Chapter 1: Good Terms
“Was this the place Jason recommended?” Turning toward me, my dearest female friend wrinkled her small nose. She was referring to my flatmate and best friend, Jason.
My jaw clenched while I studied her large and brown Bambi eyes. Her lashes were so long that they nearly touched her eyebrows with each bat. Her plump and light pink lips formed an uncertain line. In her deep red dress, she resembled a beautiful rose. Olivia Clark was a gorgeous young woman. Aside from her huge breasts, everything about her was petite and cute.
Was she displeased? I couldn’t be sure.
While arching my left eyebrow at her, I dryly replied, “You specifically said you wanted a cocktail bar that solicitors frequent. This was his recommendation. And since his father established a law firm, I took his word for it. If you don’t fancy it, we can always find a new place. But let’s give it a chance before we make up our minds, yeah?”
I’d never met a single family member of Jason’s. In fact, aside from his father’s, I didn’t even know their names. All I knew was that they were filthy rich, with thanks to Jason’s father being the founder of Day & Night, a firm offering legal services.
Jason and I had met at University College London three years ago, though he didn’t attend my course. Instead, Jason was in his fourth year studying medicine. Our encounter had been perfectly coincidental. I had found myself lost during one of my first days on campus, and Jason had sensed it when he passed by my figure in the corridor. Responding to his suspicion, he had asked me if I might need any help. Since that fateful moment, we had formed an irreplaceable, 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 younger sister, Phoebe.
No less than a week ago, he had offered me to move in with him, since his best mate Stephen Turner had decided to move out to live with his girlfriend of three years, Giselle Hamsmith. I hadn’t hesitated for even a second to accept the offer.
Returning from my thoughts, 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. Besides, my reasons for being here were purely selfless and altruistic, but 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. If she were going to be a pain in the arse, I’d leave her to prowl on her own. I had already warned her of said fact, so she had been surprisingly compliant today.
She brushed a lock of her angelically blonde hair behind her ear as she assessed our sumptuous surroundings again. When she returned her attention to me, a shrewd smile had claimed her mouth.
“I can see that you’re worried, Cara, but please, don’t be. Your sourpuss mood will ruin mine. And besides, we’ve worked so hard on our coursework these past two weeks, only so that we could make time for this. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a girl’s night out, and ever since I broke up with Colin, I haven’t had sex! Do you realise the implications of that?”
My lips twisted with my amusement. “What, so you’ve had a dry-spell for three months? Poor you.”
Three months without sex, I’d be going insane. I was certain. No wonder she had been so eager about this night.
She sighed and looked toward the ceiling. “Yeah, well, not everybody’s got ten lads stored up, Cara.” What was that supposed to mean? “I’m ready to bounce on just about anybody!”
“As long as he’s got a heavy wallet, you mean?” I couldn’t help myself.
She chortled at my playful remark. “Hey, you know I’m not like that. I’m just one for novelties right now, and I’ve never had sex with a solicitor before.”
“Well, we’re in the right place, then. And your wing-woman is on duty, so make use of me. Find your fish and use me as your rod.” I shook my head to myself. “I still can’t believe you managed to persuade me into doing this for you.”
Underwhelmed, she gazed up at me. “Cara, even though you fancy presenting yourself as an ice-queen, I know you’ve got a very large heart in there. That’s how I managed to persuade you. A heartbroken best friend isn’t something you’ve got the strength to ignore.”
“Lesser of two evils, perhaps,” I muttered and made my way toward a free 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 of mine. “If that’s your attitude, you’ll make for a rubbish parent, Cara.”
Amused, I allowed my light blue eyes to wander around the space. “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, the space was flooded in earthy colours, although I did note quite the amount of gold, too. This was a posh place, surely.
Well, adapting had always been something I excelled at.
“Have you been able to unpack?” Olivia asked of me when I faced her again. Her eyes were the ones wandering now, and it amused me. She surely wasn’t wasting her time with locating a target. I appreciated that. As soon as she sealed the deal with somebody, I’d be heading home.
“No. Only the essentials. I had to search for an entire hour before I found the dress that I’m wearing tonight.” 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.”
When I lifted my gaze again, I recognised the look on her face. Already?
Following her stare, I saw the profile of two men seated by the bar, and since they were frowning rather angrily at each other 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 sported different colours. The man I found most comely was brown-haired, and the other dirty blonde, like Jason. But I’d always had a kink for dark and tall.
“Which one?” I enquired of Olivia.
Bummer. “All right, then. I’ll mind his friend. Let’s head over, shall we? Perhaps the attention of two young women will wipe their frowns away,” I suggested 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,” Olivia argued high-pitched.
I scoffed at her. “So what? You won’t know unless you try, Livy. And I can handle a rejection. Can’t you?”
Her Bambi eyes turned toward me again, 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 with that unsympathetic bimbo Jessica-something?
“Livy,” my voice was unusually strict, “Colin is a bastard that never deserved you. But just because he is 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 since I was slightly surprised at how quickly she had absorbed my pep talk, I blinked. Her libido must 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 when he did affirmed my ego. With slightly thin lips parting, he turned his whole body toward me. Just like his 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 interfere on your conversation, but my friend and I were–”
“We’re not interested,” a dreadfully sensual voice interrupted from my right.
Looking toward 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 ambiance.
Had I met him before?
A frown took to my face. I could have sworn I’d seen him before.
In 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 were 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. Gutted.
“Where are your manners, man?” the dirty blonde scolded him before his eyes darted in my direction again. “Excuse him. He’s a bit blunt.”
Puzzled, I persisted to stare at the dark-haired stranger.
I must have met him before. I was certain I’d seen him somewhere. But would I have forgotten an encounter with such a beautiful man? I doubted it. So where had I seen him, then? Was he a celebrity?
“I’m sorry, have we met before?” I blurted out, bewildered in my tone.
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 comfortable voice, it took me a few seconds to process the content. Once I did, I frowned offended.
His friend groaned and shook his head beside me, clearly despaired by his companion. Could they be gay partners?
“I beg your pardon? I was being serious, you utter twat,” I snapped back at him.
His eyebrows furrowed while his arresting eyes, twice, travelled up and down my body, and when 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 surely 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 indecent 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 as to wind up in the bed of such a despicable 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 together and scoffed at him. ”Too good, I wager,” I countered. “Going home to spend the night in her bed, then? That why you’re not interested?”
“Bloody hell, woman!” Olivia uttered, appalled, and clasped my hand in hers to drag me away. “You’re far out of order!” she admonished and directed her eyes to the two shocked men. “I’m so sorry, guys. Please excuse us.”
“Didn’t you hear him just now? How bloody rude he was?” I grumbled while she tugged me away from them.
“Choose your battles, love! He’s obviously not worth our attention!” she retorted.
Only now did I notice that her body was trembling with her irritation. Rattled, she was, just like the rest of us. Well, that was another thing I quite excelled at: rattling people. It was definitely a flaw, but everybody had flaws, I consoled myself.
“Well, unlike you, I don’t take shit from anybody.”
After pushing me onto a sofa at the far end of the space, she gripped her hips and glared down at me.
“Cara, honestly, your line to chat them up was rubbish. ‘Have we met before?’ I count on myself to serve rubbish lines like that. Not you!”
I scowled up at her. “Well, I’m sorry. It wasn’t supposed to be a line to chat him up. I honestly thought I’d seen him before. And the worst part is that I still reckon I have.”
She frowned and turned to steal a glimpse of them across her shoulder. Following her gaze, 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’d initially found them to be. Ugly, 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?