She wakes up with an uncertain feeling that she behaved in a wrong way; her world is breaking down and nothing will be the same again. The last passengers are leaving the cabin. She is alone. Nick is gone. Dreading the worst she shoots a glance at her wrist. Thank God! The bracelet is still there! Maybe her encounter with Nick was just a dream, the deceit of her troubled mind defying her loneliness. The steward is handing her luggage.
“Are you all right, Miss?” He watches her with concern.
“Of course, thanks.”
She stands up uncertainly on her cottony feet, grasps hold of the luggage and rolls it towards the exit.
With relief she catches sight of Vincent standing at the arrivals. She throws herself into his arms. Her kiss alights on his cheek missing his averted mouth.
“Did you have a good flight, Nathalie?” He asks aloofly. How astonishing for a man who flirted with her a short time ago.
“Thanks for your concern, Vincent. Everything was just perfect.” She replies with her most charming smile.
“Haven’t you anything to tell me?”
“Not that I’d know about.” She says lightly.
“How is the weather in Oslo?”
“Summery warm,” continuing his aloof behavior he rolls her luggage towards the taxi stand.
“I thought you’d prefer to stop at the hotel to put there your belongings and freshen up. So let’s do it.”
“To the Grand Hotel,” he directs the driver.
They get out in front of a most elegant hotel situated on Oslo’s grandest street “Karl Johans Gate”.
“As it is your first stay in Oslo I’d like you to keep a good souvenir of the Norwegian capital.” Persevering in his role of a perfect escort Vincent leads her through the timelessly classic and grand lobby.
“No need to check in. It’s been already seen to.” he answers her questioning glance.
“I thought that for you, used to the historical beauty of Prague, the Grand Hotel built in 1874 would be the best choice. See, even the gilded elevator shows off its glorious past.” He chats pleasantly pointing at the gold and red cabin mounting them up in a venerable silence of well entertained machinery.
“I chose for you the “Ladies floor”, the Grand Hotel’s rarity. Its thirteen extravagant rooms are designed to pander to the ladies’ tastes. Here we are!”
He puts the key into the lock, steps aside and lets her enter.
“I’ll be waiting for you in the lobby. Take your time. There is just one little detail we have to look to first. May I go in for a minute?
“Of course, do!” She watches him puzzled what this “little detail” may be.
He takes her hand into his. Waiting for a hand kiss as an overture to the “little detail” sends shivers down her spine. Thinking the intriguing situation over, she examines the two possibilities: to permit or to forbid? That’s not THE question. Life is too short to say NO!
“Thanks for your patience, Nathalie! “ He sighs with relief after having opened the intricate lock on the bracelet and put it into the safety of his breast pocket.
“Have a nap if you feel like it. I’’ have enough to do in the meantime.” He takes leave of her on a slight bow.
She sinks onto the armchair with a sigh. Maybe it is better so. Why to complicate her life even more?
The room has a homey feel though you would hardly find these sophisticated items at home and certainly not at her place in Prague. The yoga mat by the window, a ceramic dish with fruit on the round table, shelves filled with many-lingual books and glossy magazines on the coffee table set her mind at rest. Reclining in the armchair she shuts her eyes delighting in a mesmerizing sensation of well-being. Her life is slipping off the borders of time. She feels like a young girl of the olden days on her first day in a posh boarding school for well-born young ladies, one of the fondest memories of her grandmother’s girlhood. She knows that her euphoria is dangerous, that her partners in felony can use her self-indulgence to manipulate her into blind obedience to any of their demands. It is evident why she has been accommodated in a most elegant hotel. Luxury is as addictive as any other drug. What puzzles her is the choice of the ladies’ floor making a night with Vincent impossible. Did Alex set it up? But then wouldn’t it mean that Alex is tied to her more than he planned? Is he jealous of Vincent? What about her? Would she be willing to have sex with Vincent? Does he know the strength of her lure for lust? How great is her strive for sexual independence? She takes reluctantly the phone call disrupting her thoughts.
Her name in Alex’s mouth makes her gasp for breath.
“How do you like the “ladies’ floor” I booked for you? How was the flight? Does Vincent take good care of you?”
So many questions and just one answer: “I miss you! When will you come?”
“Oh, Nathalie, if only I could do as I wish!” The phone goes dead in her hand. Has someone come in? Someone who is not supposed to know? To know what? That they are romantically involved? “Romantically!” Don’t make her laugh! They had sex together! Great sex! That’s all!
“Nathalie! Are you decent? May I come in?
“Of course, do!”
She opens the door with a constrained smile.
“I am sorry for butting in; I just wonted to offer you my help in case you needed it.”
“Sorry, to be so slow, Vincent; I’ll be ready in a moment. I’d like to take a shower, first. Do you mind?”
“Of course not, then I’ll be waiting for you in the lobby.”
“Nonsense, do stay here! Take a fruit or anything from the refrigerator, a drink maybe?”
She rummages in her luggage looking for a change of clothes while Vincent tries his best to let her forget his presence. Why is he suddenly so tense? What happened to the man who flirted with her freely at the dinner party?
She decides for the most modest from the lavish designer creations Alex chose for her. Why did he go to such expenses? Will she ever understand him; know his real feelings for her? Is their relationship just skin deep?
She steps out from the bath tub, dries herself up, sprinkles lavishly Chanel Nr.5 where it matters and slips on sexy lingerie under a charmingly innocent dress. Vincent jumps up at her arrival and puts the “Financial Times” back on the coffee table. He restrains from commenting on her look allowing just his eyes to pay tribute to it.
“Let’s do the best of this famously expensive Norwegian capital and make your first stay here memorable. You, as a coffee connoisseur, you will appreciate the local coffee-culture starting your visit on a stimulating cup of black coffee.” He says letting her precede him out of the door.
“Wait, Vincent! There is no fire. First answer me two questions: firstly, how do you know I am a coffee addict? Secondly how long am I supposed to stay in Oslo?” She puts her hand on his arm to hold him back,
He gives a start and shrinks back from her touch.
“A little bird told me.” He replies after a while, gathering his resistance.
“As for your second question I don’t know. May we go now?” He asks in a strained voice.
“Of course, let’s hit the town.”
Their closeness in the elevator makes him sweat. She taps his brow with her handkerchief; he backs away from her perfume. She watches him with concern. He is deadly pale, his hands, kept rigidly on his hips, are trembling. What will she do if he faints? She is in a foreign city left alone in a danger zone where any encounter is potentially deadly.
“I’d prefer to walk.” She protests when he leads her to the car waiting in front of the hotel. He shoves her in, taking a seat beside the driver.
“And I’d prefer if you didn’t quarrel with me, Nathalie!” He mouths.
She regrets she didn’t help herself to some food at the hotel, at least to a banana, an apple, some crackers or a chocolate bar from the room refrigerator. Now it’s too late.