“You know, when we talked about this, I didn’t think it was going to be so… immediate,” Alex murmured as they moved past the bored-looking attendant who had taken their money in exchange for a sheaf of paper and a numbered name badge and waved them on through to the function room beyond her desk.
“Hey, imminent deportation here,” Nadia teased. “No time like the present, and all that.”
Alex rolled his eyes. Nadia loved to get her way by playing the ‘imminent deportation’ card. She’d miss that once the appeal went through.
“And what is this?” he continued, waving the stapled bundle of paper incredulously.
Nadia skim-read the first page of her own. “Oh it’s just a standard questionnaire. The agency just want to know stuff about you so they can invite you to the right kind of singles’ events and stuff.”
“Yeah; age, sex, location I get,” Alex insisted. “But why do they need to know whether I prefer staycation UK breaks or going abroad?”
Nadia laughed. “Says a lot about your personality, your priorities? I don’t know.”
“Well then, what does my favourite sandwich filling say about my priorities?
“Oh, just answer any old thing. It’s all just a bit of fun,” Nadia advised him. “In fact, I’m going to take this opportunity for a little self-improvement. Tonight I feel like being an inventor of something. What could I have invented?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters!” Nadia insisted. “Come on. It has to be something well known, but not well known enough that it’s obvious I didn’t come up with it. And something I understand the basics of, in case they ask questions. How about some sort of app?”
“How about just being yourself?”
Nadia waved her hand dismissively. “‘Myself’ is boring.”
Alex just laughed at her. “Nadia Osipova, ‘yourself’ is the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”
Alex watched with pleasure as Nadia’s cheeks flushed with a pleased pink. “You charmer,” she teased, deflecting from her blush, looping her arm with his and pulling him on. “That’s the way to impress the girls. Now come on. Let’s claim our free class of cheap champagne and fill these suckers out.”
In true Alex-fashion, he had thoughtfully and truthfully answered each of the questions; it turned out his favourite sandwich filling was ham, cheese and red-onion chutney.
It wasn’t Nadia’s first spin at speed dating. She and Caro had gone twice before. Caro excelled at this hard-and-fast sort of flirting, where Nadia was more in it for the complimentary drink aspect. She’d thought Alex might chicken out or sit there like a startled rabbit while strangers filled the five minutes with desperate chatter. He’d certainly seemed incredibly unconvinced right up until the moment they separated for the start of the event. The men remained sitting at their little tables-for-two while the women rotated clockwise around the room, five minutes with each guy, that blonde one chasing an indefinable spark; that red-head for a man for her immediate needs; that brunette, something in between.
Nadia kept a weather eye on her friend, watching him smile politely as each girl settled herself opposite him, remembering how she’d received that same cautious greeting as she’d sat down at his table at the Bellevue quiz. It wasn’t hard to imagine what these girls were thinking. Alex was looking his best, wearing a V-neck in a shade of green that brought out the redder warmth in his brown hair, paired with dark, well-fitting jeans and had allowed to let a little stubble grow in, all at Nadia’s gentle direction. He’d followed up his glass of free champagne with a sophisticatedly dark-looking glass of red wine, every inch a gent.
“Well hello, number 12,” he drawled as Nadia finally rotated his way; it was her favourite number and she’d requested it specially.
“Hello yourself, 19,” she retorted as she scooted her chair closer to the table. “How’s it going? Have you met Mrs Right yet?”
“No,” Alex replied stoically, picking up his glass and cheering the air with it. “But the girl behind the bar pours a fair old measure.”
“What more do you need?” Nadia agreed dryly. “True love.”
“Is that what is meant to be accomplished here? I feel like I’m slowly boring the women of London to death in five-minute increments.”
“Bloody hell, what are you talking about?” Nadia asked, alarmed. “You’re not talking about work or football are you?”
“No, nothing like that. They’re doing most of the talking. I seem to be basically just nodding in agreement. I feel like the Churchill dog.”
“Well, that’s no bad thing.” Nadia relaxed. “Women like to talk about themselves!”
Alex eyed her. “You’re not exactly talking about yourself, though, are you?”
Nadia waved her hand dismissively. “Semantics.”
Alex lowered his voice. “I heard you tell that last guy you invented courgetti.”
Nadia shrugged again. “Someone must have.” She helped herself to a sip from Alex’s glass of wine. “Anyway, stop complaining. I’m here for you.”
“You’re here for the free champagne,” Alex immediately retorted.
“That too,” Nadia agreed.
“I just think you should take a little of your own advice,” Alex continued after a moment. “You never know when you’re going to meet someone, and you should be open to it and all that. Remember all that? The lecture you gave me for the entire bus journey here?”
Nadia shifted uncomfortably in the thinly padded chair; that clock-countdown feeling ticking through her, little knocks to the heart. What good would it be to meet The One now?
Alex drew back slightly, mistaking the reason for her hesitancy. “Oh wait. I suppose I forget about you and Matt.”
“Mmm, Matt,” Nadia agreed; it was as good a reason as any, she supposed. The timer on the wall went off, making her jump. Their five minutes was up. To her right, number 20 was bidding a reasonably disinterested farewell to the departing number 11, already looking over at Nadia to see what the next offering was. “Well, catch you in the interval I guess, unless you meet Mrs Right in the meantime. Or want to hook up with that barmaid.”
“Nadia, hold up.” Alex had also got to his feet, taking his wine glass in one steady hand and Nadia’s now-empty champagne flute in the other, pouring in some red for her to take onward.
Nadia squeezed his fingers gratefully as she took back her glass. “Good luck, soldier,” she winked, before leaving her gent to the attentions of lucky number 13.
Click here to download your copy of Somewhere Only We Know, released today in eBook.
Boy meets girl…
Alex Bradley can’t help but feel that life is rather passing him by. And not just life – promotions, invitations, romance; the girl he loves only has eyes for his flatmate and his 9-5 job as the Immigration department skivvy is slowly numbing his soul. Until he meets Nadia.
Girl meets boy…
Nadia Osipova is running out of time. With no money, no lawyer and a totally fictitious boyfriend, she’s got one last summer and one last appeal before the British government deport her back home.
Girl gets deported?
It’s going to be a bumpy ride, one she’s dragging her new friend Alex along for. As Nadia races through a list of all her favourite London adventures, for what may be the last time, Alex can’t help but start to see the city, and his life, through Nadia’s eyes.
From hazy summer days on the Common and heady nights in Soho’s basement bars, to twilight walks along the Southbank, will Alex realise what he’s got before it’s too late?
Funny, addictive and always honest, this is a love letter to London, friendship and the unexpected from the author of the bestselling The Best Thing I Never Had.
Erin Lawless lives a happy life full of wonderful friends, in love with a man who buys her books instead of flowers. To mix things up a little, she writes books where friends and lovers hit obstacles and (usually) overcome them. When she’s not doing that she reads absolutely everything she gets her hands on, spends an inordinate amount of time in pyjamas and runs a fun-but-informative blog on British history.