The light was dim in the Chien Rouge, her favourite Brussels bar, but the glint off the bottles behind the bar was more than enough to make out the young man. Over the rim of her wine glass, she watched him appreciatively. Amber eyes, jet hair and golden skin; he didn’t look entirely real. He looked like a very richly ornamented statue, except that she could see his fingers twitch, and she could make out the rise and fall of his breathing. And of course, there was the frequent lifting of that whisky tumbler. She eyed him closely as he took another drink.
Far too beautiful to look so sad. He needed a distraction. She allowed herself a little smirk of happy anticipation. Rising, she picked up her expensive bottle of wine and carried it to the bar.
She lifted the handsome man’s backpack off the stool next to him and slid on to it, clinking her glass against his. Startled, he glanced up, nervously snatching for the backpack and placing it on his lap before slumping back again.
‘I’m sorry, do I … ?’ he began.
‘Know me? No.’ She smiled. ‘I hope you will, though.’
The man frowned. ‘I’m not sure I—’
‘Oh, forgive my forwardness. It’s just that you look a little … lonely?’ She ran a hand through her brown-blonde hair, letting it catch the light. ‘I wanted to cheer you up.’
A light of interest kindled in his eyes, and she bit her lip as she smiled again.
‘What makes you think I want company?’
‘I’m not sure you do want it. You certainly need it. I hate to see someone so beautiful looking so unhappy.’
He laughed, a low reluctant chuckle. ‘Very kind of you, but I’d rather be on my own, thanks.’ He took another swig of his drink. ‘Anyway, I’m bad news.’
She tutted. ‘If you knew how often I’d heard that. Don’t you worry, I can handle it. Let me buy you another one of those. It’d be my pleasure.’
He hesitated, and she knew she’d won. Catching the barman’s eye, she gestured at his tumbler. It needed refilling.
Scooting her bar stool a little closer, she raised her glass in a toast. ‘Here’s to forgetting your troubles.’
‘I doubt that.’ But he raised his refilled glass, and the corner of his mouth quirked in an attempt at a smile.
‘I haven’t seen you in here before.’ She looked him up and down. ‘I’d have remembered.’
‘No. I … move around.’ His gaze had suddenly grown very intent and searching.
Sensing a chance, she placed a hand on his arm. The muscles trembled a little; she could feel them. This was a good sign.
‘Where are you from, then? You’re new to Brussels? Or just new to the Chien Rouge?’
‘That’s a lot of questions.’ He turned a little more to face her, and she definitely saw the intense glint of attraction in his eyes.
‘Well, answer the first one first.’ She laughed, tossed her hair again. ‘Where are you from?’
He shrugged. ‘Lots of places.’
‘And where are you headed?’
‘Anywhere but here.’
‘You are terrible at answering questions!’
He leaned forward, reaching over to place his hand against her cheek, and she started slightly. Partly it was surprise – who was being forward now? – but partly it was the spark of desire that flickered across her skin at his touch. He looked young, but his eyes had that look of age and experience that made for an enticing combination. Leaning closer, she gazed into them. They were extraordinary eyes: full of emotion and life and passion. And something else, something she couldn’t quite make out. A light, but a turbulent one …
Unable to resist, she closed the small distance between them and pressed her lips impulsively against his. For a moment he went completely still; then he was responding with a ferocity that almost shocked her. Desire raced through her body like a lick of flame, and she felt the strength drain from her muscles. His fingers raked through her hair, tightening on the back of her skull.
It was incredible. Unbelievable. Helpless in the grip of frantic lust, she even thought for a wild moment that she was going to pass out with the excitement of it all. And then she realised: something was wrong. Her consciousness was actually beginning to drain away.
Her eyes snapped open, panicked.
His were wide already, hungrily fixed on hers. Struggling now, she managed to push him away. The light in his eyes was beyond extraordinary now. They were almost – entirely – red—
She fell back, tearing her hair from his grasp, staggering from her bar stool and only just keeping on her feet. His hand snatched at her arm again, though whether to stop her falling or drag her back to him, she couldn’t tell. Staring at him, she gripped the bar stool with both hands, holding it between them like a shield.
‘I told you,’ he snarled, breathing hard and fast. ‘I’m bad news.’
Stiffening, mustering her dignity and getting her breath back, she curled her lip, trying to stop shaking. ‘Y-you’re drunk!’
‘No kidding.’ He shut his eyes, wobbling on his stool.
When he opened them again, they were normal; no longer that unnatural red, though perhaps a little bloodshot. She’d imagined the glowing. She must have.
‘Get away,’ he growled. ‘Get away from me.’
‘My pleasure,’ she told him haughtily, though her voice still shook. ‘You need help.’ She glanced at the barman as she stalked away.