Authors: James Patterson,David Ellis
“I LOVE IT!”
Winnie said. I, on the other hand, didn’t love it so much and felt a little bit sick. Luc said, “Here, now,” and removed the gun from Winnie’s hand and placed it inside his jacket and the fat American—yes, he was fat and I was too drunk to feel generous toward him—the fat American was up on the deck with us and he was holding a camcorder at his shoulder. Bryah preened for the camera and then so did Serena and then they were hugging and laughing and the fat American was encouraging them. I was still staring out at the Mediterranean and I felt wobbly and then somebody said something that made us go back inside but I still felt unsteady.
Inside. An expansive room, bigger than my living room, with plush gold furniture and a bar, as if we needed anything else to drink. The fat American whose name I forgot was still using the video camera and Devo the Tycoon said, “
I took a glass of something, whatever it was, and drank a toast to group something. The liquid was harsh and I spit it out and I said, “Wait, what? Group
” And Devo said it again, “Group
” and I burst into laughter and Devo said, “Ah,
laughs.” He was right, I was laughing and then Bryah started laughing, too.
Devo opened his hand to indicate Winnie and Serena and said, “Are your friends not beautiful?” I said, “My friends are gorgeous,” but I was still laughing and Bryah thought this was funny, too, except that she also seemed to be considering it, and Serena didn’t appear to hear what Devo had said or maybe she did and didn’t care; she was consumed with Luc the Driver, and I was drunk—as I may have mentioned. Everyone started moving toward another room, and I looked inside and I saw a bed and an elaborate light hanging over it and soft carpeting and then all of them were inside, Winnie and Serena and Bryah, who said, “When in Monte Carlo,” and then I felt it, I felt something snap.
I stumbled backward in my heels but stayed on my feet. My head was spinning and my stomach was in revolt and I suddenly felt the weight and volume of what I had consumed over the last fifteen or sixteen hours.
“No,” I said, taking another step back.
“No?” Devo said to me.
“No.” I took a deep breath, my legs shaky beneath me.
Devo nodded respectfully and closed the bedroom door behind him.
I WASN’T SURE
what to do. I paused momentarily, wondering if I should knock on the door or something, but I heard Bryah’s muffled laugh and then Serena’s, too, and I knew Winnie could handle herself so I walked out of the room adjoining the bedroom to place some distance between us. I really wasn’t in the mood for sound effects.
“Damon,” I said. Where had I lost him? The casino, I guess.
I walked into the next room of the gigantic yacht, the main room, where we started. I heard a noise on the dock outside the boat. It must have been the fat American. He hadn’t joined the fun in the bedroom. I hoped he wasn’t still carrying around that stupid camcorder.
My head was beginning to roar from the booze, laser shots of pain against the inside of my skull. There was a refrigerator in the corner of the room and I fished around for a bottle of water.
“Damon,” I said again.
The boat moved a bit, and I could tell that someone was coming aboard.
“I believe that’s my cue.”
That voice, like a song. I turned and straightened up and there he was, at the opposite end of the room. My heart started pounding. Headache—what headache? It all came back in a rush, the intoxication, the giddiness, the loss of inhibition. I realized it then: it wasn’t the booze that had turned me upside down tonight.
“Have we met, monsieur?” I asked.
Damon took a step toward me. His eyebrows pitched, a hint of a playful smile. “Sorry I’m late.”
I took a step forward. We were inching toward each other. Every switch inside me had been flipped on. My legs didn’t feel shaky anymore.
“But you’re here now,” I said.
A scene in a movie, I thought. Ironic given my dance partner, a man with his own star on Hollywood Boulevard.
Damon reached for his shirt, started to unbutton it.
“No,” I said.
He didn’t move. “No.” He didn’t say it as a question, but I knew it was.
“No,” I repeated. I walked toward him. Damon Kodiak, international film star, stood silent, watching me.
I reached him. I placed my hand where his was, at his collar.
“Let me do it,” I said.
ONE BUTTON AT
a time. Slipping it out of its buttonhole. Slow, measured, careful. As though each one were a tiny gem that required concentrated precision. His breathing quickened; his powerful chest expanded, contracted.
There. All done.
My hands began above his waist, over his rocky abdominals, slowly gliding upward into a thicket of curly dark hair. Then his chest. Feeling the curve of his muscle, then his nipples. His heartbeat ricocheting into the palm of my hand.
“You’ll let me know when it’s my turn,” he said.
I put a finger to his lips. I ran my hand down his unshaven face, then his neck. His shoulder. He spread his arms, allowing the shirt to fall to the floor.
I took my time with his belt, a rich leather. Sliding the long end out of the belt loop. Pulling it back and slipping the prong out of the hole. Once undone, two quick tugs around his waist and it was on the floor, too.
His breathing continued to accelerate.
Now the pants. He was visibly excited. My eyes met his briefly and I smiled. Mischievously. I worked the button and the zipper. Then I looked up at him, our eyes locked now. I watched him struggle to restrain himself as I pulled and yanked until his pants had dropped.
“Don’t say my name.” I shook my head slowly. I was someone else. Someone else with her hand inside his cotton boxers. Someone else touching, caressing, stroking. Not too quickly. Not too slowly.
“Okay,” I said. “It’s your turn.”
HE WAS BEHIND
me, unzipping my dress slowly, sliding his hands inside, running them along my ribs. The dress dropped to the floor. His hand over my throat, my shoulders, my breasts. His other hand gripped my hair forcefully, a gasp escaping my mouth at his sense of entitlement, his ownership of me.
He pulled my head back, his tongue grazing my neck, his breath hot in my ear, his free hand brushing my stomach, then sliding inside my panties.
A noise from my throat, something guttural and foreign, as his fingers explored me, then slowly, expertly glided inside me. I was weightless. I was his.
“Show me,” he commanded in a whisper.
My hand joined his now, directing him. A kernel of sensation, unfamiliar and primitive, began to build and he felt it in the urgency of my hand on top of his, in the quickening of my breath, in the vibration of my pulse, and then an exhilarating rush and I cried out in a voice I didn’t recognize, someone else’s voice, and my entire body spasmed and collapsed against him.
And then there was nothing else. We were animals gripping and pawing and pulling. Then he was on top of me, his muscular arms spread on either side of me, palms flat on the carpet. He slid inside me easily and I called out, I don’t know what I said,
Right now you have me, you own me,
and we found a rhythm, writhing and moaning, and his jaw was clenched and I pulled his hair and
This isn’t who I am but maybe, maybe it’s what I am becoming
and I wrapped my legs around him and my heels dug into his back and I felt it again but this time I recognized it and I let it wash over me and
I want him inside of me forever and I want this, I want whatever this is, I have never known this but I don’t ever want to lose it, whatever this—whatever this—what—
I cried out and then his back arched and he thrust one last time and let out a wail, his eyes shut, his body shuddering.
We were motionless, panting, for a time. Sweat from his forehead dripped onto my neck. My hair was plastered to my forehead and cheeks. He eased himself out of me and I sat up. He pulled me to my feet and we stared at each other, each of us spent but still curious. He’d found a bottle of water from the fridge and took a drink, then gave me some. I took his warm hand and led him into the next room, a bedroom. I knew he needed time to recharge his batteries, but I thought I might be able to help him. So I did, pushing him against the wall, dropping to my knees. I helped him. Slowly at first, playfully, then more urgently and then his fingers were lacing through my hair and he started responding, and I smiled and I helped him some more and then he was standing at attention. He was ready.
Or at least he thought he was. I climbed him, attacked him, kissing his mouth hard and gripping the thick hair on his chest. He slapped a hand on each of my buttocks and lifted me into the air, my legs wrapped around his waist. We were greedy and selfish and grunting and moaning and I begged him to go faster and I laughed, for some reason I laughed, incomprehensible laughter, and I felt tears in my eyes, and I didn’t know what had taken me so long to find this, I didn’t know where this—this, whatever it was—had been hiding inside me.
I am lost, I am lost in this, it is happening and I don’t know anything, I don’t know anything but this, it is all I am, it is all I want.
I was free and open and vulnerable and angry and relentless and then I was dreaming, and in my dreams I didn’t recognize myself and I didn’t recognize my lover and I knew something had happened, just like that—
—and everything was different.
Everything would be different, forever now.
When I opened my eyes, the sun was on my face.
BY THE TIME
the sun had come up, he was long out of Monte Carlo, driving north on the A8 toward Lyon. Traffic was sparse. It was a Saturday at dawn. Who in their right mind would be driving now?
He chuckled, betraying his nervous energy. Was
in his right mind? Arguably not, after what he’d just done. But maybe his mind was right for the first time. Maybe
was right, and everything that had come before was wrong.
He stretched his limbs as he drove. He was full of electricity but he knew it was induced by the adrenaline; he knew it was temporary; and he knew he would crash hard when it was over. He hadn’t slept, after all, and he still had more than two hours to drive.
He pulled off the highway near Rousset, a village near Aix-en-Provence, one of the most picturesque parts of France, but the scenery wasn’t on his mind this morning. He needed to urinate, he needed caffeine, and he needed something in his stomach. Nothing more. In a perfect world, he wouldn’t stop at all; he would remain alone and anonymous in the automobile, driving straight to Lyon. Nobody to see his face. Nobody to remember him later, to recount to the authorities:
Yes, now that I’m thinking of it, he did seem rather nervous. Like he was hiding something.
He’d even filled up the tank late yesterday so he wouldn’t need to stop on this trip for fuel. But he hadn’t brought along anything to eat or drink in the car—truly an unforgivable oversight; how had he missed that?—plus he wanted to use a decent bathroom, not one of those freestanding toilet facilities along the French highways that suffered, to put it delicately, from inadequate plumbing. In any event, it was decided: he would stop. He found a gas station and killed the engine.
He had no disguise. He had ditched it hours ago, after everything had happened. His reasoning: if he were pulled over by the French police for some reason—either for what had happened in Monte Carlo or for something as innocuous as a moving violation—he wouldn’t want to have to explain why he was traveling incognito. How does an innocent man explain a disguise?
That was the dilemma, of course: he could remain disguised and assume that risk, or he could go au naturel and take a different chance—that he would be caught on some security camera, leading to the obvious question of what he was doing two hours outside of Monte Carlo at dawn.
He zipped up his light windbreaker, pulled his baseball cap down low, and adjusted his sunglasses. He checked himself in the car’s mirror. Not good. He looked like someone trying to conceal his identity. But again with the dilemma—wouldn’t that be preferable to smiling for the camera?
Yes, and so he got out of the car and walked without incident to the front door of the gas station’s shop. He reached for the door handle and looked through the glass door and saw the security camera and wondered just for a moment if he had taken leave of his senses and should just live with hunger pains and drowsiness, and he could always take a piss on the side of the road—
In his distraction with the camera he missed the door handle and his momentum carried him into the door itself, where the brim of his baseball cap collided with the glass, pushing the cap back off his face and nearly off his head altogether. This bit of embarrassing clumsiness caught the attention of the girl behind the counter inside, who, from the looks of it, had been reading something but now turned in his direction.
What to do? Cut your losses and make a run for it? Stroll inside as if nothing had happened?
He wasn’t good at this. He’d been remarkably adept in Monte Carlo, if he did say so himself. The pre-event planning had been careful and he’d carried it out with icy precision. Why was he so pitiful with the getaway?
He fixed his hat atop his head once more, adjusted his shades, and walked in. He tried to whistle, which he didn’t do very well but which signaled calm. He nodded to the girl behind the counter, a young petite woman with a button nose and inquisitive eyes.
“Hall-o,” she said in stilted English. Damn her. He hadn’t opened his mouth, and already he was exposed as a foreigner. So much for blending in.
He didn’t answer, fearing his voice might betray his nerves. His lips formed into some kind of conciliatory expression and he pretended to be fascinated by the assorted soft drinks and bottles of water lined up in the refrigerated case on the back wall. In the reflection of the case’s glass he could see her watching him. But why? What about him was arousing her suspicion? What
could she tell simply by watching him? Something obvious he had missed? Was he tracking in
for the love of God? Surely not, but the problem was, he couldn’t very well inventory himself right there in front of her. Why had he come here? Why was he risking everything just so he could piss in a clean urinal and fill his stomach with empty calories? How breathtakingly stupid could he be?
It flashed through his mind: he could kill her with his bare hands and then steal the security tape. But where would that tape be located? He could get that information from the girl, he could make her tell him before he killed her—
Without further thought, he walked across the store to the bathroom. He was headed to a urinal but suddenly found himself opting for a stall. His hands went flat against side walls and he balanced himself, as his heartbeat ricocheted against his chest and his legs buckled.
What had he missed? What mistake had he made? Why had he done it? In the end, why was it worth all the risk involved?
Then he exhaled and raised his chin. Remember, he told himself. Remember the anger. The betrayal. The wound to your pride. Let it motivate you now, just as it did last night, before you carried it out. Stay focused. Stay mad.
He took a breath, finished his business in the bathroom, and assessed himself in the mirror. He felt better. Screw up now, and everything you’ve done is for naught.
He strode confidently out of the bathroom and brought three power bars, a bottle of Evian, and a large cup of store-made coffee up to the register. The girl had returned to her paperback novel, which she laid facedown, revealing a crumbling spine and the words
La comédie des menteurs.
Liars. He smiled at the girl but didn’t speak. He paid in cash and left. Once he was safely inside his car, he felt very much like laughing.