1. Good Terms
The door had just closed behind us when Olivia stopped in her tracks to observe our surroundings. Since it was still relatively early on a Friday night, there weren’t that many people here yet. Our arrival attracted a few glances, but none of them lingered. I considered that to be a positive thing, as it meant we didn’t stand out.
“Good evening, ladies. May I take your coats?” a woman asked from beside us. Turning, I located her behind the counter of a fashionable cloakroom.
“Yes, please. Thank you,” I replied at once and undid the sash round my black coat of wool.
After she’d provided us with a receipt, I turned for a quick scan of the place and noticed that the average age of the clientele was a little older than we were used to. Since most of the people present looked like they were well-established men and women in their thirties, I doubted that students frequently went here.
Turning towards me, Olivia wrinkled her small nose. Below, her plump and light pink lips formed an uncertain line.
“Was this the place Jason recommended?” She was referring to the man I considered to be my very best friend, and who had – just a few days ago – also become my flatmate.
She leaned closer to quietly murmur, “It’s very posh, isn’t it?”
“You sound surprised.”
“Well, I’m worried I’ll stand out.”
I studied her from head to toes. In her deep red dress, she resembled a beautiful rose. She was truly a gorgeous young woman. If anything would make her stand out, it was her beauty, and that alone.
“I wouldn’t worry if I were you. You definitely look like you belong.”
A heartfelt smile climbed to her mouth. “Really?”
“Absolutely. You look stunning.”
Touched by my compliment, she placed her hand to her ample bosom. “Thank you, Cara,” she said, “but so do you.”
I shrugged. “Should we find a table then?”
She turned to inspect our surroundings once more before she leaned closer again to whisper, “Well, are you absolutely sure that lawyers frequent this place?”
“Judging by the look of it, I’m positive.”
“It’s just that I’d hate to waste my time here if it isn’t the case.”
“Well, this was Jason’s recommendation, and since his father established a law firm, I took his word for it. Mentioned something about his brother favouring this place as well, and he’s a solicitor too from what I’ve gathered.”
I had yet to meet a single one of Jason’s family members. Since he no longer lived with them, the opportunity simply hadn’t presented itself yet. I was vaguely aware that they were filthy rich with thanks to Jason’s father being the founder of Day & Night Ltd. – a firm offering legal services – and that they were a busy bunch where each individual had a demanding job that required most of their time. But that was as far as my knowledge about them went. In fact, aside from his father, whose name was John, I didn’t even remember their names.
However, now that I had secured a vacation scheme at Day & Night to be completed over the summer, and had moved into Jason’s flat in Notting Hill, that reality was about to change. Eager to meet the new tenant and upcoming trainee, his father had already invited me for dinner on Sunday two weeks from now, and I was sincerely looking forward.
As I returned from my thoughts, I saw that Olivia was on the fence, so I continued, “If you’re having second thoughts, we can always find a new place, but perhaps we should give this one a chance first?”
She brushed a lock of her angelically blonde hair behind her ear while she continued to assess our sumptuous surroundings. Since her hesitation was blatant, I sighed.
Olivia could be quite impossible to deal with. If she didn’t get her way, she transformed into a whiny brat that I couldn’t be bothered to babysit. Little did it help that I was already beginning to suffer from a bad conscience at the constant thought of my neglected coursework. Seeing as I was a law student in my third year at UCL, such was not a matter that I took lightly. Besides, my reasons for being here were purely selfless and altruistic. I wasn’t the one that had wanted to go out tonight. She was. So if she were going to be a pain in the arse, I’d leave her to prowl on her own. However, I had already warned her of said fact, so she had been surprisingly compliant today.
Upon hearing my sigh, she returned her attention to me. “Fine. Let’s find a table.”
I released a groan. “Took you long enough.”
“Yeah, sorry. It’s just been so long since we’ve had a girl’s night out that I want everything to be perfect.”
My lips twisted with my amusement. “Like you’re actually here to spend quality time with me,” I replied with a note of sarcasm.
“Hey, I’m here for that too,” she disputed. “It’s just that, ever since I broke up with Colin, I haven’t had sex.”
I couldn’t help the grin that formed on my mouth. “What – so you’ve had a dry spell for three months? Poor you.”
Three months without sex, I’d be going insane. No wonder she had been so eager about this night.
She passed me a scowl. “Yeah, well, unlike you, I haven’t got a fuck friend, Cara. I need to satisfy my libido somehow.”
“Vibrator not doing the job?”
“Not even close. I need a man.”
“And preferably one with a heavy wallet at that.” I couldn’t help myself.
A chortle escaped her upon my playful remark. “Hey, you know I’m not like that. I just thought it would be nice to find a lawyer since I’m a law student and all that. We’d have something in common.”
“Aside from sexual desperation, you mean.”
She slapped my arm, albeit gently. “Stop teasing me.”
“Sorry, love. I couldn’t help myself.” I released a sadistic laugh. “Anyway, we’re in the right place then.” I shook my head to myself when remembering the reality of that. “I still don’t understand how you managed to persuade me into joining this.”
She snorted. “Cara, even though you may come across as aloof, you’ve actually got a fairly warm and large heart in there – that’s how I managed to persuade you. A heartbroken best friend isn’t something you have the capacity to ignore.”
“Lesser of two evils, perhaps,” I muttered and made my way towards a vacant table.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she replied bewildered and trailed after me.
I smirked at her while I sank into my chosen chair, and after placing my black purse onto the table in front, I rested my head in the palm of my hand. “Perhaps tending to your needs is my way of making you shut up sooner,” I joked.
She scoffed and reclined into the chair opposite mine. “If that’s your attitude, you’ll make for a rubbish parent.”
Humoured, I allowed my deep blue eyes to wander around the space. “I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t want children then.”
Did I want children? I’d always said I didn’t, but mum always told me that the right man would change my mind. Because I was one for keeping an open mind, I didn’t argue with her on that. She had wisdom in her years that I could only dream of. My perspective today was no guarantee for tomorrow’s.
Below my thoughts, comfortable and electronic lounge music played. The aesthetics of the place was of a traditional style. Typically English, it was flooded in earthy colours, although I did note quite the amount of gold as well.
“Have you settled into your new flat yet?” Olivia asked. Steering my attention back to her, I saw that her eyes were the ones wandering now, and it amused me. She surely wasn’t wasting her time locating a target, and I appreciated that. As soon as she sealed the deal with someone, I’d be heading home.
“Not yet. I’ve been so busy minding our coursework that I’ve hardly had time to unpack just the essentials. I mean, I had to search for an entire hour before I found the dress that I’m wearing tonight.” Upon mentioning it, I gazed down at the purple textile. It was my favourite cocktail dress because it clung to my slim and curvaceous figure like glue. In it, I felt opulent.
I continued, “But I’ve booked a date with Jason tomorrow to finish most of it.”
Jason and I had met at a pub three years ago, where a live band had been performing songs by Arctic Monkeys, which was among my favourite bands. Our encounter had been perfectly coincidental and, in retrospect, rather comical. I had been returning from the bar with a new round of drinks for my younger sister Phoebe and myself when a drunken idiot had bumped into me, and the impact had led me to spill the pints I was holding over Jason, who had been walking past me just then.
I had been mortified, but thankfully, Jason hadn’t failed to notice that it hadn’t been my fault. After telling off the lad that had bumped into me, he had offered to buy me a new round. I’d been so charmed by him at that moment that I had struck up a conversation with him, and soon enough, I’d learned that he also studied at UCL, although he didn’t attend my course. Instead, he was about to finish his first year of studying medicine back then.
After a few minutes of effortless and invigorating conversation, I had invited him to join my sister and me. Since he was there with a couple of mates, he brought them along, and ever since that fateful moment, we had formed an irreplaceable and platonic friendship. These days, he was much like an elder brother to me. I’d always wanted a brother, even if I did adore my sister Phoebe.
So, when Jason’s prior flatmate had decided to move in with his girlfriend instead, Jason had offered me to take his place, and I hadn’t hesitated for even a second to accept.
The memory made me smile to myself, and I was still wearing it when I eventually lifted my gaze to regard Olivia again, but it faded as soon as I recognised the look on her face. Already?
Turning to look in the direction of her gaze, I saw the profile of two men seated by the bar, and since they were frowning rather angrily at one another while they spoke, they looked to be in a heated debate about something.
The next thing I noticed was how attractive they were. Late twenties, perhaps? Early thirties? Both had neatly trimmed stubble and short hair that was immaculately groomed, although they modelled different colours. The man I found most comely was brown-haired, and the other dirty blonde, like Jason. However, I’d always had a kink for dark and tall.
“Which one?” I inquired.
“Let’s head over then, shall we? I’ll mind his friend,” I proposed and ascended from my chair to approach them, ever confident. I always had been.
“Cara, maybe not. They don’t look like they want to be disturbed,” she argued concerned.
I scoffed. “So what? You won’t know unless you try, Livy – and I can handle rejection. Can’t you?”
Her warm brown Bambi eyes turned towards me, and they were filled with a vulnerability that I hated to witness. Colin had really done her in, hadn’t he? When he cheated on her time and again?
“Livy,” my tone was unusually strict, “Colin is a bastard that never deserved you, but just because he is, it doesn’t mean every man is. You can’t give him that power, and you shouldn’t let your past ruin your future.”
She inhaled deeply before she offered me a firm nod of her head, and I was slightly surprised at how quickly she absorbed my pep talk. Her libido must indeed be desperate, I gathered. Either way, I gave her no time to change her mind. Confident in my strides, I approached the two men while Olivia trailed behind me.
The dirty blonde man noticed me first, and the look on his face affirmed my ego. With slightly thin lips parting, he turned his whole body towards me. Just like his brown-haired friend, he had a strong, lean build.
“Hi,” I greeted and presented my most lascivious smile as I held his gaze. His eyes were large and a warm shade of brown, like melted chocolate. I loved chocolate.
He appeared speechless, so I continued, “I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, but my friend and I were—”
“We’re not interested,” a dreadfully sensual voice interfered from my right.
Looking towards its source, I locked eyes with the man Olivia had laid her favour with. They were light blue and eerily familiar. Dark brown eyebrows ran in nearly straight lines above them, and the shadow they provided offered him a most alluring, mysterious ambience.
Had I met him before?
A frown formed on my face. I could have sworn I’d seen him somewhere.
At that moment, I was so preoccupied with trying to put a name to the face that I neglected the chance to admire it, but Christ, had I ever seen a fairer man in my lifetime? Prominent cheekbones highlighted the shape of his strong, squared jaw. It was clenched, I saw, but I paid no thought as to why.
Below a proportionate, straight, and masculine nose rested a pair of full, delectable lips. They pressed together, forming a brooding line, while he continued to study me in his annoyance. He was easily the most physically attractive man I’d ever encountered, and he wasn’t remotely interested.
“Where are your manners, man?” his friend scolded before his eyes darted in my direction again. “Please excuse him. He’s a bit blunt.”
Puzzled, I persisted in staring at the dark-haired stranger.
I must have met him before. I was certain I’d seen him somewhere. However, would I have forgotten an encounter with such a beautiful man? I doubted it. Where had I seen him then? Was he a celebrity?
“I’m sorry – have we met before?” I blurted out in my bewilderment.
His eyebrows arched before a condescending chuckle slipped out of his mouth. A look of sardonic amusement etched through his riveting features.
“Honestly, you’re interrupting our conversation, and you couldn’t be more original than that, Miss? At least you could have compensated with a better chat-up line. I’m disappointed. And like I said, we’re not interested, so move along, would you?”
Bewitched by the sound of his sensual voice, it took me a few seconds to process the content, but once I had, I frowned offended. Meanwhile, his friend groaned and shook his head beside me, clearly despaired by his companion.
Could they be gay partners?
Since I was struck by mild shock upon his impertinence, I asked, “I beg your pardon?” Then, as soon as it subsided, I snapped back, “I was being serious, you utter twat.”
His eyebrows furrowed while his arresting eyes – twice – travelled up and down my body, and once they returned to mine, a crooked smile crept across his tempting mouth. From the way they had devoured my body, I eliminated the option of him being homosexual. Only a straight man could regard me with such a gleam in his eye.
“Perhaps we’ve slept together. But, if we have, you weren’t worth remembering,” he finally answered. My lips parted with my eventual gasp. What a complete arsehole!
Shame to think he’d piqued my interest earlier when he obviously didn’t deserve it. That was quite the insolent way to treat another human being. His arrogance was off the charts. Who did he think he was? So yes, I had interrupted them, but there was a polite way to reject me. There was no need for stepping on my dignity.
Rigid, my stare transformed into pure glowering. “As if I’d ever get so lost and desperate that I would wind up in a bed with you. You’re a sorry excuse for a man. Tell me, was it the lack of your mother’s affection that made you grow up to treat random women like shit?”
He blinked at my ruthless insult, perhaps a little gobsmacked, and beside me, his companion resorted to poorly stifled laughter. Olivia’s existence was lost on me, but knowing her, she was probably a breath away from withering.
“I can assure you that my mother and I are on good terms,” came the handsome man’s calm reply.
I folded my arms and scoffed. “Too good, I wager,” I countered. “Heading home to spend the night in her bed then? That why you’re not interested?”
Before he was able to respond, Olivia gasped and clasped my hand in hers to drag me away. While observing their shocked facial expressions, she said, “Please excuse us.”
“Excuse us?” I echoed in disbelief while she tugged me away from them. “Didn’t you hear him just now? How bloody rude he was?”
“Choose your battles, love! He’s obviously not worth our attention,” she retorted.
Seeing as she made a valid point, I simmered down somewhat. Only now did I notice that her body was trembling with her irritation. Just like the rest of us, she was rattled. Well, that was something I quite excelled at – rattling people. It was definitely a flaw, but then everyone had flaws, I consoled myself.
After pushing me onto a brown sofa at the far end of the space, she dumped her body next to mine, folded her arms and glared away from me. “Cara, honestly, ‘have we met before?’ What was that?”
Seeking reconciliation, I pouted at her. “I’m sorry. I honestly thought I’d seen him before. Worst part is that I still think I have.”
She frowned and turned to catch a glimpse of them. Mirroring her, I saw that they were laughing amongst themselves, clearly at my expense. Well, they could laugh all they wanted. Personally, the only thing I found laughable was how attractive I had initially found them to be. Instead, they were ugly souls with nasty tendencies. How dare they laugh at my decision to stand up for myself?
“Yeah, you know, now that you mention it, maybe he does look a bit familiar,” she stated and faced me again with a puzzled expression.
Where had we seen him then?
“Order us a round, please, would you? Strongest cocktail they’ve got,” I said while averting my eyes from the two men, and I wondered to myself if the encounter with them had ruined my chance at a pleasant night.
The sound of her subsequent chuckle assured me that I was already forgiven for the strife I had caused a moment ago. “Sure,” she obliged and pushed up from her seat. Impressed, I watched her graceful strut as she returned to the bar like she hadn’t a concern in the world.
Olivia had always been great at rising above things. Less could be said for myself. I had much to learn from her in that respect.
Throwing another glance at the two men, I saw the dark-haired man turn his head once Olivia reached the bar. It was obvious from how consciously he regarded her that he desired her attention. However, with her chin raised high and her gaze fixed straight ahead, she refused to acknowledge him, and the satisfying view led a devilish grin to crowd my mouth.
If only Jason had been here. Right about now, he would have laughed his lungs out while paying my back repeated pats, but he’d had coursework to mind, which I had respected. Nevertheless, I could have used his moral support, so I decided to send him a text.
Me, Today 20:47
You didn’t warn me about dickheads when you told me about this place x
Thought that was a given? You wanted a place with lawyers. You can’t have one without the other x
You twat, I’m not a dickhead
You’re not a lawyer
I just accused a man that Livy wanted to get off with of sleeping with his mum. Doubt your coursework is more entertaining...
Lmao you did what?
Did he deserve it?
100 % 😌
Fucking hell. I’d have paid good money to see that. You okay? x
Yeah. Woul’ve helped to have you here tho x
I’d set him straight. Granted, you already did
I’m honestly proper laughing. I love you to bits Cara x
Yeah I can defend myself. What a bellend tho 😤
You must be the worst wing-woman throughout history. Poor Livy. She upset?
Don’t feel bad for her. I took a bullet for her there x
Best wing-woman throughout history then? x
You know it x
By the time Olivia returned, it felt like only a minute had passed. As she placed an espresso martini in front of me, I looked up from my phone to find her smiling. Caught by it, I grinned back and placed my phone aside. She had brought me my favourite cocktail.
“Next round’s on me,” I said.
“I didn’t pay for it.” She pressed her lips together in a poor attempt to hide her smile.
My cognition appeared to lag. “What?”
“The guy you insulted did. Asked for your name too, but I didn’t give it to him. Gathered I’d leave that choice to you.”
Instantly, the floor summoned my jaw. Had he really bought me a drink? After all that?
Responding to impulse, my eyes travelled in his direction. Spellbinding blue met mine, and I was immediately captured by them. Wearing a complacent smirk, he raised his glass at me and paid me a wink, leaving his friend to snicker beside him as he shook his head from side to side.
“Seriously? What’s his problem?” I grumbled irritated and broke out of his spell to focus on Olivia. Sinking into the spot beside me, she raised her cosmopolitan to her mouth.
After a sip, she reflected aloud, “I think you changed his mind, acting the way you did. While I waited for our drinks, you were all he asked about. I told him nothing, though.”
Bemused, I blinked back at her. “You had a conversation with him?”
She frowned. “He insisted on paying for our drinks, Cara. What was I supposed to do?”
Ignore him? I would have. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
Laughter poured from her mouth at the obvious humour I’d spiked my reply with. “You can have him,” she assured me through a grin, and her tone clearly implied that she harboured no bitterness and genuinely meant to give me her blessing. “He put me off with his attitude,” she continued to explain. “His friend, though – Andrew – he seems nice. He apologised on William’s behalf. William’s the arsehole.”
I scoffed. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather he pissed off.”
She chortled and browsed the room again, probably to locate new targets. Meanwhile, I stared at the cocktail Mr Arsehole had bought me. I wanted the content of it, but it seemed wrong to accept it. So instead, I just continued to stare at it, conflicted.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Cara. Consider it an apology. Drink it,” Olivia scolded and rolled her eyes.
“You do realise that if he sees me drinking it, he’ll consider himself excused?” I countered. “I won’t allow that. I’d rather buy my own.” I stood.
“He’s going to speak to you then,” she warned. “Is that what you want?”
“Who says I’ve got to reply? I might as well return the favour – not interested,” I stated cheekily and headed for the bar. Eyeing her across my shoulder, I found her grinning at me, silently commending my fierceness.
I was halfway there when I sensed his eyes upon my figure, and it demanded my every ounce of willpower not to meet them. To signal that I did not want to be approached, I ensured that I would arrive at the far end from them once I reached the counter.
Spreading my hands across the dark stone of it, I searched for a bartender, but to my regret, both of them were busy serving other customers, so I waited somewhat vigilantly. I could sense that Mr Arsehole continued to stare at me, and it made me feel strangely uneasy. Hyperaware of myself, I shifted my weight onto my right leg and resorted to studying the wall of myriad bottles behind the bar.
When his muscular and bare forearms suddenly entered my field of vision, I recoiled a small step. From the corner of my eye, I saw them rest against the counter beside me. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt, and the grey waistcoat that he wore on top of the fabric clung to his robust anatomy, serving as an unfair reminder of his tantalising masculinity.
“I’m sorry about earlier, Miss. You’re right. I was very rude.”
Since I refused to acknowledge his existence, I pretended not to have heard anything while I waited for a bartender to notice me.
“If you’d give me a second,” he continued once he realised that I wasn’t going to respond, “I’d like to explain why.”
Just then, a bartender spared me from having to respond to the imbecile. Blonde with green eyes, he looked positively northern. An alluring grin decorated his mouth when our eyes locked.
“What can I get you, Miss?” he politely inquired, and judging from his strong accent, I thought he might be Swedish.
Leaning slightly forwards, I smiled back. “An espresso martini and a gin and tonic, please, thank you.”
Nodding, he extended to me the payment terminal he’d just typed into, and I was just about to grab it when Mr Arsehole beat me to it. After snatching it away from me, he inserted his own card.
“No!” I admonished and stared at his large hands. Prominent veins branched across the back of them, and a few climbed a small distance along his fingers, although they stopped long before they reached his neatly trimmed nails. They were undeniably male, and they were a beautiful pair at that. The experienced look of them wasn’t something I would forget anytime soon. During a brief moment of weakness, I wondered what it would feel like to have them caress my naked skin.
His eyebrows arched at my harsh response. Through a lopsided smile, he said, “Now that I’ve got your attention—”
“You had my attention earlier, Oedipus,” I interrupted, “and you wasted it,” I reminded him as I snatched back the device.
“Oedipus?” he echoed with a titter of amazement. “How astute.”
I merely rolled my eyes and was just about to withdraw his card when his loud sigh made me look at him.
“If you withdraw my card,” he said, “our dear bartender will have to restart the whole process. Do you really mean to make his job any more difficult than it needs to be? Just because you can’t swallow your pride?”
I could hardly fathom the audacity of this man. I had never met someone quite so irritating in all my twenty-three years of life.
When I looked at the bartender, I discovered a humoured smile on his face.
“You should have a sign on the door that warns of arsehole clientele,” I told him. He pressed his lips together and winked at me. Meanwhile, William resorted to a chuckle beside me.
“Andy – my friend – has got a girlfriend,” the source of my annoyance decided to say. “Or, he used to. They split up just today, but I expect it’s only temporary. So, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, love,” he continued. “I’m the nice guy. Now, unless you’d like to get in the middle of that, I reckon I did you a favour.”
I pressed my lips together and despised the fact that I found his reason valid. Then again, it could as well have been a lie. I didn’t know the man. What’s more, if it had been the truth, he could still have treated us more politely.
My scepticism poured from my tone as I replied, “Why should I trust what you’re saying?”
He gestured towards the payment terminal. “Let’s settle this first. May I buy your drinks for you?”
Finally, I met his eyes, and they were smouldering. The sight made a lump gather in my throat. I hadn’t noticed it before, but the man was rather intense – everything about him was.
Struck speechless by the look of him, I nodded my head.
“Thank you,” he said before he sent me look of wonder. Puzzled by the expression on his face, I frowned back.
“So,” he said whilst completing the transaction, “what’s your name then?”
“Oh, so you actually are interested,” I replied sarcastically as I watched the bartender perform his magic. “How funny. I haven’t been bullied by a boy who fancies me since primary school.”
Stealing a glance at him, I saw a winsome grin emerge on his mouth before an incredulous laugh slipped out of it. “Yes, well, I’m glad I could treat you to some nostalgia.”
“More like trauma.”
Glancing over again, I saw that he had turned slightly away from me to hide his reaction. From the limited view of his face, I saw that his grin persisted, but he was now biting on his lower lip while looking at the floor as though he could hardly contain himself.
“Listen,” he said then and turned to face me properly again. “If it’s not obvious already, I seriously regret my behaviour. I hadn’t thought you’d be so,” his eyes narrowed faintly, “intriguing.”
I snorted. Did he really consider that to be a legitimate excuse for his behaviour? What if I hadn’t been intriguing? What then? Would he have considered his conducts justified?
He was obviously a conceited idiot. Why was I wasting even a breath of air on him?
Condescension poured from my face when I finally turned towards him. Even though I was wearing heels, he towered in front of me. Since I felt small and vulnerable this close to him, I wondered how tall he actually was. Taking my own height into account and adding it to the fact that I was wearing heels, I reckoned he was at least six-feet-four, maybe five.
He was strong too, which I could tell from the way his shirt and waistcoat strained against his body, as well as the general width of him given his broad shoulders and back.
“Who would have guessed? How to seduce an arsehole – accuse him of sleeping with his mother. Turned you on, did it? The idea of her?” I cheekily responded.
Frightened, I turned rigid when he suddenly leaned towards me. Hardly an inch separated our noses from touching. He was so close that I could smell the alcohol in his breath as it fanned against my face. In my momentary fear, my eyes locked with his, and I was immediately hypnotised by their dominating content.
Perhaps this wasn’t a man to be trifled with. He didn’t strike me as the sort of man who allowed others to walk over him. On the contrary, he looked to be in the habit of performing that deed himself. I felt walked over. In all fairness – under the burning heat of his gaze – I felt vanquished.
"You did,” he replied firmly.