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Near, but yet, so far.

The Exhale Series (Part 1)

Leesha McCoy



Published by Leesha McCoy at Smashwords.

Copyright © 2017 Leesha McCoy www.leeshamccoy.com

All rights reserved.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents and places are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to any persons, alive or dead and references to places and buildings are used fictitiously.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, E-mail the publisher at the following; LeeshaMcCoyAuthor@gmail.com

First edition



With thanks to,

Leanne, Lynda, Heather, Beverley Paul and Jen.



Dedicated to…

You, the readers xxx

One

I WAKE sweaty and frustrated. Panting hard, I reach under my pillow for my vibrator and make quick work of making myself come.

“Fuck!” I cry as I explode around my toy, jerking against my bed. I need cock in my life but this will just have to do. The last guy I was with was a… I swallow hard, it’s not worth thinking about. I will have to settle for rubber or plastic or whatever this thing is made of, for now.

I sigh heavily and clench my eyes shut; these dreams about my neighbour are becoming more and more intense. I just can't get him out of my damned mind. Shaking my head, I quickly snap out of another day dream before getting out of bed. Pulling on a robe, I make my way to the en-suite. I need to get my ass moving or I’ll be late for my meeting with Karen.

Long story short, I’ve liked a certain guy for a while now. I don’t know his name, and I don’t know what he does for a living. What I do know though, is that whenever I see him I can’t help but think about all the unspeakable things I could to do to him, with him. I think about what his type is, praying it's someone like me. Short, thick, long brown, wavy hair and an olive complexion. I expect I’d know what his type was if I could just find the bloody courage to approach him.

I’ve lived on his street in the West End for two years now, but we’ve never once spoken to each other. I don’t think he’s even noticed me. We live in a street full of old, three-storey town houses. I know he leaves his house usually around seven in the morning, always dressed in a black suit. His short hair immaculately styled with gel or whatever product he uses, and his shoes glimmer from the price tag. He’s got money, everyone who lives around here has. He drives an Audi R8, sometimes a Jag and occasionally I see a Limousine picking him up. I rarely see him with a woman but when I do, they are just as gorgeous as he is.

Lucky them.

I’d say he’s about five eleven, a medium build and fit like an athlete; his body is built like a God. He runs in the evenings, late, around ten o’clock. He doesn’t get home until about eight most nights. I know what you’re thinking; that I’m a stalker but it’s not like that, I swear. He’s just so stunningly good-looking; gorgeous and his tanned skin makes you want to bite him just to find out what he tastes like. Or maybe that’s just me.


I love living in the West End. My Mum and Dad are both solicitors, though they don’t really practice any more. They ran a very successful Law firm in central London and then opened branches in all the other major cities for years until they decided to move to the Caribbean three years ago. They helped me set up a beauty salon before they left and bought me this house. I still had to work hard for it mind. I went to college, got a job, studied business at university and then decided I wanted to have my own business. I don’t like people telling me what to do. I’m extremely independent and consider myself allergic to people in authority.

I love my salon. I treat my staff well and in return they work hard for me. I worked at six different jobs during my school years and if there’s one thing I learned, it was that if you treat your staff well, you’ll get ten times more out of them. My parents knew that too, and they always used to tell me, 'Don’t be a bitch just because you come from money. No one likes a snob.'

Now I’m twenty-seven and running my own business, I understand. Just because I have money, doesn’t make me better than anyone, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean I can treat people however I want. I know a lot of people who think they can and I feel sorry for them. Why are people so mean to each other? In what ‘guide to life’ is that written in? Not mine, that’s for damned sure.


I sigh with impatience whist standing in the queue in my local coffee shop. The fresh scent of coffee fills my senses as I watch the steam from the equipment behind the counter fill the air. I rushed to get here and in return skipped my morning coffee. Anyone who knows me knows how important morning coffee is to me. I idly wonder if the heated dreams about my neighbour are the reason for my tiredness lately. Last nights dream was particularly hot.

Shaking my explicit thoughts away, I turn to face Karen, my salon manager to tell her about my new business idea. Talking about my business always gets my full attention and I’m grateful because I need to get that man out of my head. “So I think we should consider setting up a partnership with a fitness centre. Our customers are always asking what the best gym is, and while we can do all treatments, it would be good to be able to tell them where to go for the best workout facilities.”

“I agree, babe, it could work well for both parties,” she replies enthusiastically.

Karen’s been with me since I set the business up four years ago and not only is she my employee, she’s my best friend.

“That’s what I’m thinking. If we can set up a system that alerts the gym that we’ve recommended them, they can give us a percentage of the membership fees.”

“Exactly.”

“Finally,” I mumble as I reach the counter. “Two skinny Latte’s, please.”

We wait for our drinks and then make our way over to a plum leather sofa at the back of the coffee shop. We meet here every Friday morning before work to discuss the business. We also talk about everything else in-between.

“So do you have any fitness centres in mind?” Karen asks, flicking her long red hair off her shoulder and relaxing into the corner of the sofa, crossing her legs.

“Nah, I’m going to check out the top five in the area next week. I’ll arrange to meet the owner of whichever I like best. I’m not going to recommend something I don’t like myself,” I say, blowing the smoke from my latte and taking a sip.

“Oooh, so you’re going to be a mystery shopper for the week, huh?”

“Uh-huh,” I nod, “I’ll visit them in the mornings, so don’t expect me in until after lunch.”

“No problem. I don’t know why you even bother to come in most days. It’s not like you need to.”

“I know, but you know I like to be involved as much as possible.” I can never understand why people have businesses but aren't involved in them. I like to know everything.

She smiles softly and nods knowingly. Karen is beautiful. Pale flawless skin, big blue eyes and long red hair. She’s tall and slender, looks like a supermodel, always has her hair and nails done and is the perfect representative for ‘Peaches’, my salon. It’s been in the top five rated beauty salons in London for the past two years. She knows I accept nothing but perfection and that's why we get on so well.

“So how did your date go Saturday night?” I ask her a while later, looking around the coffee shop and noticing how busy it's getting.

“Bloody awful. We went to Sushi Palace and he kept spitting out everything he didn’t like, which was basically everything he tried. He was such a baby. I couldn’t get away from him fast enough. He’s called a few times since but I haven’t answered. I’m surprised he expects me to after that.” She cringes and then shudders. “Shame because I really liked him but I need a real man, you-know? What the hell is wrong with men these days?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I answer dreamily, wondering what the guy from across the street is really like. I hope he’s manly.

“Why don’t you just ask him out? I know people who could do some research on him. Even find out his bank balance?”

I chuckle. “Are my thoughts that obvious?”

“When you’re thinking about him? Yeah.” She nods. “You’re a beautiful girl, Miah, you must know that from the amount of guys falling at your feet.”

“I wouldn’t say men are falling at my feet,” I scoff. I’ve only dated a little bit – and the last guy I dated... I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with me or I’m just not looking in the right places. I do get asked out regularly but I can’t be bothered. Give me a bowl of ice cream and a hot, steamy book any night.

“They do, even that guy that came on to you yesterday outside the shop, he was gorgeous,” she gushes sarcastically.

I flinch at the memory of the guy with the unwashed hair and smelly clothes outside peaches yesterday. “Shut up, he was disgusting!” I scorn her, slapping her knee.“And I’ve almost approached my neighbour plenty of times actually but then I see him with a woman—”

“Excuses, excuses,” she sighs.

“It’s not, honestly.”

“Then let’s make a bet.”

Oh no, Karen loves bets… “What kind of bet?” I ask warily.

“By the end of the month you must have at least spoken to him.” She raises her eyebrows and takes a sip of her Latte.

“Uhh, I’m not…”

“I dare you.”

I stare at her blankly for a few moments as her dare fully sinks in. I never say no to a dare but that’s our secret. Now, she’s using it against me.

“It’s for your own good,” she adds, reading my expression well. “Just a hello will do. I don’t want you to find out his life story. Come on, Miah, two years you’ve liked him. Life is too short not to take chances.”

“I take chances all the time,” I say defensively.

“Not with your love life you don’t,” she answers back, just as firmly. “I know that last guy was an ass hole but every guy isn't him.”

“I know that.”

“Well, then. Look, if you don’t do it, then I want a raise.”

“I just gave you one!” I admonish her.

“So talk to him then,” she says as if it's that simple.

I narrow my eyes at her and sigh. “Okay. I’ll talk to him, okay?”

“Good, twenty-one days left,” she smirks.

Yeah, twenty one days to make a complete idiot of myself.


Two

MONDAY MORNING comes around quickly, in fact, since Karen dared me the time seems to be flying by... I down an espresso in one go, grab my keys off the breakfast bar and make my way outside to the car. It’s raining heavily so I run from the front door to my Aston Martin One-77, unlocking it mid-run. I’ve only had her a few months but she’s my baby. She’s a bit noisy, the exhaust roars but no one round here seems to mind. Everyone drives flashy cars on Wyndham Street; this is the west end after all.

I listen to Emeli Sande’s album on the way to the first fitness centre on my list. It’s only a short drive but the traffic at nine in the morning makes the journey take ages.

As soon as I walk in I hate it. I drag my way around the dull and dreary gym, and by the time I’ve left, I know there's no way I’ll be recommending it. The customer service for one isn’t up to my standards, and the atmosphere just isn’t as welcoming as I would like for my customers. Call me picky but I haven’t made my business as successful as it is by not striving for perfection at every step.


“So how did the first mystery shop go?” Karen asks as I walk into her office situated at the back of the salon.

“No way.” I grimace, shaking my head and joining her at her desk.

“That bad, huh?”

“It was dull and uncoordinated and it didn’t feel right. The assistants weren’t up to scratch either. Rude.”

“Oh, I can’t say I’ve ever been to that one. Why don’t you try the one on Oxford Street tomorrow? I’ve heard great things about that one,” she encourages me enthusiastically.

“Okay, I’ll check it out. How’s everything here?”

“Fine, Carla called in sick but the temp I got in has been fantastic. The customers seem to like her and she pulls her weight. I had a chat with her this morning and told her what I expect from her. She was really excited to be temping here, said she’s applied for a job every time we’ve posted an opening but we’ve never got back to her.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, her name’s Shanice, she qualified five years ago. She looks after herself and she’s genuinely friendly. She’s good at her job, too, Miah, I mean really good,” she says as if surprised.

“Well if she’s that good we can give her a trial for a few weeks. Carla’s absences are becoming more and more frequent, it’ll be good for her to know that she will be replaced if she keeps it up.”

“Good idea,” she agrees, “I’ll talk to Shanice at the end of her shift.”

“Okay, great. Keep me updated. On another note, the new Soprano Laser will be here in the morning, do you want to try it out after work tomorrow?”

“Oh, hell yeah, I need some work done on my bikini area if you could help me out with that?”

“Yeah, fine, just make sure you remember to shave this time. I’m not doing that again,” I scorn her and we both laugh.

“I will, promise.”


The Laser came and Karen loved it when I tested it on her, hardly hurt apparently so I let her do my entire bikini area, and I had to agree with her – it was brilliant, and well worth the money. The hair takes on average ten days to fall out so there are no results now but the pain level compared to my existing machine is exceptional. I hope the hair loss results are as good. Laser hair removal is one of the treatments that I indulge in myself every so often. I like to stick to the more permanent hair treatments.


The next two fitness centres I check out are, okay. The one Karen suggested is definitely winning so far. Although I still don’t feel that it’s right for us. I’m hoping to find a gem in the last two I visit.

As soon as I walk into Carson’s Gym & Fitness on Thursday morning, I love it. I’m welcomed by a perfectly groomed female assistant who doesn't have one strand of her straight, blonde, glossy hair out of place. As I work my way around the centre I notice that all of the assistants are as equally perfect in their appearances. The high standards of their employer certainly has to be admired. It makes such a good impression. I briefly wonder if they already have some sort of set up with another beautician. I very much hope not.

Maybe I could sweeten the deal by offering the staff here discounts on treatments if they use Peaches instead? I don’t know how much the staff here get paid but it probably won’t be enough to afford to use my salon without a discount. It may work in my favour because the word-of-mouth potential from here could be huge.

With a collection of ideas circling in my mind, I inspect the rest of the premises. The décor throughout is fresh, clean and contemporary, but without being clinical. That’s another tick in the box. I feel comfortable here. It has all the latest gym equipment, top of the range, and it shows in the membership prices. They start from fifty pounds a month increasing to ninety-five, depending on the package you choose. In my opinion it’s worth it, especially for the area we’re in. My clients are all very wealthy so that won’t be a problem from my end.

After indulging in a swim, sauna and steam session, I decide to hunt down the owner or manager. I find the assistant manager who informs me that the owner only comes in one day a week and it’s not today. Typical. I leave my business card and a brief explanation of what I want to discuss with him and by the assistant manager’s reaction, I can tell she likes the idea. I just hope the owner does, too because I’m not even going to look at the last gym I had on my list, I want this one. Feeling a surge of disappointment at not pitching my idea today, I leave the gym and head for Peaches.

“It’s just what we want,” I gush to Karen, relaxing at her desk, “all the things I was looking for, friendly staff that are well groomed, all the latest high-tech equipment and it’s tastefully decorated. I couldn’t find one thing that I didn’t like. I just hope to God the owner wants to get on board.”

“I’m sure they will, if not then you’ll just have to use your talent of persuasion.”

“Yeah, well, I left my card with the assistant manager and she seemed to like the idea so let’s just hope that the owner contacts me soon. I really want to make this work.”

Karen nods her agreement and focuses her attention back on the screen of her laptop.

“What's up?” I ask, sensing some thing’s off.

“Carla called in sick again this morning, I think we need to let her go. She’s well aware of the terms of her contract, she has an obligation to her clients that she isn’t fulfilling.

“Again? Look, Karen, I trust you, do what you have to do. Is Shanice still impressing you?”

“Very much so. She starts her two week trial period on Monday.”

“Okay, good. Do you want me to fire Carla?”

“No, I’m fine doing it. No point you having a salon manager if you still have to get your hands dirty, hey?”

“True. Let me know how it goes. I’m going home to a tub of ice cream and my new book.” I pick up my bag and check my appearance in the mirror. My natural, full lips look on the dry side so I touch up my lip gloss and reapply some eye shadow to my big, brown eyes.

“You got any news on your neighbour yet?” Karen asks, looking up from her laptop. “You don’t have that long left. I’m looking forward to my pay rise.” She claps her hands.

“You ain't getting another bloody pay rise. I’m on it, okay?” I shoot her a dirty look. Cheeky cow!

“Okay, boss,” she laughs. “See you tomorrow.”

“Later, Karen.” I roll my eyes, smiling my goodbye.


Three

DROPPING MY keys and bag on the kitchen side, I race to my ringing home phone.

“Hello?” I answer breathlessly.

“Miah, sweetheart?”

“Hey, Mum, How are you and Dad?” I ask, relived that I haven't missed their call. I pull out a stool from the marble and glass island and sit down.

My Mother, Susan and my Dad, Oliver, are the rocks in my life. I don’t know what I’d do without them. They’ve supported me through everything and although they were both wildly driven they never once put their businesses or successes before me. Every school play and every dance competition I competed in as a child, they were there. Hardly any of my friends parents gave their time to them like my parents did. Sure, they had money and never wanted for anything but as a kid you want your parents time more than anything else and they gave me that at whatever cost. They love each other deeply and I thank God that they are still together and most of all, happy.

“We’re good, baby girl, we’re coming to London next week. Are you free for a visit?”

“Of course Mum, I’m always free for you two. Why are you coming? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. We have a charity dinner to attend and your Father is meeting some associates. Your Father would like you to attend the dinner with us and I thought we could have a girly day?” I can hear the hope in her voice. My Mother loves to socialise, she always has. I remember as a little girl being dressed up to attend functions and then being taken home early while her and my Father would party until the early hours, coming in and checking on me when they returned home. I still enjoy those social events with them, but now I get to decide what time I go home. Charity dinners are fun, lots of hot men in suits to look at and I also like to give money to charity. I’m blessed that I’m successful, I never forget that.

“No problem, Mum. Tell Dad I’d love to go.”

“Oh, lovely, I’ll tell him. He will be pleased, you know how much he misses you, baby girl. Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

“No, Mum, I’m good. Make sure you bring me some Wray and Nephew though, please.” My favourite Rum.

“I’ve already picked you up a couple of bottles. I’ll call when we’re in London. Love you.”

“Love you too, Mum.”

I check my mobile and after replying to a few work emails I settle down in my bedroom with a bowl of ice cream and my Kindle. My bedroom is my favourite room in the house. It’s decorated in creams and beige. My bed is a queen sized sleigh bed that has a TV fitted into the foot of it that slides up when you push a button on the remote. The wall opposite the bed has fitted mirrored floor to ceiling wardrobes against it and there is a single oak bedside table next to my side of the bed. My lights are clap controlled and there is under floor heating under the oak flooring throughout.

My house has five bedrooms, all en suite which are divided over the top two floors with my bedroom being on the second floor. I have a housekeeper that comes in three days a week to help me do the cleaning, washing and a few other things. I like to keep independent but my house is too big for me to maintain myself, especially while running my business.

After finishing my ice cream, it isn’t long before I hear the familiar sound of a R8’ pulling up outside. I creep out of bed and discreetly move to the window, Mister Suit is walking up to his house. My heart races. I don’t know how I’m going to manage to talk to that man. The thought of saying hello to him gives me heart palpitations. I don't know what it is about him that makes me so nervous. I don’t have long left though and there is no way I’m paying Karen even more money. Not that she isn’t worth it.


I kiss his neck and he tastes like sweet honey. Slowly, I flick my tongue down his hard chest and abs, heading for his boxers. He arches his back and lets out a soft moan. The sound makes my insides clench tightly. I'm so wet already and he hasn't even touched me yet. I grab the waistband of his black boxers and he raises his hips to let me pull them down. I gasp when he springs free.

Do you like what you see?”

Yes,” I whisper.

You want to touch it, don’t you?”

Yes.”

He takes my hand and guides it to his stiff length. I curl my fingers around him firmly and watch his facial expressions change. He closes his eyes and parts his lips, groaning every so often when I hit a spot he likes. I lean down and taste him. Oh, he tastes good. As I work him, his moans become louder until he asks me to ride him.

I slide slowly down on to him and let out a moan of my own. He grasps my hips and pulls me down so I get the whole length of him. I feel a twinge of pain deep inside that makes my walls quiver. I find a rhythm and rock back and forth, slowly then quicker until I reach my point of no return.


I moan as I wake. Did I just come in my sleep?

I look beside me at the clock. It reads three- fifty- five am. I close my eyes and sigh heavily, Get a grip, Miah, you're becoming obsessed! I shake my head and angrily bury my head in my pillow. This has to stop.


Friday morning I wake to the soothing sound of Soul playing from my alarmed sound system. I decide right here and now as I stare at the ceiling through sleepy eyes that I will try talking to my neighbour this weekend. I need to come up with a reason to approach him though, that’s the hardest part. I don’t know anything that we might have in common, I’m not a runner, I’m a dancer. The best thing I can think of is to make up some story about robberies in the area. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I decide to work from home today as Karen can’t make our usual Friday meet up at the coffee shop. She calls to let me know that she’s sacked Carla and that it went better than she expected. They decided to mutually end her contract due to Carla having some personal problems she needs to deal with. Maybe, once all is sorted I might consider letting her have her job back—if I have a position open for her. She was a good employee and her clients liked her, she has just become unreliable.

It’s just before eleven am when my phone rings. It’s a private number. I frown.

“Miah Campbell.”

“Good morning, this is Nathan Carson,” replies a husky, seductive voice. My breath catches at the unexpected sound. Who’s Nathan Carson? “The owner of Carson’s Gym and Fitness?” he adds, a little exasperated if I’m not mistaken.

Shit, why did I not do my research? “Yes, of course, sorry,” I manage. His voice is like a caress. “I’m glad you called.”

“My assistant manager told me that you have a business proposition you’d like to discuss? Are you free tomorrow afternoon? If not, it will have to wait a fortnight as I’ll be out of the country.”

“One moment, please.” Tomorrow, Saturday? Am I free? I glance at my diary, nothings pencilled in and I want to get this set up as soon as possible. “What time?”

“Noon?”

“Yes, that’s fine. Wher-.”

“If you come to the Gym we can use one of my conference rooms.”

“Fine,” I answer assertively, not appreciating being cut off.

“Good. See you then.” He hangs up.

Rude comes to mind but that’s okay, I presume he’s a busy man. He should run a sex hotline though with that voice, it reminds me of that Trey Songz tune, Panty Dropper. Shame he’s probably not single, with a voice like that he’s probably got groupies following him around. Either that or he’s definitely not hot, maybe that would be better. I’ll be able to discuss business easier with someone who I don’t think is good looking.


To: Karen Mills

Subject: Proposing business partnership tomorrow!

Hey Hun, got a meeting with the owner of Carson’s Gym and Fitness tomorrow at 12pm. Will let you know how it goes. Wish me luck – the man’s voice sounded like hot, steaming sex!

Miah Campbell

Managing Director

Peaches Salon


From: Karen Mills

Subject: Good Luck! :-)

You’ll be fine, babe, I’ll be waiting for your call. Manic here, fully booked. Don’t worry, I have everything under control. DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT COMING IN.

See you Monday.

Karen xx

Salon Manager

Peaches Salon


I’m itching to go into work and help her but I need to prove to Karen that I trust her. Maybe I should set up another salon, I’ve been thinking about it for a few months now. I think it’s time to check out premises in Birmingham, I would love to open a salon there.

For the rest of the day I look online at commercial properties in Birmingham and make some appointments to view next week. Maybe I'll take Karen with me to the most promising ones. The hardest part will be getting a dedicated team together. Finding passionate staff is like finding needles in a haystack. It takes forever but in the end it’s worth it.

After preparing myself mentally for my business meeting tomorrow, I relax with a glass of wine and put on some music. I dance for a while and let myself unwind. Music and dancing is so therapeutic to me, no matter what mood I’m in, music can make it better. I think that's why I went out partying a lot when I was younger. It wasn't the drink I partied for, it was the release. Saying that, I haven't been out for months. I feel a night out in the south of the capital is in order very soon.


Four

THE ADRENALINE kicked in as soon as I woke up this morning. I really want to make this business idea work. If Mr Carson doesn’t want to get on board it will be a huge disappointment, but I will find somewhere else. I dress in a pair of black skinny jeans and a white sleeveless silk peplum blouse that has ruffles down the front. I grab a pair of white Louis Vuitton sandals and apply some basic make-up. Gloss, blush and mascara. I brush out my long, brown hair and style it into a ponytail with quiff.

Unable to stomach my usual breakfast of granola, I settle for a flat white on the way to the Gym. I play Fuse and ODG – Azonto on the way, it hypes me up and settles my nerves. By the time I’ve reached the reception desk of Carson’s Gym and Fitness, I feel a lot calmer and ready to do business. Pitching comes easy to me, it always has, maybe it’s the thrill of reeling people in.

I see the friendly female assistant standing at reception.“Hello, how may I help you?” she asks warmly. I envy her beauty, her flawless brown skin and dark eyes. She looks Asian in origin but her English is perfect.

“Hi, I’m here to see, Mr Carson? I’m Miah Campbell. We have a meeting at noon.”

“Oh yes, I’ll just let him know you’re here.” She smiles and gestures for me to have a seat on the leather sofas.

I check my watch, a Cartier that my Grandmother bought me before she died six years ago. It’s beautiful and can be worn as a bracelet as well as a watch. It’s five to twelve. I rerun my pitch in my head and take a few deep breaths. I’ve got this, I love pitching.

I check my watch again and as the dial hits noon,

“Miss Campbell?” I hear his voice and the hairs on the back of my neck stand eagerly before I do.

Getting to my feet, I hold out my hand and die inside. Nathan Carson is... him! I blink at him a few times, willing it not to be him. His hand finds mine and I feel like he’s burnt me. My insides clench so tightly that I momentarily lose the ability to breathe. My face must be such a picture because before I can manage a ‘nice to meet you’ he asks if I’m okay.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I manage eventually, my brain recovering just in time. “Mr Carson, pleased to meet you.” I shake his hand, grabbing on to it for dear life. Out of all the people in the fucking world, it has to be him. I exhale sharply, He’s even more good looking up close and personal. His eyes are such a deep green, like sparkling emeralds, dark yet bright. His rich tanned skin is only marred by a tiny scar just over his left eyebrow and a hint of fresh stubble along his strong, masculine jawline. Now I’m getting a better look at him, I’m not so sure if he is tanned. Being mixed race myself, I can spot when someone has something else in them. His lips are full, soft and inviting, begging to be sucked. His tongue darts out fleetingly which pulls me from my trance as his smiling face swiftly changes into something else.

I look down at our hands and quickly pull away, conscious of how long I’ve been holding onto it for. I laugh uncomfortably, “Nerves, I always get nervous before a pitch,” I quickly lie. Actually it’s you, you’re making me nervous as hell, the guy I’ve admired for absolutely ages, the guy I’ve stalked from my bedroom window, the guy I came hard on while riding hard this morning… Do not go there Miah...

His eyes bore mysteriously into mine. “Ah,” he nods as if that explains everything, “should we?” He waves his hand in the direction of I assume, the conference room.

I follow behind him like a student on her way to the principals office. I try not to check out his ass through his crisp, black trousers and quickly look at the back of his head instead. I smile tightly at the assistant at the desk as we walk past her, I suspect she’s seen me looking at Carson’s ass. I notice that I was a little off guessing his height, he looks nearer to six foot, still tall enough to tower over my five foot nine inches.

After a painful few minutes beside him in the elevator up to the fifth floor, we enter a fairly small conference room that has a square, oak table in the centre that could seat roughly twenty people. It has a telephone fixed at one end and there is a hot drinks machine, filing cabinet and small table along one wall. The décor is plain white only broken by two large windows showing a modest view of central London.

“Coffee?” Nathan offers, turning to look at me as he closes the door.

“Please,” I answer hastily, suddenly having dry mouth. His voice is enrapturing. Husky but smooth and I eye him cautiously.

His eyes meet mine.“How do you take it?”

I hold in a groan. For a split second I wonder what he’d say if I said ‘right here on the table’, but I settle for ‘white, one sugar’ instead.

He smiles and I watch as his eyes dart to my body before walking across the room and turning his attention to the coffee machine. I blush under his gaze before following him, wondering what he thinks of me. I bet he thinks I’m a bloody beginner at this now. I curse my earlier confession about my nerves, it doesn’t really set a good first impression.

“You look familiar.” I’m not sure if it’s a question or a statement. “Have we met before?”

“No, I don’t believe we have,” I answer quickly. Denial, denial, denial.

“Hmm.” He frowns before pushing another button on the drinks machine. I’m not telling him, no way in hell. I guess he has seen me on the street, that or maybe there’s someone walking around London who looks like me.

I stand watching him awkwardly, playing with my folder as he finishes making coffee for the both of us. I notice he doesn’t wear a ring, but then I’ve never seen him with the same woman twice so I don’t know why I expected to see one. I watch his biceps moving beneath his cream shirt and his brows furrow as if he’s thinking deeply of something. I steady my breathing and try to think about the reason I came here, instead of playing out sex scenes with Nathan Carson in my head.

“So tell me what you have in mind,” he says out of nowhere and I jump from the abrupt end to the silence in the room. He hands me my coffee and takes a sip of his own.

“What do you mean?” I ask quickly, praying that I haven’t voiced my thoughts out loud.

“It’s Saturday, I’m sure you have better things you’d like to be doing today. This doesn’t have to be formal, just tell me about your proposed idea.”

Is he testing me? Or is he trying to help me relax? Do I look that uncomfortable? Maybe he really does think I’m an amateur business woman. I follow him to the square oak table and sit down a few seats along from him. He sits with his ankle resting on his knee and puts one elbow on the table, sitting alongside the table rather than under it. He takes another sip of his coffee and then raises an eyebrow at me. Shit, I’m making him wait. I mentally shout at myself to get a bloody grip. Just think that he’s ugly, you don’t know him. Think of the plus side – you don’t have to give Karen a raise now. I smile at that thought and Nathan Carson smiles back at me.

“Yes, of course. Well, I own Peaches Salon and Beauticians, it’s a beauticians, obviously.” I frown. “I have a lot of high end clients that always ask me to recommend a Gym. I wanted somewhere to recommend to them, so over the past week I’ve visited the top five around central and was very impressed with what I see here, what I saw here,” I quickly correct myself. Shit.

“Really?” he asks softly, making the question sound like it has more than one meaning.

I swallow hard, damn, his voice is like chocolate, melty and creamy. Is melty even a word? Oh for God sake, Miah, answer the bloody man! “Yes, your staff are well presented, polite. The equipment here is top of the range, and it has a welcoming vibe. I tried out the swimming pool, sauna and steam rooms for myself and I was very happy.”

“What day did you visit?” he questions, studying me intently.

“Uhh, Thursday,” I answer, bewildered. Why does that matter?

“Well, I’m glad you like what you see.” He lifts the side of his lip in a smirk.

“I do, I did.” I shake my head and bite my lip nervously, unsettled by the way I appear to be coming across. I quickly continue to tell him my idea. “I felt it was important to trial the Fitness Centres so that I could genuinely recommend somewhere to my clients. Somewhere that I would be more than happy to work out and that was good enough. I’d like to see if we could come up with a system where I would recommend my clients to your gym and in return you would pay us a one off fee once their membership package has been set up.”

He nods thoughtfully, looking into his coffee.

“I’m not after a large percentage,” I add quickly, feeling more confident. He looks up from his coffee as I continue. “More like a thank you payment in return for Peaches sending business your way. My clients are very wealthy, Mister Carson, your membership prices are well within their means. I’m sure they, themselves, will even recommend your gym to their friends. I’m sure you know yourself how much business word of mouth can bring in.”

He looks at me blankly for a moment. I hold my breath. “I like the idea—” I sense a but coming.

“I will also give a discounted rate to your employees if they use my salon. We cater for both men and women.”

“What treatments can you offer for men?” he asks, intrigued.

“Waxing, eyebrow shaping, manicures, pedicures, botox, peels, facials, massa-”

“What areas do you offer waxing?”

I smile at his interest. “Anywhere. You’d be surprised at what some men want waxing.” I grin at him for some reason and he grins back and then laughs. His eyes light up and his stunning looks render me speechless. My stomach flutters. Damn. His eyes narrow slightly and I look away, pretending to look through my folder at something. My heart rate quickens, he’s so gorgeous it’s unnerving.

“I like that idea, too.”

My eyes lock back with his and I smile, relieved. He studies me a while and presses his lips together. He doesn’t talk much. I wish I could read minds.

“Let’s say I give you ten percent of their membership fee. What discount are you offering my employees?” he finally asks.

I hadn’t really thought about that. “I will give your staff the same,” I offer. I’ll be recommending a substantial amount of customers to this gym. There aren’t that many members of staff here, if anything he’s being more than generous in his offer.

“I pay for my employee’s cosmetic treatments. It’s one of the incentives I offer with the job. How about I set up an account with you and you can take the ten percent off before you bill me at the end of each month?”

Well that explains why the assistants look so good, they don’t have to pay for their personal upkeep – nice idea. A monthly bill could work, less confusion and work for Karen. “That will work.”

“Good, I’ll send someone over to have a look around your salon and as long as they’re happy we can hash out a contract. I’m out of the country for two weeks from next Wednesday, perhaps we can get it sorted when I’m back in London?” He stands up and holds out his hand. Quickly standing, I lean forward and shake it firmly. There’s that feeling again, burning but this time I notice that his hand is smooth in places but rough in others. Manly. I smile widely, relieved and ecstatic that I’ve nearly closed this deal but inside I’m disappointed because I have to wait two weeks to see him again.

“No problem, I look forward to doing business with you, Mr Carson.”

“I’ll look forward to it, too.”

Five

I’M BUZZING after my meeting with Nathan, Nathan, I like that name.

I sit in my car and call Karen. “Hey chick, you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m good, what’s up?”

“Well, you aren't getting a pay rise.” I grin.

“You spoke to him?!” I can tell she can’t believe it.

“I didn’t have a bloody choice, he’s the owner of Carson's Gym!”

“Oh my God, he isn’t!?

“Trust me, he is. I almost had a heart attack when I saw him. Looks even better up close, too.”

“I wish I could have seen your face! What’s he like, then?” she asks eagerly.

I sigh at the memory of him and relax back into the leather seat of my car. “Well, apart from being incredibly sexy, he’s… nice.” I hadn’t really thought about what kind of person he was, but now thinking about it, he seems like a nice person. Not just a pretty face. “He likes my idea, said he wants to send someone over to check out the place and as long as they like it we’ll sort out a contract when he gets back to London in a couple of weeks.”

“Oh, that sounds good. What did you agree?”

“Ten percent, each way.”

“That’s good,” exclaims Karen.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. He offered ten so I just offered the same for his staff. We’ll be recommending more people so it will work out better for us. He’s going to set up an account with us, too because he gives his staff free treatments as part of their contract. Anyway, I don’t want to take up your time, we’ll talk about it Monday. Mum and Dad are coming to visit so I won’t be in the salon very much next week.”

“Yeah, cool, no worries. I’m gutted about the pay rise,” Karen jokes.

“You’ll just have to wait until next year like everyone else,” I tell her. “Later, Hun.”

“Yeah, yeah. Later, babe.”


I think about Nathan on the drive home. First time talking to him actually went better than expected, I just need to make sure he doesn’t clock that I live opposite him. Although we haven’t technically met before, I never offered the information of me living on his street when he mentioned that I looked familiar. I guess it doesn’t matter now anyway, we’re hopefully going into a business arrangement together so I can’t try and have a personal relationship with him. Damn shame, the man is gorgeous and I can’t help but be disappointed that nothing will happen between us. That doesn’t mean that I can’t look forward to spending some time with him though. Roll on two weeks.


Monday has rolled around quickly, and my Mum has text to let me know they have arrived safely. I check into the salon quickly on the way to have breakfast with them at our favourite breakfast place, Plum + Spilt Milk in Kings Cross. It’s manic at Peaches as usual on a Monday morning and I don’t get a chance to chat with Karen. I offer to cancel breakfast with my parents but Karen refuses and literally kicks me out.

Parking the car and putting up my umbrella, I walk the five minute journey to the restaurant in the pouring rain. My Mum is waiting outside and I run the last few yards to reach her.

“Mum,” I gush, hugging her hard. “I’ve missed you.”

“Oh, sweetheart, I’ve missed you, too. I’m so glad you could meet us.” I release my grip on her and hold her hands. My Mother looks casual but gorgeous dressed in blue jeans and a white jacket. Her long brown hair hangs loosely over her shoulders and, I notice that her dark blue eyes are shimmering from her held-back tears. I squeeze her hand in comfort.

“Of course, Mum. Where’s Dad?”

“He’s inside, come on, let’s go in.”

Plum + Spilt Milk is a beautiful and elegant restaurant. I’ve come here many times to work or just sit and have dinner, alone. The ceiling is full of upside down glasses hanging as chandeliers and the walls are adorned with old paintings and vintage mirrors. Its colour scheme is dark blue with wooden and cream furniture but it’s the amazing scent of the food that strikes you as you walk in and this morning is no exception.

We find my Dad at the far corner of the restaurant already sitting at a table, scanning the menu. He always orders the same thing, I don’t know why he even bothers looking. He looks up and gives me the biggest smile when he sees me and it makes my heart melt.

“Ah, my beautiful, May,” he says, wrapping me in a bear hug.

“Hello, Dad, I was just telling Mum how much I’ve missed you.”

“We long to see you. Please come see us soon.”

“I will Dad, soon.”

Once sat, we order our food. My Dad and I have the full English and my Mum has the Granola. As we wait for our food my parents tell me about life in the Caribbean and I notice my Mother is picking up a slight Jamaican accent as well as a very healthy tan. My Father is actually from Jamaica but came to the United Kingdom when he was twelve with my Grandmother. My Mother is from England and had never once left the country, until she met my Dad.

I smile as I see how my parents are just as affectionate with each other as ever. They link their fingers at the table and my Father occasionally kisses my Mother’s hand. They really do have something special and inside I feel a pang of envy. In this moment I realise I’m jealous of them.

My Mum deserves to be happy, she had three miscarriages before falling pregnant with me. They tried for years until they found out my Mother had endometriosis. My Dad stuck by her through it all even though she urged him to find someone less complicated. Dad wasn’t having any of it. Finally, once they had me, Mum decided to have a hysterectomy because the endometriosis was just too bad. I would have loved to have a brother or sister but I can’t say I missed out on anything because I didn’t have a sibling.

“Actually, Dad, I’m thinking of setting up another Salon.”

“Okay, so how is Peaches doin?”

“Good, really good. Karen is doing a brilliant job of running the place, I’m not really needed there any more. I go in most days but I need a new baby now. I’ve been thinking of branching out for a few months and Birmingham seems the perfect location.”

“That’s a whole heap of work again, May, 'memba 'ow much stress Peaches give you when you did a set it up?”

“Yes, Dad, I know but it was—“

“Wort' it, yes mi know if you did let me finish.” He smiles, giving me a slight glare.

“Let us know if you need anything. We still have contacts here and in Birmingham that you can use, who are you taking with you?” Mum asks.

“Well, I was wondering how long you were staying for?” I ask, hopeful. They both came with me when I was looking at properties for Peaches and they took care of all the legalities which saved me a fortune.

“May, you know we will go with you. We can change flights, when you want to go?”

“I’ve seen a few premises online, I just have to call to confirm the viewing times. We can go see them whenever you’re free.”

“As soon as possible then. I will make a couple of calls.” My Father shakes his head and smiles. He knows me too well. I’m impatient; I like to do things as soon as I can.

“Thanks, Dad.”

I hear my phone ringing in my clutch, just as the food arrives. I take it out and look at the screen. Private number.

“Miah Campbell.”

“Hello, Miss Campbell, it’s Nathan.”

Oh, he's on a first name basis now? My heartbeat instantly quickens from hearing his husky voice. “Hi, Nathan. What can I do for you?” I answer. Damn, If only he knew I’d pretty much do anything he wanted.

“I had someone check out your place this morning. Very nice, apparently. I’m having a contract drawn up, I can email it to you and then we can meet Wednesday before I leave, to sign.”

Shit, that’s quick. “Uhh—”

“Unless you’d rather have your people sort out the contract?” he adds quickly.

“No, no, that’s fine. Wednesday is good.” My parents look questioningly at me from across the table. ‘Work’, I mouth.

“Good. Should we say nine thirty am at Lantana, do you know it?”

“Yes, I know it.” I answer, slightly hesitant. Lantana does the most amazing chilli cornbread.

“See you Wednesday then, Miah. In the meantime, let me know if there’s anything on the contract you’re not happy with.”

“I will.” I give him my email address and then he’s gone. Inside I’m excited and nervous. I’m going to get to see him again before he leaves. The man makes me hot and the way he says my name is like sex. I shudder.

“Surely that wasn’t Karen,” Mum says, eyebrows raised. Her question pulls me from my daydream. “I don’t think I've ever seen you like this, baby girl,” she adds.

“It’s a new business partner I’m working with. It’s nothing major, I just wanted a gym to recommend my clients to as they keep asking.” I give them the details of the arrangement and my Father looks impressed.”

“You always were a smart girl, May,” he says proudly.

“Do you like him?” Mum asks bluntly. To the point as always.

“He’s good looking I can't lie. It’s just business though, Mum. Shame, you’d like him.”

“Hmm.” She smiles, giving nothing away of her thoughts on the matter.

Six

AFTER BREAKFAST with my parents, my Mother and I arrange to meet at a Spa on the outskirts of London tomorrow morning so we can have a girly day before the charity dinner, which I learnt is to raise money for children with special needs in the UK. I check into the salon on the way home and Karen grills me on my meeting with Nathan. I give her the details about a million times before she changes the subject and talks about something else.

It’s just after two when I reach home and I quickly check my emails to see if Nathan’s sent anything through yet. Sure enough just as I’m looking an email from him comes through. Sexy and efficient.


To: Miah Campbell

From: Nathan Carson

Subject: Proposed Contract.


Hello, Miah.

Please find attached a draft of the proposed contract. As I have already said, please let me know if you would like to make any changes before our meeting on Wednesday morning.

Regards,


Nathan Carson

CEO of Carson UK Limited


I open the attachment and slowly read through the contract. All the figures look correct. The cost of Carson's employees’ treatments will be billed to him monthly. I will need to give my clients a code for when they go and register at the gym, the code will be changed fortnightly. CG&F staff will have to show my beauticians their work incentive cards in order to get their treatments. There are a few pages of small print about the cancelling of the agreement and non-payment issues that cover the both of us. All in all, the agreement looks good. I decide to add one thing to the contract though; free treatments for Mr Carson, I’ll call it a goodwill gesture. I email him back with the amendment and close my laptop.

Feeling happy, I dance for an hour before making myself something for dinner. I decide to make fried chicken and rice.

I’m loading the dishwasher when my phone rings, I don’t recognise the number.

“Miah—”

“Are you trying to say I need some work doing?”

That voice.

I slowly close the dishwasher door. Shit, it’s Nathan. Work doing? Oh my God, my offer of free treatments. “No, of course not, I just thought if you ever wanted anything done, you know, like, Umm…” Oh, what am I trying to say?

“Well, I suppose I might need a wax sometime,” he says seriously.

A wax? I never had him down for the waxing type. Although he did ask me what area’s I offer waxing. I don’t know what to say. Maybe he gets his bits waxed… I exhale sharply and blush hard as the silence stretches between us.

“Miah?”

The way he says my name pulls me back to our conversation. “I just meant it as a goodwill gesture. You pay for your employees treatments, I just thought you should get yours for free?” I somehow make my sentence sound like a question. Have I offended him? I don’t know.

He laughs softly and something inside me pulls. “What would you recommend?”

Me? “Uh, Anna does excellent massages.” I sit down in the living room and turn the TV on mute.

“Oh, don’t you do any treatments yourself?” He sounds disappointed. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. I think about giving him a hot stone massage followed up by a Miah special. “Well?” he presses. I snap out of yet another daydream and clear my throat. Get a fucking grip, girl. Nothing is gonna happen between you now.

“Yes, I’m fully qualified. However, I think it would be inappropriate for me to offer you any treatments, personally.”

“Is that so, Miah.”

Why does he keep saying my name like that? “Yes.”

“I will have the documents drawn up by Wednesday. See you, then.” And then he’s gone, again. That man’s like a whirlwind. He comes, fucks shit up, then disappears. Leaving a wet mess in his wake. Me.


“Ah, Mum, thank you so much for arranging this, I feel like it’s just what I need.” We’re at a spa on the outskirts of London. The charity dinner is tonight and we are being well and truly spoilt beforehand. We’ve had a swim, been in the Jacuzzi, the sauna, had facials and now we’re in the middle of a Tantric massage. My Mother had them come in specially, as a treat. Lucky us.

“You’re more than welcome, sweetheart, we just don’t spend as much time together as I’d like.”

“Seriously, Mum, I understand. You and Dad are happy in the Caribbean and I’m happy here. Once I find a premises for Peaches two, I’ll come and stay a few weeks, I promise.”

“Oh, we’d love that, you know there is so much I want to show you. Last time you came you barely saw a thing.” She’s right, last time I barely saw anything because I had to rush back to London for the business. My last salon manager, Jane, was no Karen. She nearly ruined my reputation in a week.

“Karen isn’t Jane, Mum.”


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