Home > The Red(3)

The Red(3)
Author: Tiffany Reisz

"Why ‘of course’?” he asked.

"I didn’t even like the Morland. It was from his later years, after he stopped producing good work. I only displayed it because I thought it might sell for a couple thousand dollars. You’re the one who told me there was something underneath it.”

"What exactly was underneath it? Have you seen it?”

"The restorer says it appears to be a portrait of Nelly O’Brien. They’ve dubbed the painting The Courtesan. Reynolds even signed the canvas.”

"Ahh, Miss O’Brien. Reynolds painted her several times, I believe.”

"Once more than we’d realized. One art critic believes Morland painted over it during his debt years. Maybe he’d run out of canvases and couldn’t afford more. He put a two-thousand-dollar painting over a five-million-dollar painting. The owner has decided to keep it in the family, but he’s sending me the check this week.”

"Put it toward saving your gallery,” he said. "I have no interest in taking money from you. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

"Thank you, Malcolm.” She sat Tou-Tou down onto the floor. He didn’t run back into the office as she expected him to. Instead, he lay on the floor between her and Malcolm as if he were as much a party to this conversation as they were. "That’s very generous of you.”

"I would like to be more generous with you.”

"Why?” She couldn’t keep the note of suspicion out of her tone.

"I have my reasons and they are very good reasons, but you wouldn’t understand them, not yet. But eventually I will reveal all to you. If you agree to let me help you.”

"Fifty thousand dollars is a good start,” she said. "But I’m half a million in debt. I don’t think anyone can help me.”

"I’ve given you no reason to doubt me.”

"What is it you want from me?”

"May I be blunt with you?” he asked.

"I’d prefer it.”

"I very much wish to fuck you.”

She opened her mouth and said nothing.

"Too blunt?” he asked, a slight smile on his lips.

"No, no.” Mona waved her hand dismissively. "I appreciate the honesty. It’s refreshing. I’m not sure how fucking me can help the gallery, but I thank you kindly for the offer.”

"You must let me finish. But first, may we adjourn to your office? I prefer to discuss business in offices. That’s what they’re made for and they get a little jealous when they’re neglected.”

"Of course. This way.”

She told herself that if he wanted to rape her and kill her, he could have done it by now and done it easily. He’d already proven he could slip in and out of the gallery without her knowledge even when the front door was locked. He was very tall—six foot or a little more by her reckoning, which was half a foot taller than she. Yet he hadn’t so much as touched her. Not even a handshake. And Tou-Tou seemed to like him, not that she’d ever heard of a cat being a good judge of character.

Inside her office, she switched on the little Tiffany-style desk lamp and sat behind her desk. It was a small desk, feminine, with filigrees, and the chair was petite as well. But the chair across from her desk was made for a man of Malcolm’s dimensions. A leather club chair, it fit him like a glove. He seemed the sort of man one would find in an old English club, no women allowed, old boys with money and power discussing politics behind the scenes. She wondered if he smoked cigars. She could smell the slightest trace of cigar smoke on his clothes. It was a masculine scent and not unpleasant in small doses.

"Business?” she asked.

"You’re a very beautiful young lady,” Malcolm said. "I like very beautiful young ladies.”

"Do you?”

"I’m a connoisseur.”

"Are you? Do you have a favorite type?”

"Elegant prostitutes,” he said. "A perennial favorite.”

"You know I’m not a prostitute, yes?” she asked.

"Not yet. But I think you’ll make a fine whore.”

She flinched at the word although he didn’t say it like an insult. It sounded rather nice coming from him. Like a pet name almost.

"You enjoy using women for their bodies,” she said.

"Yes, very much so.”

"Most women prefer to be used for their minds.”

"Foolishness,” he said.

"Foolishness?”

"The mind is seated in the brain, yes?”

"Well…yes.”

"The brain is an organ of the body. Whether I use you for your mind or use you for your cunt, I’m still using you for an organ of your body.”

"You make an interesting point.” The brain was indeed a bodily organ as were the genitals. She could hardly argue his logic.

"You’re sitting on a goldmine, Mona. Literally.”

She blushed. "I’ve never had my vagina called a goldmine before.”

"Perhaps I was referring to your arse.”

"Oh yes, hadn’t thought of that.”

"Why do I want to be generous with you, you asked me earlier. The answer is simple: I want to. Reason enough for me. If you want more to specifics, well, you’re a beauty, as I said. Magnificent legs, marvelous ankles. And I love a girl with red hair, even if it is artificial. Your complexion is lighter than I prefer but it will show bites and blushes well. You wear your hair tastefully. Most women these days wear their hair shorn off or unbound and undone. Takes the magic out of the hair if it’s already down and loose before we’ve gone to bed. You wear yours pinned up and it makes me imagine what it looks like down. I like that very much.”

She warmed at the compliments.

"You could have seduced me for free, you know.” If he had no qualms about admitting his attraction to her, she’d have none about admitting hers to him. "You are very handsome.”

"Am I?”

"I like…” He’d enumerated her best features in detail. Surely he expected the same from her, yet she shied away from telling him how attractive she found him. He didn’t seem the sort to need his ego massaged. "I like your hands.”

"My hands.”

"They’re big,” she said. "And muscular. Sort of. They have lovely veins in them. I like male hands with veins. I noticed them the first time I saw you. And surely you noticed me noticing them if you’re such a connoisseur of women.”

"I did.”

"And yet you want to pay me for sex instead of simply asking me out on a date and getting it for free.”

"Let me explain, darling.” He leaned forward and rested an elbow on the chair arm. He used the hand attached to that arm and elbow to gesticulate as he spoke. "When a woman such as yourself and a man such as myself are lovers…” He pointed at her and then at himself. "Expectations are raised. Marriage being one of them. Lovers often love each other. I have no interest in love or marriage from you. Nor do I wish to take you to dinner. I simply want to fuck you in various ways that please me. It’s my preference.”

The phrase "in various ways” brought images into Mona’s mind. She warmed even more. She started to cross her legs but caught herself in time.

"I have heard that men don’t pay prostitutes for the sex itself. They pay prostitutes to leave.”

He laughed softly, a warm sensual laugh. Now she did cross her legs.

"There may be some truth to that,” Malcolm said. "A man can get the same thing from his wife as he could get from a whore, but the wife might want to talk after.”

"God forbid.”

"Indeed. I wouldn’t pay you to leave, however. I’ll do the leaving after. What I’m paying for, in fact, is permission. Carte blanche, shall we say.”

"Carte blanche? Meaning?”

"I want your permission to do whatever I want to do with your body.”

"Whatever you want? That doesn’t sound safe.”

"I realize that,” he said. "I’ll make you this promise—I won’t damage you in any way. Will there be bites? Of course. Bruises? Undoubtedly. One can hardly kiss a girl as pale as you without leaving a mark. Will I make you bleed? Probably not, but it’s happened before. I won’t pull out your fingernails or submit you to water torture. If you genuinely thought I wanted to do you real harm, I wouldn’t be in this office negotiating with you, would I?”

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