Get ready for The Weekend...
October Book of the Month
Why do we always have to be dazzled by the things we can’t have? The things that could destroy us? Ruin us? Tear us into pieces and turn us into something that we no longer even recognize? Why does human nature have to be so goddamn destructive?
These are the thoughts that run through my head the second I set eyes on him. I don’t know his name. He’s just a gorgeous stranger dressed in an immaculate, high-priced gray suit, looking completely out of place in the same stuffy, stifling London Underground carriage I’m traveling in. An unknown male who’s the embodiment of what my subconscious desires dream up in the heavy darkness of night, but never actually want in the light of day. I avoid his type for too many reasons to count, the least of which being that I have a low tolerance for egotism and the typical I’ve got a big dick and money so I’m a god bullshit that men like him pull so well.
But I can sure as hell look and enjoy.
I’m sitting in one of the grungy seats on the right of the carriage, while he stands no more than five feet away, one arm lifted as he holds on to the metal overhead bar. I know he’s watching me, because I’m watching his reflection in the window, only pretending to be reading the steamy romance book on my e-reader. I imagine what he would look like stripped of all that expensive silk and feel my face heat, which is ridiculous. I’m not some willy-nilly virgin who’s hung-up about sex. Haven’t been one since I slept with my boyfriend in my freshman year of college. But my sexual experiences have never been with a man like him. I steer clear of the mouthwatering alphas, no matter how handsome they are. I’m not their type anyway. With my shortish, curvy bod, honey-gold curls and dimples, I look neither like a fuck bunny nor a trophy wife. Which leaves me to spend my time with close friends and focus on my fledgling career in the art world.
But a bit of fantasy never killed a girl. And he would be prime material for a midnight session with my vibrator. So I use what brief time there is before my stop to watch him as carefully as I can.
The jacket that stretches across his broad shoulders no doubt cost more than a month’s rent on my tiny apartment back in San Diego. It’s dark charcoal with a light pinstripe, clearly tailored for his tall, muscular build. I can’t see those muscles under the jacket, but from the way he fills it out, I know they’re there. Yum. I like imagining Mr Hotshot Corporate Player in nothing but a scraggy pair of gym shorts, that tall body slick with sweat, muscles bunching and flexing beneath his dark skin as he works out. His complexion is more olive-toned than most British, which probably means he has some beautiful Italian or Spanish countess somewhere in his ancestry – unless he’s not a local at all, and is actually a foreigner like myself.
Wherever he’s from, those sharp blue eyes look amazing with his skin tone, and the gods were obviously feeling generous when they molded that bone structure. Bold, straight nose. Wide, firm mouth. Straight, dark brows and ink-black hair that has that naturally tousled look that’s so outrageously sexy on the right kind of man. Oh yeah, this guy is definitely going to play front and center in my vibrator sessions for a while.
Feeling warm, I shift in my seat and grab my long hair, twisting it over one shoulder to get it off the back of my neck. He’s still watching me, and it makes about as much sense as a guy like him traveling on the Tube in the first place. I’m usually good at reading people, and I don’t get that ‘creepy crawly’ feeling from him. The one that makes me steer clear of a man and make sure I have other people around me in case he turns out to be a nutcase. Living as a single woman in the city, you either hone that sense or run the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Mr Hot and Gorgeous isn’t freaking me out. At least, not in a bad way. I just don’t like how my body is reacting to him – my pulse pounding and my skin glowing with a sheen that has nothing to do with the muggy summer heat – because I know it isn’t going anywhere. I’m not his type.
I frown as that last thought echoes around in my head, wondering why I keep repeating myself. It isn’t like me, and as much as I enjoy looking at this particular male, I’m ready to put some distance between us and get my equilibrium back.
A craggy voice comes through the speakers, telling us that the next stop is Canada Water, so we’re not far from Canary Wharf. I’m getting off there to meet up with Lola, one of my local friends and a fellow art lover. Lola and I met during the semester I spent in London four years ago, through a study abroad program at my university. We were roommates, and hit it off right away. And thanks to FaceTime, we’ve been able to stay close over the years. She’s even coming to San Diego next summer to visit me, and we’re planning to drive up Pacific Coast Highway to spend a week in San Francisco.
Despite her art history degree, Lola works as a receptionist at one of the swanky high-rise office buildings on the wharf, and there’s a Starbucks in the lobby, so that’s where I’m meeting up with her for a coffee during her afternoon break.
We pull into the Canada Water station, and when the driver comes over the PA system again to tell us that we’re going to be delayed for a second time, I pull my phone out of my bag and hook into the Wi-Fi so that I can text Lola to let her know I’m running late. But just as my phone connects, it starts belting out an ear-piercing sequence from QOTSA’s ‘Go With The Flow’, and I quickly fumble for the volume control, embarrassed that I’d forgotten to turn it down.
‘Hey,’ I murmur, knowing from the quick peek I took at the screen that it’s Lola. ‘We’ve had a couple of delays on the line, so it’s going to be about another fifteen minutes before I get there.’
I can feel the weight of Mr H & G’s (Hot and Gorgeous is too much of a mouthful, even in my head) attention like a physical touch, and know he’s listening to my every word. If he hadn’t already figured out I’m an American – though I’m not sure how he could have just from looking at me – he knows now. You could take the girl out of Georgia, but you couldn’t ever take Georgia out of the girl. I might have spent the last six years of my life attending school in California, but I still have that molasses-covered drawl that I grew up with.
‘No worries,’ Lola says. ‘Someone called in sick, so I won’t even be able to get away for another twenty minutes. Did you bring the notes you want me to look over?’
‘Yeah, I’ve got all the notes. But the Harrison Trust refused my request again.’ J.J. Harrison is a cantankerous, reclusive modern artist who has more twisted hang-ups about women than Venice has canals, which makes him a prime focus for the piece I’m writing on the role of the dominated female subject in modern art. ‘So unless I hit gold somehow, this article is going to suck and the editor at Luxe is going to laugh her ass off at me.’
Thanks to one of my professors, I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to submit an article to one of the premier art magazines in the business – but if I don’t uncover some groundbreaking material soon, they aren’t going to look twice at me ever again. I usually visit England to catch up with the friends I have here, but this trip is for business instead of pleasure. I’m in the UK for a few weeks to research Harrison, who’s British, and if I don’t get an in-depth perspective on him now, I’m not ever going to get one. Others have tried before me and failed, but I’m counting on the fire in my gut to help me get what I want.
Lola pops a bubble in my ear, making me jump. ‘Just come find me at the desk when you get here. We’ll figure something out, sweet cheeks.’
I smile, because she’s one of my most favorite people in the world, and say goodbye, then disconnect the call and slip the phone back in my bag, along with my e-reader. I can still feel Mr H & G watching me, but my worries over the article are doing their best to eclipse the lust this man inspires. I find myself choking back a husky chuckle as I wonder what ol’ J.J. Harrison would make of him. As a rule, Harrison’s male forms are as powerful and arrogant as his females are vulnerable and weak.
When the train finally pulls into the Canary Wharf station, I move to my feet, and the man shifts toward me, standing so close I can actually smell the mouthwatering tang of his expensive aftershave. Something thick and sexual sweeps through my veins, warming me from the inside out, and I know my face is flushed. When I flick a quick glance in his direction, I find him staring right at me, which only makes me burn hotter. I bite my lip, and I swear his eyes get heavy as he watches, that hooded gaze capable of rendering even the most cynical female into a drooling, breathless mess.
The Tube carriage pulls to a stop at the platform, doors swishing open, and I have the strangest feeling he’s going to say something to me, but a group of young, rough-looking guys shoves between us, earning a low grunt from the suit. I pay them little attention as I disembark, too busy wondering if I’m disappointed or relieved that he’s missed his chance to say whatever he wanted to say. For some reason, the idea of talking to him is unnerving, even though I’m not shy. He just isn’t the type of man I usually interact with, and I don’t like feeling uncertain. He’s thrown me off balance, probably because I know my personality doesn’t mesh well with that of a cocky, money-driven suit. I’m too outspoken and suck at simpering. Am I being judgmental? Perhaps. But I’ve been around my father’s family enough times to know exactly how much I don’t like that kind of man, no matter how incredible-looking he is.
The sexy Brit might be the epitome of my deepest, darkest fantasies in the flesh, but like I’d been thinking when I first saw him, he could leave me broken in ways I didn’t need if I let him get too close. Ways I’ve spent years working hard to protect myself against. He would know all the right things to say. All the right moves to make. And it’s an unarguable fact that I have flawed DNA in my bloodline when it comes to resistance. Which is why I’m going to put him out of my mind and keep him there.
Walking as fast as I can in the swarm of people exiting the carriage, I don’t pay attention to what’s happening around me until I’m yanked into one of the narrow passages that connect the platforms. I’m wondering what the hell is going on, when my head suddenly smacks into the brick wall on my left. Fuck, that hurt!
‘Don’t be stupid and try to fight,’ a man grunts in my ear, his accent East End. ‘Just give us the purse, bitch.’
My purse? I have a hobo bag looped diagonally across my body and can feel a hand tugging aggressively at the strap. I can’t believe this is happening in the middle of the day, surrounded by crowds of people. What are these idiots thinking? But as I flash a quick look left and right, I realize they must have done this before. A guy stands guard at each end of the small passageway, blocking the view of those rushing by, the masses too focused on getting where they’re going as quickly as possible to notice what’s happening.
‘Get the fuck away from me!’ I scream, but the noise of an approaching carriage on the northbound platform drowns out the sound. The guy holding me snarls something and grips a fistful of my hair, slamming the side of my head into the wall again, and I think Oh, shit, this is bad. Blinding pain shoots through my skull, and I can feel my thoughts splintering. As my eyes roll back in my head, I dimly hear a low growl just before what sounds like a powerful fist crunching bone. The brutal grip on my arm and hair loosens, leaving me to crash to the floor, my head hitting the ground so hard I’d probably be seeing stars if my eyes were still working, and a deep voice curses so viciously I’m sure someone’s going to die. I just hope it isn’t me!
I listen to more punches being thrown through a fog of pain and confusion, pissed at myself for not getting in at least one groin shot on these jerks. And then, the next thing I know, I’m being carefully lifted from the floor, in a pair of solid, silk-covered arms that smell so good I moan in a way that has nothing at all to do with the pain in my head.
There’s something divinely familiar about this particular scent that I know I need to place.
But I lose consciousness before I can figure out what it is.
Rhyannon Byrd’s sensational new London Affair serial begins with THE WEEKEND, out on 17th October!