‘I’ve changed my mind,’ the man said. His voice was rich and expensive and he turned and spoke to the barman. ‘I shall have another drink after all.’ Then his eyes returned to Leila’s. ‘What can I get you?’
‘I don’t know,’ Leila said, and she looked at the glistening bottles of different colours and she did not feel naive. She felt looked after, for her vague response did not seem to faze him and he patiently waited for her to decide. She thought for a moment and remembered the cocktails she had seen in the magazine on the plane. Certainly wasn’t going to ask for the one that made her blush! ‘How about a Manhattan, given that is my first night here?’
‘How about a perfect Manhattan,’ he suggested, because that was what she was to him—utterly perfect. From her long glossy black hair to her golden eyes. The only thing he would change was the very bright lipstick she wore.
He would kiss it off soon, James knew that.
Bored by the subdued mood of The Harrington, James Chatsfield had been about to leave and head to somewhere more lively. He had just declined another drink when a hush had descended. Even the barman had paused mid-conversation with him and James had turned around and looked at a woman who could, upon entering, silence a room.
Leila nodded her consent to his drink selection and watched as the barman got to work but it did not hold her attention; instead it was the man who stood beside her, so she turned and looked at him
He was beautiful, with dark hair that fell to his collar. He was tall and well-dressed but there was a ruggedness to him that told Leila he was untamed. There was an element to him that defied convention, for he was like no one else in the room. He wore a tie, yet the top of his shirt was unbuttoned. He was not clean shaven, yet he was clean—the scent of him told her that—and when he smiled, when she stood a little closer to him, his mere presence rendered her unafraid.
Her whole life she had been afraid, yet she wasn’t now.
Her whole life she had taken up too much room merely by existing; now she stood by his side and peace somehow invaded.
‘My name is James.’
‘I am...’ She was about to offer her title, but again changed her mind. ‘I am Leila.’
She did not belong standing at a bar, James decided, and so he suggested that they move to one of the low tables. Leila chose one in the shadows not because she wanted to be more alone with him; she simply didn’t want others’ eyes on her. She sat on the sofa, expecting him to take a seat opposite, yet he came and sat beside her.
It wasn’t invasive; there was distance but that he chose to come and sit by her side had her smile at him.
Their drinks were brought over and he watched as she took a sip and her eyes widened. She ran the tip of a pink tongue over her lips and then put her glass down.
‘That tastes amazing,’ Leila said. ‘I can still feel it burning even though it tastes freezing.’
James, who usually needed to know so little about his sexual conquests, suddenly wanted to know every last thing about her.
‘So this is your first night here?’
‘It is.’ Leila smiled. ‘I have tasted snow as I waited for my taxi at the airport.’
‘Why didn’t you call me,’ James said. ‘I’d have come and got you.’
It was a silly thing to say perhaps, but it made so much sense to them both that Leila smiled. She felt as if they had been waiting for the other all their lives, as if she might have walked out of the airport and straight to his arms.
He asked her where she was from and James saw that she hesitated before answering.
‘I am from Dubai,’ Leila lied. ‘I am here on business.’
‘What sort of business are you in?’
It was a natural question but again she hesitated before answering, and James watched as one slender hand moved and tugged at her ear. ‘I am a musician,’ Leila said. ‘I am here to see some performances.’
Liar, James wanted to say, for her cheeks dusted pink, though it was the oddest attempt at a lie that he had ever heard.
He didn’t care that she lied though.
She just didn’t have to lie to him, that was all.
James glanced at her hand and noted that she did not wear a ring, then he saw her long slender fingers. Perhaps she was not lying, for they were so long and delicate that possibly she should be stroking the ebony now.