Done playing games
Sofie stood in the lobby of Club Elandra. It had been two weeks since she was here last. Even though she’d made her decision the very next day, it took this long to secure another visit. She clearly wasn’t getting any special treatment, despite Philip stressing how little time there was left.
It probably was just a game, that’s what her mind fell back on as the days were stretching in anticipation of tonight. It couldn’t come soon enough. All this suspense, the excitement, the jitters, it wasn’t normal. Nothing of this felt like her usual cases. It was like looking forward to... a date.
While the receptionist made the discreet call, Sofie adjusted her dress for the third time and glanced into the mirror above the side table. At least she looked good!
“Philip? Miss Carter is here for you.”
It sounded harmless and professional, though to Sofie it felt anything but. Her palms were sweaty and her heart was beating in her throat. Was she really such a nervous wreck? The heck why? She had been in difficult situations before. Even life threatening ones. They never got to her. But tonight felt different. Tonight, she put herself in danger. Her heart was threatening to cut off her escape routes. If things got out of control this could spiral into an addiction. An addiction that would leave her craving for an obscenely priced drug she could never afford again.
She heard the familiar footsteps and her heart rate accelerated when Philip walked down the stairs. He wore his navy-blue suit and an enigmatic smile. Just like he did haunting her dreams, where she would slide her hand between the buttons of his white shirt to feel the warmth of his skin.
Sofie had never been the drug-seeking type; allowing herself pleasures only in carefully controlled quantities. But she was different with Philip. She couldn’t trust herself around him. She wanted to taste the forbidden fruit. Lose her restraints. Take it all. She was curious, eager and reckless. And somehow, she was strangely ok with that.
“Welcome back to Club Elandra, Miss Carter.”
“Good to be back.”
Her voice sounded normal. As if this was a regular Thursday night for her. Good! At least some parts of her body were still under her control.
“Shall we?” he asked, holding out his hand.
Philip’s eyes met Sofie’s. A sharp pain shot through her belly, and she could only nod in response to his question. Her voice would surely betray her this time.
Keeping her cool was even harder than expected. Her nerves were meant to settle after seeing him in the flesh. After comparing the real Philip with the imaginary version she had unwittingly elevated to perfection in her head. After finding this one unsatisfactory. But to her dismay, he was just as handsome, just as intriguing, just as capable of reading her desires. And her pulse quickened realizing that the real Philip could even fulfil them.
She needed the short walk to his room to regain her equilibrium. Acclimate to his presence, to the instant electricity, and to that intoxicating scent of his.
Arriving at the bedroom suite was a deja-vu. Everything was as delectable and exclusive as she remembered. The only difference was an ice bucket with champagne instead of scotch on the coffee table.
“Do you want a glass?” he asked, not even offering alternatives.
It was a safe choice. One might call it the boring choice, if not for the infuriating fact that sparking wine was the only alcoholic drink Sofie actually enjoyed. He couldn’t have known that. Could he?
“Yes, thank you.”
She ignored the excitement she felt from the pop of the freshly opened bottle, and took a seat.
“So, you’ve decided to take me up on my offer.”
His fingers touched hers as he handed her the champagne flute and seated himself beside her. She could feel the slight dip on the leather couch, it mimicked the emotional pull she already felt towards him.
“Why do you say that? I might still only want to talk.”
She aimed for ‘teasing confidence’ but her tone betrayed her. She took a fidgety sip from the champagne glass. She had worked herself into a nervous wreck. The Sofie sitting on the couch tonight was a bundle of doubt and desire. A far cry from the cool and calculated journalist, she needed to be. She didn’t even recognize herself. And she sure as hell did not like her. Maybe she should take the hint? Talking or, better yet, leaving sounded like the smart option all of a sudden.
“I don’t think you wanted to talk,” he smiled darkly. “You’ve made up your mind before you came.”
“How’d you know?”
“You’re wearing different makeup...” He lightly caressed her check with the back of his hand. Leaning closer to breathe her in, he added, “you put on perfume. And...” He traced two fingers across the shoulder straps of her bra. ”You’re wearing different underwear. Laces if I’m not mistaken.” He chuckled. “And I can’t wait to see what color.”
He continued tracing her bra towards the middle of her chest, just where the lace ended and her skin began. Little goosebumps of pleasure followed his trail. Her body reacted even though he stayed well above the mount of her breasts, where her nipples had already formed hard aching buttons that tried to lure him in, like perilous sirens.
“But if you just want to talk.” He moved back. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”
She did not know where her conviction suddenly came from but she did not want his touch to end. Glancing into his eyes she saw a pure unbridled excitement, like he too needed this touch. It was there for only a fraction of a second before the sly mask of the controlled seducer fell back into place.
“But,” she hedged, ignoring what she just saw, ”I want to see the YubiKey first.”
He leaned back, looking at her as if he could not quite connect her two opposing statements.
“Ever the player, Miss Carter!” He lightly shook his head, before adding with a chuckle, “for a moment, I thought we were finally done playing games.”
Sofie breathed a sigh of relief. She managed to stay in control and her carefully crafted facade seemed to remain intact. She was still hiding the roaring fire within. A fire that rapidly cut off all her escape routes and trapped her inside her burning heart. But so far no one could see the state she was in, not even Philip.
To emphasize her point she replied, “I am never done playing, Philip. My work is too important.”
“I see. Well then, the YubiKey is right over here.”
He pointed to a stylish vitrine. Four glass walls formed a free standing multi-level tower. Like in a shrine, small light sources illuminated the delicate objects within. Sofie moved closer. There were little ceramic figurines, medals in their celebratory casings, and wooden sculptures. All unique, precious and likely irreplaceable. All belonging into a museum rather than the bedroom of a gigolo.
“What is all of this?” Sofie laughed. “Additional payments from your clients? Don’t you think your horrendous price tag is more than enough already?”
Sofie’s eye fell on the YubiKey. There were finely engraved red letters on the carbon black metal casing. The connecting gold circuits protruded from the main body. It looked delicate, intricate, and even smaller than a USB stick. Despite being a high-tech machine, it didn’t look out of place amongst the other artefacts. For all intents and purposes it was just as valuable as the diamond crusted cup next to it. Perhaps even more so, for it had the power to change history.
Sofie’s fingers twitched. It was right there! She could easily break the glass, take the key and run. But she wouldn’t get very far. The security guards would have overpowered her long before she made it to her car. No. Honoring their deal was the only way. Was what separated her from what she wanted. So, she’d better get on with it.
But when she looked back at Philip his lips had turned into thin lines. He didn’t like what she was implying about his price tag.
“They’re tokens of appreciation,” he said flatly. “It might seem strange to you, but some women enjoy spending time with me. They bring little souvenirs back to me, to let me know that they thought of me during their travels.”
She swallowed. He didn’t see his clients as cash cows. He formed a bond with them. It was more than just a service rendered. It was a sort of friendship. He treated them as human beings, while she was seeing him as a cliché only.
“I enjoy spending time with you too,” she replied, glancing up at him. It was as close to an apology as she was willing to go.
With one fluid motion he closed the space between them and wrapped his arm around her waist.
“Then show me,” he breathed against her lips.
He was waiting for her to take the lead. To initiate the kiss. His breathing had become shallow and Sofie could feel his heartbeat speeding up. Heat radiated from him. It hadn’t been there before. The restraint to hold back was clearly costing him.
Sofie let her hand glide up his muscular arms, over the padded edges of his suit and embraced his broad shoulders. Electricity flowed through her body, as she connected with the skin above his starched collar. Warm and soft. Vulnerable. Inviting her in. This wasn’t the gigolo. This was the man behind the myth. This was him.
She gently pulled his head closer and brushed her lips against his. The light flow of sparks turned into a ripping current as he kissed her back. His hand cradled the back of her head, fisting her long brown hair and their connection deepened. Desire swallowed Sofie and her hungry hands started to explore the rest of his body. A moan formed in her throat. Yes. This was what she needed and she wanted more. Wanted it all.
“Easy,” he rasped, breaking away from her.
It wasn’t clear whether he said it to her or himself. This kiss had affected him just as much, and clearly more than he had expected.
Sofie reached for her burning lips. Raw impulse had propelled her and she must have overstepped the mark. This was worse than what she had given herself concession for. It wasn’t just curiosity and desire anymore. Looking into the fire burning unrestrained in his eyes, she knew that she had the ability to affect him too. This was a liability she could not allow herself. A slippery slope she was not prepared to navigate. This cannot go further.
Noticing the change, he let go of her and stepped back.
“You want out of our deal.”
It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. And he was reading her well. But it also carried an emotion that Sofie could not quite place. Unease? Frustration? Disappointment? Relief?
“You’re very observant, Philip.”
“It’s my job to notice,” he replied, deflated.
“Yes, but how?”
He sighed, humouring her by continuing the conversation.
“I use key principles from human psychology and deduce the likely outcome. Like, for example, that you like champagne. Or...” The energy in his voice suddenly changed, “that you still want the YubiKey. That the game is not over yet. You’re hoping to renegotiate the terms. Am I right?”
“Impressive,” Sofie mumbled, while racking her brain for the hint that had given away her intentions. ”And yes, I’ve not given up.”
“What makes you think I’m willing to change our deal?”
“Well Philip, I still have one more visit,” she smiled with the confidence of knowing that she had finally taken control. “And I intend to make you an offer you’ll find irresistible.”