Karen had preened and posed for hours, making sure every wrinkle was out of her suit and every hair was set firmly in place. She stood outside the designated rendezvous, waiting for her date to arrive. She shook her head, still unable to believe that she was meeting a man, in the flesh, for a date. For the past year, she’d been off the market. Her last encounter with the opposite sex had been a total disaster. She’d fallen in love with Paul the minute she’d laid eyes on him at the nightclub, but she’d taken a while to realise he’d only been attracted to her through a drunken haze. He’d finally pointed this fact out to her during a ferocious argument a month or so into their ill-fated relationship.
His words had been so vehement during their last argument that the memory still caused her to close her eyes in shame as she constantly relived the awful moment, even a year later. That day, he’d kicked her out onto the streets with nowhere to go. She had foolishly relinquished her flat and moved in with him within a week of meeting him—within a week. She’d never considered that he would be saddled with debt. She’d been shocked when he’d held out his hand, expecting her to pay all his bills while his wages mostly went towards his suped-up car or drunken nights out with his childish friends. Why did she let men treat her that way? More to the point, why had she let Paul treat her that way?
Never again. Not this time. It’d taken her a long time to get over that encounter, and she intended to enjoy her newfound confidence. She had no intention of rushing into another relationship this time. No, this time, she was going to be patient and hold on tight to her feelings.
She gasped as the car drew into the car park. Her thoughts turned to the evening ahead, hoping her date would help ease the pain of the past and teach her to live her life to the maximum once more—and to be happy and content, which she’d never really been in her thirty-three years on this earth.
The man locked his vehicle and strolled towards her. He was approximately a foot taller than her, around the six-feet mark. Paul had been a lot shorter. Stop it! Paul is the past. This man could be your future. Stop thinking like that and just enjoy the evening.
Morris Trotter shook hands with her before he tentatively kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Hello, Karen. It’s wonderful to meet you at last.”
“It’s wonderful to meet you, too, Morris, finally.”
“Shall we?” Morris tucked her arm under his, and when they entered the pub, the locals didn’t bother to look their way. He guided her to the only available table, which happened to be tucked away in an alcove off to the left. Karen sat down and smiled nervously at him. “What would you like to drink?”
“Oh, a gin and tonic would be lovely. Thank you.”
As he walked up to the bar, she watched his movements, including the way he leaned on the bar and ran a hand through his thick hair as he patiently waited his turn to be served. His photo hadn’t done him justice at all. He was far more handsome in real life, and he seemed to be a real gentleman, too, from the way he’d treated her so far. She was still in a daydream when he returned.
“What are you thinking?” His eyes crinkled up at the corner when he smiled.
She liked that. In fact, she liked everything about this man. All he’d done so far was buy her a drink, but that in itself was some feat in most men’s books. “I wasn’t aware I was thinking anything really. Just enjoying the atmosphere and the company,” she told him, feeling heat creep into her cheeks.
“That makes two of us. I think we’re going to get on like the proverbial house on fire. Cheers.” He touched his glass against hers and gave her another dazzling smile that made her legs shake.
Another word of caution ran through her fuzzy brain. Stop it! Don’t go falling for him. Play it cool. During the next couple of hours, Karen batted away the insistent comments and questions from her inner voice.
She saw no need to have any kind of reservations. Morris Trotter appeared to be a gentleman of honour, whom she had already concluded she wouldn’t mind knowing more about. The evening was filled with comical anecdotes of his job as an accountant, which she’d always thought was the world’s most boring profession, filled with equally boring people. At the end of the evening, he took her arm in his and asked if she fancied a walk down by the river.
The March air was fresh but a long way off being cold. “I’d love to.”
They chatted as they strolled. The gentle lapping of the water and the ducks happily quacking guided them through the moonlight along the riverbank.
Unexpectedly, twenty minutes into the walk, he stopped and turned her to face him. “Mind if I do this?” He kissed her.
Fireworks erupted in her brain, and her heart quickly followed suit. His kiss was gentle but urgent as his tongue searched deep inside her mouth. Her knees weakened, and within seconds, she collapsed against his strong chest, longing for more. She was lost in a world she had never thought existed. She’d certainly never been kissed like that before.
He pulled away and held her face between his hands, not speaking, simply taking in every inch of her features. Again, her cheeks burned beneath his powerful gaze. Self-conscious, she wanted to pull away from his grasp, except she couldn’t. She loved the attention.
He lowered his head and brushed her lips with his, then whispered in her ear, “Close your eyes.”
At first, her embarrassment wouldn’t allow her to do as he’d asked. But then she gave an imaginary shrug, and her internal voice said, What the heck!
Her eyes fluttered shut as she waited for his lips to take hers again. He groaned, and then she felt his warm fingers tickle the front of her neck. She groaned in response as her ecstasy increased beneath his touch. She felt his fingers lace around her slim, flushed neck. They moved down to her exposed décolletage and slowly slid back up under her chin. His hands burned her flesh, sending chills shooting down her spinal cord. His hands massaged and moulded her flesh, and his groans grew louder. She sensed that, at any second, his hands would search out the swell of her breasts. Instead, his grip tightened around her throat.
Her eyes shot open in panic. His grin had turned sinister, and an angry glint coloured his hazel eyes. She tried to speak, but the pressure on her throat proved to be too strong.
“How foolish of you. How bloody foolish you are to think that any man would find such ugliness attractive.”
Again, she tried to speak, to refute his demeaning words. She wasn’t ugly, or was she? Was that really how men perceived her? She wriggled, but his grip held her firmly in place. Fearing for her life, she struck out with her arms, rotating them like a windmill, trying desperately to get out of his stranglehold.
“It won’t work. It never does. You all succumb in the end. Resist the urge to fight and accept your punishment.”
Karen’s breath was cut off from her lungs. A weakness she had never known existed took hold. This weakness was totally different from the one she had experienced only moments before. Happy childhood memories of family holidays and building sandcastles with her sister ran through her mind. She clung to those recollections as the light-headedness overwhelmed her and the final breath left her body.
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