Release Date: 27/10/2020
Can she trust in his love, when all she’s ever known is heartbreak?
Alessandra “Ale” Ridley, lawyer extraordinaire, attentive best-friend, cool aunt, Star Wars expert, Fortnite guru…. is lonely.
Ale has a good life, a great career, amazing friends who are more like family. Yet, despite her thriving life, past experiences have left her feeling vulnerable, afraid to believe she’s worthy of romance, let alone her own love story. She’s been the second choice, the one left pining. At this point, she’s ready to fade off into the background of life.
Until Nathan Prescott shows up.
With his ridiculously blue eyes, dark hair, tanned skin, and phenomenal body, so close to perfect that Ale is still not convinced he is not the poster child for Photoshop. He could have anyone. Ale can hardly believe he wants her.
Nathan says all the right things at the right time, and he isn’t running away from her quirky traits like so many others before him have done. In fact, he encourages her to become her true self, helping Ale to see that she deserves to be romanced, and to be someone’s first choice.
It all seems too good to be true. And, maybe … it is.
I winced, looking at my reflection in the floor-length mirror. “It won’t work,” I grumbled, pulling down the black pencil dress that Angela, my way-too-bossy best friend, made me wear.
I turned around, meeting the genuine confusion on Angela’s face. “Do you really need to ask?”
She frowned. “Yes, I really do. You look stunning!” She adjusted the wide red belt higher on my waist and took a couple of steps back before sitting on the corner of the bed, crossing her long leg like a graceful Ballerina. Angela had more grace in her little toe than I had in my whole body.
I huffed with exasperation turning back toward the mirror, twisting my mouth with indecision at my reflection. The sophisticated hairdo, the smoky eyes and red lips, the red blouse and tight pencil skirt – it wasn’t me, not even a little.
“Don’t look so disgusted, it’s offensive. You said you liked the new collection and now it seems like you’d rather be caught dead than to go out in this outfit.” She sighed. “It’s great for my self-confidence.”
I rolled my eyes. “This guilt won’t work, Angela.” She was a great designer, and she knew it. She had built her own company while modeling and had been in Vogue five times both for her looks and designs before turning 30.
I sighed in rendition, turning toward her again. “Yes, I do love your new collection.” I admitted sitting beside her on the bed.
Angela’s bed was high as both she and Tom were tall. I looked down, and while my best friend’s legs were gracefully folded, they still touched the floor, mine were dangling like a child’s.
I shook my head in defeat. “I love these clothes on you, Ange. It looks stunning on a 5’10, size 4 blond goddess like you.” I ran my forefinger back and forth on the hem of the skirt which rose above my knees as I sat down. “It doesn’t look so hot on the 5’3, size 14 plain jane.”
Angela’s mouth tightened in frustration. “I’d love for you to see yourself how I see you – for once.”
“You love me,” I replied.
“I – do.” She trailed off, visibly confused about my train of thought. “You need to rewind honey and give me the cliff notes.”
This was a common occurrence with me and even after over twenty years of friendship, I still managed to confuse her. Sometimes my thoughts were going faster than my mouth and it was like jumping chapters of a book.
“I mean that your vision of me is biased because you love me. For you, I will always be beautiful.” I gave her a half shrug. “Love makes you blind, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, I am not blind! When I see you in your sweatpants, in desperate need of a shower because you and Tom spent thirty-six hours playing online for some stupid wizard quests…believe me, at that moment, you look horrendous and my husband?” She grimaced. “He puts me off for a few days.”
I chuckled, waving my hand dismissively. “You knew what you were doing when you adopted a geek as a best friend, and you joined the club when you married into geekhood.”
She tried to scowl but the smile tucking at her lips defeated the attempt. She stood up, pulling me up with her. “Anyway, any discussion on this is pointless. You promised to let me play dress-up with you for one night.”
I grimaced, pulling at that stupid skirt once more. “Yes, but it was for your 30th birthday. You said you wanted to do a makeover. I was a bit drunk, I said yes but…” I turned toward the mirror again. “It was months ago, I’m pretty sure the statute of limitation has run out on that gift, come to think of it.”
I met her gaze in the mirror. My best friend rolled her eyes before swirling me around, keeping her hands tightly on my shoulders. “Don’t go all lawyer on me, you didn’t give me an expiration date, and tonight is the night.”
I pulled on my skirt once more. “Okay, let’s just get tonight over with.” I resigned myself to defeat.
“That’s the spirit!” Angela chirped, ignoring my sore mood. “Now, get this juicy butt into gear. You gave me one evening and I really intend to make the best of it.”
“I really intend to make the best of it.” I mimicked with a high-pitched voice following her down the stairs.
Tom and their seven-year-old son George were waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs by the door. George was already dressed up in his cute Star Wars pajamas that I’d bought him for Christmas.
“Oh, Auntie Ale, you look so pretty,” he said in awe, taking a step toward me. “You look like a girl.”
I chuckled, ruffling his thick, dark, tightly coiled hair. “Do you like me like that?” I asked, readjusting the belt around my waist.
“I always like you.” He grinned, reaching for my hand.
My smile widened. That kid was such a charmer, like his mother.
“What do you want buddy?”
He pointed behind him. “Dad bought the new Lego game today, wanna play with us?”
Angela glared at Tom who looked away with a guilty smile.
I looked longingly at the PlayStation and the bowl of popcorn. What wouldn’t I give to trade this stupid skirt for my sweatpants and play with my boys all evening?
Angela crossed her arm on her chest. “Tom, you promised to wait.” She pointed a finger at the TV. “You know our son must be in bed by 8pm.” She looked suspiciously between the two people who, I knew, were the loves of her life. These two were a team, thick as thieves.
She looked at Tom again. “He’s got school tomorrow, not everyone is on vacation.”
Tom shrugged, a small smile tugging on his wide lips. “The perks of being a university professor.” He turned toward me. “You scrub up well, munchkin.” He pulled me in one of his overwhelming papa bear hugs. “Say the codeword if you need me to get you out of there,” he whispered, only half-joking.
I chuckled, patting his back. “Don’t worry, I’ll survive Angela.”
“Hey! Hey! No! No scheming!” She broke our hug. “Come on, you’re going to wrinkle her blouse.” She sighed resting her perfectly manicured hands on her narrow hips. “Seriously, one evening!” She pointed her forefinger up. “I’m asking you ONE evening and you are being difficult.”
Tom and I looked at each other sheepishly. Ange put up with our crap all the time. All I had to do was pretend not to hate it as much as I did.
“Fine.” I sighed. “Come on, let’s go.” I looked once more at the boys and the amazing evening ahead of them. “You have fun, okay?”
Tom nodded, giving Georgie a piggyback. “Try to have fun tonight.”
I nodded. “I’ll do my best, let me know how the game is, we can maybe play tomorrow.”
“Uber’s here!” Angela shouted, and I knew she only wanted to get out of the house before I could think of a reason to stay home.
The bar Angela picked was not one of our usual hang-out spots but again, as I was not wearing my usual jeans and large shirts, I was quite grateful we went somewhere I would never go again.
I looked around; most of the customers of the bar were men in suits. “Is there anything I’m missing?”
“Nope…” Angela gave me a mischievous grin. “I’ve researched our night out for a long time, my friend. I knew it was probably my only chance to play dress-up with you, I wanted to make it count.”
“What did you do? Google ‘bars for male professionals?’”
At Angela’s slight blush, I burst into laughter. The kind of full belly, teary-eyes laugh – probably the most unattractive laugh there was, but so liberating.
“You did, didn’t you?”
Angela threw me a dark look. “No, I didn’t just…shut up.” She finished rather lamely, confirming that I wasn’t far from the truth. “I – oh, get lost. I’ll get us some drinks.”
I was still chuckling when she came back with two very brightly colored cocktails.
“What is that?” I asked, suspiciously eyeing the electric blue of the cocktail in front of me.
Angela straightened in her chair. “Won’t tell you, you dare mock your friend and expect my secrets?” She shook her head. “It’s a no from me.”
I took a sip of the cocktail, the aftertaste of pineapple, a clear tell of a Blue Hawaiian. “Come on, you’re always so perfect compared to us mere mortals. It feels so good to be able to laugh at you occasionally.”
Angela threw me her best glare before taking a sip of her drink.
My grin widened as I looked down at my drink, mixing the cocktail with the little pink umbrella.
“May I buy you a drink?” asked a deep voice. I rolled my eyes, keeping my head down. Here we go… It never took much time for men to start hitting on Angela despite the shiny wedding ring she always proudly displayed.
Angela’s pointy shoe connected not too softly with my shin.
I looked at her startled as she jerked her head to her right.
I glanced up and met a pair of amused eyes. I frowned, detailing the man standing in front of our table. He was wearing a grey suit, nothing quite uncommon about it but working with Angela for years allowed me to see that it was a perfect cut, tailor-made for this man. I looked down at his shoes, black, long, shiny … expensive. My grandma used to say that you could say a lot about a person based on their shoes and this man was breathing money. My eyes trailed up his long muscly legs, wide chest, broad shoulders, golden-brown skin, strong stubborn jaw, square chin, full, sensuous lips, straight nose, almond-shaped cornflower blue eyes, black, lustrous, curly hair.
All in all, he was a splendid male specimen and weirdly enough he was turned toward me.
“What?” I asked, oh so gracefully when I finished staring at him.
His smile widened, flashing a perfect set of straight pearl white teeth. Of course, he had perfect teeth, that man was the poster boy for Photoshop – ridiculous!
Angela’s pointy shoe connected with my shin once again. I winced and glared at her; this one was so hard I suspected I was bleeding.
“I asked if you wanted to have a drink with me,” he asked, visibly undeterred by my less-than-classy attitude.
“Why?” I asked and moved my legs quickly enough to avoid Angela’s unforgiving shoe. I smiled victoriously at her when she missed.
“Why not?” he insisted, seemingly oblivious to the silent war going on between Ange and me.
I opened my mouth but closed it again, not sure how I could answer a ‘why not’. “There is no space,” I insisted as the thought of blowing it with that guy really didn’t sit well with me.
Ange stood up, her phone in her hand. “Just take my seat for a little while, I have a couple of calls to make.”
I threw her a look I hoped conveyed both my anger and desperation. She couldn’t leave me here with Model Boy! I was barely socially functioning on the best of days, being alone with him would probably lead to nothing less than a disaster.
I was used to making a fool of myself. I’d had years of experience really but never before in front of someone so aesthetically perfect.
Oh well, there was a first time for everything. Unable to contain my sigh before sipping on my drink, I studied the stunning man sitting across from me.
He was looking back at me, his eyes lit with amusement, a shadow of a smile on his luscious lips.
I narrowed my eyes slightly. What was his end game? “You know, if you’re trying to get friendly with me to get with Angela, you’re wasting your time. I’m not easy to befriend, and Angela is happily married.”
He shrugged, leaning back in his chair, letting his long fingers travel up and down his beer bottle. “I’m sure you’re easier to befriend than you’re giving yourself credit for. As for your friend, it’s a good thing I’m not sitting here for her, because she just got into a taxi.”
I turned around so briskly I almost fell off my chair. Yeah… How to be poised. I looked around the bar and despite being busy I knew I wouldn’t have missed the lithe beauty Angela was. “I just…” I shook my head. No, it wasn’t possible – Angela knew how awkward I was in a social situation, she wouldn’t do that. “Something must have happened – She wouldn’t,” I muttered mostly to myself.
I grabbed my phone on the table, ignoring the man still sitting across from me. Why was he even still there? I was being far from pleasant.
I was about to call Angela when a text popped up on the screen. Decided to go home, everything is fine. Enjoy your evening with hunky man *wink wink*
I looked at the man still staring at me and I blushed under the intensity of his scrutiny. People never bothered giving me a second glance.
You’re so dead. I texted back before jamming the phone furiously in my bag.
His smile broadened, as he leaned closer crossing his arms on the table.
“Are you a sociopath?” I blurted before wanting to bury myself under the shame of my question. And so, it begins….
He chuckled; his eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I must admit I’ve never been asked that before. Well no, I’m not, at least I don’t think so. Are you?”
I shook my head, still muted by my own embarrassment.
He nodded. “Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, maybe we try to get to know each other better, don’t you think? What’s your name?”
“Ale- Alessandra but my friends call me Al or Ale. Well, some call me Sandra but I’m not a fan and –” Just shut up, Ale.
He extended his hand. “Well nice to meet you, Alessandra.”
I looked at his hand, somehow reluctant to take it. I was alone in a bar with an Adonis, no friend, no safety net to get me out of this nightmare in the making. I knew my hands were probably clammy, and there was no way I would touch him.
“We already established I’m not a sociopath.” He grinned, exposing dimples. I almost wanted to roll my eyes at this little detail. Could he be more perfect?
I wiped my hand on my skirt as discreetly as I could before taking his hand, and as his soft, warm palm engulfed mine, I felt shivers go up my arm to the back of my neck.
I let go of his hand rather briskly and folded my hands on my lap, far from any temptation to see if the tanned skin was as soft as it looked.
“And what’s your name?”
It took a couple of seconds for him to answer. “Nathan… my name is Nathan.”
I frowned ever so slightly at the hesitation. Was it even a hesitation? I cursed myself, stupid work was getting to me again. Not everything you hear needs to be analyzed Ale, let it go.
“Nathan…” I repeated and suddenly his face lifted as if hearing his name pleased him.
“So, Alessandra, what are you doing as a living?”
“I’m a lawyer – I work for a fashion brand.”
“Oh, are you?” He cocked his head to the side. “I wouldn’t have expected that.”
“Why?” I pursed my lips as I felt the blush of anger hit my neck. “Is it the lawyer or the field I work in?” I shook my head, somehow not able to contain the disappointment I felt. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. Either you think I’m too stupid to be a lawyer, or I don’t look the part, either way, you’re offending me.” I grabbed my bag and stood, intending to leave and somehow feeling relieved that I decided to make an escape before making a fool of myself.
He grabbed my forearm, not hard enough to cause discomfort but with enough strength to show me that he was not going to let go easily.
“I think you misinterpreted. You’re so… luminous and funny. Not really what I imagined of a company lawyer. If I offended you in any way, I’m sorry, you are not what I expected and it was meant as a compliment even if I had to admit it was delivered quite poorly.”
His seemingly genuine contrition mollified me. I looked at him, still clutching my bag.
“Please?” he added.
“I can’t stay late.”
“One drink, I promise.” He gestured to the chair I’d vacated.
I sighed. How much trouble could my mouth get me in over the course of just one drink? A lot… a lot of trouble was the correct answer, but I sat down, anyway. “One drink.”
He nodded, his bright smile back on his face, gesturing to the barman for a round of drinks. “I just thought you would…I just thought you would be the type of lawyer to save the widows and the orphans… You seem to radiate goodness.”
I nodded, taking a sip of my drink. “I’m saving the world of poor fashion one contract at a time.” It seemed quite ironic all things considered as my idea of dressing up was to swap my ratty sweatpants for a pair of jeans and the holey tee-shirt for one of my many pleated shirts.
“The world should thank you.” He joked.
I grinned, leaning back in my chair, starting to feel a bit more at ease. “What about you?”
“Ah.” He nodded, looking down at this beer. “I’m not saving the world.”
“We can’t all be doing that.”
His smile widened. “No, I guess we can’t. I’m an architect.”
His smile widened. “See, should I get offended at the look of surprise on your face?”
I tried to school my features. “No, I…” I cleared my throat. “I’ve never met an architect before, that’s all.”
He cocked his head to the side. “Your life is now complete.”
I couldn’t help but snort at his comment. Way to be sexy Ale. “It must be quite fulfilling to see your creations take life.”
He nodded. “It really is, it’s like leaving a little piece of me to the world.”
“Quite a unique way to be immortal.”
He scrutinized my face as if this statement surprised him. “It really is.”
Things went well, and I was amazed to realize after an hour that I was enjoying myself.
“It’s getting late… I’ve to go.” And I was surprised by my own disappointment.
Nathan nodded as I ordered my ride home. “Let me walk you out.”
“You don’t have to.”
He smiled again, and I started to understand that while other men might be running from my social inadequacies, this one seemed amused by them.
“I know I don’t have to, but I want to.” He helped me with my jacket. “Shall we?” He rested his hand on my back.
I nodded mutely and let him lead me outside, unsure of what to say.
As he stood on the sidewalk, he turned toward me, burying his hands in his pockets. “I would like to see you again.” He admitted, looking down at me, his eyes slightly cocked to the right.
“Why?” I had been a social disaster; I’d done pretty much everything that Angela and every women’s magazine ever told us not to do. He should have been running in the opposing direction, not standing close to me, asking for more.
“Why?” he asked, repeating me and then he laughed, leaning back on his heels. “Well, because you are genuine, it’s refreshing. You make me laugh more than I thought was possible, even if it is despite yourself but also because you are clever, witty, inquisitive, and absolutely lovely.”
I looked down at my shiny shoes and the piece of gum fused with the sidewalk. Compliments. That was the worst, I was not used to receiving them, and I was clueless on how to deal with them.
I looked up, trying to avoid his intuitive crystal-blue orbs which seemed to read me like an open book.
I could hear Angela so clearly in my head. Just say thank you, Ale. And yet, against my own advice, I pointed a finger to my outfit. “It’s all make-up and smart clothes you know – Smoke and mirrors.”
He leaned down, so close I smelled the mix of the beer on his breath and his woodsy aromatic cologne. “You should give me more credit, love, there isn’t much I haven’t already figured out,” he whispered close to my ear, making me shiver.
I looked over his shoulder and felt a wave of relief at the Uber rounding the corner. “My car is here!” I exclaimed, taking a couple of steps back, but he followed my lead, not letting me add the much-needed distance between us.
He looked at the car and took a step to the right, blocking my view and access to the car. “So, what do you say Alessandra? Lunch, you and me, tomorrow.”
“If I say yes, will you let me get into the car?” I fidgeted.
He brought his hand up and crossed his heart. “Scout’s honor.”
“I don’t really think it’s how it’s done.”
“I don’t know.” He grinned leaning down. “I’ve never been a scout.”
I chuckled, shaking my head. I liked how, despite my nervousness and inadequacies, he still managed to make me feel at ease, at least as much as ease as I ever felt in the company of an attractive member of the opposite gender. “Yes.”
He rocked back on his heels. “One more thing – Can I have your phone?”
I tightened my hold on it, my phone was pretty much an extension of my person.
He raised his hands in surrender. “I just want to give you my number and call for you to have mine.”
“Oh yes that makes sense.” I was grateful for the low lighting in the street hiding my embarrassment. “Of course, we have to exchange numbers!” Basic and yet… I sighed.
As his smile wavered, I understood that he mistook my sigh for a sign of reluctance. “It’s alright. Take my number and send me yours if you feel like it.” He reached in his pocket and scribbled his phone number on the back of the bar receipt. “I’ll be waiting for you at 12:30 at Urban. I really hope you don’t change your mind.”
I shoved the piece of paper in my pocket as he moved out of the way.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asked again as I opened the car door.
I looked at him for a minute, somehow still expecting it to be a joke, a dream, or even some kind of vivid fever-induced hallucination, but no, it was real – this more-than-gorgeous man wanted to spend time with me.
“Yes, see you then.”
Much later that night, when I was safely in my comfy bed in my favorite flannel pajamas – I kept thinking about the evening and Nathan.
“Nathan…” I let the name out as if to break the spell. I reached for my phone on the nightstand and stared at my new added contact still unsure of what to do. I ran my thumb on the smartphone screen over his name. I’d never been good at opening up to people, letting them in was the best way of getting hurt and I had been hurt enough for one lifetime.
It’s only your number Ale – not an organ. I knew it was a bit late to send a text, but he was the reason for my sleeplessness and therefore deserved to be woken up.
You can call me Ale. I texted, not sure of what else to say.
The answer came seconds later, before I even got a chance to put the phone back on the nightstand, at least it was good to know that he was as restless as I was.
See, befriending you was easy. See you tomorrow Ale 😉