London, Present time
It was a normal rainy day in London. Things were moving at a slow pace. Puddles were forming beside pavements. Aria walked under her umbrella. She detested the wet and the cold. It was mostly because of her past experience. She almost drowned in a frozen lake when she was eight. Her friends were not as lucky as her. Her cousin lost three toes to hypothermia. She came out of it rather unharmed. Her best friend lost her life. The vision of her dead best friend, pale and lifeless, lying on the snow covered ground still haunted her.
Dusk was approaching. Aria had spent the greater part of the day submitting her resume at various art galleries. Having a major in Art History was something she always dreamed off.
Aria felt her bag vibrate. Balancing the umbrella on the crook of her neck she reached into her bag to take out her mobile. She groaned while looking at the number that flashed. It was Harry Holland from her college. Even though they had finished their classes and awaited their graduation, Harry refused to stop pestering her for a date. She had failed to convince him in the past three years that he was not the kind of person she saw herself with.
“Hello Harry. What made you call?” she spoke reluctantly
“Hello, does this phone belong to Harry?”a deep voice enquired on the other end.
“Who Is this?”
“A bystander who witnessed your friend collapsing in the middle of the road. Do you wish to come to provide some assistance?”
“He isn’t really a friend.”
“Your contacts are saved under favourite in his device. I realize your reluctance in responding positively towards an unknown male. However for the sake of your friend’s safety I would strongly advise you to make the journey.”
Aria felt her jaw slacken. Who spoke like that? The voice was a deep baritone whose roughness she seemed to like, a lot.
“Are you one of Harry’s friends? Please tell him that I am not letting him in my pants if he pretends to be sick.” she asserted.
“I am receiving the impression that this fellow is a somewhat unsavoury character. I apologize to have bothered you with it. I just woke up and found this creature on a pavement outside my residence, bleeding from a cut in his forehead and wished to infer whether a loved one might find him missing. I assure you that I shall not bother you at all.”
The phone call ended and Aria found herself calling back. ”Give me your address. Harry may not be a favourite character he is someone I know.”
“Wise choice. Do you know Wanstead?”
“You’re in the East End? What was Harry doing there?”
“Good question. Unfortunately I don’t have the answer. Please note down the address.”
Aria scrambled to get a piece of paper from her bag and scribbled down the address. Her evening had suddenly become interesting. She just hoped that trusting this voice wouldn’t be a bad decision. It took her an hour by the tube to get to the location. Wanstead was mostly a locality of upstarts with small and medium sized bungalows with lush garden spaces. The sky was murky but the ground was dry. On the dry pavement there remained a pool of almost dried blood. It didn’t look like it proceeded from a small cut to the forehead.
Aria proceeded towards the address she was given which was a typical bungalow and she walked to the front porch but before she could ring the bell the door opened and she stood facing the most handsome face she had ever seen before. What captivated her the most was the pair of deep blue, almost violet eyes framed in thick burgundy brows that lead to a pale forehead leading to rich dark hair. She allowed her eyes to trail down the sharp nose and to the thick lips and a well defined jaws. She almost missed the smirk in her observations but the clearing of a throat brought her back to earth.
“Your acquaintance is inside. Aria, I presume.”
The voice seemed to be deeper and richer in person. He spoke plainly but from his appearance it could be concluded that he wasn’t a native Britisher.
“I am from Rome. I was around for a business venture. Your friend was lucky that it was me he chanced across. ” He answered her unspoken thoughts but perhaps those were obvious queries. The man looked old, almost in his thirties but a lot of it could be accredited to the fact that he was wearing a button down shirt with linen slacks at eight in the evening on a weekday. Aria tried to distract herself from obsessing about a stranger who didn’t even bother to divulge his name. Her eyes fell onto something that got her even more excited.
" That’s an eleventh century Chinese flask from the Song dynasty.” she commented. Beside it she noticed a bust accredited to Bernini. On the wall was a tablet painted in eighth century India. “This is a art historian’s paradise.” she exclaimed.
“Is that your profession?” the deep voice spoke.
Aria whirled around, losing her balance but the man caught her just before she fell face first into the marble floor. The touch sent a shiver down her arm. He was so cold.
“I...I... I am still looking for a job. I just finished college. ” she stammered out.
The man in front of her smirked. He was leaning against the wall beside the terracotta tablet depicting a mother and her child. He was calm and composed with his eyes holding a glint of a secret knowledge Aria couldn’t fathom. “What kind of jobs are you looking for?”
“Anything really, curator, exhibition officer, manager, conservator, art gallery manager...”
" Your degree involved an internship, right? Did they not express interest in hiring you?”
“Artiqa, the gallery where I interned in does not have the vacancy but have requested for my resume in case they can provide me with a position.”
“Artiqa mostly deals with modern pieces, not much of an opportunity for a degree in Art History.”
“The project that I was a part of dealt with the revival of ancient artistic styles.”
“Have you submitted a resume at the Bellini Antique House?”
“Bellini, as everyone is aware of is a high end Antique art dealership. I don’t have the experience to be selected by them.”
“It can never hurt to apply”
Aria nodded, not realizing what the discussion was headed towards.
“I will fetch your friend. ”
Aria nodded again as the stranger left. He brought forward an inebriated Harry. Great! Aria thought. Handling a sober Harry was quite a pain. How was she able to trust a sloshed Harry to keep his hands to himself?
" He’s drunk?,”
“He fell and hit his head. He should be fine by morning. Just make sure he stays alive for the next 72 hours. Otherwise you contact me.”
The stranger proffered a piece of paper with a mobile number scribbled in meticulous handwriting. Aria snatched it from his hand, careful not to touch his cold skin. “Do you think you can....um...” she hesitated.
“Give you and your friend a ride home?”
Aria dumbly nodded once more. He nodded back and soon they were seated in a black Audi, Harry in the back and her riding shotgun with the beautiful stranger. It was going to be a long ride and given the fact that she lived in the opposite direction to Harry’s dormitory she dreaded her ride home. She would probably be the last passenger to get down at her stop tonight. It would be nice if the stranger offered a ride or even better a place to stay. But then again he could be a murderer for all she knew. She didn’t even know his name which seemed so odd.
“You never gave me a name.” Aria blurted out.
“Hello David” Aria blushed at the ease with which his name rolled off her tongue.
“Hello Aria” the stranger smiled with a glint of mischief in his eyes. If Aria thought he looked beautiful with his smirk his smile was to die for. She realized that she was fantasizing about the stranger when the car came to an abrupt halt. Aria found themselves parked outside the boy’s hostel where Harry was staying.
“I believe your boyfriend is unconscious. Do you require my assistance to carry him to his room?”
Harry snored softly to prove the point. “He isn’t my boyfriend. I will just call his room mates to carry him up.” and that is exactly what she did.
Aria realized that it was very late and she would have to hurry to catch the last tube to her stop. “You won’t make it.” he warned.
“What do you suggest!”
“I have an extra room. I have to return home anyways. You could leave in the morning.”
Aria’s heart started to beat loudly. Staying over at a guy’s place wasn’t something she had ever done and though David was hot as hell he was at least a dozen years older than her. But older did mean experienced. Then again he had been a perfect gentleman so far. Who is to say that he was even interested in her? It could just be a compassionate offer. Aria reluctantly turned to face David who was patiently waiting for a reply. “Thank you for the offer.” she murmured. When his facial expression didn’t change she realized that it wasn’t even an answer. “I accept your offer” At that David gave her a smile and Aria felt her heart melt. She had it bad.
“You should let some of your friends know your whereabouts, give them the address.” he commanded. Aria frowned and pouted but taking in the hardness in his eyes yielded to is request.
“While you are on your phone, email your CV to the Bellini Antique House .” he spoke in his commanding voice. Without arguing Aria proceeded to do the same.