His eyes snapped open. She was here! Jason Morris lay without breathing, without moving, his heart racing in his chest. Yes. She was here, he was sure of it. He took a deep breath, a ragged sound that tore through the silent darkness of the large bedroom. Finally, after all these years, he had found her.
He closed his eyes, and in his head a myriad of memory fragments danced, slivers of long ago days and events, small bursting images—all of them of her. Her hair; a heavy braid that fell down her back to graze the upper slopes of her buttocks, her eyes like the Bosporus under a setting sun.
He sat up, hunted about for his mobile phone. Three a.m., and the darkness of the night was no longer absolute. He lay back down, submerged himself in more memories. Juniper; she always smelled of juniper...and rosemary and sun-warmed mint. And when he’d undressed her, the linen of her shift had been coarse under his fingers. He recalled the brooch that decorated her chiton and the necklace she always wore, a gift from him.
He licked his lips, thinking that he wasn’t sure, not anymore, if the images he conserved in his head had anything at all to do with the reality of her, his lost woman. So many centuries ago, so many lives in between—of course she would be different from the laughing girl he remembered. He raised his hand and splayed his fingers, smiling as the ghost girl in his head braided her fingers with his. She was here, somewhere close. His woman, his love…Well, he couldn’t go back to sleep now and so he rolled out of bed, making his way to the bathroom without switching on the light.
Jason drank from the tap, splashed his face and dragged his wet hands through his hair. On purpose he’d let it grow out to fall almost to his shoulders, a weak attempt to recreate himself as he was then all those years ago. He wondered if she’d recognise him, if when he called her name she’d know immediately who he was. He wiped at his face. Maybe she would remember all of it and stare at him before turning on her toes to flee. He hoped not.
“Helle,” he said to the night, “my Helle.”
And in a bed, in a room several streets away, a young woman twisted in her sleep.
Helle Madsen was nervous. An unfamiliar sensation, she admitted to herself as she rode the elevator—oops, the lift—up to the tenth-floor offices of Woolf & Partners. She tightened her hold on her laptop bag and tried out various smiles in the mirror, trying to find one that would make her look cool and relaxed rather than uptight. Not much luck there…
With a deep breath, she pushed the glass door open and headed towards the receptionist, a young woman with the most amazing hairdo, a welter of blonde and reddish curls piled on top of her head and held in place by what looked like lacquered chopsticks—were lacquered chopsticks.
“Hi,” Helle said. “Helle Madsen to see Mr Sam Woolf.”
“Helen?” The receptionist frowned at her screen.
“No, Helle—like Helen but without the ‘n’.”
The receptionist gave her a nice, if uninterested, smile and invited her to sit, assuring her Mr Woolf would see her shortly.
Helle took a seat by the windows, peering down at the traffic below. London. She had to pinch herself not to break out in a goofy grin. She was in London, and if she played her cards right, she might even be invited to stay beyond the six-month secondment. A woman tapped by on high heels, and Helle glanced her way, taking in her strict business attire before studying her black pants. Maybe she should have worn a skirt. Yes, she should probably have worn a skirt, she corrected herself, as two more women came marching by, legs encased in shimmering pantyhose. Shit.
“Miss Madsen?” The soft voice came from somewhere to her right, and Helle lurched to her feet. A suave blonde gave her a slight smile before indicating Helle should follow her. They walked down a long corridor, turned to the left, and without a word the blonde ushered Helle into the huge corner office.
“Your visitor, Mr Woolf,” she said before retiring, closing the door in her wake. Helle remained where she was, uncertain what to do as long as the man kept his back to her. He was standing at the other side of the desk, staring out through the floor-to-ceiling windows. In dark pants, with a white tailored shirt that clung to impressively broad shoulders, the man before her radiated power, in everything from his casual stance to the way he was talking to whoever was on the opposite end of the telephone line.
“No,” he said calmly. “You’ll do it my way or pay the consequences. Surely you know that by now, Simon.” He was watching her blurred reflection in the window and Helle shifted on her feet, considering whether to leave and allow him his privacy. She took a couple of steps towards the door, but he raised his hand. He flicked it and pointed his index finger to a chair. She sat down, he gave her a thumbs up. “Tomorrow. Ten sharp. And don’t fail me this time. If you do…” The threat in his dark voice made Helle shiver and feel quite sorry for this unknown Simon.
Mr Woolf finished his call and didn’t even glance at her before picking up a paper from his desk and reading it. Typical intimidating tactic. Helle willed herself to remain still and relaxed.
“Helle,” he said. “Now that is a name I haven’t heard in a very, very long time.” He raised his head and looked at her properly. A shocked exclamation escaped him, blood draining so fast out of his face that Helle worried he was about to faint. And then she wasn’t worrying about him anymore, she was worrying about herself, quailing under the look he gave her.
Black, black eyes bored into hers. For a moment, Helle’s vision fragmented, and the man standing in front of her was not wearing a shirt and a designer tie, he was in a mantle embroidered with gold, but the look on his face was just as angry, just as dangerous. She was already out of her chair, backing towards the door. Flee! Run! Her brain screeched warnings, perspiration broke out along her spine, and Helle bit back on a whimper.
“Damn!” Woolf’s voice cut through her panic. “My apologies,” he continued, coming towards her, and when Helle dared look at him he was back to looking normal, the intensity in his eyes no longer threatening. “For a moment there, you reminded me of someone I used to know—a long, long time ago.” He regarded her avidly, as if waiting for a reaction.
“Oh.” A person whose guts he obviously hated. There went her opportunity of extending her secondment, and all because of an unfortunate resemblance to an unknown woman.
“Please,” he gestured towards the chair. “Sit down.” Once she’d complied, he sat down as well—a bit too close. He gave her a brilliant smile, and Helle could almost convince herself she’d imagined the menace oozing from him some moments earlier. Almost. She gave him a guarded look and sat down, gripping her laptop bag. If he tried anything, she could always use it to defend herself with. Or run. She was a very, very fast runner.
Sam Woolf was studying her in silence, cataloguing every inch of her. It made her itch, somehow, and she had to ignore the urge to button up her suit jacket as his eyes drifted over her breasts. She decided to give as good as she got, taking in his thick, black hair, the long legs, the hands lying open and relaxed on his lap. She allowed her eyes to linger on his broad chest and on his sculpted mouth. Finally, she met his eyes. His mouth quirked into a smile, but his eyes were as flat and cold as obsidian.
“I beg your pardon,” he said. “I was staring too openly, but it is a rare thing indeed to have an attractive number-cruncher in my office.”
Helle’s skin heated. Jerk. She should get up and leave—yes, yes, her subconscious agreed—but she wanted this job, and she knew for a fact that she was good at it, attractive or not. To her relief, Woolf reverted to being a pure professional and over the coming hour he walked her through her résumé, asking a number of detailed questions about everything from deal-structures to the finer aspects of merge accounting.
By noon, Helle had a desk, a phone and a laptop—she wasn’t allowed to use her own to access the company’s various files and data-rooms. Come evening, she had been assigned to three different teams, and her calendar was full for the coming month. Throughout the day, there’d been moments when she’d felt Sam Woolf’s eyes resting on her, but whenever she’d turned, he’d averted his gaze. What was the matter with him? And why did the weight of his eyes make her entire body scream in warning?
“Sam Woolf?” Alison gurgled with laughter. “And you’re feeling intimidated by him? Welcome to the club, honey.” Helle gave Alison an irritated look. Her best friend and flatmate had been in London all of three months more than Helle, so she didn’t need to sound as if she knew everything, did she? “We frequent the same clubs,” Alison explained with a shrug. “He’s hot—very hot, in fact.”
“He is?” Helle tried to assess her new boss objectively. No, she couldn’t quite define him as hot—predatory, yes, and handsome, with those very dark eyes and the matching dark hair. From what she’d seen of him, he was in good shape despite being at least ten years older than she was, and she supposed it helped that he was loaded—according to her mother, Woolf had enough money to buy a Central American state should he want to, although Mum was hard put to come up with a reason why anyone would want to do that.
“I think so,” Alison said. “But then I like dark and dangerous, while you prefer milksops.”
“I do not!” Helle threw a cushion at her.
Alison held up one finger. “Will.” She held up the second finger. “Carlos.”
“He was dark.”
“And about as dangerous as a tame slug.”
“I’m just telling the truth.” Alison ducked to avoid the next cushion. “Admit it, your guys have been…uhh… unexciting.”
“To you perhaps.”
“And to you.” Alison’s voice gentled. “You’ve never really been in love, have you?”
Helle rolled her eyes. Alison’s psychologist training meant she could be a pain in the butt at times. Unfortunately, she was right.
“I guess not.” Not like Alison, who went through romances like other people went through sheets.
Alison moved closer. “They’re not all jerks.”
“But Dad was.” Helle picked at the tassels of the closest cushion. “He broke Mum’s heart.”
“I don’t think Ben meant to. He just fell in love with someone else.”
“Yeah: with Barbie.” Helle frowned, recalling far too many months in which her mother’s weeping woke her at night, just because her dad had followed his dick to pretty, busty Janine. She cleared her throat. “Anyway, you want Sam Woolf, you can have him—I’m going nowhere near him.”
Alison’s responding laugh rang false somehow. “I don’t think things work like that with him. In Sam Woolf’s world, he does the choosing, and I don’t think I’m his type.” Petite, curvy and with a mane of dark hair that contrasted nicely with her green eyes, Alison was a veritable guy magnet—but with a tendency to fall hard for those who did not drool at her feet.
As luck would have it, Helle arrived at the same time as Mr Woolf the next morning. He motioned for her to enter the lift first. His arm brushed hers. Her nape prickled. She pretended concentration on her phone but was acutely aware he was watching her intently. There was an unfocussed look on his face, his mouth set in a grim line. Maybe he was thinking of the woman Helle resembled, but whatever the case, it unnerved her, even more when he didn’t stand aside to let her out, forcing her to squeeze by him.
“Helle?” His voice called her back. She turned. “I hope you’ll like it here,” he said. “And don’t mind me. I can be moody at times.” Helle gave him a tentative smile and hurried off, shoulders relaxing. They’d got off to a bad start, that was all, and Helle wondered vaguely what her unknown double could possibly have done to Sam Woolf to leave him with a permanent aversion for women with short blonde curls. She shrugged: none of her business, was it?
From what she gathered over the coming hours, Sam Woolf was a respected boss—liked, even, and especially by the female staff who all seemed to think the sun shone out of his well-defined ass. A nice ass, Helle concluded after a discreet look in that direction, no matter how intimidating the man was.
Over the following days, she participated in a couple of meetings with Woolf. He was unfailingly polite and impressively knowledgeable, that dazzling smile of his lighting up the room. But rarely did the smile touch his eyes, and far too often Helle caught him staring at her, an assessing, dark expression flitting over his face. Despite all this, by Friday, Helle could almost laugh at her reactions on Monday. It was as simple as Sam Woolf having had a bad day when they met—of course it was.
The next few weeks passed in a buzz. Woolf & Partners was a highly rated acquisitions broker and at present the company was running several projects, two of which were divestments. Helle’s desk overflowed with SPAs and APAs, with complex Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations.
Other than Sam Woolf, the day-to-day was managed by his junior partner, a round and cheerful person named Percy Wilkinson who had a preference for pinstripe suits and very colourful ties. Behind his jovial exterior, Percy had the mentality of a shark and razor-sharp analytical skills, repeatedly calling Helle out on her conclusions. Had he not been as quick to praise as he was to criticize, he’d have been a major pain in the butt, but as it was Helle enjoyed working with him.
The days flew by, and quite often Helle would stay well into the evenings. Sometimes, she was the last person there – bar Sam Woolf, who seemed to live in his corner office.
“More tea?” he asked one evening, making Helle jump. She nodded, pouring water from the kettle over the teabag. “How quaint. An American with English habits.”
“Blame my Mum,” Helle replied. “She’s as English as they come.” Which was why Miriam Cohen had always insisted Helle call her Mum and not Mom, turning a persistent deaf ear otherwise.
“Ah. That explains why you’re such a nice mid-Atlantic blend.”
Was he coming on to her? Helle pretended great interest in her tea, even more so when he sauntered over to stand beside her. Too close. She could smell his cologne, a distinctive blend of sandalwood and spices, could hear the rustle of the fabric of his pants, but most of all she could feel his eyes on her. Her heartbeat picked up.
“Look at me,” he commanded. Helle met those blazing black eyes that had so frightened her on her first day. “I don’t like it when my staff ignores me.”
“I wasn’t ignoring you. I was making tea,” she retorted, leaning away from him. His eyes. She couldn’t get away from them. They seemed to be drilling into her brain, and she was no longer in the narrow kitchenette of Woolf & Partners, she was somewhere else entirely. There was grit in her mouth, she was bleeding from her nose, and the man looming over her was hurting her. Woolf. Not Sam Woolf, of course, not him. But it was Woolf, eyes narrowed in anger, hair long and curly.
The teacup shattered on the marble floor, the sound recalling Helle to the present. Woolf was still looking at her, but now with an amused expression, his full mouth curling into a satisfied smile. Bastard! What was his game? Helle crouched to pick up the pieces of china. For what seemed an eternity, he remained where he was, looking down at her. Then abruptly he left.
“He did what?” Mum’s voice was sharp with anger.
“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? He didn’t actually do anything. He just told me to look at him, and when I did…” She couldn’t quite describe the resulting sensation of vertigo, of being sucked into a dark vortex. And all those images…Helle squeezed her eyes shut in a feeble attempt to block out black, black eyes and a face contorted with anger.
“But he frightened you,” Mum said drily.
“Yeah.” Helle gnawed at her lip. “I’m just being silly, right?”
“I don’t know, darling.” Her mother sounded hesitant. “Your gut rarely lies.”
“It’s just six months.” Helle traced a six on the table, gripping her phone harder. “It will look great on my résumé.”
Miriam chuckled. “Now where do you get that ambitious streak from, huh?”
Helle rolled her eyes. “You.”
“Ha!” Mum laughed again, and for the next few minutes regaled Helle with a detailed description of her recent trip to Asia.
“You be careful,” her mother said, just as they were about to hang up. “And if that man continues to pull stunts like that, walk out. No CV is worth being humiliated.”
Helle promised Mum that she would. But she promised herself she was going to stay the distance. She hadn’t come all this way to be run off like a frightened dog by a man with eyes the colour of pitch.
Late next afternoon, Woolf found her in one of the conference rooms.
“I just want to apologise for yesterday.” He frowned. “Not that I know what for, but I seemed to have frightened you.” Helle chose not to meet his gaze. Instead, she said something about not being quite sure what had happened.
“Ah.” He leaned back against the wall and shoved his hands into his pockets—hands that fisted and unclenched, causing the fine wool of his pants to shift with his movement. “So what do you think of Thrimble?”
“The company you’re currently analysing,” he explained, sounding annoyed. With relief, Helle plunged into a detailed discussion regarding the over-leveraged company and its potential valuation.
It was well past seven by the time Woolf decided they were done. Helle sat back and pressed her hand to her forehead. A headache was building just behind her left eye.
“Tired?” Sam sounded anything but. He came round to her side and sat down on the table, close enough that his leg brushed her hand. Helle scooted backwards
“I can help.” Without asking permission, he cupped her face, tilting it upwards so that her eyes met his. His hands clamped the sides of her head. If she moved, she was sure she’d snap her neck. Slowly, his thumbs massaged her temples. A loud whooshing filled her head. Dangerous, her brain shrieked, very, very dangerous. Helle was trapped by his eyes, pools of darkness that filled her vision, while in her head his voice resonated, deep and silky as it repeated her name, wound itself around the pain.
When he let her go, the headache was gone. She shuddered, slightly nauseous. And not a little scared. “What was that?”
“That? Oh, that’s an old healing technique my grandmother taught me.” He smiled. “Dinner?”
“Absolutely now.” He stood, his muscled thighs outlined against the cloth of his pants.
“I’m not sure—”
“Now.” He took her by the arm, helped her to her feet, and steered her to the door.
She hadn’t expected something as rustic as this, but the food at the little Greek restaurant just off Lancaster Gate more than made up for its dilapidated exterior.
Woolf knew everyone and at some point he even seemed to be talking Greek, but when she asked he laughed and said that it was Turkish. “A very antiquated form of Turkish. You see, quite a few Greek people have Turkish roots,” he said, and went on to regale her with an abbreviated history of Greek and Turkish interaction just as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling into non-existence. “And are you one of those Turkish Greeks?” she asked, fascinated by his story.
“Me?” Something dark fluttered over his face. “Oh no, not me. I am of ancient Turkish blood. Very ancient.” He gave her a long look. “So ancient, in fact, that to me the Greeks are nothing but greedy colonists who came to steal our land.” Sam leaned forward. “Like three thousand years ago.” He watched her intently, as if expecting some sort of reaction.
“Your family must be good at holding grudges,” she said weakly. Sam Woolf sat back, picked up his wine glass and regarded her over the rim.
“Oh yes,” he said softly. Helle shivered and returned her attention to her food.
There was no repeat of the dinner. Helle was mostly relieved but somewhat insulted—as if Woolf had taken it upon himself to take her out for a dry run and decided she wasn’t worth it. But there were still moments when she’d catch him watching her, those dark eyes of his narrowed into an inscrutable expression. Sometimes he would enter the room she was working in, and the moment he did, her skin prickled. Very unsettling, so all in all, Helle was more than happy when her workload doubled, burying her in numbers and spreadsheets.
The Thrimble deal went through, Woolf whizzed in and out of the office concluding one deal after the other. September somehow became October before he returned from his latest trip with a satisfied expression and several new projects to work with. Most of these new projects ended up on Helle’s desk and she could feel the daggered looks some of the other consultants threw her as yet again Sam Woolf called her into his office to discuss a new divestment project.
“Lunch?” he suggested one day, his tone indicating it was not an offer but an order.
“I don’t know,” Helle hedged. “I have so much to do, and—”
“Lunch.” He took hold of her elbow and steered her towards the exit. “You have to eat.” Every woman they passed scowled at Helle. She scowled back.
Over the coming week, he took her out to lunch every day, long meals in which he mostly spoke about work, now and then about her and never about himself. His fingers would, as if by chance, brush her arm. At times, he’d sit beside her rather than opposite her and every time he did, Helle had to make an effort not to shrink away, her heart rate picking up when he casually draped his arm along the backrest. It seemed to amuse him, this instinctive recoil.
Helle had never felt so confused in her life: Sam Woolf was good-looking, intense and knowledgeable about everything from the demise of Troy to the present situation in the Middle East. He was good company, polite and interested, so why did she go dry-mouthed when he sat too close? Why did every instinct tell her to flee when he sat too close, what was it that made her scalp tingle whenever his hand brushed hers?
“Love?” Alison suggested when Helle shared this with her.
“Love?” Helle just raised her brows. No way. This was a constant disquiet, an uncomfortable prickling along her spine whenever he was close.
“Lust, then,” Alison amended. She cocked her head. “He is hot, Helle. Even you must give him that.”
Objectively, Alison was right. From how the muscles in his arms and torso shifted under the cotton of his shirt as he stretched across the table for a pen to the way he moved, with the grace of a huge cat, Woolf was very much an alpha male, and the girls in the office drooled. Unfortunately, he ignored them, instead scrutinising Helle as if she were a fly and he a hungry gecko.
Lunches, private meetings, long evenings sitting side by side as they worked through yet another of their projects—all this proximity kept Helle’s pulse at a constant high. No matter that his behaviour was unfailingly correct, she always emerged with the sensation that he was studying her, as avidly as a lepidopterist might study a rare butterfly, as if she were an object to acquire for his collection. It made her shiver.
“Doing anything this weekend?” he asked one Friday afternoon, sitting back in his chair.
“Umm…” Helle shrugged. “Alison and I are going out.”
“Alison?” He sat forward.
“My flatmate.” Helle brushed an annoying curl off her face. “My best friend.”
“Ah.” He tapped at his mouth with his fountain-pen. “So, no boys in your life?”
“Boys?” Helle tried to avoid his gaze. “I am too old for boys, Mr Woolf.”
“Yes, I suppose you are,” he said, and his eyes heated, burning into hers. “But are you old enough to take on a man?”
Helle had no idea what to reply—or how to break eye contact, as frozen as a doe in the glare of headlights. Woolf sucked on his pen, not saying anything, and yet his voice slithered through her brain, low and silky, as it described the things he would do to her. Things she would want him to do, the voice told her, things she would beg him to do, trapped in the borderland between pleasure and pain. Pain? Helle shuddered.
“Are you all right?” Woolf’s beautiful mouth curled into an amused smile.
Helle rose, amazed that her knees didn’t fold. “I must go.”
“By all means.” He stood up as well and accompanied her to the door. “Have a nice weekend, Helle,” he said, standing so that his breath tickled her cheek.
“You too,” she managed to say, before escaping his presence.
Helle sagged against the wall, trying to regain some composure. She should look for another job. Like now, she thought, but an hour or so later she was engrossed in yet another company’s business profile, turning it inside out as she analysed its numbers. Besides, Woolf & Partners was the shit, as they said, and working here would help her land another job in London—assuming she stuck it out for four more months.
He knew the big man facing them was a king—his mother had told him so, going on to say he was descended from Helios himself—but Jason was disappointed, having expected someone swathed in the finest of fabrics and with an imposing head-dress, not this huge bear of a man whose blue eyes crinkled at the corners at the sight of Jason’s mother.
“Nefirie!” The large man moved forward, arms open as if to embrace his mother. Jason’s lips twitched into a smile when Nefirie stepped out of reach, pressed the palms of her hands together, and offered the man a stately bow instead. Jason listened with half an ear to the adults, his eyes on the little girl standing to the side. The king’s daughter, he guessed, studying her clothes. An embroidered tunic covered a linen garment that fell almost to her sandaled feet. Jason brushed his hand over his own serviceable tunic, an indeterminate shade of grey. He’d never seen a girl with hair the colour of the sun. It was pulled back into a tight, thick braid, but miniature curls danced around her hairline and escaped from the bright red ribbon that held the plait in place.
She met his eyes and Jason’s lungs contracted, leaving him without air. Blue, blue eyes, streaked with green. Huge eyes, fringed by thick lashes. Jason inhaled. As a moth drawn to an uncovered flame, he moved towards her. She was younger than him, her head not quite reaching his shoulder. But when she held out her hand, he took it, her small fingers interlacing with his. And just like that, this unknown girl walked straight into Jason’s heart.
“Hmm?” Jason Morris made an effort and returned his attention to Steve Darrow. His Mergers & Acquisitions manager gave him an irritated look, flipping his overlong hair out of his face.
“You’re not listening.”
“Yes I was,” Jason lied. He’d been miles away, his mind preoccupied with other matters. He bit into a pickle. “You were telling me why we should buy that little utility company.”
Steve’s cheeks went quite pink with enthusiasm. “It’s a great outfit! It—”
“Does high-margin service work, I know. But that’s not what I’m interested in.”
“It’s a bargain, you know it is.”
“Not for me.” Jason shrugged. Steve launched into a monologue about why it made sense to purchase the company and Jason stopped listening. Instead, he took advantage of the opportunity to return to the matter that was constantly gnawing at him. Helle.
For weeks now, he’d felt her presence everywhere. At first, he’d tried to tell himself he was imagining things, but with every day he became more and more convinced that she was here, very close, and he vacillated between utter euphoria and the darkest of fears. What if he found her too late? Last time he’d felt her this close, he’d only seen her as a floating corpse. No, not this time. Fate would not be that cruel, not again. Three goddamn millennia searching for her, and never had he felt her presence as strongly as he did right now.
Steve elbowed him. Jason grunted.
“Sorry.” Steve didn’t look sorry. “You were miles off again. Are you sick or something? I’ve never seen you this distracted.”
Jason merely smiled. ‘Sick’ did not quite cover his affliction. But Steve was right, this constant preoccupation with Helle left him unfocussed and irascible. It hadn’t helped that he’d quarrelled with Juliet about it when she insisted it was time he stopped this futile, idiotic search for a woman he’d known and loved so many lives ago. As if he could. And Juliet knew, damn it, she was the only person in his life—or should that be lives?—who knew that once he regained the memories of his distant first life, he had had but one objective: find her, find Helle. No effing choice; throughout his endless lives there’d been no choice—ever.
Jason twirled his empty glass around. Not only Juliet knew, he reminded himself. If Helle was anywhere close, chances were Samion was too. Jason’s body-hair bristled, a recollection of intense pain making his pulse race. Not this time, he vowed. This time, Samion would not kill him—or Helle.
“Here.” Steve set down a fresh half pint. “I think you need it.”
“Thanks.” He rarely drank during the day, but Steve was right. Jason made an effort and directed his attention to his companion. “Any news on the Turkish company?” Now this was something much more in line with Jason’s interests, a small high-tech company that desperately needed an investor to fund the next phase in their development.
“They’ve confirmed next week.” Steve dug out his phone – something of an effort given the tight cut of his trousers. Steve believed in slim fit and in ridiculously expensive tailored shirts. “Somewhere called Kadiköy.”
“Eastern Istanbul.” Normally, Jason would be over the moon to be heading for Istanbul to visit a potential acquisition. At present, it was an imposition, a drain on time he should be spending looking for her. Her. These last few weeks, every time he saw a woman with golden curls, his heart raced. Every time he saw a female jogger take off at speed, he narrowed his eyes, hoping this would be her, his Helle. No such luck.
They finished their beers in relative silence. Steve was busy with his phone, Jason was yet again lost in memories. He smiled to himself. She’d been a child the first time he saw her, all that wild hair tamed into a neat, thick braid.
They pushed their way out of the pub, now and then stopping to nod at acquaintances—well, Steve did, his background in one of the more well-known Private Equity firms ensuring he knew more or less everyone and their dog. Jason was not much of a networker, preferring to keep the low profile that allowed him to do his thing without garnering too much attention. But he smiled and shook hands, all the while making for the door and the faint patch of October sun outside.
Jason blinked at the sun, taking a moment to savour the light in his face. He could hear Steve, still inside the pub, laughing at something. Jason adjusted his waistcoat and shrugged on his jacket, tugging the cuffs into place. A tall man in a navy suit, one among the many in the City of London, except that he chose to wear his hair longer than most and refused to take off the little diamond ear-stud that adorned one of his ears. After all, a man had to stick out somehow.
He leaned back against the wall, watching the people around him. Pub patrons spilled out on the pavement, little groups of mostly men discussing the markets while sipping at their beer. On the opposite side of the street was a sandwich shop, an Italian place that did excellent business, to judge from the number of people going in and out. One of those people was blonde. One of those people stepped out into the sun holding a paper bag. One of those people was her. Jason’s stomach contracted so fast the beer he’d recently drunk came hurtling back up.