To celebrate reaching 4,000 likes on Facebook I'm posting this deleted King of Hearts chapter!
Little bit of background: When I began writing the book, I wasn't sure whether to start the story where the characters had never met before, or where they'd known each other a couple of years. In the end I wrote both and asked a few of my beta readers which they preferred. The vote was unanimous and they all preferred the chapter where King and Alexis had never met before. Today I'm posting the other chapter, so if you're curious to know how their story might have played out in an alternate universe, wonder no more!
I'm also giving away a signed copy of King of Hearts, a CD copy of The Hooker & the Hermit audiobook, plus a selection of swag over on my Facebook page to one lucky winner. So head on over and enter HERE to be in with a chance 😀
Heathrow Airport, London, 2009.
I was worried about my boss.
Normally Oliver King was the epitome of reliable: always on time, freakishly organised, a master of his own universe in every way, but in recent months his behaviour had gone downhill and I had no clue what was going on.
This morning I was running on pure stress and very little sleep. He had disappeared off the face of the earth and I was very close to having my first heart attack at twenty-seven years of age. Yes, there had always been upsides to being his assistant; I loved to banter and joke around with him, I also loved to tease him about being posh and vain, and of course there was the money. But still, that wasn’t enough of a saving grace to make me forgive him for very recently becoming as unpredictable as a tornado.
I was one of two executive assistants who catered to the needs of the Mr King, who at the ripe young age of thirty-three was the managing director of Johnson-Pearse Bank. You’ve heard of the Wolf of Wall Street, yes? Well, Mr. King was the Crocodile of Canary Wharf, just add the blonde hair of a movie star, a face to match, subtract the dodgy dealings and you’ve got it in one. Since he was pretty to look at, most people thought I was in quite the enviable position.
I didn’t see it that way. In my opinion, I was in an enviable position because I was working for one of the greatest minds the world of finance had seen in decades. Yes, in the beginning I was a little in awe of his looks, but our relationship had evolved into something that was half professional, half friendship with a side of eccentricity. (Sometimes I called him Ollie, sometimes he called me Lexie, and sometimes I liked to eat my lunch in the swanky bathroom at the back of his office.) What? The place was fancier than my entire flat put together. Anyway, Oliver found it amusing…I think.
I was sitting in the first class lounge at Heathrow airport, waiting for the good boss man to show up. I’d been preparing for his trip to New York to meet with clients for the last week, and he had the sheer gall to be late for the flight. We were supposed to be boarding in less than ten minutes and there was still no sign of him.
I watched as airplanes took off out on the runway and tapped my fingers into my phone, calling him for the umpteenth time this morning. Still, I got no answer, just his annoyingly refined accent informing me that he was unavailable at present.
Deciding that it wasn’t my fault if he was late, I gave up trying to get in touch with him and instead browsed through my personal emails. My stomach did a little flip flop when I saw a new message from my friend, Bradley. He was a fashion photographer and we met through a mutual acquaintance at a party several months ago.
Over a glass of wine, he told me I had just the right measurements for plus sized modelling, and asked me if I’d be interested in auditioning for a shoot. After many years of not thinking very much about my looks, other than being aware of the fact I had an ample backside and some serious boobage going on, I went for it. In the end I landed a gig modelling dresses and some classy lingerie for a fancy plus sized fashion catalogue.
I’d been waiting with baited breath for weeks for the final shots to come in, and now they were here. Quickly downloading the zipped folder, I began to scroll through the pictures, my tummy fizzing and popping with excitement. I looked hot as shit. Yeah, I gave myself the compliment because it wasn’t like anyone else was going to give it to me. Luckily, the team for the shoot had done my hair and make-up to perfection, and in each picture I was posing in just the right way as to make my curves seem appealing.
“What are you looking at?” A whispered voice came in my ear, startling me. His breath hit my skin and I didn’t even have to look his way to know he was grinning like the Cheshire cat. I would have to be looking at a shot of me lounging on a velvet sofa in a matching bra and knicker set when my boss just so happened to come up behind me. Before I could respond he’d swiped the phone out of my hand, fingers zipping over the buttons.
“Give that back!” I hissed, grabbing for it but he held it out of my reach. A second later he handed it back to me and I looked down to see he’d just forwarded the pictures to his own email. The little shit.
“What the hell did you just do!? Those were private,” I said to him. I was talking at a normal volume, while at the same time my voice held all the characteristics of shouting.
“I’m sorry,” said Oliver casually. “You know I’m technologically challenged when I’m hung over. Did I hit a wrong button?”
“You know exactly what you did. Those pictures were private. And you smell like a brewery. Where the hell have you been?”
He raised one eyebrow and folded his arms as he took the seat across from me. “Speak to me like that again and you’ll find a P45 on your desk when we get back from this trip.”
I swallowed and became a touch nervous at him threatening to fire me. Oliver was something of a wild card. Sometimes you could get away with talking to him casually, rudely even, and then other times he’d tear you a new one if you so much as looked at him the wrong way. It was such a fun environment in which to work – said nobody, ever.
“S-sorry,” I muttered in apology, hating myself for supplicating. In essence, he’d just stolen private pictures from me. I could sue the bastard. But when you’ve been working in a bubble with someone for three years, certain boundaries begin to blur and you start to accept things you never would otherwise.
Before he could reply, a pretty air hostess approached and ti us that our flight was ready to board. Oliver only had a slim briefcase as hand luggage. Of course, I’d been tasked with checking his suitcase, which he’d been so kind as to have left off at my flat last night by his driver. He picked up the briefcase and gestured for me to lead the way. I stepped ahead of him and self-consciously ran my hands down my beige pencil skirt, wondering simultaneously if he was looking at my arse and whether or not I had a visible panty line. It was fucked up that these were the things I was wondering. It was also unlikely that he was looking, but still, I thought I heard him clear his throat from behind me.
When we got onto the plane, I waited for Oliver to go by me so that he could sit at the window. He always insisted on the window seat. I didn’t mind, because being able to see all of that sky and emptiness between me and solid ground often made me nauseous.
I hadn’t wanted to go on this trip. Mainly because I was a nervous flyer. Unfortunately, he’d insisted I be the one to accompany him. His other assistant, Gillian, would have been a far better candidate. She worshiped at the man’s feet and was all, yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir, while I was all no sir, I beg to differ sir, kiss my arse sir.
I was far better suited to working alone and putting my genius organisational skills to good use on a computer. You know, all solitary-like. But no, it seemed Mr King was somewhere in between a sadist and a masochist, because he relished making both me and him suffer. Though often I wondered if he possessed the actual ability to suffer. I always imagined him coming out of the womb wearing a Hugo Boss suit and asking the midwife where he might procure a scotch on the rocks.
He was on his phone right then, a sly grin shaping his lips. I knew he was looking at the pictures. There was nothing else in this world that gave him quite that smug expression like knowing he was getting one over on me.
“Did you pay for these to be taken yourself?” he asked me in amusement as he perused them. My heart was going ninety. My boss was looking at what could be termed racy pictures of me. This was not a universe I wanted to inhabit.
I scrunched up my face. “What?”
“Some of my American friends do this sort of thing, for Valentine’s day and such. They pay for a photographer to take sexy pictures of them to give to their significant other as a gift.”
I stared at him in disbelief. “People actually do that?”
“Yeah well, I didn’t. My girlfriend isn’t into that sort of thing.”
It was a running lie I had going with him that I was a lesbian. I was unsure if he believed me, but since I had such an excellent poker face there was a good chance that he did. It all came around about the time I started working for him. We were at the office late putting the finishing touches to a big project, and he’d made some vaguely flirtatious comment about us getting a hotel room after. I shot off a snappy comeback about only being into vaginas and it put a decisive end to the conversation.
Ever since then I’d been carrying on with the lie. It made things simpler, because Oliver was a red-blooded male and I was a female who was occasionally weak to the advances of pretty men. Taking the possibility of sex out of the equation meant I didn’t have to worry about screwing up the best paying job I’d ever had.
“Oh yes, your girlfriend,” Oliver smiled blandly. “What was her name again?”
“Samantha. She’s got tits out to here and an arse that won’t quit,” I said, gesturing a pair of gigantic knockers. “And man, does she know her way around a clitoris.”
He was frowning now. “Shut up, Alexis.”
I laughed and then sighed. “Relax, I'm messing with you. Just call me Bruce Willis, because I’ve been doing a spot of moonlighting. The pictures were for a fashion catalogue. Plus size, if you must know. Don’t laugh.”
He let out a low chuckle before schooling his features back to neutral. I knew he hated it when I made him laugh. He didn’t want to admit that I was a funny fucker, because that would constitute giving me a compliment, and God forbid he do that.
“Modelling, you say? Should I be worried you’re going to leave me in order to fulfil your true calling?”
“Ha! This coming from the man who was threatening me with the dreaded P45 a couple minutes ago. Admit it, you’d be lost without me.”
I fluttered my eyelashes at him and tilted my head coyly. When he looked at me, his icy blue eyes seemed to soften. “You’re a little flirt, Alexis Clark,” he murmured and brought his hand up to caress my cheek.
My gaze widened in shock and my entire body went utterly still. Not in our entire three years working together had he ever done anything like this. We were friendly. We teased one another, bantered. But we were never affectionate. What Oliver had just done was both tiny and monumental.
I drew away from him. “You’re hung over.”
Rubbing his jaw, he sat back and let out a long breath. “Yes, I am.”
“I have a bag of travel toiletries in my carry-on if you’d like to pay a quick trip to the bathroom before take off. Did you even get home last night?”
Now he was rubbing at his eyes. “This is the same suit I was wearing yesterday, isn’t it?” he said as if that explained it all. “And yes, I could do with a little freshening up.”
Without another word I withdrew the plastic Ziploc bag containing various toiletries and handed it to him. Getting up, he made his way to the bathroom and I let out the breath I’d been holding. Well, that was a weird encounter. Perhaps he was off his game given the lack of sleep.
I settled back into my seat and pulled out the flight menu, because I liked to peruse what was in store for me. You know, weigh my options ahead of time. I was a foodie through and through and derived great pleasure out of all variety of cuisines. My big ambition was to one day fly first class on the Emirates airline. Have you seen the meals they serve on those flights? To die for. Oliver always flew first class, of course, but the airline we were using today was no Emirates. I thought the cheese plate looked interesting…
“Ah, I feel like a whole new man,” said Oliver, planting himself back in the seat beside mine and wafting his fresh minty breath my way.
“Boundaries, Mr King, boundaries,” I said, all pinched and professional, because I knew it got on his nerves when I took that sort of tone with him.
“Oh well, you’ll forgive me for my lapse in professionalism, since we’ve already had tits, arses and clitori mentioned this morning.”
I let out an unexpected burst of laughter. “Clitori?”
He smirked. “Sounds better than clitorises, doesn’t it?”
I raised an eyebrow and teased. “Pretentious, more like. You can take the boy out of Cambridge, but you can’t take Cambridge out of the boy.”
Oliver had an oh so snazzy degree in Finance and Accounting from The London School of Economics, and a masters in Finance from Cambridge. People were forever blowing smoke up his arse for being so fancily educated, so I liked to think I balanced the score by taking the piss and keeping his ego in check. He gave me a playful scowl and shook his head, picking up the flight magazine and flicking through the pages.
We fell into silence then and a few minutes after take-off Oliver was asleep, curtesy of the flight pillow the air hostess had been only too happy to provide for him. I found myself spending a few moments studying his features. God, he really was a handsome bastard. He was probably prettier than me and I was supposed to be the girl. I had slightly exotic features, dark eyes and hair thanks to my Greek mother, but my looks paled in comparison to his.
Finally closing my eyes, I decided to catch a few Zs myself, since last night had been ridden with stress and sleeplessness.