I wasn’t looking for anyone when I first met Lucas. Not really. I’d split up with my boyfriend about ten months previously and, frankly, couldn’t be bothered to seek out another relationship. The ex had put me through the mill a damn sight more than once and I needed the break.
Didn’t mean a bloke couldn’t have fun though. So when the midsummer party invitation came through from the couple who used to live next door, I thought: what the hell, why not? I’d got on well with Frank and Miranda, and was more than happy to catch up with them in their new home. It was only about twenty miles away, not that far at all.
Which explained why on the evening of June 21, I could be found in a posh house in the middle of the Surrey countryside, with a cocktail in my hand – unknown ingredients but it exploded in the mouth – and a smile on my face. A genuine one as I was deep in conversation with Miranda, a woman in her fifties with cropped blonde hair and wise green eyes.
“Good,” she said with pleasing conviction once I’d reassured her I was still definitely single. “Alan was a nasty piece of work and I have no idea why you stayed together for so long. Frank and I never took to him. I’m so happy you’ve finally got rid of him.”
I shrugged and smiled. It wasn’t the first time she’d said this, but really it was nice to hear it again. Actually, the final showdown hadn’t been quite like that, though I did feel proud that I’d thrown a plate at the wretched Alan’s departing back. Without my glasses, it had missed and bounced off the wall, but hey at least I’d tried. Right here and now however, I couldn’t help the secret glow that came from Miranda’s assumption that I’d been the one doing the dumping. Still, knowing her, she was simply trying to make me feel better. An effort for which I was grateful.
So I gave her a hug. I can do touchy-feely like the rest of them. In the right circumstances. It was then of course that I saw him.
A tall hunk of a man, dark sleek hair and a dark beard. He walked across the crowd of people in the makeshift dance area behind us as if he were loping across the savannah. Almost dancing. The movement had all the elegance and danger of a panther on the hunt. Or a wolf.
I blinked. Let Miranda go, my eyes following the stranger. Heck, I couldn’t have looked away. She glanced round, saw who it was I was gazing at just as the man himself disappeared into the garden.
She laughed. “Ah now, that’s Lucas. Maybe he’s your type. Come and meet him.”
Before I could object that, as a thirty-six year old college lecturer, I was probably capable of finding my own dates if I wanted them, Miranda had grabbed my hand and was tip-tipping her way in Lucas’ direction, with me stumbling along behind. And I’d learnt long ago that when Miranda made up her mind to do something, it was best to go along with it.
In the garden, lights were strung up across the trees and bushes, which gave a magical effect to the scene. Not that they were strictly necessary as the natural midsummer light was still strong enough to see by. Miranda sighed and scanned the lawn for signs of life.
“Ha!” She’d obviously spotted her unfortunate quarry, and the two of us headed, hand in hand, to the other side of the garden.
I thought perhaps after all it was time to object. The brief glimpse I’d had of Lucas told me loud and clear that he was way out of my league. “Miranda, don’t you think—?””
“Oh hush, Martin. Don’t you think it might be time to move on? And you can’t tell anything until you try.””
Before I could either concur or object, we’d all but reached our destination. The man – Lucas – swung around. In the lights hung in the nearby branches, I could see that his upper lip was raised as if he were about to snarl or say something cutting. His eyes were so light they were almost yellow and, this close up, I could see the thick dark hairs on his arms.
He glanced at me and, to my surprise, something in those eyes sparked. At exactly the same moment, he changed his expression from a scowl to a smile and put out his hand to greet Miranda.