Amber is unsure where her Long Island Iced Tea has gone. She holds the glass in her hand, but there can be only a sip left in it. The room sways around her. She should’ve stopped when she began feeling tipsy one drink ago. That was the sign she usually would’ve observed. But she is enjoying the freedom, if not the recklessness, of drinking. She has never been senselessly drunk before, so has no frame of reference for how this will unfold, or how she’ll regret it in the morning. Opposite her, Gabriella continues to prattle on, just as she has since they got in here. Amber doesn’t mind. Gabriella’s familiarity is comforting.
The waiter, Primo, arrives with a tray bearing another two Long Island Iced Teas. He puts a glass in front of each of them. Both Amber and Gabriella tilt their heads at him.
‘We didn’t order these,’ Gabriella says.
‘Compliments of the gentleman,’ Primo says, pointing towards the bar.
Seated there, in jeans, leather boots, and a semi-transparent white shirt, is Savage. He lifts his own drink – a bottle of Asahi – to toast them. Amber takes several moments to identify him in civilian clothing, and several more to absorb him, but Gabriella covers her mouth in astonishment.
‘Oh my god!’ she says.
Savage gets up from his barstool and comes across to their table, almost gliding across the floor. ‘Mind if I join you, ladies?’ he asks.
‘Be our guest!’ Gabriella says.
Savage grabs a chair from a nearby table, puts it between them, and sits down. Amber can’t help looking at his crotch. She doesn’t mean to, but there’s a bulge there, and she can imagine the way his cock would nestle against his lap under his jeans. She wonders if he wears underwear. He wouldn’t.
Usually, such ruminations might embarrass her, but the Long Island Ice Teas have loosened her inhibitions, and she enjoys the fantasy. It’s safe because it is just a fantasy, regardless of what happened earlier. Her rationalisations are confused and hollow. She dismisses them as unimportant.
‘I’ve seen you here before,’ Savage says to Gabriella, and – for an instant – Gabriella forgets her husband, forgets her kids, and contemplates the likelihood of fucking Savage into oblivion. ‘But, you,’ he turns to Amber, ‘this your first time?’
Amber nods. Gabriella, who’s already abandoned hopes of Savage wanting her, who’ll go home tonight and wake her husband and ride him as if she were breaking in a stallion while thinking of Savage, gives Amber a surreptitious thumbs up.
‘So what do you do?’ Savage directs the question at Amber, but then reclines on his chair, and alternates his attention from Amber, to Gabriella, and back to Amber again.
The answer comes from both simultaneously. They look at each other and laugh.
‘You sisters?’ Savage asks.
‘No, we just met tonight,’ Gabriella says. ‘Loved your show.’
‘I aim to please.’
Savage puts a hand on Amber’s thigh. Now she does grow mortified. This has just graduated from fantasy to something very real. But she also likes the way his hand feels – so big, so warm. She likes that she is the object of his desire. She likes that she is wanted by somebody confident and assured. It’s such a different feeling to Quinn. She has been hit on before, but the advances have always been sleazy or needy or desperate. Savage is something else.
‘That probably sounds cliché, doesn’t it?’ he asks.
‘Not at all,’ Amber says.
‘When you’re in that room with me, I want you to forget everything except being in that room. Forget your problems, forget your family,’ Savage’s voice drops, ‘forget your partners. I know it becomes a crowded room, but I want every woman in there to think it’s just her and me. Not from an egotistical point of view, of course. It’s just the atmosphere I want to create, because when I’m performing, I feel like I’m soaring. I want to take you on that ride.’
‘You don’t fail,’ Gabriella says.
‘You?’ Savage leans in towards Amber. ‘Did you feel something?’
‘I felt something.’
Amber’s unsure if she spoke or just mouthed the words. Then she laughs nervously. She did feel something, and it wasn’t just emotional. Her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. But now she embraces what she did. She has never let go in life. This is what Holly must’ve felt. There is power in it.
‘Excuse me,’ Gabriella says. ‘I need to visit the bathroom. Then …’
‘Then?’ Amber asks.
‘Maybe I’ll catch another show.’
Amber knows what Gabriella’s doing. She’s absconding to allow Savage to concentrate his full attention on Amber. If Amber were sober, she’d protest that Gabriella’s departure is unnecessary. But given how much Amber has drank, given how her thoughts are leaning, she welcomes being alone with Savage.
Gabriella circles her forefinger and thumb and thrusts them toward Amber, as if to suggest she should go for it. Then she turns and leaves the lounge.
‘Well,’ Savage says, ‘I guess it’s just the two of us.’
* * *
Holly lines up the number six in the corner pocket. Marcus, his hands folded around his cue, grins infuriatingly at her. Holly hits the cue ball harder than she has to. It races across the table and hits the six, which strikes the cup of the pocket, pinballs there, but fails to go in. Some of the women in the back of the room gasp, the way a crowd might during a tennis match when a shot hits the net after a long rally. Holly straightens and chalks her cue while Marcus walks up to the cue ball.
‘How many times have you been here before you brought us here tonight?’ she asks.
Marcus leans over the table and hits the thirteen into the middle pocket. He lines up his next shot – the eleven into the opposite corner – but feels Holly’s eyes on him. Her face is icy. It makes him want to laugh. She’s too wholesomely pretty to carry any sternness. It has all the ferocity of a growling puppy.
‘I don’t remember exactly,’ he says.
Marcus hits the eleven in, then the nine, before missing banking the fourteen. Bank shots always trouble him.
Holly scans the table. She’s always seemed indifferent when she’s played pool, but shows enough talent to be threatening. Marcus knows he can’t take her lightly. He wants to beat her. More than that, he wants to break her, and teach her a lesson for challenging him.
‘What’s it matter?’ he asks.
Holly pots the four, then chalks her cue. ‘Ever run into the old guy in the Blue Lounge?’
Marcus tells himself not to react and he’s sure he doesn’t move. But Holly must see something in him – Marcus doesn’t know what.
‘So you have?’ she asks, missing the one.
‘What’s it matter?’ Marcus pockets the ten, then lines up the fifteen.
‘What temptation did he set you?’
Marcus shanks his shot, lifting the cue before he’s struck the cue ball. The cue ball skews into the side of the table, rebounds, and fortunately hits another of his balls – the twelve.
‘How did you know …?’ Marcus asks, rising from the table.
‘I didn’t. I do now.’
Marcus chuckles in appreciation. She has always been much more observant and insightful than he’s ever given her credit for. He’s unsure why he keeps losing his grasp on that. The first time they’d met, she’d been part-time modelling for a class he’d taken on sketching with charcoal. He’d had aspirations on being an artist – well, until his father kept condemning it as an unmanly pursuit. But Marcus had been serious about it. And good. No, better than that. Great.
Later, he’d solicited Holly to model for him. They went out one night for a meal, then a movie, then had sex in an alley. Usually, that would’ve been enough. But he kept coming back to her. They had a casual physical relationship for years, fucking in-between Holly’s various doomed relationships. She had a proclivity for picking selfish men. Marcus had to admit there was something more about her that attracted him, but it never usurped his physical understanding of her. Eventually, almost by default, but became a couple.
‘Well?’ Holly says.
‘Play your shot.’
Holly studies the table. She’s only hit in the four. Marcus has the twelve, fourteen, and fifteen remaining. He can see the resolve in her face. She knows she must remain competitive. More than that, she must win. Her interrogation will go nowhere if he beats her – and beats her easily.
She pockets the seven in the furthest corner, then the five in the middle. The crowd of women cheer. She’s developed a fan club. A bank shot of the one cannons into the six, which thunders in, leaving the one taking its place. Her fan club gasp. The three’s next in the middle, then the one. She lines up the two, for a simple shot into the corner.
‘Nervous?’ she asks.
Marcus scowls at her. Her eyes shoot to the way his erection bulges against the crotch of his leather pants. She’s a whirlwind when she lets herself go. That’s when he wholeheartedly enjoys the competitiveness between them. The thought of having her at his mercy excites him – well, as long as he wins. This is something he does understand: fucking is a battlefield, a war of bodies and technique and desire. His victories have been few. And, given how long they’ve been together, he’s sure he lost ground. He figures that must be why this victory so appeals to him.
She strikes the two in, then lines up the black. It sits just outside the corner pocket – not a difficult shot by any means. But as Holly aims – as her fan club shout encouragement – Marcus sees that she freezes. She’s conscious of the stakes and what it would mean to miss. She plays the shot softly – much softer than she should’ve. The cue ball strikes the black too finely. It trickles towards the pocket, hits the corner, and stays there. A collective sigh of disappointment fills the room.
‘Tell me,’ Holly says.
‘What do you know?’ Marcus says, pocketing the fourteen into the middle pocket. He moves quickly now, knowing he must seize his chance. The room’s turned against him. This isn’t the way it was meant to be. He knocks the twelve in, then lines up the fifteen. ‘Well?’
‘You tell me.’
‘I don’t know how much you know.’
‘Then there’s something to know.’
Marcus knocks the fifteen in, then lines up the black. It’s the easiest of shots. He could hit it in with his eyes closed. But he lines it up, holds the cue over the course the cue ball must take, then kneels by the corner to examine the black. Holly rolls her eyes. The women in the room jeer him.
Marcus doesn’t care. He’ll show the lot of them.
He smashes the eight in much harder than he has to. It’s a stupid thing to do. He watches the cue ball rebound around the table, unsure where it’ll end up. It could easily finish in a pocket – and it does get close to a middle pocket. Some of the women encourage it in, but it falls short, albeit precariously. Marcus grins at them, then turns to Holly.
‘Tit for tat, remember?’ he says.
Holly reaches for her mini skirt, then stops. Marcus purses his lips. She’s got a great little butt, which will be distracting. He thinks she realises it, too. But when she unbuttons her skirt, letting it fall around her ankles, she reveals herself to be naked underneath. Marcus gapes at her. Some of her fan club cheer her. Her self-consciousness flares briefly, as her hands go to her crotch, but then she spins, as if she were modelling herself at the end of a catwalk.
Marcus starts towards her, intending to cover her. Her face softens. He stops himself. No. Whatever game she’s playing, she’s going to see it through. He pulls the leathers from the crotch of his pants. His erection feels so hard and painful he’s sure it’ll explode.
‘No panties?’ he asks.
‘I know how you’ve always liked my butt,’ she says.
‘You think it’ll put me off?’
‘You tell me.’
‘It won’t,’ Marcus says, trying to convince himself.
‘Then set them up,’ Holly tells him. ‘We ain’t done. Not by a long shot.’