Monday, September 24, 2007

Chapter 9, Part 3

Danny swam up through layers of unconsciousness, worried by the sound of a woman screaming in terror; but when he poked his head out of the covers, he realized it was his own doorbell screaming for his attention at ten-second intervals, eight seconds on and two seconds off. Cursing freely, he stumbled painfully out of the bed, pulled the duvet around himself for warmth, and went shambling down the hall, losing his balance twice, to make the noise stop.

"What in the hell do you want?" he bellowed into the intercom.

"Why, to come in, silly! Isn't that what a doorbell usually indicates?" the voice was deep and gravelly but lilting with a fruity sing-song quality that one ordinarily associates with very old queens.

"Who are you?" Danny wondered, a little less angrily.

"Theo Ermengratz," the responding voice had dropped its fruitiness and sounded a little intimidating.

"Oh!" Danny exclaimed with surprise, which made his head throb, "I'm sorry, please come up."

Danny turned toward the hall closet to get some clothes on, but didn't have time before his visitor was pounding loudly on the door. He wrapped the down-filled duvet more closely around his naked body and clutched the edges together with one hand, reaching out to open the door with the other.

The man standing on the doormat looked a great deal like Marlon Brando circa Last Tango in Paris, but much smoother; he had a large square head with craggy Roman features, and receding iron-grey curls carefully arranged in the Caesar style, but his olive skin was sleek and supple, making it impossible to discern if he was forty or sixty or somewhere in between. His double-breasted buff shantung suit was extremely baggy and draped on him much like a toga, the wide legs of the pants nearly obscuring the beautifully crafted snakeskin shoes, and a flowing scarf of golden damask closed the floppy collar of the sky-blue silk shirt instead of a necktie. His overall mien made Danny think of one of the nellier Roman emperors.

"Well, are you just going to stand there gawking," Theo said in his queeny sing-song voice, one hand in his jacket pocket and the other floating airily at shoulder level, "or are you going to invite me in?"

"Oh, sorry," Danny apologized again, stepping clumsily backward to allow entrance to this strange apparition, "Please do come in. Would you like some coffee?"

"No thank you, dear, I've had mine," Theo Ermengratz swept past him like a ship in full sail, looking Danny up and down as he did so, before stopping to study the living-room with a practiced eye, "But this room is lovely! Who did it?"

"Stan Ogilvie," Danny answered vaguely, following in the wake of the famous decorator as he flitted through the room, trying to figure out if the man was fat or if it was an illusion caused by all that drapery: there was an awful lot of fabric covering an awful lot of body, but the way he moved was not the way a fat man moved, his gait was sturdy and even his airiest gestures carried a threat of power.

"Stan Ogilvie is a contractor, darling," Theo turned and pinned Danny with an interrogative eye and a return to the intimidating voice, "I meant who is your decorator?"

"Oh, I didn't have a decorator," Danny admitted with a touch of embarrassment, "But Stan did the paint and the fixtures and the upholstery."

"So you're telling me you did this yourself? The colors, the arrangement, the actual objects?" the decorator was busy sneering at the carved caryatids on the Victorian desk chair.

"Most of it. Some of the pieces were gifts."

"Please tell me this unspeakable chair was a gift. Yes? Oh, thank God. And now tell me that you aren't terribly attached to it and won't mind if I take it outside and set it on fire?"

"A very good friend gave that to me."

"Was he an oil-rich cowboy who liked to pretend to be an Old West cattle baron?"

"No, a computer programmer. He knew of my love for antiques, but he didn't know what kind. I think it's sweet."

"Hmph. Well, with the exception of your weakness for sentiment in the form of questionable Renaissance Revival desk-chairs, I see a very promising eye at work here," the hand was fluttering again, big and square but rendered effete with glossy nails and a pinkie-ring glittering with small diamonds, indicating the room around them.

Danny continued to follow Mr. Ermengratz as he stalked into the dining room, examining the antique silver on the sideboard as if it were for sale. After nodding with grudging approval at the rather whimsical chandelier of wrought iron and mismatched antique French crystals, the decorator began examining Danny the same way he'd examined the rooms.

"And you're really remarkably beautiful," Theo grasped Danny's chin in a soft-skinned but surprisingly strong hand, "Perfect Italian features and flawless English skin. You know, if your eyes were blue, you'd be hatefully dazzling, but those puppy-eyes have an air of innocence that one cannot but forgive."

"One does one's best," Danny answered, blushing slightly at the arousal he felt at being handled and described so objectively.

"Saucy," Theo slapped him playfully on the cheek and turned toward the kitchen, "Why don't you go take a shower and drink a lot of water, you smell like the bottom of a wine bottle. Expensive wine, but stale dregs all the same. I'll amuse myself in the meantime."

Danny showered as quickly as he could, without once thinking it odd that he was following rather peremptory orders from a perfect stranger. He gulped down half a gallon of water with a fistful of aspirin, brushed his teeth, and practically ran into his dressing room for some clothes. Much to his surprise, he encountered Theo Ermengratz there, riffling through his closets and tossing garments out onto the ottoman in the center of the room.

"You have excellent taste, child," the decorator sang out from the depths of Danny's suit closet, "Ah, here's what we need, the classic navy blazer. I hope you don't mind, I took the liberty of choosing an outfit for you."

"I don't mind," Danny admitted, dropping his towel and stepping into the white boxer-briefs that had been laid out for him, then the crisply tailored tan chinos.

"I like you," Theo confided as he buttoned Danny's shell-pink Oxford shirt for him, "Custom-made but machine-washed and un-ironed, very preppy. No, don't tuck it in, you want that basket to make cameo appearances only. You're so wonderfully docile, but you've got a brain and good taste, a perfect combination in an assistant. If you weren't so disturbingly beautiful, I think I would have hired you without Baron de Seguemont's asking me."

"You mean, I really do have a job with you, Mr. Ermengratz?" Danny smiled, "I thought that was just a cover."

"Are you telling me that you're letting me push you around in your own home without knowing that I'm your boss? You're delightful! And call me Poppy, all my friends do," Poppy Ermengratz helped Danny into the blue blazer, "Cuffs out, don't button them, I love that look, The Sloppy Fop. But I'm an honest man, surprising as it may seem... if I can turn a lie into the truth, I will, and I wouldn't say I'd hired an assistant without doing so... if I could help it. Now, what kind of shoes? Ah, here we are, some nice airy huaraches, no socks... my dear, ostrich huaraches? You are an expensive article. I won't be paying you anything near enough to keep you in ostrich huaraches... but I will introduce you to enough horny old millionaires to make up for the shortfall. Do you swing both ways? That would be ideal, so many of my clients are women."

"What?!" Danny flushed angrily, surprised by the man's matter-of-fact crudeness.

"Ah, there's your boundary. I knew I'd find one eventually," Poppy ran his fingers proprietarily through Danny's wet hair, "Don't mind me, I'm just pushing buttons to see what happens. I know all about you, punkin': some of your elderly beaux are my clients, and old queens always kiss and tell."

"I'm not a whore," Danny said, sullenly defensive.

"Potayto-potahto, honey. Oh, my, but you are devastating when you pout! Don't for a moment think I disapprove. If it weren't for rich old men, and one rich old man in particular, I'd still be Theo Popadopoulos, most likely slicing souvlaki with my brothers in the Bronx. But if you're fucking a lot of trolls, it doesn't matter if you do it for loose change or for ostrich huaraches," Poppy dropped the sing-song, took Danny by the shoulders and looked him squarely and commandingly in the eyes, "Celebrate what you are, my love, and don't quibble about the words."

"You were a...kept boy?" Danny asked, taking back possession of his person by turning to the mirror to comb his hair.

"I like the word 'whore' better," Poppy replied, moving off to rummage in the dressing-table drawers, "But yeah, I started hustling when I was eleven... I was an early bloomer. A little Greek godling with just a touch of the peasant for flavor, Ganymede with a big dick and a little feather mustache. Old Toddy Ermengratz of the Fifth Avenue, Newport, and Palm Beach Ermengratzes adopted me when I was seventeen. And left me a rather considerable fortune. He was a hideous little thing, like something a cat's been chewing on, but he was a sweet dear old man."

"The same story as Parker Weintraub," Danny thought aloud, "Adopted by a wealthy older man."

"You know Parker? Of course you do, nobody of your beauty lives long in this town without meeting Parker Weintraub and being invited to decorate his little spa. Nowadays you become domestic partners, I suppose, and before that it was 'palimony,' but in my day adoption was the usual arrangement. It's a recognized paradigm of homo history, the old man with money and the young man with beauty. And if they're good at what they do, the young men with beauty turn into old men with money. Like me, like Parker... it has a lovely symmetry, don't you think?"

"But I already have money of my own," Danny defended himself; he liked to think of himself as a gold-digger, but he didn't like for other people to think of him as such.

"Not nearly enough," Theo shrugged, taking a seat at the vanity table and sniffing at the bottles of cologne, "Your trust fund couldn't possibly have paid for all the clothes in this room... WASP trusts are to make you independent, not wealthy. But it does keep you in a state of want, rather than need. I suspect that's why you haven't settled down into a nice kept-boy position. You don't need to be taken care of, you just like it."

"I'd rather be in love," Danny said, more to himself than to Poppy.

"Love is very nice, but if I had to choose between love and money, I'm pretty sure I'd take the money. But maybe that's just because I've never been in love and don't know what I'd be giving up. Are you quite ready?"

"I need to take my vitamins, and I can't function much longer without coffee," Danny admitted.

"Well, then, let us retire to the kitchen, where I can nose through your cupboards and insult you some more."

While Danny put on a half-pot, assembled his bowlful of capsules and tablets, and mixed his fruit-and-supplement smoothie, Poppy rummaged around without restraint, critiquing the china, admiring the appliances, and keeping up a running commentary on the history and nobility of amateur prostitution.

“My dear, is all that really necessary?" Poppy demanded, swirling a finger through the bowl of pills, "Or are you just a hypochondriac?"

"I guess I like to feel like I'm keeping myself in good condition," Danny answered, "And this is easier and more pleasant than eating healthy all day."

"Good point, I might just try that philosophy sometime," Poppy replied thoughtfully, "But I always feel such an old man when I have to take pills. Now, are you quite up and running? I need to take you by the office first, and I'm putting you immediately to work with one of my clients. I want you to sneer politely at her current furnishings in a purebred WASP manner that will fill her with shame, and dazzle her with your beauty at the same time, so she doesn't notice the numbers at the bottoms of the invoices I need her to sign. She's got more money than God, but she hasn't got anything better to do with her time and energy than quibble about pennies."

Danny followed obediently as Poppy led him downstairs, past the morning-shift security goon to the flamboyantly blue vintage T-Bird convertible that was parked arrogantly across Danny's driveway. Poppy drove at a terrifying breakneck pace, chattering all the time (now on the topic of rich women who can't tell the difference between bargain-hunting and chiseling) and fiddling with the stereo while casually flipping the bird at anyone who dared chastise him with blaring horn or screaming voice.

Eventually the car pulled up at a blank wall of corrugated iron that rolled back to reveal a hidden driveway between two derelict-looking warehouses.

"That's my rental warehouse," Poppy said, indicating the warehouse on the right while unlocking a heavily barred door to the warehous on the left, "One of the services I provide is temporary fabulousness for the transient rich. I see it as a grand way to put my acquisitive nature to work, I've been buying furniture and decorations since God-knows-when, and with this service I can use it without selling it. Here we are."

Poppy led Danny into what looked like a combination furniture showroom and airplane hangar: it was a vast open space with spots of light pouring down from a high black ceiling onto precious little tableaux of gorgeous antique furniture.

"And this is my 'testing kitchen,' where I try out different combinations and effects. I have a sadly deficient imagination when it comes to balance and scale, so I like to arrange things before I deliver them to a client. And over here," Poppy led the way through a sliding hangar door to a bright and airy loft space, with raw cinderblock walls and a glass greenhouse ceiling; on the right was a kitchen underneath an exercise loft, on the right was a glass-brick-walled bathroom and dressing room with a bedroom above it, and in the center was a living room/office; the furniture, in strange contrast to everything else about this man that Danny had seen so far, was stark and modern and masculine, chrome and glass and black leather furniture, dazzling electronics, stainless steel and black granite fixtures, "This is where I live."

"Wow," was all Danny could think of to say. Though he preferred the fussier antiquity of the 'testing kitchen' styles, he was quite impressed by the sense of balance and light, but even more impressed by the intimacy and comfort elicited in this too-airy space with such hard materials. For all its industrial modernity, it was strangely inviting.

"Through there is the shopfront and offices, but we're not going in there today," Poppy settled himself at a glass-and-chrome desk and shuffled some papers on the black leather blotter, "I can't let the fussy old queens get a look at you and then leave them alone for the rest of the day. No work would get done. Do you have a driver's license and Social Security card? How about a passport? I'll copy these for your personnel file, and you fill out that W4 form and sign that contract and confidentiality agreement, and you'll be an honest-to-God wage-earning employee."

"That's very exciting," Danny replied without much enthusiasm, puzzling out the language of the W4 form.

"Would you like some more coffee?" Poppy fluttered off into the kitchen area and started banging around among the appliances.

"Yes, please," Danny sat down on the cube sofa to read carefully through the very simple contract that outlined his schedule, salary, and responsibilities, all of which sounded fairly straightforward and simple.

"I only have espresso," Poppy brought two demitasses and sat down next to Danny on the sofa, "I've never had the patience for brewing coffee, it has to be practically on tap."

"I love espresso," Danny replied, taking the cup and sipping gratefully.

"Of course you do, darling," Poppy cooed, massaging Danny's knee in a bedroom-comedy manner, "I'm sure you like everything anybody gives you."

"Well, I don't like cheap gin," Danny replied, casting about in his mind for something he really didn't like... Poppy had read him well, there was very little in the world he didn't like, which made him both adaptable and popular.

"Does anybody? Cheap booze is for people who need it, not those who like it."

"Is this where I'll be working?" Danny asked, indicating the vast space with its lofts and glass, "Or in the front?"

"Ah, of course, back to business," Poppy squeezed his leg again, a little farther up this time, "I think you'll work wherever I am. I'll bring in a desk here for you, and one in my office out front. Do you have a laptop? Well, I'll get you one, a handheld isn't quite enough, though that is a handy little gadget you have there. May I see it?"

Danny handed over his handheld computer and Poppy admired it lavishly, then went on to chatter aimlessly for a few minutes about how hopeless he was with technology.

"It's very easy to use. The computer programmer who gave me that desk chair programmed most of the applications in there. I found it very easy to learn."

"Yes, well, you're young," another grope on the leg, close enough to the crotch to brush Danny's fly, "your mind is still flexible."

"Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?" Danny asked coyly, looking down at Poppy's hand practically in his lap.

"Oh, heavens no, child," Poppy gave Danny's thigh a fatherly pat, closer to the knee, "I would never try to seduce you. For you, I would just pounce, like a hungry tiger. But don't worry your pretty little head, I never fuck my employees. But if I ever fire you... whoa, Nellie! Hang on to your hat!"

Danny laughed with delight, and the tension passed; he was starting to get used to the strangeness of Poppy's conversation, his alternations between intensity and silliness. And knowing that their relationship would not be sexual allowed Danny to relax and enjoy the flirtatiousness without plotting the next appropriate response, as he normally did with someone in whom he was interested.

After finishing their paperwork and coffee, Poppy led Danny back through the warehouse and into the Thunderbird, and they were soon rocketing off toward Presidio Heights, where Poppy's newest client lived. The car came to a screeching halt in front of a very tall house on a corner, built in the 20s but with huge and uncomfortable-looking picture windows on the top stories that had obviously been added sometime later.

"I particularly want to convince this broad to replace those sheer horrors with proper paned installations," Poppy advised as he went up the steep front stairs like a springbok, "So sneer like hell at the windows."

"I won't go anywhere near those windows," Danny panted, "They'll give me vertigo."

"Even better...and if you can turn a delicate shade of green, I'll give you a raise. Oh, and don't forget her heirlooms... they're unspeakably tack-o-rama, suggest putting them in the pool-house of her weekend place."

Mrs. Derrick Stempler ("please, call me Marjorie") was so typical of her class, age, and social set--complete with rictus grin, flat yellowy-brown hair, and scrawny neck, David Yurman jewelry and Anne Klein loungewear--that Danny was sure he'd never remember having met her; he found a small kidney-shaped mole on her neck to memorize so that he would recognize her if he met her again socially, and hoped that she wouldn't have it removed.

It wasn't remotely difficult to sneer at the furnishings already in place as Danny followed Poppy and took notes of his ideas ("I see chintz here, with pickled pine... Here there must be a hooded library chair... you'll want cherry for the dining-room table but ebony for the chairs"), as the furniture was extremely ugly, Edwardian pretending to be Georgian and only succeeding in being frumpy.

Neither was it difficult to turn white (though he couldn't manage green) and stagger shakily away from the windows: the view was spectacular, but the drop was terrifying; the entertaining spaces were on the top floor of a very tall house perched atop a very steep hill, and there was a hundred-foot drop under the living-room windows.

And Mrs. (Marjorie) Stempler was absolutely fascinated by Danny, watching him instead of Poppy as they wandered through the really beautifully proportioned house, hung on his every word (few though they were), and very nearly apologized for the furniture and windows when she saw his polite but unmistakeable reactions to them.

All of which worked exactly as Poppy had wished: not only had Marjorie agreed to replace the huge plate glass sheets with costly custom-made eighteen-paned windows, she also agreed to little French balconies to mitigate the sheer drop; she agreed wholeheartedly to ship her grandmother's treasured furniture off to the retreat in Bohemian Grove, and didn't even look at the contracts and invoices she was signing.

"You were brilliant," Poppy crowed when they returned to the car, planting a big sloppy kiss on Danny's mouth, "She was putty, absolute putty! A hundred thousand dollars of construction before we even got to the furniture, on your delicate complexion alone!"

"Well," Danny temporized, "Your suggestion that other guests would feel the same way is what convinced her. Lots of people get vertigo from windows like those."

"Funny thing is, she probably bought the house thinking to impress people with those vertiginous views, and paid a premium for them, too. This calls for a celebratory lunch. Where do you like having celebratory lunches?"

"The Palm Court," Danny answered without thinking, "at the Palace Hotel."

"You're going to break me, you are," Poppy laughed, "But then you also just made me an extra thousand or two in commissions and fees for those balconies and windows, so I guess it evens out."

Once they'd arrived at the historic hotel, Poppy turned on his fruity demeanor full-blast, flirting outrageously with the male staff and camping loudly at the females; nevertheless, he commanded and was accorded a good table, in a corner with privacy and a good view of the room, and the service was deferential to the point of servility: it was clear that Poppy was known and respected in this place.

"I bring so many of my old-lady clients here," Poppy said when Danny remarked on this, "It's such a wonderfully old-lady room. I'm surprised you like it, young buck that you are; but then again I'm not really surprised... I've come to see in such a short time that you're a hopeless romantic. And speaking of Romance, tell me all about you and Marquesa Chillard-Chills."

"There's not much to say," Danny instantly threw up his guard at the mocking name applied to his beloved.

"Is it as big as I've heard?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Danny said frostily.

"Oh, come, don't be coy with me," Popply slapped Danny's hand playfully, "I'm just being crude, as is my wont. My point is, do you love him?"

"Yes," Danny answered truthfully before he could stop himself, then thought better of it, "I mean, I thought I was. I don't suppose I really am. Just infatuated."

"As big as that, eh? As you may have guessed, I'm not in Marquesa's fan club. She's such an ice-queen, she never lets her hair down... she never lets herself have feelings, as far as I've seen. I find that very off-putting."

"I find it very attractive," Danny defended, "An air of mystery, a sense of reserve and elegance."

"Valerien, on the other hand, is a perfect pet. I've done both their apartments, but I feel like a mother toward little Val, and his happiness is important to me. That's why I'm asking you about how you feel about Marquesa... I want to know what chance Val has with you before I let him fall in love with you."

"Could you stop him?" Danny wondered, smiling at the very maternal tone Poppy had adopted the moment he'd turned the subject to Valerien.

"No, but I could stop you, I think. Threats of bodily harm if nothing else. I'd go for the face, too, if you hurt him... that's how I feel about Valerien."

"And do you know how Valerien feels about me?"

"He's fascinated by you, and he is attached to you. That's enough to be getting on with, don't you think? What are your feelings?" Poppy toyed with a butter-fork in a stagily threatening manner.

"I'd say it was mutual... fascinated attachment," Danny replied after giving the question a few moments' honest thought, "I think I could love him, but I don't know for sure. I would certainly never hurt him, regardless of your threats."

"Threats? Moi?" Poppy camped, putting down the butter-knife and picking up a menu, "I wouldn't hurt a fly. The very idea! Now tell, how big is Marquesa, really? Is it the true foot-long?"

"As near as makes no difference, I expect," Danny replied, laughing and blushing a little, "But I didn't have a ruler with me."

"And you can still walk after a whole weekend of that? You're made of stern stuff. So, shall we be utterly sinful and have the fondue appetizer? Then we can work out at my place before I start getting you settled in the office."

"Sounds perfectly divine."

The luncheon passed happily, Poppy ate voraciously without ever interrupting his conversation, which revolved mostly around Valerien's many charms and endearing qualities, which included loyalty, kindness, generosity, and an innocence that only the rarest of infants would be able to equal. He kept Danny laughing the entire time, and insisted on ordering dessert, "We've already sinned unforgiveably, we might as well make a day of it... to sin only partially is like stealing something nobody wants... no point to it whatsoever."

After lunch, they drove back to Poppy's apartment between the office and warehouses, where they changed into workout gear and performed a quite grueling regimen on the equipment above Poppy's kitchen, then showered and dressed again. And though Poppy flirted and even groped a little, it was the kind of flirtatious groping that straight athletes indulge in the lockerrooms after a game: his attitude toward Danny was distinctly nonsexual, which Danny found very refreshing and fun.

Dressed and fresh, Danny was led into the office, where he was introduced to Poppy's staff, a quintet of very thin middle-aged men with high fluting voices, prissy clothing, and hair that had been altered in some way or another, either dyed or completely replaced by fairly obvious toupees. They all goggled at Danny comically, giggled when he spoke to them, and behaved like a coop of undersexed hens introduced to a new rooster.

Poppy had ordered a beautiful and delicate Queen Anne writing desk installed in his own office behind the larger front office, which was decorated in the florid cluttered English Country House style that he professionally espoused, with a heavily carved walnut desk and battered biscuit-tufted leather chairs and sofa, its walls lined with books and its ceiling painted with a fifteenth-century map of the "known" world; Danny's desk in the Spartan loft apartment, however, was a gorgous piece of Louis XV marquetry, liberally encrusted with ormolu and cameo mounts, which glittered in the midst of all that black leather and chrome like a drag queen at the Eagle.

The young men who brought these things from the warehouse had also been dispatched to the nearest electronics store to procure a laptop computer, a top-of-the-line jewel that Danny loved to just hold, it was so pretty. Danny was instructed by one of "The Boys" (all, Danny later found out, ex-lovers of Poppy's) how to use the various programs; he was instructed by some of "The Girls" (all of whom had worked for Poppy since he opened his interior design business twenty-five years before and were deadly loyal to him) on how to access the building and what verbal formulae to use when answering the phone.

The whole thing was very bewildering to Danny, who'd never held a job in his life and found the whole thing very adventuresome. He took lots of notes in the leatherbound notebook Poppy had bought him, made a point of remembering everybody's names, and wore himself to a nub ingratiating himself to everyone.

When five o'clock rolled around, the Girls started packing up, gossiping about their plans for the evening ahead, and watering plants. Poppy had a huge album of fabric swatches open in front of him on his desk, grumbling about trying to make plaid and French Provincial come together peacefully. Danny felt at rather a loose end suddenly, not knowing when he was expected to leave, whether or not Poppy expected him to make his way home alone or planned to drive him back.

"Oh, Valerien wanted to give you a ride home," Poppy said when Danny asked him what time he was expected to clock out, "though in general I'd expect you to stay until six, assuming you start at nine and take an hour for lunch. But we can work that out as we go, some days I'll need you longer, some days I'll let you go early. But Val told me he'd be here at five, and it's five, so I suspect he's out on the curb waiting for you. See you in the morning."

Leaving the office by the front door, his notebook and laptop tucked under his arm, Danny saw Valerien's chocolate-and-gold Rolls Royce parked right in front. As soon as the office door closed behind him, the chauffeur stepped out and opened the car door, revealing Valerien lounging back against the camel upholstery in a mauve silk three-piece suit and a white straw hat.

"So, working-boy, how did your first day go?" Valerien asked after planting a warm kiss on Danny's mouth.

"It was kind of confusing, but satisfying," Danny admitted, "Thank you for arranging this job for me."

"Poppy should thank me, I think you'll be a brilliant assistant for him. Where would you like to have dinner? We'd both have to change if we go out."

"Why don't we stay in, then?" Danny asked, the first sultry note of seduction surfacing in his voice... he had decided at lunchtime that a relationship with Valerien was the best route to pursue, and he intended to pursue Valerien hotly.

"That's good. I've been away for several days, my chef gets rusty if I don't eat in at least three nights a week. Do you need anything from home first?"

"Would an overnight bag be presumptuous?" Danny purred, his hand on Valerien's thigh.

"No, not presumptuous at all," Valerien's violet eyes glowed in the dim cab of the limousine, "Though I'd rather send Henri for some things rather than wait while you pack."

"That suits me right down to the ground," Danny pushed Valerien down onto the seat and kissed him passionately, while Valerien reached out and pressed the button that caused the enameled divider to rise up and seal them off from the chauffeur.

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