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Authors: Kat French

The Piano Man Project (9 page)

BOOK: The Piano Man Project
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‘Let’s go inside,’ she whispered against his lips. ‘Take me to bed, Hal. Your bed. My bed. I don’t care which.’

His hand stilled in her hair, and his heart banging against hers told her that he was as turned on as she was. His mouth slowed to a barely there trace, lingering, tasting her lips as if they held the last drops of precious champagne.

And then he broke the kiss, still holding her, shaking his head a little as if trying to clear it, or worse, as if he were ashamed.

‘I don’t play the piano, Honey,’ he said, his lips moving against her ear. ‘I’m not the man.’

‘I don’t care, Hal. I don’t even want a pianist,’ she said, clinging to him, hating that she could sense his withdrawal from her. ‘I think it should be you. You’re the man I need. No one’s ever kissed me like that.’

‘Then you’ve been kissing the wrong men,’ he said gently, his hands finding her shoulders as he stepped back. ‘Go inside, Strawberry Girl. Go to bed. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I won’t do it again.’

She didn’t need to be able to see his eyes to know that he was lying. He’d wanted that kiss every bit as much as she had.

‘There,’ he murmured, propelling her gently across the tiles. ‘You’ve been walked home and kissed goodnight. Consider your date officially rescued.’

She watched him disappear through his door, knowing with certainty that she’d spent ninety-five per cent of the night with the wrong man.

Hal closed his door and reached out for the whisky bottle he’d left on his hall table when he’d heard Honey come in. Every encounter with Strawberry Girl taught him new things about her. How she smelled. How she laughed. The colour of her hair, and now the dress size of her clothes. This encounter had taught him more intimate things, hints of how she tasted, of the peach-like softness of her skin, of the dips and hollows of her spine. He’d held her curves in his hands and wanted things he hadn’t wanted in months.

He tipped the bottle to his lips, welcoming the harsh spirit as mouthwash to clear away the sweetness of Honey. He’d fucked up majorly out there. It would be easy and convenient to blame it on the whisky, and no doubt that’s what he’d do when he talked to her again. Now that she’d gone, their kiss served only as a reminder of all the things that were no longer a part of his life, of the woman who’d said she wanted forever until forever suddenly meant life beside a man who couldn’t see her.

He’d loved, and thanks to the accident, he’d lost. He’d lost, and he’d lost, until there was nothing more to lose. His restaurant? Sold. His cars? Auctioned. His fiancée? She’d tried to adjust, but in truth she’d fallen for Hal’s life as much as for him and it had been too big an ask. And now he was here in this house, and his plan to adjust to life alone had already hit rocky waters because of his madcap neighbour’s search for her goddamn elusive orgasm. He shouldn’t have kissed her. He had nothing to give. In the many, many long dark days and sleepless nights since the accident, there was one thing he’d come to realise with perfect clarity. From here on in, his life wasn’t going to include romance. He wouldn’t let another woman close enough to set him aside when she decided being with him was too difficult, and equally he wouldn’t let another woman contemplate a half life at his side. He didn’t need a nursemaid and he didn’t need a guide. It was finally time to learn how to deal with this fucking nightmare on his own.

Hal made his way to bed, wishing he could turn the clock back and resist the urge to open his front door when he’d heard Honey come in that evening.


‘He didn’t even kiss you goodnight?’ Tash said, looking disgusted as she stirred sugar into her coffee in Honey’s tiny kitchen. Honey shook her head. ‘I don’t think he even noticed when I left,’ she said, remembering Hal’s kiss instead. Tash had arrived five minutes earlier, a flying visit on her way to work and a long haul stint to Dubai for an update on piano man numero uno, as she’d laughingly referred to Deano when she walked through the door.

‘Piano man numero uno was el crappo, if you must know,’ Honey had said gloomily as she slid a mug towards Tash across the work surface. ‘I think it’d be best all round if we just abandon the whole stupid piano man thing altogether.’

‘No way, Honeysuckle,’ Tash grinned. ‘We’re only just warming up. Nell has someone else in mind for you already.’

Honey groaned, wondering why she stayed friends with either of them. ‘Who is it?’

‘A music teacher who goes into the school she works at, I think.’ Tash blew on her coffee. ‘Fancy Nell and Simon getting all kinky! I bet Simon’s the type who likes to be spanked. Or, oh my God, what if he buys one of those adult nappies and asks to be treated like a big baby?’ Tash looked at Honey’s grimace with raised eyebrows. ‘It’s more common than you’d think. I saw a TV show about it.’

Honey rolled her eyes, not wanting to go there even in her imagination. ‘I’m sure they’ll stay on the right side of tasteful,’ she said. ‘Anyway, good on them for keeping the magic alive.’

Tash shrugged philosophically. ‘They made a baby, so I suppose he must be doing something right.’


‘And he makes her orgasm,’ Tash added. ‘I looked up whether it’s possible to be born without the orgasm gene. It isn’t. If you’ve got a clitoris, you’ve got the ability to orgasm. You do have a clitoris, right?’

‘Jeez, Tash! I haven’t even had my breakfast yet.’

Tash shot Honey a sage look. ‘If Simon can talk about vibrators over his organic muesli, you can discuss basic female anatomy over your morning coffee.’

‘Fine,’ Honey sighed. ‘Yes, last time I looked, I had a clitoris. Not that I actually looked, but you know what I mean.’

‘Well, there you go then. Hopefully piano man numero deux will be the one who can make it work.’

‘So now I have a broken clitoris?’

Tash drained her coffee cup. ‘Just on the blink. You need to get a man in to fix it.’

For the second time since Tash’s arrival, Honey’s thoughts strayed to the man living across the hall, and for the second time since Tash’s arrival she decided to keep her own counsel. If Tash got wind of the fact that the hot man over the hallway had snogged Honey brainless last night, she’d be over there like a whippet to find out more about him. Honey knew for a fact that Hal wouldn’t take kindly to anyone knocking on his door, morning, noon or nighttime. He’d be rude and abrasive, and for reasons she couldn’t fathom, she didn’t want her friends to take against him.

She saw Tash out of the house a couple of minutes later with a pensive glance towards Hal’s door, thankful when Tash left in a blur of kisses, red hair and promises that piano man number two would be different.

‘You, you, and you,’ Christopher strode into the charity shop early the next week and pointed his bony index finger at Honey, Lucille and Mimi in turn. They all stared in silence at their tall, wispy-haired boss in his ill-fitting suit.

‘I take it this is your doing?’ he barked, and slapped the local newspaper down next to the till. Glancing down at it, Honey saw a photo of the home beneath a headline that screamed out about residents facing homelessness.

‘Pack in this bloody claptrap about saving this place. Any more of it and you’re out the door right now, not in six months’ time. One more journalist or angry relative calls me or stops me in the street, or badgers me about it in the sodding doctor’s surgery like this morning and that’s it. You’re out. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. Out. O.U.T. Am I making myself perfectly clear?’

His eyes swivelled between the three women, who all tried to look sufficiently contrite. Over the years they’d all been on the receiving end of one or more of Christopher’s tantrums, and they all knew him well enough not to be unduly intimidated by him. Besides, at the end of the day he was on the same payroll as they were, or as Honey, in any case. The home was ultimately owned by a private company who cared very little about its residents and very much about its bottom line. Lucille and Mimi volunteered their time for free, so Christopher couldn’t fire them even if he wanted to.

‘I’m not sure you can do that, Christopher dear,’ Mimi said with an absent smile as she folded a pile of curtains.

Lucille reached into her pocket and extracted a packet of menthol sweets. ‘Have one of these, Christopher, your throat sounds sore. Have you been shouting?’

Honey glanced momentarily down at the glass counter top to hide her smile, then coughed and looked up. Christopher’s comb-over had flipped the wrong way in his agitation and now hung at an odd angle from one side of his head, and his already small eyes had narrowed into slits.

‘Are these women just senile, or are they taking the piss, Miss Jones? Because if you cannot control your staff then I’ll find someone to run this place who can,’ he hissed loudly at Honey.

‘I’m sorry that you’re feeling hassled, Christopher, but I’m pretty sure we’re allowed to express our concerns however we choose in our own time. Aren’t you worried? It’s your job on the line too.’

‘You really ought to be grateful to Honey for speaking out,’ Mimi rebuked him mildly whilst wafting her hand around by the side of her head and making exaggerated eyes towards Christopher’s errant hairstyle. He took her obvious hint, swiping his hair back into place and losing his dignity.

‘No more funny business. I’m warning you, ladies.’

‘It sounds more like you’re threatening them to me, Christopher old bean,’ a voice said from behind him. Billy Bobbysocks strolled into the shop, resplendent in a red Teddyboy suit. ‘Heard shouting. Came to see what all the commotion was about.’

Christopher puffed out his chest. ‘And you’re just as bad,’ he said, staring boggle eyed at Billy. ‘I suggest you stop encouraging this ridiculous charade and start looking for somewhere else to live. Understand?’ He two-stepped around Billy towards the door, who gamely put up his dukes.

‘Let’s settle this like men,’ he said mildly, hopping from toe to toe. Christopher shot them all a long, hard, disparaging look and then stalked out, holding his comb-over down with one hand as he went.

Lucille laid her cough sweets down on the counter with a worried sigh. ‘He was really quite annoyed, wasn’t he?’

‘And a good thing too!’ Mimi shot back. ‘It means we must be doing something right. No doubt he’ll have a new job with the company if he manages to sweep this under the carpet.’

Honey had to agree. It was pretty obvious that for whatever reason, Christopher didn’t share their worries about job security.

‘If he’s getting calls from reporters and relatives, then I guess Old Don’s son must have put the word out,’ she said. The news hadn’t been intended for residents or relatives until much further down the line, but Old Don’s son, the unimaginatively named Donny Jr, had called into the shop a few days back and listened with growing fury as Honey outlined the oncoming demise of the home. By the looks of the newspaper on the counter in front of them, he’d just kicked the campaign well and truly into the public arena. Honey flipped it flat and smoothed it out. Billy whistled.

‘No wonder he’s mad,’ Honey said absently, reading the part where Christopher was named and shamed for trying to keep the news under wraps.

‘We need to maximise this,’ Mimi said.

Lucille nodded. ‘But how?’

‘Would now possibly be a good time for you gals to lash yourselves to the railings by your bras?’ Billy said, the ever-present roguish twinkle in his eye brighter than ever.

Mimi elbowed him affectionately in the ribs. ‘Behave yourself, William.’

‘Ooh, I like it when you call me William,’ he said, wiggling his eyebrows. ‘Will you do it again later?’

‘You’re an old fool,’ Mimi smiled at him, and Honey folded the paper back in half.

‘Let’s wait and see what happens now that the news is out. There’s going to be a hell of a lot of worried people out there. Maybe we should try to organise a meeting or something?’

‘I happen to know the manager of The Cock, if you need a venue,’ Billy said. ‘Or rather, I knew his mother, many moons ago …’ He winked at Honey and then looked apologetically at Mimi. ‘She didn’t hold a candle to you my love, and she’s been dead a good twenty years.’

‘We could put up some posters in there inviting people to gather to talk about it in a couple of weeks,’ Honey mused, trying not to dwell on her disastrous date with Deano in The Cock Inn, because that led on to thoughts of her after-date with Hal, who’d refused to open his door ever since. She’d knocked, and she’d shouted, and he’d grunted something unintelligible back at her each time to prove he was alive and get rid of her. She’d left whisky for him a couple of nights back and yelled at him not to break his neck on it, and the fact that it had disappeared in the morning told her that he’d taken it in without incident.

‘You’re welcome,’ she’d shouted as she’d locked her front door to go out to work, sarcasm souring her voice. The truth was that she’d started to enjoy picking out things for him as she shopped, discovering his likes and dislikes by trial and ill-humoured error. She’d certainly never buy him tinned fruit again; he’d practically hurled it back at her. ‘Fresh fruit or none at all,’ he’d muttered. For a hermit, he certainly had strong gastronomic opinions. Not that it mattered either way, because she’d probably never buy him fruit again, tinned or fresh, given that he seemed to have decided that their friendship had ended with the world’s most epic goodnight kiss.

Next to her, Lucille unpacked a box of donations that had just been dropped off by a well-heeled woman in a sports car.

‘These things don’t look as if they’ve ever been used,’ she said, laying various kitchen items and small electrical goods out on the counter. ‘Some people have more money than sense, this box still has its seal on.’

Honey looked at the box in Lucille’s hands. An electric razor. Divine intervention, maybe? Perhaps she would knock on Hal’s door one more time after all.


‘Are you one hundred per cent certain that he’s a normal, non-heartbroken guy, Nell? Because after Deano, I’m pretty much ready to jack this whole ridiculous idea in.’

Honey looked at Nell steadily who gazed unflinchingly back at her over the rim of her cappuccino cup.

BOOK: The Piano Man Project
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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