Afterwards, he was ashamed that he hadn’t told Ronan. Ronan was busy with the new software upgrade, he told himself. It had taken him ages to get Deanna out of his system. He was in the early stages of dating that girl from the not-for-profit soup place. Why stir it all up again? The truth was, Ed was still stuck in his post-divorce slough. He hadn’t had a date in for ever. And a bit of him wanted Deanna Lewis to see what he had become since the company was sold a year previously.
Because money, it turned out, bought you someone to sort out your clothes, skin and hair. It bought you a personal trainer. Ed Nicholls no longer looked like the tongue-tied geek in the Mini. He wore no obvious signs of wealth, but he knew that, at thirty-three, he carried it like an invisible scent around him.
They met at a bar in Soho. She apologized: Reena – did he remember Reena? – had blown them out at the last minute. She had a baby. She lifted a faintly mocking eyebrow as she said this. Sam, he realized long afterwards, never showed. She never once asked about Ronan.
He couldn’t stop staring at her. She looked just the same, but better. She had well-cut dark hair that bounced on her shoulders like a shampoo advert, and had lost the traces of puppy fat around her cheeks. She was nicer than he remembered, more human. Perhaps even golden girls were brought down to earth a little, once out of the confines of university. She laughed at all his jokes. Every now and then he glanced sideways to see her blinking at him and registered her brief flash of surprise that he was not the person she remembered. It made him feel good.
They parted after a couple of hours, and a little piece of him was surprised when she called two days later to suggest they hook up again. This time they went to a club and he danced with her, and when she lifted her hands above her head, he had to focus really hard not to picture her pinned to a bed. She was just out of a relationship, she explained, over the third or fourth drink. The break-up had been awful. She was not sure she wanted to be involved in anything serious. He made all the right noises. He told her about Lara, his ex-wife, and how she had said her work was always going to be her first love, and that she had to leave him to save her sanity.
‘Bit melodramatic,’ Deanna said.
‘She’s Italian. And an actress. Everything with her is melodramatic.’
‘Was,’ she corrected him. She kept her eyes on his as she said it. She asked him about work – was blunt in her admiration of what he had done with the company. ‘I mean I’m a total tech klutz,’ she said. ‘But it sounds amazing.’ She had picked up the beginnings of an American accent. Her leg rested against his.
He tried to explain it. She watched his mouth as he spoke, which was oddly distracting. He told her everything: the first trial versions he and Ronan had created in his bedroom, the software glitches, the meetings with a media tycoon who had flown them to Texas in his private jet and sworn at them when they refused his buyout offer.
He told her of the day they’d gone public, when he had sat on the edge of his bath watching the share price go up and up on his phone, and begun to shake as he grasped quite how much his whole life was about to change.
‘You’re that wealthy?’
‘I do okay.’
He was aware that he was this close to sounding like a dick. ‘Well … I was doing better until I got divorced, obviously … I do okay. You know, I’m not really interested in the money.’ He shrugged. ‘I just like doing what I do. I like the company. I like having ideas and translating them into things that actually work for people.’
‘But you sold it?’
‘It was getting too big, and I was told that if we did, the guys in suits could handle all the financial stuff. I was never interested in that side of things. I just own a lot of shares.’ He stared at her. ‘You have really nice hair.’ He had no idea why on earth he said this.
She’d kissed him in the taxi. Deanna Lewis had slowly turned his face to hers with a slim, perfectly manicured hand and kissed him. Even though it was more than twelve years since they were at university – twelve years in which Ed Nicholls had been briefly married to a model/actress/whatever – some little voice in his head kept saying: Deanna Lewis is kissing me. And she wasn’t just kissing him: she hitched up her skirt and slid a long, slim leg over him, apparently oblivious to the taxi driver, pressed into him, and kissed his face, his neck, and slid her hands up his shirt until he couldn’t speak or think, and when he came to pay outside his flat, his words came out thick and stupid, and he not only didn’t wait for the change but didn’t even check what was in the wad of notes he handed the driver.
And the sex was great. Oh, God, it was good. She had p**n moves, for Christ’s sake. With Lara, in the last months, sex had felt like she was granting him some kind of favour – dependent on some set of rules that only she seemed to understand: whether he had paid her enough attention, or spent enough time with her or taken her out to dinner, or understood how he’d hurt her feelings. Sometimes she would turn silently away from him afterwards like he’d done something awful.
When Deanna Lewis looked at him naked, her eyes seemed to light up from inside with a kind of hunger. Oh, God. Jesus Christ. Deanna Lewis.
Afterwards, she had lain in bed, lit a cigarette, and said, ‘I hardly smoke any more, but after that …’ and chuckled throatily.
‘I might take it up myself.’
And then, after she had finished her cigarette, she had given him head so good that he had suspected the downstairs neighbours would be lighting cigarettes too.