Despite what the stupid wall clock tells me, I still check my phone to confirm the time, but then my ears pick out a familiar sound amid the background drone of the morning rush hour. St. Matthew’s gothic spire rings out less than a mile away and, as it strikes the hour, I count every single dong. Eight in total. My shift is officially over and very soon I shall be unshackled from this desk. There’s only one thing standing between me and my caffeine fix. Her name is Sophia and she’s late again.
I hear movement out back, in the staff lounge. I swivel my chair around, in anticipation of Sophia bursting through the door at any moment. I wait and I wait. No doubt she’s still preening herself in the mirror before making her grand entrance.
Come on, Sophia, put away the lippy, sweetheart.
She’s meant to be on the front desk by 07:45 for the fifteen-minute handover slot, when I’m supposed to inform her of any unusual events that happened overnight. Unusual events? Ha! I should be so lucky. Even Sophia’s worked out she might just as well turn up as I’m about to walk out the door for all the news I’ll have to pass on.
It’s forecast to touch a stifling 32°C today but I can’t wait to get out of this air-conned interior and breathe in the heat and fumes of the city. It’s what makes me feel alive. That and strong black coffee. For the past hour I’ve been looking forward to claiming my favourite outdoor table at Vivaldi’s—the smart new coffee shop down the road. It has a small front courtyard overlooking Kensington Gardens. I love sitting there, amid the hustle and bustle, after a night of virtual solitude. It’s a nice way to pass the time before I go back to my empty apartment, watch a bit of TV and then hit the sack.
I glance over my shoulder at the clock. Funnily enough it appears to have fallen silent now. Maybe I just imagine it ticks so loud when I’m waiting for my shift to end. Then another sound ricochets off my eardrums, startling me with its shrill vibrations.
Ping! Ping! goes the old brass bell on the counter top. I turn back around, ready to offer my assistance, but I’m met with a sight that renders me temporarily speechless. Standing the other side of the counter is a specimen of such utter male gorgeousness that my heart starts flapping around my chest like a drunken moth.
Oh, wow! Hello sexy! You can ping my bell any day of the week!
His face is ashen and he appears a little disorientated. He stares at me in silence and I gawk right back. It has been a long time since anyone has set my pulse racing.
He looks a little younger than me, maybe twenty-two to my twenty-six, but in every other department we’re worlds apart. My mousy hair has been bleached blond, while his is as black as the night sky. He’s slim with not a lot of muscle, but what he has appears nicely sculpted. His skinny black jeans look as if they were spray-painted on him and his muscle-fit t-shirt clings in all the right places too. The last time I saw the inside of a gym I still had acne and homework. The school gym wasn’t even a proper gym anyway. There weren’t any bench presses or treadmills, it was all roll mats and climbing frames. But it’s not even his physique that blows me away. It’s that gorgeous face. To say he’s as pretty as a picture would be an understatement. He’s as pretty as a whole gallery. If he stands there for much longer, I might just have to tack a frame around his face and hang him on the wall for my viewing pleasure.
I’m not saying I’m ugly. In fact, I’m a pretty decent-looking guy if you catch me at the right angle, but I’m not in his league. Not even close.
And those eyes! I mean, wow! He’s standing there, ensnaring me in his gaze with those piercing blue laser beams and I can feel them scorching my cheeks a dark crimson. I fan my face with my hand, not caring if it alerts him to how hot and bothered he’s making me. In fact I want him to know he’s lighting my fire in every which way.
He’s gay, for sure. I feel it in my bones. Yes, definitely. Oh yes, please! Please, please, please be gay!
I take a sip of water from the glass under the counter and sit up straight. I’m sure someone that good-looking gets people drooling over him all the time and he’s probably dumbstruck at how unprofessional I’m acting. I offer up a coy smile and put on my sweetest come-and-get-me voice.
“Hello there! And how may I be of assistance to you this fine morning?”
“Hello”—his eyes flick to my name badge—“Blake!” He stretches his lips taut across his teeth in a smile that’s crooked and awkward, as if he’s nervous. How such a pretty face can produce such an ugly smile is beyond me. I’m sure my lip must have curled up at such a gruesome sight because he quickly drops the fake smile, much to my relief.
“Hi!” I reply, somewhat perturbed.
“I have arrived!” he announces, as if I should congratulate him or something. I oblige. In my own fashion.
“Whoopee! Shall I put up the bunting?” He looks confused, as a lot of people do when I try to be funny, so I decide it’s best if I stick to the script. I pull open the drawer under my desk and rummage for a luggage tag. “Are you here to check in because I’m afraid you’re several hours too early for that, but I can stow your luggage if you like?”
“I have no luggage. I am here to meet a female.”
Oh great! Hero to zero in ten seconds flat. Why are all the pretty ones straight?
I close the drawer and check over my shoulder, but there’s still no sign of Sophia. I blow out a frustrated sigh.
“Why don’t you take a seat?” I gesture towards the leather sofa in the middle of the reception area. “They’re always late.”
He ignores my suggestion, remaining where he is, a heavy scowl marring his brow. “What time are you expecting them?”
“Who?” I ask.
“The females. I thought there would be some here already. Is this not a hotel?”
“That’s what it says above the door,” I quip, tapping my foot under the desk, my patience wearing thin. I’m desperate to get out of here, especially now I know I’m wasting my time fluttering my eyelashes at His Gorgeousness.
“Good, then I am in the right place. Could you fix me up with one, please?”
“One what?” I ask, befuddled.
I point at myself. “You want me to fix you up with a female?”
He nods. “I believe a hotel is the correct place to engage in casual sex and I wish to mate with a female.”
“Mate?” I repeat, stunned.
“With any old female?” I ask incredulously, just to be sure I’m understanding him correctly.
“No, not an old one,” he says adamantly. “I’d like you to fix me up with a young one.”
I gawk at him. “Do I look like I’m manning the front desk of a brothel?”
“I hope not. I require a female of good breeding.”
I arch my brow, not quite sure I believe what I’m hearing. “Good breeding?”
“Yes. A good bloodline.”
I scoff. “You sound like you’re looking for a broodmare for your thoroughbred.”
And then I realise what’s going on here.
This is a set up. The boys in the kitchen have arranged this because I’m always complaining that nothing ever happens on my shift. I suppose they expect me to lose my temper, or call security or something, only to end up with egg on my face because it’s just a stunt. Well, hard luck, boys, I’m not falling for it.
I lean forward and rest my elbows on the desk, looking him straight in the eyes. “Why don’t you pop down the road to Bucky Palace? The place is brimming over with blue blood. Both the human and equine variety. I’m sure you’ll find something there to suit your particular requirements.”
He thinks about it for a second before responding. “Are you saying there are no suitable females in this hotel?”
I roll my eyes, bored with the joke already. “Okay, which of those Luddites in the kitchen put you up to this? I bet it was Barry.”
He frowns at me. “That name is not familiar to me.”
“Okay, so whose idea was it?”
“My father sent me.”
“Your father? Do I know him?”
He catches me by surprise, bursting into a delightful fit of giggles and I can’t help but smile back at him. “No!” he replies, as if there’s no way in Satan’s fiery hell I could possibly know his father.
“So I’m supposed to believe that your dad—your own flesh and blood—sent you to a hotel to pick up a random stranger for sex?”
“He is not flesh and blood.”
“Oh, I see. So, he’s not your real dad. He just likes you to call him daddy.”
His face drops. “I am not sure what else to call him. He is the only family I have.”
It’s obvious I’ve just touched a raw nerve and now I feel terrible. What if this isn’t some stunt set up by the kitchen staff? What if he’s a street kid who’s been taken in by some pimp daddy and is being sexually exploited?
“How old are you?” I ask gently. He doesn’t look underage but you never can tell and if someone’s trying to pimp him out to our hotel guests, well this could be a serious matter.
“I am not supposed to say.”
“It’s okay, you can tell me.” I stand and lean over the desk. “Whisper it to me.”
He leans in close and whispers in my ear. “I am two.”
I twist my head and gaze into that beautiful face. He smiles at me and I’m back to feeling duped again.
“Okay,” I say, plopping back into my seat. “This is getting silly now. You can drop the act. I know this is a wind up.”
He tilts his head on one side. “I think you misunderstand. I meant two million. Sorry. I should have been clearer.”
I lean back in my seat and scan his face. “Has daddy got you high on drugs?”
He scowls at me, as if I’m speaking a foreign language.
“Do you have someone I could call?” I ask. “Apart from daddy, I mean.”
He shakes his head.
“Where do you live?”
He shrugs. “I just arrived.”
“But where was home before you got here?”
“I am not supposed to say.”
I groan to myself. Come on, Sophia, where the hell are you?
“Could you stand up a moment, Blake?” he says.
“Stand up?” I query, wondering what for.
He nods. “Just for a second.”
I get to my feet and he eyes me up and down.
“Is my body the sort of physique that will attract young females,” he asks, “or do they prefer fuller figures like yours?”
I blanch and quickly retake my seat. “I generally win people over with my vivacious personality.”
He gasps. “Is that what I must do?” he asks, sounding alarmed at the prospect.
“You don’t have a vivacious personality,” I tell him bluntly.
“Oh dear! This is more complicated than I anticipated. Blake, I would like you to be my friend and assist me.”
“Oh really?” I scoff, my eyebrows aloft. “Assist you with what?”
“I need someone to instruct me in the subtleties of the mating ritual.”
I huff. “The only mating ritual I perform is to twang on a condom.”
His eyes twinkle with amusement. “Are you making humour with me?”
I screw up my nose. “Making humour?” I blow out an exasperated sigh, wondering why he talks so weird.
“I think you are very funny, friend Blake.”
“Friend Blake? Oh, so we’re friends now, are we?”
Right at that moment I hear a very welcome sound behind me. The sound of Sophia’s clicky heels.
“Good morning!” she purrs in her sexy Italian accent and I twist around to greet her.
She cuts a fine figure for a thirty-two-year-old single mum, with her tiny waist and her blouse unbuttoned just enough to give a hint of her pouting bosom. She only works part-time and then it’s only because she likes to get out the house and mix with people. She doesn’t need the money. Her wealthy grandmother took very good care of her in her will. Sophia is always telling me what a feisty woman her grandmother was and Sophia has that same full-blooded Italian spirit. If you get on the wrong side of her, she has claws that can slice a man in two. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered just how far I can banter with her without crossing the line.
I stand and greet her. “Ciao Bella!” I kiss her on both cheeks, inhaling her delicate floral fragrance. “Thank the Lord you’ve finally managed to drag yourself away from the mirror.”
She lets out a rippling laugh and flicks her long black curls over her shoulder before muttering something in her native tongue. Depositing her designer tote bag under the desk, she takes the seat alongside me.
My new friend leans over the counter to whisper to me. “That is a female!” he says in a husky rasp.
“You don’t say!” I quip.
“Will you help me, or should I ask her myself?”
“Ask her what?”
“If she wants to…you know.”
“You’re kidding me?” I growl in a warning voice. “Don’t even think about it.”
“About what?” Sophia asks.
He turns to speak directly to her. “I would like to mate with you.”
I hear her breath hitch and my heart shudders. I pin him with a hard stare but he just carries right on talking.
“You are at the top end of my age range,” he tells her, “but you appear very fit, so I am sure you will meet my needs adequately enough.”
Silence hangs in the air like the murderous axe of the grim reaper. I’m already packing my stuff away, ready to make my escape, and then Sophia speaks up.
“So, I’m a bit old for you, but maybe ‘adequate’ for your needs?” she drawls in a dangerously calm voice.
Oh fuck, fuck, fuck!
She stands and taps me on the shoulder, indicating for me to move. I tuck my phone in my back pocket and shift out of her way, so she can stand directly in front of him. She leans over the counter and draws one of her long manicured nails along his jawline. “Be careful what you wish for, little boy. This old cougar could teach you a thing or two.”
He inhales her scent. “You are ovulating. I can smell the rush of hormones. It is very appealing. Besides, my time here is limited, so it would be unwise of me to be too selective. You just happen to be in the right place at the right time.”
“Oh wow!” I groan to myself, astounded by how brutally honest he’s prepared to be.
“How fortunate I am that you don’t have time to hunt for a younger model,” Sophia coos sweetly, like a predator setting a trap with sickly honey.
He beams at her. “I am pleased that you appreciate how lucky you are to be my chosen one.”
It’s perfectly obvious to any sane person that Sophia is fizzing inside, like a bottle of violently-shaken Prosecco, and I don’t want to be around when that particular cork pops. I begin edging my way around the reception desk, ready to make my getaway.
She straightens up, resting her hands on her hips. “Oh, I appreciate everything about you. You’re certainly a prize. A prize tool.”
“A tool?” he says, his brow furrowing. “I am not sure what you mean. Is that a good thing?”
She glares at him. “No it isn’t, you silly little boy. Now why don’t you run along before I lose my temper and spank an apology out of that sassy arse of yours.”
“Are we engaging in foreplay?” he asks, his eyes wide with excitement.
Sophia huffs. “Foreplay is for kids. The only foreplay I engage in is to order something fizzy and expensive off the wine menu.”
“I will not be taking you out on a date,” he tells her in no uncertain terms. “I simply wish to copulate with you to the point of ejaculation—just the once—and then you will never see me again.”
Oh my sweet fucking Jesus, the boy’s got balls!
That does it. Sophia starts waving her hands in the air and ranting in Italian.
“Va al diavolo! she seethes.
He gives her a broad grin. “Is that a yes?”
“Sei un stronzo!”
“Coffee!” I yell, grabbing my new friend by the arm and yanking him towards the exit. “Let’s have coffee.”
“But what about the female?” he protests. “Do you think she likes me?”
“I think you’re lucky to get out of here alive.”
“Oh! Does she normally kill her mates?”
“Probably, if they speak to her like that.”
“Did I say something wrong?”
“Not something. Everything.”
“I definitely need your help, friend Blake.”
“And I need a very strong black coffee.”