Author: Tabitha McGowan
Series: The Tied Man
The summer I met Lilith Bresson, I had begun to die. Not physically, you understand. I had never been that lucky. But each day a little more of my soul disappeared, and Blaine sensed it.
And Blaine Albermarle never let anything escape without a fight.
‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ I paced the floor of the make-up room, counting down the minutes to my appearance like a condemned woman.
Hilary Silverman, my long-suffering agent, poured herself a lukewarm coffee and gave her best calming smile. ‘Delivering a compromise. Well, your particularly diluted version of a compromise, anyway.’
Hilary’s eyes widened in alarm. ‘You can’t!’
‘I think you’ll find I bloody well can.’
‘All right, all right, you can. Okay, so let me rephrase that.’ Hilary positioned her considerable backside on a grubby sofa and patted the seat next to her. I begrudgingly sat down. ‘I would very much prefer it if you didn’t leave, on the basis that it’s the only sodding way I can get you to do any publicity for your own exhibition, before you bugger off back to your lair.’
‘I’ve got work waiting back in Spain.’ I took a sip of chamomile tea that tasted like floor-sweepings, and Hilary shook her head.
‘Y’know, I’d forgotten just how unutterably bloody-minded you can be when you feel threatened.’
‘I don’t feel “threatened”. I feel pissed off, cold, and ever so slightly manipulated. And what the fuck does someone like Johnny Buckle want with me?’
Hilary removed a silver bangle the size of a drainpipe and began rolling it in her hands as a talisman against stroppy artists. ‘He wants to move upmarket apparently, hence the ‘Young, British and Talented’ theme for tonight. His show’s taken a lot of stick in the press for being too tabloid, even for the Saturday night late slot. Something to do with staging a live wedding ceremony between some inadequate little man and his poodle.’
‘Oh God, I read about that. And I’m meant to go out there and make small talk with this cretin?’
‘His people have promised he’ll talk about your work, nothing more. Maybe a bit about the charity – ’
‘All right, so no charity stuff. Pity, might go a little way to countering the whole ‘Ice Princess’ business. Maybe the tiniest mention of Daniel?’
‘No!’ The mere thought of my younger brother’s name being dragged into this circus made me feel sick.
Hilary gave a weary sigh of defeat. ‘You can’t blame a girl for trying. But try and mention your work, huh? And, please God, your exhibition. You know, the one where I do all the work to flog one or two of your amateur scribblings, and you get all the glory?’
‘Okay, I get your point. I’ll try and behave. Ten minutes. How hard can it be?’ I begrudgingly took my place in the make-up chair.
‘Good girl.’ My agent took my hand and gave it a pat. ‘Just try to keep calm, darling. That’ll do me.’
‘Hi, I’m Jarred and I’ll be applying your slap for tonight.’ A young man in a tight neon-green t-shirt and black leather trousers sidled up and began to apply powder to my nose. ‘Nice to find a complexion that isn’t like the dark side of the moon. Five minutes ‘til showtime, sweetie.’ He gave me a sympathetic smile that did nothing to ease my apprehension. ‘God, that dress is to die for. Vintage?’
‘Nineteen fifty two Dior.’
‘You know, my other half couldn’t believe we’d got you for tonight. You’re his heroine – says you’re the Grace Kelly of the Twenty-First Century.’ He glanced up from his work. ‘Uh oh, stand by your beds girls, here comes his majesty.’
There was a sudden flurry of activity on the other side of the room, and Johnny Buckle, orbited by half-a-dozen minions, graced us with his presence.
‘Now then, Lil. Very nice to meet you in the flesh. Nice frock – does wonders for your boobs. What you can’t get in your mouth, you only waste, eh?’ He leant down and, without invitation, kissed me hard on both cheeks. Sixteen and a half stones of goateed faux-Northern macho bullshit with the remains of last night’s curry still on his breath invaded the space my closest friends would baulk at, and it took all my self-control not to recoil.