Anything for You Ch. 07byevanslily©
Montague Street was about a mile from where I lived, slap bang in the middle of town. Drew had purchased number twenty-two, a dilapidated and frankly rather ugly two storey building, on moving back to Stow Newton three years ago. He'd intended to do the place up in his spare time, convert it into two flats and flog them off at a profit as soon as possible.
In the event, he'd done everything except sell the flats, staying put in the top flat where he'd camped out during the renovation and renting out the bottom flat to a work colleague. It was far too convenient a location to leave, what with its proximity to the High Street, secure off-street parking, the fact it was staggering distance from his favourite pub and also—the cherry on the cake as far as Drew was concerned—that it was two streets away from the railway station.
But there was no getting away from the ugliness. It didn't help that the rest of the street wasn't exactly picture postcard material, being comprised of ramshackle terraced houses, a row of disused garages and a second hand car lot. Understandable then, that the taxi driver appeared somewhat dubious about the prospect of dropping me off there.
"Is this the right place?" he asked with a frown. "You sure you meant Montague Street?"
I smiled grimly. "Yep."
"Will you be okay here? Do you want me to wait?"
I resisted the urge to laugh. Right now, there seemed to be enough adrenalin coursing through my veins for me to consider going a couple of rounds with a heavyweight boxing champion. "I think I'll be fine, thanks." Gathering up Drew's jacket and my handbag, I leaned forward to inspect the taximeter. "How much do I owe you?"
"You don't, love. It's all been paid for already. Charged to the hotel."
"Oh!" Trust Marco. I hadn't even known you could do that sort of thing. "Well, er—thank you." Was I supposed to tip him anyway? Deciding to err on the side of caution, I gave him a couple of pound coins. "Thanks."
"No, thank you love," he called as I got out. "And hey, wait a mo?" He wound down his window and held out a business card. "Take this, just in case? I'm on all night. Just ask for Joe."
I pushed it into the side pocket of my handbag with a smile. "Thanks."
He nodded, gave me one last concerned glance then drove on, leaving me alone in the dimly lit street, the roar of the engine fading into the distance.
Pulling my coat around me more tightly, I looked up at Drew's flat, somewhat surprised to see there weren't any lights on. For a split second, I knew a moment of regret. Perhaps it might've been wise to check he was home before letting the cabbie go. But a quick peek through the slats of the wooden gates guarding the small parking area to the right of the building reassured me on that score. He was there all right—well, his car was there. And anyway, he'd said he was going home, hadn't he?
Oh yes. If I remembered rightly, he said he was tired because he'd 'ended up having a late night last night'. He'd been 'helping a friend do something she'd never done before' but luckily, she was a 'fast learner' and—what was it, again? She was 'already putting her new-found skills into practice'?
The mere recollection was enough to set me in motion again. I hammered on his front door, knowing full well there was little point in ringing the bell. It hadn't worked for over a year.
A dog barked twice. Other than that, nothing.
Shivering now, I stepped back to the pavement and looked up at the flat for signs of life. He was up there, I was almost certain. But no lights were going on and I couldn't see any fluttering of curtains. Either he was choosing to ignore the racket or he was in such a deep sleep, nothing short of Armageddon was going to wake him.
I banged on the door once more, wishing I had something heavier than my fists at hand. "Drew!" I shouted when there was still no response. "Come on!" And deciding I no longer cared that it was late at night or that I might just upset his neighbours, I thundered on the door yet again. "Drew! Get down here now and—oh!"
I practically fell inside the door as it swung open, only saved the indignity of hitting the floor because Drew reached out and dragged me inside, his strong fingers cutting in through the sleeves of my coat as he kicked the door closed behind us again. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he demanded gruffly, his breath warm on my face in the darkness.
"Trying to get you to hear me. Where the hell were you?"
"In bed." Drew sounded aggrieved. "Sleeping. Well, I was almost asleep, anyway. What's going on? What are you doing here? Are you okay?"
"Am I okay?" I echoed sarcastically. "Okay? Sure, I'm fine, Drew. Never better. And how are you? Have a nice evening, did we?"
"Jesus." I felt rather than saw him shake his head. "You're drunk."
"I'm not drunk!"
"You bloody well are. I can smell it on you. You're four sheets to the fucking wind!"
"I am not bloody drunk, okay?" I growled, wrenching myself out of his arms. "If you must know, I came here to bring you your fucking jacket, you ungrateful, miserable git."
"I see." It was Drew's turn to sound sarcastic. "Well in that case, I s'pose I'd better say thank you, hadn't I? Cos I don't know how I could possibly have managed to live through the night without it."
"Oh, you—" I made a frustrated growling sound through my teeth, threw his jacket at him and blundered towards what I hoped was the stairs. It was difficult to see anything in the darkness, but I was pretty sure they were straight ahead of me.
"Yes, why don't you come on in?" I heard Drew say behind me as I fell headlong over the first step, that dry note back in his voice. "Go on up, make yourself at home, slap me about a bit more. And I'll make us a nice cup of tea, shall I?"
"Why the fuck can't you—ow—put any lights on?"
"Because," he said with a heavy sigh, making me squeak as his hands looped around my waist, "some of us can see perfectly well in the dark. Come on."
Hauling me upright, he frogmarched me up the stairs and into the flat, only then pausing to flip on a light switch. I blinked hard, momentarily blinded. "I didn't think you'd really be in bed," I muttered as he tugged my coat from my shoulders and hung it up with his jacket. "I thought..."
I squinted around the room, searching for evidence he hadn't really turned in for the night, glancing at the battered brown leather sofas, strewn with newspapers as usual, the multitude of discarded mugs on the coffee table and finally at the overflowing bookcase on the far wall, legal tomes and paperback thrillers contending for shelf space. No clues here. Drew only tidied up on very special occasions. "I thought you were just saying that to..."
"To what?" He swept past me to switch on a lamp.
"To make a—" I stopped again when he came straight back, realising for the first time he was clad only in a grey t-shirt and plaid boxer shorts, his blond hair sleep-tousled. He reached around me and turned off the main light again, returning the room to a more comfortable level of brightness. "Point," I finished wearily.
"Damn right I was making a point." Drew left his hand against the wall, half-trapping me in place, his body casting a long shadow over mine.
I winced, noticing the faint but distinct pink mark to the right of his top lip. Holy crap, had I really hit him that hard? "Drew..."
The steely note in his voice brought all thoughts of making an apology to an abrupt halt. I followed the direction of his gaze to my wrist. Damn. "It's—it's a watch." I'd meant to take it off. Why hadn't I taken it off?
"I can see it's a watch, Sam." He snatched up my hand to make a closer inspection, whistling under his breath. "A fucking expensive one at that. Very pretty. You let him give you this?"
He said the word 'him' as though Marco was a particularly unpleasant slug who'd just crawled out from beneath a rock.
"It's a birthday present," I told him, trying to pull my hand from his. "That's all. I couldn't—"
"You let him get you a watch when I've wanted to get you one for years? Telling me you wouldn't wear one even if I did so there was no point—"
"I'm not going to wear it, okay?" I could feel my eyes prickling as I finally managed to yank my fingers free and began grappling with the catch on the delicate bracelet. "I could hardly say I wasn't going to wear it, could I? That the last time I wore a watch..." I trailed off, too close to tears to finish.
I didn't need to finish anyway. Drew knew that the last time I'd worn a watch had been at the hospital when I donated a kidney to my brother. In that small, two-bedded side ward, the night before our operations, Paul and I had become embroiled in a half-serious, half-joking debate about how he'd never be able to repay me for my generosity which had evolved into a kind of 'shucks, we're family, what's mine is yours' play fight.
We'd swapped socks, shampoo, towels, even the cardboard vomit bowls sitting on top of our lockers and had eventually traded our watches. Mine was a simple but girly affair with a big face and a black leather strap which Paul had had to buckle on the last hole, his a day-glo orange Velcro diver's watch. It had looked ludicrous perched there above my hand, but not nearly so ludicrous as my watch looked on Paul's rather less dainty and considerably more hairy wrist.
By the end of the evening, we'd swapped most things back again but kept our newly-acquired watches. It seemed a comforting thing to do, even if we would have to take them off before going into surgery.
The watch Paul was wearing stopped during the night. He showed me it in the morning, the hands frozen at three forty-seven.
Hope that's not a bad omen, sis.
I managed to unfasten the clasp at last, pulling the golden chain from my wrist with trembling fingers. "What was I supposed to do?" I croaked, wrenching my handbag from my shoulder and dropping the watch inside. "Tell him thanks but no thanks? I was in his room, for heaven's sake. I could hardly—"
"What the hell were you doing in his room, Sam?" Drew demanded. "What the fuck were you thinking?"
That brought me up short. Blinking hard, I gave him an incredulous look. "What do you mean, what was I thinking? What do you think I was doing there? You think I wanted to be there—in the Regent Suite of all places? What was I supposed to do? Tell him that I couldn't go upstairs with him, even though he'd just offered me the job of a lifetime? Tell him it was a lovely offer, but would he mind if we stayed in the bar to discuss all the details? And anyway, for your information, we couldn't stay in the bar, okay? He was covered in—"
"How about telling him that you needed some time to think about it?" he put in before I could tell him about Marco's wine-soaked shirt. "What about that, eh? Did you think for even a moment that you didn't have to say yes, there and then? That it might be a good idea to take a little time to weigh up all the pros and cons, think through all the consequences, give a thought to all the other people it was going to affect?"
Incensed, I felt my breath catch in my throat. "You think I didn't think about any of that?"
"Well, did you?" Drew's eyes seem to bore into mine. "What about Alice, Sam? What's she going to do if you bugger off to Italy? She's fifty-six, for heaven's sake. Who's going to give her another job? And Roxy—"
"Do you honestly think," I interrupted, slowing the words right down, fighting to maintain control of my increasingly squeaky voice, "that I didn't even consider them? That their welfare wasn't the first thing I thought of? That the first thing I wanted to make sure of was that they'd be okay?"
He gave a derisory snort, breaking eye contact to shake his head. "Bollocks."
"Bollocks?" I repeated as he pulled away, gazing after him in disbelief as he padded off—barefoot, I noticed now—to the kitchen part of the open plan living area. "You think I'm not telling the truth?"
"Oh, I think you think you're telling the truth," I heard him mutter, making a lot of noise as he picked up the kettle, filled it from the tap and slammed it back down on the base. "It's just that you're so fucking unbelievably, stupidly naïve."
That word again. I swallowed, battening down the hurt as I trailed after him. "Don't hold back, will you?" I said, hating the unsteadiness in my voice. "Say what you really feel."
Not looking at me, Drew blew out an exasperated breath.
"I'm naïve?" It was odd, the sudden burning sensation I could feel in the middle of my chest. A kind of knot, pulling tighter and tighter. "Because I'm daring to believe I could do something better with my life? Because for once, I'm wondering whether I really have to settle for running a maternity wear shop in Stow Newton, or whether actually, there could be more, that I might just get to do what I always wanted? That maybe I could have a shot at being a designer. That maybe, just maybe, I could have something that you've just taken for granted—that I could have a career? That's naïve?"
"Oh, fucking naïve, if you think Marco Maretti's going to give you all that." His tone was brusque. "Serve it all up to you on a plate, no strings attached? Come on, Sam." He shot me a scornful glance. "Get real. Since when in this world did anyone get anything for nothing?"
I stared at him across the breakfast bar, bewildered. "But he doesn't want anything!"
Closing his eyes briefly, Drew planted both hands on the worktop and groaned. "For God's sake..."
"He doesn't, okay? He said that he needed me, okay? That he could see something in me that he doesn't usually see in the rest of his designers—"
"Oh, I bet he does."
"—and that he wanted someone who hadn't had all their creativity 'trained' out of them. Someone who didn't follow the trend but—" I stopped, his words finally filtering through. "What? What the hell are you trying to say?"
Drew sent me a pitying look.
"You have to be kidding." I gave a disbelieving laugh.
"You think? Take a look at it from my point of view, okay?" As the kettle boiled, he reached into the cupboard for two mugs and threw teabags into each one. "I go to the Park to see if I've left my jacket in the room I stayed in last night, only to find that the girl I stayed there with is there again, in that same fucking room, only this time with a naked Italian."
"He wasn't naked!"
"He was getting there. God only knows what I might've walked in on if I'd come by five minutes later. And then—" a scowling Drew waved down my splutter of protest "—the two of them feed me this cock n' bull story about him offering her some fantastic job in Italy, when it's completely bloody obvious to me that he's just come up with the best fucking ruse in the world to get a woman up to your hotel room."
I frowned as he poured water into the mugs, much of it slopping over the sides. "But it wasn't a ruse, as you so charmingly put it. It's a genuine offer. He says he really needs me in Italy. And the only reason we had to go up to his room was because he got red wine all over his shirt."
"Really?" Drew paused after opening the fridge, peering at me over the door. "Fuck, you have to hand it to him." He shook his head. "The guy's a genius."
"What?" I stared at him, confused. And then the penny dropped. "No, it wasn't like that! He didn't spill the wine over himself, you dickhead. It was an accident! I'd just told him that I'd take the job in Italy and then he—"
I stopped abruptly, realising it probably wasn't a good idea to tell Drew that Marco was kissing me at the time.
"Yeah, about that," he said grimly, not appearing to notice I'd broken off mid-sentence. "I can't believe you said yes, just like that. Are you crazy?"
"I didn't say yes just like that!" I fired back. "Haven't you been listening? It's not a permanent thing, okay? It's a three-month contract, that's all. I'd be over there to help them finalise the collection and then I'd come home. Finished. End." I waved my hands from side to side in a cutting motion. "Finito."
"Finito," he mocked under his breath, fishing out the second teabag before dropping the teaspoon on to the drainer with a clang. "Sam, you can't even speak the language. You're going to need more than bloody finito and arrivederci to get by over there, you know."
"No, I won't! Marco said—"
"Ooh, Marco said," he parroted, pushing my mug of tea in front of me. "Marco said, Marco said..."
"—that he'd tell his staff to speak English when I'm around. He said that actually, most of them speak really good—oh, will you stop it!" I wailed as he continued to chant the phrase over and over. "Because of you, I've almost certainly blown my chance of going anyway, okay? After you went, I told him that I needed some more time to think about it, all right? Made myself look like a complete idiot, probably—saying yes, I'd go, and then having to tell him that I wasn't sure after all. God only knows what he thought."
He stopped chanting. "You told him you wanted to think about it?"
I sighed, sinking on to a stool and dumping my bag on the breakfast bar before bending down to tug my sandals from my aching feet. "Yes."
Startled, I straightened up in time to see Drew pump a celebratory fist into the air. "What?"
"Thank the Lord for that. Kiddo, you can't just go off and do stuff like that, okay? There are too many things to consider. You need to think about the shop, your staff, who's going to do the books—the ordering, payroll..."
I watched open-mouthed as he reached for the biscuit tin, tucking it under his arm before picking up his own mug of tea. "And then there's your house," he went on as he rounded the breakfast bar. "What would you do with that? You can't just leave it standing empty for months on end. And your parents..." He trailed off, his eyes narrowing as he finally clocked the expression on my face. "What?"
I shook my head incredulously. "You really haven't been listening to a word I've said, have you?"
"Of course I—"
"No, you fucking haven't!" I glared at him, so angry now I was growing hot all over. "You patronising bastard! Just where do you get off, Drew Barnett? Where do you get off, thinking you know better than me, treating me like I'm just a stupid little girl who needs telling what to do? Where do you get off, behaving like I haven't got a clue about running a successful business, behaving like I'm the sort of person who'd just go skipping into something without giving a thought to the consequences? This is me, Drew. Since when did I do anything without weighing up all the pros and cons?"
"Right." Drew put down the tin and his mug of tea then folded his arms, eyeing me up and down. "So you weighed up the pros and cons of wearing that dress then?"
"You go out to dinner with a man like Maretti in that 'please fuck me' dress—and you're telling me you weighed up all the pros and cons?" He shook his head as I gaped at him, speechless. "Were you out of your fucking mind?"
We stared at one another, the hum of the fridge unnaturally loud in the quiet kitchen, my heart thudding even louder.
"I should go." I slid from the stool and made a clumsy attempt to push it back beneath the breakfast bar. "I really shouldn't have—"
Drew caught my hand as I reached for my bag, whirling me towards him with such force that I collided against his chest. Then, before I had a chance to catch my breath, his mouth came down over mine.
The thundering in my ears became a tumultuous roar, a wash of heat surging through my body like molten lava, spreading fire until every part of me was aflame. His hands burned on my waist, branding me as they swept slowly upwards, holding me to him in an act of raw possession, binding me ever closer as his lips parted my own. And as his tongue sought mine, insistent but astonishingly gentle, I kissed him back, every part of me hot and tingling, the fiery ache low in my belly threatening to rage out of control.