The table outside the exquisite Japanese restaurant “Hanami” was duly reserved. They sit on the waterfront promenade, a prime venue to watch the passers-by.
“Would you kindly select for me?” She asks not only out of faineance but also to find out how much Vincent knows about her. The result is astonishing. The juicy roasted lobster, served halved, enriched with foie gras butter and sea urchins is a high cuisine achievement just as the hors d’oeuvre - torched salmon with roe and basil miso sauce - were.
He leans over her in an angle suggesting a kiss yet he just wishes to wipe the melted butter off her chin with his napkin.
“What a waste!” She sighs provocatively. Pretending not to understand, he offers her another glass of champagne giving in to her whims while denying her wishes.
“This will be the last glass, sorry, Nathalie! We have things to do.” He helps her to her feet and leads her to the chauffer driven car waiting in front of the restaurant.
“May I put my head on your shoulder, Vincent? I’m so sleepy!” She asks nearing him.
“It’s in all innocence, I promise!”
“OK you may, in case you stop at it.” He buttons up his jacket and draws her nearer,
She shoots a surreptitious glance on his beautiful face, his head with its copper gold hair refusing to open to a reader of his mind. His green eyes set wide apart are flecked with golden spots and screened with thick russet lashes. His nose of a Roman patrician is perfectly straight; his full pale mouth wears a disdainful pout. Why is she so helplessly attracted to him? Why does she want to have him fully aware of Alex’s looming revenge? It must be his irresistible beauty. Of course, Alex is also very handsome and well educated with it. And she has never had a better lover. Is it because Vincent is so difficult to get, following Alex’s orders instead of surrendering to her charms?
“A propos, where are we going, Vince?
“Wait and see, little girl!”
Feigning sleep she lets her head slide down upon Vincent’s chest. His muscles tighten, his body turns to granite. Yet the frantic beat of his heart encourages her to try harder. With a languorous sigh she lets her hot wet lip slither down his body making him feel how much she is longing for him.
“Stop it!” He jerks himself free and hurls her back against the seat.
“Do you know that what you’ve just done is called “a punch below the belt”? According to the boxing rules you’d be instantly disqualified! Have you no shame, Nathalie? No decent girl would ever do anything as common!” He grumbles through clenched teeth.
“I plead not guilty, Vincent! What I did was completely innocent. I was in a deep sleep and not responsible for my body.”
“You poor innocent little girl, living with such a wicked body must be an ordeal!” He says with sarcasm while the darkness of the Norwegian wood is closing on them.
The car stops on a dirt road in front of a stark silhouette of a cottage pierced by a dim light coming out from a tiny window.
“Here we are!” Vincent helps her into her jacket shying away from any bodily contact. The car ride is evidently part of a plot. The driver, following instructions, stays inside. Vince leads her towards the cottage through the pitch dark night filled with heady perfumes.
“Don’t worry, little girl! All goes according to plan.” He squeezes reassuringly her hand and lets her precede him inside the cottage. There are three men sitting at a table loaded with aquavit, smoked salmon and thin slices of dark bread.
“Welcome, Vince! This here must be Nathalie! Sit down guys, make yourself comfortable, be our guests.” A man waves towards the food and pours out their drinks.
“Thanks, Eric, we have eaten. Shall we start with the agenda?”
“Not yet, Vince, we are awaiting another participant of the meeting. Here he comes!”
“Alex!” She cries out unable to hide her surprise. Happy surprise? Guilty surprise? Why should she feel guilty? Nothing happened. ’Thanks to Vincent! ’A mocking voice at the very bottom of her conscience reminds her.
Greeting shortly his crew Alex takes her in his arms and kisses her fully on the lips.
“Meet my girlfriend!” He presents her shooting Vincent a killer smile and, detaching Nathalie from his arms, brandishes her like his most prized possession before his amazed team.
To hide her blush she presses her head into the hollow of his shoulder. The atmosphere is charged. Is this like a leader should behave? Neglecting his troops for schmoozing with his girlfriend?
“OK! Let’s go on with the essentials!” Alex starts the meeting business-like, eventually behaving as expected!
“Give me your handbag, Nathalie!” He takes it out from her hand after an affectionate hand kiss.
“Pass me a cutter, Luke!”
He rips the padding open, sorts out the tapes, brandishes them before the eyes of his men and hands them to Luke.
“We need some private time now, Nathalie, sorry.”
“Vincent, take her to the other room and keep her company.”
“Nathalie?” Vincent offers her his arm and leads her into the adjacent room equipped with a sagging armchair, rickety table with a nearly empty bottle of whiskey and a candle in cracked candelabra covered with melted wax. Vincent takes off his jacket, covers the dirty seat and motions her to sit down. He leans on the door, devilishly handsome in the flickering light of the candle, his copper gold hair shimmering like the midnight sun.
“I am sorry to have made you uncomfortable! It’s my fault, Vince.”
“It’s certainly not! I am a cannibal ready to eat my own heart for the sake of my writing. No need to worry about me, Nathalie!”
“Why is Alex so angry, Vincent? Wasn’t sending you to Oslo with me his decision?”
“Well, little girl, he tried and failed to prove to himself that you are to him just another piece of ass. Now he is looking for a culprit other than himself and I hope he won’t punish YOU for his failure.”
“Why would he? I did what he expected from me. I stayed bodily faithful to him. Not my merit, I know. You behaved like a perfect gentleman in charge of his boss’s girlfriend.”
“I know it! You know it, Nathalie. He doesn’t! He will be jealous of me until the end of your affair, and probably beyond.”
She watches him closely. What does he feel for her? What does she feel for him? How can she tell that’s it’s the beginning of love?
She stands up and nears Vincent to find out the truth.
“Why didn’t you make love to me, Vincent? Don’t be scared to hurt me. Am I not your kind of girl? Are you in love with Alex?”
“You’re off your head, Nathalie! How could you not be anybody’s kind of girl? Of course I am tempted! Though there are limits I won’t cross. To be honest you are too much of a risk and I need badly all that I can get out of Alex; not only the thrill but also, why to deny it, the substantial sums of money. I am no fool to sacrifice it for a brief moment of lust. Even if sex is important to me, and I enjoy it greatly, I won’t play with fire. To answer your second question, no, I am not in love with Alex and neither of us is gay. Have I answered all your tortured heart’s questions, little girl?”
“Thanks for being honest with me, Vincent, even if this was a bitter pill to swallow. Do you think that Alex can believe us that we didn’t cross the line?”
“The problem is that we don’t know how Alex’s imagination works. It plays in my favor that he hasn’t got anybody as good as me, and as a professional he has to put business over feelings. My advice to you, my sweet Nathalie, is: carpe diem, as long as it lasts and make, as the Romans recommended, good use of the day. Maybe this is the last time I see you. So I’ll try to be as sincere with you as I can. I would have succumbed to you if I weren’t aware that Alex’s spy watched over our every move. I’d have loved to be seduced by you. It was just that we were at a bad place at a bad time. I’ll be always thinking about this lost opportunity with regret. Who knows, next time at another place everything may be possible. Life is full of surprises. My farewell advice to you is: let never a failure go to waste! Consider it a feeding material for a story!”