Cleo’s eyes burned with the effort of trying to pierce
the ultraviolet glare of a nightclub that heaved with
partying Friday-nighters, as she willed her sister’s
blonde head to bob into view. Liza had said she’d be here
at Muggie’s tonight.
Cleo needed Liza’s sisterly arms around her, needed to
rain foul insults on her absent husband (safe in the
knowledge that, if Cleo forgave Gav, Liza would forget
every word). And, as the bass and drums music thumped,
Cleo had already texted her four times, without reply.
With a squeak of relief she glimpsed two golden heads and
began wriggling her way towards them. ‘Angie! Rochelle!’
she gasped. Not Liza, but close. Angie and Rochelle,
Liza’s cronies and clones – hair up in a series of
complicated plaits, necklines low and hems high – swung
around and gave Cleo air-kissy little hugs. ‘Cleo! Hiya!’
Angie, a starlet in scarlet, pouted heavily glossed lips
as she raised her voice above the music. ‘She’s supposed
to be here but we haven’t seen her. Have you tried
texting her? What you having?’
Cleo paused. She hadn’t bothered with the bar yet but,
actually, a drink would be perfect. Until Liza showed,
Cleo could drink with Angie and Rochelle in this, the
city centre’s pick-up joint, simply because she knew how
much Gav would hate it. If he was going to insult her
with accusations of bad behaviour, she might as well
behave badly. Alcohol would be a good starting point. She
turned to the red leather and chrome bar and surveyed the
bottles in the cold cabinet behind the scurrying black-
clad bar staff. ‘Lager, thanks.’
The pint of special brew Angie passed back to her wasn’t
quite the bottle of Becks she’d had in mind, but the big,
fat, frosty glass felt satisfying. Gav hated her drinking
She checked her mobile but found no texts and no voice
messages. Aggravated that Gav wasn’t even trying to get
her – so that she could ignore him – she drank the pint
down steadily and took her turn to buy a round, making
her own another pint of special. Gav’s giant strop had
made her feel unsafe, unstable, as if she could combust
at any moment. Fury clanked around inside her head. She
She kept one eye on the iron staircase that brought
punters up into the club from the street below, hovering
beside Angie and Rochelle as they quartered the room with
beady eyes and heads on springs. ‘There’s Duncan, look,
with Daniel. And Ross!’ They waved across the room at men
Cleo couldn’t identify in the crowd.
Cleo couldn’t even raise a smile, wishing deeply,
dreadfully, that Liza would appear so that she could
share her festering fury before she ripped someone’s head
off. She heaved a sigh.
‘What’s up wiv you?’ Angie had recently affected an
inability to pronounce certain words containing ‘th’.
‘You look like you’re, like, spitting fevvers.’
‘Nothing,’ Cleo muttered. ‘I just want to talk to Liza.’
Angie exchanged glances with Rochelle before asking,
slyly, ‘Your Gav not wiv you tonight?’
She shook her head, blinking back tears.
‘Ah. Right.’ Angie nodded, sagely.
Rochelle, eyes outlined startlingly in aquamarine, patted
Cleo’s arm. ‘It’ll be all right when you go home! He’s
probably waiting to make up.’
Cleo felt her eyes begin to melt. ‘But he stormed off –’
Angie’s attention was suddenly whipped away. ‘Who’s
‘Where?’ Rochelle craned to follow her friend’s gaze.
‘There! Spiky hair, pointy face. Hot, or what?’
‘Wow!’ Rochelle’s intake of breath was so deep her
neckline almost gave way under the strain. ‘He’s looking!
Make as if he knows us.’
Finger-twiddling waves in the direction of Spiky Hair
ended in sighs of disappointment. Cleo glanced across as
he threw back his head and laughed with two men wearing
excruciatingly short platinum crops and wrap-around
shades. Angie and Rochelle were probably missing the
pulling power of Liza, tiny, fey, blonde man magnet. Cleo
had long ago accepted philosophically that Liza was the
one who turned heads. She didn’t mind because Liza, her
kid sister, heap of trouble, oddball, was one of Cleo’s
Cleo had what their mother (another tiny, fey, etc.)
termed ‘dark and uncommon attractions’. All, apparently,
to do with Stanislaw, a Polish grandfather who bequeathed
Cleo Slavic cheekbones, a kind of stocky sexiness and
medium height to make her the tallest female in her
family. Her eyes, her mother decreed, were her big asset.
‘Dark and twinkly, turning down at the corners to meet
your big smile turning up.’
‘Crap,’ Liza would mutter, ‘your big assets are your
Cleo rose onto her tiptoes to do a 360-degree scan of the
room. Turning back, alerted by straightening of tiny
skirts and hair flicking, she saw that, despite
unpromising early indications, the laughing man with the
spiky hair was on his way over. ‘I saw him first!’ hissed
‘His call,’ Rochelle growled, bolstering up the contents
of her bra under her thin lace top.
Spiky arrived through the throng with a dazzling smile.
Cleo sank into the background, content to be the audience
for Angie and Rochelle’s forthcoming boob-thrusting
assault. But suddenly she found herself under the brown-
golden gaze and it was like being fixed by the eyes of a
leopard. His mouth curved. ‘I’m Justin.’
Through her astonishment, Cleo heard dual sighs of
‘This is Cleo,’ Angie snapped, turning away.
‘Her husband’s run off,’ added Rochelle, meanly.
Cleo gazed uncertainly at Justin. His hair was cropped
tightly at the sides, sharpening his features, and his
smile seemed to poise him on the point of laughter.
Somehow her eyes kept sliding down to his mouth – perhaps
because he kept looking at hers.
Justin smiled. Centrefold material. ‘Sorry to hear about
the husband.’ Cleo had never seen anyone look less sorry
about anything. He cocked his head. ‘So, what did you
Cleo’s stomach twisted on fresh indignation. ‘He left in
case I did something.’
Slowly, he grinned, teeth white and narrow. ‘That’s …
unreasonable. So. Option A or Option B?’
She blinked. ‘Sorry?’
He edged nearer as people tried to push past him to the
bar, dropping his head close to hers so that she could
hear him over the clamouring music. Warm. He smelled of
aftershave and beer. ‘Option A is where I leave you to
brood about your gitty husband. Option B is where I take
you to dance to forget your gitty husband.’ His eyes
laughed, inviting her to join in....