I completely lose track of time, of space, of everything as she kisses me and kisses me. I forget that our voices are magnified by a speaker system. I forget that we’re in a helicopter, flown by Carter, in a front seat just a few feet away from us. I forget restaurants, jobs, motorcycles, everything, as Lark Blackwood kisses me, one hand gripping my thigh, higher and higher, even as her tongue seeks the inner recesses of my mouth. 

My head is in a whirl. My lips are numb and tingling.

Even though, according to that damned Handbook, I’m not supposed to, my own hand lifts, touching the silken smoothness of her cheek in a brief, feather-light caress. 

Her own hand fists my hair in her fingers, tugging my head back, insistent. I hear the hiss of her breath. The currents of electricity between us, never completely quieted to begin with, crackle and spark with increasing power. She blows against my ear, nipping and nibbling the lobe before her tongue darts in to tease it. I whimper. She doesn’t stop her aching, exquisite torment, unsheathing her teeth and biting her way along my neck before her lips find mine again. Her tongue circles mine, around and around and around, plunging in and out, and it’s all I can do to keep from groaning aloud.

At long last, she tears her damp mouth from mine, lips glistening. “It’s a first for both of us,” she finally adds.

“Huh?” I’m completely bemused.

“I’ve never had… anyone in one of my helicopters before. You’re the first.”

“I am?!”

“You are.” She touches my face, caressing my tumble of unruly curls again, but then turns away. “Look, Bash, over there. You can see the Space Needle.” There is that note of girlish delight in her voice again, like having whisked me away on this adventure is what she most desired, what brings her the most happiness. 

The Space Needle. Wow. I’ve only been up to Seattle once, with my dad, when my aunt and uncle visited when I was just a kid and we did the whole tourist thing. We usually stuck to the sleeping bags/mountains/drafty cabin/tent by the lake kind of vacation, he and I, ourselves. I’m no urban city boy, I think bitterly.

But Lark is as relaxed and comfortable here as she is anywhere, I notice as Carter sets the ‘copter down gently on a helipad in a little airfield somewhere north of downtown, from what I can tell. 

Oh, thank God, solid land under us again.

It’s evening, and the sun is sinking in the west, painting the sky with glorious colors, all pinks and oranges and lavender splendors as we descend. Once the helicopter is secured, Carter opens the doors for us, and I see a sleek town car nearby, with a uniformed driver, waiting for us. Not a Mercedes, but a Lincoln, I think.

“Enjoy your evening, Miss Blackwood,” Carter murmurs respectfully as Lark leads me from the helicopter over to the car and driver.

“Good evening, madam,” the driver, a wizened looking black man with fuzzy gray hair greets us, beaming a wide smile. “Beautiful night, isn’t it?”

Lark makes a noncommittal noise in her throat as he holds the door for her and I, then he clambers into the car’s front seat, adjusting his chauffeur’s cap. “We’ll have you there in just ten or fifteen minutes, depending on traffic,” he says cheerfully. “There is cold mineral water for you, and if you’d like to open the sunroof, the controls are on the right. Music controls are next to them, but I can put on any music you’d want to hear, too, some nice classical music, or a little jazz-”

“What I would like,” Lark interrupts, brusque, “is a quiet trip to our destination.”

The driver stops his chatter, and nods. “Yes, yes ma’am. My apologies.” He doesn’t say another word as he drives out of the little airport and turns onto a road leading to a freeway. 

Lark, too, is quiet. She doesn’t make a move to kiss me again, to resume the heated make-out sesh like we had going on in the helicopter. But she watches my face carefully, a soft smile hovering on her lips. 

The ride seems to go on forever, and yet it’s over in an instant. The driver pulls the car up to an elegant glass-and-stone structure on the shore of one of the lakes, with light pooling everywhere. A valet rushes to open the car door for us, and another already has the restaurant door opened.

The person behind the front desk greets Lark effusively. “Miss Blackwood,” he cooes, all but drooling at the sight of her. Typical. “How wonderful to have you with us again. Would you like to start with a drink in the lounge-”

“No, we have the Executive Room tonight, Ross, and I prefer that we be shown there directly.”

“Yes, indeed, madam.” He darts his eyes at me, and I can feel him weighing and judging me. “However, first, madam, I’m sure you understand, there is a small matter of… dress code?”

I flinch. Oh, how mortifying! Is he picking on me because I’m with Lark, and he isn’t’? 

From what I can see, everyone else inside the main room of the restaurant is dressed to the nines. Lark, of course, fits in perfectly, in her elegant, expensive dress and shoes and tasteful jewelry. And then there’s me: jeans, sneakers, hooded sweatshirt. I look ridiculous, and, even worse, I feel completely out of place. Humiliated.

We shouldn’t be here. No, I shouldn’t be here.

I lick my lips nervously, and try to muster up the courage to tell that to Lark.

Before I do, though, she’s answering him. “I’ve already spoken to Byron. It won’t be an issue,” she clips out. “Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, yes, madam,” he grovels quickly, and hastens to show us down a long hallway. Every man from the lowest busboy to the frumpiest stuffed suit stares at her as we do. They must be wondering what the fuck a goddess like her is doing with a peasant like me. 

“The Executive Room,” the man from the front desk mumbles, opening the door for us.

I follow Lark in, and gee whiz, I am blown away by the place.

It’s a private dining room, a modern glass extravaganza, stark and sleek and warm.  Just for us.

A round table is set in front of the huge windows looking out on lake and mountain vistas, all lamplight and mist and mystery. A fire dances in the fireplace. Candles sparkle against the cut crystal and china. Music pours out softly from hidden speakers, the Gipsy Kings, I think, and the entire atmosphere is one of sensual luxury.

Several servers scramble around, seating us, spreading heavy linen napkins.

I should be used to the kind of service Lark Blackwood prompts, but this is still completely new to me, and very uncomfortable. The lifestyles of the uber-very-beyond-rich. The one percent of the one percent.

“Here you are, sir,” mumbles one of the servers, handing me a heavy, leather-bound menu, with multiple courses printed on heavy stock, in elegant script.

Like Lark’s Handbook.

I close my eyes. Unbidden, I remember our last restaurant meal. After our first time together. A night and morning of passionate sex, followed by a lunch at that fancy French place as Lark explained in more detail about her and Primary Man, and the contents of that Handbook. 

I had been hungry enough an hour ago at the bookstore, but now, with those thoughts bubbling up, I can only look with distaste at the list of courses. My stomach balks at all of it, from prawns and salad to chocolate mille-feuille.

Even cups of warm broth that have been brought to the table, which one of the more flamboyant waiters said was something about “preparing our palettes,” holds no appeal for me now.

 I close the menu and put it down on the table.

Lark, too, does not look over her menu, but for different reasons. She waves a hand at the headwaiter, who has begun to explain about the restaurant’s history or something like that.

“I am not interested in the usual culinary performances tonight,” Lark tells him, fixing her eyes on him in a way that makes him redden. Oh yes, even mere restaurant waiters are blown away by this woman’s beauty and power. Her eyes flash blue crystalline fire. “I told Byron to inform Bradley that I wanted to be served a set menu at intervals with minimal interruptions.”

“Yes, indeed, madam,” the server bows, obsequious. 

“We will begin with the steak tartare. Wagyu beef, of course. Second course will be fish, the roasted black cod with cauliflower and salted radish. The salad may be served tableside, but with only a quarter of the usual amount of bacon. Then the grilled asparagus in vermouth.”

“I am so sorry, madam, but we are not currently serving the asparagus, as it is not in season, but Chef currently has smoked carrots with leek compote, as well as a simply delightful wild rice, spruce turnips, and green tomatoes-”

“Fine,” she agrees with exasperated impatience. “And for our entrees, make sure you bring us the red snapper with fiddlehead ferns for one of them.”

“Yes, indeed, madam. If you wish, we can do the seven course tasting menu-”
“Yes, fine,” Lark interrupts curtly, all business. “Make sure Byron sends out the dungeness crab congee as well.”

“Fruit and cheese for dessert, as usual, madam?”

“No, I want sorbet tonight.”

“Sir,” he turns to me, “do you have any food allergies or aversions we should know about?”

“Uh, no,” I stammer, too surprised to say anything else.

“That will be all,” Lark informs him, picking up her cup of broth and sipping it. 

“Right away.” He hustles the other servers out. But just as quickly, the headwaiter is back, bearing a wine bottle. “Kalino has chosen the Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet for you to begin, with his compliments.” The snooty headwaiter turns to me, and I can imagine him sneering at me in his head as he adds, “Our master sommelier.”

Way to make the point that I am completely unfamiliar with all of this. Jackass.

“That will do,” Lark says, “although I want the Joseph Phelps Insignia, Red Blend, from Napa Valley, with our entrees.”

“Of course, madam. Yes, indeed.”

“Where is Kalino this evening? Usually he brings the wine himself.”

“He will be delighted to bring in the Phelps, madam, I know.”

“That is all for now,” she says, waving him away. 

Then she looks at me. “I hope you don’t mind that I ordered for both of us. It seemed simpler.” Ah, that old-fashioned, gracious courtesy of hers!

“It’s fine,” I say, relieved I didn’t have to tackle that imposing menu myself. Somehow I doubt my usual “fancy meal” options of either medium-rare steak or fettuccini alfredo would be options here… much less appropriate for a meal with Lark Blackwood. 

“This is… really something else. This whole night, I mean. The kidnapping, the helicopter ride, this place. You,” I add, bravely.

Her eyes seem to flicker momentarily, but she smiles softly. “‘Something else,’ hm? I suppose that is one way of putting it.”


MBO Soundtrack: Gipsy Kings, “Bamboleo”