He’d come looking for her.
Vera was on her way upstairs when she heard one of her fellow escorts talking at down by one of the stage entrances.
“Sorry,” the woman clipped, “Vera doesn’t take random callers—no matter how tall, dark and handsome they are…” It was Mavis, whom Vera tended to like more than the other girls; but when she saw Mavis swaying and bumping against the man provocatively, something vicious flared in Vera’s chest. She stole down the stairs in a very unladylike way, catching herself at the last second and straightening up.
“Mavis,” she said sweetly, stopping a few steps up and draping herself over the banister. “I’ll take it from here.”
Mavis gave her an odd look but didn’t protest, moving away and disappearing around a corner, leaving Vera alone with that infuriating man. In the silence, she was startled to realize she had no concrete plan in place. “…She’s right, you know,” she purred after a moment, “I don’t take random callers.”
“Oh, I’m no random caller,” the man countered, his voice laying siege to Vera’s inner composure—which, frankly, was already pretty shaken. In the broader light she saw that his eyes were a smoldering shade of brown, deep and burning like the cores of planets. He was build sturdy and dark (and tall, and roguishly handsome), with sun-stained skin and hair that curled about his ears like freshly-spilled ink. “It might have been my imagination,” he continued, taking one daring step up the stairs. “But I could’ve sworn we had an unspoken agreement out there.”
Vera jostled her carriage saucily. “And what agreement would that be?” The words were already sweltering in her throat, her lashes heavy, her breasts tight beneath her bustier. She exhaled softly through her nose, her fingers sliding nervously over the banister.
“If you don’t know…” He moved even closer, reaching up to smooth his hands over the waist of her corset. He leaned up and whispered, “Then I must be wrong.”
“—You aren’t.” She didn’t really care how desperate she sounded. She cleared her throat gracelessly and fluttered her fingers against his chin, the air becoming thick and scarce in her lungs. “You aren’t wrong at all.”
His breath fell heavy against her ear, ruffling a small sprig of platinum hair. “Thank God.” He came around a pushed his lips to hers, causing Vera’s breath to hitch. Small sounds wrestled up from her throat, her arms clamping close and deprived around his neck. She caught tactile glimpses of his smooth curls, relishing in the heat of his nape. She felt the railing bite into her lower back, but was much to absorbed in his ministrations of mind.
“You know,” he gasped against her mouth. “I could have you right here. I could.” His hands had discovered the naked angles of her back, his warm, calloused fingers working generously over her shoulder-blades and the indentations of her spine. “But for the sake of privacy…”
“I have a room upstairs.” Vera drilled a few more kisses into him before whirling around and storming up the stairs, suddenly clear-headed enough to realize how accessible they were. If anyone came across them…Mme Esmé would have her head.
The man moved close behind her as they climbed several tightly-wound flights of stairs, finally arriving on the uppermost landing, which opened onto a short hallway. Vera pulled a key from a small pouch inside her bust, and together they shoved their way into the dark apartment. The next thing she knew, Vera was backed up against the door, slamming it shut, her consort’s mouth hot against hers once more.
“Your name is Vera,” he stated between increasingly reckless kisses.
“Yes,” she breathed back. “And yours is?”
He reached inside the slit of her dress and pulled one of her legs around his hip. “Stryker. Rafe Stryker. How far does this glass go?”
Vera responded by hiking the slit down the rise of her thigh, revealing the smallest sliver of skin over the roiling metal. “Why don’t you come and see?”
She felt him growl, his mouth descending over her jaw and deep into the hollow of her throat. Vera gave an airy gasp, clutching at the supple leather lapels of his jacket. She bucked involuntarily against him, his sudden solidity setting a fire between her thighs. “Right here,” she rasped. “I want it right here.”
“Easy, Angel…” His voice rumbled against her neck, one hand kneading her lower back while the other stroked the cool glass underside of her leg, occasionally passing over heightened skin. One of his thumbs dug into her hipbone. “You can’t rush a good thing.”
Vera snarled, impatient. “Fine. How would you like to do this?”
She felt Rafe smile against her skin. “Properly.” He levered her against the door and picked up her other leg, hoisting her off the floor and cinching her to his chest. Impressed by his strength, Vera grinned and adorned his shoulders with her arms, nuzzling his ear as he walked them across the room to her luxurious bed. There he rolled them over the duvet, laying her out like a fine doll and burying a fresh round of kisses into her neck.
“I almost didn’t come to the show,” he murmured casually.
Vera felt so winded, but she replied nonetheless, setting to work on the hooks that soldered the dress to her body, “What,” she challenged, “afraid I might not be good enough for you?”
“It’s not my usual thing,” he corrected, plucking away at her clavicle, stealing his arms for a moment to shrug out of his jacket. “But you…I could get used to you.”
“Mm…I could get used to you, too.”
The pair fell quiet for a few minutes, locking lips and working their way out of their clothes until Rafe was shirtless and Vera was tucked comfortably beneath him in her silver slip.
“I want to see you,” Rafe implored, his touch warm against her cheek.
Vera responded by winding out from under him and cranking on her bedside lamp. Dim amber light washed over them, and she turned back to see a very flattering smirk on his face. That was when the door shook with a knock.
“Ooh,” Rafe hummed unhelpfully. “Breaking rules, are we?”
Vera scrambled off of the bed and scooped the robe off of her chair, drawing it hastily around her body before cracking the door open. She was horrified to meet Mme Esmé’s round, curious eyes.
“Vera? Que se passe-t-il? Mavis says she saw you with a man…Oh. Oh, I see.”
Vera panicked—Madame didn’t seem nearly angry enough. That was a really bad sign. “Maman, please, I can explain this…” She could, but she certainly didn’t want to.
“Oh, no need, my love,” Mme Esmé said casually, a sudden, genuine smile curving her rosy lips. She waved her hand conversationally and lowered her voice. “I was looking all over for that caller of yours, but I see you’ve already found him! And here I thought you never read your dossiers!” She patted Vera on her rapidly-blanching cheek before twirling away, smiling broadly. “Now, back to business with you!”
Vera nudged the door closed, her stomach feeling cold and heavy. Yes, she thought gravely, turning to face Rafe where he was strewn out curiously on the bed. Back to business.