The car park was almost full, but she managed to find a bay in which to leave the Beetle. Music blared from the open doorway of the pub opposite where a couple of smokers huddled against the wall. They shivered as they dragged on their cigarettes then stubbed out the tab ends and went back inside. The sky threatened snow again. Kate pulled her coat tighter; it was only a short walk up the hill to the club.
The bouncer, guarding the doorway of the club, leered at her. It made her feel uncomfortable as she skirted round him. The place was already packed with people. In honour of The Festival of Angels, the club was hosting an Angels and Demons night and everyone with a pair of novelty wings had turned up, but the girls dressed in tight fitting corsets and short skirts looked far from angelic, making out in dark corners with horned devils and vampire wannabes.
The prospect of making her way through the seething mass of people made her feel queasy. She took slow, deep breaths to steady her nerves and told herself she could do this without losing control. If she repeated the words like a mantra she could just about keep the dizziness and rising panic in check.
She groped her way forward, hoping to find a bit of space, squeezing through the gaps and stumbling out the other side into a tall man with shoulder length black hair. He turned from the conclave of girls that gathered around him, all staring up with something like adoration on their faces, and reached out to steady her. She could see why they were so captivated, he had the most unnatural piercing blue eyes and wore a long leather coat and angel wings that reached to the floor. Kate mumbled an apology and the man bowed to her, stepping back to allow her through.
The cacophony of sound from the dozens of shouted conversations and the thumping beat of the music vibrated through her body as she threaded her way to the edge of the dance floor. She turned a slow three hundred and sixty degree circle, searching the crowd for Brian’s familiar face, and stopped at a figure seated on a stool by the bar.
It was the man in black. He sat alone, his back to the bar, watching her.
The moment their eyes met Kate was transfixed. Her stomach knotted in that way that indicated pure physical desire. From the look on his face, he felt it too. She took a deep breath. She couldn’t have looked away if she’d wanted to. His gaze drew her in and held her spellbound. The air had suddenly gone from the room. The crowd melted away and time slowed to a standstill. He was bathed in light, she assumed, from a spotlight above his head. It made him appear otherworldly. His emerald eyes glittered. They were luminescent and his short blond hair formed a halo around his head. Kate’s heart pounded in time to the music which sounded so very far away now it was just a hum in the distance.
His intense gaze made her knees buckle. This was the moment she’d always dreamed of, but never truly believed would happen. Her long awaited, hit by a sledgehammer, love at first sight moment. The meeting of her soul mate.
Though technically she’d seen him before, this was the first time she’d seen him long enough and clearly enough to appreciate how beautiful he was.
This was the real reason she had chased him from the library. Motivated by an overwhelming attraction to him, she had needed to confirm what her subconscious had already registered, that he felt the same, that somehow they were connected. Though he had composed himself from that electrically charged split second when they’d locked eyes, carefully hiding his emotions behind a neutral facade, she got the impression he was smiling at her and the most incredible feeling of love and protection washed over her.
This is crazy, she thought as she floated in the stillness, I don’t even know you. Her cheeks were beginning to burn.
But I know you, came the vaguely familiar voice in her head.
The man in black didn’t move. He had stopped playing hide and seek with her, but however outwardly calm and confident he appeared, a whole range of emotions were conveyed in those impossibly green eyes; shyness, elation, yet at the same time, there was a deep, underlying sadness. It seemed an internal argument was being waged within him, should he speak to her, or leave; smile or turn away?
Kate wanted to stare into those eyes forever, but another face appeared in front of hers, blocking out the man in black with a huge grin and the spell was broken.
“Katie, Katie, am I glad to see you?” Brian said, his words slurring together.
He hugged her, making them both stumble. She tried to look over Brian’s shoulder, but yet again, the man in black had gone. He’d probably assumed Brian was her boyfriend and left. The sight of his empty stool left a black hole in her stomach.
“Oh Brian, you’re drunk,” she said.
“I had to do something,” he replied. “Someone stood me up.”
He pouted at her, then grabbed her hand and grinned again, his hurt quickly forgotten.
“Come and dance with me.”
He pulled a resistant and protesting Kate to the dance floor, earning a barrage of insults as he elbowed people out of their way. Brian turned, holding up his hands in mock apology and went careening backwards. Kate grabbed the front of his T-shirt, just in time to keep him upright. He draped his arms over her shoulders.
“I always knew you liked me Katie,” he said.
Kate sighed. She was having trouble standing up herself under Brian’s weight, and was trying to manoeuvre him off the dance floor when she heard another voice beside her.
“Is he bothering you?”
Kate shivered. The voice was as smooth and delicious as warm pain au chocolat. It drew attention to itself by the fact that it wasn’t shouting to be heard over the music. A quiet, well articulated voice that Kate heard as clearly as if it had spoken in an empty room. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She knew, without turning, who would be speaking those words.
She raised her eyes to his face, but dared not maintain eye contact for fear of losing herself again in the brilliance of those jewelled irises. At each glance she felt the room spiralling away from her.
“He’s my – friend,” she managed. “But he’s a bit drunk.”
Brian’s head snapped up. He tried to focus on the man at Kate’s side, but found it almost impossible. His eyes seemed to slide past him as though he wasn’t really there.
“Back off,” he said, with venom. “She’s with me.”
“Are you sure?” the man in black said. “I thought she was propping you up.”
“Well, she’s not. We’re together, so clear off unless you want to go outside and make something of it.”
Brian was standing by himself now, swaying back and forth, in danger of falling over at any moment and jutted his chin out at the man in challenge. Kate put her hand on Brian’s arm.
“Don’t be stupid, Brian.”
“OK,” said the man in black.
Kate shot him a disapproving look. He was grinning. Kate’s stomach did back flips, her knees were going again.
“Right,” Brian said. “Out the back then,” and he started to weave his way towards the emergency exit sign.
The man in black and Kate followed, him smiling, Kate protesting all the way.
“You can’t do this. He’s drunk, he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
The man shrugged. Brian was already outside by the time they reached the door.
“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt him.”
Still smiling, he stepped outside.
The door closed with a clunk behind him, leaving Kate open mouthed on the inside. She grabbed the handle, turned it and pulled. It wouldn’t budge. She rattled the door and pulled as hard as she could with no effect. It couldn’t be locked, she’d watched them go through it. Nevertheless, it was locked to her.
Outside in the alley, Brian stood with his feet wide apart in a desperate attempt to steady the spinning world around him. He put his fists up in front of his face.
“Come on then, let’s get this over with.”
He wasn’t impressed when the man folded his arms.
“Go home Brian and sleep it off.”
Brian’s head felt fuzzy, he heard the words deep inside his brain and he had to admit it did sound like an awfully good idea. After all, he seemed like a nice guy and he didn’t really want a fight. How did he know his name anyway?
It almost worked, but Brian’s pride wouldn’t let him back down so easily. He shook the buzzing from his head and took a swing with his right fist.
Hang on a minute. He could’ve sworn he was standing closer than that.
A bewildered Brian screwed up his eyes and stretched them wide open again, taking a deep breath of cold, fresh air. He prepared for another strike and edged closer to the guy, who hadn’t even unfolded his arms.
The man didn’t move, but Brian caught sight of movement over his shoulder and as he watched something big and black grew out of the shadows. Brian had never run from a fight before in his life.
There’s a first time for everything, he thought.
“Jesus Christ!” he yelled, as the shadow coalesced into something impossible and he turned and fled down the alley.
“No, not even close, but if I see him I’ll tell him you said Hello!”
The man in black chuckled to himself and went back into the club.
* * *
Kate had been about to go for help when the door opened and the man in black stepped back through into the noisy club. He grinned at her. The intensity of her feelings towards him were confusing. She’d never felt like this about anyone before, especially someone she’d just met and she wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Dreaming about finding true love was not the same as having it happen, and life had always seemed so much easier to deal with on her own. On top of that, he’d thought nothing of going outside to fight Brian. That didn’t make him seem like a good prospect for a boyfriend.
Kate ignored her wobbly legs and scowled at him.
“Where’s Brian?! What have you done to him?!” she yelled over the music.
“Nothing, he wasn’t feeling well and decided to go home.”
Again, he didn’t have to shout to make her hear him. Kate frowned. She turned her back on him and took a step away, only to find him blocking her exit.
There was no time to wonder how he’d managed this because a moment later she found herself flying forwards, falling into his arms. He caught her, his arms around her waist and she remembered how he’d held her as he pulled her off the road, away from the van that had almost knocked her down. She felt the same sensation now. A kind of moving without effort, like taking the moving pavement at the airport, but faster and without going anywhere at all. This time she was looking into his eyes as he rescued her. She resisted the urge to wrap her arms around his neck and stepped back from his embrace.
The bouncer who had shoved past her was still struggling with the man he was dragging towards the exit and shouted a none too convincing apology. The man, trapped in a head lock, caught hold of her bag and pulled it along with them, dragging it off her shoulder and spilling its contents over the floor.
She scrabbled for her possessions, trying to reach the book before any harm could befall it, but the man in black beat her to it. He had the book in one hand and held out the other with her make-up and keys. He was incredibly fast and agile. She took her things and threw them back in her bag then as they rose together, she held out her hand for the book.
“This looks interesting,” he said. “Is it your diary?”
“Err, no, it’s not really mine, it’s old,” Kate mumbled.
“Is it a good story?”
“I wouldn’t know,” she said. “It’s written in some weird language or code.”
“Is that so?”
He began to flick through the pages.
“Looks like English to me,” he said, handing it over.
Kate snatched it and tore it open, searching down the page for the symbols that were no longer there. Instead there were words she understood perfectly.
“That’s impossible,” she yelled, looking up at him. “Who are you?”
“My name is Ash.”
“And that’s supposed to explain it, is it?”
Kate glowered at his handsome face, annoyed by his attractive lopsided grin. She wasn’t going to let the butterflies that smile caused stop her from questioning him.
“Why have you been following me?”
“Yes, you were in the café when the waitress spilled hot coffee on me, you were in the library this morning and now you’re here, tonight. So why?”
He mulled the question over for a minute.
“Was I in the café when you got there or did I come in after you?”
“You were already there,” she conceded.
“Well then, how could I possibly know you were going to go to that café?”
He carried on before she could answer.
“I like to read so I go to the library a lot and I believe I was sitting by the bar when you walked in here tonight. It’s not following you if I get there first, is it?”
“So it’s all coincidence then?”
“Do you believe in coincidences?”
She’d asked Brian that very same question earlier that afternoon. If she hadn’t known better she would have said he’d repeated it now deliberately.
“Do you ever answer a question without asking another question?” she said.
If he was going to mock her she’d do the same to him. He stopped smiling. Kate bit her lip. He seemed hurt and she didn’t like being the cause of it. She relented.
“I don’t know what I believe any more,“ she said, pushing past him and making for the door.
He followed her. They stepped out into the bitter cold of a December night.
She hitched the bag up on to her shoulder and held the book against her chest. Unsure of her bearings, she looked from left to right, then threw her head back and looked up in exasperation at the inky black sky. The stars, bright and clear, winked at her. The man in black, Ash, stood by her side. He smiled at her again.
“Come on,” he said, coming to her rescue once more. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
He walked a few steps ahead of her, then turned back, his hands pushed casually into the pockets of his leather jacket and inclined his head in the direction they were to go, inviting her to follow. Kate stuffed the book into her bag and hurried to catch up with him.
They walked without speaking down the hill, under the arch in the city walls and turned left onto Nunnery Lane. Kate searched for something to say, to break the silence and as an excuse to hear his voice again. They were almost there. He seemed to know exactly which car was hers without even asking her. She fumbled in her bag for her keys.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she said, unlocking the car door.
There was the lopsided smile again. It didn’t annoy her this time.
“Did Brian really go home?”
“Do you honestly think I’d…” he stopped himself mid- question. “Yes, I never touched him, he just went home.”
He reached past her and opened the car door, touching her arm and sending a frisson of pleasurable chills through her body. He held it open while she got in.
“Have a safe journey,” he said and shut the door.
Kate sat for a moment, incredulous. After all that, he hadn’t even asked for her number. There was nothing left to do but leave. She started the engine. He raised his hand in farewell and watched her drive away.
* * *
The man in black stared off in the direction she had gone, until another figure joined him.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said to the newcomer.
“Why not? You want her to read it, don’t you?” said the second figure.
“That’s not the point. She should never have found it.”
“Oh come on. Her being in the church was too good an opportunity for me to miss, little bro.”
Ash gave the tall man a sidelong glance.
“He’s going to kick my arse over this, isn’t He?”
“Don’t be so pessimistic. Maybe this is part of His plan.”
“ Whatever. She has the diary now and God only knows what will happen.”
Ash turned to say something, but there was no point, he was already alone again.