Finally, I’ve got there. Or almost. The third and last book in the Urban Love trilogy is set for release on 10 February 2017. This is Corporate Bodies, and it’s Jake’s story.
Here’s a taster from Chapter One. Warning: may contain traces of angst.
Jake looked at his watch, he'd been looking at it for the last hour. He checked his phone. Still no message. He called again. The person you are phoning is unable to take your call. . . . Where are you???? he thumbed in again. No answer. Jake beckoned the waiter and asked for another glass of wine.
“Are you ready to order now, Sir?”
“I'm still waiting for my friend. He's always very reliable, something important must be delaying him.” Christ Almighty, why am I explaining myself? What he'd just said, that was the biggest load of crap he'd ever uttered. Reliable? Charlie Da Costa was all sorts of things, but reliable wasn't one of them. Was that pity, amusement or contempt he saw flit across the waiter's face? They were playing a game, Jake knew it and so did the waiter. Pretending that his dinner companion had been unavoidably detained. Code for I've been stood up.
The waiter gave a weak smile and glided off, no doubt to have a laugh with his mates in the kitchen. Moments later another glass of perfectly chilled French sauvignon appeared, accompanied by a murmured ‘your wine, Sir.’
Jake’s phone bleeped, he grabbed it and his shoulders slumped. Not Charlie but Archie and Zack in a photo just posted to Facebook. Two of his oldest friends, grinning and pulling faces, holding up bottles of beer in The Bermondsey. Mid-week, it didn't look too busy. They seemed to be having a good time, a better one than he was having but that wasn't hard. His friends had descended on him earlier in the evening, determined to drag him out. Some drinks, food, maybe a club later. Jake had protested. No, can't tonight lads, got other plans. He'd kept it vague, hadn't told them what those plans were or who they were with. But Zack had badgered, wouldn't let it alone. ‘Hot date! Jake's got a hot date!’ Zack declared with glee. What he should have done, Jake knew, was smile and say nothing and let them both wonder. Instead he refused to meet Zack's eye and had muttered something about meeting an old friend. It gave the game away. He'd been rumbled.
The explosion that followed was inevitable. ‘What the fuck are you doing? You're seeing Charlie effing Da fucking Costa again, aren't you? Jesus, Jake. Why?’ Zack had paced Jake's living room, a tight ball of anger and indignation. If Zack had been a cat, he'd have been hissing, tail whipping back and forth, ears flat against his head. Even his fiancé Archie, always affable and calm, asked if Jake had had a lobotomy because he could think of no reason other than a screwed up brain for Jake to get caught up with him again. Charlie treated you like shit before, and he’ll do it again. Don’t get involved. . . He’d heard it all before, and they were right, but that had never stopped him.
Charlie’s call just a couple of days before had come out of the blue. The voice had made Jake’s heart jump and sent a bolt of heat straight to his groin. It had been a couple of months since he'd last heard from Charlie. He should have told him to piss off, he should have told him he wasn't interested in hearing from him or seeing him again. He should have cut the call and deleted Charlie's number. He should have done all those things and spent his birthday with his best and oldest friends. Instead, he arranged to meet a man who had let him down since the day they had met, and who let him down again tonight as Jake sat alone at a table for two.
“Bloody hell, that's all I need.”
A party had arrived and was being shown to its table. He turned away, hoping not to be noticed but it was too late. An attractive blonde woman waved and Jake swallowed a sigh as he was forced to wave back, to his boss. The woman said something to the others and they all turned and looked across before they took their seats. Their attention, briefly bestowed, turned back on each other. Jake watched from behind his wine glass, intrigued. He knew every single person seated at the table, except for a short, stocky man. Was he a major new client the firm was trying to bring on board?
Jake worked in new client engagement, which was a grand way of saying sales, but he'd not heard anything out of the usual on the grapevine. The restaurant wasn’t the type of venue the company used for those they were trying to impress. There was a shortlist of places, all high-end, but quieter and traditional, where the fine details of negotiations could be concluded. He knew that, because he'd had those lunch and dinner meetings himself. This restaurant didn't tick any of those boxes. Modern and minimalist, loud, not ideal for concluding deals. And with a waiting list of weeks. He was only here because Charlie had secured a table thanks to his boasted-of connections, whatever they were.
Jake continued to study the assembled company. The waiter, the same one who'd given him the look that told him he was a sad loser, was taking their drinks orders. Ella, the CEO plus the Directors of both the Legal and the Human Resources divisions. Jake's brow puckered. The company had got the big guns out. A sudden bleep, and Jake’s attention switched from the party gathered around the table to his phone. At last, Charlie had deigned to respond to his messages. Jake’s heart dropped when he saw the sender. No, I don’t want to bloody up-grade my phone, thank you very much. Where the hell was Charlie? He’d give him another fifteen minutes, maybe twenty or twenty-five. Jake looked back at the party. The Director of Legal was looking at this watch, his deep frown clearly visible and the short, stocky man shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. Ella had her phone pressed to her ear, her face a study in focus and concentration. Jake narrowed his eyes. The table was set for six people. Somebody was missing, and causing consternation because he or she hadn’t yet turned up. Yeah, reckon I know that feeling.
Ella’s face relaxed, and she said something as she put her phone down. The others looked around and, as one, stood to greet a man who arrived at the table to join them. Hands were shaken and wide smiles replaced frowns. Everybody took their seats and a waiter appeared and took the newcomer’s drink order. Jake's interest soared. Every one of those who was seated around the table was hard-bitten and as tough as nails, all of them key players in a company that made millions each year, but here they were all but fawning over a man who'd strolled in late.
Ella said something to the man and inclined her head and the guy looked across, his head cocked to the side. At any other time Jake would have welcomed the man's gaze coming to rest on him, but sitting alone in a restaurant surrounded by couples or groups, he felt only humiliation as if he had a huge neon sign above his head, an arrow pointing down at him, with the words STOOD UP flashing in garish fairground colours. The man smiled as he gave a small nod before he turned his attention back to Ella and the rest of the party. Jake exhaled, relieved his moment in the spotlight was over.
Between checking his phone for messages that never came, and the door each time it opened to admit a man who was never Charlie, Jake threw glances at the table. His eyes widened. Ella was flirting, he was sure of it. He turned his head away slightly, he didn’t want to make it obvious he was drinking in what was happening at the table on the other side of the restaurant. Ella had a reputation for being an icy bitch, but he put it down to the jealousy of the less competent. The woman was smart, ambitious and didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he was one of the few people she seemed to genuinely like. And yet here she was blushing, and giggling by the looks of it. If he'd not seen it with his own eyes, Jake would not have believed it.
Who is this guy melting her ice caps?
Jake picked up his phone, the perfect decoy to allow him to steal glances at the man. Mid-to-late forties, Jake reckoned, and tall and lean. In a suit clearly made for him, he was pure class. Thick, dark hair framed a classically handsome face. He could have walked off the front cover of a high-end men's style magazine, but that wasn’t the reason he attracted and held attention. He exuded confidence, even a little arrogance; he’d walked into the restaurant as if it were his right to be late, and nobody had questioned it. This was a man who knew his worth, and everybody around him acknowledged that. Jake drew in and clamped down on his lower lip as he forgot to be subtle and stared openly, all pretence of looking at his phone forgotten. Who are you? The question gnawed away in the back of Jake’s head, a feeling that he should know who the newcomer was, that he’d seen him before but couldn’t place where or when.
The man glanced up, and caught Jake's eye. Jake felt heat flood his face. He'd been caught gawping at somebody the company had wheeled out some of its most senior people for. Jake had a vision of the man leaning into Ella and asking, in lowered tones, who the idiot was who’d clearly been stood up, but the man didn't do that. Instead he smiled, lopsided and friendly, and Jake smiled back.
“Excuse me, Sir, but will you be ordering?” A different waiter this time, but as androgynous and with the same affected cool as the one from earlier. The rest went unsaid but was as clear as if shouted from the table tops. If you're not, piss off. We've got a queue stretching round the block of people who are more hip, more successful, better looking and who haven't been stood up by their on-off boyfriend. Sir.
Jake plastered the sickliest grin he could muster across his face. “No, I won't be. My friend has just sent me a text. There's been a terrible tragedy. His granny's died, and has been found half-eaten by her pet German Shepherd. Terrible and ironic, as both granny and doggy were vegetarian.” You can stick any idea of a tip right up where the sun doesn't shine.
Jake got up and threw some notes onto the table. An adolescent thrill shot through him when he saw that he topped the waiter by several inches.
Not so cool now, are you?
Jake turned away, leaving the waiter to gather up the money and clear the table that should have been for two but, in the end, had barely been for one. He glanced across to the table he’d been watching. The stranger was talking to the Director of Legal, but as if sensing Jake's scrutiny he glanced up and his lips lifted in his crooked smile. Jake gave a small, brief nod as he turned and made his way towards the exit, the tingle in the pit of his stomach telling him that the man was staring after him.
A E Ryecart
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