After a fractured sleep I woke the next morning still confused about what had happened before Tobias had left my apartment. I had wanted more, I had wanted him to stay, but he had made his position perfectly clear. We had to respect boundaries.
He hadn’t called to change tonight’s plans however, which meant I was in for several awkward hours with him tonight. More than once during the day I picked up my phone and contemplated calling with some kind of health complaint to get out of the evening. In the end though, couldn’t bring myself to bail on him. He had always attended these things dateless, but he’d never been to a function completely alone. I knew what being alone felt like and I couldn’t do it to him.
As if stressing out about the awkwardness wasn’t enough to strike fear into my heart, I researched the ball we were meant to be attending and let my mouth open in shock. The guest list was impressive, A list celebrities, billionaire business men, supermodels and then right at the bottom of the food chain was me… a plus one. Compared to the beautiful rich list I was a no one, I was the insignificant one. Why the hell had he picked me?
The guard called when my appointment with the in house spa came. He sent them up to my apartment and a few minutes later I opened my door. Two immaculate women walked in and smiled. “We’re here to get you ready doll. Mr Clarke has given us two hours.” One of the women walked over to me and brushed a perfectly manicured hand over my brow line. “Looks like we’ll need it. How about you go take a shower. We’ll set up.”
I frowned, slightly insulted.
“Uh, alright.” I drawled walking through the apartment to the bathroom.
I closed the door and rolled my eyes. Sure, I wasn’t exquisite, and I didn’t have the money to keep myself preened, but I still did alright. I showered anyway, I wanted to look the part and if that meant combating a jumped up beauticians insults, then so be it.
I dried myself and walked out of the bathroom wearing a robe over my strapless bra and panties. The women sat me down, one worked on my brows, while the other focused on my nails. The one who done my brows stood back after a few minutes and nodded. “Much better, you know you’re lucky you have such a perfect natural line, you just needed a little tweak.”
“Thank you.” I replied confused. One minute she had made me sound like a hot mess, now I had a perfect brow line.
“I think we’ll go for natural makeup. You’ll be wearing a mask after all, and you have such a clear face. Seems a shame to cover that all with a padding of makeup.”
“I’ll leave that up to you. I know how to apply the bare minimum for work and that’s about it.” I smiled.
“Well that’s that then.” She smiled. “Betty, when you’ve finished there, you can start on her hair. I think down, but with a curl?
“Of course.” Betty replied, not looking up from my hands.
By 7pm they were done, The only thing left to do was put on my dress and shoes. Once I was dressed the three of us walked to the elevators after locking my apartment. The two women got out on the third floor while I continued down to the ground floor. I waited in the foyer for Tobias to pick me up. My nerves were on the verge of consuming me whole until 7:30pm on the dot when a black limo pulled up outside. The doorman nodded in my direction.
“Ma’am I believe your date is here.” He murmured opening the door.
“Uh thanks.” I replied, my mind was caught up on the word date. That wasn’t what this was, Tobias had made it clear we weren’t to be anything other than the status quo. I was accompanying him to a formal function… I wasn’t his date, this was business.
I walked out the door, the setting sun meant that the streets were bathed in an orange glow. The back door of the Limo opened and Tobias stepped out. He looked amazing, dressed in a black designer suit, with a black shirt and tie. He walked toward me and smiled, his eyes dropped down before slowly moving back up.
“I half expected you to cancel on me.” Tobias murmured, holding out his hand. “But I’m glad you didn’t. You look amazing by the way.”
I slipped my hand in his and walked with him toward the limo. “I’m not going anywhere. I told you that. You can rely on me.”
Tobias didn’t say anything, but his grip on my hand tightened. I climbed into the car and sat down. The door closed and the car began to move.
“Champagne?” He asked, lifting a bottle out of a small refrigerator. I nodded and he proceeded to pour us both a glass.
“Thank you.” I smiled taking the glass. I sipped on the sweet bubbly alcohol and willed it to fill me with courage. Tonight I was sure as heck going to need it.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Tobias said suddenly. He grabbed a small black box from the seat across from me and slid it open. “Your mask.”
I leant forward and looked in the box. The mask matched my dress, it was pale pink, with lace detailings. With small diamond like diamantes encrusted around the top of it. “It’s beautiful.” I whispered.
Tobias whispered something before draining his glass and placing it down. He lifted the mask from the box and placed it over my face. His thumb stroked my cheek and our eyes locked. Every part of my being ached for him to kiss me again, but before anything could come of the moment the limo stopped. The dividing wall dropped down and the driver said. “We’re here.” before closing the window again. I looked back at Tobias who had slipped his own plain black mask on.
“You ready for this?” He murmured, placing his hand around mine.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
The driver opened the back door and Tobias slid out, pulling me with him. I stood up, out of the car and instantly we were ambushed by cameras. Tobias slid his arm around my waist and walked with me up the black carpet leading into the venue.
“Mr Clarke… Over here.” Various photographers shouted left right and center.
“In demand.” I mused.
“Believe me Ruby, It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” He replied dryly.
“Everyone loving you, wanting your attention… yeah sounds tough.” I teased.
“No one loves me Ruby.” Tobias replied, his voice cold. “They only love what they can get from me.”
He sounded despondent and sad. Did the forever closed off Tobias Clarke actually want love?
“I was joking, I know it can’t be easy.” I whispered. “But you’re wrong about no one loving you. I mean, I bet Josanna loves you.”
And despite the repeated rejection, I was beginning to think she wasn’t the only one.
Once we were inside the venue Tobias relaxed slightly. He used the function to network with me on his arm. I stood there, as he spoke to various business acquaintances and while we were at a function, it was obvious there was still a lot of business talk going on. Sometime later, After two pina coladas my bladder was suddenly on the verge of exploding, so I excused myself and found the bathroom. I was finishing up in the stall when I heard footsteps clip the floor as they entered the room, soon after the door closed their voices filled the room.
“You still have my lipstick in your purse hon?” one of the voices exclaimed. There was a slight pause. “Thanks.”
“Like oh my god. Did you see Tobias Clarke brought a date?” The other replied in disbelief.
“Don’t you mean bought, A nobody, in a designer dress, designer shoes and beauregard’s infamous $4,000 masquerade mask.The pathetic prostitute is obviously having her pretty woman moment.” The woman cackled, while I felt like the air had been robbed from my lungs. Was I really that obviously out of place. While the sassy part of me wanted to walk out, embarrass them where they stood with my presence, I stayed put, I couldn’t handle the looks or laughs I’d get if I walked out.
“Bitchy…” the other woman laughed. “You sound jealous.”
“I am. Everyone knows Tobias is an animal in the bedroom. All hot and primal. I’ve heard the stories. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard them too.”
I frowned, they were talking about him like he wasn’t a person but a sex toy. They didn’t know him at all.
“Oh I’ve heard them. Well, I’m sure if you strut your stuff in that dress, the moment he’s tossed that slut aside, he can have you… and me at the same time.” The girls both laughed.
“Oh you bad bad girl.”
The two women left the bathroom. I gasped, unaware I had been holding my breath. I stood up, flushed and walked to the basin. I wanted to run from the ball, I wanted to hide from judgement… My eyes filled with tears but I managed to will them away with the help of a tissue. I swallowed hard and walked out of the bathroom and over to Tobias, who was talking to another business associate. He looked at me, and frowned. He excused himself from whomever he was talking to and pulled me aside.
“Are you okay?”
“Mmmhmm.” I lied.
“You’re lying.” He murmured managing to see right through me. “Why?”
His eyes bored through mine, somehow he had me pegged, he knew something was wrong with me. I smiled and shook my head. I just wanted to forget about it. “Let’s dance?”
Tobias frowned and looked down. “I don’t know how. I never learned.”
“Neither did I.” I admitted. “But I’m sure we can sway in time to the music.”
“Sway.” Tobias exclaimed with a wry smile. “If you say so Ruby.”
I nodded and took his hand in mine, leading him out onto the dance floor. We stood there, awkwardly unsure how to go about whatever it was we were trying to do. Tobias sighed and placed his hands on my hips.
“Put your arms around my neck.” He murmured. “And sway.”
I listened, wrapping my arms around his neck. It brought us closer, our bodies were melted into one another, I rest my chin on his shoulder and we swayed to the music.
“Will you tell me now?” he said softly.
“Can we just forget it?” I whispered.
“You’re upset. I can tell.” He replied. “Please, just tell me.”
I sighed and spied a couple of girls watching me and Tobias from the bar. They were whispering, snickering and pointing in our direction. I wondered if they were the vile women in the bathroom.
“I think my presence here has people wondering if you bought me… You know, for the night.” I said slowly, pulling back so that I could look him in the eye. His eyes darkened and he lifted a hand from my hip to my face. His thumb brushed my cheek and he shook his head.
“It says more about me than it does about you.” He assured me sadly. “People generally don’t like being around me.”
Except they had wanted to bed him, and they’d spoken about it like it was nothing. I clenched my jaw and shook my head. “No, it says more about them than it does about either of us.”
We stopped swaying, Tobias smiled and bit his lip, his hand was still on my face and I had to admit the warmth was comforting. “Do you want to get out of here?”
Tobias led me across the dancefloor and through the crowds of people talking and drinking. We spilled out the doors and faced the onslaught of cameras once more. A few minutes later the limo pulled up and we climbed in.
“Would you like a night cap?” Tobias murmured
I looked at him, aware that saying no was obviously the right option. Aware that saying yes would inevitably lead to another moment that left me breathless, closely followed by another rejection.
Against my better judgement I nodded. I was a moth close to the flame, too curious to back away. Tobias called out to the driver and advised him to drive to his apartment then the car began to move. I slipped the mask off my face and held it out to Tobias. He slipped his own off and put them together on the chair with the box mine had come in.
We didn’t speak a word as we drove through the city streets. The car pulled into the parking garage of an apartment complex two blocks down from my place. We got out of the car and Tobias led me to an elevator.
“Thank you for tonight.” I whispered stepping into the elevator ahead of Tobias. He looked at me and tilted his head.
“Really. Being my date had you accused of being my prostitute.” He scoffed.
“Tobias, I was there because I wanted to be, not because you paid me to be there. I promise.”
“I strong armed you into coming.” He warned. “I basically gave you no choice.”
“And yet, I still wanted to go.” I assured him.
Tobias laughed, but it was a self deprecating laugh, like he didn’t believe a word I’d said. I sighed and folded my arm across my chest. “I never went to my senior prom.”
“In high school, my prom. I never went.” I replied. “I never went to parties, pep rallies, dances. Nothing. I was curious, I wanted to see what all the glitz was like. I wanted to be there tonight Tobias. I really did.”
“But with me…” he laughed.
“Yes. With you. I had fun tonight and even though some stupid little girls who had to cut me down because they’re jealous they can’t have you said some nasty things, I wouldn’t change any of it.”
The door pinged open and I walked out. Tobias walked passed me, walking up to a door and swiping a card. He pushed the door open and walked inside. I closed it behind me. Tobias’ apartment was like mine on steroids. Except instead of the minimalist clean white lines, it was all dark, granite and blackened marble. He walked into his open plan kitchen and grabbed a bottle of what looked like scotch from a liquor cabinet. He took out two glasses and poured generous amounts in both before picking them up and walking back over to me.
He held one out, and once I’d taken it he drained his glass. He waited, impatiently tapping his italian shoes on the dark polished wood floor. I drank the drink and handed the glass back.
“Another?” He drawled walking back into the kitchen
“No.” I replied. “I think maybe I should head home.”
Tobias stopped, he placed the glasses down and looked up at me. “Do you want to leave?”
I frowned and bit my lip. “What I want doesn’t matter Tobias.”
“How do you figure that Ruby?” he replied lifting the scotch bottle up and pouring another glass.
“Because the other day in your office. I wanted more. Last night, I wanted more. Both times you left… you stopped like it was nothing. I am attracted to you Tobias. I can’t keep fighting it, I don’t want to… But it doesn’t matter, because you have to want it too.” I looked down and shrugged. I had nothing left to lose, I figured laying it all out meant I get the awkwardness out of the way now. “And you don’t.”
His glass hit the granite counter top with a thud. I closed my eyes, I’d pissed him off, which hadn’t been my intention. I walked backwards toward the door, eager to leave and escape the embarrassment of my admission. But before I could move much further, Tobias’ arms slid around my waist, his lips hit my neck, trailing kisses up the sensitive skin until his teeth nibbled on the lobe of my ear.
“I do want it.” he said lowly. “I want you.”