All Over the Place
By: Serena Clarke
Livi Callaway has fled back to London after a reality TV disaster in New Zealand. Safely anonymous in the big city, she’s determined to stay under the radar from now on. But her attempts to build a new life are complicated by unexpected visitors from her old one, and new dangers and temptations lie in wait.
Late one night, she meets a mysteriously sexy American on the Underground – and the events that follow take her from Pooh Bear to the golden lights of Paris, via a trail of rock stars dead and alive. A family in disarray, a determined Swede, a crazed Australian and a childhood friend (who might yet be more than that) have her all over the place as she tries to discover the American’s secret – while keeping her own.
With help – and occasional hindrance – from her friends, what she eventually finds is something unexpected . . . sometimes, running away can lead you to exactly what you didn’t know you needed.
After the third time, an American voice said, “You’re like an onion tonight.”
She turned and replied, without thinking, “That’s not the kind of vegetable I’d choose to be.”
The instant the words left her lips she knew it was all wrong. A mere second too late, it was blindingly obvious that he had said not onion, but yo–yo. How could she possibly have imagined that anyone would randomly liken her to an onion? Now, as she looked up at tanned skin, dark eyes, glossy hair, and teeth that could only be from across the Atlantic, her heart beat out of sync. She took in distressed jeans, vintage polo shirt, and a battered leather satchel hanging from his shoulder.
Suddenly she was unsteady on her feet, not just because the train was lurching unevenly. Looking at his face, perplexed and amused, she willed the floor to open up and drop her on the tracks. She would rather be electrocuted on the line than be a late–night crazy person on the Underground under his perfectly proportioned scrutiny. But there was nowhere to escape until the next stop, so she stood, cheeks flaming, praying he would take pity on her and pretend he hadn’t heard anything.
Instead, he said thoughtfully, “No, if you were a vegetable it would be something much more delicious. Sweet corn…cherry tomato, maybe.”
Was he flirting? She chanced another glance. A rugged sweep of stubble and a scar on his jaw roughened his looks, only making him more compelling. Well, of course, she thought, anyone who looks like that must flirt for a living. But suddenly she was uncomfortably aware of the harsh lights, and how tired she must look. She ran her hand through her hair, though she knew it wouldn’t make any difference. “That’s a nice thing to say,” was all she could think of to reply.
“My mom always said, you know, if you can’t say anything nice…she was English, she liked good manners. Plus, it’s important to say nice things to nice girls, don’t you think?” And he gave her a wink.
She couldn’t help laughing, he was so shameless. “How come you can get away with being so cheeky just because you do it in that accent?”
“You tell me,” he replied. “I don’t think you spring from round here either.”
Just then the train began to slow again, and there was a surge as people started to squeeze along to the doors. The American put his arms out and made a protective space around her, shaking his head. “Oh, no. You can stay here this time. I’m not letting you go until I solve this mystery.”
Up close he smelled warm and woody and clean, and she had to stop herself leaning in, eyes closed, and breathing deeply. At this distance he could probably hear her heart pounding. His full mouth turned up at the corners, a permanently tempting curve. Her hips threatened to arc towards him in a very inappropriate way. She wouldn’t have been surprised at the crackle of blue sparks. If she actually made contact with any part of him, she felt, there was a real chance she would just burst into flames.
Then the doors closed and the train started moving, and he grabbed the overhead strap to steady himself. “Maybe that was my stop,” she said, heady from their closeness. “Then what would I have done?”
“Come for a drink with me?”
She was enjoying this now, feeling a glow, forgetting her embarrassment, and her sore feet and backache from standing in the salon all day. “At this time of night, unless you want to go clubbing, I don’t know where you’d find somewhere to just have a drink. This isn’t LA or New York.”
“I’m not from LA or New York, I’m from Idaho.” He looked at her closely. “And maybe I didn’t mean somewhere.”
“Ah,” she said, and suddenly felt a little flat. That’s right, she knew this story. Off she would go to his place, with him and his charm and banter. They’d have a night that seemed unbelievable. And the next day it would be unbelievable, unbelievably awkward, as she pulled on yesterday’s clothes and tried to find her way to an unfamiliar tube station, with unbrushed hair and uncleaned teeth. The walk of shame. She had no interest in taking it. There was a time, when she’d first arrived, maybe…but not any more.
Her change of mood must have shown. He said, “I’m sorry, maybe that’s not something you should say to a nice girl from…?”
Looking at his expectant, handsome face, she gave herself an internal shake. Lighten up now, she said to herself, he’s just a guy on a train, even if he does look like he stepped out of a catalogue. Just enjoy that someone, maybe, fancies you a little. And she pushed her shoulders back and put her smile back on.
“Actually, I was born here, but I’ve been living a long way away. Further away than you.”
His face lit up. “Australia!”
“No, sorry to disappoint you.” Why was Australia always the first guess? Anyone would think there was no populated land beyond Sydney. Next stop Antarctica.
“Well then…damn, this is my stop.” They lurched together as the train made a last jolt, and his satchel banged against her hip. All at once she was aware of the crush of other travellers again, as they began their relentless move towards the door. The American was carried along in front of two large ladies, but called over their shoulders, “We could try to find somewhere.”
She hesitated for a moment, not wanting him to be gone. Then, just as the two of them realised his bag buckle had caught on hers, the large ladies swept him out and the doors closed. They looked at each other through the glass, his expression going through a progression from confusion to surprise to a sort of panic. And she was left holding his bag as the train pulled away.
Serena Clarke has had her fair share of adventures and disasters, living in thirty-nine houses, in seven cities, in four countries. She’s now settled in New Zealand, and all those ups and downs provide great inspiration for writing. Luckily, she has a tall, dark, and handsome husband to help look after their two boys while she dreams up stories. Turns out that happily-ever-afters happen in real life too.
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