Chapter 8: Dancing with Danger
Unaware of my stuttering heart rate, Red moves his hand up my waist to rest lightly against the base of my exposed collarbone, his other hand releases the vehicle's rooftop and makes its way to the band around my hair. With a swift tug, he has my hair tumbling down. I roll my bottom lip into my mouth and keep a steady eye on his clenched jaw. “Did you bring a jacket?” He questions.
Blinking rapidly, I push against his chest and slip out from under his arm. “We’re late,” I mutter, before making my way around the car and into my seat. Glancing at Red, I find myself confused with his actions. Fortunately, my boss does indeed enter the vehicle with a laboured pause he keys the engine. I remain silent in the dark space, and mentally count down from six hundred, eyeing the air conditioning I frown; it’s on… and yet my body is a heated mess.
I absently wrap my arms around my body, holding onto my control tightly. Red mistakes this action and reaches over to turn the air-con down. Swallowing hard, I bite the insides of my cheeks and forcefully keep my eyes on anything but the man next to me. Despite this, I am mindful of Red’s strong grip on the wheel, I almost imagine it snapping. Approaching the Royal Hilton Hotel, Red pulls up out front. I’m assisted by Front of house. Stroking the side of my wallet, I circle around to Red’s side. He purses his lips as his eyes scan down my dress, rolling my eyes I make a move forward towards the grand hall.
Red is quick on my heels, his brooding and large shadow hovering around me. Two ladies at reception spot us, they hurry over and reach out to shake our hands. Smiling politely as they lead us to the venue. I tense up as Red’s large hand presses firmly against the middle of my back, “what are you doing?” I whisper as we enter an elevator.
Glad that the women have their backs to us, I await his reply. He leaves me hanging, only responding in a slight push as the metal doors open. Reeling in my annoyance, I fasten my step. “Julia!” I smirk hearing Red’s angered grumble. Pretending not to have heard, I continue past the two women, already knowing where the hall is. I pause outside the large doors and smile innocently up at Red.
He raises an eyebrow and without warning wraps an arm around my waist, just as the women open the large doors. Wordlessly, Red leads us into the crowded hall. Attention is immediately placed on the man beside me, using all the strength in my body I attempt to pull away from my boss. His grip, however, is stubborn and I find myself under scrutinising gazes. Sweat beads at the back of my neck and I keep my head lowered, glad that my hair works as a shield.
“Red!” My eyes widen at the familiar voice, my head snaps up. I meet Mr. Ashford head on, he cocks his head to the side with a small hint of amusement in his baby blue eyes. He makes his way towards us and I notice Red’s grip on my waist tighten, bruisingly.
My bosses greeting to his ’supposed’ friend isn’t all that friendly, “James, such an unpleasant surprise.”
“Sir!” My mouth drops open at the utter disrespect.
James, however, seems unfazed, in fact, he looks on the brink of laughter, “as was the invitation to your wedding. But, who am I to complain.” He glances down at me and holds his hand out. “Sweet, Julia.” He greets.
Somewhat awkwardly, I shake his hand. Apparently, I shake it a second too long; Red pushes between us and begins to walk away from the beaming client, “see you at the alter, man!” James calls out.
I look up to find Red grinding his molars, his eyes flicker to mine before his feet lead us to the bar. I use this distraction to dislodge from his painful hold. He grabs the glass before turning to face all his guests, I reach forward and place a hand on his raised forearm. “Don’t drink too much, sir.” His gaze narrows on my touch. Instantly I move back, he lifts the glass and tips his head back causing the liquor to disappear down his throat.
Closing my eyes, I realise my hopeful pleading has only seen to agitating him further. Before I can scold him for his childish behaviour, a shareholder makes her way over to us. She engages Red in a heated discussion about the rise in stocks. Giving them their privacy, I head towards the bathroom, only to be stopped by a boyish grin. “Mr. Ashford. Sorry about that greeting…”
James shakes his head, “he seems more devilish tonight. You’re forgiven, Julia.” He shrugs, “but, only is you give me this dance.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, sir.” I step back.
He reaches out to take my wrist, lightly his thumb strokes my pulse. “You owe me, remember.”
“I can’t dance,” I confess.
He releases a small chuckle, “it seems we have drawn the attention of a certain beast.” James pulls me forward with one swift tug and takes my hip within his grip. “Sway with me, instead.” I go to refuse, but Mr. Ashford doesn’t take ’no’ for an answer, he moves us to the centre of the room, where other guests move elegantly. I lower my head and pray my face is hidden, James keeps a friendly distance between our bodies as he rocks us to the rhythm echoing through hidden speaks.
“Twenty, on the brute lasting less than two minutes.” James grins.
Confused, I continue watching his feet in hopes of not injuring the guy. Unaware of my surroundings I concentrate on keeping up with James, whose voice hums above my head. All of a sudden my body is jerked back, shocked out of my deep engagement with James’ designer shoes, I look up to the source of distraction. Recoiling, I slam my mouth shut and look away from Red. “Dinners starting.” Fuck you. His strained words sound more like a curse, rather than an invitation to dine.
I keep quiet as Red leads us to our designated seats, he pulls my chair out and I lower down onto the plush seat, my nerves stroking my spine. Is it me or are these seats placed abnormally close… The appetisers are served and a light discussion takes over the table. I look down at my plate and slowly pick at the items on it, unaware of the delicacy in front of me, but painfully conscious of the cubed melon wrapped in some kind of thin meat. Eyeing it nervously, I push the pieces to the side of my plate as discreetly as possible.
“You do not like Prosciutto or Melone?” Red leans down.
I quickly shake my head, “it’s nice, looks delicious…”
“Eat one then,” He picks up a skewer, all too willing to aid in my upcoming death. Lifting it to my mouth, it hovers above my lips. Instantly I move back. “Julia?”
I look back at him and he lowers it back down onto my plate, “the melon, I can’t eat melon.” I mutter out embarrassed. Out of all the allergies, a person can have… Red grunts out a curse in his mother tongue, before grabbing my plate and swapping it with his. A spluttered cough has me looking across the table to James, he shares my shocked expression.
“Eat. There’s no melon.” Red instructs. He takes another skewer patterned with cubes of feta cheese and green olives separated by rolled strips of prosciutto. Pushing it against my lips, he waits for me to open my mouth. Despite this event feeling relatively normal and very much like some of our mornings, I realise the rest of the guests are not used to such a sight. Reaching forward I take the wine glass and break the contact with him.
Either Red is unaware of the many curious eyes or he simply couldn’t care less about their judgement. His confident ignorance has me wishing the chair will just swallow me up, however, I’m unfortunately not that lucky. Regardless of the highly unprofessional behaviour the man beside me possesses, we manage to make it through the remainder of the dinner.
Within minutes of finishing the meal, Red is shadowed by guests. I make my way out to the balcony and sip at the remainder of my wine, the abstract taste reminding me of the significant difference between Red and I. Closing my eyes, I allow the wind to kiss my cheeks. “Not cold?”
Too tired to show surprise, I nod, “a little.” Opening my eyes, I look to my right and smile softly at James. “But, it’s nice. Refreshing.”
“You owe me twenty bucks,” James leans over the balcony.
I copy his posture, “surely such a small amount is of little value to a billionaire,” I tease.
“its owner is of great value,” he replies.
I gaze across at James’ defined features, his gorgeous charm has the ability to swoon anything and everything… except me, apparently. “Smooth one, Romeo.” I joke.
“Is that so, Juliet?” He meets my eyes.
For a moment we simply gauge each other's reactions, “you’re not like the rest of them, Mr. Ashford.” I break away from the swooning blue irises.
“Says the woman who continues to refer to me as my old man…” He chuckles.
I shake my head, “highly inappropriate for me to refer to you as anything else.” I state, remembering my position compared to his.
“Are we not friends, Julia?”
I pause. “You’re a client at the company I work for,” I put emphasis on my words.
“And, there she goes… firing bullets,” He mocks a hurt look. “Julia, do you not have friends in Red’s company?”
I nod, “of course I do.”
“Then imagine me as one of them.” James states.
I sigh, “it’s not the same.” Stepping back, I give him a slight nod, “it’s been nice chatting, Mr. Ashford. But, I should go in and check up on my boss.”
“He’s got you chained, huh?” James mumbles, turning his back to me and continuing to look down at the scenic view below. Refusing to put meaning to his words, I make my way back inside the hall. My eyes scan the room and finally settle on a hunched figure against the bar, releasing a small frustrated breath I make my way towards Red.
Approaching the clearly drunk man, I place a hand on his shoulder, “sir?” I glare at the waiter who serves up another drink, he wisely takes it back before Red can grab it. “Mr. Alfonsi, I think it’s time you head home?”
“So you can flaunt around with other men…” He snaps.
I take in his state and force myself not to make a big deal of his words. “It’s time we both head home.” This time I am more adamant, I help him up and eye two of the staff. Slumping against me, Red continuous to mumble incoherent nonsense, swearing here and there. As the staff approach me I quickly ask them, “please help me make Mr. Alfonsi’s disappearance as discrete as possible.”
Nodding, they help us out through a safety exit. I smile thankfully and they disappear back into the hall. Looking up and down, all I see is stairs. Red’s weight begins to dawn on me and I take my chances with going downstairs, as long as I can get him into the car. Halfway down the third floor, Red collapses against me. I’m thrust against the wall, with his body flush against mine. “Sir… Just help me get you down the stairs.” I plead.
He groans before pushing away from me, I go to help him down, but before I can he slams his hands against the wall either side of me. “I saw you. You like James, si?”
“Sir, you’re drunk.” I continue out.
He shakes his head, “fuck it! Answer the damn question,” he demands.
“James is a client, sir.” I look away from the beast, “nothing more than that.” He seems sober enough to take on the stairs. I push against his large arm and continue down the stairs. Unable to take moving down the narrow empty passageways any longer, I push through another set of doors and enter the second floor. Red slumps down behind me.
I groan noticing the empty hallway, Red leans against the wall and slowly lowers to the carpeted floor. I crouch down next to him, “come on, we can take the lift from here.” I grumble.
He grabs my chin, “don’t let him touch you, Julia. Don’t dance with him, don’t smile at him. Merda! Don’t fucking look at him!” He closes his eyes. The elevators open and I zero in on one of the hotel's employees, gesturing him over I ask him to book a room for Red. Preferably the one next to Red’s intoxicated form. It seems the hotel is all too willing to assist Mr. Alfonsi.
Within minutes he’s manoeuvred into the room, I thank the employees and close the door behind them. Heading back into the bedroom, I sigh. Lowering down, I pull his shoes off, planning to head home and return early the next morning. I remove his jacket and take his phone and keys from his pocket, resting the items on the bedside table. Finally, leaning down to remove his tie. Before I can make any progress, Reds hand fists around my wrist.
I’m left speechless as he tugs me down and claims my lips, my eyes widen and my lips part subconsciously…