28 May 2013
A passing taxi driver wolf-whistles as I cross the busy London street. This should cheer me up no end. It’s always nice to get the admiring approval of a passing male, but he was fifty-five if he was a day with more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Rourke – after the bad plastic surgery, but then a compliment is a compliment.
This is a big night for me and although I was happy when I did a final check in the mirror, as usual the doubts are setting in. It’s a swanky do and I can hardly swan around in the jeans and T shirt I’ve had on all day, but now I’m wondering if I’ve gone too far.
Tonight is all about glamour and I’ve gone for the full-on Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’s look. At five foot five I’m shorter than she was and I’m nowhere near as skinny – I have curves, but I do have good cheekbones and I am a brunette. The hairdo’s an incredible faff, but worth it, and after fifteen minutes I had my shoulder length hair piled on top, sprayed into submission and finished off with a diamante clip at the front.
What really sets off the whole look is the jewellery: diamond stud pearl drop earrings and my five-strand pearl necklace. With its large cluster of diamonds at the front it’s a fabulous statement piece. Not real – obviously. I wish. Thirty-eight quid off Amazon, but it looks amazing. My dress is real though: an authentic 1960s vintage black above the knee shift and well worth every single one of the four hundred and fifty pounds it set me back. It’s classy and sensuous and in it I feel classy and sensuous.
I’m making my way back to the venue from the hotel. Not the plushest in London by any stretch of the imagination, but it served its purpose, saving me having to trek all the way home to get ready. I walk around the block to the venue’s entrance on the other side of the neo-classical landmark building, butterflies skittering in my stomach. Like I said, it’s a big night for me.
I’ve been working for Stephen’s events and party planning company four months now. Until now I’ve only worked on projects with Julia, who in her time has organised everything from parties for the spoilt offspring of parents with more money than sense, who think spending obscene amounts of dosh on a kid’s birthday proves how much they love their little darlings, to Hollywood movie premiere after-screenings and BAFTA post-ceremony parties. She taught me all she knew.
Julia loved her job, but loves her husband more and wanted a family more, and left us three weeks ago to have a baby. So tonight I’m on my own, but it wasn’t hard to organise. As soon as I saw it, I knew this was the right venue. An event like this needs to be held somewhere elegant yet flamboyant, and you don’t get any more elegant and flamboyant than 1930s Art Deco. After that it was just a matter of booking a chef, and choosing the right menu and floral displays.
Of course, I went to Jen for the flowers. She did her apprenticeship at a florist’s straight from school, learning the trade and making it to manager before striking out on her own. She’s not only got incredible creative flair, she’s got a good business head on her too. She works long hours, but loves it.
Weddings are the mainstay of any florist and you’d think with all the bridal flowers Jen’s done she’d be longing to do her own, but no way. Men aren’t in the picture long enough to get anywhere close to the down on one knee stage. She says she’s too busy building up her business and men just get in the way, but I have a suspicion her parents divorcing when she was fourteen, the hell that was my parent’s marriage and what Martin did to me has something to do with her wanting to stay single. I don’t think either of us really believes in HEAs. They belong in fairy tales, not real life.
So it hadn’t been hard to pull this evening together, but it’s a big deal. The Project is having a fund-raising dinner for their new rehab centre. It’s a major do. The plates are a whopping 1,500 pounds and anyone who’s anyone in well-heeled London society will be in attendance. This is my first solo project to go live and I’m as nervous as hell. I want tonight to be perfect, but not just for me and my career, for Samuel too.
I took to Samuel Redman at our first briefing meeting. He lost his wife to drugs twenty years ago and now devotes most of his time and considerable wealth to helping addicts get off and stay off drugs, and repairing broken families. In his early sixties, his dark hair greying at the temples, Samuel still looks every bit the powerful captain of industry he once was, but there’s an underlying kindness of a man who feels deeply.
I pull open the heavy wooden door with more confidence than I feel and cross the lobby into the Crush Bar. The mirrored bars and strategically placed huge floral arrangements of deep pink Calla lilies and wide glossy Xanadu leaves in bulbous glass vases are a glitzy introduction to the venue. It’s a great space and, having more square footage than my entire flat, there’s plenty of room for guests to stand and mingle.
The bar staff are opening champagne ready for when the guests start arriving in about ten minutes.
‘Want one?’ Oz grins at me holding out a glass. ‘Go on. I won’t tell.’
Laughing, I shake my head regretfully. ‘I wish I could, but I can’t.’
I could do with it to calm my nerves, but I never drink when I’m working. It would be unprofessional.
Oz knocks back the champagne and licks his lips. ‘A bunch of us are hitting a club after. Want to come with?’
‘Sorry, not on a school night.’ Oz looks confused. ‘Work tomorrow?’
‘Shame. Could’ve been wild.’ He smirks, raising his brows suggestively.
Oz has been flirting shamelessly with me since he arrived looking very different in his day clothes; the uniform’s black shirt hiding his tattoos, the studs in his ears taken out and his wayward mess of dark hair slicked back. With a wicked smile and steady stream of sexy banter he’s got the whole bad boy thing down pat. He’s definitely not boyfriend material – not that I’m looking for one – and I pity any girl who’s foolish enough to think she can turn him into one. But he’d definitely show you a good time, and there was a time I would have gone for it, but these days I’m sort of sworn off men.
Betrayal will do that for you.
From the moment Martin and I met in the spring of my second year at Uni we were inseparable. We moved in together after graduating and for a while we were happy. I thought he was The One and thought he felt the same way about me. Why wouldn’t I? He told me often enough.
Then everything changed when he joined an investment firm in the City. He worked hard and played hard, but not with me. He’d come home in the small hours, off his face, stinking of booze, passing out on the sofa, or completely wired and unable to sleep. I hated what he’d become, but he’d manage to worm his way back into my heart, begging forgiveness, swearing on everything holy that he loved me and wouldn’t do it again. And I’d have my old Martin back and things would be great for a couple of weeks.
But bad habits are hard to break.
One Friday night Jen and I ended up in a bar we hadn’t been in before and I caught him slobbering over some slapper. He saw me across the room, the shock registering in his drink glazed eyes. I wasn’t surprised, but the pain of his betrayal still ran deep. Five years, give or take, brushed away just like that in a west end pub with his tongue down some tart’s throat.
That was nearly five months ago, just before I started working for Stephen and a week before my birthday – how’s that for timing? So excuse me for not wanting to jump into anything new, however short-lived, for a while. I have no need of a one night stand and as for anything more? I’m in no rush to get my heart crushed again.
The champagne is flowing; the men in dinner suits and women in evening gowns that probably cost the equivalent of a month’s salary to me, clearly having a good time as waiting staff pass between them with platters of amuse-bouche.
Even though everything is going smoothly I still can’t completely relax. I can’t shake off the inexplicable feeling I’m being watched. (And not by Oz. He’s taken the hint and has been busy flirting with a more receptive female member of the bar staff.) You know that feeling of unease; the feeling of a presence that gets your shoulders twitching. It’s not that I’m overly worried. I’m in a very public place after all and I can look after myself. I’m just a little... unsettled. I tell myself I’m being ridiculous. Who’d be watching me? I’m no one.
Deep in my musings my body jerks, instinctively preparing for fight or flight mode at the touch of a cool hand on my elbow, and I spin round on my kitten heels.
A flicker of alarm passes over Samuel’s face. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you jump.’
I relax with an exhale, smiling reassuringly. ‘No, it’s me. I’m just a little on edge. Nervous about tonight.’
Samuel smiles warmly, his large hand now clasping my shoulder as he leans and gives my cheek a quick peck. ‘There’s no need. You’ve done a marvellous job, Mia. Thank you.’
‘It was my pleasure. I’m just glad I could help in some small way.’ I’m not just saying it, I really mean it. I don’t have the funds to be able to donate in any meaningful way, but I admire and feel for this gentle man and I’m genuinely pleased to have helped in raising funds.
Samuel’s smile turns almost impish and his eyes shine mischievously. Well this is a side of him I haven’t seen. ‘There’s someone here who wants to meet you.’ He sounds downright conspiratorial.
My curiosity is piqued. Who’d want to meet me, and why? Stephen would be nothing short of ecstatic if I pick up another client tonight.
Samuel’s gaze darts around the room. ‘Now where is he?’
An unexplained shudder of anticipation shivers through me.
Spying who he’s looking for, Samuel raises a hand and crooks a finger. I follow his line of vision, my gaze coming to land on the man he’s beckoning over, and the air leaves my body in a rush.
Martin and the flings at Uni had been just boys in comparison to the male who’s approaching.
This is a Man. With a capital Muh.
I’m so stunned I think my heart actually stops beating for a couple of seconds. Oh my God he’s… Beautiful.
But his face is still strongly masculine. His dark blond hair is swept back from his brow, falling over his collar, it’s length a hint of defiance; a rebellious bad-boy edge at odds with his otherwise well-groomed, urbane appearance.
His jacket open, one hand in his trouser pocket, he saunters over; his body moving with an easy, loose-limbed grace. A walk that’s simultaneously relaxed yet supremely confident.
And damned sexy.
His body is made for Armani.
Giorgio himself would weep at the sight of his creation adorning such perfection; the sleek navy tuxedo doing nothing to hide the hard, muscular physique beneath the exquisite tailoring. He’s well built, but not bulky; just sinewy, powerful and strong.
I wonder at the broad chest beneath the crisp white shirt; what it would be like to run my hands over those pecs... Down those abs...
I bet he’s ripped.
I have to tilt my head back as he gets closer to maintain eye contact. He’s tall. Samuel is six foot, but he’s a good three, maybe four inches taller.
And he’s here.
Touching distance away.
And I can’t breathe.
He holds my gaze even as Samuel introduces me to him. I’m captivated by his eyes. Two pools of sapphire blue so deep I could drown in them. I just want to dive right in.
‘Mia, this is Nicholas Frost. One of The Project’s patrons.’
Okay, I know I should say something here, but now he’s up close I just... can’t. His masculine beauty has me rendered speechless, gawping like an idiot, my body feeling things I haven’t felt in an age. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve never felt this before. Is this what love at first sight feels like?
Love? my inner hussy scoffs. Lust at first sight more like.
His penetrating stare is stirring something deep within me. It’s unsettling and I wrench my gaze from his only to have it rest on his mouth. It doesn’t help.
Now I’m wondering what it would be like to kiss that mouth, to have that mouth on me. He licks his lips and I’m lost in a private fantasy that involves that tongue expertly licking every inch of my naked body.
The corners of his highly kissable mouth twitch ever so slightly, almost as if he can read my mind, as he extends a hand.
Okay, now you’re supposed to offer yours. What is wrong with you? A pretty face and you go to pieces.
I silently gasp as he closes his hand around mine, igniting a flame that licks up my arm, the heat spreading rapidly through my body discharging a burst of liquid fire on a direct trajectory to my groin.
His eyes widen a little in shock. He felt it too then; it wasn’t just me.
Something shifts in him, momentarily revealing the depths of his true nature concealed beneath the civilised urbanity of his suit. Something untamed, carnal, animal. And all I can think about is sex: sweat-ridden, mind-altering, body-weakening sex. With him.
My body betrays me, trembling under the heat of his free hand on my bare skin as he wraps it around my shoulder. The intoxicating scent of his cologne – a blend of cool spices and smoky woodiness with warm low notes of vanilla – invades my senses as he leans in.
He’s going to kiss me. That’s a bit bloody forward.
He brushes my cheek with a barely-there kiss, his breath warming my face as an almost inaudible moan escapes his mouth, the unequivocal sexual nature of the sound sending a shockwave bumping down my spine.
‘Mia,’ he whispers my name softly in my ear, all breathy and sensual, accentuating the syllables: My Ahh. Yet there’s an underlying urgency in his voice and I’m off again, fantasising all sorts of scenarios where he’s saying my name... In bed... In the shower...
He pulls back, his gaze latching onto mine again.
I suddenly realise he’s still speaking. What did he say? I wasn’t listening. Too busy getting lost in erotic wonderings of what it would be like to feel his strong, hard body against me... On top of me... Inside me…
I mentally shake myself out of my delicious, but highly inappropriate, imaginings.
Seriously. Get a grip.
His wife is probably here. I glance at his left hand and clock the absence of a wedding ring, but that’s inconclusive. Any man this good-looking is bound to have been snapped up. Probably by some blonde, willowy, long-legged model type. I hate her already.
‘Mr Frost.’ At last! I speak! Not only that, I manage to return his smile. Although I hope mine is a little more professional than the sexy smirk he’s giving me.
‘Nick,’ he insists. ‘My friends call me Nick. And we are going to be friends, Mia. Close friends.’
I look questioningly into those azure pools. We are? How’s that going to happen? Once the guests go into dinner I’m released from my duties. I’ll collect my belongings from the hotel and be on my way home, travelling across London as you sit enjoying the dinner with the other seven guests at your table.
I feel an inexplicable stab of jealousy at the thought that they get to spend the evening with this beautiful man while I only get to go home. Alone. We travel in very different social circles. It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever see him again. The realisation leaves me feeling suddenly bereft.
His gaze is riveted to mine and it’s taking everything in me to stop my body buckling under the intensity of his stare.
‘So, Mia. You work for Singular Events.’
‘Yes.’ Samuel just said that.
‘I’ve heard good things about them. Have you worked for them long, Mia?’
‘About four months.’
‘And tell me, Mia...’ Oh you really must stop saying my name. ‘Do you enjoy your work?’
‘Yes.’ Why is he asking me this? What does he care how long I’ve been doing my job and if I enjoy it? And why is he still holding my hand?
‘You’re very good at it.’ Frost’s eyes smoulder as he tightens his grip on my hand a little. ‘But then I think you’re probably very good at a lot of things.’
There’s no mistaking that was a come-on. Okay, we’re way past forward now and into pushing it territory. How do I respond to that? I feel the transparent evidence of my discomfort rising as my cheeks flush embarrassingly. Oh God, what must Samuel think?