"Here's to you finally getting rid of that asshole!"
Stephanie raised her shot glass in the air and saluted the toast given by her best friend Libby. She tilted her head backwards and swallowed the red fiery liquid in one large gulp, wincing as the sharp tang hit the back of her throat. Her lips smacked together as she placed the empty glass back down on the polished bar with a loud thud.
"You're much better off without him, Steph. The guy was a total sleazeball."
Stephanie nodded her head in agreement and tried to ignore the empty pang she still felt in her chest at the thought of him. The pain was still too raw and fresh for her. Even today when he'd tried to make his pathetic excuses, she'd looked at him and felt that familiar rush of longing towards him. She'd really, really cared about Ben and had actually been stupid enough to think their relationship had been something special. Only it hadn't been a relationship. It had been an affair; a dirty, sleazy horrible affair. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined he was married. Though in retrospect, all the signs were there. He had asked to keep their three month relationship a secret apparently for the sake of his career. They only ever met at her place. He had never stayed the night. She'd just been too blinded by his charm to even notice or pick up on all these things. And now she just felt like a fool; a big stupid, naive fool.
"You know what you need to do. You need to get him out of your system." Libby announced shifting on her stool. She wobbled slightly and gripped the ledge of the bar to steady herself.
"Find a hunk, have the best sex of your life and you'll forget all about Benjamin Cordell." she slurred.
Stephanie snorted as her arm wildly gesticulated around the crowded bar. "Now that would be easier said than done. Have you seen some of the lowlife's in this place?"
Libby shook her head dramatically. Her loose curls bounced around on the top of her head as her small delicate finger pointed at her friend. "You know your problem, you're too damn picky. There are plenty of good looking men around here."
Libby swivelled on the seat. Her eyes eagerly scanned the room. Stephanie watched on with amusement.
"See anyone yet?" she taunted.
Libby held up her hand. "Give me a chance. I'm looking."
"You can look all you like, you know. You're never going to find anyone."
"Wait!" Libby bent forward slightly peering towards the door but within a few seconds her face fell as she groaned loudly. "Damn it, he's gay. Why are all the good looking ones attracted to men?"
Stephanie laughed as the bar tender placed another round of shots in front of them. She swore her head spun as she thanked him and picked up the miniature glass. She closed her eyes and let out a slow breath.
"Steph, please tell me you're not going to puke."
Stephanie slowly opened her eyes and was relieved to find the brief dizziness was gone. She saw Libby's blue eyes staring at her anxiously. Her best friend was concerned and rightly so. It wouldn't be the first time she had gotten in a mess. She adjusted the fallen strap of her black vest top and shook her head.
"I'm not going to puke."
"Are you sure?"
She tilted her head back for a second time and downed the drink. She felt her stomach lurch in protest as she placed the empty glass down beside her. She placed her hand quickly over her watery mouth.
"You are going to be sick." cried Libby as she got down from her stool and staggered towards her friend. Stephanie shook her head as her hand fell away.
Libby lightly gripped her bare arm. "I still think you should go outside and get some fresh air."
"Actually I think I just want to go home." Stephanie whimpered swallowing thickly. She felt her head start to pound to the loud music. She picked up her purse from the bar and slid down from her stool placing her coat over her arm.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. You stay here with Claire. Have a good time."
"I can't leave you on your own."
"Lib, I'll be fine. Honestly. I'll take the train and I'll go straight home."
Stephanie's eyes scoured for the third member of their group, their friend Claire to say goodbye but she couldn't see her. She was maybe in the toilet either that or she was making out with some guy somewhere. Knowing Claire, that was probably the more likely scenario.
"You'd better." warned Libby. "Call me from work tomorrow?"
Stephanie pulled her into a hug squeezing her tightly. She loved Libby to death and they'd been friends ever since she could remember. Lifting her hand in a wave, she pushed past the faceless bodies as she left the bar. The cool breeze outside chilled her skin causing goose bumps to appear on her arms. Stephanie quickly pulled on her thin wool coat and tied the belt. Her heels clicked loudly against the sidewalk as she made the short walk to the tube station at the end of the road side-stepping a broken glass bottle lying in her path.
Her legs felt a little wobbly and Stephanie gripped the metal hand rail for support as she made her way down the escalator. She licked her lips and she felt the buzz from the alcohol flowing through her veins. She'd lost count of how much she had consumed tonight. She just wondered why on earth she did this to herself. She knew she was destined to feel like total crap in the morning. Work was going to be total hell and she had a meeting in the morning too. Shit. She would be lucky if she was even sober by then.
Just then Stephanie arrived at her platform noticing her train was already there. She quickly jogged and caught it just as the doors began to close behind her. Lightly panting, she took the nearest available seat. Her blue eyes stared out of the window and her mind began to drift to Ben as the train pulled away. God, he would be at the meeting tomorrow. All the departments would be there and he would greet her and sit across the table from her pretending that nothing had happened between them. That's what hurt the most about the whole thing. Having to see him every day and smile and act like they were still friends when deep inside all she wanted to do was scream at him and cry.
Suddenly Stephanie felt the hot tears burn her throat and well in her eyes. She blinked them back furiously. She wasn't going to cry. Not over him. Not when she'd shed enough tears over him already. But in her drunken state, Stephanie's emotions got the better of her and the tears began to slip down her cheeks. She bent her head to conceal them and her hand covered her face as her body shook with her silent sobs. God, she felt like such a stupid idiot. How could she not have known that Ben had a wife? Ben's colleagues and friends were probably laughing at her stupidity behind her back. That's if they even knew about her. After all, she had been a secret; a horrible and embarrassing secret.
"Hey, are you okay?"
Stephanie sniffed loudly and lifted her head at the sound of the deep, smooth voice. She was met with a pair of sympathetic brown eyes that seemed to hold genuine concern for her. She wondered where this guy had come from. She couldn't recall him being in the opposite seat when she had gotten on the train. He had quite literally appeared out of nowhere.
"I couldn't help but notice you look upset." he explained.
Stephanie sniffed as she wiped her wet cheeks with the back of her hand feeling her head spin. "Upset? Why would I be upset? I mean just because that lowlife bastard ruined my life, it doesn't mean I'm going to wallow over his sorry ass." she replied, rambling.
She let out a shaky breath as she stared out the dirty glass window. The stars in the sky twinkled brightly for a few brief seconds before the carriage travelled through into the black tunnel.
"Guy trouble, huh?"
Stephanie looked over at the long blonde haired stranger. Her glazed over eyes looked at him drunkenly and suspiciously wondering why the hell he gave a crap. It's not like anyone else did. Well certainly not Ben anyway and she was beginning to wonder if he ever did. All she had been good for was sex and …..well, just sex really. The majority of their relationship had been spent between the sheets. She wondered if her sheets were better than the ones he had at home and that currently adorned his marriage bed.
"Hey, are you sure you're okay?"
Stephanie blinked rapidly as her bleary eyes tried to remain focused. She licked her lips and swallowed thickly. "Not really. Do you know I found out he was married."
The stranger's eyebrows rose fractionally and his mouth smiled sympathetically.
"Don't be. Not on my account. The man was a grade one asshole. I'm better off without him anyway."
Stephanie shifted uncomfortably in her seat as she felt her body temperature rise. She bent her knees and her high heeled boots clicked against the metal grate upon the floor.
"It's hot in here, isn't it?" she commented.
She loosened the belt on her coat and pulled the collar away from her shoulders. She puffed and blew her hair from her forehead.
"They need to invest in air conditioning for these damn things."
The stranger's low chuckle filled the empty carriage.
"Can I give you a piece of free advice?" she asked, pausing to smile at him apologetically. "Sorry, I don't actually know your name."
His amused brown eyes were warm as he smiled. "It's Paul."
"Paul, huh? I knew a Paul once." replied Stephanie and s crooked grin crossed her face. "He had carrot coloured hair and freckles. He looked nothing like you and that's a good thing for you, trust me. He had a face like a boxer dog. He was like the most ugliest guy you could ever imagine."
As Paul chuckled, Stephanie's grin widened. God, she loved that, his laugh. It was low and deep and throaty. It was like it came all the way down from the tips of his toes. Not like Ben's. His laugh was controlled and extremely polite. Pretty much like his lovemaking in fact. He had been silent and methodical in bed. He didn't scream out her name in the throes of passion but she would bet any money that Paul would. He looked the passionate type and probably knew exactly how to satisfy a woman. Stephanie felt a warm flush at that thought. She bit down on her lip thoughtfully as Libby's suggestion of good sex flashed through her mind. She quickly shook her head. She may be drunk but she wasn't easy. There was no way on earth she would just sleep with a man and especially not a stranger she had just met on the underground even if he was drop-dead gorgeous and had eyes she could totally get lost in. God, and then there was his hair. It looked so soft. She wondered what it would feel like if she allowed her fingertips to slowly brush through it…….
As Stephanie continued to stare dreamily in Paul's direction, she didn't notice that he had stopped laughing and was now looking at her curiously. It was only when he cleared his throat that she was lifted from her haze and realised what she had been doing. God, she had been staring at him. In fact she had been practically ogling him. Feeling her cheeks flush with embarrassment, she rubbed her palms on her skirt and glanced out the window. She realised they had arrived at the next station. The carriage shuddered slightly as they came to a stop and she heard the sound of the automatic doors opening. She looked across to see a young couple holding hands obviously in love judging from the way they were making eyes at one another. She wrinkled her nose in disapproval and tried to ignore the slight wooziness in her head.
"So, I believe you were going to tell me something?"
Stephanie's eyes blinked a few times before they focused on Paul once more. He'd tucked his blonde hair behind his left ear and was chomping his gum, his arms folded over his chest. Christ, the man even made chewing on gum look sexy.
"You were going to give me some advice?" he reminded her.
Stephanie coughed and cleared her throat, nodding her head. "Are you married, Paul?"
He shook his head. While Stephanie silently wondered how such a good looking guy wasn't snapped up, she wagged her manicured finger in his direction.
"Well, if you ever do marry, never, and I mean never, cheat on your wife. Never ever be like Ben fucking Cordell. I didn't know, you see. I didn't know he had a wife. Because if I did know he was married, I would have never ever gone near him. I'm not a home wrecker, Paul. You believe that, don't you?"
She felt a wave of relief wash over her as Paul nodded his head. Though why she did, she wasn't sure just like she wasn't sure why she was telling him any of this. He probably thought she was a crazy psychotic chick but was just too damn polite to say anything but it felt so good to talk about it and she felt the need to get it off her chest. She was unburdening herself and okay, it was the alcohol talking. She knew that. She always did seem to spill her guts when she was drunk. In fact Libby liked to remind her of that on several occasions although this was the first time it had involved a complete stranger. She would probably regret all of this in the morning but she guessed it wouldn't really matter. She would never see this man again. And besides, he was so nice and caring and really easy to talk to.
"So, how did you find out?"
"What? That he was cheating on me?" she asked.
Paul smiled and nodded his head. Stephanie puffed out her cheeks and sighed dramatically. She tucked her hair behind her ear.
"He showed up with his wife to a corporate dinner last week. I wasn't supposed to be there but Nick, that's my boss. He couldn't make it at the last minute so he asked me to go instead. Let's just say we were both surprised when I showed up at our company's table."
"You work with the guy?"
Stephanie nodded her head sadly.
"Hell that must be awkward."
"Tell me about it." She pressed her lips together in a tight smile. "I seem to have the uncanny knack of making life difficult for myself."
Paul frowned slightly as he reached across and covered her hand with his. It felt so soft and warm and deliciously comforting to her. Stephanie breathed him in, inhaling the spicy scent of his cologne. It was intoxicating and extremely masculine just like Paul.
"I'm sure things will get better for you soon." he said encouragingly. "After all, you're young and you're beautiful. I'm sure it won't be long before this guy is kicking himself wondering why the hell he let you get away."
A slow, shy smile crept across Stephanie's face as Paul sat back in his seat. However, her smile slowly disappeared as she watched him get to his feet.
"This is my stop."
Stephanie looked out the glass and noticed they were pulling into the next station. She sighed. She had another two stops to go but she just wanted home now. Her eyes were tired and heavy. Her head still felt woozy. She just wanted to sleep.
"You will take care going home now, won't you?"
She glanced up at Paul and smiled. His brown eyes were soft and concerned. She was touched by his words. "I'll be fine. I live just across the road from the station on Brook Street."
He nodded, seemingly satisfied with her answer. His big hand gripped the metal pole at the end of the seat as the carriage grinded to a halt. "It was nice meeting you, uh….."
His voice trailed away. He looked at her quizzically and Stephanie smiled.
"My name is Stephanie."
Paul smiled back making the corners of his eyes crinkle. "Then it was nice meeting you, Stephanie."
"You too, Paul."
She was about to apologise for her drunken ranting when the automatic doors hissed and slid open. Paul stepped away from the pole and lifted his big hand in a wave.
"Maybe I'll see you again some day."
"Maybe." she replied. Her blue eyes stared after him wistfully as his large frame exited the carriage. She only looked away and settled back in her seat once the doors were closed and he was out of sight.
The train slowly pulled away and she began to chew on her fingernail as she thought about him. Paul. Her tall, blonde and extremely handsome stranger. She wondered what his answer would have been had she been bold enough to suggest spending the night together. She chuckled to herself. Maybe if she ever did run into him, she could always ask him and find out although the chances were she'd never see him again. It wasn't the way her life worked and she just wasn't that lucky.
Sighing, Stephanie wearily leant back in her seat crossing her arms over her chest. As she rested her head against the glass, she continued to think of Paul. Even though their meeting had been brief, she had a feeling he was going to be on her mind for quite a while. There was no way she would forget her handsome stranger in a hurry. She would remember him happily and fondly. After all he'd been a lovely breath of fresh air in her otherwise dull and crappy life.