Heathrow Airport bustled with people traversing the globe. Arriving in London always left Alexa Stevens awestruck. You could see the largeness of the whole world walking through Heathrow—all hours of the day and night.
Exiting into the international arrivals hall, she took advantage of her six-foot frame and scanned the crowd for her friend Carrie. The equally tall, smartly dressed redhead stood outside the customs area in a line of hired drivers holding a sign that read, “Ms. Thang.” Her calf-length camel coat wrapped tightly around her still model-slim figure, topped with an elaborately colored tartan scarf.
Alexa grinned and strode toward her. “Cute sign.”
She dropped her carry-on weekender bag on top of her suitcase and hugged her friend of nearly twenty years.
“I had to make sure that you’d know I was your ride.”
The silly nickname went back to when the pair modeled together in New York. When they first met, they couldn’t stand each other.
Crowded backstage at a fashion show, Carrie had once stormed at Alexa, “Hey, Miss Thang, back the fuck up. You’re in my space.”
“Ms. Thang,” Alexa had retorted. “I’m too grown to be ‘Miss,’ bitch.”
Eventually, Texan Alexa and Bostonian Carrie put the nastiness behind them, but the moniker stuck.
“Is this all you have?” Carrie switched her gaze to the duffel and rollerboard suitcase.
“It is. I didn’t want to have to check bags.”
With her mistrust of baggage handlers, Alexa liked keeping all of her belongings with her if at all possible. Plus, a week-long trip shouldn’t require more than two bags.
She followed Carrie to the elevator, which took them to the short-term parking garage and through the lot to a sleek silver Porsche.
“Love the car, but it’s a good thing this is all I brought,” Alexa remarked on the sleek, but compact sports car.
“Gift from the lying bastard in better days.”
The “lying bastard” in question was Carrie’s soon-to-be ex-husband Freddy—the successful, handsome, conniving cheat who announced six months ago that he was leaving Carrie for a newer, younger model. Literally model. The sneaky homewrecker adorned the cover of glamorous magazines and the ads for a famous brand of luxury ladies’ unmentionables.
Carrie’s anger seemed to propel her through the past few months as they argued over assets. She insisted that she was doing fine, but as the holidays approached, Alexa could hear the fortitude in her friend’s voice dissolve. On the last phone call, she promised a Thanksgiving week visit.
An hour after winding their way out of Heathrow, Carrie pulled up to the curb in front of a long row of stark white apartment buildings.
“Here we are. My new digs. Not as fancy as our place, or Freddy’s place, I guess, in Mayfair, but it’s close to Hyde Park.”
Carrie and Freddy had lived in a Landry family home, which meant Carrie moved out as soon as Freddy made his announcement. Technically, the house belonged to Freddy’s father—not Freddy—and Carrie had no rights to it. The couple had purchased the Bayswater apartment as an investment property to let. Her attorney petitioned to give her access to the property during the divorce and argued that Carrie should retain possession.
“Do you think you’ll be able to stay after the divorce is final?”
“My solicitor says it’s promising. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. After ten years, you’d think I’d be entitled to something. It’s not like I didn’t contribute anything to our marriage financially. I worked. Always have. But you know that.”
With a sigh, Carrie leapt from the car and took Alexa up to her sunny, third-floor apartment.
“I love the windows.”
Just to the right of the front door, a sunken living room sported two eight-foot bay windows. Bright light streamed in, belying the late November chill outside.
“The light is the main reason I picked this property over the other one we bought. Plus, it’s closer to my office in Holborn. Are you up for lunch?”
“Absolutely. The food on the plane was, well, plane food.”
“How does Indian sound? I know a great place around the corner—family run.”
* * *
The front dining room of the restaurant had only six tables, but an ascending staircase pointed them to an expanded banquet room with a six-foot bay window overlooking the street. Splatters of rain hit the glass sporadically, then picked up their pace.
“Just in time,” Alexa declared as they settled at their table and then ordered lunch.
“No wine?” Carrie raised her eyebrows.
“I drink wine now, and I’ll be on the floor. I need to push through until a normal bedtime.”
“What are you up for tonight?”
“Maybe hit a pub. Have my first plate of fish and chips.”
“Already planning your next meal? And fried food? That’s not the clean-eating Alexa I know.”
“I’m on vacation for a few days. I’m allowed eat and then plan to go get something to eat. I’ll eat clean tomorrow. Today, fish and chips.”
“There’s more to pub food than that, you know.”
“I like the classics.” Alexa sipped her sparkling water. “How are you?”
“Plugging on. I’ve given you the update from my lawyer.”
Alexa waved her hand and flashed a sour look. “Not legal stuff. Life stuff. How are you?”
“All I can do is focus on each day in front of me. It’s hard.” Carrie’s eyes grew shiny. “He’s gone and gotten engaged.”
“To that lingerie trollop?”
Carrie raised her glass and smirked as an answer. Alexa shook her head. So tacky to give another woman an engagement ring when you still have a wife sporting one of your diamond baubles. Brits were supposed to be well-mannered, but penis-driven wanderlust had a way of removing a man’s better sense.
“Maybe you should have some fun of your own. Have you met anyone since you moved out?”
Carrie nose turned upward. “The last one is causing me enough trouble.”
“Doesn’t mean that you can’t shop a bit. I downloaded that new dating app, SoulM8. You can just see what’s out there. It doesn’t have to be fatal.”
Carrie tipped her head back and cackled. “Is that what commitment is?”
“When it goes well.”
The quickness with which her friend’s spirits flagged concerned Alexa.
“Give me your phone. We’ll set up your profile.” Carrie hesitated. “Just do it fast. Like taking off a Band-Aid. She who hesitates is lost.”
“Aren’t these things just for hook ups?”
“They’re for whatever you want them for. If you don’t want hook ups then we’ll say that.”
Alexa held out her hand. Carrie unlocked her phone and handed it over. With a few clicks, Alexa connected to the restaurant’s Wi-Fi and started downloading the dating app Alexa used to amuse herself from time to time.
“Are these guys going to know where I am? I don’t need a stalker.”
“No. It only goes down to within a mile. You don’t have to communicate with anyone you don’t want to. It’s just…interesting. Think of it as step one.”
Carrie chewed her lip. “Okay.”
“Let’s see who we have within, say, a two-mile radius. Or two kilometers? Which is it?”
“Bit of both, but let’s say two miles.”
A spinning heart popped on the screen as the app located potential messages within the chosen area.
“Ahh. Here we go. Sanjit. God, he’s only twenty-one.” Alexa paged back to her settings. “What do we want? How low are you willing to go?”
“No younger than thirty-five.”
“You’re only thirty-eight.”
“I don’t need someone I have to burp after spoon-feeding.”
“Thirty. You need to keep your options open. Thirty to forty-eight.”
SoulM8 spun its heart thinking again.
“We have Ethan.” A balding man wearing tweed and glasses smiled at Alexa from her phone with two rows of teeth lined up like broken tombstones. She tilted the image toward her friend, who leaned in.
“I’ll bet he’s nice.” Alexa tried for an encouraging tone but tapped the thumbs down, bringing up another profile.
“No. Look on your own phone. I can look at my own guys.” Alexa sighed in relief that her friend had—at least momentarily—embraced the fun of it all. She dropped the phone into Carrie’s hands and pulled up her own.
“Jesus. This guy doesn’t even have a picture. It’s just some weird painting with a naked woman, and she’s got lasers coming out of her eyes.”
Alexa flipped her phone over for her friend to see.
“This could easily get addictive. But it makes me wonder how you ever find the one when it’s so easy to flip through men like a catalog, and for the guys, please. It’s hard enough to get them to stop thinking the grass is always greener.”
“There are some nice guys on here though. It’s no different that anything else. Sure, most of them are losers or not right for you, but then, just maybe.”
“I guess.” Despite her hesitance, Carrie kept flipping.
“Are you liking any of them?”
“Work up to that maybe.” Alexa shrugged, then her brows shot up. “Oh. I like this one. Adam. He’s sexy. He’s probably married. A lot of the really hot guys on here end up having something in their profiles about ‘discretion’ and ‘no strings attached.’ Trust me. There are strings somewhere.”
The words flew out of her mouth before she could think.
“Sorry. God, I’m so awful.” Alexa seized Carrie’s hand, bending over to kiss it.
“Don’t be. You’re probably right. Besides, I hardly found the only cheating asshole in the world. I can’t avoid the topic. You should give him a thumbs up.”
“I don’t even live here. Plus, he looks kind of uptight in that suit. Or maybe he’s a player?” She showed Carrie another picture of “Adam.” Alexa noticed the waiter heading toward their table with a tray of items they had ordered. The distraction gave Carrie just enough time to tap the screen of Alexa’s phone.
“Hey! I’m just browsing. What the hell am I going to do with a match in London?”
“It’s for fun, right? Maybe he’ll message you.”
“I cannot believe… Shit. We matched. Oh, good Lord.”
Carrie grinned. “Well, you said he was hot. The feeling is mutual. Cheers!”
The broad white smile of Adam’s face shone at her in contrast to his deeply tanned skin and warm brown eyes. Great looking. And thick hair—always a plus. Worse things than an online flirtation with a sexy, dark, handsome stranger. As long as he wasn’t Jack the Ripper.
“Uggh. Enough. We have to eat, and we need to catch up with each other—not London’s single men.”
Between the Indian food and the talk of new men, Alexa thought their spicy lunch had already begun to advance her mission. She didn’t fly across the Atlantic to find a man. Her friend needed her, and already, Carrie seemed more upbeat.
She wouldn’t get distracted by romance. Still, when sexy Adam messaged Alexa before the end of lunch, Alexa embraced the fun.
> Where’s Stubbs? I’d love to take you for your favorite meal.
>> That would be hard. Stubbs is a fantastic barbecue place in Austin Tx
> Is that where you’re from?
>> Yes. Visiting a friend in London this week.
> Then I need to make my move. Time for coffee today or tomorrow?
The urgency set Alexa aback. She truly had no intention of pursuing some guy.
Carrie craned her neck to view Alexa’s phone. “What’s he saying? I need details.”
“He wants to meet for coffee today or tomorrow. I could meet the guy for a quick coffee while you’re at work.”
“You could and you should. He can keep you entertained for me.”
“Or bore me to death. Who knows?”
Carrie sighed and waved a finger at the device in Alexa’s hand. “Text him back.”
>> Maybe tomorrow? Midmorning?
He probably would have to work.
> Perfect. Where are you in London?
>> Where are you?
Alexa certainly wouldn’t reveal personal information.
>> Pick a spot and a time. I’ll meet you there.
> Everbean between Brook and Grosvenor, near Bond st station 10:30
With the time and place agreed, Alexa begged off.
>> Have to go. Having lunch with my friend.
Then, she exited SoulM8 without waiting for an answer.
“Done. We’re meeting tomorrow.”
Outside, the rain had stopped and sporadic rays of sunshine broke through the clouds.
“The weather is clearing up. We should walk off lunch in Hyde Park.”
“Okay. The sunshine will help chase off your jet lag. Besides, the pleasant afternoons may not last long, we better take advantage while we can.”
They paid the checked and stepped onto the street. A little bit of a chill remained in the air, but once she got moving, Alexa warmed up, gliding toward the park with a smile.
* * *
Hyde Park buzzed with activity. Everyone seemed to have the same idea of getting out in the sun while they had a chance.
Carrie elbowed Alexa and smiled. “Look at that little girl. She’s not found of the pigeons.”
A toddler clung to her dad’s leg and jumped every time a fat, gray bird hobbled toward her.
“Sometimes I think about what this divorce would be like if Freddy and I had kids. It makes me glad that we never found the right time to start a family—even though I still hope to one day. If that’s possible.”
“It’s not too late. You’ll have kids if that’s what you want.”
“I hope so. Of course, that means finding another man and dating him and getting to a point where we want to get married. It’s a little depressing.”
“You’re a young, successful, gorgeous woman. Freddy didn’t know what he had, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a guy out there who will adore you like you deserve.”
Carrie shrugged, continuing to look around at all the people and dogs circulating in the park. Then, she laughed. “I can’t believe you’ve been here less than four hours, and you already have a date. Only you.”
“I know. What can I say? I love experiencing new things. New food. New men. It’s exciting.”
“New, new, new. What about settling down with a steady guy?”
Alexa almost snapped back with a quip about whether there was such a thing, but she knew she didn’t have to remind her friend of how men can betray you.
“I’m not ready for steady. I’m still taking in what the world has to offer. Besides, I haven’t met any guy that made we want to settle down. None of them have ever made me feel like there’s no one better who’ll come along.”
“The lure of something better is dangerous thing.”
Alexa looped her arm in her friend’s. “I know. That’s why I don’t believe in committing unless I really mean it. I like my freedom. No sense closing off all the options until I’m ready.”
Carrie eyed her, but said nothing. Alexa knew that look. Her friend disagreed. All her friends disagreed. Her getting shackled down in a relationship seemed very important to them. Maybe one day, she’d oblige them. For now, she’d stick to entertaining herself with guys like SoulM8 Adam with mysterious eyes the color of mahogany. She grinned. Silly as it was, the anticipation of meeting him buoyed her step.