Valentine’s Day Special! Extract from Conditional Love
As Conditional Love begins on Valentine’s Day, I thought you might like to read the Chapter One, right here, for free!
I woke up on the floor wedged between the bed and bedside drawers. My hip bone was bruised, my skin mottled with cold and I had pins and needles in my arm. Painted across my face was the smug smile of a woman who didn’t get much sleep last night. I had to get up; I was freezing and the indignity of him seeing me like this would be too much to bear.
It took a full thirty seconds of grunting, shuffling, inelegant flailing of limbs and a carpet burn to my right buttock to wriggle free. Not a pretty sight.
Note to self: get bigger bed or smaller boyfriend.
I sighed with pleasure at the slumbering, golden-haired Adonis taking up the entire width of the mattress.
New bed, definitely.
Silently, I opened the drawer, took out his card and slid it under the pillow. Then I slipped back under the duvet and perched on the edge, savouring the heat from his perfectly-honed body. I propped myself up on my elbow and gazed at him.
Valentine’s Day and I had a boyfriend.
I couldn’t help grinning.
Last year – and the year before that come to think of it – I had been single and I’d had to hibernate for a full twenty-four hours until the dreaded day was history and I could stop feeling marginalised by society.
Marc and I had been together for nine months and last night was the first time that he had stayed over. I’d invited him to – loads of times – but he had a stall on Sneinton market and had to get up for work really early and said he didn’t want to wake me. He was thoughtful like that.
But last night he said he didn’t have to be there until nine, so he might as well stay. How romantic – to choose Valentine’s Day as the first time to wake up next to me! I couldn’t believe it!
Right, let’s get the party started.
I covered my tummy with my hand and breathed in. He was very understanding about my less than perfect figure, but no need to draw attention to it.
I coughed lightly but there was no response, not a flicker of his golden eyelashes.
I coughed more sharply and this time Marc stirred.
I pulled my stomach in tighter. He stretched, threatening my precarious position on the edge of the bed, and I grabbed hold of his arm.
Oh, those biceps!
My tummy gave a rumble. Knickers! Now I was going to have to conceal my hunger as well as my jelly belly. There was no way I could admit to being hungry while he was still in the flat. He would try and force one of his body-building shakes on me. My stomach lurched at the thought of his protein-powder-mashed-banana-almond-milk concoctions. And if he felt like being ultra healthy he would add raw eggs.
Urgh, urgh, erase, erase!
I felt nauseous even thinking about it.
Far safer if I feigned no appetite and gobbled down a quick slice of chocolate spread on toast after he’d gone.
‘Morning, Princess.’ He yawned and gave me an almighty slap on the bottom.
I knew this was his idea of being affectionate but it was hardly the most romantic wake-up call. I replied with my own delicate yawn, and smiled in what I hoped was a ‘Sleeping Beauty awakened by a True Love’s Kiss’ type manner.
He picked up his watch, swore under his breath and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
And breathe. I flopped onto my back and pulled the duvet up, enjoying the sensation of letting it all hang out. Also enjoying the view of muscles rippling across chest as he pulled his jeans up over firm thighs. What a man!
Oh no, I was a bit slow on the uptake there, he was getting dressed! That wasn’t first on my agenda of love.
Marc looked down at me, his face suddenly serious. Oh my giddy aunt! He was working up to something.
He cleared his throat. ‘Sophie. We need to talk.’
He sat back down on the bed and reached for my hand. Darting eyes, heavy breathing, serious face… He was going to pop the question. I knew it.
‘Wait!’ I yelled, making Marc flinch.
I must admit, I was a little bit taken aback. I’d only recently begun dropping hints about moving in together. A halfway house if you like, just to be on the safe side, and to be honest I thought he had been swiftly changing the subject every time. But I could see from his furrowed expression that there was going to be nothing half-hearted about his next sentence.
I pushed myself up to a semi-sitting position and rested my arms on top of the duvet.
Oops! Never flatten your arms against your body. It adds at least thirty per cent to the surface area of each limb. I read it in Heat Magazine in a feature on how to look good in photos.
I raised my arms off the duvet and away from my chest. That had certainly reduced the ‘bingo wing’ effect, although now there was a danger he would think I had a sweat problem. I tucked them back under the covers, aware that it now resembled a hospitalised invalid with visitor scenario.
My eyes had stretched unnaturally wide and I was virtually panting. I was sure I’d be flaring my nostrils, I always did that when I was nervous; I resisted the urge to press my nose and tried to relax.
Marc frowned. My fault; all that fidgeting was getting on his nerves, I had to pull myself together. Somehow I knew that lying prostrate and staring at him with tree frog eyes and horsey nostrils wasn’t doing me any favours in the bid to become Mrs Felton, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was more or less pinned to the bed, and anyway, standing up naked and letting him see my carefully disguised spare tyres would be marriage proposal suicide.
He looked like he was about to explode.
Shame really, in this day and age all the stress shouldn’t be loaded onto the man. Still, the woman usually ended up organising the wedding, so it sort of evened itself out in the long run.
‘Sorry! You were saying?’ I smiled at him encouragingly.
Marc exhaled. I was gratified to see that his nostrils flared a bit under pressure too; we were obviously a perfect match.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Emma Piper, I thought triumphantly. My glass-half-empty flatmate was unremittingly vocal about her opinions on the love of my life.
He was gazing at me with his baby-blue eyes. He was in love, it was obvious.
‘There’s no easy way to say this, Princess, but…’
What the fudge?
I gasped, but the nerves-induced accumulation of saliva in my throat created a strangled sort of gurgle. My spit went down the wrong hole and I started to choke. Not attractive, nor in the least bit timely.
Marc, determined to finish now he was on a roll, carried on slashing my newly-minted dreams of married bliss into ribbons, while simultaneously slapping me on the back. Hard.
By the time I had found the wherewithal to hold my hands up, beseeching him to stop, he had all but finished his ‘Dear Sophie’ monologue.
The message had been clear, but what had he actually said? Straining to hear over my own ear-splitting wheezing, I had only caught one or two words. I must have misheard, I thought he used words like ‘different things, boring, freedom’ and ‘nice’.
He backed away from my single bed, from me and from our relationship towards the bedroom door, holding onto my fingers until the last possible second. It was quite a poignant moment: if I hadn’t been puce and completely hoarse, I might have said something profound. But other than to wail ‘Why? Why?’ at him, words completely failed me. So I stayed silent, doomed to forever hold my peace.
He winked and was gone.
Happy chuffin’ Valentine’s Day.