So here is a new story from me… It's just a short story from me this time but I've been struggling with the stories that I've already started writing recently… writer's block has kicked in hard… So one night I just sat down and started to write something that had popped into my head on my drive home from work. It wasn't going to be a story as such, it was just so I could write something… then it was going to be a one-shot… and then it turned into a short story. I can't say my writer's block for my other stories has gone although I am slowly starting to write them again… but in the mean time I've written this story and I like it. It's also undergone a couple of re-writes since I first wrote it – so the editing process has been a bit of a bitch. Anyway this story's a bit different to ones I've written before… but I hope you like it too. So enjoy!
Joey sighed, as he drove up to the big country house. He parked his car, feeling nervous. He'd never done anything like this before and he found himself second guessing his decision again. He was tired… and in another world, he'd be doing exactly the same thing he'd been doing for the last two years this weekend… working… and he certainly wouldn't be taking two days off work in addition to the weekend. He sighed and shook his head at his indecision, unbuckling the seat belt and opening the door, climbing out of the car and moving round to the boot in one fluid movement. He lifted out his suitcase and the suit bag he'd brought with him. Locking his car he turned towards the hotel, pulling his case behind him. He noticed a few other people doing the same as him, wondering if they were part of the same group. They seemed to be mostly men so far and Joey hoped there was a decent number of women attending as well… or it was going to be a very long weekend… not to mention fruitless… he really wasn't here to meet men.
The taxi door was opened and she climbed out of it… nerves starting to get to her. Why had she agreed to do this again? She must need her fucking head read… Never again was she going to entrust her friends with something like this. She'd had a complete panic attack this morning before she had to run for the train… and she was already regretting the purchase she'd made on the way. She paid the taxi driver as he lifted her small case and large bag out of the boot and placed them next to where she was standing. She watched the taxi driver pull away, a little bit of her wanting to flag him down and get him to take her back to the station. She hesitated a fraction too long though and as she lifted her hand he'd already driven the cab out of sight.
'FUCK,' she thought, sighing as she turned around and looked at where she was. She had to admit the surroundings were beautiful and she hoped she'd get some time to herself. Maybe she could walk around the gardens if the weather was nice. She lifted her bag to her shoulder and then pulled her case behind her as she walked towards the entrance of the house. There was no more delaying it.
She headed towards the reception desk, relieved that there was no one else around to witness her being there. She gave them her name and was soon passed her room key and an envelope of information. The receptionist waved over a young boy who looked like he should still be at school and he took her bags from her, leading her up the stairs to her room. She was a mass of nerves and she just hoped she had the strength to get through the next few days. If she had the luck to meet someone who was vaguely close to what she was looking for she would consider herself to have had a good weekend.
Joey sat in his room, his clothes all unpacked and hanging in the wardrobe or folded in the drawers. He'd changed into something more comfortable and was sitting on the bed, reading through the envelope of information he'd been given when he checked in. He'd been told some of what was going to happen in the next four days but Joey had seriously underestimated quite what it was going to involve. He should've been paying more attention. Pretty much all of the weekend had been scheduled to some activity or other, in order for everyone to get to know each other. He'd not planned for that, thinking that it would be more of a casual event. He wished he'd read through all the details before he booked himself on this. He probably wouldn't have come if he knew things were going to be so structured.
He'd decided to go for a casual look as he went down to the bar later that evening. It was the first mixer of the weekend and along with the nervous anticipation he felt about this, he knew he needed a drink or two before he could start to relax so the bar was the best place for him to be. He could also check to make sure that everyone else was dressed in a similar fashion to him. He headed straight for the bar and ordered a whisky. At least he wasn't driving tonight so he could have a few… he just had to hope he didn't descend into melancholy as would sometimes happen if he drank too much. This was likely… especially if he was matched with someone he didn't like.
He turned his back to the bar and leaned against it, his eyes scanning the room, taking in the people milling around him. The papers he'd read had clarified that the whole venue was booked for the same event so he knew there wasn't anyone 'off limits'… should he see anyone he liked. Which was unlikely… he knew that already by looking at some of the women that were here, a lot of them were older than him and others just weren't the type of women he would go for. If he was being honest, the whole weekend was probably a write off. It was actually recommended that this event should just be used as a networking opportunity… sex was strictly frowned upon between prospective couples… which Joey was relieved about because… well, to be honest he was a little out of practice on that score too… He wasn't even sure he had the skills to attract anyone, let alone try to entice a woman to go to bed with him.
He took a swig of his drink, sighing internally as he saw a woman take a second glance at him. She wasn't someone he was interested in… not even in his best days would he have looked at her. She was all show… your typical cougar in fact, because she certainly looked a lot older than he was. He turned away from her, hoping that would dissuade her, silently ordering another drink from the barman. He was still struggling with how he'd managed to find himself here. He drank some more, staring at the surface of the bar he was standing at, focusing internally rather than taking in what was going on around him, swallowing the pain of his thoughts along with the whiskies he repeatedly ordered.
Joey was sat at a table in the restaurant. He was surrounded by people who an hour earlier had been complete strangers to him… and even now he couldn't say he knew any of them in any great detail and he'd made sure he didn't reveal too much about himself in the process of the meal either. He wasn't quite up to the blatant flirting that some of the other men at his table were doing. And he wasn't impressed with any of the women that surrounded him either… they all seemed to be simpering fools who could barely string a sentence together. Especially the woman that had apparently been 'matched' up with him. She was an utter disaster and he could barely stand to look at her. He wanted someone very different to that. He wanted a woman who could challenge him… who could match him in every way. The problem was he'd already found that woman once and the chances of it happening again were minimal. He took another large gulp of whisky, looking for an easy escape route he could use which wouldn't be too noticeable. He was regretting turning up for this weekend more and more as the minutes ticked by. He wished he'd stayed at home.
Joey, who was still on the verge of giving up and going to bed, glanced across the room to another table and saw someone who seemed to be in the same predicament as he was. She was stunning… she had long dark hair that framed her face beautifully. She also looked as if she was bored to tears. He wanted to go and speak to her but she wasn't sitting at the same table as him… which meant she hadn't been matched with him. The ones he'd been matched with were allegedly sat on the table he was at. That thought was depressing as he looked around the table, his heart sinking with each woman he looked at, the last one he stared at smiled at him eagerly, causing his gut to clench a little tighter. The waiting staff began to clear the tables and finally the meal was over. He pushed his chair back and stood, making excuses when a couple of the women looked at him hopefully. He left the room and headed back to the bar, needing a strong drink before he went back up to the safety of his room. This was a disaster… of epic proportions. He was tempted to risk it and go up to his room and pack his bags, leaving before the night was over but he knew he wasn't that lucky… and it was a long drive back to London. Not something he should attempt when he knew he was slightly over the limit… which was probably a bit of an understatement seeing as he was about to start his fifth whisky.
"You look like you're enjoying this as much as I am…"
Joey turned his head towards the voice, surprised to see the brunette he'd been gazing at earlier. "Well, things are starting to look up a little now…"
The brunette smiled, "Then they must've been really bad before…"
"Can I get you a drink?" Joey asked.
"I find it's customary to at least know the name of the person who's buying me a drink before I accept such offers…" she said.
"Sorry… how rude of me…" he grinned at her, sticking his right hand out towards her, "My name is Joey Branning…" he said, introducing himself.
She grinned back at him, her whole face lighting up. She took his hand, shaking it gently as her fingers squeezed his, "I'm Lauren. Lauren Cross." She said. "It's good to meet you, Joey… the first sensible person I've met in several hours…" Her face flushed slightly as she realised she was still holding his hand. "And I'll have a diet coke, please…"
"Nothing stronger?" he asked.
She shook her head, "I don't think so…" she said, her eyes getting a faraway look. Joey frowned and ordered a round of drinks, watching as the barman quickly filled the two glasses.
"So how come you're here then, Lauren?" Joey asked once he'd paid for the drinks.
"My friends decided I needed some help with my love life… or lack thereof…" she said, a tone of sarcasm in her voice.
"And do you?" Joey asked.
She turned her head to look at him and a silence fell. "I guess I do." She admitted with a sigh. She sipped on her drink, not quite able to look at him.
"So they booked for you to come here for the weekend?" Joey said. She nodded. Joey smiled at her, "It was a… spur of the moment decision for me…" he told her. "And I'm pretty sure there's been a huge mix-up somewhere along the line because none of the women on my table were the kind of woman I'm interested in…"
"And who might this woman be that you desire so much?" Lauren asked him.
"I'm not sure desire is the right word…" Joey said, his mouth suddenly very dry, staring into his glass, swirling it slowly in his hand before taking a large gulp.
"You're avoiding the question, Joey." She said pointedly.
"I don't want someone who is going to just say yes to me… because she thinks it pleases me… I don't want someone who is going to simper over me… I had that when I was younger and found it quite a turn off…" he told her softly. "The woman for me has to have a bit of fire in her…" he said. "And there has to be a spark between us… She also needs to be clever… not someone with no common sense…"
"Oh well…" Lauren said, smiling at him. "I guess that counts me out then…" she said, her eyes sparkling as she looked at his face.
Joey frowned, "How come…?" he asked, a feeling of disappointment ebbing through him that surprised him more than anything else.
"I lack common sense, apparently. I think my family can attest to me being a bit of an idiot…" she said. "Especially when it comes to men… I always go for the wrong ones…" she admitted. "And it's always me that ends up getting hurt…"
"So what kind of guys do you normally go for?"
"The wrong kind, usually. They're always good looking… too good looking normally… and have the attention span of a goldfish… essentially when it comes to women anyway… or maybe it's just me that they lose interest in. They know the meaning of a good night… going out drinking, dancing, clubbing…" she said, that faraway look reappearing on her face. "And then they're usually gone, pretty much as soon as they arrive…" She drank some more of her drink, surprised to find Joey staring at her. "This was all quite a while ago… It's been a long time since I've dated anyone." She admitted. "It's not the same since…" her voice faded but Joey didn't push her, not feeling it was his place to ask her questions about something he could tell she wasn't comfortable revealing. She looked at him suddenly, "I'm sorry… I guess I'm just not the best company…" she said. "Thank you for the drink…" she said, putting down her now empty glass and getting to her feet. "I'll go and find someone else to bore to tears…" Joey laughed and she looked at him indignantly. "Why are you laughing? Are you laughing at me?"
"No… it's just when I saw you at the meal earlier that was how I thought you looked… like you were bored to tears… It gave me hope that you might be more of a kindred spirit than the people at my table…" he said. He reached for her hand, "Please don't go…" he said, his thumb gently brushing the back of the hand he held.
"Well, I guess I could stay a little longer…" she said, her cheeks flushing slightly. She sat back down and reached for her bag, "What would you like to drink?" She asked him, staring into his eyes, "It's my turn…" she added, almost daring him to contradict her.
"A whisky… with ice…" he said and she smiled at him.
"Coming right up." She said.
They were still talking to each other more than an hour later. Joey had to admit he found Lauren a pleasure to talk to. And she made him laugh which he realised was important too. He'd had enough misery in his life. Not that he was expecting anything more from the woman before him. He hadn't written her off either though.
Most of the other people from the event had left the bar now, although Joey had no recollection of them calling it a night. Ever since Lauren had sat back down beside him his attention had been locked on her. "So it looks like everyone else has called it a night…" Joey said, wishing the night could continue.
"Mmm hmm…" Lauren said, looking around, "I think the barman wants us to leave too… I think he wants to go home…" she said in a stage whisper, laughter in her voice.
"He probably does…" Joey agreed. He stood up and turned to her, "I can walk you up to your room if you'd like…?" he said. "I don't mean anything by that…" he added quickly.
Lauren grinned at him, "That's a shame…" she said, teasing him as she also stood. "I thought my evening was taking a turn for the better…" she murmured, taking a step towards him.
Joey blinked, stunned by what she'd said… and dare he say it… slightly turned on. It'd been a while since that had happened to be honest and he'd almost forgotten what it felt like. "Didn't it do that an hour or so ago… when I brought you your drink?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow at her.
"It was a highlight…" she agreed softly. "But I'm greedy, Joey… I want more…"
"More?" Joey whispered.
"Why don't you take me up to your room… and we'll see how we get on?" she breathed in his ear after edging closer to him. Joey's mouth ran dry and all he could do was nod. "Perfect…" she whispered, slipping her hand in his.
They left the bar and began the slow walk up the stairs. "This is frowned upon, you know…" Joey said.
Lauren smiled at him, staring at his face, "I'd assumed you were a bit of a rule breaker…" she breathed.
Joey chuckled, "I was… in my day…" he admitted.
"And now…?" she asked.
"This isn't something I normally do." He told her distractedly, "It's been a while…"
"I'm no expert either, Joey." Lauren told him. She tugged on his hand, stopping him. She moved to stand on the step a couple of stairs higher than where he was stood. It meant she could look him directly in the eye. "I mean it…" she breathed, "I'm not expecting anything from this… if we get to your room and talk for a while and then decide that is all we want, then it's fine… the night is over. No harm… no foul…" She smiled at him, her face lighting up again. "Now… are you still taking me to your room?" she asked him.
"Sure." He said, relaxing a little after what she'd said. He moved around her, pulling on her hand and she followed him up the rest of the stairs and along the corridor. He dug his free hand in his pocket and pulled the key card out of it, slipping it into the door and unlocking it. He pushed the door open and they walked into the room. "I'll just be a minute…" he said, releasing her hand and heading towards the bathroom, his reluctance and the tight knot in his stomach returning the instant the door to his room closed behind them.
Lauren stood in the middle of the room, looking around it in interest. It was much tidier than she'd expected it to be. There were very few personal items on display so she sat on the edge of the bed and waited for Joey to return. Something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye and it set her pulse racing.
A/N: I wonder what it is that Lauren has found… Is everything quite as it seems? What do you think of the story so far? Intrigued? Any idea what is going to happen in the rest of the story? DON'T FORGET TO SEND ME A REVIEW. Back tomorrow…