Chapter 1: Archer

Blond hair, blue eyes, and a goatee.

She actually had to pull her sunglasses down to take a good, long look.

He must be the first decent-looking man she had seen in- well, since she got here, which was almost six days ago.

Pushing her shades up again, she leant back in her chair and smiled into her cocktail glass.

She had no idea what was keeping her here, actually. There was nothing to do, there was nothing to see, but when the thought of leaving crossed her mind punctually every day at lunch time, she never really got around to punching in the ridiculously long string of digits that would connect her to her private jet.

Yes, it must be the numbers.

Or maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the noise, the chaos, the thick smoke of exhaust fumes and dust and cigarettes, the broken windows, the soldiers marching on the streets, the women with enormous pots on their heads- the people.

Oh yes, definitely the people. They treated her with a sort of suspicious fascination that she found most amusing. But they were lovely people; and in a strange, twisted way, Sierra Leone was a lovely place. Everywhere you go someone was being robbed, or stabbed to death, or kidnapped- the city was literally falling apart. But here she was, still alive and kicking none too badly. Not at all.

"Alex," a voice sing-sang teasingly next to her.

She rolled her eyes. Well, considering the fact that she had a bodyguard, it was no surprise that she was still alive.

"Go away, Dom," she said flatly.

Dominic grinned. "So, which fortunate man is lucky enough to have caught your undivided attention?"

She grinned back and drained the rest of her cocktail. "See for yourself."

Sitting up in his chair, Dominic whipped his sunglasses off and swept his green eyes across the rather quiet pub sitting on a stretch of white sand. Alexis smiled and watched him scour the premise- it did not take him too long to discover her new target.

"He's old enough to be your father," he commented dryly.

She snorted. "He doesn't look old. He's just more mature than guys like you."

"But you're younger than me."

"Whatever," she shrugged, waving that comment aside. She watched him stop at the bar, exchanging words with the bartender. "Shall I pounce?"

"Ooooh, I think someone else has cast her lasso first."

Alexis looked up sharply and, indeed, she caught sight of a white face framed by dark brown hair, sitting on the other side of the bar.

"Fuck it," swore Alex tonelessly, lighting a cigarette.

Dominic considered the woman. "At least she looks more or less his age."

She angrily took a drag from her smoke. "Oh screw you. You can't even see her properly from this distance. And how old can he be? Thirty-two max, I tell you. So what does that make? A nine-year difference. At most."

"Wow, you're good at sums, aren't you?"

He yelped when she kicked him in the shin. "Shut up. You're just jealous that he's sexier than you are."

"Sexy my ass," retorted Dom disdainfully. "He's fat."

"He's fat? If he's fat, you're beyond obese," retortede Alex, her lips twisting in contempt as she watched the man sidling up close and personal to the woman. "Man, that body-"

"Women," he muttered.

"Homos," she shot back and smiled smugly at his scowl. "What? I love homos, they listen and they don't bitch behind your back."

Dominic shook his head with a sigh as Alexis untangled her legs and slipped her feet into her flipflops, while snubbing her cigarette out on the table in one smooth motion. "I'm giving it a shot. Watch the pro." She tossed him a grin and grabbed his half-empty beer bottle before setting off across the sand towards the bar.

It was a beautiful day. The afternoon sun was hot on her skin, the warm, fine sand shifted between her toes, and scorching winds rippled her knotted hair. The wonderful smell of grilling braaied boerewors filled her nose as she made it onto the wooden floor of the main deck, where three mini televisions were broadcasting Clinton's apology for his sex scandal. With a snort, she rolled her eyes and shook her hair out of her face when she got near enough to hear his voice, animated, heavily accented. It sounded very African, despite the fact that he was white.

At that moment, her right foot stepped on something slippery, and with all the gracelessness of a flailing person, she shrieked, sprawled forwards and crashed - purely incidentally- into the man she had been spying on for the past fifteen minutes.

"Whoa! Miss, you alright, huh?"

Clinging onto the bar, she winced. "Oh gosh, I am really sorry." She was very much aware of his hands gripping upper arms. "It's got to be those fucking caps. Hey you!" she all but yelled at the bartender, who was not doing a good job of hiding his snicker. "Can't you make sure your customers don't litter? I almost broke my leg!"

"Sorry, miss. Shit happens!" chuckled the bartender. "A Cosmopolitan on the house?"

"Least you could do," muttered Alexis.

The man chuckled. "Those shoes aren't exactly safe, huh?"

Alexis took a deep breath and looked up into his eyes, then made a show of frowning at her Havianas and her black toe nails. "I suppose they aren't," she smiled, putting Dom's bottle on the bar counter to offer him her right hand. "Alexis Devereaux."

With a lopsided grin, he shook it. "Danny Archer. So, are you French, Miss Devereuax?"

"A quarter, oui," replied Alex, leaning on the bar. "But I'm also German, American, Chinese, Spanish and Russian."

Danny Archer blew a raspberry, white smoke billowing out between his lips. "Impressive, you're quite a mix I can see. So you've been all over the place, huh?"

"I've been mostly been stuck at a British Catholic all-girls' boarding school most of my life, so not really," she said and pulled a face. "Then I went to the States for university."

"Really?" He turned around and gestured to the woman. "You should meet Maddy Bowen. She's from America. Maddy, this is Alexis Devereaux."

"Oh, hello," Alexis shook her hand and forced herself to smile sweetly. Dom was right- she did look more or less his age. "So nice to meet you. I went to law school in the States until a couple of months ago."

"Really? Where did you go?" asked Maddy politely, reaching up to tuck a stray bit of hair behind an ear.

"Harvard," replied Alexis impassively, then waved her hand dismissively and grabbed the icy cold cocktail the bartender left for her on the bar. "But I left a couple of months into my third year. It bored me to death."

Danny's eyebrows shot up. "A Harvard law dropout, huh? So what you're doin' now? Traveling the world?"

She tilted her head to one side and grinned. "Kind of."

Maddy's eyes widened. "Alone? A young lady like you?"

"I have a bodyguard," she pointed at Dom, who was obviously watching them. "He's Dominic, he's my best friend."

"Where's he from? Yale?"

She half-opened her mouth in genuine surprise. "How did you guess?"

He took a swig of his beer and grinned. "Birds of a feather flock together, I guess."

Alexis took a long look at him, making him chuckle and ask, "What are you staring at, huh?"

"I can't quite figure out where you're from," she replied honestly. "You have a strange accent, Mr Archer."

"He's from Rhodesia," said Maddy with a smile, giving Danny a highly amused look.

Alex furrowed her brow. "Rhodesia? Where's that?"

"Apparently," said Danny, staring back at the woman. "It's called Zimbabwe now."

"Where's Zimbabwe?"

"You don't know where Zimbabwe is?" asked Maddy, arching an eyebrow.

"Oh, is it that place in Eastern Europe?"

The two exchanged looks, then more or less burst into laughter.

Alexis was ashamed to feel heat creeping up her neck. "Well, I'm not a geographer, am I?" she said sharply.

Danny laughed and she gave him an angry glare. "What are you laughing at?"

He sobered and asked tsked, "Are you sure you were studying at Harvard?" Here he succumbed to chuckles. "Eastern Europe, ha!"

Alex narrowed her eyes at him and hissed. "Fuck you."

He actually looked surprised at her flare-up, and held his hands up in the air mockingly. "Whoa, whoa, it was a joke, huh?"

"Oh yeah? It was a joke, huh?" she repeated sarcastically. "What a sense of humour you have, Mr Archer."

He snorted. "Christ, how sensitive can you get?"

"Oh you've seen nothing yet," declared Alex, downing a mouthful of her cocktail then splashed the rest of it into his face. "Screw you, Mr Archer."

She marched backed to the table where Dom was gleefully grinning at her outburst, and practically dragged his ass all the way back to where their chauffeur was waiting for them.

Danny Archer.

She would remember that name.

Edited: 26 May 2012