Late Valentine


Another giggle bubbles up past my throat.

'My God, Rob, I hardly know what to say.'

'Say you'll stay for the weekend.'

His eyes look serious. His face looks serious too.

'Are you serious about that?'

'Never more so.'

He props his head up on one arm. 'Lucia, my brilliant PA, can make it happen. You can stay on here at the hotel for the additional nights. Or, if you feel you want to, you can stay at my house. I promise you I'm not an axe murderer. I can probably provide credible written references on that point, if you'd like.'

A small smile plays over his mouth.

'You are serious, aren't you?'


'You make it sound so simple.'

'It is. So long as it's not mucking up anything important for you at home, it's just a matter of making the right arrangements.'

'And paying for them.'

'That too. But it would be a pleasure for me to do that. If you'd let me.'

I stare at him.

'Listen, you can ask me anything about myself. Anything at all. But first, I need to use the bathroom, and I'm also pretty hungry. Are you?'

I laugh at him now.


He pees and washes his hands in the bathroom, then sits down on the edge of the bed.

'What are you hungry for?'

I shrug.

'Anything that's like toast and real butter.'

He grins, picks up the phone on the bedside table.

'Hi, yes, this is Rob Montague,' he's saying. 'Yes, hello Monique, very nice to hear you too. Listen, I'm staying in room --,' he turns to me with a raised eyebrow.

'Twelve,' I whisper.

'-- twelve, and we'd really love some hot toast and butter. Do you think Macek can rustle that up for us? Um, yes, hot chocolate would also be nice, what a good idea. Yes, great. That'd be great. And Monique, put this on my tab, will you? -- No, I haven't seen her tonight, I didn't know she was here actually. OK. Thank you. Yes, you too.'

He stands up again, goes back to the bathroom, returning with the two bathrobes that were hanging on the back of the door, dropping one on the bed for me.

'I could look at you naked for the rest of my life, Elizabeth, but you may want this for when Room Service arrives,' and he bends down to kiss me.

We are still kissing when there's a light knock on the door. He throws the robe over his shoulders, closing and tying it before opening the door. I pull the sheets over me.

'Mr Montague!'

'Stefan, how are you?'

I guess he knows this guy too. I watch as he chats with him about this and that while Stefan sets down a tray laden with toast, a pot and two cups, a pretty posy of blue and white flowers and two heart-shaped chocolates laid out on the linen. Rob touches him lightly on the shoulder as he leaves the room, still murmuring something to him, Stefan listening and nodding, closing the door after him.

'Toast, Elizabeth!'

I unwrap myself from the sheets and slip into the robe which is, of course, far too big for me. I roll up the sleeves and sit at the tiny table opposite Rob. The toast is hot and delicious and the salty butter is dripping from it onto my chin.

'Ok, Rob Montague, I think you need to explain yourself, don't you? How is it you know all the people who work here?'

'Ah, yes. Well, as it happens, my sister owns this hotel.'

I raise my eyebrows and gesture for him to tell me more, recalling then the petite blonde in reception earlier this evening. That was his sister?

'Hmmm.' He chews on another mouthful of toast. 'Between us, we own quite a lot of property in this part of London.'

'I see. But do you stay here often?'

'Ah, no. I usually use it for meeting clients, or as a place for them to stay.'

'Hmm. How funny. And strange. I've stayed here many times when working in London. I prefer it to the big hotel chains that work usually books, so I switched to staying here when I walked by it one time.'

We both take a moment to think about that.

'You were here all along, almost within reach,' he murmurs, taking my hand and holding onto it.

'So it seems.'

'But we might never have met if it weren't my sister's birthday next week and if my meeting hadn't finished early yesterday and -- well, all sorts of permutations.'

'I have a sort of confession to make, Rob.'


'I kind of followed you into that shop yesterday.'

He raises his eyebrows at me, more in curiosity than surprise.

'Did you?'

'Yes. You almost walked right into me on the street, you were typing something into your phone. You had such an intense look of concentration on your face that even when you apologised, I knew you hadn't really seen me.'

I carry on, liking the look he's giving me now.

'And I wondered what it would take to have you give me that same intense look. So I turned right around and followed you into that shop. I'd been in earlier and loved the sweaters, and seeing you looking at them like that --,' I shrug.

'I'm a lucky man, then.'

'I think I'm the lucky one.'

'What else do you want to know about me? Before you make up your mind about the weekend?'

'You'd pay for me to fly out on Sunday?'


'That amount of money ......?'

'.... Isn't important.'

'You and your sister -- you own a lot of property then?'


He's tapping one of the chocolates on the tray with a fingertip, lazily tracing its shape.

There's another light knock at the door. Rob seems to have been expecting it. I sit at the table, thinking about his handmade clothes, the way that the owner of the Chinese restaurant knew him, wondering if it was his sister I saw earlier. When he returns, he's holding a brand-new toothbrush, which he sets down on the table.

He leans forward and takes both my hands in his, holding them together, as if in prayer, almost.

'Look, Elizabeth, I know this is probably a most improbable offer. But it's a genuine one. I can pay for your flight home on Sunday, and for staying here -- anything. I won't expect a repeat of tonight, as this has been somewhat sudden.'

He gives me a smile and presses my hands together more tightly.

'But I want to spend as much time with you as possible before you go back to the States, in case you disappear, never to be seen again.'

'Ok. It's completely crazy, but, ok, I'm going to take you up on it, Rob. I'll fly home Sunday. And spend the weekend with you. And --,' I cast my eyes over to the bed, 'I'd quite like a repeat of that, if that'd be ok with you?'

I wish I had the words to describe the expression in his eyes.

I go on, 'And I want to stay in your house. Your sister's hotel is very nice, but I want to poke around in your sock drawer to get to the heart of your darkest secrets, or wherever it is you hide them. If you're a bona fide axe murderer, then I say let's get that out in the open as soon as possible.'

'I knew you were a sensible woman.'

I laugh, my heartrate accelerating in my chest as the implications of the last two days start to turn over in my mind.

'Now, would you like some of this very rich hot chocolate? You might need the sugar for sustenance, as we only got a little way down the list of things I wanted to do with you earlier.'

He tips his chin over to the bed.

'Greedy,' I tease him.

'Mmmm. And over the moon I've now got the whole weekend to persuade you to take up that job offer here.'

'Aha. That's the other confession I need to make, Rob.'

He pauses, holding the chocolate pot poised over my cup, ready to pour.

'I accepted the offer this morning.'

He returns the pot to the table, slowly and silently. And in one sure, sudden movement he's scooped me out of my chair and onto his lap, as if I weigh nothing at all.

'Now I know what a lucky man I am.'

He kisses me, tasting of toast and butter. Which I imagine I must taste of too. Neither of us mind. His hands are back in my hair, pulling and teasing it through his fingers, scratching at my scalp. Easing away from his face, I focus on his eyes.

'What is it, Elizabeth?'

It's eerie how he picks up on when my thoughts shift.

'I'm just thinking you're a man who seems very secure in knowing what he likes.' I raise my eyebrow at him, starting to feel the heat rising to my face.

'Hair, for one thing. Underwear -- no -- clothes, you really like clothes. Tailoring. The fabrics and textures. Don't you? And this --,' I gesture at us and vaguely over to the bed again.

'You don't seem out of practice with this. At all. The opposite, if anything.'

'What are you asking me?'

'I guess I'm saying -- no -- asking what the difference is for you, between dating women and sex. You said you're out of practice with the former, but not the latter, right?'

He smiles a little.

'You certainly have a lawyer's mind, Elizabeth.'

I wait for more, watching him think about what he's going to tell me next.

'There is a woman. We've had an arrangement for several years now,' he says, gauging my reactions, his hands still in my hair, resting on my shoulders. 'I pay her.'

'She's a --,'

'-- an escort. Yes. A very discreet one. It's not her only job. In fact, she moved to Paris for her other job a year ago.'

He pauses, then continues, 'What are you thinking?'

'I guess I'm a little shocked,' I admit. 'But again -- more that you've told me, not that you've -- what's the right way to say it?'

'Paid for sex?'

A small smile plays over his lips, but his eyes are still serious.

'Mmm. That.'

'Celibacy isn't for me.'

'And masturbation just reminds you of boarding school?'

He laughs, 'Absolutely! Nothing sexy about it -- it's just functional.'

I shift in his lap.

'What's she called?'

He looks surprised.

'Catherine,' he replies.

'If this -- if we --,' I chew my lip, annoyed I can't find a way to phrase what I want to say.

'Catherine and I have a professional relationship and she's always known it will end if I were to find someone to love.'

'Would you miss her?'

He tips his head to one side.

'Yes. I like her. But it was a relationship that wasn't designed to get out of the bedroom, whereas I'd rather like one that was a relationship everywhere. Going out to the theatre, squabbling over Christmas, having lunch with my sister, taking my goddaughter to Legoland, holidays in the sun -- that sort of thing. And in the bedroom. A relationship like that wouldn't give me reason to miss her.'

'You talk about her in the past tense.'

'Yes. Since she's been in Paris, we haven't seen each other very often.'

'I see.'

I hesitate to ask more. You get to a certain age, it doesn't do much good to expect to know everything about another's past life.

But -- 'Did you see her often?'

'Every couple of weeks,' he shrugs, 'sometimes more, sometimes less. Depended on how busy I was with work. That sort of thing. Does it bother you?'

He fixes me with his eyes.

'I don't think so.'

'We were very discreet, and very safe with each other.'

He reaches around me to pour hot chocolate into our cups, and holds one up to me.

'And what about you, Elizabeth? What history am I taking on with you?'

I sip from the cup. It's devastatingly rich.

'Just, you know, a handful of unsatisfactory relationships with vanilla, uptight corporate lawyer types. Men who wore off-the-peg suits and delivered off-the-peg sex. None of them anything to write home about. I was beginning to think the single life was the better option.'


'I think I'm only just starting to realise how off-the-peg the sex has been up until now.'

I feel rather than hear him laugh, his stomach and chest moving, but then he's kissing me again, his eyes crinkling up. I push him away.

'What? What's so funny?'

'You can't say that sort of thing to me, Elizabeth. You've no idea how conceited it makes me feel, and I don't deserve it.'

'So you're kissing me to shut me up?'

'Mmhmm. Are you objecting?'

I feel driven to tease him more, his own candour freeing me from my usual restraint.

'Not really. But tell me what else you want to do with me, Rob.'

He breaks into a big smile, and moves his hands back to my shoulders, slipping them underneath the bathrobe, my skin warming under his confident touch. He takes his time replying, apparently more interested in stroking me. I'm not complaining, there's something so purposeful about how he touches me, his eyes lowered in concentration. I exhale, a little self-conscious at how loud it sounds.

'I'd like you to do all those things with me, Elizabeth,' he says finally.

'Theatres, Legoland, lunch with your sister; all of that, you mean?'

He smiles, his eyes flicking up to mine.

'You won't have much choice in the latter, I can assure you, after this. I'm expecting her text in about seven hours' time, perhaps less, depending on when she checks in with Monique at the desk. Don't worry, no-one's going to be divulging your personal details, because that's breaking the law. But I'm in for a hefty and personal interrogation in the morning about precisely who you are.'

He halts his hands, briefly and narrows his eyes.

'Hm. Do you think they noticed us earlier, when we were in the lobby downstairs?'

'Kissing each other like teens?'

'Mmm. Then.'

His hands resume their work, moving off my shoulders and down my arms.

'I've no idea, honestly, but it sounds like we should take this issue head on and arrange to meet up with her as soon as -- and set her mind at rest?'

'Would you do that?'


He strokes my cheek before returning his hand to my shoulder. My skin feels alive, almost burning, from his relentless hands.

'You're brave. Lizzie's a force of nature.'

He leans over and plants his lips on the flesh he's exposed at the top of my shoulder.

'And a black belt in interrogation techniques.'

'Sounds fun. I'm pretty good at forensic examination myself.'

His lips smile against my skin.

'Of course you are.'

He sighs. Sits back in the chair, adjusting his position.

'Am I getting too heavy?' I ask.

'Not at all. Stay right where you are.'

'You look like you're thinking about something else, Rob.'

'There's an event on Saturday night I really should go to, and I want you to come. It's black tie, so we'll need to find you a dress to wear, but that won't be a problem. Will you come?'

'What is it?'

'It's a dinner -- a fundraiser for a charity we support.'

'Who's we?'

'Lizzie, John and me. It's a charity that supports bereaved children. John and his little girls have had a great deal of help from them since Ginny died.'

'Ok. Yes,' I'm surprised, pleased, that he wants me to go to something so important to him, to meet some of his closest friends. 'If you're sure?'

'Well, I don't want to go without you.'

His arm is lying across my lap, and he takes my hand in his. 'I should have thought to mention it earlier, but my mind is -- distracted.'

'Distracted? How?'

'By you.'

He seems to lift and gather me up closer to him.

'You are very distracting. So many possibilities.'

When was the last time he blinked? His eyes seem enormous again.

'You're looking at me like you want to consume me, Rob.'

He grunts.

'Mmm. What I want to do is make love to you.'

He reaches to kiss me.

'A lot. Frequently.'

Another kiss.

'All the time. Every chance I get.'

Another kiss.

Heat races up and around my body. He draws me closer, pushes his hand into my robe.

'And fuck you. That too, Elizabeth, as and when the mood takes us,' as he slides inbetween my thighs, smoothing his palm along my flesh.

'But not sex, off-the-peg, or not. Never just sex. You're too good for just that.'

His fingers are grazing against me and I open my legs out a little, wondering where the idea that the British are reserved comes from.

'How do you feel about that, Elizabeth?'

'I'd like that too. Very much,' I whisper, trembling at his touch, his relentless stroking and smoothing and caressing.

It's as if his hand is drawing all my blood vessels and nerve endings together and dragging them up and down my thighs.

'Rob what are you doing to me?'

He pauses, looks up into my face.


'Your hands. I don't know what you're doing with them, but I've never felt anything like it.'

'Really? But your skin has the most beautiful texture. Like sand-washed silk.'

I raise an eyebrow at him, thinking this must be an exaggeration. His hand squeezes my thigh, making me snatch at the air in surprise.

'It's a process that abrades the surface of the silk, then softens it, and gives it this deeper texture. Almost like suede. Your skin is like that. All over. I can't get enough of it.'

He looks a little self-conscious then, and it makes me smile inside.

'You really do know a lot about textiles. How is that?'

'My grandfather was a tailor.'


'Yes. Berwick Street,' he nods, resuming his work on my skin.

'He did well enough to buy the building his workshop was in, and that's how we got started in property.'

His fingers have found me. Again, I'm shocked at how he makes me feel and I'm opening myself out to him, pushing myself onto his hand. The robe drops from my shoulders, suddenly, making me shiver as it progresses down my arms and comes to rest at the crook of my elbows. He shifts his position beneath me, moving his hips forward on the seat, pushing his own robe apart.

'Here?' I ask.

'Mmm,' he smiles, 'Let's see if there's room.'

'Will the chair hold out?'

We're both smiling, almost giggling, as I shuffle myself until I'm facing him, and we quickly realise it's going to be too awkward.

'If I was a catwalk model with long enough legs to reach the floor, this might work.'

He kisses me.

'But you wouldn't be here with me if you were, Elizabeth,' and he lifts me up, carries me to the bed, and sets me down, shucking his robe off in one fluid movement.

'Very smooth,' I tease him.

He acknowledges it with a small curl to his lips, but is urging me to move up the bed, then pulling me to him, his hands holding my face to his. We kiss, his eyes drilling into me so that I have to lean away from him for a moment or two to catch my breath.

'Too much?' he asks, his voice gentle.

'Yes,' I breathe, 'Too much,' and I run a hand down his side, tipping back to face him.

'But I want it, Rob.'

Again, that look in his eyes. It sets fire to me, but it's nothing to what he does next. I'm hardly aware of where his hands are until one of them pushes my thighs open, tipping me back a little, then slips inbetween, pressing up against me, dipping into me, briefly, then retreating.

'What --?'

Before I can form the question, I'm watching him draw his hand to his mouth and licking his sticky fingers, his eyes still steady on mine. My breath catches in my throat.

'We taste good together,' he's saying but I'm pulling his hips toward me, feathering my hands along the length of his cock, enjoying the way his eyes flash at my touch.

I shuffle myself closer and downwards, pressing closer, lifting my top leg over him. He's starting to smile now, getting the idea about what I want from him, pushing his thigh inbetween mine. We both shiver as his cock slides along me, where I'm still wet.

'Hmm, that feels so nice,' I murmur, feeling the heat building up inside me.

I tilt my hips and use my fingers to help guide him towards me, to where I want him inside me. I sense a change in Rob's breathing and look up into his face. His eyes look quizzical.

'Are you --?'

'Just go slowly,' I reassure him.

He does exactly that. Enters me so slowly I think I might die of the anticipation, of the sensation of his smooth cock moving in, just a little way, then out, then coming out of me altogether to rub up against my clit, and then back down and nudging his way inside again.

'Oh my God, Rob, now you're definitely killing me,' I half-complain, half-laugh, thinking I'm not far off coming just from the way he's bossing his way around my pussy.

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