Teaser Tuesday, Henry and Gracie's first chapter

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Chapter One

Nine years ago

I’ve never gone on a blind date. Actually, I’ve always been that girl who laughs at people who talk about blind dates as if this was the most amazing way to meet people. However, there is always a first time. In an effort to keep my nerves under control, I reach for the champagne flute that Franky poured for me, but is still untouched. He clicks his tongue. Obediently, I let my hands clasp together over my lap after returning the glass to the vanity and sigh, defeated.
“So, who is this guy you invited to sweep me off my feet?” I ask, mildly curious. The truth is that I’m in no shape to start dating again. Not after what happened with Jared.
“I’ve told you twice, Gracie,” his answer carries some exasperation, which in turn makes me apologize with a lame ‘sorry’.
Kirk Belen’s classic Mercy is playing downstairs as our friend Marc is welcoming guests to my twenty-first. In the meantime, I’m trying to sit as patiently as I can, and wait for Franky to finish applying what looks like copious amount of eye shadow to my eyes.
“Henry Huntingdon the Third,” Franky adds, his footsteps announcing that he’s moved back to the vanity and I groan inwardly, hoping he’s not putting more make-up on me.
“The Third, wow!” I reply, fixing him with a mischievous smile, hoping he doesn’t get hung up on the sarcasm dripping from my voice. However, Franky knows me oh, so well. He shoots me a chiding look before I close my eyes again.
 “Yes, but you won’t have to curtsy.” There’s a smile in his voice as he teases me; at least I know he’s not mad. “He’s twenty-eight and perfect for you to get over Jared,” he declares, making it sound as if I were dying of a broken heart.
“I am over Jared,” I protest, keeping my eyes closed. It’s a lie, of course, but it’s better than admitting out loud that I’m still hurting.
My thoughts pull me away from Franky and the party. They go back to just a few nights ago. Jared proposed to me to hide a deeper and darker secret: he cheated on me. In a way, I’m glad things are out in the open, but I can’t hide the way my heart felt when it was torn by his words. One night after he proposed, he called me up on the cell phone and said: I can’t do this, I cheated on you.
“Yes, sure, you’re over Jared like I’m over Orangina and rum,” Franky says, his voice bringing me back to reality.
“What does Henry Huntingdon, the Third do again?” I probe, feigning interest and refraining from telling him that drink he likes so much is disgusting.
“His father is a publisher. He works as a talent scout and he also travels around a lot, acquiring manuscripts, stealing authors, sleeping with authors, etcetera.” Franky replies. The disapproval is clear in his voice, prompting me to peek at him from under my eyelashes. He runs a hand through his honey-colored hair and then adds, “I’m sure you’ll have loads to talk about. You work with actors, models, and singers, and soon you’ll also be poaching people from other agencies…like Henry does.”
“Hardly, I’m still training to be an agent,” I reply before I catch my reflection in the mirror and words escape me. He’s done it again; my make-up is picture perfect. I groan inwardly, bemoaning the fact that I suck at applying make-up and I’ll probably never look this good again.
“You look great. Let me finish the hair,” he says as I roll my eyes, knowing he’s going to spray the whole new hairspray can over my tresses. “Anyway, he’s single. Not in the market for a relationship. And it’s great because you need to get laid and not complicate your life.”
“So, he’s a man-whore and you’re turning me into a slut,” I tell him, looking at the dark and gold eye shadow covering my eyes and the delicate liner turning my otherwise simple look into a very old-fashioned, but somehow chic one.
“Not a slut,” he corrects me and punctuates his annoyance with a huff. “You need to move on. And from what I’ve heard about Henry, he’ll definitely help you with that.” Franky states, waggling his eyebrows before I throw the nearest pillow at him.
“Idiot.”
“Come on, you’ll thank me in the morning.”
“How can you be so sure that he’ll even like me?” I ask before he lets out a dramatic sigh while undoing the hot rollers in my hair. “Or that I’ll actually have a one-night stand? I’ve never done that. It’s not like I’m going to sleep with him on the first night after meeting him,” I add, trying hard to remain still.
“Because he’s a ginger man with a thing for ginger girls,” he tells me as I stick my tongue out at him.
“Great, so now I’m a fetish?”
“Plus, he’s seen you at the gym. I know he’s totally into you,” he adds, putting the rollers on the vanity. “And I’m sure that when you see him, you’ll change your tune.”
I know I should trust Franky, he’s, after all, a good friend, but after the Jared fiasco, my brain’s telling me to run for the hills. “How come he’s single? Don’t answer… he’s probably a good looking but crazy stalker.”
“Ye of little faith,” he tells me with a look that says he’s thinking about something else to add. “Well, even though I shouldn’t tell you this, I will. Because Henry won’t ever tell you himself,” he pauses while I frown, “he was married.”
“Oh, great, a divorced man,” I say disapprovingly.
“A widower,” Franky corrects me. “He married young, at twenty-three. By twenty-four he was working with his father here in London. His wife was working in the city. She was expecting their first baby,” he runs his hands through my hair, making sure the curls are perfect. “One day, after meeting her parents at Canary Wharf, she was on her way to work and a fight broke out in the Tube. Henry’s wife was too close to the edge of the platform, and someone unintentionally pushed her. She fell on the tracks as a fast train went by.” He sighs sadly before taking a step back.
The scene plays in my head as my eyes prickle. I can’t imagine the pain he went through, or him getting over losing his young bride and baby in four short years. There’s no way anyone can get over that.
 “I guess his lack of commitment stems from that.”
“Ya’ think?” I blink away the tears before grabbing one of the tissues from the box on the vanity.
“It’s been four years, I’m sure he’s ready to move on,” he assures me. “Or, at least, he’s ready to shag with no attachments.”
“That’s what you think,” I sulk, staring at the tissue in my hand.
“Well, I’ve known him for six years. He was hardly a regular at my uncle’s gym when I met him, but after that happened; he came to box every night. Then I heard the stories from the girls. Actually, I had to make sure he would stop sleeping with the women at the gym.” He explains with a wink. “What are you afraid of? It’s not like you’re going to fall madly in love with him,” he says, reaching for the hairspray once more. “Cover your eyes.”
***
A party back home in the States usually involved my friends sprawled over the house like they belonged. We would play video games, or board games. In the summer, my parents put up a huge projector screen in the garden, and we would sit around in lawn chairs watching movies and drinking soda until dawn.
London parties, in contrast, are painfully grown-up. Most of the guests are waiting patiently in the back garden of Franky’s West London house, with a drink in hand and huddled under the heaters.
Once the greeting of the guests starts, Franky’s like a peacock. He struts around kissing, hugging, and shaking hands. Many of the guests are people who I’ve only met once before. At least, he managed to invite my new colleagues, who all seem nice and completely drunk by the time I get to them.
“Here you go,” he hands me another glass of champagne as I eagerly reach for it. “Oh, he’s here!” He grins, looking to the door with no subtleness at all.
Marc, Franky’s best friend, is talking animatedly with Henry Huntingdon the Third, waiting for his coat. A smile plays on his lips as he takes the coat off and hands it to Marc, who looks ecstatic. At least someone is laughing at what is probably one of his lame jokes. My eyes stay on Henry, noticing how his eyes crinkle when he laughs and I can’t help but smile.
As my eyes move away from his face, I notice that Henry is rather tall. Marc and Franky are both six feet tall, and Henry towers easily over them by a few inches. The black turtleneck he wears wraps tightly around the well-defined biceps as I tell myself to stop ogling him. His crystal blue eyes scan the place before meeting mine. The smile on his perfect lips knocks the air out of me. I notice how he runs his fingers carelessly through his ginger hair, not caring that he’s messing it up. I would swoon, but I’m trying hard to remember that Franky’s pawning me like a freaking two cent hooker.



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