“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Her orgasm rips through her, sending harsh waves through her body directly into mine. I capture her scream behind my hand, crushing my palm against her mouth until I feel her teeth pushing back at me. Wild, wide blue eyes frantically search for sympathy as she looks up at me from her back pressed against my bed.
“Louder, Lindsay, I wanted you to scream louder.” I shake my head with my disappointment. They are all disappointments. None seem to give me what I want, even when I am nothing but clear and precise with them.
Tears build in her eyes, slipping carelessly from the sides. They run down her temples and get lost in her dark hairline. It’s only these that make my cock grow harder and make it possible for me to thrust again and again until my own release saves me.
“I’m sorry, Dorian,” she whispers when I shove away from her and leave her naked body strewn across my bed like a forgotten scarf.
“I know.” I slide my arms into my shirt and turn away from her while I work the row of buttons. Finding my trousers on the bedroom bench, I pull them on before going in search of my shoes. I kicked them off somewhere near the dresser, I think.
“Next time will be better.” She repeats the same promise as the rest of them. None have been able to keep it.
Once I’m dressed, I pocket my cell phone, strap my watch around my wrist, and walk to the side of the bed. She’s sitting up now, her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms hugging them tightly.
I lightly touch her chin and draw it upward. A soft, hopeful smile pulls at her lips.
“I have work.” I drop my touch. Her mouth turns down into a severe frown. It’s the first interesting thing about her; if only she had been so captivating earlier.
“Should I wait here?” Her question is full of hope. I should be ashamed of how easily I can dash it for her, and how much I look forward to doing so.
“No,” I say simply as I open the door to the guest bedroom. I’m never so foolish as to bring them to my own bed. Why allow them to tarnish the one room where I find solace?
“Mr. Gray.” Maurice greets me at the foot of the staircase when I step off. “The portrait has arrived. I’ve had it brought into the library.”
“Good.” My phone rings as I head in that direction.
“Dorian, good I caught you.” Basel starts talking before I can. “I just received word the portrait was delivered. Have you had a chance to look at it yet?”
“I’m on my way to view it now.” I turn left at the end of the hall. The library is tucked far back in the west wing of my home. “I’m surprised you didn’t keep it longer, you seemed to enjoy the attention it was getting you from your old professors.”
Basel is one of the greatest portrait painters among the London elite and he earned the title after working tirelessly with the best mentors. I didn’t have any issue when he requested to keep the painting for a tour he embarked on during the summer.
“It’s not my work they were so impressed with,” he mutters. “It was a successful tour, by the way.” He adds, “I’ve been commissioned to paint a family portrait of some high-ranking military person.”
“Military person?” Basel, even though he has lived in England for the entirety of his life, has never bothered to learn rank and titles.
“I believe he’s a vice admiral in the Royal Navy, newly promoted,” Basel explains. “Have you seen it yet?”
I chuckle. “You have no patience, Basel.” It’s a weakness of his. I push open the library door and step inside. The largeness of the portrait is what strikes me first. I had seen the painting when he was midway through, but now that it is finished, it is larger than life.
“Well?” he urges.
“It’s bigger than I remembered it being.” I walk toward the painting that Maurice has had placed on a stand in the middle of the library. The curtains are closed tight, keeping out the moonlight, but the lighting in the library casts a golden hue over the piece.
“It’s the exact size it was when you sat for me last,” he admonishes.
“I wasn’t criticizing.” I move toward it, feeling my own eyes cast downward at me. I look up at the brown eyes staring at me. He has captured every bit of me as though he’d merely placed a picture over the canvas and made a tracing.
“You hate it,” he pouts.
“I don’t.” And I mean it. It truly does depict the success that I have become since expanding my empire from New York to London. “It’s good, Basel.” I trail my fingertips across the peaked paint on my cheek. “I think you’ve earned every bit of praise I saw written about you during your tour.”
“It’s good.” He laughs. “I believe that’s the highest praise I can expect from Dorian Gray. Are you going to be in town next weekend? I’m hosting a party, a ball of all things; I want you there.”
“As your living portrait?” I stare at the eyes peering down at me. There’s something about them, something more sinister than I imagine my soul being. As I move my fingers toward them over the painting, I scrape my forefinger over a particularly sharp peak of paint. “Shit.” I pull back my hand to notice a small bead of blood forming.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
I lick the tiny wound. “Nothing, Basel. Everything’s fine. Yes, I’ll be there unless something comes up.”
“Excellent. You do like the painting?”
“I said I did.”
“Good enough for me.”
“I’ll see you then.” I end the call and slip the phone back into my pocket, taking a few steps back to look over the painting again.
“Would you like it hung in here, sir?” Maurice asks from the doorway.
“No.” I shake my head. “I’ll decide tomorrow. I want to get across town. Have the car pulled around for me.” I tug on my sleeve beneath my suit jacket and check the cufflinks.
“The lady upstairs?” Maurice asks. “Will she be spending the night?”
“Who?” I pause a moment. “Oh. Her. No, put her in a car and send her on her way.” I walk past him and head toward my office; I need to get a few things before I head to my meeting. “She may pick a dress from the closet,” I say as an afterthought before I enter my office and shut the door. The pink slip dress she wore when she arrived is tattered from our time together.
I down a quick drink and pick up the paper I left lying on my desk earlier today. Sylvia Sybil will be playing in a chamber orchestra at the Victoria and Albert Museum tonight for some charity event. In the picture, she’s seated in the second violin chair with her instrument tucked tightly beneath her chin, resting against her collarbone. There’s a seriousness to her features as she plays. Although the photograph is a still frame, I can visualize her gentle fingers moving the bow across the strings. The right bottom corner of her lip is held snug between her teeth.
I want to be that lip.
“The car is ready, sir,” Maurice announces.
I drop the paper back on my desk. Why continue staring at a still picture when the real thing is waiting for me across town?
The last note of the last song rings in my ear as we all stand, signaling our performance for the evening is complete. A small group claps from nearby for a brief moment before turning back to their champagne and desserts.
It’s been a long night and I’m ready to crawl into bed for a much-needed night’s rest, but while the evening has ended for my orchestra cohorts, it has merely morphed into the second stage of the evening for me. My mother stands in front of a pillar holding a glass of wine in one hand while watching me intently. She won’t approach me until I’ve put away my violin and stepped away from the musicians’ area. It would be unseemly, to her, to speak with the paid entertainers for the evening. Until I’ve changed into the designated dress she’s brought for me and have handed over my violin to the driver to tuck safely into the car, I’m not her daughter. I’m merely a violinist.
Thankfully the dress is one I actually like. It’s a simple dark purple A-line dress with a long skirt. After I’ve changed into the new dress, slipped on my nude pumps, and wound my hair up into a high bun, I gather my things to bring to Bryan, our driver for the night.
“That didn’t take long.” My mother finds me as soon as I reappear in the main gallery. She offers me a glass of wine, which I take.
“I do try to please.” I mock toast and take a long sip of the wine. It’s fruity and overly sweet, but it has alcohol in it.
She inhales sharply as she turns toward the crowds still milling about the gallery. She’s searching, and I hope she never finds him.
“I hope that’s true, Sylvia.” She takes a dainty sip of her drink. “James was here a few minutes ago. I hope he didn’t leave without saying hello to you.”
My shoulders drop a fraction. I truly hope he has fled the museum having completely forgotten about me.
“It wouldn’t be the end of the world if he has.” I hide a yawn behind my hand.
“I wish you would take his attention more seriously, Sylvia.” She tries to use her glass to shield her frown, but it doesn’t work. The woman oozes frustration whenever I’m involved. The entire room is caked with her annoyance at my mere existence. A twenty-five-year-old woman should be married by now, she believes. Not just married, but to someone with means. So that she may be cared for in her old age.
James Weatherby is her meal ticket, or so she believes. While he’s successful and has the right number of pounds in his bank account to be an attractive son-in-law to her, he’s anything but to me. And my reluctance to give him a fair shake is ruining her plans.
“I leave tomorrow. I was hoping to see him before I left.” She’s straining her neck now to see over the heads of the crowd, looking for him.
“You’ll be back in a month and then you can set the proper trap.” I turn my back on her and finish my drink, as sickly sweet it is, and eye the room. I’m not sure exactly which charity this event is for; it’s the fifth I’ve played this month and they all sort of run together after a while. The attendees seem to be having a good enough time. Well fed, entertained, and now who I assume are the hosts are making their way around the room picking up checks.
“I see him!” Mother sounds as though she’s just seen Santa Claus. When I turn back around toward her, she’s gone, lost to the sea of tuxedos and fancy dresses.
“You played beautifully tonight.” A dark voice from behind me sends a shiver down my back. When I turn and my gaze meets his dark brown eyes, another shiver shoots through me—a warning to run maybe.
“Thank you.” I force a small smile to my lips.
He’s a tall man; I have to tilt my head back to maintain eye contact. He’s dressed down compared to the others at the event, but still, he holds an air of authority, a sense of strength and worth. Ignoring the dictate for a black-tie dress code, he’s chosen a dark black and gray suit—tailored and well-fitting, of course. His hair, a soft brown with golden streaks throughout, walks the perfect balance of casually defiant and sternly obedient. I don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful man before or been so keenly aware of his attractiveness as this man before me.
“You should be sitting first violin.” His full lips pull into a thin line as he makes his statement.
I blink. He’s talking about my performance again.
“Henry has earned his seat.” It’s a practiced response. Henry is first chair because Henry has been in the chamber orchestra the longest, not because of his skill.
“I doubt that.” He slips one hand into his trousers pocket.
“You’re not from here,” I say. “Your accent… New York?”
He grins. “Yes. And you were born in Chicago but raised in Boston. You moved to London five years ago.” He looks like he could go on, explaining that I moved here with my mother—back to her hometown after my father died of colon cancer.
“Your bio on the back of the program,” he answers before I can question his knowledge.
“Ah.” I take the last drop of my wine and search for a waiter.
He simply raises his hand and a man in a white waiter’s uniform appears as if conjured up out of thin air.
“The lady would like another drink.” He plucks the empty wineglass from my fingers and hands it to the waiter. “Not this though, a William Fevre Chablis Vaulorent.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Gray, I don’t believe we have that for tonight’s event,” the waiter says, keeping his eyes down.
Mr. Gray turns his head enough to shoot the waiter a quick glance.
“I’m sure it won’t be a problem.” The waiter bows and disappears back into the crowd.
“You didn’t need to scare him.” I frown. “A simple chardonnay would have been fine.”
He brings his dark eyes back to me. “No. It wouldn’t have.”
Mr. Gray doesn’t like being told no.
“I assume you haven’t eaten since you’ve been playing the whole evening.” He raises his hand, and again as though he is some great magician I’d never heard of before, two waiters arrive at our sides with trays filled with miniature cupcakes, cheesecakes, and other desserts.
“Thank you.” I pluck a chocolate cupcake with a cherry on top from the silver tray and pop it into my mouth. My mother would be appalled, but when I look back to Mr. Gray, there’s amusement dancing in his dark eyes.
Piano music begins to play, and I turn slightly toward the baby grand piano. Stephan Wilson is playing beautifully. Even from here I admire his finger work on the keys.
“You know him?” It’s more an accusation than a question, which makes me cock an eyebrow.
“I know many musicians in London, Mr. Gray.” I eye the room, hoping the waiter with my drink will arrive soon so that I can make my exit. Mr. Gray stands closer to me, the material of his suit brushing against my bare arm whenever I move to the side. Although I sense no matter where he stands, I’ll be able to feel his presence.
“Dorian! I didn’t expect to see you here tonight!” A man with wildly curly blond hair and bright blue eyes steps up to us.
“Samuel.” Dorian inclines his head. “It was a last-minute decision.” He gives a tight smile.
“Ah. Well. You’re here. Were you here for dinner? I would have thought I’d have seen you.”
“No. I only arrived after.” Dorian looks beyond Samuel’s shoulder. “Did you bring Elizabeth?”
“She’s off somewhere finding a drink. I see you’ve found a beautiful woman for your plus one this evening.” Samuel eyes me with his wide smile and bows his head slightly.
“This is Sylvia Sybil; she’s been keeping me company.” Dorian’s eyes graze over me, as though he is testing my reaction to us being seen together.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” I smile at Samuel and reach my hand out to him. Dorian casually slides his hand over mine and pulls it to my side before Samuel can lift his own.
“I think I see Elizabeth over at the bar. You should probably see to her, she looks wobbly.” Dorian gestures toward the bar with his chin. Samuel follows his gaze and sighs.
“It seems my wife needs some assistance. Please excuse me.” He inclines his head in my direction. “Dorian.” He slaps Dorian’s shoulder as he walks away.
“You seem to be very popular here,” I acknowledge just as the waiter arrives at our side and hands me my glass of wine. Dorian looks at the glass expectantly, so I take a small sip and smile. “Very good. Thank you.” A million times better than the sweet wine I’d been drinking when Dorian arrived.
“Ah, here you are.” Mother’s voice hits me from behind. Dorian’s eyes narrow. “James is bringing me a drink, oh, I see you have one. Very good. You must be tired from your evening with your violin. Oh, you’re speaking with someone. How rude of me.” She’s like a bulldozer at a playground when she’s like this.
“Mother, this is Mr. Dorian Gray. Dorian, this is my mother, Cynthia Sybil.” James walks up behind her with a harsh glare for Dorian. “And this is James Weatherby—”
“The bastard knows me well enough.”
“James!” Cynthia gasps at his bad manners.
“It’s been a long time.” I take a small step closer to Sylvia. I won’t have his interference here.
“Not long enough.” James’ jaw tightens. I’m sure if the women weren’t standing here, he’d try to throw his fist into my face. It would end badly for him, but he’s never been able to control his emotions.
“There seems to be some bad blood between you two.” Cynthia’s English accent has faded from her years living in the States, but it’s still faintly detectable when she speaks.
“Business rivals.” I brush away the past like the annoying fly it is.
“Oh, what business are you in?” Sylvia turns her question to me with cynicism blaring at me through her eyes.
“What do you invest in?” she pushes.
I turn my focus from James to Sylvia. “Pharmaceuticals at the moment.”
“I didn’t realize you were back in town, Gray.” James finally hands the wineglass to Mrs. Sybil, having found his manners.
“I went back to New York for a short time, but I’m back now, and will be for a while.” At least until the new year.
“You travel back and forth because of work?” Sylvia questions, sipping her wine. I can see the enjoyment she’s getting from my choice, and as pleasing as her joy is to me, I want the other side of the coin more. The idea of drawing it out of her makes my cock harder by the moment.
“Among other things.”
“James was kind enough to offer me a ride to the airport in the morning. He suggested that you both would go for an early breakfast after seeing me off.” Cynthia butts into the conversation, moving slightly closer to me, trying to cut me off altogether.
Does James have an interest in my Sylvia? If he does, it only makes my conquest all the sweeter.
“Oh.” Sylvia looks to her mother with something like murder, but it quickly vanishes, and the well-mannered woman replaces it. “I’m sorry, but I have other plans already. I’m meeting with Henry and a few others for an early rehearsal.”
Cynthia’s smile falls. “But you have a break now. You said yourself, you’re free from work for the next two weeks.”
“I said we didn’t have any performances. We are taking a small break, but we do have a few rehearsals. Tomorrow morning is one of them.”
She’s lying. My little Sylvia is telling a bold-faced lie while looking her mother straight in the eye.
I’m proud of her for it.
Of course, I won’t tolerate any lying once I have her in my clutches.
“Then maybe lunch?” Cynthia pursues the date on James’ behalf and just like the spineless ass he is, he allows it.
“I don’t think she’ll have time,” I interject. “We were just discussing plans for the afternoon.”
“Yes, we were.” Sylvia falls into the deception smoothly.
Cynthia looks ready to scream, but she pulls herself together and glances at James. “I’m sure you’ll be able to find a time to meet while I’m away.”
“How long will you be out of town?” I ask.
“Nearly a month,” Cynthia answers. “You’re taking my daughter to lunch then?” She turns her full attention to me and looks me over. Am I as good of a prospect for her daughter as James? In her mind, maybe not. While she seems to be taken in by my good looks and my obvious wealth, she’s not quite sure she can manhandle me as easily as she can James.
“I’m sorry, I must step away for a moment.” James settles a hot glare on me. “I’ll call you tomorrow, Sylvia, so we can make plans.”
“Of course, James. I’d like that.” She smiles as she’s been trained, no doubt by her mother, to do. But on the edge of her practiced smile is something darker, something that gives me hope my little Sylvia isn’t too obedient.
“Mother, I think Mrs. Chamberlain is waving at you.” Sylvia points toward a woman much older and shorter frantically waving her hand over her head as she marches through the exhibit hall.
“Dear lord, the woman stomps through crowds like her skirt is on fire. I’ll speak with you later.” She gives a curt nod to Sylvia. “Mr. Gray.” She gifts me with a tight grin then hurries off to intercept her friend.
“Thank you.” Sylvia toasts me with her wineglass. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get out of that.”
“You don’t care for James?”
“Oh, he’s nice, but my mother adores him.” She winces slightly. “That makes me sound like a spoiled brat, doesn’t it?”
I chuckle. “No, not since I’ve met your mother. But even if it did, I promise I have the perfect remedy for such behavior in the future.”
Her eyes widen at my words, but a rose-colored blush blossoms on her cheeks. My cock strains against the zipper of my trousers. If she bites that lip of hers, I may not be able to hold onto my patience any longer.
“It’s late, Sylvia.” I slip the now empty wineglass from her fingers and place it on an empty tray that appears. “I’ll take you home. You have to be tired from your performance.”
“It was… interesting meeting you, Dorian, but I’m afraid I have to decline.”
“Oh?” I roll my shoulders back.
“I’m sure this will sound rude, and I don’t mean to be, but this…” she waves her hand around the room, “this isn’t my sort of crowd. I’m not really into this.”
“Into what exactly?” I lean lower, wanting to catch every breath she breathes.
“Being one of your notches.” Her mouth spreads wide, and I wish I could force it wider still with my fingers, then my cock.
All in good time.
“My notches?” It’s best to play the innocent until the full accusation has been laid out before me.
“Eyes have been watching us since you approached me. You merely have to look in one direction to have a server pop up for your orders, and even your friends look to you with envy. Someone with such power and popularity comes to one of these events alone?” She shakes her head. “I’m not what you’re looking for, but I’m sure given a few more minutes, you’ll find the right girl for the night.”
I laugh. Is there any other reaction fitting after what she’s said?
Her lips, plump and kissable, press together into a hard line. “I’m just not interested, Mr. Gray, but thank you for the invitation.”
I pull back, forcing a civility to my smile. “Of course, Sylvia.” I take a step back from her, a small show of defeat, even if it is in pretense only. She’s made her choice on how the next steps play out, and now all she has to do is let them play.
“It was nice to meet you.” Her smile is more natural now. She’s comfortable in the belief she’s rid of me.
“Meeting you was exactly as I thought it would be.” Even better because she’s denied me. Or so she thinks. “Have a pleasant evening.” All of this civility is going to make my dinner reappear.
I turn on my heel and march through the gallery, pulling out my phone and texting my driver to meet me at the front of the museum steps.
Once in the car, I make a phone call.
“As we discussed. Do not hurt her,” I instruct.
I hang up the call and glance at the rearview mirror. I catch a glimpse of her walking down the last steps of the museum and into the back of a cab.
I hope she sleeps well tonight.
Because tomorrow is going to be hell for her.