Skin of the Night

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Chapter 57: Well, Then Yes

After greeting Daphne and John in the foyer of their home in Chelsea, I was just about to shut the front door after myself when a familiar hand curled around the wood of it to prevent me. Startled, both by the surprise of company outside the door, and recognising the hand all too well, I managed to blush and freeze. Since I was clearly crazy about him, all I could think of was the fact that those long and beautiful digits, with healthy nails cut short, had been fingering me on several occasions last night.

When he had pushed the door open to greet us where we stood, he journeyed the very same hand to greet his father and mother, and that made me blush even harder.

“Mum. Dad,” he greeted and, after kissing Daphne on the cheek, turned toward Jason and I for a more thorough acknowledgement.

“Useless waste of space,” he greeted his brother, as though that were his name, and then finally turned his attention to me.

Had it been any other day, Jason would have laughed at that, but after the regrettable turn of events with Olivia last night, playful humour had just about orphaned him. Seeming to notice the same, William’s eyes flickered in Jason’s direction again while he reached forward for my hand. After sizing his younger brother up for a quick breath, he frowned to himself, puzzled, and then offered me his full attention.

As his large and warm hand closed around mine, my heart stopped beating. That weird electricity, which had yet to become familiar to me, poured through my hand and surged through my veins till it bolted straight through my heart. Myriad butterflies fluttered around my belly. I wanted to jump on him, and I wanted to kiss him.

But I couldn’t.

Now that we were reunited again, I – ridiculous as it was – realised the true extent of how profoundly I had missed him the last few hours. Like a snake to its master’s flute, I stared hypnotised into his piercing blue eyes and felt my lips part only faintly. How I loved him. He was such a beautiful man. The struggle to recover following the acute intensity of his gaze meeting mine never relented. My thoughts were scattering around my head in a chaotic mess, and all of them were infected with young love.

“Cara,” he softly greeted, and there was a twinkle in his eyes. “Nice to see you outside the office,” he told me, and I thought I would expire. What a cheeky bastard. “I’m glad you decided to come,” he added and passed me a wink. The urge to slap him was vicious. From the thrill in his orbs, I could see the immense amusement he found in this: teasing me in front of his blindsided parents.

“Yeah,” Jason chimed in, “she’s got to be home by ten, though.”

It would seem that his humour had been restored after successfully perceiving William’s insinuations. It was seldom that I saw William taken aback, but if anyone could manage it, it was certainly Jason. He spoke William’s language fluently, and I found it incredibly funny. I just barely managed not to laugh. Jason could be seriously slick.

“Ten, you said?” William echoed.

Jason smoothly covered it up with, “Yeah, she’s got a Skype date with her sister, Phoebe. Lives in New York.”

“You have a sister living in New York?” Daphne asked of me, seemingly enthused. Turning my attention to her, I sent her a shy smile.

“Yeah. Younger sister. She studies business at Columbia,” I explained.

“Clever girl,” John commented. “Like her sister, I suppose.”

“Like her sister, indeed,” William insisted and tucked his hands into his pockets.

“Yes – William tells me you’re doing excellently, Cara,” John said while he started guiding the way into the living area. Following after him, I frowned to myself as I wondered if William’s opinion was entirely biased, or relatively true.

“I try my best, at least. I’m starting to get the hang of things, and Ellie’s been tremendous help. It’s a lot to keep track of, though. Especially William’s Porter & Co case. I’m trying to stay up to date with his work on it, but I have to admit, he and Lawrence work incredibly fast, so it does get difficult sometimes. But William’s a patient teacher, and he’s quick to notice when I’m confused about something. So I’m managing fine because of that.

“All in all, John, I am so thankful for this opportunity. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that you’ve collected a brilliant team of solicitors in the firm. They inspire me every day. Even better, the more time I spend at Day & Night, the more certain I am about the fact that this is what I want to do.”

He halted and glimpsed me across his shoulder with a crooked smile on his mouth. “Corporate law?”

I nodded.

“Well, good thing you’ve attained plenty of connections during this internship. I’m sure it will be most useful when you eventually write your dissertation for your LLM. Moreover, it’s not a rare thing to be hired by the firm you did an internship with, when you finally finish your degree,” he continued and sent me a wink. I blinked back, nonplussed.

I hadn’t thought of that quite this way before. Sure, when I first applied for the internship, I’d had hopes that I would impress during my time with Day & Night, preferably to the extent that they would consider hiring me when I eventually finished my degree. But ever since it was brought to my awareness that I had coincidentally slept with my superior, I had eliminated the option of working there later on. Instead, I had started to regard it as a nice addition to my CV when I eventually applied for a job elsewhere.

Working for the same firm as William? If what we had evolved into an actual relationship, I couldn’t see it happening. It seemed inappropriate.

“Heh,” I replied instead, awkward and unsure of how to react. I sensed William glance at me from the corner of his eye, but when I looked over his expression was unreadable.

“Darling, did you say you visited Alexander today?” Daphne queried of her eldest as we settled in the sofa group of their opulent and sybaritic home. Meanwhile, John asked of me, “Wine, Cara?”

“Yes, thank you,” I replied modestly. Around John, I couldn’t help my fleeting eyes. I hadn’t thought it possible for anyone to be more intimidating than William at a first glance, but his father was. Sporting the same piercing blue eyes, it was as though he read your entire soul in the span of a mere breath. Because of it, I couldn’t stand holding his gaze. Those few times we locked eyes, I could have sworn that if I lingered a second too long, he would realise that I had seen his son naked on several occasions simply from a glance into mine. There was shrewdness about John that contested even William. Simply, he was William times two. Knowing that, he should not be underestimated under any circumstance.

Apprehensive, I glued my stare to his handsome hands as they poured a glass of rosé for me. The fact that I saw so much of John in William made me wonder about Daphne and John’s relationship. Here they sat, married for thirty-one years. Directing my eyes to Daphne, I watched her blue eyes soften while she studied William’s profile. Maternal affection oozed from her entire person while she did.

I’d always liked Daphne – tremendously, in fact. While she was prone to silence, she wasn’t shy. She was patient and wise, but she could snap when she disagreed with something being said or done.

When I took into account how much figurative room charismatic John took up, I gathered it was only natural that they would complement each other in that department. He talked; she listened. Not all the time, of course, but that was the gist of it, I reckoned.

“Yes, I did. He sends his regards,” William replied to her. “He broke up with Abigail last night. He told Andy and I over breakfast this morning.”

“He did what?” Jason queried astonished. “He broke up with Abbie? God. At last.”

William chuckled. “That’s what I said.”

“At last,” Daphne echoed before a scoff. “Don’t be rude, you two. Is Alexander all right?”

“Thank fuck,” John uttered through a loud huff, as if he hadn’t heard his wife, or just simply disagreed with her, and shocked me all the same. Utter silence commenced for a few seconds, and I sensed both William and Jason look to me, as if anticipating my reaction. Then, all of the sudden, John burst out laughing and sent me a smile so handsome you’d think he was years younger. There was no doubting which parent Jason and William had to thank for their charms. I could see the evidence in his grin.

“Pardon my French, Cara,” he excused himself while Daphne covered her face with the palm of her hand, seemingly despaired by her husband. “I can be a bit blunt.”

I couldn’t help my snicker. Finally, I knew where Jason and William found their inspiration. John was the culprit, and while I’d suspected it, it was profoundly amusing to witness it in action. What a controversial style of parenting.

“Oh, be my guest, John,” I replied with a lazy wave of my hand. “I’ve grown quite used to blunt personas after living with your son and having your other as my boss. Just another day, this.”

He joined my laughter, and I realised from the sound that he was slightly embarrassed of himself and therefore appreciated how forgiving I was. “I tend to practice caution, but whenever I’m in my own home, I throw it to the wind. We prize honesty here, and sometimes, I confuse that with transparency.”

“As you might understand,” Jason said and placed his hand on my thigh to pay it a squeeze, “Abigail is not a popular person in this household.”

I’d heard so much of Abigail since last night that I was honestly starting to wish I’d met her. Perhaps then, would I understand what was so awfully dreadful about her.

“Allow me to explain,” John said and placed the bottle onto the table before handing out a glass to each of us, starting with me. Afterward, he lowered his hand, flat out, until it reached just above his knee, and looked directly into my eyes. “I’ve known Alexander since he was this big – or small, I should say,” he started. “I forget, huge man that he is now. Six-foot-seven, is he?” he enquired while looking at William.

“Yeah.”

John turned toward me again. “Huge fellow. Anyway, that chap has grown into one of the most benevolent and intelligent men I know. It’s truly remarkable how reflected and down-to-earth he is, especially when you consider the fact that he’s now a twenty-nine-year-old billionaire. And after he took over for his father, he’s propelled the company into a global success. I am in awe of his achievements.

“But, you see, after his father died – my good friend Nathan – Alexander took it quite hard. They were like two peas in a pod, his father and he. It was only soon after his death when Abigail, Alexander’s girlfriend, decided to pursue him. Or so William tells me. Now, I’ve only known Abigail since she was around sixteen and started to socialise with William’s circle a bit more, but my impression of her was never a good one. Quite frankly, she struck me as a spoiled brat who only thinks about herself.

“If you combine a personality like that with a selfless one like Alexander’s, it doesn’t tend to end well for the selfless party. I love that chap as though he were my own son, and that relationship hasn’t been healthy for him.” He turned toward William. “So if it’s true what you say, and he’s finally decided to let her go, I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

“Cheers to that,” Jason said and raised his glass.

“And they say women gossip,” Daphne commented underwhelmed but raised her glass nonetheless.

“They say that because they don’t truly know or understand us,” I said to her with a crooked smile on my mouth. The gleam in her eyes when she met mine spoke louder than words. She approved, and I could tell I had impressed her by saying it. Had there been any room for doubting that, her ensuing grin erased it.

“Just to clarify,” William murmured and looked mischievously between us, “who are ‘they’?”

“Since you have to ask, the concept of stereotyping women is clearly foreign to you, so you’re not included under that term,“I replied, and struggled to hide fondness from my tone.

While nodding to himself, he chuckled. “Happy to hear that.”

“So are you meeting Alexander on Friday, then?” John asked of William and had himself a seat beside me. “For Lakewood’s charity event?”

His eldest nodded back at him.

“Are you bringing a date?” Jason asked of him, and I nearly gaped. It was obvious that he was only trying to pull his brother’s leg, but I was becoming collateral damage. Because I’d told him earlier today, he knew full well that I was going to be William’s plus one.

Daphne and John watched William with the eyes of a hawk when he leisurely sipped on his glass of wine, seemingly unaffected. After he had devoured the aftertaste of the pink liquid for an extended while, Daphne groaned.

“Oh, William. Must you be so annoying?”

I giggled. I relished the dynamics of this family. It was both rewarding and refreshing to witness how well they knew each other. More than that, I appreciated the fact that they seemed to let their guard down around me. I had every reason to believe that it was because they considered me Jason’s best mate above anything else, regardless of my internship. I felt part of the family.

John muttered, “He was born annoying, dear. Took him nearly thirty hours to get out of you.”

What a comedy show. I’d pay money to see this, and I was getting it for free. Only bad side to it was that I wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate to laugh.

“You can laugh,” Jason assured me, appearing to have heard my thoughts, or perhaps it was the hand that covered my mouth that gave me away.

“What’s it to you?” William finally brought himself to reply, and I silently commended the fact that his eyes hadn’t as much as darted in my direction.

“Oh, you know what it is to us,” Daphne scolded.

While smirking to himself, he nodded his head and stared into the pink but transparent liquid of his glass. “Well, then yes, I am bringing a date.”

I nearly spurted into my sip, as I hadn’t foreseen his reply for the life of me. It took all my willpower to gently lower my glass and feign nonchalance, because within me, my heart was wreaking havoc. If he dared to mention me, I’d be furious. That was something he ought to consult me about first. While John didn’t directly supervise me at work, he was still a version of a boss to me. I’d like to have a say in how we revealed our secret to him.

Beside me, Jason stiffened, and from it, I could tell that he hadn’t expected him to be quite this bold either.

“Who?” John asked, and I could hear that he was astonished.

William looked straight at him. “She’s a lovely girl. Incredibly clever, and has got a sharp mouth, so I’m positive you’ll adore her, if ever I get to introduce her to you as my girlfriend. As it is now, we’re only casually dating, so I’m not going to reveal anything else. I don’t want to set any expectations I can’t meet.”

“At least tell us her name,” Daphne demanded, uncharacteristically impatient.

“Nope,” William replied before he blew his cheeks out and shook his head. And that was that. My heart felt to have run a bloody mile in the span of a second. I was nearly out of breath, for crying out loud. That had been too close.

I’d just managed to compose myself a few minutes later when William and I coincidentally locked eyes. Taking advantage of the moment, he paid me a wink, leaving my heart to stumble in its beats.

Dreadful heartthrob.


After dinner, I was roaming through the halls upstairs after using the loo. We’d settled for tea on the terrace, and on our way there, Jason had pointed to a door and whispered in my ear that it was William’s childhood bedroom. Now that I was about to pass it again, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Sneaking toward the door, I turned the handle and peeked inside, grossly curious as to what memories and clues it might contain with respects to his childhood. Unsurprisingly, the shelves above a large black desk were decorated with all sorts of prizes and awards, ranging from sports to academic achievements. Upon closer inspection, I saw he’d won several chess prizes. Well, I should have anticipated as much.

It was a very spacious and tidy bedroom, hosting a small sofa and a big flatscreen TV. But weirdly, it was so neatly put together that it looked almost sterile. Apart from the shelves above his desk, every surface area was cleaned of all objects. Perhaps he’d removed them when he moved out? Or had it always looked like this?

Not even the edge of his desk had a dent or mark in the dark wood. It made me wonder if he’d had a desk before this one that had been replaced, but after a visual sweep of the frame of his king-sized bed to my left, and even the windowsills, I could tell it wasn’t the case. William was, and always had been, in the habit of taking excellent care of the things in his possession. Supposed that included me.

While tracing my fingers across the smooth and white paint of his windowsill, I gazed around again and tried to picture him as a child. It wasn’t too difficult to imagine him seated by his desk, doing coursework. It was a little harder to imagine him seducing Blaire, his first sexual partner. Looking toward his bed, my nose wrinkled. Had they done it there?

Gross.

Shuddering, I looked around again and studied the decorations on his wall. Nearly all of it consisted of Chelsea FC posters. Just barely not a hooligan, I reminded myself.

“She said no?” I heard William utter appalled from the corridor outside. I tensed. I could not be caught in here. It would render me into a creep.

“Flat out ‘no’. Said I’m too much of a brother to her,” Jason replied monotone.

“She said ‘brother’?” William replied, incredulous.

“Yeah.”

“Fuck me. That’s brutal. I’m sorry to hear that, Jason. Especially when you finally grew the balls to do it. You don’t deserve this. Though, Cara has given me the impression that she’s got poor taste in men.”

Had I? When?

“Yeah, I’m not bothered. I’ll get over it. I’m grateful you motivated me to ask, anyway. Nice not having to wonder anymore.”

They were drawing nearer, so I panicked. Rushing forward, I ducked under William’s desk and held my breath.

“To be perfectly honest with you, J, I don’t think Olivia’s the right type of girl for you. She’s too... standard. You’re not into the same things at all. Sure, she’s sweet and everything, but I think you’d be better off with a girl who’s more... I don’t know, challenging? Fun? Unconventional? Olivia doesn’t challenge you intellectually. You’ve always said that. I think the perfect girl for you is some beautifully strange individual.”

“Will, you’re having me sound desperate. Don’t be a dick.”

“Sorry. That wasn’t my intention. I know you’re not looking for a girlfriend. I only meant to say that I think this was for the best. You two never really struck me as... compatible.”

“You’re an arsehole... I’ve got serious feelings for her.”

“And feelings can be stupid.”

“You’ve got no idea how badly and how often I want to open your brain and fix what’s wrong with it.”

William guffawed. “Spoken like the neurosurgeon you want to become.”

“Think Cara’s lost?”

“It’s a big house.”

“Maybe she’s just having a shit.”

Oh, my God. No. He did not just say that. Not to the sole man I had ever fallen in love with. I could kill him. Beneath William’s desk, I cringed about ten times in a row as Jason’s words replayed in my mind. My hands itched to strangle him.

William moaned. “See, this is why I’m a dick to you. You’re no better yourself. Why’d you have to say that?”

“I’m a med student, Will. Bodily functions never gross me out. On the contrary, they fascinate me.”

“You’re disgusting.”

Jason’s loud laughter echoed through the corridor. “Oh, did I burst your bubble? You thought girls don’t drop a load? You thought Cara doesn’t even have an anus?”

Could this get any worse?

“That’s not what I said, and that’s not what I thought. I’m only saying that your sense of humour is shit.”

“Nice wordplay.”

That made William laugh.

“Jason!” Daphne called through the hall. “Get a move on it. My tea’s getting cold!”

“Right. Can’t have that. Was it biscuits you wanted?”

“Yes, in the cupboard beside the fridge.”

“Right.”

As soon as I heard their feet travel down the stairs, I rushed out and scurried to join John and Daphne on the terrace. When I reached the doors leading out to it, I reached an abrupt halt. Through the window, I saw only their backs, but the sight was one of those beautiful things you never forget – a scene between people where intimacy is at its purest. It struck me quite powerfully.

With his arm cradling her shoulders, John held Daphne close and trailed the tip of his nose up and down the side of her face while he appeared to whisper things in her ear. Welcoming the words, Daphne melted into his embrace and turned her pretty face to kiss him on the lips.

I stared. I couldn’t help myself. My heart contracted at the sheer beauty of their union. They were clearly happily married. When I saw things of the like, it genuinely touched me. Not only that, but their happiness seemed infectious, because I felt happy as well merely after witnessing it.

Looking at John and Daphne, I was reminded of the fact that one of my main desires in life was to have a marriage like that. I was certain they’d had their awful fights and serious pitfalls, as most marriages were guilty of, but knowing that this was the result made those fights pale and, frankly, seem trivial in comparison. Marriage was about overcoming obstacles together. It was about being a partner, not just a lover. If ever I married, I’d want that; a husband I could fight with because we were equals and because we wanted to grow together, not apart.

I sighed content. They were the very definition of a thriving partnership, and they were beautiful. Inspiring.

At the same time as a pair of strong hands gripped my hips from behind, a voice uttered in my ear, “Boo!”

Squealing inwardly, I recoiled into a familiar embrace while my heart leapt to my throat. Whirling around, I looked furiously up at William.

“What are you doing?” I growled under my breath and shoved his hands away.

Amusement swam in the serene and light blue ocean of his eyes. “What are you doing? Ogling my parents?”

I blushed profusely. “I didn’t want to interrupt.”

He chuckled. “They’re not into swinging partners, Cara. Sorry.”

“You’re an absolute egg,” I grumbled and reached for the door to open it.

“Hey, hey, wait,” he purred and intercepted my hand by grabbing my wrist and turning me toward him. After cupping my head, he glimpsed over at his parents, and when deciding it safe, descended onto my mouth while dragging me backward to hide us behind the wall.

Every time William’s perfect mouth kissed me, I lost my inhibitions. This time was no exception. Engulfed in his passion, I gripped onto the collar of his shirt and kissed him back with all I had, fully merged with the moment, but I couldn’t help the smile that kept interfering. Enjoying his mouth was one of my favourite pastimes, and it always exhilarated me those times I could. Giddy and lightheaded, I snickered into our secret kiss and pressed myself against the length of his robust anatomy while I smiled until my cheeks hurt.

To my utter delight, he eventually couldn’t help his own smile either. So when it became impossible to kiss, he pulled away to nuzzle his nose to mine instead.

“I hate that I won’t be sleeping next to you tonight,” he murmured affectionately. As I processed his sweet words, I tightened my grip of his collar.

“Me too,” I mumbled and gazed dreamily into his soft eyes. He grinned back at me for a beat before he lowered his mouth onto mine again, and as it progressed into a serious session, the clearing of a throat finally interrupted us.

“You look hungry. Good thing I brought actual food,” Jason said and showed us the biscuits he’d brought from downstairs. “You trying to get caught or what?”

“Piss off, you tit. She’s yours nearly every evening,” William muttered and pecked my lips repeatedly.

Jason giggled. “Jealous, mate?”

“If only you knew,” William grumbled against my mouth.

Beside us, Jason opened the packet of biscuits and tossed one in his mouth. Leisurely, he chewed it, while staring at us kiss. Finally, William had enough.

“Jason, what the fuck?”

He pointed to the door. “I’m scouting the coast, man. Making sure it’s all clear.”

They were, without a doubt, blood-related brothers. They knew exactly which buttons to push to trigger the desired reaction.

“Get the fuck out of my face before I kick yours,” William barked.

While roaring with laughter, Jason grabbed the handle of the door and walked out to join his parents.

“Bloody knob,” William muttered and glared after him.

While caressing his sharp jawline, I said, “I like to call him wanker, since he wanks a lot.”

That triggered his grin and eventual laugh. “How I adore your witty mouth.”

I smiled back, but it faded as soon as I started reflecting over Jason’s day. “He told me about Livy,” I murmured and studied him intensely to try and gauge his reaction. “And that you knew.”

His jaw clenched and unclenched beneath my palms. “Yeah, he mentioned it. Dumb friend of yours.”

I chuckled. “She’s a good friend. She’s just weak for bastards, and your brother isn’t one.”

“Toxic,” he remarked stoically. “I almost don’t feel sorry for her when it comes to her ex anymore. Almost.”

I patted his chest. “I know what you mean. Anyway, we should join them. We can kiss any other time.”

He sighed and let go of my hips. “Never enough times, though.”

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