Lily had walked past the shoe shop a hundred times. On her way to work at the flower shop early every morning, wearing shabby jeans and baseball boots that were worn the same color as the pavement, she'd walk fast and barely glance at the shiny, chichi window display. She didn't need to see heart-breaker heels and designer bags that would cost her a month's wages.
For the past six weeks, though, she'd found herself swiveling on her heel and turning to look at a particular display.
The window stretched high above her head, the plate glass polished so bright it reflected her image like a mirror. But Lily wasn't looking at herself. Her gaze was totally transfixed on the shoes. Glossy, cherry-red, skyscraper-high, patent-leather fuck-me shoes that made her heart beat faster just looking at them. They had deep curves and a dangerous heel and they stood center stage on a podium by themselves, proud, shockingly beautiful and insanely unaffordable. They made Lily's mouth water. She could almost taste the red of them.
Once, she'd approached the door, got close enough to feel the cool hum of air-conditioned air on her face. And then she'd checked herself. Girls with ratty hair and dirt under their chipped-varnish nails didn't enter shops like that. Not without a motorcycle helmet and a package under their arm. Not in a million years.
While she was at work, emptying buckets of stinking slime-water and slicing the stems of stargazer lilies, Lily let her imagination wander. In those shoes, she'd be able to walk anywhere—up red carpets and through gilded palaces, across Hollywood Boulevard and down the Champs-Élysées. She'd be a shameless scarlet bombshell, and take no shit from anyone. Her hips would swing and her lips would pout and men would fall at her feet.
And then her boss, Margie, yelled at her for daydreaming, and Lily snapped out of it and got on with the cold, dirty, green-stained work of the day.
It was the first Saturday in May. The city was full of mist that crawled lazily up the streets and muffled the edges of the morning. Dragging herself reluctantly to work, Lily walked past the siren-red shine of the shoes, and drifted to the window to gaze at her unreachable dreams through half an inch of bulletproof glass.
"You like them."
Lily nearly fell on her ass. A man had appeared, silently, in the shop doorway. He wore a black shirt and trousers the color of champagne. His face was taut and unlined, and his smile barely tweaked the corners of his mouth.
"I was just looking," Lily said, backing away.
"I see you," the man continued, fixing her with fathomless gray eyes, "every morning. You look at my shoes like you're starving."
"I design them," he said.
"No shit," said Lily.
"For women," he said, "like you."
"Oh," Lily said, and looked down at her faded, raggedy Ramones T-shirt.
A smile snaked across the man's face.
"It's what's underneath that matters," he said, his eyes hooking on Lily's chest.
If Lily had seen herself in the plate glass, she'd have seen her cheeks flare as red as the shoes. She looked down at the paving slabs and tried to think of a witty comeback.
"Come in," the man said, pushing the door open.
Lily's eyes flicked from the shoes to the man and back again. In her mind's eye, she pictured the flower shop's shutters rolling open and Margie cursing the empty street. And then, although she knew it was crazy and although she couldn't afford to get fired from another job and although everything about the man made her feel she had sleepwalked into some surreal stage play, she followed him into the cool, palatial interior.
The whole place must have been polished by an army of women on their hands and knees, Lily thought. Every damn surface shone like a mirror. Even the light shafts that fell across the room looked glossy. The air smelt faintly of a sweet, spicy perfume, and the shop was silent. There was no sound other than the click of the man's shoes as he walked across the marble floor to the window display.
He lifted the shoes by the straps and brought them to Lily, dangling them from his hand like a bunch of grapes he didn't want to bruise.
"See," he said. "Aren't they beautiful?"
But as Lily reached out, he swung the shoes away and shook his head. He gave her a smile that made her feel dizzy.
"Not yet. You can wear them tonight. When I take you out."
When Lily finally turned up to work half an hour late, she was clumsy and preoccupied. She knocked over a display and broke an orchid stem, gave the delivery driver a funeral wreath instead of a get-well-soon bouquet and ruined a hundred silk roses by dropping them in water.
"What is going on?" Margie bellowed. "Lily Spink, get a hold of yourself!"
By six o'clock, Lily was wired. She stood by the door of the shop, stepping from foot to foot anxiously while she waited for Hans. That was his name—the shoe man. It was about all she knew. But she'd guessed he was rich. She had an inkling he'd take her somewhere fancy, and so she'd stripped down to her spaghetti-strap vest and tried to scrub the green stains off her jeans. Her outfit wasn't Chanel, but it was the best she could do at short notice.
When his car pulled up outside, dark, sleek and quiet, Lily whistled under her breath. It looked like a cruise ship.
Lily rolled her eyes as Margie's foghorn voice called her back. Her boss nodded at her. "Take this, honey."
She pressed something into Lily's hand—a sprig of little bell-shaped white flowers nodding on a stem, tied in ribbon— and gave a tight smile.
"Lily of the valley. Your namesake."
He drove straight to a club downtown, tucked behind the old merchants' quarter. Hans climbed out of the car and walked around to Lily's door to open it. When she swung her feet out, he bent forward and stilled her with one hand on her knee. Lily swallowed. Hans crouched at the curb. His hands slid down her calves and looped around her ankles. Slowly, almost daintily, he unlaced her baseball boots. When he tossed the battered boots in the gutter, Lily nearly cried out, but then she saw the hot glimmer of the red shoes and caught her breath.
Hans laid them at her feet.
"Put them on."
As she stepped, at last, into the arched shoes, they clasped her feet like the hands of a lover, and Lily knew she was beautiful. When she climbed out of the car, her spine unrolled and her hips tipped forward, until her body was an S that leaned toward Hans. Even in her frayed old jeans and with her hair loose and tangled, Lily felt like a queen.
She'd tied Margie's posy to the strap of her vest, and Hans's eye caught on it as they climbed the steps.
He raised an eyebrow. "An unusual corsage."
Lily didn't answer. She felt a bit dazzled.
They entered the club arm in arm. Every head turned to look at them. The men's faces were lustful and the women looked as if they'd sucked sour plums. Damn, Lily thought. These shoes work. She swayed across the marble floor, hanging from Hans's arm. The shoes were so high they gave her vertigo, but there was also a zing and a shiver creeping through her veins. Lily's tits tingled like they had lithium batteries attached to the nipples.
Hans led her past the jealous crowd and through a pair of long velvet curtains at the back of the club. They entered a dark, cavelike room with black walls and black marble floors, a vast glittering chandelier hanging overhead the only decor.
"Want something to drink?" Hans said, his lips brushing her ear, and Lily shivered. Everything he said made her feel as though she were swimming in syrup.
"Or shall we dance?" Hans slipped an arm around her and let his hand trip over the curve of her buttocks. Lily's heartbeat seemed to follow his touch, and she had to force herself to breathe out. When he pulled her onto the edge of the dance floor, her feet started to twitch. Lily was restless. Antsy. She felt like there was a swarm of bees in her belly, and it was part sweet torture, part agony as the thrills spilled over and trickled through her veins.
Hans watched her. His gaze stroked down her curves, and Lily felt as though she were being wrapped in hot, wet silk. Delicious shivers ran up and down her legs, and she twisted from side to side to let the tingles travel right to the end of her fingertips. What was going on? She dropped her eyes to her feet. Was it some kind of weird acupuncture?
"Oh, God," she said. "These shoes—these shoes are… fantastic."
Hans circled her, still observing her body with intense interest. As she pointed her toes and flexed, like a cat trying to shake an itch out of its fur, he put his mouth to her ear.
"Dance," he whispered, and gave her a sharp slap on the rounded cheek of her ass. The sting made her leap, and Lily whirled around, her mouth open wide in surprise. Before she could say a word, though, her attention was distracted by a low, pulsing sound. It could have been her heartbeat thumping in her ears or it could have been music, but whatever it was, the rhythm spoke directly to her body, to her hips and belly and the sweet wetness gathering between her legs.
Lily danced. She rolled back and forth and stroked herself, balancing on her tiptoes in the towering shoes. As Hans watched, she danced for him and toward him, winding around his body and rocking against him. The complex, noiseless music continued and grew louder as she ground into his crotch, lifted up tall enough on the shoes to meet the stiff length of his cock as it pressed against her, hot even through the layers of their clothes.
Deep in Lily's thoughts, a glimmer of apprehension flared. Weren't there any waiters, any other people wandering into the hidden ballroom? She hunted the dark corners of the room, but found nothing in the shadows except more shadows, deep and thickly layered, and the sensation she was floating underwater, drifting down beyond the depths to a place where...