Hired for Secrets

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Is sex better with love?

Sofie couldn’t hide her smile. She did it! She secured a night with the elusive Philip, the world’s most expensive escort. And it wasn’t that difficult. Preparation and patience took her halfway, so the only thing left to do was get into Philip’s head and extract the information she needed. Find out why her spies mention Philip’s name in the same context as Kerry’s most ruthless crimes.

But all logic and reasons for her visit evaporated when Philip hooked her arm into his and led her up the granite staircase. The muscles in his forearm flexed underneath the elegant, delicate fabric of the jacket, when he placed his soft manicured fingers on the back of her hand; giving reassurance for the physical contact between them. His expensive aftershave opened her senses to the warm, intoxicating scent of masculinity.

Sofie’s breathing had become rapid and her heart was racing. It had little to do with the physical exhaustion of climbing to the double-height space of the penthouse wing, and everything to do with how out of her depth she felt. Her only comfort was the adrenaline pumping through her veins. It would help her stay on high alert and withstand this inexplicable gravitation towards him.

“This way,” he said, pointing down a dimly lit hallway.

His quiet confidence kindled flames deep within Sofie’s heart and his suggestive glances made them roar to a reckless fire before she had time to stamp them out. He swiped his keycard at the end of the floor and held the door open for her to enter his bedroom suite.

Sofie hesitated. This feels like a first date. How did he create such a special atmosphere with just a short walk? Worse even: it felt like the date was successful; like she wanted to take it to the next base, already.

“We have four visits,” Sofie hedged. “Today, I only want to talk.”

She needed to cut off any further advances from this skilled courtesan. It was the safest option. The necessary option, because she did not trust herself around him.

“Very well. This is your time and I am at your command, however you see fit.”

He smiled and somehow this rehearsed line sounded genuine and comforting.

Sofie entered the dark room. Indirect light sources, tinged it in an amber glow and accentuated the extravagant flower arrangements and delicate tapestry walls. It created a cosy yet stimulating atmosphere.

“Can I offer you something to drink?” He pointed to a small table with a heavy glass decanter and two scotch glasses. “I catered to Mrs. Gartner’s preferences. But I have other options, if you prefer something lighter. Champagne? Or a Tonic Water, perhaps?”

“Yes, tonic sounds great. Thanks.”

A casual non-alcoholic drink would squash the illusion this was more than a business transaction; would stop it feeling like a date.

“Please, take a seat,” he smiled, handing her the sparkly drink.

It felt icy against her skin, but did little to cool her overheated senses. She picked a spot on the large leather sofa with the shortest path to the exit. Old habits: Keep your escape route open. Instead of seating himself next to her, he took the armchair opposite, giving her space and heeding her request.

“What would you like to talk about, Mrs....” He paused. “I don’t actually know your name.”

There was no embarrassment in his voice. To him, this seemed an entertaining diversion from his routine; an amusement.

Good! Maybe, he lets his guard down and I get all the information I need today. Avoiding a second visit was certainly her preference, even if a small part of her would be disappointed.

“You can call me Sofie.”

Having eliminated the risk of this turning into anything other than a conversation, Sofie reclined moving a plump plush cushion out of the way.

“I prefer last names,” he said, crooking his head.

No way she would give him her real name. ‘Sofia Black’ was a well-known journalist, writing hard-hitting exposés for major newspapers around the world. Knowing who she was would not only jeopardize this investigation, it would put her life in danger. Over her career, she busted drug cartels, rogue banks and illegal corporations. A lot of people were searching for Sofia Black. People who wanted revenge. Who wanted her dead. Keeping her true identity a tightly guarded secret was paramount, so she prepared a new persona for every assignment. The one she created for this one was the name written on her medical certificates and how Mrs. Gartner knew her.

“It’s Sofie Carter.”

She liked to keep the first names as similar as possible; it required less acting on her part and freed up brain power for other things. Like seeing through cheap diversion.

“Is that Mrs. Carter?”

“No, I’m not married.” She paused, watching an emotion rush across his face, too quick to interpret. Letting it go she asked, “What is your last name?”

“Let’s keep it at ‘Philip’. It makes things easier.”

“Easier? Or more controllable?”

Calling him ‘Philip’ would lure her into a deception of intimacy, while the formality of ‘Mrs. Carter’ had the power of dousing any illusion of emotional attachment. Just saying her last name gave Philip the strategic tool to fine-tune the heat-level of their interaction.

“Emotions can run high at times, Miss Carter. Having the option to dial them back is important. Important for both.”

“Both? So you’re emotionally invested in your clients? Are you going to miss her, then? Mrs. Gartner?”

“Of course I’ll miss her. She was my client for almost two years.”

A sudden anger flooded Sofie. Why do women like Mrs. Gartner get to enjoy Philip’s company? Take their pleasure with him. Command him to make them feel the way he made her feel right now. Just because they had the means and opportunity? It was like walling off a private beach. Keeping nature’s beauty reserved for the wealthy. For now, she was tolerated in this world, experiencing it as if she was one of them. Soon though it’ll be off-limits again. So why shouldn’t she be opportunistic and enjoy it while it lasted?

Get a grip! You have a job to do here!

“Are all your clients like Mrs. Gartner?” she asked to keep him talking and her mind off the temptation before her.

“What do you mean?”

“In their late fifties, married, rich?”

Mrs. Kerry certainly fitted that category. MP Kerry was 56, married to a media magnate and had enough lobbyists behind her to become England’s next PM. Kerry had the power to reel people in and the charisma to keep them fascinated with her. Some even say ‘in love’ and love creates loyalties that are tough to break. Was Philip one of her die-hard disciples? Indoctrinated and enthralled by her stop-at-nothing attitude for success? If so, he would not talk to a journalist and instead alert Kerry of Sofie’s investigation. She needed to tread extremely carefully here.

“Miss Carter, all women are beautiful and age is not taking away from that. Same with having disposable income. Spending it on company is not automatically bad. And neither is infidelity. It all comes down to the individual circumstances.”

Not accepting such a canned answer, Sofie probed, “You’ve got hundreds of women on your books. Powerful women. Are you telling me they’re all just misunderstood, tortured souls?”

This was an investigation, and she needed to determine how willing he was to talk about difficult topics.

“Deep down we’re all social creatures, seeking physical connection with one another; irrespective of how powerful someone might appear on the outside.”

“Are all your answers going to be rehearsed company lines? I can tell your own opinion is different. So: what do you really think about the women who can afford your company?”

Philip leaned back in his armchair, studying her in silence as he let the minutes stretch. He was utterly comfortable having the aggressive accusation hang in the air between them.

This isn’t working.

“I’m sorry.” Sofie changed tactics. “I imagine you’re not often quizzed about your other clients.”

“Indeed. Never. In fact, it’s an offense that warrants instant termination of the club membership.” His tone was flat, letting her precarious situation sink in.

“Are you throwing me out?”

Her voice hitched, betraying how important this was to her. Did Philip pick up on it?

“No,” he replied with a twinkle in his eyes. “You never did the induction, so you don’t know the rules. And no point learning them now. You only have three visits left. I guess we’ll be lenient.”

“What if I want to extend? Become a member?”

“I don’t think you will.”

He stifled a chuckle; something amused him immensely.

“Because I won’t be able to afford your fees?”

“Perhaps that too.” His eyes swiped over her blazer. She’d made an effort tonight, but her department store outfit was a far cry from the designer clothes his usual clients wore. Uncomfortable, Sofie shifted under his gaze before his dark eyes pinned her down. “Because, Miss Carter, you strike me as the kind of person who thinks emotional attachment is needed to fully enjoy physical pleasure.”

Heat flushed her cheeks. Why was she embarrassed? This was the norm, wasn’t it?

“I can tell you’ve been in love once,” he probed. “But it did not last, and you couldn’t find anything that came close since.”

Sofie clenched her teeth. How did he know?

She indeed had given up on seeking pleasure since Damien died. But it wasn’t because of her emotions, her job made things complicated. Protecting her identity was too bothersome for the little satisfaction she gained from random hookups. And getting emotionally attached was simply too dangerous for all involved.

“Of course, you think emotions are unnecessary?” she replied, forcing herself to sound as cool and collected as Philip. “How would you know whether sex is better with or without love?”

“What are you asking me, Miss Carter?”

He enjoyed making her spell out the ridiculous question she was about to ask a Gigolo.

“Have you ever been in love, Philip?”

He did not answer. He only watched her in amusement. Was he right? Perhaps true skill could never be trumped by simply falling in love? Sofie’s imagination ran wild with Philip satisfying scores of women in this very room without the messiness of emotions ever getting involved.

“I see,” she said to break the silence that started to feel incriminating. “Another rule, I suppose. No personal questions?”

“Yes, Miss Carter.” He paused before adding, “It’s an interesting question, though. And I don’t really know whether a skilled partner is better than a partner in love. It strikes me that the combination of both is the ideal. I hope to experience that one day. Because...” He held her eyes, amplifying the impact of his next statement, “I have never been in love.”

Yes! This is progress. He finally gave her something. Something that actually brought the case forward: he was not in love with MP Kerry, despite her power and allure. This should make it easier to extract information. The morsel of personal information also meant that he was not as impenetrable as he appeared. She just needed to chip away at his defences and she would eventually break through to his secrets.

But when she looked at Philip, victory was written all over his face, too. Her reaction must have given him some vital insights as well. With dread, she realized that two were playing this game. He wanted something from her and somehow she accidentally confirmed that he would succeed.

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