Authors: Alexandra Brown
I never used to believe in lust at first sight. You know, the kind where your tummy tingles and your heart soars so high it feels as if it might just burst right out of your chest, cartoon style, and do a deliriously euphoric freeform dance around the room? But I certainly do now. Oh yes, because that’s exactly how I felt the very first time I clapped eyes on Tom. And he’s going to be here, right outside the door to my flat in approximately five minutes. I literally can not wait. I truly think he might be the one. I hope so. Now, that really would be pretty special indeed.
The doorbell buzzes, sending my pulse into overdrive. He’s here. And on time – previous boyfriends could certainly learn a thing or two about timekeeping from him. I practically tear down the hallway to press the intercom before pausing to inhale hard through my nose and exhale even harder, keen to create a modicum of breeziness.
‘Hello,’ I breathe, in what I hope is a sophisticated, nonchalant-sounding voice, à la Angelina Jolie, or someone equally poised. I can’t imagine she ever legged it down her hallway gushing to let Brad in. Oh no no no.
‘It’s me,’ Tom says.
Mmm, familiar. And I like it
. For a nanosecond I contemplate asking ‘Who?’, to create an airy, elusive aura, but quickly decide against it. It’s not my style to play games, even if the relationship is brand new and we’re both still learning how to ‘be’ with each other. Besides, I don’t want him thinking I’m some kind of a milly with a stack of men on the go.
‘Hi Tom.’ I glance at the screen and smile on seeing him attempt to smooth his tangle of thick dark curls. With his velvety brown eyes and year-round Mediterranean real tan, he’s utterly delicious and, to be honest, I never in my wildest dreams thought I stood a chance. He has the kind of looks and background that could bag him a supermodel, but without any trace of arrogance or sense of entitlement that the beautiful people sometimes have. And occasionally I have to pinch myself … that he wants me, ordinary Georgie Hart from Mulberry-On-Sea, a size 14 on a good day, with a brunette bob that often does a spectacular impression of a pair of floppy spaniel ears, especially if I don’t use my giant sleep-in Velcro rollers for a bit of extra bouf.
‘Georgie, can you come downstairs please?’
‘Sure,’ I reply, wondering what he’s up to as I reach for my coat. We had planned to snuggle up and watch a film. I have popcorn and Häagen-Dazs.
‘Change of plan. It’s a surprise. Quick, you must come down right now.’ His voice is full of boyish excitement and I love this side of him – the stark contrast to his usual serious, business-like demeanour at work. Tom works at Carrington’s too, the department store where I run the Women’s Accessories section. In fact, he owns the store; he’s the managing director, the majority shareholder, so we have to be discreet. Not that the other staff mind – quite the opposite, in fact, they all really like him – but still, nobody wants to see the boss indulging in a PDA in the workplace. I’m sure it’s not the done thing for people in his position. An ‘emerging captain of industry’, as one
reporter recently crowned him.
After grabbing my key and pulling the door closed behind me, I bomb down the stairs and arrive in the little foyer area. Tom is leaning casually against the row of mailboxes with an extremely cheeky-looking smile on his beautiful face.
. He’d be perfect starring in one of those rom-com films. I tiptoe up to give him a kiss and he circles my waist before pulling me in close to his left hip and treating me to a burst of his delicious chocolatey scent. I’m just about to press my tingling body against his when he takes a quick step backwards.
‘Oops, careful. Don’t want to squash this little dude.’ He winks.
‘Little dude?’ I crease my forehead.
‘That’s right. Mr Cheeks.’ Tom gives me one of his ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt’ looks.
‘Mr Cheeks?’ I repeat, my eyes flicking towards Tom’s jacket. And, oh my God. He pulls the zip down and a tiny black fluffy head pops out.
‘Georgie, meet Mr Cheeks, named on account of him being very cheeky.’
‘A kitten! You have a kitten.’ Wow. How cute is that? Not only is he an incredibly sexy man with a fantastic sense of humour, but he loves animals too … he’s practically perfect. ‘How come you never said?’ I ask, giving Mr Cheeks a stroke. ‘And why have you brought him with you?’
‘Err, well, he’s not actually my kitten.’ Tom gives me a sheepish look.
‘Who does he belong to, then?’
‘You?’ His mouth twitches into a smile as he lifts one eyebrow.
‘Don’t be silly. You can’t buy me a kitten,’ I say, incredulously. I’ve never had a pet of my own before.
‘Of course I can. I can do whatever I like,’ he jokes, treating me to a huge grin. ‘Isn’t he sweet?’ And he lifts Mr Cheeks out of his jacket and snuggles him in the crook of his elbow.
‘Aw, poor thing, he’s trembling all over.’
‘And is it any wonder?’ Sighing, Tom shakes his head. He looks really concerned.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Come on, let’s go upstairs and I’ll tell you all about it.’
It turns out that Mr Cheeks is a stray. He arrived at Tom’s back door in the middle of the night, meowing and whimpering, trembling all over and covered in mud. Tom took him in and hand-fed him cooked chopped chicken before bathing him and letting him sleep on his bed.
‘So, you’ll let Mr Cheeks stay then?’ We’re sitting side-by-side on my sofa with the kitten still snuggled in the crook of Tom’s elbow. Mr Cheeks is really timid and seems to have latched on to Tom like a security blanket. Tom turns to me and tenderly pushes a stray chunk of hair out of my eyes, making my face tingle.
… he is too cute for words.’ I hesitate momentarily. ‘But I can’t, really I can’t. He’ll be here on his own all day while I’m at work.’
‘I’m sure he’ll get used to it … I bet he’ll be out swaggering around the neighbourhood, or whatever it is cats do all day, in no time. Or I’d be happy to pay for a cat-sitter if he starts to pine through loneliness,’ Tom suggests, entwining his fingers around mine.
‘Don’t be daft. Why don’t you keep him yourself? He seems to have really taken to you … ’
‘I’d love to, but my house just isn’t practical, not with my canvases and paint everywhere, and he’s already clawed through the Venice waterway.’
‘Ooops,’ I say, remembering the exquisite picture. Tom had just started painting it the first time I went to his house, and it’s truly magnificent. He has a real gift, even if he does nonchalantly dismiss it as ‘
something I do to relax.
‘And you know how often I’m away from home, travelling to meet suppliers and up to board meetings in London. It really wouldn’t be fair. Anyway, I think he’d much sooner snuggle up to you of an evening – just like me.’ Tom grins as he puts an arm around my shoulders and gently pulls me in close before kissing the bridge of my nose.
‘Stop it,’ I tease, pressing my palm against his firm chest. ‘I know what you’re doing.’
’ Tom replies, trying to sound and look all innocent.
It’s the truth, isn’t it Mr Cheeks?’ And he takes the kitten’s little paws and places them on my arm. ‘Aw, look at his little face. Those soulful green eyes. And he has nobody. He’s just an orphan. And, ahh,
… ’ Tom pauses as the kitten leans his tiny chin on my arm. ‘See, he absolutely adores you already,’ Tom beams, after giving Mr Cheeks a quick proud-dad glance for his perfect timing.
‘No he doesn’t,’ I smile. ‘He adores you.’
‘Hmm, I’m not so sure. Hang on a minute.’ Tom lifts the kitten up to his ear and pretends to listen to him talking. ‘What’s that, little fella?’ he asks Mr Cheeks before turning back to face me. ‘He says I should kiss you and that will make you take him in.’
‘Oh did he?’ I try not to laugh.
‘Yep.’ Tom places Mr Cheeks down on the rug before lifting my chin and pushing me back on the sofa. But he doesn’t kiss me. Instead, he lifts my hands up over my head, secures them under a cushion and then tickles me all over until I can bear it no longer.
. Please,’ I gasp, now desperate to feel his lips on mine. Having his face in such close proximity is divine, but such a massive tease, especially when I can’t move to touch him.
Eventually, I manage to wriggle my arms out from under the cushion and slip them around Tom’s back instead.
‘So you’ll let him live with you then?’ Tom props himself up on one elbow so he’s lying next to me now, and does puppy-dog eyes. ‘I’ll cover all his expenses. Vet bills, vaccines, food, etc.,’ he pleads, and I can’t help thinking how incredible he is. Kind, funny, and he seems to really care about this stray kitten – which, let’s face it, he could have just ignored, as I’m sure lots of men would have done after being woken up in the middle of the night. But not Tom, he was giving the scrawny, bedraggled cat a bath at 4 a.m.! That’s proper tenderness right there …
‘OK, on one condition.’ I shake my head in surrender.
‘Anything. I couldn’t bear to leave him at an animal shelter. Not now. Not after everything he’s been through, and he’s already used to a certain living standard too. It would be too cruel for words. We could share him. And then at least I’d know he was safe when I’m away on business.’ Tom tickles me again.
‘OK. Don’t milk it,’ I say, trying to catch my breath as I push his hand away.
‘Ha! Nice pun. I like it.’ I give him a blank look. ‘Cat. Milk lovers.’ He winks. ‘Oh never mind,’ he adds, smiling cheekily. ‘So, what’s the condition?’
‘That you do everything Mr Cheeks tells you to,’ I say, trying to keep a serious face.
‘Hmmm, OK,’ Tom replies slowly and suggestively, circling his index finger over the back of my hand. I lean towards Mr Cheeks, pretending to listen to him speak.
‘He says the first thing you must do is kiss me.’ And Tom does. My tummy flips over and over as I roll onto my side and melt into his arms, and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever felt this happy. Not ever. And now we have a kitten in common. A bona fide joint responsibility, and everyone knows what that means … I wonder if it’s too soon to say the L word?