A taxi, an old enemy and Valentine's Day. What could possibly go wrong?
Delia has a date at one of London's most romantic restaurants. but when an old ex turns up out of the blue, she will have to decide whether Paul or Benjamin is going to be her valentine date.
She had just finished applying her lipstick when her phone buzzed. Reaching across the dressing table, she unlocked it and tapped the notification.
Her taxi was outside.
Tonight was the night.
Was Benjamin going to ask her to move in with him? They had been dating for a couple of months now, surely it was time to progress the relationship. What else could he be planning? A date at one of London's most romantic restaurants, he told her to dress up.
There has to be a reason.
Smoothing her hands down her black dress, she checked her heels and made sure her earrings were in. She'd lost one too many earrings over the past years, it wasn't going to happen again, not tonight. Biting her lip, she stared at her reflection in the mirror.
Would Benjamin propose to her?
Would she say yes?
Grinning, she got to her feet, grabbed her bag and hurried from the bedroom. Rushing down the stairs, she paused in the hallway to check her reflection. Pushing her fingers through her hair, the sound of a horn outside spurred her into motion. Thankfully none of her flatmates were in so there was no one to have an awkward conversation with about where she was going. Flicking the lights off, she closed the front door behind her and quickly locked it. Glancing over her shoulder at the waiting black cab, she shoved her phone into her bag and tottered down the path. Wearing heels was not her forte, she had almost forgotten how to walk in them. She was much more at home in a pair of trainers. But the occasion demanded it.
The taxi pipped her loudly. She found herself standing at the cast-iron gate, a hand on the latch. Blinking, she smiled sheepishly, walked through the gate and clicked along the pavement. She reached the car and yanked the door open. Ducking her head, she landed on the plush, leather seat and shut the door. Her handbag on her lap, she brushed the hair out of her face and turned to put her seat belt on.
She froze, her gaze on a tuxedo clad torso next to her. She looked up, meeting steel grey eyes and felt an angry blush rise up her neck.
'Delia. It's been too long.'
'What the fucking hell are you doing here?' She asked, seat belt in her hands. She felt the car jolt forward, the click of a lock twisted her stomach.
Paul tutted, his fingers on his walking cane. 'Language, my dear. Not very becoming, is it?' His voice rose the hairs on her arms. She swallowed, glancing at the door handle. But they were heading to the city centre, she recognised the road. She needed to get to the restaurant on time. She couldn't let Paul mess this up. Not again.
'What on earth do you want?' Delia asked, inching away from him. 'We haven't spoken in weeks.'
He laughed, the crinkles at the corners of his eyes becoming clearer. She forced herself to stare out of the front windscreen. There was no point in trying to get the drivers attention, it was a set up. One of Paul's finest. She wondered what the driver was getting paid for virtually kidnapping her.
'You are looking very lovely tonight. Going somewhere nice?' He drawled. She could feel his eyes on her. Rubbing the side of her neck, she dug her heels into the carpet in an attempt to quench her anger.
'I was but now, I have no idea,' she replied and nodded to the driver. 'Am I going to be able to get to town? Or have you decided on a nice detour that will ruin my evening?'
'That would be telling,' Paul said, leaning forward. 'Don't worry your pretty little head, you'll get to the resultant in time. Bleeding Heart, am I correct?'
She stared at him, mouth ajar. 'How did you know-?'
Paul grinned, there was a glint in his eyes as they rounded a corner. 'Come now, after all this time, you're still surprised at my knowledge? I have my sources, you should know that.'
'And what?' She spat, her fingers tightening around her handbag. She could feel her cheeks burning.
'One of the most romantic restaurants in London,' he said, glancing out of the window. 'Very apt for Valentines Day. Whoever he is, I admire his forward thinking.'
'Why should it be any of your business, Paul?' She asked, sticking her chin out. 'We haven't been together for over a year. Am I not allowed to date other people? I wasn't aware I'm under your lock and key.'
'Delia, you are free to social with whoever it is you want. I just like to keep an eye on things, see how you're doing. Is that so wrong of me? For ensuring you are alright?' He asked, leaning across the seat. His chestnut hair was flicked with more ivory than the last time she saw him. When he had accidentally bumped into her at the MacDonald's gala last year. She spent the remaining of the evening constantly glancing over her shoulder.
She hummed, biting her tongue so she didn't retort back and call Paul out for sleeping with half of London since they split. The tabloids had been quick to follow the developing story of Paul Mills, CEO of one of the biggest television commissioning houses in England. She tended to throw the papers in the nearest bin whenever Paul's face was splashed all over the front pages with another woman hanging around his neck.
'You are aware that your Benjamin is not being entirely faithful to you, he's currently seeing another woman as we speak. A blonde.'
She raised her eyebrows at him, her stomach lurching again. She had her suspicions; perfume on his skin, marks on his clothes that looked suspiciously like red lipstick. There was always something in his eye whenever he checked his phone when they were together.
'What are you getting at?' She asked, eyes ahead. She heard the seat creak next to her, she could see Paul's hand resting on the leather next to her. A few more inches and he'd be touching her leg. Thank God she decided to wear a long dress.
He inclined his head to meet her eyes. She stared back, she had no idea who was going to back down first.
'I'm just passing the information on,' Paul said leisurely. His fingers tapped on his cane, the rhythm instantly matching her thumping heartbeat. 'And what you choose to do with that information is up to you.'
She snorted. 'Sure, like I don't know you're putting thoughts into my head. We're done, Paul. How many more times do I need to tell you that?'
At the first touch of his fingers on her knee, she flinched but forced herself to remain in place. He looked up through his lashes, a trait he thought was seductive and she thought was ridiculous. 'And yet, we still manage to fall into bed together.'
Breathing shakily out of her nose, she refused to break eye contact. Paul was smiling at her, the corners of his lips turned up. She swallowed past the lump in her throat. 'And that won't be happening again.'
The car slowed, she glanced out of the corner of her eye to see they had arrived in front of the restaurant. There was a click, her hand flew to the door handle. Holding her head high, she ignored how Paul was drawing circles on her knee. She could hear him breathing close to her neck, the warm air made her shiver in the air-conditioned car.
'Thanks for the lift. See you around, Paul,' she said, opening the car door and slipping out of the car. Paul's hand fell to the seat as she slammed the door shut and turned away. The car remained in place for a moment before pulling away from the curb as she stepped towards the door. Willing the heat to go from her cheeks, she smiled at the doorman and ducked inside the restaurant.
The sooner she could forget about the entire encounter, the better. Was she late? Checking her watch, she had a few moments to spare.
The three-course meal passed without incident. Now she was gazing at Benjamin across the table as a small cup of coffee was placed in front of her. She smiled at the waiter ad laid her left hand on the tabletop. Benjamin blinked at her as he adjusted his tie. He glanced out of the window before turning back to her, sitting straighter.
She smiled softly, her chin on the palm of her hand, her other hand was stroking the silk tablecloth. He took a sip of champagne, his Adam's apple bobbing. Putting the glass back down, his hand rested on the table inches from hers.
Benjamin cleared his throat once, twice before meeting her eye. 'Delia.'
'Yes?' Her voice was soft as she blinked owlishly, the single candle in the middle of the table would catch her features perfectly. She was glad she decided to sweep her hair to one shoulder, it would reflect the candlelight and make her hair glow auburn.
He gulped visibly. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Glancing over her shoulder at the rest of the restaurant, she could feel eyes on her. But she had no idea where from. Benjamin coughed and reached or his glass as she turned back. There was a moment's silence between them before Benjamin spoke.
'I'm sure you can understand why I asked you here tonight,' he said, his voice wavering.
She smiled again. 'I think I might have an idea. But I would rather you stop teasing and just tell me,' she replied, inching her hand across the table to settle her fingers on the back of his hand. He flinched at her touch and tried to smile when she raised her eyebrows questioningly.
'Well, the thing is,' he said, pausing as a waiter bustled past them. 'I was thinking about us.'
'I was thinking about us too,' she said, ignoring the gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach. She could feel eyes on the back of her head, she turned around. No one stood out, no one was drawing attention to themselves. Shaking her head, she turned back to Benjamin.
'I was going to ask you-,' he said, eyes on the table.
'Yes,' the word was out of her mouth before she had a chance to stop it. She blushed, ducking her head as he stared at her.
'You don't even know what I was going to ask you,' he said, eyes wide.
She smiled and squeezed his fingers. 'I don't need to. The answer will always be yes.'
Benjamin exhaled and sat back in his seat. He tugged his hand away and raked his fingers through his thick, tousled hair. He chuckled. 'I'm so glad you agree. I was so nervous about asking you.'
'You didn't have to be,' she said, smoothing the tablecloth and retracting her hand. She folded her hands in her lap. She smiled at him. 'When are we going to set the date?'
He blinked at her, his mouth opened and closed several times. His brow was furrowed. 'What do you mean, set a date?'
She laughed nervously. 'Well, I assume we'd have to live together before we get married.'
'Get married?' Benjamin exclaimed, people turned around to look in his direction. He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. 'I never said anything about getting married, or about moving into together.'
Her smile faded, she could feel the blood draining from her brain, causing the restaurant to spin slightly. 'That's-that's what you were asking, wasn't it? To move in together and get married?'
'No, I was asking if you were alright with us going on a break,' he said, rubbing his forehead, his eyes avoiding her gaze.
'Why would I agree to something like that?' She asked, her voice higher than she expected. She could feel someone watching them again. 'Do you want to break up? Have I done something wrong? Is there someone else?'
He held a hand up, his skin pale. 'Hey, calm down. I never said any of those things. I just need a bit of time, the company is really starting to progress which means I'll have to be working late for the next few months. I'm barely going to have time to myself, let alone be able to see you and that's not fair on you.'
'I don't want time apart! I love you,' she said, feeling tears welling up in her eyes. She took a shuddering breath and winced as Benjamin got to his feet. 'Where are you going?'
'Home, I think you need some time to process what I asked. My card is on the tab, buy whatever you want but let me know when you leave and get home, alright?' He stopped by her seat and kissed the top of her head.
She turned around, hands searching for his suit jacket so she could hang on and beg him not to leave. But he slipped past her, whispered something to one of the waiters and disappeared from sight.
Tears started rolling down her cheeks as she stared numbly after him. She could hear muttering coming from all around her.
What was happening? Was this some sort of joke?
'Madam, are you alright?' The soft voice was a few feet away. Looking up, she blinked at the waiter who had been serving them all evening. 'Would you like to follow me to the private lounge area? Would you like something to drink?'
She got to her feet shakily, grabbing her bag and followed the waiter through the restaurant, through a door she never noticed and was showed into a lavished hall. Although small in size, there was still room to put a reception desk. A young woman smiled at her from behind the desk. Several doors lead off from the hall, she looked around, confused. Her chest was becoming tighter, anxiety creeping up her neck.
'Any of the rooms and lounges are open to you, what would you like to drink?'
She stared at the waiter. 'Are any of them occupied? Could I have some privacy?'
'Of course, Madam. Our Lonsdale room is currently empty, we can ensure no one disturbs you. It's the last door at the end of the hall on your right,' the receptionist piped up from behind her desk.
Nodding, she started walking down the hall before calling over her shoulder at the waiter. 'Whisky, single malt. Make it a double.'
Coming to the end of the hall, she paused at the door, her hand resting on the handle. Lonsdale was written elegantly on a plaque on the very centre of the door. She opened the door, it gave easily under her hand and she slipped inside.
A small room greeted her. There was a fire blazing to her right, a plush sofa and set of armchairs facing the fire. The walls were lined with bookshelves. Cosy and private, something she needed right now.
Walking over to the sofa, her heels were engulfed in thick, black carpet. She kicked her heels off and collapsed onto the sofa. Leaning back, she rested her head against the back of the sofa and closed her eyes. She could feel a headache beginning at her temple.
Moments later, there was a soft knock at the door. She hummed and heard the door open. Waving her hand to the nearest side table, she sighed heavily. 'Just put it down there, thanks.'
She sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes open. Paul smiled at her.
'I thought I said I didn't want to be disturbed?' She snapped, eyes flickering to the side table and the crystal cut tumbler. She reached for it, eyed the contents and sipped the amber liquid. There was a small chance Paul had spiked it, she wouldn't put it past him.
Paul opened the button on his jacket as he sat down on the other end of the sofa. 'Yes, but that didn't really include me, did it?'
Get out,' she spat, taking another sip of whisky. It scorched down her throat and she welcomed the burn. 'I won't ask you again.'
'Come, Delia, surely you'd like some company for the evening you've just had.'
'I'd prefer some peace and quiet,' she said, holding the tumbler in one hand. She raised her eyebrows at his relaxed position. 'And privacy. Piss off.'
He chuckled, the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Forcing herself to stare into the fireplace, she wondered if there was an emergency cord she could pull to alert the staff of an intruder.
'He left you rather in the lurch, did he not? Your Benjamin. I would never have done that o you. I have too much admiration for you,' Paul said, extending his arm over the back of the sofa. She leaned forward to move out of the way of his hand.
'And I have nothing but hatred for you,' she said, shooting him a glare. 'Go away, Paul. It's bad enough you kidnap me on the way here. Must you harass me?'
She felt the sofa lift as he got to his feet and stepped in front of her. She thought he was going to lean in and kiss her. She moved back into the corner of the sofa and knocked the rest of the whisky back. He stepped over to a record player in the corner of the room, how could she not have noticed it. He ran his fingers over a collection of records, pulling one of two vinyl's out to examine them in the firelight.
'I refuse to acknowledge that, I hardly kidnapped you. You made it here on time, didn't you? And as for now, I just wanted to make sure you were alright,' he said, finally selecting a record.
'You've got to kick me when I'm down, haven't you?' She sighed, leaning her elbows on her knees and cradling her head in her hands. A few moments later, there was a squeak of the needle on the record and the soft voice of Frank Turner was drifting around the room. She raised her head to see Paul standing in front of her, a hand outstretched for her to take. She frowned at the music.
'There She Is, do you remember it? The first song we heard on our first date,' Paul whispered, maintaining eye contact with her. She felt a smile tug at the corner of her lips. 'One last time. One last dance?'