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A chance encounter in a bar throws Gemma into Theo’s path. She’s beautiful, witty and warm, everything his ex-girlfriend isn’t. Theo is a modern man with old fashioned values who is faithful to a fault. When his manipulative ex-girlfriend tricks him into getting back with her, Theo resigns himself to the life he knows and waves this lovely stranger goodbye.
Neither one of them is able to forget the other, so when chance throws them together again on a holiday they are unable to resist the attraction. But Theo is now carrying a heavy secret, and sharing it with Gemma hurts her intensely.
When the holiday is over, Theo’s girlfriend throws a bombshell meant to destroy him. When everything seems lost, how can they find the strength to fight and keep their love alive?
“Two Bellinis.” The barman’s words broke through my thoughts. I averted my gaze from the green eyes holding me captive while fumbling in my handbag for money. When I glanced up, he had gone, and I was left with an inexplicable sense of despondency.
“Come on.” Chris tugged at my arm. “Let’s dance.”
I allowed her to drag me onto the dance floor where the disco music pumped out at an ear-splitting intensity. The floor vibrated as music pulsated through the room. The rhythm beat a tattoo inside my chest, as though my heart was pounding in time with it.
I scanned the room and saw him standing on the balcony looking at me with a warm smile that curled up his lips. My eyes travelled over his face, taking in his strong jaw line, full lips, fair hair and toned body. I returned a shy smile, cheeks burning under his gaze and heart fluttering in my throat. I glanced away to regain my composure as he sauntered over.
“Hey. I’m Theo. Do you mind if I come and talk to you?” His well-modulated voice lifted above the clamour.
He looked like he was expecting something. Oh, I haven’t told him my name.
“I’m Gemma.” I tried to sound casual.
“Nice to meet you, Gemma. I haven’t seen you around here before.” He extended his hand, holding it while maintaining eye contact.
A shiver ran through me at his touch. I have to sort myself out. He’s just a man. I meet guys all the time. I took a deep breath and, smiling my most enigmatic smile, answered, “No, I’m from London. In Devon for the weekend. I came to visit my friend. We haven’t seen each other in ages.” Like he needs your life story. “And you? Are you a local?”
“Yeah, home’s about a five-minute walk.” He glanced down at my feet and added with a cheeky grin, “Ten with heels.”
I kept my features deadpan as I pretended to misunderstand. “Whatever makes you think I’d lend you my shoes?”
“Touché.” He grinned.
I introduced him to Chris.
“So where are you taking her after here?” Theo asked Chris.
Chris and Theo spent the next few minutes comparing the merits of the local nightspots. What if he likes Chris? I might have been the icebreaker. How can I hope to compete with Chris? I looked at my beautiful friend with her glorious curtain of red hair.
“Can I get you both a drink?” The smouldering expression in Theo’s eyes reassured me.
When he’d gone to the bar, I grabbed Chris’ arm. “Oh God, Chris, I think I’m in love. He’s gorgeous.”
“I just hope his friends are as buff,” she replied.
“My mates are sitting over there. Do you fancy joining us?” he asked handing us our drinks.
He led us to a table where a dark-haired hunk with a bad-boy expression sat with two others. Tom had lank brown hair and a face engulfed in acne. Stephen was fair-haired but washed out. The hunk’s name was Jake, and from the outset, I knew he was trouble.
Chris took charge of Jake, Tom, and Stephen; enchanted, they hung off her every word.
“She handles them well.” Theo sounded impressed.
“No one stands a chance when she turns on the charm.”
“I’m sure you do okay yourself.”
The corded muscles of Theo’s hand tightened as he held mine. I smiled, nervous again. The others walked on ahead of us.
“Club’s just around the corner,” Theo said, a mischievous grin playing about his lips.
Tugging my hand, he pulled me to him and grasped me around the waist. A rush of heat swept over me. I blushed at the direction my thoughts were travelling.
Theo leaned in with a show of hesitation, tantalising me. I moved closer. His lips were soft as they brushed over mine. I longed to deepen the kiss, but he pulled back. What the…? I quashed the fleeting sense of disappointment. We’ll continue this later.
Theo slung his arm over my shoulder with a casual air while I slipped mine around his waist. We walked along in companionable silence, grinning at each other with stupid expressions. We joined the others in the queue that snaked halfway around the club. It took half an hour to get into the venue. The night air was balmy, and my hair stuck to my neck.
“My feet are burning,” the girl in front of us complained. I know how she feels.
The club was overcrowded but we managed to squeeze into the red chenille booth. Theo and I squashed in together, thigh brushing thigh.
We stumbled over who spoke first.
“I was just going to ask about your taste in music.”
“I enjoy an eclectic range of music, but jazz is my thing. And you?”
“Pfft. Jazz? I can’t listen to it for too long or I’d get bored.” I flashed him a cheeky grin. “I lurve Robbie Williams.”
Theo rolled his eyes.
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Robbie.”
“Depends on whose perspective you’re coming from,” he teased, “serious music lovers or females who go weak at the knees over a pair of trousers.”
I gave his arm a playful slap and fixed him with an I’m-not-impressed glare. His lips twitched, and we ended up breaking into easy laughter. We discussed our respective families. Theo talked about his sister Cass, whom he was close to. I experienced a fleeting sadness as I contemplated the detached relationship I had with my siblings. We did the whole ‘What’s your favourite thing’ and discovered that we both loved E.T. I coaxed him onto the dance floor just as “Crazy in Love,” by Beyoncé and Jay-Z, exploded around the room. At first we moved together with the uncertainness of two strangers but soon we merged into a sensual rhythm.
“Let’s get a drink.” Theo’s hand moved to the small of my back as he guided me back to our table.
The smell of smoke and sweat assaulted my senses as we threaded our way through the throng of writhing bodies. We fell onto the couch, where Chris and Jake sat talking. When we straightened up, our lips brushed. I moved in closer until our mouths clung together, soft and caressing. The kiss deepened, lips and tongues came together, exploring and tasting. His hand splayed against mine, fingers entwined, palms cleaving together.
The night was over too soon. We stood outside in the warm night air. People drifted out in varying stages of inebriation. In the doorway of a shop, a man fell to his knees and spewed out a stream of liquid and undigested food. Eager taxi drivers stood around touting for business. The occasional police car crawled along keeping a watchful eye on the revellers, alert for the slightest sign of an altercation.
A catfight broke out between two girls who’d had too much to drink. Two policemen separated them as clumps of peroxide hair came away in the taller girl’s hands. Skirts the size of belts hung askew and beer-stained tops rode high up their flabby midriffs. Hair coiffed to within an inch of perfection at the beginning of the night was now lank, while makeup ran down their faces, and they screamed abuse at each other.
“Come back with me?” Theo whispered.
Every inch of my body screamed to go. I’ve come here to spend the weekend with Chris. I can’t just leave her. She’ll understand. No, I can’t. I tried to explain to Theo, and saw his fleeting look of disappointment. We gazed at each other until he pulled me closer. I nestled against his chest.
“Can I see you again?” he murmured against my ear.
Phew. We exchanged mobile numbers and then kissed again before Tom and Stephen dragged a reluctant Theo away.
“Was Theo a good kisser? I want all the details,” Chris asked as we lay in bed ready to dissect the night.
“Mmm.” I grinned.
“Are you going to meet him again this weekend?”
“No, he’s busy.” I fought back the overwhelming urge to sleep.
“I got the impression that Theo’s the only one who’s comfortable with himself… like he wasn’t putting on an act.”
“Stephen struck me as being gay and not ready to admit it, not that I spoke to him much.”
“You were too busy playing tonsil hockey with Theo,” she teased, “but your gaydar is spot-on; Stephen is sooo in the closet. Jake played hard at acting ‘the lad’, but I sensed a deeper side of him. Tom appeared to have no real opinions, a carbon copy of Jake without conviction.”
“And without his dark and mysterious good looks,” I added.
“He is gorgeous.”
I caught a faint trace of wistfulness, but my mind was clouding as sleep descended on me. I snuggled into the duvet mumbling goodnight. My head spun as I drifted into blissful oblivion.
The drumbeats rolled signalling the end of another episode of Eastenders. The doorbell shrilled just as I brought the can of Fosters to my lips. Who’s that? With reluctance, I peeled myself from the sofa. Jehovah’s Witnesses? I hesitated.
The bell rang again. It would be easier just to send them away with a polite but firm refusal. A third chime sounded as I entered the hallway. Pushy bastards. I flung the door open ready to hurl abuse only to find my girlfriend, Claudine, standing there. She had the air of a forlorn and frightened animal as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“What’s wrong?” It wasn’t often that Claudine displayed any kind of emotion.
“Oh, Theo,” she sobbed and flung herself into my arms.
“Honey, what’s happened?” I sought to console her while I held her close stroking her short brown bob. I wish she’d left it long. This thought was followed by guilt.
“Come in.” I closed the door behind her and led her into the front room.
“What is it?” I asked. “Has someone done something to you?”
She withdrew and paced over to the window, staring out before turning to face me. She gnawed at her nails, which were her pride and joy.
“I don’t want to see you anymore,” she blurted out.
She’s finishing with me. I didn’t see that coming. We didn’t have an exciting relationship, but it had been easier than being alone.
“Well, say something.” Claudine stamped her foot.
“What do you want me to say?” I was being deliberately obtuse.
Her face turned puce as she looked at me through narrowed eyes. At that moment, I wondered what I’d seen in her. Once I’d had that thought, the floodgates opened. Instead of being upset, I was relieved. I’m free. Exhilaration bubbled up inside me.
She waffled something about not being compatible. I studied the battered red sofa. The curry stain caused by Tom’s clumsiness after a night of drinking had resulted in a quarrel with my female housemates. I stared at the dull and dirty beige walls. The landlord needs to redecorate.
“Aren’t you upset?” Her lips trembled. I had some fast thinking to do.
“Of course I am but I realise that you’re right. We can always stay friends.”
Friday night I celebrated my freedom in The Crypt with three of my workmates.
“It’s good to have you back. Friday nights haven’t been the same without you.” Jake toasted with a pint.
“Yeah, never did understand what you saw in her,” Stephen said.
A tall blonde sashayed towards the bar with her redheaded friend. Her hair hung to the middle of her back. She had graceful features and legs that went on forever. Her simple dress fell to just above the knee, modest at the front, but the back was scooped out and fell to the small of her back. She was exquisite. I became aroused just thinking about her.
She perused the cocktail menu, then, with confidence, caught the attention of the barman. As she scanned the bar, her face was alight with pleasure. Her gaze intercepted mine. Green and blue eyes merged with an intensity that I found disturbing. As we stared across the space that separated us, I felt a connection. I laughed a self-conscious tinkle, almost girly in sound. I was beginning to sound profound; the truth was she was stunning, and I wanted her.
The barman came back, and her friend dragged her away. I ordered our drinks and then stood chatting to the boys for a few minutes. What are you waiting for? If you don’t do something now, someone else will. I hesitated then told the lads that I was going after the gorgeous blonde.
“Give her one from me,” Jake said.
I laughed, shaking my head as I walked away. Life was never dull with Jake around.
I stood on the balcony, looking out onto the crowd. Some of the diehard jazz fans had gone since the band had left, and the DJ had taken over. The Crypt had achieved the dubious acclaim of becoming the in place, and the dance floor throbbed with people gyrating to the music. I spotted her. She seemed to be looking for someone, and when our eyes met, I realised it was me. I’m in there tonight. Her eyes slid down my body and up again while mine took the same route over hers. That was an invitation, and I didn’t need asking twice. I was halfway across the room when I found my palms sweating, my mouth was dry, and I hadn’t thought about what I was going to say.
“Hey. I’m Theo. Do you mind if I come and talk to you?” God, how lame was that? A surreptitious slide of my hands down the back of my trousers removed all traces of sweat.
“I’d like that.”
Her name was Gemma; it suited her. It was then that I said it. I didn’t think I could say anything so feeble but, in my defence, I was talking to a virtual goddess, and I hadn’t seen her around before. I was pleased she was only here for the weekend. It didn’t matter how beautiful she was, I wasn’t looking for another relationship. She introduced me to her friend, Chris, a stunning willowy redhead. I offered to buy them both drinks and headed back to my mates, who seemed to have taken up permanent residence at the bar.
“She blew you out, then?” Stephen chortled.
“No. I’m buying drinks for the two hottest women here tonight. Is anybody up for checking O2 out tonight?” I asked.
“We’re going to The Cube; it’s meant to be heaving with hot chicks,” Tom protested.
“Come on, lads, I think I’m in with a chance with this one. She’s hot.”
“Bit of a slag, is she?” Jake drawled. “What about her mate? Is she up for it, too?”
Tom and Stephen brayed like a couple of hyenas.
I frowned. “No, I don’t think she is. Neither is her mate. They’re both stunning and good company. But hey, it’s no big deal. If you believe we can get better at The Cube, then we’ll go there.” I tried to sound nonchalant.
“Is she anything like Claudine?” Jake asked.
“Hell no,” I laughed.
Jake and I had worked together for over five years and became friends in that time. I sensed a more vulnerable side to him, which he kept hidden. I often wondered if something had happened to make him behave in his callous manner, but I didn’t probe.
A group of drunken women staggered to their feet, relinquishing their table. Jake made a crude remark to them that earned him a tongue-lashing as we took their seats. I wondered whether it was a good idea, after all, to introduce Gemma and her mate to my unruly bunch.
My mates were enthralled by the girls, and behaved themselves. I found Gemma easy to talk to, and her sense of humour matched my own. We talked about London, and I found myself thinking that maybe when I went there on business it might be possible to meet up. There was no reason we couldn’t have ‘just sex’ on more than one occasion. I wondered how someone so gorgeous was single; I asked her.
“Oh, you know,” she dismissed, her tone airy, “just haven’t met my millionaire yet.”
“So he has to be rich. Any other criteria?” I questioned, getting into the spirit of things as her eyes twinkled with latent mischief.
“I don’t mind as long as he has the money to give me a lifetime of indulgence.”
“Dark or fair?”
“He could be ninety-eight and getting ready to push up daisies so long as he leaves me his money,” she teased.
“Absolutely, darling,” she affected a falsetto accent before becoming serious again. “I’ve just never found the right person.”
I placed my hand on Gemma’s bare back ostensibly to guide her out as we left The Crypt. Her back was like silk against my fingertips. I felt the same euphoria you experience when you hit the jackpot on a one-armed bandit and the coins pour out.
Jake led the others in front and flashed me a conspiratorial grin. I took Gemma’s hand, as delicate as a butterfly’s wing. Her eyes shone as she looked at me, making me feel godlike. I contemplated lifting her caveman-style and carrying her back to my house to ravage her. Those red lips pouted in a way that cried out to be kissed so I pulled her into my arms. I kept the kiss light, just a mere meeting of lips coming sensually together. I longed to deepen the kiss, but the familiar stirring in my trousers precluded any such manoeuvre.
I held her to me as we walked along, aware of the envious glances thrown at me by both men and women alike. The streets were a hive of activity as Devon came to life and the young set partied. Laughter rang out around us.
We struggled through conversations in the club. Music from Christina Aguilera and The Black Eyed Peas bounced from wall to wall in an ear-splitting cacophony.
I allowed Gemma to drag me onto the dance floor. I’m not sure that what we did was dancing. My hands encircled her tiny waist, skimming over her back. One hand held the base of her spine while the other travelled up, caressing between her shoulder blades. She clasped her hands around my neck while her body pressed against mine. Her breasts strained against the flimsy material of her dress, and likewise, my disloyal cock showed arousal, betraying me to the outside world.
After a few songs, I couldn’t endure any more of this exquisite torture, so I led her through the crowds. Back at our booth, we tripped onto the sofa. I used this opportunity to kiss her again.
Thousands of stars lit up the warm night sky while all around us was floodlit by harsh street lighting. The club’s doors were flung wide open, spewing forth a stream of people no longer allowed the relative security of its environs, thrust onto the streets.
I turned to Gemma. “Will you come back with me?”
Had she been leading me on all night? Those eyes didn’t seem deceitful. My disappointment subsided. I’ll have her even if it isn’t tonight. There’s always my trip to London.
We exchanged numbers. I kissed her again. Slowly at first, building the crescendo. Our mouths and tongues merged, tasting, teasing and provocative until the silent music we were making demanded an increase in tempo that we were unable to fulfil.
“So she didn’t put out,” Tom’s crude words reached me as we walked away.
I hit the sack at six a.m., after a further drinking session with the lads. Struggling to sleep while the light filtered through the chinks in the curtains and the birds chirped, I lay thinking about Gemma’s body and wasn’t surprised when I found myself aroused. I’ll have to see her again, I thought as I sought release. Contented and drowsy now, I slipped into a comfortable slumber.
I love this story with its strong, yet realistic characters and their close bonds of friendships. The author does not hold back and lets the characters be who they are meant to be, even if they are at times a bit crude but that is how many young people are today in England. I adore the character of Theo who as the blurb tells us is a modern man with strong old fashioned values.
The friendships of some of the characters may at times waiver but they are there for each other in a crisis, and this is what I love most about this story. The bonds of true friendship.
It is hard to say too much about this book without giving anything away but what I will say is that I LOVED the second part of the book most of all. Even though it is at times truly heart-wrenching.
Very highly recommended.