Ioan Gruffudd Ch. 01bymadam_noe©
I turned twenty eight and no one noticed. When I awoke it was six a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, and no one had called. It was midnight back home and so I didn't expect any calls until late in my evening. But no calls came from my few friends in London that knew it was my birthday. I was lonely, and low on prospects.
My two closest friends and I were going out that night but neither of them knew it was my birthday. The closer I felt to people the further I kept them.
Helen Blodgett was my local editor who reviewed my work for the publishing house of Lochact & Miller. They worked with Pendant back home and by agreement my books were released in New York first, London second. The London press got sneak peeks first and that had driven my readership to a higher percentage in England. There were just more warm bodies in America so technically my sales were higher in my homeland.
Anyways, Helen was 47, five feet six inches tall, very slim, had a halo of red curls, smoked like a dragon, and wore needle thin heels every time I saw her. She dated men younger than me and went through them like Kleenex. The only constant male in her life was Danny, our third.
Daniel McMillen was thirty four, five feet ten inches tall, slim, wore glasses, and had once been a pop star in the eighties at the age of thirteen. Two car accidents and one emancipation later he was a reporter for a magazine that read like a tabloid. If he ever discovered I was the author NM Lee I was dead. He knew me as Nicky Lee, cousin or some sort to the author. He'd begged for interviews and I'd always put him off.
Daniel was afraid to be alone but sadly picked men who were beautiful faces and total assholes. He would come crying to Helen when they broke his heart but I don't think she really had a heart or patience for him, so it was me he ended up with. I'd let him cry on my sofa and he dressed me properly when I needed to gussy up. It was a fair trade.
So I spent my morning showering and dressing myself in my customary jeans, obligatory sneakers, and comfy but certified attractive t-shirt. I ran for coffee down the block where the morning girl Janine poured me my American Black without the cream so many others would dispense. The British creamed their coffee to death.
I choked that down, did a spot of grocery shopping from a mom and pop with mostly Asian food, then I rushed home to write. I was deep into it when Danny came buzzing the brownstone door at seven. I hadn't eaten more than shrimp chips all day and had easily lost track of time.
Shit. I was, well, looking dreadful, according to the mirror by the door.
Danny had been sent to a book sendoff party to cover it for his magazine. One of Helen's other authors had published a book of tell all political scandals. Apparently he'd slept with one too many aides in his time, no matter that he himself had sat in the House of Lords. Anyways, I had promised to be Danny's guest, and the night held promise as Helen sometimes had naughty tricks up her sleeves. She got us into interesting places and on my birthday I needed that.
Danny came in the open door wearing a Saville Row suit of flecked grey with a trendy salmon pink shirt and maroon tie. His black hair was slicked back in an artful style, so well done that even his frameless glasses added to the polished handsomeness. The only concession to mere mortality was the dangling cigarette from his lips; everyone smoked in London. It didn't affect his chiseled physique. Here gay men were more masculine than straight ones.
"Bloody hell, I say, what the fuck do you think you're doing?"
"Working late." He thought I wrote romance novels but yet I was still stylish enough, with his help, to be his friend. It was touching.
"Damn it, go and wet your hair, I'll be right in."
I went into the bathroom and when he joined me he put me up into rollers. I stripped down to my underwear and suffered as he primped and primed, slathered and concealed me into beauty.
I had to change my bra four times before I found one for the black dress he'd picked out. It had a low back, a sweetheart neckline, and ended just below the knee with a small flounce.
Under his orders I'd burned my pantyhose six months before and Danny himself approved of the black garter belt and black lace topped stockings I wore. I should have been embarrassed to be naked or wear such provocative things around him, gay though he was, but Danny was so damned clinical about it.
"Nicky, wear the heels with the straps."
I gulped. "You mean the Jimmy Choos you bought me with the needle thin heels?"
He nodded. Well, they were painful but I knew how to walk in them. So I slipped them on, tied the ankle straps, and stood. Okay, so I looked killer, and I mean hot. My hair with its highlights was almost blond and my eyes seemed a lot bigger under Danny's masterful hand.
"I think you'll do, come on."
It was a cab ride later we pulled up the publishing house. We flashed an invite and a press badge and were let in to the fancy cocktail party. At the center of the grand room the author posed by a cardboard cut out of his cover, Helen next to him, and his long suffering wife and his publisher Mort completing the line.
Danny and I waved and Helen nodded back as we staked out the food. The plan was to make catty comments until he had to interview the author, go collect Helen, and then get drunk and head out to prowl at some of the clubs.
We made catty comments and I held up my end. I brushed off two un- and one desirable come-ons. Danny then excused himself to do the interview and I made my way around to find Helen, swimming through a sea of bodies.
She waved me over next to stand with her and a deep eyed man with a hungry look and polished muscles.
"Nicky, darling, meet Zeus," she introduced me to him. He was twenty one if he was a day, six feet dead even, with a long black ponytail and shocking silver eyes. He gave me a stare that said my advances would not be resisted and Helen frowned. She was a smart woman to keep young blood away from her young friends. Fortunately for her, though, I liked older men, not her boy toys.
"Pleased to meet you. So, you won't be joining us then?" I asked Helen with a tight smile. She had been my best ticket for a fun night, but now no wild parties were in my future.
"Zeus dear, go and do whatever it is you do." She made a kissy face and he obligingly went in the direction of the coat check.
"I am so sorry but you'll have Danny so it'll be fine. Do you mind?"
"Not at all," I lied. If I showed weakness, she'd pounce.
"Aww, so sweet of you to lie. I can tell something is bugging you, but have you ever lain with a Greek man? No? Well, then, I'll tell you tomorrow, and you can tell me your troubles then. Seven o'clock, dinner darling?"
"All right, Helen."
"I'll bring Missy and we'll gossip." Missy was her personal assistant who thought I wrote cook books and was forever asking me for a good American version of apple pie.
"All right darling, back to ecstasy I go." She knew my love life was less than stellar. Helen thought it was because I was cold, she had no idea I chose my celibacy. Didn't matter, she liked to flaunt her exploits in my face no matter what.
Still, it wasn't because of her I was feeling the pull for danger. Danny would keep me straight, though. I laughed inside my head at the pun.
She waggled her fingers and was off and as Zeus leaned over her hand to kiss it her muddy brown eyes lit on mine with devilish pleasure. She was gloating, waiting to see if I was jealous. I gave her a smile and blank eyes before shuddering and turning.
Helen liked her little games and loved it even more that she couldn't get me to play them. She was a good editor and got me into new places and kept my life from being boring, but we'd never be really close. I suppose because she knew my secret I tolerated far more crap from her than I should.
Danny was with a small group of reporters doing a pool of questions. He nodded to me and so I waited. A man I'd rejected just an hour before, an undesired, approached me again and I had to get mean.
At last Danny was waving me over and I extricated myself. What an evening! Dumped by Helen I'd had to listen to would-be and fairly unsuccessful authors belittle my works and wander through the crowd alone.
He strong armed me away from the group. "Nicky, I've just met the most delish man alive! I want to take him home. You and Helen will be all right without me, right?"
"Well, um-" I started, but he wasn't even looking at me. No, he had eyes only for Mr. Tall, blonde, and dumb.
"Great! Call me tomorrow. Better yet I'll call you."
A true kiss to my cheek-uh oh, he was in bad, and then Danny was off. I was alone.
Damn it! It was my birthday and I didn't want to spend it all alone. I was all dolled up for nothing! I looked around the party, thinking maybe there was a man for me, but no one stood out. Even the one desirable come-on was gone, as were most of the guests, leaving for other parties or what have you.
What a sucky day! I got my purse and coat and slipped it on. Outside there was a clog of people and no cabs to be had so I hoofed it. It wasn't even ten.
I made my way down to the nearest Starbucks which had the tables half filled. I went up to the counter prepared to do battle with British wit and- lo and behold! Janine was there.
"Janine, I am so glad to see you!"
"Nicky! Good to see you again."
"Pour me some American style paint stripper."
"What's wrong? You never drink caffeine so late."
"And you don't work at this store." She took my money with a smile and I followed her over to the service area.
"Well I'm covering for this guy who got sick. Infected nose piercing."
"Jeeze, what's the world come to?"
She shrugged. "So what's bothering you?"
I sighed. "Well, truth be told it's my birthday and no one noticed. No family, no friends, nada."
"No family? Really?"
"Well, they're back in the states so I guess with the time delay and everything I might get a call after two tonight, but still."
"Well sorry. Have the coffee on the house." She passed me a steaming short black Columbian and walked back to the register. A bell dinged and she passed back my bill.
"No prob. So, you're all dolled up, what's happening?"
"Book party, friend's thing. Nothing really."
"Well I'm going clubbing with my girlfriends, you're welcome to join."
I smiled, flattered. She liked rave clubs, not my scene. "Thanks, but maybe some other time." The last time I'd gone out with her I'd woken in the morning with blue streaks in my hair and a pierced belly button.
"Still regretting the piercing?" she said with a smile.
"Don't remind me. I'm not as young as I used to be."
She laughed. "Hell, girl, I passed out before you quit dancing."
I was blushing scarlet. "I don't remember that."
"Holly's homemade liquor. What did you call it?"
"Americanisms, gotta love 'em."
"Well, in that case, have a nice day." I saluted her and she smiled.
I took the coffee and left. The night was cool, early September usually brought rain but that night it was fog. My heels clacked loudly on the concrete as I went and I passed several strolling groups and couples. Two men whistled at me and I blandly saluted them with my coffee. They looked like sewer rats so I just kept going.
I kept walking towards my flat feeling, well, flat.
"Miss! Miss!" I knew whoever was yelling was yelling for me. I thought it was one of the men I'd just passed, and I didn't want to stop. The voice was a nice Welsh burr though, but I'd never met a stranger so willingly. Maybe that's why my sex life was so dull, I just wasn't willing. I kept going.
"Miss, please, stop!"
I turned and saw a very familiar face. Where had I seen him before? He was about six feet, give or take, probably closer to 5'11" with broad shoulders and nearly bad posture. Slouchy, relaxed. His hair was black and barely curling, cut long to shade his face. He had strong features, a very staid and ordinary nose, wide lips, with a blunt chin and corded muscles framing his smile. His eyes were brown but they looked almost black in the light. Who was he?
"Forgive me for being rude, but I heard you talking to the barista back there and-"
"Oh, god. I swear, I'm not crazy, don't have a drinking or a drug problem, or whatever it is you're thinking. So, no AA pamphlets tonight, please."
"No," he laughed as I turned. "I mean, about it being your birthday. See, my birthday is in almost exactly a month off and last year I had the same thing."
"Oh," I said, blinking down at him. Down, for in my lofty Jimmy Choo height I was a giant among men at six two.
"Well, by now you're probably thinking I'm mad, or pissed-oh, you're an American. I forgot. By now you probably think I'm drunk or insane, but I'm not. I just wanted to say happy birthday."
I was baffled but automatically smiled. "Cheers then." Then I turned on my heel.
Some men take dismissal hard and yell "bitch!" Some take it as rejection and slink off. Some accept it and figure they're better off, and still some take it as a challenge. He fell into the latter camp.
"I know it's late but would you like a bite to eat? You've got to have cake on your birthday."
I turned back. "Thank you, whoever you are. But it's a little sad to spend one's birthday enjoying the pity of a stranger."
He spoke softly, something I couldn't hear.
"Pardon?" I had to ask because I wasn't sure just what he'd said.
"It's not pity."
"Well then what is it?"
"Well, I was hoping for an in with a pretty lady but-"
"A pretty lady?" I was baffled for a moment, quite unaware of much beyond my anger and self pity. "Oh, that's so sweet."
He clasped his chest and did a spin, dying a pantomime death worthy of MacBeth. "Sweet? Lord, she called me sweet, I'm done for-"
I giggled. "I'm sorry. Oh, stop it!"
"Sweet? Sweet? What kind of a comment is that?"
"Obviously an idiotic one-"
"You wound me to the quick, lady. I demand recompense."
"Come with me to have birthday cake."
I looked around to the people passing us, the black cabs and busy traffic passing by. The business we were standing in front of was boarded up white with signs promising it was coming soon.
"I don't know." I bit my lip.
"I don't bite, I promise."
"You look really familiar to me. Do I know you?"
He gave a casual shrug and I remembered! "Oh, you're Ioan Gruffudd!" I'd written my first novel with him in mind to play my protagonist but he'd disappeared off the radar two years before, his career had stalled before the book came out. "I'm a fan of yours, how dumb." I gave a sheepish smile.
He ducked his head. "Don't know whether to be embarrassed or glad to be recognized."
"Well, you've filled out and your hair is longer but you look very similar as to when you did your last role."
"Thank you, I think. Now you definitely owe me a slice of cake. Actors hate to be told they've filled out."
I smiled. "All right. I'm Nicky, by the way."
He shook my hand, a little surprised that I offered it. Not many women do, but I like to test a person's hand shake. His was firm but not sweaty or cupping, I realized my fingers started to curl around his palm and stiffened them by forced reflex.
"So where does one get cake at this late hour?"
"I know just the place. Come with me." He grabbed my hand in his and stepped to the street, hailing a black cab. We got in, he let me go first and then he bundled in after with directions for the driver. It was a short ride, couldn't have been more than four turns but it would have been painful in my heels. I realized he'd considered that and so when we alighted I smiled and it felt so much easier to have my hand in his.
I looked around and saw a closed candy store, another coffee shop and an empty storefront that had previously sold French imports.
"So where do we get the cake?" I smiled and asked when he'd paid the driver and sent the cab off.
"I have a confession."
I raised my eyebrow at that. "Oh?"
"Yes, I don't know of a place with good cake around here. But I happen to have cupcakes in my refrigerator."
I laughed. "God, I hope you haven't taken a sabbatical to become a serial killer."
"No, can't say as I have. But if you'd rather not I understand. Coffee shop makes a hell of a cream puff."
He still held my hand and I stepped back but kept that touch. "And how do you know I'm not a serial killing axe murderer?"
"Because we don't have many of those these days. The police are awfully good about catching them."
"All right then, cupcakes for my birthday it is."
He raised a wolfish eyebrow at me and smiled the smile of a tumultuous victory. Breathless, I watched as he dropped my hand and reached into his black blazer for the keys. Ioan stepped to the building in front of us, the door between the candy shop and coffee shop was small but well lit. I saw four buzzers as he let me in.
"Nice building," I murmured. It wasn't overly impressive but by London standards it was nice, by American it was average.
"Just moved in, my roommate needed more space."
"Ahh," I said picturing a woman as we climbed the stairs.
"He got three Labradors," he muttered.
I laughed but I was behind him and he had a nice butt, distracting me. I'm human, I can check. My pulse was pounding anyways because if he'd asked me for coffee I'd known what he meant, it would mean sex. Coffee means sex. Cake means, well, cake probably means cake. But it could mean sex. I hoped it meant sex and I knew I was losing my mind.
Several things flashed through my mind as I stood on his landing waiting as he unlockrd the door; first, I'd never had sex outside a serious relationship. Second, one night stands were wrong. Third, Ioan didn't know it but his American comeback film was going to be my first one from one of my novels. So if anyone ever knew we'd slept together they'd assume that was how he got the part, and it would damage his career.
On the other hand, he was turning me on. He didn't come on to me too strong and I liked that. He was masculine and compelling but not overbearing. He was well dressed, had excellent manners, and rough hands. He was like a flesh and blood fantasy, the kind built half on intelligent thought and half on animal lust. Well, hadn't everyone seen him as that in King Arthur?
I guess that meant the animal lust was in the driver's seat.
"Come in," he smiled and I passed by. The inside was masculine, all dark wood floors and deep wall paper. It was black jacquard and the lights were amber and art deco. I followed him into the kitchen which was white. Through the pass-through I saw the black theme continued to the living room where it met silver.
"It's nice. Kind of dark. Makes me think of a well-decorated cave." I wondered who had decorated for him. He'd married his longtime actress girlfriend but there'd been a fairly nasty split.
He laughed at my comment and dipped his head into the fridge. I noticed his hair was slicked back, contained like most men do when they have curly locks. I wondered what it would look like free and licked my lips.
He stood up. "I lied, I don't have any cupcakes."
"Hmm, two lies in as many minutes. I think you'll have to owe me."
He smiled and I felt my confidence bolstered. After the Tragedy (big T in my little mind) I never suffered the paralyzing feeling I used to get in many social situations, and for once I was grateful. He leaned his hip against the counter. "Coffee then?"
Damn, this time coffee meant coffee, not sex. Damn, damn, and double damn.
"Sure thing." God, I'd had enough. "Um, may I ask where the powder room is?"
He frowned. "Americanism," I shook my head and smiled. "WC? Loo?"