Where to begin?

I guess at the beginning. Seems as good a place as any.

I remember the day I met Dominic like it was yesterday. In fact, better than I remember yesterday. I was drinking alone in Dirty Dick’s, nursing a large gin and tonic and a rather fetching black eye, a thoughtful parting shot from my ex.

I was broken. Months and months of being told that I was stupid and worthless – with physical exclamation marks – had taken its toll on my mental health. Of course, a degree from Oxford University and a Masters from Cambridge belied the assertion that I’m stupid. That and the five-figure salary from the German bank I worked for.

I’m not trying to brag here. Just laying out the details so you can understand. I was most definitely somebody. By day a strong, intelligent woman responsible for the personal fortunes of my extensive client list. By night, a cowering, weak, punch bag who would study her bruises in the mirror and think about ending it all.

And I did end it all. Although not with a razor or a bottle of pills, but by simply walking away.

So I found myself in Dirty Dick’s, a very busy pub not far from where I worked. I’d been there a couple of hours, I guess. I’d definitely made pretty good inroads into the bottle of Tanqueray behind the bar. I’d noticed him when he walked in. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with floppy hair the colour of golden syrup. But I was in no mood to size up men, and had looked away without giving him a second thought.

I sensed someone sliding on to the bar stool next to mine, could smell his aftershave and feel the warmth of his body even from a good few inches away. The barman put a neat Scotch in front of him, and a gin and tonic I hadn’t ordered in front of me. I looked up, coming back from a very long way away.

“So,” he said, “where did you get that?”

I knew he was talking about the bruise under my left eye and I finally turned to look at him. He had the most amazing eyes. I’ve always been an eye girl. They were almost the same colour as his hair. “I walked into a door,” I said quietly, not breaking the eye contact. He knew I was lying, and I knew he knew. I saw his hand tighten on the glass he was holding and knew he understood. We would never talk about it again.

I discovered that his name was Dominic. He was a couple of years older than me at 27. I found out where he worked, what he did, what he liked to do at weekends, where he went to uni, who among our friends were mutual acquaintances. By the time we parted ways, I knew an awful lot about him. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After a couple of drinks, the bar started to fill up with East-End wideboys, fresh off the trading floor and as loud and obnoxious as ever. Dominic suggested a change of scene, and I complied. Let this stranger lead me outside into the cold November night and climbed into a cab with him. I know I was a bit pissed, but I trusted him. I knew – I thought – he would never hurt me.

He took me to a bar in Covent Garden. I can’t remember the name, and it’s long gone now, but I drank cherry martini’s while we talked and chain-smoked my way through a pack of Dunhill. I liked him. He made me laugh. The last thing I was looking for was to fall into another relationship but at the end of the evening when we were out on the street and he hailed me a cab, I let him tuck his card into my coat pocket. He kissed me on the cheek and I can remember the feel of his stubble and the smell of him, even now.

As the cab pulled away, whisking me away from him and back to my apartment in Shad Thames, I took the card out of my pocket and rubbed my thumb over his name, a small smile on lips. Only a small smile, but the first genuine smile I’d smiled in months.


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