In life, there were things you could walk away from whether as something as small as peer pressure or a terrible marriage that went nowhere. The thing is for me, I could never walk away, not when the past lingered behind with a trail of blood marking my sins. I could never walk away because it was my living nightmare.
The stench of marijuana and alcohol contaminated the air but after a while being in the business, you’d get used to the smell sometimes to the point when it became your oxygen. At that stage in my life, I didn’t care about my wellbeing, let alone anything else. The buzz of chatter was a distraction from deepening what my life had turned out to be especially when I stared at my reflection. It mocked me with the woman I tried to forget, the woman I tried to bury long ago. Because of her, I travelled down a path that wasn’t only dark but held the demons that only belong in the deepest parts of hell. She wore skimpy lingerie and her face was piled with tonnes of makeup, a mask to the world she’d step into.
We were one yet nothing alike. I wanted nothing to do with her but it was hard when I had memories of her. Our eyes shifted to the side, seeing other girls dressed the way we were. Trays of burned out cigarettes and bottles of alcohol... empty bottles. Used drugs scattered across the dusty ground. Some women were sprawled on the table, out cold, whilst others were being tossed to out front, preparing for the show.
The show didn’t hide the atrocities that happened behind closed doors. I was sure those girls on the table were dead. They threw her to the side as if she wasn’t anything else but useless meat. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Eventually, I was destined for the same faith but I was thrown at death’s doorstep against my will.
I blinked rapidly, transported back into my reality – my new reality. I breathed in relief. I was at work, in the restroom of a nightclub and I shifted my gaze to the manager through the mirror. Keira O’ Malley’s icy blues didn’t watch me with concern, more of a ‘get your shit together’ look.
From the first moment I saw her tight pencil skirt and the imaginary stick shoved right up her ass, I knew she was a bitchy type. With a girl like me, you could detect them from a mile away.
“You’re Scarlett O’Neil, right?”
“Yeah, sorry, I needed a minute,” I wasn’t really sorry but as far as I knew, this woman was my client. Well, she was my client’s assistant.
She cocked a brow, jutting her hip against the doorframe. “Honey, it’s been thirty minutes. Since it smells airy fresh, I assume you didn’t take a shit,”
“Was just checking the designs in the bathroom,”
“Right,” she said dryly.
Keira waved her hand, motioning for me to follow. Quickly, I grabbed my handbag and rushed out of the restroom. The place was closed so some changes my client requested could be changed and with me as the interior designer, I needed to make sure these changes were exactly as my client would like it. I already saw some of my designs coming to life and the feeling was both exciting and nerve-wracking. I hoped the owner would be pleased with how it looked like in real life. El Diablo was a new upcoming club and already people were talking about it all across London.
When Samuel Meyers, my boss, assigned this job to me, not only was I ecstatic but nervous as hell, more than I’d ever been in my entire life. The weight of wanting to make him proud and the whole damn world nearly buried six feet under but the hard work was worth it. So far, the payment for the job was the highest Meyer’s Design ever received and it could be a huge turn for the company overall. Speaking of which, I was here for the deposit.
Drills blared throughout the building and I winced as a slither of irritation crawled up my spine. I’d be out of here soon so I kept my emotions to myself. Keira returned with a cheque in her hands and rudely, shoved it in my direction. Even though it was against all womanly code, I would ask if it was that time of the month, only to piss her off though just as she was doing to me. I only tolerated her because of the whole ‘the customer is alright right’ type of motto.
“I’m sorry, not only is Mr Russo a busy man, but he’s also very private. I’m the middle man, or woman, with these sorts of interactions,” She smiled tightly. “If you saw him, you’d have to sign an NDA,”
An NDA? I masked whatever confusion was shown on my face. It seemed like Mr Russo had major social anxiety. I understood people need for privacy but bringing in a contract and a lawyer was to the extreme.
“I understand, everybody is entitled to their privacy,” I brushed off her veiled insult with a laugh. “I hope everything is going according to plan?”
“Everything is marvellous!” she clapped her hands before rubbing her suit pants. Slightly freaked by her sudden enthusiasm, I waited for her to continue. “Now, we best get out of here before any one of us gets knocked out by one of these boulders,”
Her statement seemed as if it was supposed to be a joke but I kept a straight face, heading for the big green exit sign. I did smile the tiniest inch despite how I felt on the inside; I didn’t need her reporting back to Mr Meyer of my lack of manners. Keira went back to the office to what I presumed was to get her bag. I kicked the heavy door open to meet the cool wintry air of the city of London. The air was brutal, unforgiving and I tightened my winter coat to fight off the breeze. El Diablo was in the district of Victoria in the City of Westminster the perfect place to open as there were a few universities for students to blow off steam.
Right then, I needed a cigarette, a bad habit I wasn’t able to shake off from the past. I dug it out of my bag as well with the lighter. Holding cig between my lips, I flicked the switch but no flame exploded into the darkness. After the third time with no fire, I growled in frustration.
“Fucking fantastic,” I muttered, thrusting them back in my bag.
“You need help with that?” a thick-accented voice spoke in the darkness. It was so unexpected I gasped in fright, holding my chest to calm my beating heart.
There was enough light to see a large figure of a man. I could tell he was huge and subconsciously, I narrowed my eyes to better my vision of this man. He sensed my struggle and he emerged from the darkness and my eyes widened when he continued forward but stopped a few inches away from me. He wasn’t just ‘large’ but a goddamned giant! But oh god, he was beautiful yet beastly all in one. He possessed a rich, dark complexion that could be mistaken for chocolate itself but what threw me off-guard were his bright, amber eyes. With his wide chest and muscular arms, he was menacing. I sensed danger rolling off him in waves. The danger spoke volumes when his predatory eyes trapped me in their hold.
My vocal cords frizzled in awe of this man. I opened and closed my mouth repeatedly like a stupid gold-fish. Why couldn’t I find my voice? More importantly, when was the last time I was this dumbstruck?
Never. I was too fucked up to even consider looking at the opposite sex until now.
I didn’t register the cigarette between his fingers. He took a long, slow drag before puffing out smoke, placing the cig between my opened lips. Out of reflex, I closed them but was still frozen. He tapped my chin and a jolt of electricity through my skin. His simple touch was potent enough to affect my entire body.
“Suck,” he commanded lowly, his hand meeting my lower back.
Heat pooled in my core, soaking my knickers with my arousal. My thoughts wandered off into uncharted territory, one that I shouldn’t be tiptoeing when a stranger was standing in front of me. It’d been a while since I’d tapped into those areas. I was a born-again virgin, in a sense, as my last sexual encounter was a little over five years. Everything was going so well until he stepped in my line of sight. Hell, my whole entire path to recovery took a detour.
I took a long drag, imagining something else other than the cigarette. He watched me intently, his pink tongue sticking out and his eyes flashed molten lava. I pulled away and exhaled, allowing the smoke to obscure my vision. He returned the cig to his lips with a knowing smirk.
“Thanks,” I said with a cough. He tilted his head.
“You’re not used to this, sí?”
He was Spanish, well, at least he spoke Spanish. He could be Afro-Latina for all I knew. Shaking my head, I swallowed the burn in my throat.
“I tried to quit but that all went to shit when I faced the woman inside,” I giggled nervously, absentmindedly, stepping away to create enough distance for my brain to work. He glanced at the door with a frown.
Surprised, I sent him a questioning look.
“Yeah, you know her personally?” I asked and he shrugged.
“We’re business acquaintances,”
“Oh,” I shuffled from foot to foot.
“What’s your business with the club?” he leaned his shoulder against the brick wall, folding his arms as curiosity settled on his features. “You wouldn’t come to a random side alley to just smoke?”
“I designed the interior. Actually, I came to collect the cheque for the company I work for, Meyer’s Designs.”
His eyes flashed with recognition but it was gone in a nano-second. He gave me a once over, his minor curiosity spiking as he straightened his posture. He scratched his dark goatee with his eyes slightly narrowed.
“I saw a little of the inside. It’s amazing,”
Surprised, I smiled sheepishly. “Oh, thank you. I feel honoured and this will be huge for the company. I...” I was blabbering and at his silence, I stopped. I sounded stupid. I was stupid. I was about to tell this guy, this stranger, my whole life story. “Sorry,”
He furrowed his brows. “Why are you apologising? I’m listening,”
“I don’t know you,”
He chuckled deeply. It was a nice sound, not musical as you’d hear in the fairy tales, but it was soothing.
“I am a stranger yet you’re in a dark alley, alone,” I tightened my lips knowing his words were the truth. My senses were too fucked up to even sense danger. This man was dangerous but not the kind that had your skin crawling. It was a different kind of danger, one keeping me on edge yet luring me at the same time. So far, he didn’t do anything where I’d question my safety. He lent me his cigarette. “Do you make a habit of this?”
“No, and why would you care?”
The corner of his lips twitched. “Well, you’re pretty but you don’t look stupid,”
Pushing away from the wall, he stalked closer to me and I held my ground when I craned my neck to get a better view of his face. He was so close where the air slowly morphed into his intoxicating cologne mixed with the scent of smoke. It reflected his image – sweet but dangerous.
He pointed the cigarette in my direction. “You want more?”
Shaking my head, he tossed it to the side and did nothing else but examined my features. I didn’t mind because I grabbed the opportunity to do the same. He could’ve been a dark angel. Again, he touched my chin lightly, moving my head from side to side. He was very bold, I noted. For some reason, I didn’t feel the urge to slap his fingers away.
“You’re a redhead,” he said to himself and self-consciously, I patted my hair, startled that my roots were showing. I didn’t say anything. That part of my life, I wasn’t going to explain. “I hope to see again... Scarlett,”
He stepped away, turning on his heels and walked further down the alley. How did he know my name? I tried to recall if I’d ever given my name but my mind went blank. I remembered he was ‘acquaintances’ with Keira. Did she mention me to him? I watched his figure until he disappeared around the corner and a thought occurred to me.
I didn’t even know his name.
I woke to the sound of rain crashing to the ground cursed when I remembered my window was open. Without a second thought, I rushed to close it but it was too late. A puddle formed on the ground and scowled at it. Honestly, why was I surprised? I was sure the rain didn’t just hit London but other parts of the UK. After cleaning up, I left my bedroom, careful not to wake my roommate Claire, and padded down the corridors into the kitchen in search for the one thing that I knew would be my saviour from exhaustion – coffee.
The strong scent instantly kicked my ass into gear and I was awake. A door opened and closed and in came one of my roommate, Brody. He plopped down next to me with a groan and ruffled his blond hair.
He opened one brown eye. “You look well rested,”
I shoved my cup of coffee in front of him and he jumped stiffly. “Alright, I see. Give me a cup?”
Passing over mine, he took a couple of gulps and I stared at him incredulously. I was seriously offended. With a loud satisfying smack of his lips, he passed the empty cup over to me with a cheeky grin.
“Whatever,” I grumbled pushing away from the counter. My mobile phone clattered loudly on the counter, indicating an incoming call. Checking the caller ID, it was Samuel and I pressed the answer button. He was calling on a weekend which was usual.
“Samuel, is everything alright?”
“Everything’s alright, my lovely, I have great news for you!” there was a dramatic infuriating pause. “Your previous client transferred five thousand pounds more into your account. He was very pleased with your work he decided to give you a bonus!”
His news nearly knocked me on my ass but I held myself together. Brody cocked a brow curiously when he reached for the Nutella and the bread. five-fucking-thousand pounds! Thank god my mouth wasn’t full of coffee or else it would’ve been all over Brody.
“five thousand?” I repeated in disbelief.
“Yes, a job well done!” there was a content sigh. “You’ve outdone us all, O’Neil,”
“Do you have an address where I can personally thank him? A phone number?”
All of my interactions with El Diablo weren’t really with the owner, more with Keira, but I wanted to thank him personally. Or ask the man if he was insane! He was a very gracious but at least I’d give it a try to recline his offer. Five thousand was way too much.
“I have an email address. I’ll text you shortly,”
With thanks and last goodbyes, I ended the call and waited two minutes when I got the message of my client’s email. When I read it over, I realised it was his personal email.
Leaving Brody alone in the kitchen, I walked back to my bedroom for my laptop. I was about to enter but Claire opened the door. Her aqua coloured hair was unruly and she scratched her scalp with a lazy smile.
“Morning, there’s some coffee if you want some,” She scurried away hastily to the kitchen and I retrieved my laptop, switching it on and waiting a while before I logged into my email. I copied and pasted the email and stared at the black screen, wondering what to say next. Hi, thanks for the money? At least I knew his full name other than what was displayed on the email. Settling my fingers on the keyboard, I started typing.
Dear Mr Russo,
Thank you for your generosity of five thousand pounds. I hope you’re pleased with the designs set in place and if you have any other projects that need work you could always contact Meyer’s Design.
I pressed send and chewed my bottom lip anxiously. I hoped I didn’t sound too enthusiastic or awkward. I went from chewing my lip to my fingernails and realised he wasn’t going to reply anytime soon. He was too busy to show his face in the meetings I had with Keira, what made it different this time? I was about to shut down my laptop, but there was a ding from my email. I glanced at my notifications and once again, I nearly dropped in surprise at an instantaneous response from Mr Russo. Christopher Russo.
Ms Scarlett O’ Neil,
It was my pleasure to gift you with a bonus and I’m very, very pleased with your work. What sparked your interest in interior design?
I frowned at his question. It was too personal for it to be a simple thank you and goodbye. This would’ve been appropriate if we were face to face but it was better than not having any communication at all. I tapped my knees before touching the keyboard again.
I’ve been told to have a creative streak since I was little. I was interested in art and took it for my GCSEs and A-levels before taking interior design course in University.
I pressed send and a minute went by when another ding came through.
Is that all? I’m sure your passion goes far deeper than a small handful of people speaking of your talent.
His professionalism diminished quickly. I went from thanking him to spewing my reason for my choice of career. I read over his second email over again and with a scoff, I slammed my laptop shut, pushing it to the side. Nope, it felt odd speaking to a faceless man. I needed some time to think of my response and more coffee. Way more coffee. He’d have to wait and, I had other clients to look over and two roommates who didn’t know how to cook. As if reading my thoughts, Claire yelled.
“Scarlett, where’s breakfast?”