~ Chapter 1 ~
Over years Olivia has become very good at ignoring Bea’s escapades, but this one seems to be beating all possible records of intrusiveness and craftiness. Oh, intrusive, good word, Olivia hasn’t used it for awhile. Intrusion, intrude…
He intruded into her private space, his eyes dark and… And what? What were his eyes like?
“Olive, are you even listening to me?”
Bea’s voice is irritated. She can’t stand being ignored.
“Yes, yes, I’m here,” Olivia mumbles obediently.
She’s wiping her keyboard with a sanitizing wipe, phone pressed to her ear with her shoulder.
“So, are you up for it? The date?” Bea asks demandingly.
She’s a barrister. She’s a human equivalent of a steamroller.
“Bea, it’s ridiculous! Of course, I’m not up for a blind date with a spotty teenage son of a strange lady neither you, nor I know very well.”
“First of all he’s forty and an architect.” Bea sounds almost offended, probably by Olivia’s lack of enthusiasm and confidence in Bea’s matchmaking inclinations. “Second of all, Mrs. Dowling is anything but strange. She goes to the same spa as me.”
Oh, pardon me! How could anyone doubt Diego’s Zen Spa and Salon stamp of approval?
“Bea, it’s a completely mad idea.”
Olivia’s still fighting, but she has little hope to escape.
“We discussed it with Mabel, and she said that you sound perfect for John.”
Oh, she’s ‘Mabel’ now?
“No one can ‘sound perfect,’ Bea. People aren’t cereal brands that can be classified by the amount of fiber in them. Perfect blind dates only happen in daft cheap romance novels.”
Olivia should know; she produces five a year.
“Olive…” Bea’s voice drops. Olivia knows she’s toast. “I’m calling my favour now.”
Olivia expected a low blow, but not this!
“Olive, you owe me one. Big time.” Bea’s voice is now a predatory purr. She knows she’s as much as won. “You left me in the same house as your Grandmother for the whole Christmas weekend, and you weren’t there.”
It’s true. Olivia did. And her Grandmother is a monster. But that’s not even the problem. Bea is technically Olivia’s stepmother. And they were in uni together.
“Bea…” Olivia’s whining now.
“Olive, I have chosen my sacrifice. And I’m coming to your place tomorrow. I’m bringing you a dress and shoes, and then you’re going to dinner with Mr. John Matthew Dowling.”
“I’m busy tomorrow,” Olivia squeaks.
Damn, that was too fast. And not at all convincing.
“Doing what?” Bea as much as laughing at her. “None of your ‘dashing, lopsidedly smirking, and astonishingly well-endowed’ men are going to run away from you. And you know why, Olive?”
Olivia sighs. Olivia has accepted her defeat.
“Because they aren’t real?”
“Because they aren’t real, Olive. Now get your head out of your… laptop and get out into the world.”
That’s exactly what Olivia’s been trying to avoid for the past seven years.
She’s standing in front of the restaurant – forty minutes too early. She was so nervous that she rushed out of her flat without checking the clock. There’s a pub in the next block, and she shuffles there.
She doesn’t drink. She’s a ginger and intolerant, but she can at least sit. Bea’s shoes are killing her. How can shoes be too big and cut through her skin at the same time?
She climbs on a tall bar stool and curses her height. Or the lack of it, to be precise. Her feet are dangling like a toddler’s on a bus – but at least there’s some relief in her burning soles.
“A glass of water, please.”
The bartender nods. The pub’s rather packed; people chat; and a very fit blonde next to Olivia in leaning into a bloke with a glass of lager.
The cogs swirl in Olivia’s head. She leaned into him, and he felt the intoxicating spicy fragrance of her perfume. She wrapped her delicate fingers around the stem of his… um… wine glass. Her red indecent lips…
The bartender places two drinks in front of Olivia. The second is an appletini.
“From the gentleman at the end of the bar.”
Olivia lifts her eyes and freezes.
She’s going through two mental processes at the same time. One is a peculiar mixture of awe and curiosity. That is the most attractive man she’s ever seen in her life! Alright, that’s an exaggeration. To be precise, that is the first man who is objectively attractive – if such thing exists – whom she’s noticed and appreciated in the last seven years.
The second is hasty cataloging of all details. She can write five books about the dark luscious hair, strong willful profile, curved lips, and virile broad body. Let’s face it, she probably will.
He must be over six four! Wide shouldered; long-nosed; and very distinct. And there’s a black beard. Up until two seconds ago she disliked facial hair. Live and learn, as they say.
He gets up and comes closer.
“Did I guess the drink?”
The voice’s velvet, smokey, and other clichés, in a hypnotic panties-dropping cocktail. Unfortunately, one can’t write the allure of it into a book. She always has to leave it to her reader’s imagination. All she can do is push them towards their own memories of some bloke who can say a word and make her tremble. Yuck, that’s too much. Instantly want him in her bed? Too straightforward. Leave her willing and…
She realizes she’s quiet, her eyes probably glassy. You really need to stop taking notes, Olivia.
“I don’t drink.”
She points at her water. He looks, and she sees the most adorable embarrassed expression on his face. He immediately stops reminding her of the cover worthy os one of her bestsellers – and just looks like a normal, though very fit, bloke.
“Bugger, and I thought I was clever.” He chuckles. “I guess I’m out of practice. Haven’t done it in years.”
And yet, you still got it, mister. Although the ‘reformed womanizer finally looking for the real thing’ is such an overused trope.
Probably, because it works on most.
“Do you mind if I sit?” he asks.
She discreetly checks the clock on the wall. She have twenty six minutes left.
“Sure.” She gives him an encouraging smile. “But I have to leave in twenty minutes. I have an appointment.”
That was vague. Vague is good.
Funny, that’s her first proper outing in years; and instead of concentrating on her impending date she’s allowing a random bloke to chat her up. He is just so… warm – not physically, but that can be easily verified! Did she just imagine touching his hand?! He’s friendly, mellow, and keeps a respectful distance from her body. She wants to keep him for at least twenty minutes.
He looks at the clock too.
“Well, then I have twenty minutes to talk you into giving me your number.”
He succeeds in thirteen. He’s smart, funny, and so sexy that she feels the need to squeeze her knees. She hardly notices that she’s following the usual steps she’s described so many times in her books. Blush; nod and laugh at his witty jokes; let him move a bit closer; smile when he smiles; fiddle with your glass; lather, rinse, repeat.
He is good. In those thirteen minutes he makes it obvious that it’s not something he normally does. He lets her know that he had a nasty breakup or some other tragic story couple years ago. The idea is important; specifics are usually vague. And of course, though it’s so ‘not him,’ he just couldn’t let her leave without convincing her to give him a chance.
That’s exactly why she never goes out. Men fancy her. Apparently the red hair somehow tells them that she’s up for it. While she’s been ‘the opposite of up’ for the last eleven years. Not since she met Allan – and especially not since she lost him. You’d think it would be written all over her face – but most men can’t read apparently.
She surprises herself and takes a napkin. She writes her number on it. He takes it in his long, elegant fingers, and lifts a smooth black brow. The gesture – despite it’s hackneyed and overdramatic nature – counterintuitively makes her squirm on her chair. Banalities shouldn’t work, but there she is, imagining grabbing the collar of his jacket and pulling him into a bruising kiss.
Ouch, that’s really not something a sane, real life chick would enjoy. Dealing with a bloody lip later would probably kill any drive in anybody.
“Is it fake?” He’s looking at the napkin, smiling softly.
She takes a sip of her water. He lifts his eyes at her, and the aforementioned eyebrow crawls a bit higher. She takes it back. It’s not overdramatic, it’s not hackneyed. It’s a very natural gesture, and it’s a very funny eyebrow. A Roger Moore worthy eyebrow.
She wonders if it would feel smooth and silky if she brushed it with her fingertip. She doesn’t recall ever specifically touching a man’s eyebrow.
“You know, I’m going through all the usual moves here, but keep thinking that you’re definitely not that kind of girl. And that you probably internally dying of laughter at my lame attempts to charm you.”
His bright blue eyes are laughing. She smiles wider.
“To my own astonishment, it’s real. Try it.”
He fishes his mobile out of the jacket pocket and rings. Her phone mobile chirps in her clutch. She takes it out and stares at the screen. ‘John Dowling.’ She lifts her eyes at him.
His eyes are wide open, and he’s staring at his screen.
“Olivia Dane,” he slowly reads.
And then the cerulean irises are flooded by the dilated pupils. Ouch, too anatomical. He looks at her and smirks lopsidedly. It looks just as good as when she imagines her protagonists do it.
“Do you always give your number to random tossers in a pub a few minutes before your date?”
“Do you always chat up random birds in pubs before your dates?”
They look at each other and start laughing.
“You were supposed to be boring and bookish, and I only agreed since my mother blackmailed me!” he says with a guffaw. He lifts his hands defensively. “You weren’t supposed to look like a modern version of Deborah Kerr!”
“So that’s your excuse?” She shakes her head in a mock disapproval. “You weren’t even going to get to know that boring and bookish spinster better? Maybe she had a wonderful personality!”
“I was still going to the restaurant! It’s not like I was going to stand you up.”
He’s smiling a white-toothed grin.
She’s sitting on the bar stool, caged between the counter and his large body. When did he get so close? Oh right, she leant. He did move closer, but if she weren’t inlining towards him, he’d still be rather far. Their eyes are at same level, and she suddenly blurts out the Phrase.
The Phrase is what she’s been making her male protagonists say in six out of ten cases when the situation was appropriate. Because consent is everything.
“Could I kiss you?”
It does sound awkward in real life, doesn’t it?
His eyebrows jump up, and he grins.
And then for the first time in many years her writer’s mind stops working. She has no words for comparison. She has no smart phrases regarding the texture of his lips and what kind of fireworks explode in her brain.
She feels; she moves; and she sighs into his mouth. And yes, it does happen. And then he grabs her and pulls her closer. Alright, ‘grab’ is too strong of a word. But his long fingers gently wrap around her upper arms. Some half alive thought stirs in her mind about him being enthusiastic, creative, but considerate – and then the thought dies with a hiss.
After a few delicious minutes, finally some clichés wake up in her dazed brain. She lets go of his collar and moves back. He’s blinking like an owl. Maybe it’s really been a while for him. One can’t fake this look.
“Now do we want to go to a posh stuffy restaurant?” he asks.
He needs to clear his throat before speaking. She really appreciates the rasp in his velvet voice.
“Oh?” She, on the other hand, sounds squeaky. “As opposed to what?”
“There’s that American travelling funfair at the North of the city. We can eat candy floss, and I can try to win you a teddy bear in a shooting booth.” His smile grows a bit shy. “That is of course, if you’d rather do that than…”
She thinks of the horribly uncomfortable shoes she’s wearing; and a guaranteed snooty waiter; and that petrifying fear of spilling the most likely unsatisfying onion soup and that sauce they put on scallops and she hates onto the white table cloths…
…and she smiles back at him.
“I’d love to go to the fair with you, John.”
If you enjoyed the chapter,
please, consider sending me a cuppa through Ko-fi