“Seriously, why don’t you buy another car? This is embarrassing,” Luke go into the passenger seat, pushing papers and an empty carton of Camel on the floor.
“Why don’t you?” Cass retorted. “Not getting enough briefs?”
“I live in London, I don’t need to,” he stated loftily.
“Until you need a lift to The Midsummer Party.”
“We were both going. I am being environmental, making you car share,” eager to change the subject from his own failings, Luke asked “What are you wearing tonight?”
“Sabina sent me the mask. I am going as an enchanted deer, but I will be a spectator tonight, I am afraid.”
“On the blob?” Luke asked delicately.
“Yep,” Cass peered intently out the window at the on coming roundabout.
“Thought so,” Luke liked to think himself as a sage of human behaviour, “there are chocolate bar wrappers all over this car and your tits look enormous.”
“Thanks,” Cass stated flatly as she flicked the indicator and carefully negotiated the horror of driving in London.
“A real waste. Nature is so cruel,” Luke stated insouciantly and leaned back in his seat.
“I am sure you will find someone to amuse you. Anyway Alec thinks we’re going to far with this thing. I think this is going to be my last party.”
“When have you given a fuck about other people’s opinion?” Luke tried to push down a sense of hurt. “You’re not seeing that Semyon guy?”
“No, he is married,” Cass blushed as she remembered passing Semyon his phone. The display showed five missed calls from a “Malanyia” and several long loving Cyrillic texts. “I was just babysitting him because of work.”
“How is that?” Luke enquired curiously. Cass had told him about most of the situation, minus the FSB involvement.
“Weird, it is all coming out of the woodwork now. Caroline has resigned,” Cass smiled to herself mirthlessly.
“Well at least something good happened out of all this shit you have had to deal with. Are you going to stay?”
“I think they need me to try and work out what has happened. Most of the clients have decided to stay.”
“Better the devil you know,” Luke laughed. “I don’t think Julian was alone in skimming the cream. He must have learnt it from somewhere. It is probably endemic in that type of work. At least by staying with you, the clients know the worst. But why haven’t they sued?”
“Some are. Rebecca is going to lose her house. He had nothing left. The others, well, I think too many embarrassing questions would be asked if they did that,” Cass accelerated as she joined the motorway.
Once off the motorway, she slowed down to take the windy country lanes and finally turned off into what looked like gated woodland.
They drove for another 10 minutes and drew up at the end of the wooded driveway to an enormous early Victorian mansion. Cass squinted at the white stuccos pillars illuminated by the sun in the clear noon sky.
Luke decided to pick up the bags from the boot.
“You can leave that one,” Cass instructed.
“Don’t you want it?”
“No, it’s stinky old gym kit. I keep forgetting to take out of the car”
Luke dropped the bag abruptly back into the boot, “You are a slob!”
“And you are a great big wet wipe,” Cass retorted. “Don’t you think you are in the wrong place to be such a precious flower?”
Sabina and Ulric greeted them and showed them to their rooms. “Get some rest before tonight, darling,” Sabina said to Cass tenderly. “You look like you could do with it.”
Cass took Sabina’s advice and decided not to take umbrage. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her skin had taken on a grey hue with all the stress. It was probably a good thing she was off the market tonight.
Cass slept deeply until 9.30pm, when Luke woke her by banging on her door. “Don’t you answer your bloody phone? Are you ready? I’m bored and I want a drink.”
“We aren’t supposed to go until 10.30pm.”
“Just let me in.”
He pushed past her into the room, wearing a fox mask and a tight fitting huntsman uniform. Scarlet suited him and the whip added to his appeal.
He plonked himself down in a large winged armchair, and unceremoniously stood a bottle of Pol Roger on the side table, “Get some glasses, they’re over there by the kettle.”
“I need to get ready,” Cass protested.
“If you would just take those awful PJ’s off, you would be ready to go.”
“You start. I will get showered and join you shortly.”
Luke lingered over his first glass as he listened to Cass in the shower. He was annoyed with Alec. Why had he interfered? It had just made Cass more attractive than ever. Luke knew it was dangerous too. But that was what made it so exciting. He always pulled back before it got too emotional, so he was in control and keeping it fun. Cass did not want anything serious either, that is why she was so brilliant and fun. This was the perfect equilibrium, neither a relationship nor the friends’ zone. Why hadn’t anyone thought about it before? So why was he so fucking upset that she was going to stop coming to the parties.
He tried not to gawp when she stepped out the bathroom, ready to go. He steadied himself as he poured her a glass, watching her face attentively as she closed her eyes to savour the creamy taste of the bubbles.
Fuck, Alec is right. I am in fucking love with her, he thought. I have got to stop this.
Cass dressed as Luke tucked into the rest of the bottle. She was wearing the lace pencil skirt and black satin wrap bra, which she was thankful still fitted. She asked Luke to secure the back with a bow. He willed himself not to smell her hair or bury his head into that beautiful part of her neck, which joined her shoulder. He thought he was going to break as he watched her pull the cord hard around her wrist to secure her ceramic Victorian paddle.
He admired her décolletage in the wrap so much; he did not notice she had only drunk half of her glass as they left the room.
They descended the staircase to the main hall, where footmen were ushering guests outside to golf carts, to be transported into the woods. It was a bit naff seeing mythical people/ creatures precariously balanced in golf carts, trying to make sure that boobs, willies, sex toys or gimps did not fall out along route. Cass guessed fantasy and practicality sometimes couldn’t go hand in glove.
The party of about 150 assembled in a wooded grove. The grove was made to look like a great hall. The floor had been carpeted with an enormous Persian rug. Several suits of armour were stood against trees. Medieval weaponry and coats of arms hung from branches. Trees had been linked together to give the impression of a great fireplace. Cass looked up to find that there was an enormous chandelier suspended from the canopy.
Despite the golf carts, Sabina and Ulric did not hold back on their entrance. Eight “horses” drew them in a carriage once all were assembled. Sabina whipped them with glee to spur them on faster, much to the harnessed men’s evident excitement. She looked like a moon goddess, with a silver band adorned with a sapphire half moon wrapped around her head, her breasts bare under a diaphanous robe of midnight blue chiffon and sparkles.
Ulric was wearing a stag mask. He was naked under his green damask and fur robe. He had a gold collar around his neck with a sun in amber. There was a chain from the collar, which was linked around Sabina’s waist.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, ask you can see I have brought the sacrifice,” Sabina tugged on Ulric’s collar theatrically. “We will all gather here again at dawn to finish the ritual, until then please explore the woods. You do not know what you might find.”
Footmen pulled back black curtains, which had hidden torchlight paths out of the grove.
A wolf-woman approached one of the footmen lasciviously but stopped when the moon goddess called out from her carriage, “Staff are off the menu tonight my darling! There is still much to enjoy! Go! Go explore!”
After greeting their hosts, Cass and Luke decided to stick together. Luke was irritated Cass was finding the whole thing very exciting. He was a city boy. Nature and greenery made him nervous. “Why couldn’t it have been somewhere civilized like the house? “ he thought as Cass bounded ahead like a feral nymphomaniac.
They peaked around a bush and saw an enclosure holding the moon goddess’ steeds. They were being washed down by two very excited wood sprites. One sprite bent down for more water and was quickly mounted by one of the more spirited man horses. The man horse did not seem to want to desist, even when the other wood sprite started to whip him. Strangely it appeared only to encourage the other animals to join in.
Luke could see that Cass was flushed and excited by this scene. God, he wanted her. He took her hand and they went further into the woods.
They went down a side path light by fairy lights and found a maroon knight’s tent. Inside Cass and Luke were confronted by a large black box on a podium with a pair of shapely legs and bottom extended out of a tight opening at the side.
The box moaned and the legs bucked and twitched, as a woman observed critically between them. She sat languidly in a box chesterfield armchair, alternatively sipping from a vodka martini and occasionally tickling the clit of the legs with an ostrich feather or smacking it with her ruler. The woman finished the boxed legs off with a buzz gun, fist deep. As Luke walked out of the tent, he lightened up, “I think I might be giving that ago later.”
They eventually found a refreshments tent. It was kitted out like a 1920’s speak easy come brothel, except the pictures on the walls were not tableaus but gauzed recesses silhouetting the activities inside.
Luke and Cass wandered around examining the pictures as if in a gallery, to the soundtrack from the jazz band and breathy singer. They found a table next to a picture of two women torturing a minotaur into exquisite submission. Luke found this the most interesting and kept distracting him from their conversation.
Cass did not mind, she was more interested in the band. Cass knew it was stupid but the singer had magically encapsulating all her feelings. Cass was good at hiding her feelings, keeping the panic and the demons pushed down. She knew she had to go soon. She did not have a choice. Yes, she did feel like a prized shit. She knew she would be hurting those closest to her but this was the only way. After Jason died, she only had her career left. It was now gone. Julian’s fuckwittery had put play to that. There would be an investigation. She had very little confidence in the Law Society and SRA. Their myopia would not reveal her innocence. Anyway they always needed a sacrificial lamb, to show that they were making an example of unprofessional behaviour. Julian was gone, so she was the last man standing. On top of that, Zubov was trying to exert control through a combination of fear and bribery, “Cassandra you are so useful, so diligent. Please take this as a sign of my appreciation.”
The singer was getting to the end of her song. She sighed into the microphone, “Every cop is a criminal”
The singer caught Cass’ eye, then moaned, “And all y’all sinners saints.”
Cass put her head on Luke’s shoulder, “I have got to go. I don’t feel too great. You are going to be okay here?”
Luke was shocked out off his reverie, “What now?”
“Yes, you know how it is. It is not as if I am up for playing tonight.”
“I know but, shit Cass, I just like being with you,” he looked despondent. He had not met anyone who could be cool, funny and look so good at the same time. She got him. She was never needy, never seemed to need anyone, even him. Is that why he loved her so much? And then she said the perfect thing, he could have cried. She did not even realise.
“You don’t need me here to enjoy yourself,” Cass laughed. She did not want to have this conversation with him, not now, not when she was decided. Luke put is hand gently over hers to stop her from getting up from the table.
Cass pushed down her irritation at his forcing the point. She took his hand and rested her forehead gently against his, “ I love you too, but you know it would last a week and then we would kill each other. I love you too much to take this further. We have to stop this now, otherwise we will destroy something very rare and I need you more than you know.”
They shared a brief soft kiss.
“Jesus Cass. Don’t over complicate things,” Luke laughed off his disappointment.
“Yeah, sorry just being a girl. Have fun tonight,” her smile did not hide the pain in her eyes and got up to leave.
“I will walk you back to the beginning,” Luke jumped up gallantly.
“Now who is over complicating things? I will be fine on my own.”
Luke watched longingly as Cass walk out of the marquee. He needed a drink after that encounter. A beautiful brunette smiled at him as he walked past her table to the bar. Yes, he would be fine on his own as well.