I didn't need rescuing
It was the day of the highly anticipated FinTower event, where the high-rollers of the financial scene came together in an opulent night of fancy costumes and unique opportunities at the old London Tower. Or at least that’s what Sofie’s invitation letter said. But she didn’t care. She wasn’t going for the splendor. Her objective was to sound out Mr. Lee. Find out his motives. From his emails to MP Kerry, Sofie already knew that he despised the MP for meddling with his financial empire and that he wanted to gain more control on the board by snatching up Phil’s stock options. But how could she prove this in a way that stood up in court and got Phil off the hook? That’s what she’s meant to find out tonight.
“Ready to shine at the ‘Oscars of the finance world’, where the high-rollers of...”, Rachel mocked as Sofie opened the bathroom door, but she stopped mid-way through the tagline. “WOW! You clean up nicely.”
Sofie was wearing an ivory slip dress with an open back. The thin straps on her shoulders held the bodice in place, but only just. When she moved, the silk slipped precariously from side to side, revealing risky side-glimpses onto her supple breasts. Her waist was tightly hugged by a black-laced waistband that accentuated her perky buttocks in a heart shape curve, flowing down the floor-length skirt.
“Looking like that,” Rachel winked, “you don’t need to be the last woman on earth to get into my bed.”
“Stop! That’s so sexist, Rachel...” Sofie scolded, though a small part of her envied the confidence her friend had. In Rachel’s mind there was no doubt that women should fall over themselves to be with her, despite her looks. Maybe that’s what money does, or she truly believed that charm and confidence trumps good looks.
“Yeah... Play hard to get,” Rachel huffed, “But, seriously, I feel like the fairy godmother, sending Cinderella out in a stunning dress to meet...”
“Prince charming? Hardly.”
Sofie’s stomach clenched. She was meeting Mr. Lee, who could very well be a stone cold murderer.
“You are so single minded, Sof. After your business with Lee, you could have a little fun. Couldn’t you? This dress doesn’t disappear at the stroke of midnight. And neither are the willing men or women for you to shag.”
What a ridiculous thought. It would be unprofessional to linger after her assignment was done.
“Here,” Rachel placed a condom in Sofie’s handbag, “I dare you not to bring it back.”
“You gotta be kidding! I won’t have sex with a random stranger at a ball.”
“Stop being so up-tight and live a little. Everyone will be wearing masks. It’s perfectly anonymous. This is your chance to get Philón out of your head and build up a little buffer so you don’t cling to the next playboy who pretends to know what you’re thinking.”
Sofie ground her teeth. This was way out of line. But looking at Rachel’s gleeful grin, Sofie realized she was absolutely clueless how maddening her comments were.
“You know what? I really miss when I could just close the chat on you.” It was impossible to stay angry at Rachel. “Luckily, I need to leave now, which is just as good.”
She fastened her black lace mask, and summoned the lift. The mask gave her eyes a rogue flair and accentuated her ruby red lipstick. The reflection of a seductive temptress looked back at her in the mirrored lift doors. This will do.
It was dark by the time her limousine finally advanced to the entrance and the porter opened her door. He gaped at her daring dress before clearing his throat and mumbling, “Welcome to FinTower, ma’am. The reception is inside.”
Sofie smirked. Pulling out all the stops was necessary if she had any hope of getting the attention of one of London’s richest men tonight. Even if that meant playing the oldest trick in the book.
Entering the venue, she took a champagne flute from one of the roaming hostesses and surveyed the scene. The Pavillion was separated into differently themed sections. Each with a small bar and matching seating. It felt more like an expo of exclusive holiday destinations than a ball. This wasn’t how she’d pictured the event. There wasn’t a large dance floor or rows of gala dinner tables. She couldn’t simply stroll across the room and find the person she was looking for.
Luckily they had some insider information. Rachel’s connections found out that Lee would be wearing a Poseidon-themed costume. But even so, searching for a bearded man carrying a trident would not be easy. There were too many corners, nooks and little wooden cabins to find a single person amongst the 200 other guests. And after two hours of fruitless searching, Sofie needed a break.
Frustrated and with aching feed she sank into a chair at a booth that looked like the inside of a yacht. At least there was a chance for him to come here, it was the only water-themed booth around.
“What can I bring you, miss?”
A bartender in a sailor shirt that was too tight for his muscular frame leaned lazily against the bar.
“A Sea breeze, thanks.”
“Right way, luv,” he grinned, reaching for the mixer and the cranberry juice. “Can I also interest you in a dirty martini? It’s my speciality.”
“No, I’m good for now.”
He mixed the drink with all the showmanship of a screeching peacock while showing off his veiny biceps at every shake of the tumbler. He splashed the cocktail in the glass with a final acrobatic crescendo and placed it in front of Sofie. His hand lingered on the glass in an attempt to summon her attention.
“How about something else later? Something more elaborate, for the lovely lady?” He was determined to not end the conversation there. “Maybe with cream? Or something stronger? I take it you are a Vodka-girl? Am I right? Yes! I do know what you’re thinking, don’t I?”
Sofie started her rebuff when a man summoned the attention of the bartender from several seats down the counter.
“A beer, please.”
He was wearing a silver mask that covered most of his face, leaving only his full lips on display. The integrated carvings depicted a fierce fox with a long scar across his eyes.
“We don’t have beer,” the bartender replied, not taking his eyes off Sofie. “Try the booth next door.”
“Go fetch it for me, please. I can’t leave, I’m meeting someone.”
“Oi, mate. I’m in the middle of something here.”
“Really? You think you have a chance with her?” The stranger laughed. “I suggest you reconsider your answer. You want jobs like these in future, no?”
He spoke with a slight Eastern European accent. His ’r’s rolled off his tongue, giving his voice a dangerous undertone.
Sofie watched the bartender’s face fall as he glared at the man. With a single sentence, the stranger had embarrassed him and put him in his place. Begrudgingly he walked over to the fridge and pulled out a beer. He set it in front of the stranger with a little too much force. It bubbled over and left a taunting puddle around the bottle.
With a lightning fast strike the stranger grabbed the bartender’s shirt, holding him in an iron grip.
“Aren’t you going to clean this up?”
The bartender’s jaw muscles pulsed but he dutifully pulled a dishcloth out from under the desk and wiped the spilled-over beer. When he was done he wandered off with one last hoggish look at Sofie.
“Leave her in peace,” the stranger mouthed towards the bartender before getting up to leave, keeping his beer untouched. He politely nodded at Sofie, before heading for the door.
“Weren’t you meeting someone?” Sofie asked over her shoulder.
“Yes, but not here.” His eyes trailed over her naked back before he hefted them onto her face. “I just thought you needed rescuing. Was I wrong?”
His accent turned the ‘thought’ into a ‘sought’ and ‘wrong’ into ‘vrong’. But there was something else about him that kept Sofie spellbound.
“Where’s your accent from?”
“Hungary,” he replied with the fire of a Lipizzaner stud in full gallop.
“I didn’t need rescuing,” she said to keep the conversation going. “I could have handled him.”
“Well, in a dress like that you better can.”
His eyes slipped again and wandered along her body. There was disapproval in his gaze. Was he a religious person, finding her skimpy dress unchaste? A priest maybe? Sworn to celibacy, who would have to atone for lingering a moment too long on how the fabric clung to her hour-glass figure?
“But you took it upon yourself to help anyways?”
“In my culture it is considered polite to help even if it’s not… how do you say? Even if the other person is capable.”
“So you helped a capable maiden in distress?”
She leaned forward and predictably his gaze followed. There was something deliciously tempting in leading him astray. Was he too polite to end an agonizing conversation or was he a willing sinner?
“If I thought that I wouldn’t leave you here alone.”
“Are you? Leaving me here alone?”
“Yes.” He almost sounded relieved. “Please excuse me, I really do need to go.”
Sofie watched him hurry off. In his crisp black suit he reminded her of Phillip. Is this how it’s going to be? Seeing Phil in random strangers? Was he going to haunt her like that? For how long? It had been the same with Damien after his death. A small gesture, a phrase, or simply the way someone was holding their head made her think of him.
She sighed. But this time it was worse. Glimpses of Damien reminded her of the good times they had together, but Philip’s shadow seemed to doom her into finding random strangers irresistible.
Watching the Hungarian walk away reminded her that she too had a job to do. She got to her feet when she watched him shake the hand of a man a couple of booths down the hall. The other man was in an elaborate costume. Blue and green fabric hung off his arms like seaweed and he had a golden trident in his hand. He looked like… Poseidon.
That’s Mr. Lee.
Hurrying towards them, Sofie got her dress in order and pinched her cheeks for extra color. This was the perfect opportunity. She could open the conversation by thanking the Hungarian for rescuing her and then asking to be introduced to Mr. Lee.
But before she could catch up, they entered another booth. It was the largest one of the pavilion and the entrance to the Tower of London. Unlike the other booths, this one had two guards positioned at the entrance. The Hungarian shortly spoke to them before gesturing for Mr. Lee to walk through.
“Sorry, ma’am. This is the VIP section.” The guard held out his hand to stop her as she tried to follow the two men into the Tower.
“A colleague of mine just went in. His name is Mr. Lee. I’m supposed to meet him inside.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” the guard replied without even looking at her. “I really cannot let you through.”
The tone in his voice made it clear that this was not negotiable. There was a secret entrance routine and she had already failed. Feeling deflated, she stepped back.
No one else was behind her or was approaching the booth. This really must be a highly exclusive section. It puzzled her how the super-wealthy managed to create a two class society even amongst their own kind.
But with Lee inside, she had no other choice than to somehow elevate herself to this level. He wasn’t likely to come back out to mingle with the regular folk. So she needed to find a way to weasel her way inside, or it was game over for her tonight. Too bad she didn’t hold on to the Hungarian. He seemed to be well connected and his conflicted attraction for her could have been put to good use.
Maybe she could find another willing suitor?