‘Not an awful lot,’ James admitted. ‘My father calls me Jiminy.’ When she frowned he elaborated. ‘Jiminy Cricket.’ Still she frowned and James realised she probably didn’t know the song that he was referring to. ‘He’s a happy fellow who doesn’t work very much,’ James explained. ‘I work for about half an hour a day making a fortune playing the stock markets and then I spend the next twenty-three and a half hours doing my level best to blow it.’
‘And so what brings you here tonight?’ Leila asked, taking another sip of her drink.
‘I’m checking out the competition,’ James said. ‘I’m James Chatsfield...’ He saw her nonplussed look. ‘The Chatsfield hotels...’ James further explained. His brother Spencer was determined to acquire The Harrington and had thought he had had the sale in the bag, but Isabelle Harrington, who was newly in charge, had unexpectedly knocked back the offer and things were starting to get extremely messy.
James was weary of his family; he wanted as far away from them as possible. Yet, idly curious, he had decided to drop in to The Harrington unannounced.
‘My elder brother Spencer wants to buy this hotel. I decided to come and see for myself what all the fuss is about. I’m very glad now that I did.’
‘I’m very glad that you did too,’ Leila said.
He took one of her hands, the one nearest to the table, and Leila looked down as his fingers stroked hers. The contact was sublime—subtle but present, his fingers laced into hers—and she watched as their hands intertwined and their palms pressed together.
‘I want to sip my drink,’ Leila said, ‘but I don’t want to let go of your hand.’
‘Then don’t.’ It was James who reached for her drink and brought it to her lips and she took a sip of it and felt his eyes on her throat as she swallowed.
‘Actually, I do recognise the name,’ Leila said, and her words brought his eyes back to hers. ‘I think I read about your hotel on the plane.’
‘It’s not my hotel,’ James said. ‘I want nothing to do with the lot of them.’
‘You have a lot of hotels?’
‘I meant the family.’ James smiled at the slight miscommunication. ‘But yes, there are a lot of hotels. We have a very nice hotel in Dubai, but I haven’t actually been there, though I might have to rectify that.’ He gave her a flash of that depraved smile and then checked himself, for already, without even so much as a kiss, he was suggesting that they might be seeing each other again. For James, that was a no-no and so he quickly rectified things. ‘Though perhaps not—Manu, the PR woman, has warned me my ways might not be welcome. Things are rather more strict there apparently...’
‘Do you misbehave, James?’ Leila asked, and he smiled at her curious question.
‘That’s a very nice way of putting it, but yes, I guess I do tend to misbehave.’ She looked down to where his hand caressed hers and she was the bravest she had ever been—he made her so.
‘Misbehave with me,’ Leila whispered, terrified he might say no.
He released her hand although she wished he would not. She was not starved from his contact for long though, for he picked up a napkin and dipped it in some water. Leila frowned as his wrapped finger came towards her face, but she did not flinch and she did not move back.
‘What are you doing?’ Leila asked.
‘Getting rid of the unnecessary,’ James said. He usually preferred made-up women—he liked the mask, he liked the stranger—but he did not want that from Leila. He wanted her stripped, he wanted her naked, and that started now.
She liked the gentle pressure of his finger on her lips. She liked the way his eyes narrowed as he concentrated on removing the lipstick from her mouth.
And concentrate he did.
‘Now, you’re perfect,’ James said. ‘Almost.’
He went in his pocket and pulled out what Leila thought was another lipstick. ‘What sort of man carries lipstick?’ Leila asked, and he simply smiled as he got to work on her very full mouth.