We've spoken. We've flirted. But she won't let me close. She's guarding herself even if her face says she's the most approachable person I've ever met.
Coming home to London, Tallulah is looking for a second chance, a fresh start. Her friends know something is wrong, but they have no idea what’s she’s running from.
Tallulah is not herself. The usually happy, bubbly excitable girl is faking it. Inside, she’s a complete mess but she refuses to tell anyone why, choosing to keep it a secret, a secret that makes her skin crawl and leaves her crying herself to sleep.
She tells herself she’ll be okay. That she can cope. She can forget about how damaged she is, forget what she’s run away from. She’s fighting to hold it together.
When she meets Jarrod, he’s everything she’s ever wanted. He’s a hot, suited, motorbike riding, boss with a soft heart.
As perfect as Jarrod as, she can’t date him. She’s not the same girl she used to be and now she doesn’t think she deserves what she once wanted.
"The friendship between these two is heartbreakingly beautiful. They both promise not to allow it to go further, but know deep inside that they both want more. Hanleigh's gentle writing and sweetness comes across through both of these characters." - Reading In Our Satisfaction
I remember the first day I saw her.
It was a Sunday morning in November, and I’d had to come into work because one of the bartenders had called in sick and none of the waitresses had any idea how to pour a pint, something every good British restaurant must sell on a Sunday.
It was a British pastime to sit in a beer garden eating your Sunday roast and drinking a pint. British people had been doing it for decades, and it showed no signs of ever becoming less essential to the British way of life.
Even in November, when people couldn’t spend the day sat outside in the beer garden for fear of getting rained on, they piled into the restaurant seeking sustenance, but mostly they wanted a pick me up. They wanted a beer to rid them of the hangover they were suffering as a result of the night before. They wanted the hair of the dog. Of course, any good bartender would recommend something a little stronger than beer, but whatever made the punters happy and on Sunday mornings that was beer.
So, there I was at ten thirty-six am, stood behind the bar, bored out of my skull, pouring pint after pint for the regulars when she walked into Thorpe’s.
Everything about her took me in.
She looked remarkably like a drowned rat. She was wrapped up in more layers and scarves than I’d ever thought I’d see on one person.
Yet, even with the excessive amount of clothing, she was wearing there was something about her, something alluring, something sensual that seemed to pulse off her. I hadn’t been able to tell what it was. All I knew was that it called to me.
If I had had less self-control, I would have marched across the restaurant and cut the host off before she showed her to a table. Instead, I had secured my feet to the ground before they could run off with themselves.
I acted nonchalant as I cut some garnish for the lunch service, almost cutting my finger off several times as I pretended I wasn’t practically staring at her back.
Her hair had been down that day, and the light from the window next to her table was ricocheting off it as if it were a diamond or some sort of glass prism. Every colour imaginable seemed to reflect off her.
I had been transfixed, made practically immobile by the mere sight. I had watched as her waitress served her. I had only been able to imagine the smile that graced her face as she listened attentively to the specials menu. Her laughter had a lilt to it that was so completely unique; I didn’t think I’d hear anything quite like it even if I were to live to be one hundred.
That Sunday morning was over six months ago and yet I still barely know the girl, except that I know that I want her, that I crave her. She’s got secrets that she won’t share no matter how much I try to get them out of her.
But she won’t let me close. She’s guarding herself even if her face says she’s the most approachable person I’ve ever met.
After that first day, she came in nearly every day, sitting at that same window, drawing in her sketchbook. I’d desperately wanted to find out what she was drawing, but I hadn’t been able to think up an excuse to go over to her table and introduce myself.
Not on the first day or the second, not even on the seventh.
It wasn’t until the eighth day that I managed to talk myself into approaching her table and even then, it was just to clear her empty glass.
I hadn’t said a word. She had given me a brief glance and a quiet, “thank you,” and I was walking away, back to my spot behind the bar before my brain could even catch up.
The bartenders hadn’t commented on my weird behaviour or the fact that I was spending an abnormal amount of time outside of the office. They hadn’t even complained that I was taking over their bar, but I’d noticed the raised eyebrows and winks that they had exchanged between themselves; they knew I was interested in her.
They weren’t daft.
It was damn obvious that my behaviour was restricted to the times that she visited the restaurant.
I was surprised that she had managed to make me nervous. It was a well-known fact amongst my friends that I was the sweeter guy in the group, but I’d never been called shy, and yet that’s exactly how I had behaved that first week.
My best friends Jack and Landon would have laughed at me if they could have seen me. Fortunately, Jack had been spending more and more time at The Kent Mockery, another of our businesses, a luxury wine bar and club not too far away and Landon had been distracted by a woman.
That had been a big surprise. We’d always thought it would be me that settled first. In fact, bets had been placed, not just once but on multiple occasions.
I was the long-term guy in the group.
Unlike my friends, all of my relationships had been serious, usually lasting a few years or more and every time I’d thought they were the one, only to realise how wrong I was a few years later.
Landon, on the other hand, was always the man of the one night stand. He’d had rules for everything, but Aurora had managed to break every rule in his book, and now they are happily married. It is still slightly unbelievable, even now, but they are perfect for each other and completely over the top in love.
Now six months on from the day I first saw Tallulah Conway, I’m no closer to having her than I was that very first day. We’ve danced around the idea, but we’ve gotten nowhere.
Day after day, that first week I’d watched her from a distance, considering my options and each night I’d gone to bed worrying that she might not return to Thorpe’s the next day only to be delighted when she turned up, sketchbook in hand. Each day had been hell waiting for her arrival, and then pure adrenaline had rushed through my system when I saw her cross the threshold of my restaurant.
I’d had the surprise of a lifetime when on the ninth day Landon had invited a bunch of people to dinner at Thorpe’s, myself included. I’d been dealing with a problem in the kitchen as the other guests arrived, so I’d missed the moment she took her seat at the round booth.
As I’d approached the table where my best friends were waiting for me, I had been barely able to keep my eyes off her.
You mustn’t stare, Jarrod, I’d told myself over and over again but to no avail. Her eyes had been on me too. That had given me hope. Perhaps false hope but hope nonetheless.
💜 Romantic Suspense
💜 Love At First Sight
💜 A Love To Heal Your Soul
Damaged Intimacy (BK 1)
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Entangled Intimacy (BK 2)
Forceful Intimacy (BK 3)
Call Me Doctor (BK 4)