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First pages

ONE

Sort of, crazy different.

 

 

“As much as I enjoy watching a man play with his tool, are you sure you should be doing that?”

What-the-hell? I shot up at the interruption, hitting my knee on the ancient cast-iron radiator. My spanner clattered against the parquet floor, underneath the metal, and crashed against the main supply pipe. The leaking valve slammed against the wall, hissed an angry warning, then blew and spurted scorching water over everything. My best utility pants were soaked, my balls screamed profanities, and I was pretty sure my dick was trying to climb out of my pants to escape the burn.

The full-figured, thirty-something woman — not the sweet little-girl she sounded like — tutted before twisting her features into a smug I-told-you-so. I gave her the stink eye as I watched her saunter into the room like she owned it. Although, for all I knew, she did.

“You really should leave that stuff to the building manager.” She salted fresh wounds, throwing in another soft tut-tut for good measure.

I was the goddamned building manager — well, my company held the contract for maintenance on the building — but instead of telling her so, I ground my teeth and bit back words that would scald worse than my poor soaked balls.

With her back turned she grumbled, “Cassy never mentioned you were a looker,” then closed the office door, shutting us both inside. She didn’t let the still-spurting water pipe disrupt her mission to piss me off. No, the opposite was true; she spoke with familiarity as though she expected to find me. And who did she say told her? Cassy? I couldn’t recall a Cassy, but I didn’t always take names. Too much hassle to remember them all.

Reaching under the steaming pipes and pulling out the wrench, I spun it between my fingers, twisted the valve nut, shut off the spray, and stood up again. I grit my teeth and turned to face her, getting so far as opening my mouth to speak before she cut me off.

“Look.” She bit her lip. Her chest lifted and fell as her eyes took in every inch of my irate form. “I know you probably want to change your clothes now you look like you’ve pissed your pants—” She waved an open-palmed hand in the air, circling the general vicinity of my soaked and rapidly cooling crotch. “But if we don't do this now, I’ll chicken out. Honestly, I’m already feeling embarrassed.”

Her? She felt embarrassed? How did she think I felt standing in a puddle while — how did she put it? — looking like I’d pissed my pants.

She moved to the center of the room and dropped her bag on the modern glass desk, barely breaking her verbal stride. “But Cassy swears I’ll end up over the hill and full of regrets if I don't do it now. So, I guess it's now or never.”

She sucked in a breath, nodded to herself, and unbuttoned her raincoat before shrugging it off and flinging it over her bag. As soon as she’d let it go, she crisscrossed her hands and yanked an ugly green sweater over her head, revealing a partially see-through, floral-print dress. My gaze traced the shapely outline of a red lace bra.

“Where do you want me?” she asked.

“Where do I what?” I balked, my stare gliding to her face.

“Want me. On the couch is the most traditional, I suppose?” The soles of her flats slapped against the hardwood as she walked across the room. With her hands on her hips, she surveyed the couch and scrunched up her little nose.

“On the—?”

“Couch, yes?” Sensing my struggle, she threw me an over-the-shoulder glance. Big eyes, little furrowed brows, and a petite pout filled with concern. “Are you okay? Did you scald your bits and bobs?” she asked, sitting herself in the center of the black leather chaise. She reclined, emitted a sharp wince, sat up again, and pulled the hair tie from her ponytail. This time when she lay down, her chestnut hair fanned out in waves beneath her head. The ends teased the floor and the sweet scent of candy filled the air. Kicking off her shoes, she lifted her legs and stretched out, making herself comfortable. Ten tiny toes wiggled and caught my attention, each toenail painted a different color.

She was different.

Not ‘wowbreathtaking’ different, just, sort of, ‘holy shit, she’s crazy, right?’ different. Whatever. She was in the wrong place. Or maybe it was the right place but at the wrong time?

“I’m sorry but I think you might have the wrong idea.”

“What? I don't have to lie down?” Her cheeks pinked. Her already rapid speech rattled in a nervous blur. “I’ve never done this. Would you prefer me standing up? Tell me what you want and I'll do it. I'm easy like that.”

Did she just admit she was easy? Did she even know what she was saying? She’d barged in while I was working, caused me to flood the room, stripped down to her see-through whatever, and hinted that she expected me to…to what?

“I’m not even sure who you are —” But my money was on escort.

“Oh my god! I am so sorry. I’m Rachel, your two-forty-five appointment. Cassy swears by you.”

I flopped into the chair opposite the couch. Appointment? What appointment and who the hell was Cassy? I really needed to keep a mental list of names if they started coming back to bite me in the ass. The woman — Rachel was it? — was so damned forward.

She took another deep breath and bit her lip. I had to admit it was kind of cute, in a hopeless sort of way. She took a second to plan her next words, building up the courage to say them. It seemed difficult for her.

“This isn’t my kind of thing but I’ve been having such bad luck and when my boyfriend left me for his right hand, well, it seemed like the last straw, you know?” The words poured out fast; a band-aid ripped to minimize the pain. I responded without thought.

“Your boyfriend left you for his colleague?”

“No. Oh I see, you think I meant right-hand man? No, I meant his actual right hand. Like literally. Simon is a chronic masturbator.”

Did she just say —? “A chronic —”

“Masturbator. Yeah.” She stared up at the ceiling, swallowing hard. A lump struggled there as she made a couple of attempts to choke it down.

I felt the weight of two choices. I could tell her she was in the wrong place and that she needed to get her stuff and leave, or I could find out what the hell her story was, because boy it sounded like a doozy.

The choice was a no-brainer.

“Go on.”

She leaned into the couch, her back flush to the leather and her knees bent up. Her dress pooled loosely in the juncture of her legs but rode high at the sides revealing smooth thighs. “He hid it from me at first, but after a while he came clean. It wasn’t like he had a choice. He jerked off morning, noon, and night.”

Was she serious? Was this some kind of set up? Actually, this smelled a hell of a lot like one of my brother’s pranks. Any minute now Neil would walk in and laugh in my face for falling for it. I was due payback for last week’s lipstick gag. Smothering his shirt in kissy marks wasn’t the weirdest stunt I’d pulled, but it’d caused the most trouble. Taylor still hadn’t taken him back, but how was I to know she wouldn’t believe my half-hearted, hung over confession? She had trust issues and, yeah, I was an ass.

Neil had gone all out if he’d hired this woman and I guess I owed it to him to bring things to their inevitably embarrassing conclusion.

She shook her head, drawing my attention back to her. “On our last day together, he jacked-off six times before breakfast. That was when I knew I had to get out.”

“Ouch, that had to hurt.” Was chaffed dick a thing? Sounded like it could be.

She didn’t seem to catch my humor. With a deep sigh and a little downward curl of her pink lips she whispered, “It certainly left me with a sense of failure.”

Oh man, she sounded upset. This had to be a joke, right? I’d give her dues, she was good. She hadn’t broken character once — but seriously? This couldn’t be for real.

Still, she played her part, so I’d play mine.

“I can only imagine.” Clearing my throat and controlling my burgeoning grin, I tried to instill a little compassion into my voice. “But you can’t blame yourself. His…um…proclivities had nothing to do with you. They were something he was clearly dealing with before you came along.”

“You’re right. It took a while to realize that for myself. I mean, I can handle a relationship without penetrative sex—”

“No penetrative sex?” I jerked forward in my seat and immediately wished I hadn’t. The wet patch had soaked through to my underwear; my nuts were prunes.

“None. He said it made him feel claustrophobic.” She huffed a disheartened chuckle before continuing. “Seriously? Isn’t that the whole damn point? Isn’t that the point of wrapping a fist around it twenty-four seven?” She shook her head, her hair danced across the floor. “That wasn’t even my main issue. I’m not selfish, but he wanted hand jobs all the time and when he wasn’t getting them from me, he’d do it himself and with a lot less discretion. I caught him sticking his hand down his pants in front of my mom. Can you imagine my humiliation?” She thrust her chin toward the ceiling and screwed her eyes shut. With a soft grunt, she placed her right hand on her forehead and swept it down as if wiping away whatever pain remained.

Obviously, she found it more humiliating than confessing everything to a stranger — even if she was only acting. And, what kind of guy doesn’t want to screw his girl? This had to be a joke. I couldn’t buy it. It made no sense.

“I’m sure it was harrowing.” My cold pants stuck to my cock like a second skin. I squirmed and almost reached down to lift them away when she turned on her side and faced me. Her bright green eyes stared right into mine.

“You’re the first person I’ve told that hasn’t laughed.”

“I am?” Wait…I suddenly felt shitty…was I wrong? Her eyes glistened from unshed tears, the kind that welled up in the corners, trapped until you blink. “Do you tell lots of people about this?” I asked, hoping to gauge the degree of the lie or, heaven forbid, the truth.

“Only Cassy and my mom, and now you, but you’re a professional so I think that’s okay.” She smiled softly. My heart stopped beating and my stomach hit my ass. Professional? Holy fuck. Oh-fucking-shit-fuckery.

She continued, her little smile showing off a pair of deep dimples. “You must be great at your job because I’ve only been here fifteen minutes and you’ve already got me talking.”

I leapt up and fixed a flat, pinched-lipped smile on my face. The room wavered in front of my eyes. I needed to breathe. “Could you give me a second? I’ll be right back.”

“Oh. Okay. Sure.”

I stumbled to the door, taking my time so not to alarm her. My head hammered war drum warnings at my temples and my gut was all over the damn place. Something was wrong, and I had a shitty feeling I knew what it was, but I needed to check the paperwork to be sure. Stepping outside, I closed the door behind me and pulled the contract sheet from my back pocket, unfolding it as I turned to inspect the brass name plaque on the door.

The notes on my docket confirmed what I already knew.

 

Room 214.

Complaint received.

Heating not working due to suspected fault in the old central heating system.

Current occupier moved to a new office until the work is completed.

 

But the plaque on the door drove the truth home.

 

Dr. H. Hamilton. PsyD, LCP, CCHT, MFT. Relationship Therapist

 

“No. Fucking. Way.” I smacked my head against the door, the first hit was silent but the second thudded. The dull sound was swallowed up immediately, but she probably heard it anyway. What the fuck was I supposed to say to her now? She thought I was legit. She thought I was this Hamilton guy. Oh shit. Oh nasty, runny, yellow shit with corn in it.

I should leave. Could I walk away and leave her there?

Yes. That seemed sensible. Cowardly but sensible. I’d come back for my tools. Besides, the soaked pants shriveled my dick. I needed to do something about that.

Great. Decision made. So why wasn’t I leaving?

Because this woman walked in and trusted me? Because she’d exposed her secrets? That was her mistake, not mine. I wasn’t to blame, right?

But I knew I was wrong. I should have set her straight right away and what kind of idiot suspected a joke first? I should have known this was a genuine mistake — no, that wasn’t fair. My brother was exactly the type of asshole to set something like this up for a joke. Still, I should have at least told her I was building maintenance, maybe then I’d not be in the middle of this clusterfuck.

In the end, leaving blame out of the question, I still faced an issue: What did I do about her? I couldn’t just leave her; that would make me as much a wanker as her ex-boyfriend. I needed to set her straight and explain the confusion, perhaps offer to buy her a coffee or something then send her on her way. It was the right thing to do.

Gulping in a mouthful of air, I huffed it out through my nose, squared my shoulders, and marched back in.

“Everything okay?” she asked. She was fetal now; her legs curled up under her butt, her elbows drawn into her sides, and her fists tucked under her chin. She kept her eyes closed as she spoke. Vulnerable. So very different from the tempest that blasted into the room and turned everything upside down. I hesitated. The words I’d prepared to say, melted on my tongue.

“Everything’s fine,” I responded automatically. “I just needed to check on something.”

“Mm hmm. Well, thank you for being considerate.”

“Considerate?”

A smile ghosted at her lips and vanished. “I know you probably went outside to save my feelings. I don’t blame you for laughing, it’s a complete farce.”

“It is?” Did she know? Had she figured me out?

“Yes. My whole life is just one giant cosmic joke, really. Simon is just the latest in a long line of failed relationships,” she admitted, her eyes still shut and body coiled tight.

Don’t ask me why I engaged with the conversation, I had no freaking idea, but instead of coming clean I asked, “How long is a long line?”

The notion of her leaving a trail of men behind sat badly with me. For a start, she seemed too damned naïve to achieve it, but there was also something about her that drew me in. I was here talking to her instead of coming clean, and if she had that pull with me within minutes, it wasn’t too farfetched to believe she’d drawn others to her in the same way. I wanted to know how many.

She opened one eye and peeked over at me. “Five and none of them lasted beyond four months.”

Only five? “Five isn’t that many.” I once arranged five dates in one day when I was at college. Five was reasonable. She was being too hard on herself.

“It’s five too many for me, but that’s why I am here. You can help, right? Tell me what I’m doing wrong?” Closing her eye, she released a long, defeated sigh. “You can help me find someone that fits with me?”

Someone that fits? Was she on the hunt for the elusive Mr. Right? I knew plenty of right now’s and even a few right here, baby’s but she might as well be searching for the Easter Bunny for all the luck she’d have finding the perfect man.

It was now or never. Tell her the truth time. I opened my mouth, but the words sat heavy on my tongue.

“It sounds like you’ve just had a run of bad luck. As for Simon, he needs to talk with someone about his condition. I don’t think you can count him as a failed relationship. Getting out of that was a successful move for both of you.” Well, I hadn’t intended to say any of that and why were my legs crossed? I never crossed my legs.

Oh hell. Cold, wet pants sucked.

“I guess so. The trust was just gone, you know? I couldn’t hold his hand without wondering how long ago he’d used it and let’s not get into what went through my mind when he cooked for me.” She shuddered, her whole body shivering at the thought of Chef Jizz Fingers.

“It sounds…um…” Hilarious? Insane? Like a bad joke my brother would tell at the bar? “Exhausting.”

“Yes! Exhausting, that’s it! I am so tired. I’m tired of getting it all so wrong. Perhaps I really am hopeless like Cassy says.”

Hopeless? How did her jack-off boyfriend make her hopeless? My response burst out of my mouth before I could shut the hell up. “If Cassy believed that, she wouldn’t have sent you to me.” Oh fuck, what was I saying? “No one is hopeless. You just need to have a little faith.” Why the hell was I still talking?

“Faith? I was hoping you’d offer some actionable strategies.”

“Actionable strategies, hmm?” Shit. She’d come with expectations. “I think we ought to find out what the issues are and then we can talk actionable strategies for moving forward.” There that sounded professional, didn’t it?

She lay still for a moment. Her dark-lined eyes emphasized the moss-green of her irises. Her lashes fluttered against her cheek. I held my breath and waited for a response.

“Okay. That sounds fair. We need to do a little weeding before I let my garden grow.” She rolled onto her back and smiled. I bit my lip to keep from laughing at her unwitting euphemism.

“Yes.”

“Good. So, should I call your receptionist for another appointment or—?”

“That sounds fine.” Wait! What the fuck was I thinking? If she called the receptionist, they’d make an appointment with the real Dr. Hamilton and I’d never see her again. But wasn’t that a good thing? Why the hell was this a problem? “Let’s not go through the receptionist. I can pencil you in now if you like? How’s tomorrow?” I amended.

“So soon?”

“Not convenient for you? How’s Wednesday?” I’d need to cancel Mrs. Tennyson’s plastering job if she agreed.

“No. I mean yes. Tomorrow is fine. I work until lunch time so I’m free after two.”

“Then let’s say two-thirty?”

“Great, I’ll be here.” A huge smile lit up her face. She sat up and swung her legs around to the front of the couch, readying to stand.

Here? Nope. No, that wouldn’t do at all. The real Hamilton would be back in his office by tomorrow if I got my work finished. Unless I didn’t. It flooded, right? I could delay the fix. Give myself another day. Yeah, that worked, especially if I dragged Neil in to help tile the sixth-floor bathroom. With his help, I’d finish in plenty of time.

“Okay. So, I’ll see you here at two-thirty tomorrow afternoon,” I confirmed.

“Are we done for today?” she asked, standing up and striding to the desk to retrieve her things.

“Yes. I usually book new clients in for half an hour on a first consult. See if we gel.” I was getting pretty good at bullshitting. I stood to see her out. The added water weight threatened to pull my pants to the floor, but the fabric relentlessly clung to me in some places and hung uncomfortably in others.

“Well, thank you for listening and everything. I felt very comfortable sharing with you, so that’s a good sign.” She turned her back to me, threw her bag over her shoulder, and marched to the door. I took the opportunity to slip my fingers down my front, just enough to tap the fabric away, then yanked my hand out the instant she turned and stilled me with a bright smile. “See you tomorrow, Dr. Hamilton.”

“Tomorrow, and Rachel—”

“Yes?”

“I think it best if you call me Henry from now on. Creates a more reciprocal atmosphere for healing.” A fucking what for what now? More like it didn’t catch me out at a later date or worse, clue someone else in on my big fat lie.

She raised a single eyebrow and stared for an uncomfortably long second, then, with a shrug, her features relaxed and she nodded. “I see. Okay, Henry. Whatever you think best.”

I waited until she disappeared behind the elevator doors and then let out a shuddering laugh. It was either laugh or hit my head off the door a few dozen times and although I might deserve it, I kind of liked my face. It had served me well through the years.

My fingers slid across the name plaque as I held the door open. The words Relationship Therapist engraved in the metal brought home the reality of what I’d done. I’d lied and convinced a stranger I was a professional she could trust with her secrets. With her life. There were so many levels of wrong to this that I wasn’t sure why I was still considering meeting her. Why did she interest me? The way she burst in to fluster my day? The way she opened up without having to date her for six months? That she was honest and didn’t care how it made her look or sound? There had to be something because I’d made mistakes in my time and played a few dangerous games but this? This was an all-time low.

Six words resonated in my head. Six words that summed up the last half hour. Six single syllable words.

What the fuck have I done?

TWO

Like odd, weird.

 

 

“What do you mean it was weird?” Cassy asked, leaning across the wobbly handcrafted table, resting her weight on her crossed arms and staring at me with her good eye. The other she scrunched against the morning light that painted her right side a bright golden yellow.

“You look like one of those paintings by that man,” I shot randomly, hoping to distract her from a question I wasn’t sure I could answer.

“What man?” she asked, brows pinched together.

“The one who paints the women.”

“They all paint women.”

What kind of art had she seen? I seized the rare opportunity to correct her with both hands. “Not all of them. Some paint scenery.”

“True,” she huffed. “But that still doesn’t answer my question.” She folded her arms across her chest and crossed her legs. Her knee butted the underside of the table with enough force to rock it, spilling good hot chocolate. At four-ninety per cup, I expected her to pay for it later but she paid no attention to my scowl or the deliberate looks I shot at my cup. I wasn’t sure why I bothered. She wouldn’t apologize.

Try the exact opposite. She pulled a face that we’d both seen too many times growing up. One that demanded we confess our wrongdoings or risk a red-handed print across our ass and a night without supper. Having mothers who were twin sisters was often like having two moms. We were raised between them, two families as close as one. But where Cassy inherited the best of our maternal genes—willowy-figure, auburn locks, charm, sophistication, and a treasure trove of facial expressions that could provoke all manner of painful emotions from even the coldest soul—all I inherited were the Minola family dimples and a fast temper.

I avoided answering her question. Didn’t doctor and patient privilege go both ways? Couldn’t I keep the details from her without being made to feel like a bitch?

“I can’t remember the artist’s name but you look like one of his women. You just need swirls.” I dipped my finger in the hot chocolate pooled in the saucer and reached out to speckle her face. She rocked back, her expression tightened and lips pinched, her hand flew up to block my path.

“Don’t you dare, Rachel. You know how long I take to put my face on and you want to smear your dirty fingers all over it? Stop distracting me and answer the question. What do you mean, it was weird?”

Relentless, that was Cassy. If she thought I needed to do something — like sign up to visit a stranger and tell him all my deepest secrets — then she damn well hounded me until I gave in. It didn’t help that she recognized all my attempts to waylay her whenever she got caught up in one of her save Rachel missions. I didn’t need saving. I needed left alone.

“It was…you know…weird.” I shrugged, trying to convey indifference. She wasn’t buying it.

“Like good weird or odd weird?” she pursued.

“Um…good weird?” I took a sip of my hot chocolate and relished the way it coated my mouth in sweet silk before flowing warmly down my throat, straight to my hips and ass. “I felt comfortable. I started talking and didn’t stop, and you know that’s not me. Dr. Hamilton just…I don’t know…clicked with me or something.” The rays of sunlight falling across my back combatted the early morning chill from the shade. I closed my eyes for a second and tried to enjoy it.

“I told you the Doc was good, didn’t I?”

I opened my eyes to find Cassy sucking at her straw, eyebrows peaked into the I told you so position on her forehead. The thick, grapefruit flavored smoothie snail-crawled up the tube. She’d give herself a nosebleed if she kept sucking so hard but, knowing Cassy, that was the reason she ordered the bitter drink every morning. She probably burned as many calories trying to draw the damned thing through the straw as she consumed by drinking it. More maybe.

Her nose scrunched at the bitterness. She pushed it away and stuck her tongue out, licking air like a cat, before continuing to gloat. “He worked miracles for me.”

“I wouldn’t call them miracles, giving him all the credit seems extreme. I mean, isn’t therapy all about changing yourself? Don’t you get recognition for your achievements?” I asked. I didn’t much like the idea of idolizing someone who made you do all the hard work while they took all the credit.

“They wouldn’t be achievements if not for the Doc’s help. Andrew and I wouldn’t have the blissful life we do. I mean it.” She batted her lashes and fixed a smug smile on her Rouge Homard coated lips.

I knew the shade well. The lipstick had been mine for all of five minutes, a gift my mom sent from Paris. She’d picked it up as a joke and said it reminded her of how red my face became when I blushed. Cassy watched me sign for it, unwrap it, try it on, and then told me it made me look like a cheap whore. Mumbling something akin to waste not; want not, she wrapped it in her bony little fist and shoved it into her purse. She wore it to annoy me. Like today, where most of it ended up plastered to her stupid straw.

What a waste.

“Bliss huh?” I responded, shoving down my annoyance. Bliss was subjective. What was bliss for her, was hard work for Andrew. She didn’t see all the effort he put in. Still, I smiled and nodded — the safest response whenever I disagreed with Cassy.

“Did you mention why you were there?” she asked.

I took a deep breath and let it out on a sigh. “Simon? Yeah, I mentioned him. I was pretty impressed that the Doc didn’t laugh.” Unlike everyone else.

“Professionalism,” Cassy cooed. She wrapped her lips around her straw again and resumed hoovering.

“Total professional,” I agreed. “I thought I might have an issue talking to him after he wet his pants, but he carried on as if nothing happened.”

Grapefruit mulch sprayed the table, my hot chocolate, and Cassy’s face as she switched from suck to blow. Spitting out, “He did what?” along with the goo.

“Fuck sake, Cass! With how often you talk about gobbling Andrew’s cock, you’d think you’d know how to suck. You’ve ruined my drink!” She swiped her face with the back of her hand, her perfect make-up forgotten. I bit my lip to keep from smiling when her — my — lipstick smeared across her face.

“Did you say he wet his pants?” she shrilled, oblivious to the mess she’d made.

I busied myself to avoid sniggering, picking up my teaspoon and straining lumps of grapefruit-sludgy from my drink. “Yes. When I walked in he was cranking his tool and then sprayed all over himself. He looked so embarrassed, but he carried on — like you said — a professional.”

Cass’s eyes widened to the point of bugging. Her jaw worked soundlessly until she spat actual coherent words. “Oh my god. Did you…? Why was he…? Rach!” Okay, semi-coherent.

“It wasn’t a big deal, Cass. I think it might have put me more at ease. I mean, there I am spilling secrets and there he is with his package on display under his soaked trousers and he’s not even embarrassed. It was nice, you know?” I shrugged.

She screamed in the back of her throat and smacked her forehead with her palm. “No, Rach, I don’t know.”

“Well,” I started to explain, taking a long swallow of my cooling chocolate before she could spill any more of it. It tasted oddly bitter — healthier even. Curling my lip, I lowered the cup to the table and shoved it away before continuing. “You never mentioned he was attractive. I got quite the surprise when I walked in and found him bent over working on the nut.”

“Jesus!” she hissed.

“I know. The sweat dripping and his round ass hovering in mid-air…yum…then when he turned, and I got a look at that jaw...ugh! I swear my panties have scorch marks.” He was quite the rugged distraction. It took all my nerve not to march back out of the room and forget the whole thing.

“Rach!”

“And you know me, if I’m attracted to someone I can’t talk to them. I thought we were done there and then, but he carried on, his pants flush to his dick and…nothing.”

“Nothing?” she squealed. Her pitch resonated so high, I wondered when I’d stop hearing her and need the local wildlife to translate.

“Nothing. Well worse than nothing actually, it shrank and tried to hide. It made me realize that the attraction was all mine. Things would only be awkward if I made them awkward, so I talked and talked until the meeting was over and there you have it. It was good. Weird but good.” And it was. I spent half an hour in the company of a gloriously attractive man who wanted to listen to me. Fair enough, I paid him to but, hell, I could overlook that.

Cassy reached for her half-empty glass, took one look at the contents and slammed it down again, before grasping for the remains of my hot chocolate instead. Tipping the cup back, she drained the liquid, scrunched her nose and slammed the china down with a butt-clenching clatter.

“I don’t know what to say,” she huffed. Well, that was a first.

Tony, our long-suffering barista and one of my oldest clients, cleared his throat sharply. I gave him a thumbs-up — the cup remained intact — and turned back to watch Cassy shake her head over and over as though denying her denial.

Her features twisted. A small shake of her head. A huff of air. Another shake of her head. My curiosity got the better of me. “What?”

“You thought he was hot?” she snapped. It wasn’t what I expected her to say, but seriously? Of course, he was hot! Abs that were so well defined they sucked in his white tank, a round ass I would pay to have bounced in my eye line on a daily basis, a scruffy jaw of stubble and a short back and sides that offset his thick, mop of hair on top — too short for a top-knot but long enough to grip in my fists as I played cowgirl — yummy.

“Hell yes! You don’t?”

“No!” she declared at the top of her lungs. “Dr. Hamilton is the furthest thing from hot, Rach.”

How could she not find him attractive? Was she blind? “I know we have different tastes but—”

“Fancying a man who is quite clearly halfway up the stairway to heaven, has a bald patch the size of a dinner plate, and three front teeth to his name is not different tastes, Rachel. It’s necro-fucking-philia. Jesus, you can see his veins through his skin,” she hissed across the table, her voice laden with judgment.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Aurelia Fray is the naughty ‘Hyde’ side of a rather ordinary woman. She lives in London, England and loves the age-old city. She loves the bustle and the narrow streets, the crazy pigeons, and the history. Author of The Tienimi Club Series and frequent contributor to anthologies, Aurelia adores penning salacious stories and suspects that her foray into romance and romantic comedy will be a titillating adventure for author and readers alike.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Somebody to Love is a story that dives below the fantasy of finding a true love and unearths the hilariously real things that make up the foundations of building relationships. I adore a good romance, but I also wanted to see all the little things we worry about discussed in all their awkward glory.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
I wanted a fun and quirky cover, bright and different, like my main character. The blackboard works in 3 ways. It represents Rachel's bakery business, her willingness to start fresh, and Henry's notes from his infamous notebook on all things Rachel. Each item is a clue to what's inside.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
I always think it's for the reader to see the characters the way they want to see them, but I have an idea of whom I think would fit. Henry, for me, would either be Theo James or Henry Cavill, either would work well. For Rachel, I'd love Jennifer Lawrence. Not for looks but for her spirit.