Chapter One

Lucy


I watch as the bus makes its way to the bus stop at a snail-like pace. Isaac isn't going to be happy with me. It's alright for him with his comfortable, fast car that gets him to A-Z in no time flat. Until I pass the driving test that I'm unwilling to take, public transport will have to suffice.

With a sigh, I step off the bus and check the time on my phone. Everyone's always telling me to get a watch, but I don't like them. Half past seven. Five minutes late. I turn and pick up the pace, running a hand through my hair. Isaac prefers it in a fancy updo, but I didn't have the time today. My curls are free to trail down my back without restraint and I like it. I vaguely wonder how long it's been since I wore it loose, but I shake the thought away. It's not important.

The restaurant Isaac picked is a posh one. The five narrow steps outside have a velvet red carpet for the customers to walk on — as if they were Hollywood stars dressed in designer gowns and ready to accept their Oscar. I return the smile a doorman gives me as I walk through. Once inside, I keep an eye out for Isaac and it doesn't take me long to spot him. Of course, he would be sat at one of the best tables by the window.

He waves me over, his lips curving upward. I wave back and walk over to him. It's a beautiful place, even though it isn't really my style. Most of the floor is a hard, shiny white marble, while the seating area is afforded a plush red carpet that looks to me like something Miss Scarlet would have in her boudoir. I can feel the different textures beneath my feet and I almost sigh with relief when my heels arrive on the feather-light material; I pity the waiter's feet for having to constantly tread on the unyielding stone. Sort of like being outside again, I muse as I stop at our table, knowing that Isaac would tease me if I told him this.

I kiss him before sitting down. "Hi, babe, sorry I'm late; the bus driver took their time, as always."

Isaac returns the kiss, but I see how his nose wrinkles at the endearment. "It's alright, you're here now."

A smartly dressed waiter comes over with two menus. Blending with the décor, his uniform consists of a white shirt, a red waistcoat and matching tie; the rest of his uniform is black. Isaac orders us a bottle of wine without checking with me, but this is nothing new. I hold my tongue and force a smile. Knowing him, the wine will be excellent and much better than one that I'd choose, but I'd like to have the option. I busy myself with unfolding a napkin and placing it on my knee. "There's so much red in here."

He answers with a grin. "Well, red's the colour of passion and love. It's perfect for a restaurant that sees its fair share of couples, don't you think?" I don't know if I agree, as I would prefer a more diverse colour scheme, but I know arguing with Isaac over such trivial things is pointless. The man is always right, even when I think he's wrong. It's one of the things that irritate me most about him. I save my gunfire, wanting to use it for more important disagreements. "It's also the colour of leadership and courage," he went on, "which is great for a restaurant of this calibre. A smart choice."

Isaac looks handsome in his favourite Armani suit and a light blue tie that really brings out the colour of his eyes. His blond hair is slicked back. I prefer it when he goes easy with the gel and has a more natural look. It has the bonus of not feeling like I'm running my hands through chip fat when we kiss at the end of the night. His soft curls are heavenly to touch. "Lucy! Did you hear a word of what I just said?"

His annoyed voice pierces through my thoughts. "Sorry, I was a million miles away. What did you say?"

His blue eyes seem to get darker as he stares at me, rapping his fingers on the table. I'm torn between amusement and irritation. Isaac's an only child, adored by his parents and treated like the world revolves around him, and he isn't used to people not hanging off his every word. I think it does him good.

Our drinks arrive right on time, creating an icebreaker that I'm grateful for — plus, I'm so thirsty I feel like I could drink a litre of water. As the waiter pours wine for Isaac to taste, my brown eyes fix onto his blue ones.

"Perfect," Isaac tells the waiter with a nod.

"Very good, Sir," the waiter replies, filling up our glasses with the blood red liquid. The young man hurries away as soon as he's done.

"I prefer white."

"Well, the red will go perfectly with the chateaubriand; that's the special tonight."

"I'd like to look at the menu first."

Isaac chuckles and summons the waiter. "We're ready to order. Two chateaubriands.' Rare."

I stare at my boyfriend and arch an eyebrow. "Did you really just order for me?"

Isaac tuts and waves aside my question. "You'll love it, trust me. I promise I'll let you pick next time."

I doubt this but hold my tongue once more, choosing to take a sip of the wine I didn't want and wouldn't have ordered for myself. It's nicer than I expected and perhaps the meal will be delicious, but I'm past caring. I spot a menu on the table next to ours and I reach out to grab it. I read through it and summon the waiter. He glances at me with a smile, seemingly surprised to see me with a menu. "I'm sorry, but I'd like to change my order. Can I have the fettuccine Alfredo, please?"

"Of course."

"Thank you." I smile and hand over the menu, feeling proud of my small victory. As expected, Isaac isn't pleased.

"Oh, Lucy. One of these days you will listen to me," he sighs, taking a big gulp of wine.

"Oh, Isaac," I mimic, "one of these days you will listen to me." I take an even bigger gulp of wine as a mist of silence consumes us.

I hate to say it, but his chateaubriand looks lovely and I'm sure I would've loved every bite of the French classic. My own meal is to die for. I'm happy with my choice as well as the taste of victory. Hopefully, this will be a turning point in our relationship; the first time I stood up to him, and not the last. "How's your meal?" I ask. This is still a date, and silence isn't a good omen.

He looks at me for the first time since our food arrived. I'm relieved to see him give me the smile; the smile that I'd wade through treacle to receive. "Delicious, as always." He pops a piece of steak into his mouth and chews slowly before swallowing. "Are you enjoying yours?"

"Yes, it's to die for."

"Good."

When Isaac's finished and I can't eat another bite, the waiter comes over to take our plates. "Would you like to see the dessert menu?"

"Yes, please," we answer. I always check out the dessert menu, even when full. You never know if something will catch your eye — waistline be damned.

"I'll be right back," he tells us, hurrying away.

"Do you think you'll order anything?" I ask him, knowing that he's more of a savoury person. He shakes his head and stares at me with intent. My cautious side rears its head and my heart sinks down to the depths of my stomach when I realise where this is going. "No, I don't think I will, but I know you have a sweet tooth. If I play my cards right, I'm hoping to have dessert later." The lust in his eyes is undeniable.

I was right. He wants me for dessert. This is how all our dates end, and he's getting more persistent with each one. Isaac Hartley wants to take my virginity, but I'm not sure if I want him to — at least not yet. "Isaac, I …,"

"Here you go." Perfect timing. I make a mental note to tip him generously.

"Thanks." I scan the menu, although my appetite has abandoned me completely. The large square card is a useful tool to aid me in avoiding his eyes, but I know I'll have to set him straight soon.

"You can't avoid me all night, Lucy."

I set the menu down and hold his gaze. "You're right. Let's get to the point. I'm not ready, Isaac."

He frowns. "You're not ready?"

I nod and continue staring at him, refusing to look away. "We've been dating for six months and you're still not ready?" Another nod. "Even though you say you love me?"

"I do love you."

A glint of something I don't like appears in his eye. "Then show me how much."

"No. I'm not ready," I repeat.

His hands reach out to grip the tablecloth and he looks like he wants to grip my neck instead. His patience is slipping away, and for the first time, I'm scared. "Maybe I should find someone who will."

I gasp. "You wouldn't do that." My voice falters, despite my confident words.

His eyes roam over my body in an unflattering way. Every inch of me feels dirty when he's finished, yet it's his words that take my breath away. "My love is fading fast now that I know what a frigid prude you are. Come home with me and prove me wrong, Lucy."

It couldn't hurt more if he etched the words onto my skin for everyone to see. Lucy Elizabeth Ashton, the frigid prude. A tear falls down my cheek and splashes the linen tablecloth, but I refuse to back down and allow him to bully me. I open my mouth to speak but he cuts me off. "It's up to you. Sleep with me, or I'll walk."

"Allow me," I snarl with all the venom I can muster up. I throw money down on the table, hoping it will be enough for my meal and a good tip. His face is a picture — what a pity I don't have a camera on me to capture the moment. Isaac thinks that I am weak and seeks to exploit that weakness. I need to show him that I'm strong, even if I don't feel strong right now. "Goodbye, Isaac."

I've never seen him look so taken aback like the rug has been pulled from under him and he's fallen on his backside. The little woman was supposed to lie down and surrender to her man. Screw that. "Lucy, please don't go! I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"Too damn right," I mutter, turning my back on him and walking off with my head held high — not easy for a woman who looks at the ground when she walks.

"Lucy!"

I will not look at him. Another tear falls down my cheek, but I brush it back furiously. He's not worth my tears. He is. He's not. He is. He's not.

I'm going to prove Isaac wrong. I may be a virgin, but I'm not a frigid prude. He will regret the ultimatum, and then he will regret the day he let Lucy Ashton go.

Stellan is out when I arrive at the flat. I shouldn't be surprised because my roommate is always out. My best guess is he's on a date with his latest squeeze, Clarissa. The boy goes through women like I go through notepads when I'm scribbling ideas for my novel. Fred, the black cat I adopted, greets me with a yowl and brushes against my legs. I fed him before I left, but you wouldn't know it by the way he's acting; the greedy cat is eating us out of house and home, so it's a good job he's cute and a nice blanket during the colder months. I add a little more food to his bowl and put down some water.

I throw off my shoes, not bothering to put them on the shoe rack. I'll never hear the end of it from Stellan the neat freak, but right now I don't give a damn. He must've tidied before he left as everything's immaculate. The washing up has been done, everything's been put away and the kitchen floor has been swept. Stellan could be my perfect man, if only he wasn't such a womanizer.

My laptop is on the coffee table in the living room — right where I left it. After my bedroom, this is my favourite room in the flat. Stellan said he couldn't care less about how it was decorated and left that up to me. I chose leafy teal wallpaper and love the autumnal feeling it inspires in me every time I walk into the room. It's like watching leaves fall from a tree. The rest of the room continues the cream, teal and beige colour palette. I put on my fluffy slippers, knowing that the wooden floor can be cold on my feet when I don't wear them.

The document containing my almost finished romance novel stares back at me. I need to write the ending; the famous Hollywood ending, such as when Richard Gere overcomes his fear of heights to sweep Julia Roberts off her feet in Pretty Woman. If only someone would invent a way to jump into our favourite novels. I'm sure I could take on some plucky heroine. Anyway, back to my novel. The lead characters are two friends who don't know that they're perfect for each other, even though all their friends can see it. An idea pops into my head and I start to write, pushing Isaac out of my head slowly … slowly … slowly.

My love is fading fast now that I know what a frigid prude you are. Come home with me and prove me wrong, Lucy.

A sob escapes before I can reel it in; then another until I'm a blubbering wreck. My laptop is pushed aside, my ending forgotten. If I can't get my own romantic ending, how the hell am I supposed to write someone else's? What do I know about love, sex and romance when I've never even experienced sex?

I took a chance on Isaac, after years struggling to connect with the opposite sex. His blond hair and baby blues were angelic, and I thought to myself: How can a man who looks like an angel be a bad guy. He could be the one. How naïve of me.

I hear a key turning in the lock. Stellan must be back from his date. I don't want him to see me like this. He's probably been out with Clarissa, who no doubt looked gorgeous as always. What would he think if he could see me now? Any sane man would run off screaming in the opposite direction, even if he's a friend of mine. My mind is made up and I scoop up the laptop, ready to make a getaway, but I'm not quick enough.

"Lucy? Have you been crying?"