His partner Rex was still laughing. “That was the weirdest breakdown call out we’ve ever been to.”
“I mean.” Griff, still smiling, shook his head at the memory. “You’d think they’d get changed out of their show outfits to travel.”
“The ringmaster said they were on a tight schedule. Can’t say I liked the clown though.”
“You got a thing about clowns?” Griff glanced at Rex. “A big tough guy like you.”
Rex feigned a shudder. “Creepy.”
“I know what you mean. Luckily he didn’t cause a crash standing on the side of the road like that. The trapeze artists looked freezing in those little leotard things.”
“Cute though.” Another bout of mirth burst from Rex. “I liked the yellow feathers on their butts.”
Griff joined in the laughter. The Magnificent Marvel breakdown had been a bit of light relief in their night shift. The circus performers though tired were high-spirited after a good show. One even offered to show Griff and Rex their knife-throwing skills, which Griff hastily declined.
“Well, they’re on their way to Hereford now,” Rex said, “horses included.”
“Did you ever go as a kid? To the circus?” Griff asked.
“Yeah, years ago. It was good.”
“Me and my sister loved it.” Griff stopped at a set of lights, his memory going back to childhood. “I seem to remember her threatening to run away and join the circus.”
“And what act was Bethany planning on delighting the crowd with?”
“Plate spinning, she said. I love my sister but she goes through crockery. It’s a family joke.”
Rex chuckled as Griff pulled away. “And what would you do?”
Griff thought for a moment. “Fire eater.”
“Yeah, I don’t mind playing with fire, keeps life interesting.”
“Gets you burned.” Rex laughed but he was interrupted with the radio beeping.
“Disturbance reported. City center.”
Rex flicked his coms on. “Six fifty-one. Heading there now. We’ll take it.”
“Landlord of The Blood Hound called it in.”
“We know where that is, will give an update when on scene. Over.”
Griff brought the blue light and siren to life. “Won’t take us long to get there.” He hit the accelerator, the powerful car pressing them back in their seats with the acceleration.
Within minutes they’d pulled up outside The Blood Hound. A tall brick-built pub with high windows. At one time it had been a locals’ drinking pub, now it was a trendy hangout with the occasional live band.
“Doesn’t look too wild,” Rex said, slamming his door then rolling his shoulders.
“You never know, there could be tightrope walkers in there.” Griff grinned and slipped the patrol keys into his pocket. He tapped his belt, a habit to check he had his cuffs and baton.
Pushing thoughts of the last job from his mind, he concentrated on the task at hand. Being a police officer in Bristol meant every shift was different. He loved that, thrived off it. He couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Inside the air was hot, the music loud.
The crowd stepped out of their way as the two officers went deeper into the large room.
“I guess it’s that group over there.” Rex nodded to a table in the corner.
“Ah, yes.” The group of girls was raucous. One stood on the sofa, high heels digging into the leather as she waved a cocktail around. The table was littered with bottles and glasses.
It was then Griff saw her.
His breath caught.
Ava Sontag was a wild and beautiful creature and although he hadn’t seen her for eight years he remembered her well. Very well.
She effortlessly drew people into her giddy, breathless world. They were like moths besotted by a candle.
It was clear nothing had changed since they’d been at college together.
Still she commanded adoration, was by far the sexiest woman in the room, and her magnetism was irresistible—men and women craved her attention… in this case even her drunken attention.
Griff looked at his partner and raised his eyebrows. “What’d you think?”
“Yeah, high as kites. No wonder the landlord called it in.” Rex spoke into his phone. “We’re at The Blood Hound, no backup required.”
Griff agreed with Rex’s summation. They could deal with a group of excitable women. Of course being in police uniform meant he had to follow police procedure, he couldn’t take Ava in hand for her obviously bad behavior quite how he’d like to, but there it was… the law. He was the law.
“I’m glad you’re here.” A tall, slim man with a goatee approached. He twisted his hands together. “Desmond Tate, general manager here at The Blood Hound.”
Griff nodded in the direction of the eight cackling females. “That’s them, is it?”
“Yes, a hen night, they’re always the worst.” Desmond tutted.
Griff’s attention left Ava to scan the other women in the group. They wore short sparkly dresses, were dolled up to the nines, and had plastic tiaras perched on their heads as they knocked back flutes full of bubbles. One, a blonde, appeared to be the bride-to-be. Her tiara was covered in droopy condoms and a pink sash stating Last Night Of Freedom was draped over her right shoulder.
Thank goodness it isn’t Ava getting hitched.
Griff had no idea why he felt a sense of relief, but he most definitely did.
“I wouldn’t normally call you guys,” the manager said, “but I’ve asked them to keep the noise down twice, and now other customers are complaining. They need to take a hike.”
“You’re a Bristol city center bar. Things get noisy on the weekend.” Griff’s gaze landed on Ava again.
She had her head thrown back, laughing hard. A friend to her right collapsed against her bare arm, skin to skin, as if she couldn’t get close enough.
An annoying stirring tugged at Griff’s groin. There was no point denying his soul-twisting crush on Ava Sontag. All through college he’d admired her until finally in the last term he’d plucked up the courage to ask her out.
To his amazement she’d said yes. A wild, heart-pounding romance had followed. He’d drunk her in, soaked her up, wanted to be with her, inside her, at every moment of every day. He’d been permanently drunk on love. She was an obsession that ate into every fiber of his being. When he wasn’t with her he was planning how to be with her. When he slept he dreamed of her, even if she was there in his bed, in his arms.
Life had been good, more than good; he’d existed in his own erotic version of paradise. Until, that was, she’d run away.
She’d moved onto the next town. He’d been dumped by a text.
“We’ll have a word, see if they respond, if not, we’ll kick them out for you,” Griff said.
“Thanks.” The manager turned away.
Rex huffed. “You’d think we had nothing else to do on a Saturday night. A group of squealing women, surely the bar staff could deal with this and if they can’t they need to employ bouncers.”
“Yeah, well, keeps us employed.” Griff swallowed, his throat a little tight and his mouth dry. His emotions were swirling now that he was approaching Ava—a combination of longing, anger, curiosity, and excitement.
He was glad the call had been made even if Rex wasn’t. Perhaps he’d be able to get some closure, finally. Then his consciousness could put to rest the ache in his heart Ava had left there and he could consider committing to one of the many women he played with at Cauldron.
“More bubbles,” one woman shouted as she hopped down from the sofa then began filling up glasses, splashes flying. “After that the good stuff.”
“Shh,” the bride said, drunkenly pressing her fingers to her lips. “That’s a secret.”
A few customers glanced up at Griff and Rex as they maneuvered through the maze of chairs and tables.
“Hey, Sandy, you promised Ted anal as a wedding night gift, right?” Ava shouted then giggled.
“Hell, yeah!” the bride replied. “But I told him, he plays with mine, I play with his.”
A deafening hoot threatened to burst Griff’s eardrums. He winced and came to a stop on the outer edge of their circle of low-backed chairs.
“Fuck, wouldn’t let no chick play with my asshole,” Rex muttered.
Griff held in a smirk and folded his arms, knuckles pressing against his biceps. The women in front of him were in their own substance-fueled world. They hadn’t appeared to notice the two tall uniformed police officers standing at their sides watching them.
“Hey, didn’t we order more bubbles,” the woman to Ava’s left cried, upending an empty bottle and ramming it in an ice bucket. “Waiter!” Her attention landed on first Rex, then Griff. “Oh, look, ladies! The strippers have arrived.”
What the fuck?
All attention turned to Griff and Rex. False eyelashes lifted around widening eyes. A few women flicked hair over their shoulders, licked lips, and puffed up their chests so their tits pressed against their party dresses.
Griff’s focus settled on Ava.
She’d done none of those things, just raised one perfectly arched eyebrow and allowed the right side of her mouth to tilt, the way she always had when something vaguely amused her.
Did she recognize him? Griff wasn’t sure. Back in the day he’d had a thick dark beard, proud to be able to grow one, and now he was clean shaven. He’d been big then but he’d bulked up further since; a free gym at the station made it easy to work out.
“Oh, you guys, I told you not to bother.” The bride stood. “But hell, I’m so glad you did.” She cupped her breasts and made a show of hoisting them up. “Okay, boys, I’m ready for ya!”
Another squeal of laughter.
“And,” she went on. “There’s two so we can all get a good eyeful… or handful if we’re lucky.”
“Not strippers, ma’am,” Rex said.
“Don’t play coy with us.” The bride lurched toward him, hiccupping. “Just get that uniform off. We wanna see what you got beneath it.”
Rex sidestepped, then grabbed her elbow when she stumbled. “You need to quieten down or leave the premises.”
“Yeah, where we going, Officer? Back to your place?”
“I don’t think my wife would be too pleased about that.” Rex snatched her wrist when she went for the handcuffs hanging around his waist.
“She’ll soon be a wife herself, go on, give her a last bit of fun.” A woman in a tiny black dress stood.
Griff kept one eye on her, the other on Ava who was watching the bride-to-be with her slightly amused smile still tugging her glossy pink lips.
God, those lips. He remembered all the things she’d done with them, from kissing to sucking his cock—a particular talent of hers.
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, irritated that his dick was stirring just from being close to her. Breathing the same air as her.
“Sit down, gorgeous,” the woman in the black dress said, her boozy breath hitting Griff full on. “And I’ll give you a lap dance to get this party started.”
“That won’t be happening.” Griff tore his attention from Ava.
“Okay, well, I’ll sit down and you can strip to your thong and do whatever it is cops do to naughty girls.”
He set his mouth in a firm line and placed his hands on his hips. “We’re real cops, ma’am, and you’ve been reported for breaching the peace.”
“Oh, you’re so realistic, so bossy, I love it.” She lunged for him, her hands grabbing his belt buckle.
Before Griff realized what was happening, Ava was at his side too, also grappling with his belt.
Her perfume slid into his nose; even over the whiff of alcohol in the room, he knew straight away she hadn’t changed her preference from Chanel No5. The damn smell was an aphrodisiac, bringing back a maelstrom of memories that ramped up his heart rate.
He grabbed both her slender wrists in one hand and did the same to the other woman, his fingers locking tight as he drew their arms up. “Stop, or you’ll be under arrest for assaulting a police officer.”
“I’d like to get under you,” Ava cackled, her attention on his eyes.
He stared into hers. Her pupils were pinpricks, which made him angry. What the fuck had she taken? And there was a glaze to them. He’d bet money she wouldn’t remember this whole incident tomorrow.
It was also clear there was no recognition there. It was as if she’d never seen him before—as if he hadn’t given her countless orgasms that had had her gasping in pleasure.
“Ladies, ladies!” Rex hollered.
The music turned down. The conversation around them dulled.
The bride-to-be froze. “Shit, you really are cops.”
A tendon flexed in Rex’s cheek. “Yes. Now what’s it going to be? You sit down and turn it down, or leave?”
She burped, covering her mouth with her fingers. “I don’t feel so well.”
“So we’ll leave.” Ava tried to snatch her wrists away from Griff.
He released her.
“That will solve your damn problem, right.” She glared at him.
Much as he’d like to tip her over his knee for a good spanking, turn her peachy little behind bright red, he knew that wouldn’t go down well with his boss. Heck, not with the other clientele in The Blood Hound either. And he didn’t like to think about the reams of paperwork a stern spanking would involve.
The fleshy part of his palm tingled with the thought of doling out a swift punishment. He wasn’t a pushover anymore, a hormonal teenager consumed with love and lust, eager to please the girl who’d caught him in her web. Now he was a fully grown man with a dominant streak he hadn’t been able to ignore after Ava had left. Who was he kidding? He was a fully fledged dom. It was part of his makeup, his core. He’d accepted it.
The urge to have the woman in his life, the object of his affections, submitting to him was non-negotiable. But it was a two-way thing; in return for obedience he’d always ensure maximum satisfaction, safety, and his adoration whether it was for a night or a few months.
A few months. Fuck. That was the longest relationship he’d had since Ava. She really had ruined him for all others. And now here she was, stooped in front of him and showing the crease of her butt to all and sundry as she gathered her purse and jacket.
Little wench deserved the cane for wearing such a provocative dress and skimpy underwear. It wasn’t sensible. Some men were pigs and would take that as a sign she wanted sex, then they’d take advantage of her drunken state and give it to her whether she wanted it or not.
Heat flared up his spine, making his scalp itch beneath his peaked cap. Had she no concept of her vulnerability?
She stood and turned, then had to grab a table when she tottered to the left.
His instinct was to reach for her, but her friend grasped her first, linking their arms and tottering between two chairs.
“Are you sure you don’t want to take your clothes off, Officer?” The brunette slinked closer.
“No sex on duty, ma’am.”
“Aw, make an exception.” She giggled. “I promise you’ll enjoy it.”
“Good, they’re going.” The manager appeared at Rex’s side.
“Yes, and the sooner the better before we have to search their purses for illegal substances.” Rex glowered at the group of lingering girls.
“Shit.” The brunette grabbed her purse and a shawl. She reached for the bride-to-be’s hand. “Come on, we have to go now, party’s over.”
“It certainly is,” the manager said. “And I’ll be adding a cleaning bill to the credit card.” He pointed at a ruby red stain on the sofa. “And don’t tell me that was there before, I have photographic evidence.”
“Miss ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.” Ava threw a wave into the air, then walked from the club with her hot ass swaying.
She was trailed by the others. They were her devoted followers. She led the pack. It was clear she didn’t give a damn about the cleaning bill. But then again, it wouldn’t be her credit card held behind the bar and if it was, Daddy Dearest would pick up the tab. Or that’s what he’d always used to do. Pay for stuff and not much else.
“Seriously,” Rex said, plucking a long blonde hair from his dark uniform. “Do I look like a stripper?”
Griff laughed, enjoying the release of energy that had built up inside him. “You really want me to answer that?”
Rex huffed. “Yeah, well, you do, those damn muscles filling out your uniform.”
“These muscles are for the job.” Griff clasped Rex’s shoulder and tore his gaze from the doorway Ava had just disappeared through. “Come on, let’s make sure they get in cabs.”
“Rex is what?” Griff frowned at Phil, the station desk sergeant.
“He’s in the hospital, appendix, will be out of action for at least six weeks.”
“Bloody hell, he was fine last night. We did the whole shift together, not one mention of pain or fever or whatever else a gammy appendix does to you.”
Phil shrugged. “It’s a bastard the way it sneaks up on you, got my sister a few years ago. Just came on out of the blue.”
Griff sighed and stared at the large black clock. It was nine p.m. and the start of his shift. “So who am I getting paired with?”
“Between you and me, I think you’re on your own. Staff shortages and all that.”
“Guess I’ll have to go and check in with the boss then.”
“Yeah, you do that. And if you speak to Rex, tell him we’re thinking of him.”
“Yeah, I will.” Griff frowned and stomped toward the staircase. He probably should do a whip-round, get Rex a fruit basket or something. Poor bugger.
An hour later, after wrapping up some paperwork, Griff pulled out of the station in his blue and white patrol car.
He was okay with that. It was easier than getting to know a new partner. He didn’t mean to be antisocial, it had just happened over the last few years. He liked who he liked, and that was it.
His boss had told him to carry on as normal, checking out the usual city trouble spots, but had told him to stay car based. Beat cops believed in safety in numbers.
Griff listened to the control room chatter. It was a Sunday night, so not much was happening. The weekend had worn itself out.
He cruised through Redlands, keeping his eyes peeled for known troublemakers.
The streets were quiet.
He swung around the one-way system, coming to a halt when a homeless man pushed his loaded trolley into the road.
“Hey, mate.” Griff climbed out of the car. “You okay?”
The man coughed, a deep chesty rattle. “Evening, Officer.”
“Where you off to?” Griff recognized the man. He’d been on the streets of Bristol for years.
“The hostel. See if they’ve got space.”
“They’re charging a fiver, you got that?”
“Nah.” He dug into a grubby carrier bag and plucked out a sandwich wrapper. “I chose food. My stomach thought me throat had been cut.” He coughed again.
Griff dug into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He plucked out a five-pound note. “Here, take this.”
The man’s eyes widened, his brow creasing. “That’s mighty kind of ya.”
“Don’t want that cough turning to pneumonia, do we? See if they can get a doctor to listen to your chest in the morning.”
The man gave the money a kiss, making a loud lip-smacking noise. “I’d kiss you, Officer, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t like that.”
“You’re not my type.” Griff laughed. “So you guessed right.”
He grinned. “God bless you, Officer, I really appreciate it.”
“Well, it’s just this once, but be careful, okay, get yourself straight there.”
He did a mock salute, then gripped the handle of his trolley and rattled up the curb.
Griff climbed back into his car and started the engine.
He left the city center and slow-wheeled in the direction of St George’s Park. After circumnavigating it, he found himself pulling up on Sloane Street.
He killed the lights and was glad his parking space wasn’t under the spotlight of a lamppost.
It was then his attention settled on a terraced house. Number eighteen.
Four concrete steps led up to the entrance and the three windows facing the street were all lit but with curtains closed.
Who has every light on in their house?
Ava Sontag, that’s who.
He probably shouldn’t have used the database to look up her address. Had resisted for years finding out her whereabouts. But seeing her the night before had given him an excuse to dig into his ex. Find out where she was living now and what she’d been up to since he’d last seen her.
Which didn’t appear to be much. She didn’t have a record, which was good, but her employment status was sketchy. No doubt Bank of Daddy was still dishing out cash on a monthly basis.
He folded his arms and settled back in the driver’s seat. At college she’d been studying art and design. It had seemed to him she’d picked it because it was easy with no real right and wrong. But what did he know? He’d been into math because he was good at it, but it hadn’t led to a career in numbers. His career had come about after chatting to a police officer at a college recruitment day. Griff had been curious to see if he’d be up for the challenge of protecting the streets and fighting crime. It had been one of the most important conversations of his life, and undoubtedly his best decision to date.
A light went out in an upstairs bedroom. He waited to see if another would. It didn’t.
A disturbance was reported from the control room but it was on the opposite side of the town center and quickly picked up by another patrol.
Movement in his wing mirror caught his attention. A man walking toward him through the shadows, head stooped, hood up, hands shoved into jeans pockets.
Griff wished he was in a plain car. He was standing out like a sore bloody thumb in this one with its neon orange stripe down the side.
He shifted lower, trying to be as inconspicuous inside the vehicle as possible.
It seemed he had some level of success and the man strode past then crossed the road.
He went to Ava’s house and knocked. He poked at something on the ground with his shoe while he waited for the door to be answered.
Griff’s breathing was shallow when the door pulled open and a spill of amber light fell onto the steps.
Ava stood there in pink sweats and a white t-shirt with a love heart on the front. Her hair was messy hanging around her face, her feet were bare, and smoke from the cigarette she was holding plumed into the night air.
She glanced up and down the street, didn’t appear to notice the cop car, then motioned for the man to enter the house.
“What the hell?” Griff muttered.
His cop instinct bristled. This man wasn’t Ava’s type. He was small, thin, and gave off a bad vibe. He was there for another reason. The question was what reason was that?
Ava spotted the cop car the moment she opened her front door. What she struggled to see through the darkness was if there was someone inside it or not.
She tried not to let her heart skip out of control as she puffed on her cigarette and let Knobby in.
“Here,” he said, pulling his hand from his pocket.
“Stop,” she hissed. “Wait.”
She shut the door. “Didn’t you see the cop car in the road?”
He stared at her, his mouth hanging open in that gormless way he favored. “What? No.” He went to open the door again.
“Stop it.” She slapped her palm on it. “You can leave the back way.”
“Yeah, I will, don’t need the attention of the pigs.” He shoved a small package into her hand. “Here’s the stuff you ordered.”
Ava quickly tucked it into a vase on the hallway table. It was only enough for a couple of lines next weekend. Not a big order. “Here.” She opened a drawer and pulled out fifty quid. “Now go, through there.”
Knobby dashed through the hallway and into the kitchen.
She stabbed out her cigarette and followed, but by the time she’d reached the kitchen he’d gone and the back door was wide open to the cool evening.
She closed it, then poured wine into a mug and knocked it back. Hair of the dog, the best cure for a hangover and it had done her proud all day, staving off the nausea.
She took another slug, then went up the stairs. Once in the spare bedroom, the smallest one she used as a junk room, she flicked off the light and sneaked to the window. Feeling hunted, a fugitive, she peeked through the curtain and out into the street.
Damn it. The cop car was still there. And yes, there was a policeman in it. Still as a rock, his wide outline was just visible.
She swallowed. What was he doing? Was she on their radar now? Fuck it. She’d only ever had Knobby drop off a couple of packages. Hardly big time drug deals. She was small fry. Surely cops had serious crimes to go and solve—hardened criminals and serial killers that demanded attention.
“Oh, shut up,” she muttered, flicking the curtain back into place. “He’s not interested in you, Ava.” The idea of someone not being interested in her went against her usual line of thinking.
Ava had breezed through life being effortlessly popular. Maintaining the position of center of attention hadn’t been difficult. She had a rich father whose idea of affection was to fill her bank account. Her mother had left him many years previously. Likely because her father’s idea of being a good husband was to lavish presents on his wife in the hope she’d turn a blind eye to his constant cheating. Trouble was, Ava’s mother had given up custody when she’d given up on her marriage. Ava hadn’t seen her since she was six years old.
Not that Ava cared; she had a host of female friends. There was never a lack of girly company if she wanted it. They were her family—family who liked to party… hard.
She wiped her nose, a habit she’d developed, and took another mouthful of wine before wandering out of the spare bedroom.
When she left the room, thoughts of the cop outside slipped from her mind. Netflix, that was next on her agenda, along with more wine.
Her phone trilled and she flopped onto her bed, clasping it to her ear. “Hey, Mel, how are you today?” She crossed one leg over the other, foot bobbing. Mel was one of her oldest friends. They’d known each other since college. If Ava could say she loved anyone, it was Mel.
“Fucked up. Don’t know what that was we took last night but my brain is trying to get out of my head.”
Ava laughed. “Ah, man up, it was good stuff.”
“Maybe for you, only the second time I’ve taken it. Think I’ll stick to the wine.”
“Yeah, you do that.” Ava took a drink.
“I can hear you slurping. Don’t tell me you have a glass on the go?”
“Of course, it was an early night, all things considered. We’re the party girls, remember.”
“You’re hard core, Ava.”
Ava laughed. “Just get yourself into gear for tomorrow evening, I have plans for us.”
“Why? What’s happening tomorrow? It’s a Monday, for heaven’s sake.”
“It’s the opening of that new bar, Ruby’s, down by Stable. I’ve got three VIP tickets. Sandy is coming too, said she wants all the nights out she can before she’s tied to the kitchen sink.”
“Ah… well…” Mel hesitated.
“Oh, Mel, please, it won’t be the same without you.”
“Okay, and I’ll be right as rain by then, don’t you worry.”
“Good.” Ava crossed and uncrossed her legs. “I’ll swing by in a cab about nine and pick you up. Dress to impress, you sexy chick.”
Mel laughed. “I’ll do my best, but whatever I wear you’ll outshine me.”
“Nonsense, you’re gorgeous. See you tomorrow.” She hung up and a visual of her dresses winged through her mind. She had a new purple, off the shoulder Cavalli that was crying out to be worn. Teamed with silver heels to show off her tanned legs, it would be quite the statement. Worth the VIP tickets Bradley the owner’s son had sent her.
Finishing the wine, she flicked the bedroom TV on. Monday mornings always meant a good long lie in. She thanked her lucky stars she didn’t have to work like all of her friends did. That would be such a bore.
With Mel and Sandy at her side, Ava strode along the quayside with her heels clicking on the pavement. The evening air wrapped around her bare legs like a silken caress. She had a nice buzz going on already and the taste for another gin and tonic.
“Wow, it’s busy for a Monday,” Sandy said, taking a few paces at a run to keep up.
“Yeah, I told you it would be.” Ava grinned. “I’m so glad you could both make it.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Mel said, linking her arm with Ava’s.
Ava gave her hand a squeeze.
“I don’t know how you got the tickets,” Sandy said.
“Bradley Ruby fancies her.” Mel laughed.
“Do you fancy him?” Sandy asked.
Ava huffed. “He’s too young, only twenty-two or twenty-three, I forget which.”
“Cute though, I heard he’s got a modeling contract.”
“Mmm, I heard that too. But no, he’s not for me.”
“Why not?” Mel asked.
The truth was Ava didn’t really know why not. Bradley ticked all the boxes. He was handsome in a surfer dude kind of a way, came from a well-off family, and he always lavished her with attention.
“She’d chew him up and spit him out, wouldn’t you, Ava.” Sandy laughed. “Poor little Bradley wouldn’t know what had hit him.”
“Would be fun though,” Mel said with a giggle, “chewing him up, that is. I bet he’d taste nice.”
They all laughed as they walked past a queue leading to the entrance of Ruby’s, the new bar.
“Hey, David,” Ava said, recognizing the bouncer from another club. “How are you?”
“Ava.” He grinned. “Saw your name, in you go.”
“Thanks.” Stepping past him, she blew a kiss his way.
Her phone beeped and she glanced at the screen. A message from her father. She opened it.
Sorry, it’s a no-go this weekend, honey. Hitting Dubai for a friend’s wedding. Will try and catch up next month if I’m in the UK. Dad x
Her breath hitched. This was the fourth time he’d let her down in as many months. She’d only seen him once all year. And he didn’t even have the decency to call and explain. Brushed aside as though she meant nothing… which was obviously the case.
Her eyes misted and her throat tightened. She pushed the bitter taste of disappointment away. It would rise later, slap her about, twist her guts, but for now she was out with her friends.
So she pasted on a smile and hoped no one spotted the sadness in her eyes—sadness that she meant nothing to the one man she was supposed to mean everything to.
The club was loud and hot, the throbbing music seeming to vibrate right to her heart.
They made their way to the bar, and while the barman made up three Hendersons they threw back complimentary flutes of cava.
“Hey, Ava, you made it.”
She turned and came face to face with Bradley. “Hi, B, thanks for the invite.” She kissed first his left, then his right cheek. “Place looks awesome. Love the gothic décor.”
He grinned and his eyes sparkled. “Glad you like it. Want a tour?”
“Maybe later.” She nodded at the bar. “I’m having a catch up with my girls first.”
His mouth flattened, just for a split second, then he grinned again. “Okay, I’ll find you.”