean you will be coming to our charity ball tonight? You’ve missed it for the last two years. It would be so nice to have you there.” Lucy was grinning in anticipation. She obviously missed her brother while he was in New York.
“I don’t know. Tara what do you think? Do you want to go to a charity ball this evening?”
The whole table looked at me, then at each other, expectant of my reply.
“Erm, no I don’t think so, but thank you.”
“Well there you go little sister you have my answer. No.”
“Tara, please go with him. I have grown up with that stubborn face and I have no chance getting him there without you. I promise it will be fun and all the money goes to the local children’s hospital.” Her pleading face was a million miles removed from the hard business exterior of our first encounter.
He was still staring at me over the rim of his champagne glass, waiting for my acceptance.
“I don’t have anything to wear.” I was serious, I’d only brought smart day wear and some jeans to slob around in. The smirk on my face, at having a genuine reason for not going, obviously irritated Mark for a mere fraction of a second.
“That’s okay I don’t have any plans for this afternoon we can go shopping for a dress and then I can look over those papers for you. So Janie you won’t be needed.”
I could tell by the way the pair to my left hung off his every word that he was so used to getting his own way, with those especially. The sparks now flying across the table between us must have been embarrassing for the others to watch. I could barely keep the color from my cheeks.
“You? are going to take me shopping?” The others could have disappeared for all I knew, no one else contributed anything else to the conversation.
“Is that okay with you?” His steely stare shattered any defences I might have been capable of summoning.
I nodded. Completely defeated.
The shops we entered seemed to pop up out of nowhere. These buildings would have been invisible to me any other day. There didn’t seem to be a door that wasn’t open to him with the occupants eager to please. Much to his disgust and my surprise I settled on the first dress I tried on. I wasn’t used to having a choice or a man willing to endure the forbidden territory of dress shopping. The simple long black figure hugging, backless dress was my idea of couture heaven. It could have been made for me. The heavy silk clung to every curve, accentuated by the waterfall of material that gathered at the base of my back and tumbled downwards. Shoes and jewelery were brought in to match and we were done.
We got back to the hotel just before five.
“I will pick you up at six thirty. Don’t worry about the paperwork we can go over it tomorrow.”
Tomorrow. He wanted to spend tomorrow with me too.
“Mark, thank you for today, but I have to tell you something.” I could be making a complete fool of myself now but my conscience couldn’t be silenced any longer.
“I know I haven’t mentioned it but I was sure you would have spotted the rings on my finger.”
“You’re married. I know.”
He dashed back into the car before I had chance to say anything else, that was probably for the best, I didn’t know what else I would say.
Bang on six thirty he was at the door to my room. He did the tuxedo proud. A male model could not have looked better.
“You look beautiful,” he said, seconds after his eyes scanned my entire body.
“You look pretty good yourself.” I was doomed to spend eternity in hell for what I was thinking right now. It didn’t involve going to a charity ball.
My nerves heightened to panic level as we entered the stunning ball room of the Marquis Hotel. I couldn’t imagine ever being somewhere like this. Dozens of round tables draped in black and gold and finished with theatrical chandeliers adorned the room. Lucy’s hand was high in the air as we entered summoning us to her table.
“Wow Tara, you look great. I will say one thing for my brother he definitely knows how to shop.” She gave her brother a beaming smile and an identical one came to me. She seemed genuinely pleased that I was there, more pleased than me actually.
Mark stayed close all night, introducing me to various publishing icons. I would have definitely felt overwhelmed if he hadn’t have been with me, but people seemed to offer him the utmost respect which was always reciprocated. My only nerve shattering moment was when he led me to the dance floor.
“Mark, I really don’t dance.”
“That’s okay we can just sway.” His smile took all my doubts away as he led me onto the floor.
We stood at half arms length from each other, swaying in time to the bands version of Easy by Lionel Richie. Within minutes of the song starting he pulled me closer. His one hand closed around my neck while the other traced a line with his finger along the back of my arm to my elbow and then on to my hand hanging at my side. Once he reached my fingers he lifted my hand and placed it up near his neck. Both our breaths gained speed and depth and mingled in the short distance between our faces. I couldn’t lift my head to look at him, the final barrier between us.
I started to pull away but he held me firm against his body.
“Mark, I can’t do this.” The words felt like fire balls forming in my mouth, “This isn’t me.. I don’t do things like this. I just write about them.” Shame flooded my mind.
“Tara, I can’t explain what I feel for you, but if I thought you were blissfully happy I would gladly walk away from you now. But….there is something sad in your eyes when you talk of home and I want to make it go away.” He was leaning against me now, his words spilling across my face.
“Are you happy? And I don’t mean right now, I mean are you happy in your married life?”
Tears gathered in the back of my throat and rose unchallenged to my eyes. “No,” I said, surprising myself.
His arms pulled tight around me and the swaying stopped. We joined the others at the bar, my head still swimming with feelings of shame and relief.
“I just need to go to the bathroom, don’t move from here.” He bent to look in my eyes, questioning whether he should leave me for five minutes. He was right to question them. Within minutes of him leaving my side I made my excuses to Lucy and the others and headed for the door.
“Lucy, I’m tired and it’s late, Could you tell Mark I said goodbye and thank you.”
She touched her hand to my elbow. “He’ll be upset that you’ve gone. My brother hasn’t brought a date to anything like this for over five years, he must think a lot of you.” Her stare was intense, but I couldn’t give in to myself or her.
He was at my side before I made it to the entrance hall. His hand slid across the small of my back; sending hot pounding waves of desire through every inch of my body.
“Why?” he whispered close to my ear, letting his lips brush across my neck.
“I told you why. Please don’t make this harder than it is.”
He took my hand, guiding me to the door and a waiting black Mercedes. The address he gave I didn’t recognise and the driver took off.
“Where are we going?”
“Just a club that I know where we can talk until I change your mind about me.” He squeezed my hand tight and I didn’t object.
I didn’t want the night to end. Listening to stories of how he’d taken over the family business eight years ago when his father died and built it back to its present status as a leading literary agency. You could see why his confidence could be construed as arrogance. He was young but his abilities couldn’t be doubted. The death of his father in a boating accident had brought him and his sister closer. Just a year separated them, him being the older sibling. A bad relationship had sent him to New York five years ago, but that was all he was giving on that part of his life.
I didn’t offer much info on myself. Telling him that my husband had cheated on me more times than I could even remember and used me as an emotional punch bag when the mood took him, really wouldn’t help. Every part of me wanted to crawl into his arms and let him protect me from the world. The trouble was there wasn’t only me and Phil in our marriage. Josh and Becky were my anchor, my reason for staying. At fifteen and fourteen I only had a few years left to keep up the pretence for them. My plan was simple, as soon as they were done with school exams and the need of a chauffer, I would leave; giving them the choice to follow.
At four a.m I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.
“I need to go to bed.” His eyes lit up.
“No, not with you. By myself.” I slapped his arm to shift the expression from his face.
“I’ll take you back to the hotel. We’ll have to walk I’m afraid. I sent the driver home hours ago.” The look on my face must have spoke volumes. Had he seen the size of my heels?
“Don’t worry it’s only around the corner.”
We left hand in hand, his jacket sitting thoughtfully on my shoulders.
The streets were still busy, even at four in the morning. I guess it was London after all.
The ivory columns of the Thistle Hotel loomed before us as we slowed our steps.
“Tara.” He pulled me far too close.
“Ugh huh, ” I said, trying to stop my body shaking against his touch.
“If I promise to be a perfect gentleman, can I stay here tonight?”
I closed my eyes and my mouth. I didn’t need any words I didn’t authorize to slip through my lips. “Mark, that would be a recipe for disaster. I need to sleep, I’m exhausted.”
“Exactly, both of us are exhausted and I’m going to have to come over to look at those papers before your meeting with my sister, so I just as well stay.” He bent down so his face was level with mine. The eyes were going to be impossible to say no to.
“You promise to be a gentleman and just go to sleep?”
He nodded with a mile wide grin.
My head was flashing warning signals all over the place; while my heart danced to a beautiful romantic melody.
The huge bed seemed to completely fill the room on our arrival. I quickly pulled my pyjamas from the top of the bed and headed into the bathroom. Maybe seeing me bare faced and sporting scruffy night clothes would bring him to his senses. I was praying he would be asleep when I came out of the bathroom.
My prayers were answered.
I’d planned to make him sleep on the sofa, but he’d fallen asleep on the giant king sized bed. I gave a deep sigh and began removing his shoes. He barely stirred, his chest lifting in perfect breaths. I plunged the room into darkness then climbed into bed, balancing myself carefully as close to the edge as possible. It took only seconds for sleep to claim me.
This was bad; definitely bad.
I woke to the sound of gentle breathing in my ear. I looked down to see arms twisted around my waist. I was no longer balancing on the edge. Both our bodies had claimed the centre of the bed.
Mark’s fully clothed body engulfed my small frame. I should at least try to move, but I couldn’t. No physical bond kept me there, this bond was purely emotional. I couldn’t remember the last time someone held me this way, my heart yearned for just a few minutes more.
I froze in place when I felt his fingers move across my stomach. Crying out in pleasure now would definitely give away my awakened state. His chin nuzzled my neck, sending degrees of heat through my body which would blow the scale off any thermometer. I couldn’t take the onslaught of feelings anymore.
I began peeling his fingers away from me.
“You’re awake.” His deep baritone voice purred against my neck.
“I thought you said you would be a perfect gentleman.”
“I can’t be expected to be responsible for my sleep actions.” Every word was so pronounced it made his lips pinch against my skin. Deepest emotion inside were fighting to get to the surface, fear fought with guilt and desire for the prize and blood rushed to each spot his lips had touched.
Resistance was becoming more and more futile as my body shouted mutiny.