Heart of the night
The book you are about to read is the draft version of Heart of The Night, meaning it has not been with a professional editor yet.
It is book #2 in The Night series.
Heart of The Night contains significant changes to the story and differs markedly from the earlier version of the book, previously called Into the Night.
§1. Lovely Colour
Life is short, people tended to say. It was a powerful sentiment, mourning the many moments that would never happen and all the dreams that would never come to fruition. But above all, it was a reminder that if we didn’t make the most of our brief existence, we would die unfulfilled. Our epilogue would be one of regret.
I, for one, had always been mindful of that, but I was also aware that I couldn’t possibly achieve everything I wanted to. I had to prioritise. What did I care most about?
Certainly not romantic love. I knew I would be content even if I never found a partner. In fact, finding one was so uninteresting to me that it had never really featured on my list of goals.
I had never been one to daydream of my wedding from a tender age. Not in any detail, at least. Of course, now and then I wondered if I would ever get married, but I had never felt an urge to. Part of me loved the idea of sharing my life with a devoted husband, but another had always feared I was unlovable – not because I was an awful person, but because I wanted to do so many things that my partner would inevitably end up neglected. I had never thought I could love somebody the way they deserved, so I had been convinced that everyone would be better off if I abstained from romantic love.
All these years, that hadn’t posed much of a problem since I had never been in love; it wasn’t difficult to avoid love when you weren’t in love. There was one time I had thought I was, though, when I was sixteen and infatuated with James, a boy who played on the men’s football team while I was the goalkeeper on the women’s. He was two years my senior, and we had only talked a handful of times. All the same, my heart throbbed whenever he was near, and I remembered being grateful my blush would be mistaken for hard work at practice rather than being seen for what it truly was – elation.
Growing older, I realised my interest in James hadn’t been love at all. I never really knew the guy, so how could I possibly have been in love with him? It had just been a solid dose of pure, raging hormones.
Then, since meeting William, my goals in life started to change. Suddenly, love was climbing to the top of my priorities – or rather, William was. I still didn’t care much about love in general. I would never have been with somebody just to avoid being alone.
But I absolutely wanted to be with William.
I knew I was smitten with him, and with each day that passed, I could feel myself inching closer to truly falling in love with him. Every conversation, every touch, every moment spent in his company felt effortless, as though we were moving in perfect synchrony to a rhythm only we could hear. The ease with which our relationship progressed was almost magical, as if the universe had carefully orchestrated our meeting and was now gently guiding us toward an inevitable union. It often seemed like we were meant to be together, our connection blossoming as naturally as the world turning on its own axis.
I had seen him at work just a few hours ago, yet I already missed him. It seemed that no matter how much time we spent together, it was never enough. I found myself craving his presence the minute we parted ways, as though I couldn’t bear to be without him for even a moment. This yearning, however, was tempered by the knowledge that I would see him again in less than an hour.
Tonight was our first proper date, and even though we had known each other for several months, the prospect of spending a romantic evening alone with him was both thrilling and terrifying. It was a manifestation of my choice, a chance to explore the possibilities of something truly special. But I had never been on a single date before, let alone with someone as amazing as William. The thought of it all seemed so surreal that I could scarcely get my mind around it.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this was a moment to savour, a chance to dive headfirst into something new and exciting. Whatever lay ahead, I was ready to embrace it with an open heart.
‘I’m a bit nervous,’ I said to Olivia, who was lounging on my bed behind me, as I carefully applied a coat of light-blue nail varnish. My hands trembled, and my palms were slick with sweat. The coffee I had earlier was probably a mistake, as it only amplified my anxiety about the upcoming evening.
‘Well, you’ve no reason to be,’ Olivia said.
‘What if I do something weird?’
‘The weirdest thing you’ve ever done was reject him in the first place.’
My lips pressed together as the memory of the underground cavern of Disrepute flooded my mind – the posh cocktail bar where I had first met William. Suddenly I was back there again, surrounded by the plush colours of the velvet furniture while Andy’s endless laughter echoed above the electronic music. The vivid memory transported me so completely that I could almost taste the cocktails and smell William’s cologne as he sat beside me on the settee. Although months had passed since then, the experience was as fresh in my mind as if it had happened only moments ago.
Turning in my desk chair, I faced Olivia. ‘I meant, what if I do something that makes him feel awkward?’
Her plump lips twitched, her warm brown eyes radiating amusement. ‘Cara, the man has seen your anus. Unless you start talking about having kids with him, I hardly think anything you do or say will make him feel awkward at this point.’
I flushed at her crude joke. ‘Thanks for making me aware of that. I wish you hadn’t.’
She laughed, and the enchanting sound made me smile. ‘Blame Colin. He’s the one who said it to me once. I was mortified.’
I scoffed at the mention of her ex. ‘Speaking of Colin, have you heard anything from him lately?’
‘Not much. He’s still seeing Alison, though.’ She spat the name with a bitterness that seemed to say, ‘You know, the woman he cheated on me with.’
I winced at the reminder. It was unfathomable how Colin could leave someone as incredible as Olivia. I held my tongue, however, recognising the delicate state of her emotions and the rawness of the wound he had left.
‘Honestly,’ she went on, her expression clouding over with a mix of hurt and anger. ‘I don’t really care what he does anymore. He made his choice, and it wasn’t me.’ Her voice wavered, revealing that, despite her words, she did truly care.
My heart ached with sympathy, and an urge to comfort her welled up inside me. I wished I could extract her pain and replace it with a sense of peace, but Colin’s betrayal had inflicted a wound so deep that I knew only the gentle, healing touch of time could truly bring her the solace she needed.
Olivia loosened a breath and tucked a lock of her long blonde hair behind her ear. ‘I’m just trying to focus on myself and moving on.’
‘Well, you’re doing an amazing job at it,’ I said, giving her a small smile. ‘And you know I’m always here for you, no matter what.’
‘I know.’ She returned my smile and grabbed her iced tea from my nightstand. ‘Anyway, are you spending the night at Will’s?’
I stiffened, my eyes widening with instantaneous panic. ‘Shit. I forgot to ask. What do I do?’
She furrowed a neatly plucked brow. ‘What do you mean? What’s the issue?’
‘If I’m spending the night at his, I’ll need clothes to wear in the morning, and bringing a change of clothes now that I haven’t asked seems too forward. Not to mention that I’ll seem utterly desperate!’ I cringed at the thought.
Olivia rolled her eyes as she sipped on her iced tea. ‘You’re overthinking it. Just bring a bag. He doesn’t need to know what’s inside. Alternatively, you come back here after your date, or he could lend you some clothes of his own. Wouldn’t be the first time,’ she said with a smirk.
I took a deep breath, nodding. ‘Right, you’re right. It’s not an issue.’
‘I am so amused this is your first date ever.’ She chuckled. ‘You’re something else. All the men you’ve slept with, and you haven’t been on a single date. Ever. Finally someone’s challenging your commitment issues.’
‘I don’t have commitment issues.’
‘Er, yes, you do.’
‘Maybe a little.’
‘Maybe a lot.’
Chuckling, I walked over to the full-length mirror to judge my outfit: a white, off-the-shoulder summer dress that flowed elegantly over my curves and stopped just above my knees. My chestnut-brown hair cascaded down my back in loose curls, the front locks accentuating my pronounced cheekbones and contrasting with my deep-blue eyes, which seemed to sparkle with exhilaration. I wasn’t wearing much make-up, allowing my freckles to show, but I felt pretty.
‘You look amazing, Cara,’ Olivia said, and I saw her grinning in the mirror. ‘William will be drooling all over you.’
I let out a long breath as I smoothed my hands down my waistline. ‘I hope so.’
There was a knock at the door.
Jason stepped in, and his light-blue eyes glimmered with brotherly affection as they met mine. ‘Damn, Cara. Will’s a lucky man.’
I turned to him, my heart fluttering with nervous anticipation. ‘You think?’
He raised an eyebrow and looked at Olivia, feigning disappointment. ‘Where’s her confidence gone? I thought you were here to boost it?’
Olivia chuckled and set her glass back on my nightstand. ‘Shut it, Jason. I’m doing my best.’
He folded his strong arms, the fabric of his brown T-shirt hugging the contours of his tall, muscular frame. ‘Well, your best is shit.’
She chortled. ‘As if your brother has made it easy for me. He’s the one making her doubt herself, so if you’re going to scold someone, scold him.’
Jason grinned and shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘I could, but he would probably be very confused.’
I laughed, picturing William’s bemused expression as he grappled with the paradoxical idea that he had somehow erred when his supposed ‘fault’ lay in being so perfect.
‘Seriously, though, Cara,’ Olivia said, ‘you’ll be fine. Just try to remember that you’re not alone in this. William is probably just as nervous as you are right now.’
I wrinkled my nose, unconvinced. William being nervous about our date was a flattering thought, but I found it hard to imagine. Could it really be that he was sitting at home right now, mustering up courage the same way that I was? I couldn’t see it. Given his level of self-assurance, he was probably feeling completely relaxed about the evening and what it held. Excited, perhaps, but not nervous. In fact, I couldn’t recall a single instance when I had seen him be that type of nervous.
‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘Either way, I don’t understand myself at all right now.’
Jason chuckled and ran a hand through his short, dark blond hair. ‘I don’t understand this, either. You’ve been interacting frequently for months. Just because it’s a proper date, it doesn’t mean things need to be different. Just treat him like you always have.’
That was exactly what I needed to hear. I breathed out in relief. ‘Thanks, J. You’re right. It’s just a date. It’s not like it warrants any panic. He’s still the same man I saw mere hours ago.’
‘He is.’ He nodded and gripped his hips. ‘And you’re going to have an amazing time. Believe me – I know what he’s got planned.’
‘You do?’ Olivia and I asked in perfect unison.
Jason’s mouth curved into a cunning smile. ‘Yes. He called me a couple of days ago, asking for advice. When I heard his plan, I had nothing to add. It’s perfect. He’s really understood who you are, Cara. You’ll love it.’
A huge grin bloomed on my lips. ‘Really?’ Excitement saturated my tone, joy replacing my anxiety.
‘Really. It’s quite casual, just like you wanted.’
‘Ah, this has calmed me down a bit. Thanks, Jase.’
‘Here to help. Always.’ His eyes shifted to Olivia. ‘See? That’s how it’s done.’
She made a face, echoing him with a funny tone of voice.
‘Anyway, what time is it?’ I asked.
Jason raised his wrist, eyeing the same Rolex model his brother had. ‘Half six.’
I nodded, realising I should get a move on. Being late was out of the question; William never was. I had learned as much from working under his leadership for nearly a month.
‘I’d better go,’ I said and picked up my pastel blue purse – it matched my freshly painted nails.
‘What about you, Livy?’ Jason asked Olivia. ‘Have you got any plans tonight?’
‘Want to hang out for a bit, then?’
‘On whether you’ll apologise for criticising my counselling abilities.’
Jason scoffed. ‘Stick around and I’ll show you how to improve them instead. Leading by example.’
An involuntary laugh snuck out of me, earning me a playful glare from Olivia.
‘Right, I’m heading off,’ I said as I stuffed my lip gloss into my purse.
‘Did you remember chewing gum?’ Olivia asked with a smirk.
‘Yes. Lip gloss, too.’
Jason chuckled. ‘You’re all set, then.’
‘Yes.’ I went to the hall and put on my white trainers, my heart overflowing with excitement. My whole body trembled as I reached for the door, feeling the sweat from my palm transferring to the handle as I turned it. ‘Wish me luck!’
‘You don’t need it!’ Jason yelled back.
‘Don’t come home without at least having kissed him!’ Olivia shouted.
I skipped down the stairs, beaming.
§ § §
As I emerged from the Leicester Square train station, my eyes were immediately drawn to a towering figure standing across the street. Leaning casually against a streetlamp, he was a striking sight to behold, tall and muscular, with an air of confidence that was palpable even from a distance. He wore a pair of relatively loose, dark blue jeans that hugged his legs in all the right places, while a crisp white T-shirt stretched taut across his broad chest and brawny arms, the outline of his chiselled abs visible through the material. As my eyes travelled upwards, I noticed the sharp angles of his jawline and the subtle stubble that dusted his cheeks and strong chin.
My lips parted, and I reached an abrupt halt. Was it truly William? At first glance, I couldn’t be sure, as black Ray-Bans with a gleaming gold rim concealed his eyes. But then he smiled at me, igniting a fire in my heart, and I knew at once that it was him. He truly had the most mesmerising smile.
Despite the cluster of people between us and the heavy traffic in the street, I saw only him. This was truly happening. I was going on a date with William. Had someone told me some months ago that this would happen, I would never have believed them. Frankly, I could scarcely believe it now.
He nodded in acknowledgement and pushed away from the lamppost. As he crossed the street, the sheer view of him accelerated the beats of my heart. I wanted to jump on him, lavish him with kisses, rip his shirt off and worship his beautiful body.
He had nearly reached me when he withdrew something from his back pocket – a red rose. My breath quickened, my cheeks flushing with heat. The air between us crackled with the raw, potent energy of our chemistry, and I could practically taste the electric charge that pulsed between us. I rarely felt so alive, yet it always happened when I was with him.
A foot in front of me, he stopped. Taking off his sunglasses, he let them hang from the collar of his white T-shirt. Then he raised the rose to his mouth, bit off most of the stem, and tucked the beautiful flower behind my left ear.
‘Hi,’ he said tenderly, wearing the crooked smile that had always stirred something deep within me.
‘Hi,’ I replied softly, utterly taken with him.
‘I actually wanted to give you a bouquet, but I thought it would just be a hassle to have to carry it around,’ he said, as if I had expected more than this.
I could barely breathe. His romantic side was blowing my mind. I wasn’t remotely accustomed to being treated like this, so I had no idea how to react.
‘I wasn’t expecting flowers at all.’
Chuckling, he curled his forefinger and placed it under my chin, tilting my head back. He pressed a gentle kiss to my forehead, his lips burning straight through my skin. Even when he pulled away, the spot still tingled.
‘Is it just me, or does this feel a bit different?’ he asked, his luminous blue eyes spilling with affection.
Swallowing, I shook my head. ‘It feels very different.’
‘In a good way, though.’
‘I think so.’ I shrugged. ‘It feels good.’
He grinned, and the view took my breath away. I grew weak at the knees.
‘I saw you hours ago,’ he said, ‘and yet, somehow, I feel like I’m seeing you for the first time.’
‘I know what you mean.’
‘Like the confines are finally gone.’
I nodded. That was exactly it. After everything we had been through, this was the first time I was seeing him without worrying about potential repercussions. There were no colleagues here to inhibit me from kissing him, Jason had already given us his blessing, and Aaron was out of the picture – at least for now. And, perhaps most importantly, I was finally allowing myself to consider what my feelings wanted.
‘Ready, then?’ he asked.
‘Yes.’ Nervous, I adjusted my purse on my naked shoulder.
‘You look edible,’ he said, his eyes devouring my body. ‘So much, in fact, that I’m seriously considering whether I should just have you for dinner instead.’
I had no idea what my facial expression conveyed when his gaze returned to mine. My mind had resigned from the present. Instead, it was entertaining sensual scenes in his penthouse, a place I hadn’t seen for months but remembered vividly – his naked body above mine, glistening with sweat in the dim light of his living room while he thrust me into total delirium upon his dining table.
Suddenly he clasped my hand, and a jolt of electricity surged through me.
‘I’m clammy,’ I said, my tone apologetic.
He squeezed my hand, his tempting lips twitching upward at the corners. ‘Are you nervous?’ He raised a brow.
‘Of course,’ I said without shame.
‘Don’t be. You’re everything I want.’
My breath hitched, and my heart felt like it was about to burst; it hurt.
‘Right back at you,’ I said and looked away, feeling shy. I couldn’t help it. This whole experience was nothing short of overwhelming. I didn’t know what to expect or how to behave.
‘Fancy seeing me out of my suit, do you?’ he teased, and I did not miss the reference to the question I had asked him in his office a few days ago.
I smirked at him. ‘I fancy you all sorts of ways.’
‘Why, Cara, what could you possibly mean?’ He chuckled and raised my hand to his mouth, kissing the back of it. Then his eyes flicked to my freshly painted nails.
‘Lovely colour,’ he remarked, a trace of amusement in his voice. I glanced at my nails, only then recognising they were painted the precise shade of his captivating eyes. Warmth spread across my cheeks as it dawned on me that my subconscious, deep-rooted fixation on him had driven me to choose it. Had William made the connection as well? Was he silently smirking at the subtle implication? I mentally scolded myself, vowing never to let my obsession with him be so blatantly displayed again.
‘When did you leave the office today?’ I asked, hoping to divert his attention.
‘About two hours ago.’
My eyebrows jumped. ‘That’s unusually early – for you.’
‘Well, I didn’t want to be late. That’s why I stayed at work till midnight yesterday, so I could leave earlier today.’
I couldn’t help but grin. I loved that he was treating me as his main priority.
He tugged on my hand, leading me toward Chinatown. Was that where we were going? My mouth watered at the possibility.
‘I hope you like Chinese,’ he said, confirming my suspicion.
‘I love Chinese,’ I said passionately. ‘And I eat everything, anyway. I’m not particular.’
‘Good to know.’
His nose scrunched up. ‘No allergies, but I’m not a fan of ketchup. Tastes too synthetic – too sweet.’ His gaze flickered toward me.
I chuckled. That was rather specific. ‘Not a fan of sweetness?’ I asked playfully, batting my eyelashes at him for comedic effect.
Mirth glimmered in his features. ‘No, I’m all about fiery intensity – the spice of your wit, the heat of your sarcasm, the zest of your sass. You’re a whole chilli pepper.’ His grip tightened on my hand.
I laughed, and it was a carefree, genuine sound coming from the depths of my belly. ‘Having you break a sweat, am I?’
‘Later tonight, sure – if I’m lucky.’
I bit my lower lip, smiling. ‘We’ll see.’
‘I’ve no expectations,’ he assured me. ‘Don’t worry.’
‘If we end up at yours, I might need another T-shirt for my collection. I didn’t bring any clothes.’
He chuckled, and I wondered if he, too, had been mentally transported to the morning at his flat after we had first slept together. I still had his T-shirt from that day, and now that we had started seeing each other, I sometimes slept in it.
He said, ‘I’d be more than happy to provide one.’
‘Hmm. Will you make me scrambled eggs for breakfast?’
He flashed me a grin. ‘I’d be delighted.’
‘Okay, I’ll consider it,’ I replied, playing hard to get, although it was clear from my tone that I was joking.
‘Would you be more inclined to seal the deal if I told you I’ve already set aside some butter just for you?’
I gasped. ‘Sold!’
The sound of his laughter set my system alight. It was the most charming melody I would ever hear.
Releasing my hand, he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. I encircled his muscular waist with my arm, relishing in his embrace. I yearned to touch him constantly, a desire that reverberated through my core and echoed in my bones. I was truly addicted to his touch, and it astonished me. Men had never affected me like this before. Under their caresses, I had only rarely felt a spark of emotion or a flicker of excitement. But with William, even the gentlest graze of his fingers across my skin ignited emotional chaos in me, stirring an insatiable hunger for more.