The $800 dinner John “JJ” Maynard had just billed to the company card was burning a hole in his gut. It hadn’t even closed the deal. He kept on smiling, though, as he waited with his client in the lobby of the hotel. Kimberley Monkton was an old trout but he couldn’t afford to piss her off.The red of the balance sheet glowed bright in his imagination. Burn no bridges. Desperation nipped at his heels. He knew she could smell it and he was hating himself for it.
Then, from nowhere, there she was. Natasha Sullivan. Everything stopped as she strode past: confident, distracted. Still all long legs and full breasts. She really hadn’t aged at all. The hair, the hair was different. Sleek and modern, when he remembered dark tangles of curls dragging across his chest. The scent of her shampoo.
He realised he’d sucked in his gut reflexively. The years had not been as kind to him. It didn’t matter, she hadn’t seen him.
“Am I boring you, JJ?”
Kimberley Monkton’s terse tone snapped him out of his reverie.Mercifully, the car he’d called for her pulled up at that moment. He dissembled long enough to bundle the demanding old bitch into the car but the second the door closed, he ran after Natasha. It was nearly ten on a Tuesday, the streets were quiet. He could see her ahead, he still knew her by heart.
“Natasha,” he called. No response. He closed the gap, puffing from the exertion. It was a humid night and he was unfit. Sweat darkened his shirt. He was grateful for the cover of jacket as he touched her on the shoulder.
“Natasha? Natasha Sullivan.”
She stopped and turned. Her expression was guarded but as recognition dawned, her face slowly relaxed. His heart flipped. He jogged to a stop, trying not to pant.
She was exactly the same.
Her hooded eyes blinked slowly and when they opened again she smiled.
“Johnny Maynard,” she breathed. Nobody called him that anymore.
“I saw you in the hotel,” he burbled. “I couldn’t believe my eyes, you haven’t changed a bit…well, the hair…
She smiled again and his words trailed off as he drank in the sight.
“It’s been a long time,” she said. She cocked her head in that way she did. He burbled again.
“A lifetime. Literally. I have a daughter the same age we were the last time I saw you.”
Natasha smiled that slow smile again. He had a sudden feeling he could die happy if she would only keep smiling at him like that. Nothing else seemed important.
The smile disappeared.
“I’m surprised you’re pleased to see me.”
He knew what she meant but he didn’t care. He shook his head.
“That was so long ago. Look, why don’t we have a drink?” He gestured back down the street to the hotel. People were still sitting at tables outside the bar.
“I can’t,” she said and he told himself her face showed regret.
“Then some other time?” he said, trying not to beg. He pulled a business card out of the inside pocket of his jacket and pressed it into her hand. She took it with both hands and read it intently.
“You’re JJ Maynard?” Her brow lifted. The company’s troubles were a well kept secret. The name was still respected. He was pleased she was impressed. He puffed up a little.
“C’mon Tash, say yes.” The diminutive rolled off his tongue as though 30 years hadn’t passed. She smiled that smile again. A lifetime passed.
“OK, Johnny, I’ll call you,” she said, and then she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. He drank in her scent, a musky perfume, Poison, maybe, and underneath that her own musk. It made his head spin. By the time he opened his eyes again she was already walking away, her heels clicking on the pavement. He watched her go, feeling more alive than he had in an age.
Waiting for her call was agony. Time he should have spent chasing business disappeared on a fruitless search for her online. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Dozens of Natasha Sullivans, none of them her. His heart leapt every time the phone rang. It was never her. At home he was irritable. Snapped at his son, which led to a fight with his wife. She was already threatening to leave, because she thought he was being tight with money. She had no fucking idea how broke they were. He knew he was in the wrong, he knew he was obsessing but Tash broke his heart. Goddamn nearly broke him. And, God help him, he wanted a second chance.
He’d almost given up hope when she walked into his office unannounced, a week and a day later. His Executive Assistant, Carmel, had left for the day and he was idly scouring porn sites for something that would inspire a half-hearted erection. He was looking for a type. Dark hair, green eyes, full, inviting breasts. None of them fit. Then he heard a cough and there she was, standing in the doorway in an emerald-green wrap dress that made her eyes flash like fire. His cock stood to attention. Pavlov’s dog on a bell
“Bad time?” she purred as she stepped into his office..
There was no way she could possibly see his screen – or in his head – but he flushed red and stammered a surprised greeting. Uninvited, she pulled out the chair closest to his desk and sat, the skirt of her dress falling open as she crossed her bare legs. He swallowed hard.
“I know you told me to call but I couldn’t find the words.”
“I’m glad you came,” he managed. He clicked his computer to shut down mode. His mind was racing.
“How about that drink?
Natasha nodded. He opened his file drawer and pulled out the bottle of Glenfiddich he kept there for emergencies. Carmel kept the official bar stocked but watched it like a hawk.
“Glasses,” he said aloud. “Back in a tick.”
His erection was still straining at his pants and he tried surreptitiously to adjust it as he stood and walked through to the adjoining board room. Natasha pretended not to notice.
“I’d almost given up on hearing from you,” he said, nervously filling the space with noise. “I even tried to find you online…I couldn’t find you anywhere.
He placed the glasses on the desk and sloshed a generous nip of the amber liquid into each. He drank his in one shot, to calm his nerves, poured a second then sat down. To his surprise, when he looked up, tears were shining in Natasha’s eyes.
“Hey, hey, hey what did I say?
She shook her head and a fat tear escaped and rolled down her cheek. The pain in her eyes was so palpable it hurt him. He got up from his seat and went around the desk to sit beside her.
“Tash…you can tell me anything.”
“I can’t believe you’re being so nice to me,” she said, not looking at him. She was clasping and unclasping her hands anxiously. He stilled them with one of his own. They felt tiny in his and a wave of protectiveness came over him.
“I was so awful to you back then,” she said.
She had been, that was true. The humiliation had cut him to the bone but it was the heartbreak that took the time to heal. Even while his heart lay in shatters, he had longed for her. She had haunted him. And now here she was, and he was here, with her hands held safe in his, and her heady scent filling his nostrils. All he could remember were the good times.
“Let the past be the past,” he said. The sight of her was intoxicating, and he already felt drunk. He tore his eyes away, and caught sight of last year’s family portrait on the window sill. He walked over and folded Perry and the girls away. Outside the last of the sun was disappearing from the sky, making shadows stretch across the room. Natasha was caught in the light, her spine stiffened against her troubles. Johnny felt a stirring of something he’d thought long dead.
“You came here for a reason, Tash. Tell me.”
Her shoulders shook as she sighed.
“I’ve been such a fool, Johnny.”
Her eyes were damp when she looked at him.
It was the oldest story in the book, a love affair with her boss, a married man.
“He promised me everything, Johnny, and like an idiot I believed him. I really thought he’d leave his wife, but that’s never going to happen, I know that now.”
“I have to get out but he won’t let me go,” she said, and the way her eyes darkened before she turned away from his gaze told Johnny all he needed to know. Knowing that some married bum was hurting his girl made him burn with righteous anger.
“How can I help?” he said, meaning what options were there, but she was already crossing the room.
“Thank you, Johnny, you’ve got no idea how much it means to me.” She was so close he was breathing her air. His head felt light.
“I know everything,” she continued. “Who he’s taken money from, what he’s given them. All the dates, all the meetings, all the phone calls.”
His stomach tightened and he wasn’t sure if it was lust for Natasha or fear of what he knew he would do for her. His fuddled brain managed a question.
“Who is this asshole?”
Natasha looked him in the eyes. Her sleepy sensuality curled around him like a cat’s tail on your leg.
“The Works Minister?”
He’d heard the stories, who hadn’t? He’d never gotten a whiff though, as much as he’d tried. Natasha nodded, looking ashamed. He couldn’t judge her. Lindsay Bowler. Corrupt. A light switched on in his mind.
“Tell me everything,” he said. He never stood a chance.