‘It’s lip balm,’ James corrected. ‘If you ski as much as I do, you tend to carry it.’
She liked the waxy feel of it as he applied it. She ran her tongue over her lips and there was a slight taste of vanilla, but still she could not imagine her father or Zayn carrying such a thing.
For all her naivety Leila had not been completely shielded from men. She thought of Zayn’s friends of yesteryear. Cocky playboys who used women, yet she did not feel used tonight. There was something else to James—something that made her smile, made her feel warm, made her feel very beautiful indeed, and that was something she had never felt before.
‘You are like no one I have ever known,’ Leila said.
‘Snap?’ Leila checked, because even though her English was excellent she didn’t know what that word meant.
‘It means that I feel the same about you,’ James said, and then he checked himself, because he didn’t get involved in any one woman. He was saying things to Leila that he didn’t usually say and he didn’t want to give her mixed messages.
Tomorrow he would be gone.
‘For now,’ he amended.
‘I’m very, very bad at relationships,’ James said. ‘I tend not to do them.’
‘Tend?’ Leila checked, for she did not understand that word also, but James took it that she wanted him to elaborate.
‘I’ve had one serious relationship and she chose to go to the press and share every last thing that I’d told her in confidence as well as a lot of salacious details. What about you?’ James asked. ‘Have you ever been seriously involved with anyone?’
‘Never,’ Leila said.
She told the truth; James just never thought that she might mean literally.
More drinks were on the table, but it was not the liquor that made her giddy and laugh. It was this man who asked questions, who gave of himself, who laughed deeply and who simply could not release her hands save to feed her her drink.
‘Do you want dinner?’ James asked, but she shook her head for there was a different sort of hunger in Leila tonight and she told him that.
‘I want to know about you.’
He revealed too much perhaps, but the gold of her eyes mesmerised and, even as he warned himself not to disclose it, James found himself telling Leila, warning her even, that he was a cad, a playboy, a rake. How he lived life his way, and it seemed to be working for he had the Midas touch when it came to the stock markets. How he partied at night, how he threw himself off mountains, how nothing and no one could tame him and how he chose not to impress. ‘I tried behaving and I gave it up at the age of eighteen,’ James said, and revealed how he had strived for perfection, but that nothing he had ever done had been good enough for his father.
He did not get sympathy from Leila.
‘At least you were noticed,’ Leila said. ‘I was ignored.’
‘How could anyone ignore you?’ James asked. ‘I don’t believe it could be possible to ignore you.’
‘It’s true,’ Leila said. ‘My mother...’ She hesitated. That her mother had never loved her would surely make her unlovable to him. That she had never, ever been wanted was her deepest, darkest shame and so she bent history a little. ‘Since Jasmine, my sister, died, my mother has not been able to look at me,’ Leila said. ‘And I have grown tired of waiting and so now I do as I wish. I live as I want to.’
‘They don’t approve of that?’
‘Oh, no, they don’t approve,’ Leila answered,
They never had.
‘To two black sheep,’ James said, and raised another glass.
They were drinking shots now, saluting their failures to measure up in their parents’ eyes. Knees were touching, eyes caressing and, oh, it was the very best night of her life.
‘So what,’ Leila asked, for she could not ever get tired of getting to know this man, ‘is your ambition? What do you aim for when everything you touch turns to gold? When you party all the time, when the world is at your feet, what do you strive for? What is it you want that you have never had?’
‘You,’ James said, and his mouth neared hers, but she knew that wasn’t the full answer and Leila moved back her head.