It's late when she comes in, four-something in the morning. He hears her heels clicking on the parquet floor, her key turning in the lock, her exhausted sigh. She's coming home from an exclusive nightclub, or rather from the apartment of the man she's just fucked. She left the club early on pretense of sickness and took a taxi by herself to his place. She hates doing it this way, hates the deception, but it's the only way she can satisfy her intense sexual cravings and still be the perfect social role model she's expected to be. Although lately she feels she's become jaded with sex and men, and that frightens her—what else will be left? She takes a long time in the shower, rubbing herself down sensually with her raspberry-and-orchid-scented body wash, eliminating every last trace from her skin of the man she's slept with. She hates waking up in the morning and not feeling clean. He listens to the shower sounds, lies on his bed in the dark and tries again to sleep until he decides he can't stand it anymore and enters her room.

"Long evening?" he says as she emerges wrapped in two towels. A mocking smile flutters about his lips, like the tongue of a snake.

"Long and hard," she says with a smirk. She plops down unceremoniously on the loveseat. "Mind telling me what on earth you're doing in my room?"

"Trying to do something nice for you, actually. I thought I'd pop in and offer you a massage. You seemed...stressed."

She rolls her eyes straight up to the ceiling at that but makes no move to stop him as he settles down on the loveseat with her, half behind her, half beside her. She rubs her back up against his chest like a cat as his fingers go to work. "Shouldn't you be in bed with one of your bimbos?"

Actually, his latest "bimbo" is a new conquest he hasn't yet gotten all the way with, who exited their "study session" after a few hours of groping leaving him alone to finish himself off in the shower, but this is nothing he can tell Kathryn. "She bored me," he says instead, which is also true.

Her back is turned to him and he can't see her little triumphant smile, but he can feel the way she relaxes at his touch. And it occurs to him that no matter how much she'll deny it she really does need him, or at least this. He pulls her in tighter and squeezes her breasts. Her reaction is instantaneous: a sharp indrawn breath and a moan of pure pleasure, nothing held back. Then after a few minutes she pushes his hands away, and he fully expects her to say something biting and sarcastic, but she just says in a low voice, "Sebastian—I can't—"

"Then I won't," he says, biting back his own sarcastic rejoinder. Was that pain in her voice? He puts his hands back on her shoulders, not massaging her this time, just resting there. He breathes in her scent. She breathes in his. He feels her breathing against him become slow and regular. Not asleep, but relaxed.

At the first hint of daylight, she jumps up and hustles him out of the room.

"This never happened," she says, and shuts the door.


The next day is Valentine's Day. He has sex for the first time with his new "bimbo". The sex for him is routine. She goes out for a romantic dinner followed by sex with her boyfriend. The sex for her is almost unbearable.

They go on with their lives. In the daytime they exchange witty sexual banter, stories of conquests, insults, seductions and rejections. It's enjoyable but basically a game. She wants to come to him in the night silently and savagely, to grab him by the neck and bruise his perfect pillowy lips with her own small mouth, to climb on top of his naked body and show him, show him. She doesn't move. She knows the rules of this game as well as he does, and has no desire to end up as another notch on his bedpost, another name in his journal. She doesn't know that after that night he wrote two words under her photo, transforming his journal from something he kept from her to tease her to something she must never see. She'd laugh at him if she did know—she is still cruel. But beginning to feel something, and knowing already how dangerous that is. Any move she makes in the direction of her feelings must be thoroughly disguised. Not a confession but a contest of some kind, a bet maybe, something win-win, all possibilities mapped out in advance like the endgame in chess. She is used to doing it this way, used to deception. But sometimes late at night she feels his presence in the next room and wishes she had the stupidity, or the courage, to just break down in front of him. In her fantasy he wouldn't say a word, would just sit down, half behind her, half beside her, and rest his chin on her shoulder and wrap his arms tight around her chest. And never let her go.