Tainted Love by Jaimie Roberts

 

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This book is a work of fiction, all names, characters, places, and events are the products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locations is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

“How long areyou going to stare at my bacon sandwich?”

I snap my head up from my fixed position at said sandwich and, instead, flick my eyes to my boss, Charlie. I’ve been rumbled, and he knows it.

With my head held high, and I literally mean held high, I have to crane my neck just to look at him. He’s at least six and a half feet tall, muscular build, his skin a smooth, milk chocolate brown, and the most light caramel eyes I often get lost in. He looks a cross between Idris Elba and the guy from Bird Box who wins Sandra Bullock’s character’s cold heart… what’s his name?

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is his presence isn’t exactly unnoticeable. To men, he’s a threat, but to women, he’s like a bottle of Prosecco and a box of chocolates all rolled into one.

To put it mildly, he commands a room.

Always dressed impeccably in a suit, Charlie Cox is the mysterious, dark presence and owner of the second-hand furniture/antique store called Tickety-Boo in Waltham Forest, East London. I’ve had several jobs over the years—ones that lasted no longer than two months. This one, however, has gone the distance. Just last Wednesday was my six-month anniversary as manager and all-round bookkeeper of the shop. I love it here, as not only is it a ten-minute commute by car, it also holds some of the most interesting regular customers I have ever come across. So much so, each and every one of them has their own unique name.

Freddy the Flirt.

Matthew the Moaner.

Lottie the Lover.

I think you get my drift.

“I’m not staring at your bacon sandwich.”

With one big hand resting on the counter I’m sitting at, he lets out an exasperated breath. “Did you eat this morning?”

I turn my head, immediately giving away my answer. Before he has a chance to say something, the bell for the door rings, announcing a customer.

“Freddy,” I chime, a bright smile tilting my lips at the sight of him.

Freddy, a big man in his seventies with lots of silver hair, glasses, and a black moustache walks in looking as refined as always in his three piece, dark grey suit. Even though he’s retired now, he still travels around London like he’s got a high-class job. He had once been in banking, and had told me that he couldn’t wait to retire as they were all a bunch of tossers.

On my greeting, Freddy turns his head to me and raises that bright smile of his. “Bri, what a sight for sore eyes.”

I can practically hear the silent groan coming from the big man behind me. “Freddy, are you here for something to buy, or have you come to chat up my staff again?” Freddy glances over my shoulder at Charlie, giving him a knowing wink. I hear movement behind me, and when I turn, Charlie says, “I’m going out for five minutes.” I nod my head and salivate as he bites into his bacon sandwich and opens the shop’s front door. I knew I should have eaten this morning.

I watch as Charlie disappears before turning to face Freddy. “What can I do you for, Freddy?”

He approaches the counter, facing me before setting his hand on top. He looks chirpy but tired. “Why don’t you like people calling you Brianna?”

A full belly laugh escapes me. “Did you come in here just to ask me that?”

The corner of his lips curve into a cheeky grin. “No, I came in here because I’ve had an eye on that thingy-majig over there,” he states, waving his finger behind him.

I crane my neck to where he’s pointing. “You mean the crystal naked lady?”

“Yeah, that.”

I chuckle. “You could have just said the naked lady, and I would have known.”

He turns to me, placing a hand on his heart. “I didn’t want to say that word in front of a real lady.”

Oh, I’m no lady, I think, sadness temporarily hitting my chest. If Freddy ever became aware of my dark secret, he would be disgusted with me. Anyone in the right mind would.

“That’s very noble of you.” I offer him my most sincere smile, forcing those dark thoughts deep down into that little box of something bad. I refuse to let my personal life interfere with my job, and today will be no exception.

Freddy leans forward. I match him, so I can listen to whatever it is he has to say.

“You never answered my question.”

For a moment, I’m confused. “What question?”

He exaggeratedly rolls his eyes. “Why don’t you like people calling you by your full name?”

I let out a breath and lean back, my eyes darting to the sound of the bell ringing on the door. My boss is back looking gorgeous as ever. Le-sigh. “Oh, that. I’ve never liked my full name. It sounds common. At least Bri sounds more sophisticated. Like cheese.”

A rumble of laughter echoes, making me jump. “You prefer to be likened to cheese,” Charlie says, sniggering still.

I fake pout at my boss as he moves to stand behind me. “It’s not just any old cheese. It’s French.”

Charlie rolls his eyes. I turn my head away to face Freddy, who has a glint in his eyes. “I’m partial to a bit of cheese.”

Charlie groans and when I glance up at him, he points to the back door. “I’ll be in my office if you need me.”

I nod my head and turn to deal with Freddy again. Immediately, I get up and wander around the counter. “Are you really interested in the crystal lady?”

Freddy stands tall and inhales, puffing out his chest. “Of course. Every time I come in here, I keep telling myself if she’s still here next week, I’ll buy her, and I never do. She reminds me of my old lady.”

I glance at the crystal lady, taking in her elegant, heart-shaped face, long eyelashes, and luscious hair that flows for miles, and say, “Wow, she must be beautiful.”

“She was,” he replies sadly.

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not,” he chuckles, shocking the hell out of me. “She was a fucking witch.” He then sighs at himself. “Excuse my language.”

I giggle before responding. “You’re excused.”

“It was an arranged marriage, of sorts,” he explains, walking over to the crystal lady, his eyes dancing over her. I follow after him, listening intently. “I loved another woman, but she was from a poor family. My parents said all she was interested in was my money. I didn’t believe them, not until I saw a letter from her agreeing to my parents paying her off to stay away from me. Bitter and hurt, I went along with marrying a woman I didn’t love out of some kind of revenge. It was only after my father died many years later that my mother told me my dad had the letter forged and had blackmailed Bethany. That was her name.”

This is the first time Freddy has ever opened up like this about his private life. I feel bad for him, but I also have empathy. I, of all people, know what it’s like to feel trapped in something there’s no escape from.

“That’s awful,” I finally say. “Did you ever try and find her?”

He shrugs both shoulders. “What was the point? At the time, I had been married over ten years, and a couple of years before that I had heard she was married with twin boys.”

My shoulders sag for him. “I’m sorry.”

“Ah, it is what it is,” he replies, taking another step towards the lady.

“So why do you want to buy something that reminds you of your ex-wife?”

He turns his head towards me, a slight glint in his eyes. “Because, my dear. Despite the lack of love, there certainly wasn’t a lack in passion, if you know what I mean.” He taps his nose and winks. “She was part Sicilian.”

“Well, that explains everything,” I respond on a giggle.

“How much is she?”

“She’s two hundred and twenty quid, but I’m sure Charlie won’t mind giving it to you for two hundred.”

He sharply nods his head, decision made. “I’ll take it.” He digs into his wallet, takes out some cash, and starts counting.

I take that as my cue to walk to the counter and start writing out a receipt for him. Once all done, I look up to him with a smile. “I can deliver it later, if you want?”

“I can take it …”

“No, I insist. She’s a lot heavier than she looks.”

Freddy jokingly shakes his head. “Typical. I’ve only just purchased her, and she’s already causing trouble.”

I laugh out loud before handing him his receipt. “Thank you for your order, Freddy.”

He takes the receipt with my hand and kisses the back of it before giving me a wink. “Enchanté.”

He then turns and heads for the door. “See you later, Freddy.”

He offers me a wave but doesn’t turn. “I will look forward to it, sweetheart.”

I hear the ring of the door and watch as he walks out. I’m smiling as I sit down before suddenly realising what’s been on the counter this whole time without me noticing.

Picking up the foil wrap, I start undoing it and salivate once the smell hits me.

A bacon sandwich.

Charlie must have popped out to get me one.

Quickly gorging on the sandwich, I sit on my little stool wondering…

How much more could I possible fall in love with my boss?