Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Heart of Stone (2017) - English version

A Heart of Stone

Lucy Eleazar

Copyright © “Optimall” Publishing House 2017
Seemingly successful in both her business and love relationships, Lilly is nothing but amused at her friend Masha’s interest in the mysterious Monsieur Le Pierre - the stone-cold delivery man to their sports shop. So why is she so strangely excited at her first meeting with him? And why will she need to lean on his shoulder when her well-organised world is suddenly shattered?

Kamen has his own reasons for staying away from women. Wearing his stone cold mask and appearing under cover works well until he comes upon Lilly in distress. Will his stone heart hold him in check or will the power of love conquer him? And how could he possibly reveal to her who he really is?

(full electronic and paper book on Amazon -

Chapter One

Donnie was a handsome man. He wasn’t really tall, but his body radiated power and might. He always chose clothes to highlight the muscles he worked on daily in the local gym. His hairstyle was short and trendy, light stubble on his cheeks gave him that masculine look and his eyes usually peeked cheekily over the top of his sunglasses. He tended to address most girls and women he met with humorous jokes and they always reacted with a smile. He earned decent money. His car went to the car wash at least three times a week. He usually wore famous brands even if he didn’t like them just to show that he could. Needless to say, Donnie really cared about his image, and Lilly had all the reasons to be proud to be walking by his side.
“Lilly? Where shall I put this box?” Masha interrupted her thoughts. She was standing at the front door of the shop, carrying a heavy cardboard box. Her appearance somehow didn’t match the environment. Her formal dress and high-heel shoes didn’t fit in with the shop surrounding her, nor did the perfectly manicured nails that were barely touching the box they had to hold. Masha looked at Lilly reproachfully. “Don’t tell me you’re daydreaming again!”
“Am I? No, not really! Leave the box in the shop-room. Unpacking can wait until later when there are no customers in the shop,” Lilly cast a glimpse through the window. “Didn’t the delivery man help you bring it in? Oh, those gentlemen!”
Masha shrugged her shoulders.
“We only pay for the goods, loading and unloading’s not included. Extra charm is needed for that and apparently I don’t have it,” her tone sounded quite bitter.
“Who was driving today?” Lilly chuckled. “Let me guess. Monsieur Le Pierre?”
“The gentlest of all gentlemen,” Masha murmured and picked up the box to carry it to the shop room.
Lilly and Masha’s friendship dated back to their childhood, back to the days when their dream of running their own shop started, but it took them many years to make it become a reality. They only managed to open the shop two years ago and it had cost them plenty of money and a huge investment of time. Working long hours, sleepless nights, using up personal finances to invest in the business - it was all part of the long haul which was only now bringing dividends and indeed they could now start thinking about hiring another shop assistant in order to alleviate their own workload. Since the beginning they had shared the work between them, whilst one of them was behind the counter the other one was doing the administrative work of the company.
“It’s not too busy today, huh?” Masha remarked, coming out of the shop room.
“No more than usual,” Lilly leaned on the counter in front of her and gazed through the stands, loaded with various sports items. A few people were wandering about the shop but she could see from their behaviour that no one had any intention of purchasing. “We have to renew our contract with the security company. It’s almost a month since it expired and we haven’t yet found the time to arrange a meeting. Did you hear there was another burglary down the street last night? We shouldn’t put it off any longer.”
“Everybody wants money,” Masha frowned. “I don’t want to talk about expenses now, it annoys me. Tell me about something nice. Where did you and Andon go last night?”
“Me and Donnie?” Lilly startled, as if asked something totally unexpected. ”Well, nowhere special. We went to The Twilight Club and met a few friends of his, had dinner and some drinks…” she stuttered, wondering how to continue, “... and that was it, then saw me off.”
“Lilly, you’ve been together for so long now, hasn’t he proposed to you yet? To live together at least, if not to get married?”
“Well, I sometimes stay the night at his house but I do appreciate the comfort of my own bed.”
“Oh, darling, don’t give in to such negative thinking or you’ll never get married, you’ll end up just like me,” Masha sighed.
“Oh, come on, Masha, we are not that old, we have enough time to think about men, to think about children” Lilly tried to object.
“Do we? I’m turning thirty-two next month and you’re also hitting your thirties. I don’t really think we HAVE time.”
“Age shouldn’t matter when we’re young and beautiful at heart,” Lilly tried to joke.
Masha was a well preserved blonde. She had inherited some Russian features from her mother and instilled that dolly style beauty - golden curls framing her picturesque face. Every garment was always perfectly selected to emphasize her form. Lilly was profoundly puzzled how this mysterious monsieur Le Pierre could remain indifferent to such temptation.
Unlike her, Lilly was not that overtly sexual. She considered herself normal, plain. Her sportswoman-like body, shaped during long years of training wasn’t exactly model-like and neither had it voluptuous curves to emphasize. Her straight dark hair flowed down to her shoulders, usually tied in a functional pony-tail. The most exotic features of her face were her eyes - big and almond-like, reminiscent of some eastern influence she had probably inherited from the father she never knew. Lilly usually dressed in a casual, sporty fashion but today she was wearing a light summer skirt and a colourful sleeveless top.
“Beauty is a matter of time, my grandma used to say,” Masha added.
“I think you’re in a rut. You know, spiritualists believe that 40 days before and after your birthday, it is crucial period for you and the skies are open…”
“I know, I know, bad things happen, and bad thoughts chase you,” Masha interrupted her. “You’re not in a rut, are you? Why isn’t your relationship with Andon thriving then?”
“Of course it’s thriving,” Lilly replied dryly, a bit frustrated. “All relationships need time to evolve...”
“Got it, got it… Useless to discuss further,” Masha waved her hand away. ”I’m leaving now. Going to chill out so I can be fresh for my shift tomorrow.”
Lilly tried to swallow the bitter feeling Masha’s words had left inside her while turning to answer a customer’s inquiry about the qualities of the different tents on offer. It was a hot summer afternoon and most clients apparently stopped by just to enjoy the air-conditioning inside and to chat with the shop-assistants rather than to really buy anything. By six in the evening when she was just about to close the shop Lilly had become sick and tired of trivial conversations. She quickly checked the online orders and packed them to be ready for pick up in the morning. The shop was empty now so she decided it was a good time to unpack the new deliveries. She picked up the box Masha had left in the shop room at lunch and carried it to the shoe shelf unwrapping it carefully to restock the sold pairs of flip-flops. Hardly glimpsing the letters on top, she took the first package out of the box and automatically moved her hand to grasp the next pack of flip-flops. Her hand was just about to lift the package when she realised what she had just registered. She dropped the box as if it was on fire - instead of the supposed flip-flops, inside there were condoms!
Lilly stared suspiciously at the box. Simple though it may have been it would appear that, neither Masha, nor her Monsieur Le Pierre had paid attention to the delivery. Oh, that Masha! When it came to men, her mind seemed to vanish in space! Lilly hadn’t had the chance to personally get to know the driver Masha was so particularly interested in. The only thing she knew about him was that he had returned to live in Bulgaria after graduating and spending years of his life in France. She found it peculiar that a man with a university degree from the Sorbonne would come back to Bulgaria to work as a simple van driver for a delivery company. Peculiar or not, it was now high time to meet him in person.
“Good afternoon, may I speak to Kamen, please?” Lilly felt odd pronouncing his real name as she was so used to the nickname she and Masha had thought of - Monsieur Le Pierre; Mr Stone, coming from the actual meaning of the word Kamen as in “made of stone”. She tried to keep a soft and impassive tone.
“Speaking. Good afternoon.” His voice was deep and calm.
“It’s Lilly from The Rock Sports Shop. You were supposed to deliver a box of flip...”
“That’s right. I handed it in to your colleague this afternoon,” he interrupted her impatiently.
“I can clearly see the delivery note, signed both by you and her,” she felt anxiety creeping inside her. ”It seems, however, that neither of you were doing your job attentively because the box is full of…. hmm...” She felt a sudden and puzzling embarrassment to utter the word.
“What is there in the box?” he growled. ”Spiders?”
“No, no,” she was angry at her own hesitation. ”In the box there are…. condoms. It seems you have made the wrong delivery.”
The man kept quiet for a moment before remarking.
“You have to admit that for a proper camping experience people need a box of those too! It might be a sign that you have to include them in the list of your offers?”
“I’m not keen on listening to your sermons, mister, so please, just be so kind as to fix a time for a redelivery!” God knows why, the conversation with that monsieur with a sexy voice was making her anxious.
He went silent again and this time the silence dragged on so long Lilly started to wonder whether he hadn’t put down the phone.
“I’ll check that and give you a call in a minute, OK? Is that your telephone number you’re calling from?”
“It is,” Lilly hesitated for a moment before adding. “It’s my personal mobile number.”
He ended the call and she took a deep breath. Three customers had already been sent away this morning with the promise to be provided the requested flip-flops in a matter of hours. Of course, none of them ever came back and she was quite reluctant to face this situation again. As far as Monsieur Le Pierre was concerned, his voice was definitely one of the most intriguing and exciting she had ever heard. She could now figure out why Masha was so attracted to him. The telephone rang.
“Lilly? It’s Kamen from New Way Distribution speaking. I’ve just checked our inventory and you appear to be right. The boxes are the same size and shape, this must have led to some sort of confusion. Is it okay for me to come round to your shop at about five in the afternoon tomorrow?”
“Five in the afternoon? But my order was for this morning!”
“I’m afraid my schedule is...”
“Look, monsieur…” Lilly bit her lip. How could she let it slip? “Look, Kamen…”
Her thoughts came to a halt and she couldn’t complete her sentence. Silence reigned again. She prayed he hadn’t heard her mistake.
“Look, it’s already half past six and I actually only work until six and no longer.” He was obviously not impressed by her gibberish.
“But it was your fault!”
“As much as yours. Your colleague - I think her name was Maria - has signed a document saying she has received the requested delivery. How can I be sure you haven’t taken that box of condoms out of your own stock?”
“Of my own stock? I don’t even use...” But what am I doing, why am I discussing such topics with a stranger? Lilly terminated her explanations and added emphatically. “My colleague’s name is Masha. And I expect you to correct your mistake as soon as possible!”
“I’ll see what I can do. But I can’t promise anything sooner than tomorrow, five o’clock. Have a nice evening, Lilly!”
What an impertinent and arrogant man! Lilly tossed her telephone onto the desk. No wonder Masha kept on frowning because of him! And he hadn’t even properly remembered her name! He was obviously one of those men who never thought seriously of women in business. But he just didn’t know who he was dealing with!
She kicked the box angrily and started putting her things away. She was about to close the shop when the door opened and Andon came in, completely hidden behind an enormous bunch of flowers.
“Sweetheart! I’ve been thinking about you all day! Here, please take these roses as a token of my sincerity and as an apology for my behaviour yesterday!” He rushed towards her, shoved the flowers in her hands and kissed her before she had any time to react. He looked tormented with remorse.
Lilly was wavering. He was smartly dressed as usual, smelled of expensive aftershave and the roses were really gorgeous!
“Thank you for the flowers,” she muttered. Could she forgive it all with just a bunch of flowers?
“Yesterday I drank more than usual, you know, it was Finkata’s birthday. And I do turn nasty when I’m bladdered, don’t I? I am so ashamed to admit that I don’t remember much of last night but whatever I said or did, believe me, I didn’t mean it!”
Andon’s apologizing, angelic demeanour could melt a statue. Lilly was about to forget all the insults she had endured in public, the audacity of his attempts to seduce her on a busy crossroads and the ugly words he had called her after that. He looked so kind and regretful that she could hardly believe this was the same man from last night. Well, wasn’t it just human to get drunk at times and to act improperly? Was there a single man who had never done it? Furthermore, Donnie was a handsome man. He had decent manners. He earned decent money and…
“Please, accept my apologies. I know my idiotic behaviour might have hurt and insulted you but I assure you I didn’t mean to, I love you so much. You’re the meaning of my life, I really can’t live without you!” His eyes looked straight into hers, full of sincere remorse.
“Forget it,” she said quietly.
“My sweetheart,” Andon embraced her and pressed her against the wall in a breathless kiss.
In addition to his many qualities, Donnie was a good kisser. His hands quickly found their way under her flimsy blouse. However, apprehension was filling her veins and she couldn’t enjoy his kisses while the shop wasn’t yet locked and a customer could still come in at any moment though the official opening hours were over.
And this moment came even sooner than she expected. The door banged open and the frame was filled with the silhouette of a tall wiry man.
“So, where are my condoms?”

Chapter Two

Andon retreated with a jerk and cast a threatening look towards the newcomer. Lilly blinked, trying to focus her sight against the blinding rays of the setting sun.
“Who the heck are you?” Andon growled, ready to pounce.
Lilly sprung forward and gently but firmly pressed his shoulders down.
“Donnie, wait a minute!”
“I wouldn’t really like to put you out,” said Kamen without having the slightest apology in his voice, “but I got the impression we had a matter of urgency so I decided to sacrifice my precious free time and devote it to you.”
“What is a matter of urgency?” Andon advanced another step, ready for a fight.
“Donnie, stop it!” yelled Lilly. She pushed him aside and stood in his way. Despite her embarrassment, she tried to get grip of herself. ”Have you got the stock for me?”
The man gave her a dull and uninterested look. He nodded at the box resting by his feet. Lilly was still unable to see his face clearly in the glow of the afternoon sun. She could only figure out he had light brown hair, scattered in a casual hairstyle and his eyes were mockingly squinting at her. And he seemed to be tall, very tall and looked even taller in his wrinkled T-shirt and baggy shorts.
The box was at his feet but he didn’t make a single movement, he resembled a stone statue. Totally confused, Lilly bent down and grabbed the box, getting the awkward feeling she was kneeling at his feet which was combined with the strange uneasiness of the proximity to his bare skin. She had moved the box a few metres down the aisle when she heard a voice behind her.
“I suggest you could just check if it is all OK, give me back my box and save your time by unpacking later. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to spend the whole evening here.”
Why could this man make her feel silly with every word he said? She dropped the box on the floor with a thud and grumpily opened the lid. The flip-flops were lined up in perfect order and seemed to be smirking at her.
“It is all fine,” she said through gritted teeth. She was standing right next to the rack where the wrong box was so she nodded at it. She would never give him the pleasure of seeing her carrying it to the door. “Here’s the wrong one. You can take it back.”
Monsieur Le Pierre slowly moved towards her. All at once, she was struck by the grace of his movements. Donnie usually worked on the way he walked but it always looked somehow artificial to her while something in the movements of this man was reminiscent of a tiger crouching near his pray. Something was wrong with her. When had she started paying attention to the way van drivers move around?
“Shall I check the number of condoms?” he raised an eyebrow.
“How dare you...” Lilly flushed.
“If I get a complaint from other customers, I will hold you directly responsible for it!” Although he seemed to be joking, his eyes were not smiling. He picked up the box and headed to the exit. ”Have a nice evening, miss.”
The moment he stepped out of the door, Andon set upon her.
“Why didn’t you warn me? Why did you let me look so silly?” He grabbed her shoulders and shook her.
Lilly wrestled herself free, annoyed.
“I had no idea he was going to turn up at this very moment. I’m sorry. Please, let’s get going! It was such a long and tiring day today.”

 The next few days followed their usual course and Lilly soon forgot about the incident. Amazingly, she didn’t even tell Masha about it. She only mentioned there had been some sort of confusion and that Monsieur le Pierre had come back to deliver the proper box. It was a busy spell in the shop and they didn’t have much time to comment on their private matters. Masha had insisted on a sales promotion campaign for summer merchandise - an idea which had turned out to be rather successful. Most of the time Lilly was coordinating advertising campaigns and getting items for online sales ready while Masha was working in the shop. In the evenings she went out with Donnie but she was so tired that she tended to go home no later than ten o’clock so he just saw her off and returned to his friends in the bar afterwards.
This evening she didn’t feel like going to clubs, she needed some fresh air. She got into the car and climbed the hill over the city where she could enjoy the beautiful view of the twinkling lights of the town. She had recently been pursued by a kind of melancholy. How she had longed to go hiking in the high mountains! It had been so long since she last dived into the beauty of pure nature. There hadn’t been much time left for physical activity after the opening of the shop. She parked the car and walked along the narrow path leading to a small rest area where people could sit on the beach and relish the scenery. She felt her phone vibrate and took it out of her bag. The screen was glowing with her brother’s name.
“Hi, Sister, how are you?”
“All going fine, how are you?”
“We’re fine, too. Let me tell you why I’m calling.” Pavel didn’t like long conversations so he went straight to the point. ”Next week I’ll be off on a business trip for a few days. There’s no way to postpone or escape it. But Maggie is really worried about staying alone with the baby. You know, her mum is in Spain and she can’t just come for a couple of days to help. And mum…” He didn’t finish his sentence. There was no need. They had lost their mother about a year ago, shortly after she had learned the good news of the forthcoming baby she never got to see. ”Is there any chance you could take a few days off and come to Varna? Maggie can do all the childcare by herself so she won’t ask you for anything, she’ll just need your company. You could go for walks, go to the beach… So, it’s really just to be by her side in the evenings.”
Next week? She wanted to confirm it was no problem for her and to promise she would go and look after her nephew! She would even take care of the baby and let the mother relax but it was not that easy.
“Pavel, I’ll check it out… You know, I can’t make the decision myself right away. It’s a really busy time in the shop…”
“I got it. I’ll check other options.”
“No, Pavel, please wait for me to check. I just have to talk to Masha and find out if she’d agree to run everything by herself for a few days. When would you need me?”
“Sunday until Tuesday. But really, don’t change your plans, we’ll check out other options.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow morning.”
Her brother put down the phone. Lilly felt overwhelmingly guilty. What was the price of her successful life when she could not even be there when her brother needed her? She knew he was not going to make a fuss about it but it still left a bitter taste. Wasn’t it only really a matter of a few days? Even if she closed down for these days, she wouldn’t go bankrupt.
A feeling of loneliness crept over her. In fact, she realised it had long been there. Having never met her father, the people closest to Lilly were her mother and her brother. Pavel had decided to continue his studies in Varna and so he started his own life there. Lilly stayed with her mother. Illnesses had attacked her fragile body and she eventually lost the motivation to fight them. But Lilly just couldn’t let her fight on her own. So she devoted her youth to the care of her ailing mother. Well, she did manage to go out with friends and meet some boys but she couldn’t start thinking of anything serious while being devoted to the care of her mother. She couldn’t even attend regular studies at university so she had to graduate as a part-time student. During her studies she started gradually working towards the fulfilment of her dream: opening her own sports shop. First, she took a job as a shop assistant in order to fully get to grips with the everyday matters of running a shop, as well as making the necessary business contacts. Later, with Masha’s help and funding, they opened their own shop. Their town was not too big and they were very much aware of the limited success for a specialized shop but they managed to make it prosperous through online sales. Most of the orders came via the Internet so they could cover the whole of Bulgaria and even had clients abroad. Caring for her mother and starting the shop had drained her power and took up her time so much that Lilly had no time at all for interests outside the home and work. So when her mother passed away, an enormous gap appeared in her life. Not knowing what else to do, Lilly tripled the effort invested in the shop and simply grabbed Andon.
Andon… She had known him since they were children and studied at the same school. She remembered how she used to secretly like him during her teenage years. However, he only became interested in her two years ago when they went to the same birthday party by chance. After having a dance together, he led her to the balcony and kissed her. She thought it a dream come true. She had been dreaming so much about him in her teenage fantasies that she could hardly believe it was all happening to her now. Despite her affection, she wasn’t prepared for a serious relationship. Neither had he been too insistent on that. Meanwhile her mother had passed away and the mourning pushed away any thoughts they might have had in that department. Masha was absolutely right noting that it had been two years of seeing each other and their relationship was still as if they were teenagers. They went out together, sat down in a cafe or bar and had a kiss or two after that. Sometimes Lilly went to his house and stayed the night there. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant but she had recently felt it as a weird obligation. It must be the same for all couples, she told herself. No one burns with passion all their life.
Lost in her thoughts, she suddenly noticed that someone had already arrived in the rest area before her. She had expected it to be empty at this time. Surprised, she stood still and hesitated. She was shaken even more when two azure eyes captured hers with a smirk, so familiar.
Kamen raised his eyebrows:
“What a surprise!”
            Lilly couldn’t draw her eyes away from his. Last time, in the shade of the setting sun, she hadn’t noticed how deeply blue they were. Neither had she experienced their magnetic attraction flustered as she was by her frustration back then. He was leaning back on the bench, legs crossed, one ankle over the other knee and scrutinizing her. He was dressed in his usual sporty shorts and a loose T-shirt. She was on her guard.
“Good evening!” she remarked stressing at his missing greeting. ”How amazing to find someone like you sitting here!”
“It is such a lovely place for chilling out after a hard day’s work, isn’t it?” Kamen rose from the middle of the bench he was sitting on and moved towards one of the edges. ”Please, take a seat!”
There were three more unoccupied benches next to his. She had no reason to sit that close to him. But it would have been too rude to decline his offer. So Lilly carefully sat down on the other side of the bench. Her skirt rode up and she crossed her bare knees. She tried to pull the rims of her skirt down but the bench was too low and half of her hips still remained uncovered. She tried not to look at him but sensed his scorching glance.
“Watching the city from this place in the rays of the setting sun is quite relaxing.”
“It gets even more beautiful when night falls and the lights dance at your feet. Can you see that tall building over there?” he pointed with his finger, ”There, next to it, must be your sports shop. Does it have any lights at night?”
“It has a neon sign but I doubt if it’s visible from such a distance.”
“It’s a must to check this out,” his voice had that low and sensual timbre she remembered so well from their first telephone conversation. A strange shiver ran down her spine.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to leave before it gets dark,” Lilly chuckled nervously. ”I was just looking for a short getaway from the daily grind, somewhere remote and isolated.”
“Am I disturbing you?” he asked immediately.
“No, not at all, don’t even mention it! In fact, it is such good luck to find someone like myself who also appreciates the beauty of this view.”
“You must visit this place quite often with your… boyfriend? Husband?” his voice revealed no emotion, he was apparently asking just out of politeness.
“Come here with Andon? Oh, no, he considers it a waste of time to go to places where he can’t be seen by others.” Lilly bit her tongue at her premature comment. The last thing she wanted to do was to slander Donnie in front of this stranger. She felt obliged to add. “He is a very sociable person. He likes people and big crowds so we usually go out with his friends”.
Kamen didn’t reply. He stared ahead. Lilly grabbed the chance to stare at him. His t-shirt outlined his strong muscles. Though at first he looked tall and slim to her, she could now see his body was quite well-built. He was definitely tall but in no way thin. He just didn’t emphasize his muscles the way Andon did. The sun was low now and cast fiery reflections over the soft lines of his face. Even if it was hard to describe him as handsome, his face attracted her in a way she couldn’t explain. High forehead under disobedient strands of dark hair, strong-lined eyebrows, a turned up nose and the steady line of his mouth suggested he would never let himself fall under someone else’s control.
Curiosity was chasing her so wildly that she dared to ask. “I wouldn’t suggest you’d come to enjoy this view all by yourself either?” 
“Do I also give you the impression of being a “sociable person”?” he laughed. ”I fear I’ll have to disappoint you. I appreciate the moments when I can keep my own company.”
He turned towards her and leaned one arm over the back of the bench. His strong fingers were nearly touching her slender shoulder.
“Can we be less formal? It feels odd to me in this atmosphere and these surroundings.”
“Oh, of course we can,” Lilly replied, a bit hesitant. He had managed to melt her barriers in no more than few-minutes talk, wasn’t this getting too dangerous?
“How long have you been running your shop?” he chose a neutral topic.
“We opened it two years ago. It was the result of both mine and Masha’s efforts.”
“How did you come by that idea?”
Lilly tried to briefly answer but his detailed inquiries encouraged her more and more to tell about all the difficulties and challenges they had to meet. With sparkling eyes and real pride in her voice, she suddenly realised she had been talking for half an hour and could have gone on at length. His sincere interest had captivated her.
“I’m really honoured that people seek our services and further recommend us to their friends,” Lilly added. ”It often happens that someone comes and tells us they have found an item at a cheaper price in another shop but they need our expertise to choose the ideal product for their needs. In fact, people quite often don’t even know what they actually need.”
“That’s true, most people really can’t properly assess their aims and ambitions.”
“It’s not that easy to make a decision when you don’t know what’s on offer and the difference between what’s available.”
“Well, it’s not only about the merchandise, sometimes people can’t make a decision to save their lives.”
Kamen smiled and looked somehow oddly at her. Something flashed in his eyes. It was inexplicable but it resonated all over her body and she couldn’t find a proper reply.
            “But it’s me doing all the talking,” Lilly’s tone was somewhat premature. ”Tell me something about yourself.”
“What would you like to know? Some of my greatest secrets and passions?”
“Whatever you would like to tell me. What do you have a passion for?”
“I have a passion for French music, for mountain biking and for beautiful girls whose hair shines in the rays of the setting sun…”
Lilly almost flushed.
“How did you happen to live here, in our town? You didn’t grow up here, did you?”
He suddenly turned sombre. It took him a while before he pronounced stiffly.
“No, I didn’t use to live here as a child. But I do have relatives in the town. You never know what life will throw up. I must admit I didn’t imagine I’d ever return to Bulgaria. But here I am.”
“To be honest, I don’t pay too much attention to the van drivers but I don’t think you have been doing this job for long?”
“That’s right, not long. A few weeks.”
Kamen drew his arm down from the back of the bench and settled his palms on his knees. He looked as if he wanted to add something else but then changed his mind and kept silent. Lilly made one last effort.
“What did you do before that?”
“Hmm, a lot of things. I’ve been in production, in distribution, in management…”
“So, an experienced businessman,” Lilly tried to joke.
Kamen cast a scrutinising look at her, his eyes not smiling. Then he looked back to the roofs of the houses at their feet.
“I’d agree I’ve got a lot of experience.”
He swerved his attention towards the sun. The enormous red sphere was already partly hidden behind the neighbouring hill and the mountain was quickly devouring the other part. The whole sky was painted in shades of red.
“Look, it’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”
“It is…”
There was a kind of magic in that moment. Lilly felt as if she had flown away from the monotony of her daily life and her soul soared free like a bird. She was floating wrapped in an unfathomable emotion. They observed the setting of the sun quietly until the last of it set behind the hill. Lilly wanted to thank him for sharing this magical moment but couldn’t find the proper words. She was just about to speak when her telephone rang.
Andon! She had totally forgotten about his existence! She startled as if he had caught her naked in bed with another man. What a nonsense, she was just sitting at her favourite site and observing the sunset, as she had done dozens of times before. It was just that… just that this time it was different. The telephone was still ringing and she couldn’t make up her mind to answer it. Kamen raised his eyebrows in expectation. She fumbled to pull out the green receiver and moved to a distance.
Kamen could hear parts of their conversation.
“Yes, Donnie… Well, I’m here… No, I’m not doing anything… No, I’m not at home but I’m going to be there soon…. This evening? I was thinking of having a little rest, I had quite a busy day at work… Okay… Yes, I’ll go online shortly…”
Kamen smiled. Strangely, her mumbling and stuttering brought him real satisfaction. He enjoyed the fact she didn’t dare to tell her boyfriend where she actually was and what she was actually doing. Not that it mattered or it was going to change anything...
“I think I’ll have to go now,” Lilly said as she approached him. ”It’ll soon be dark and one of my headlights isn’t working properly.”
“It’s getting late, you’re right,” he stood up as well.
Lilly looked around. There were no other cars and worrying this might go too far, she still couldn’t help offering him:
“Shall I give you a lift?”
“Give me a lift?” he laughed heartily. He nodded towards the nearest tree and only then did she see the bicycle leaning against it. “That’s very kind of you but I still have a way to cycle before I reach my daily goal. We seem to have stayed here for a bit too long… But it was worth it.”
“Well, if you have to cycle…. Thanks for the lovely company and have a nice evening!”
Lilly nearly ran down the path to her car. She didn’t dare to turn until she found herself sitting behind the steering wheel, her seatbelt fastened. Kamen hadn’t moved an inch. She waved to him and he waved in reply. She started the engine and drove away fast. Something peculiar had happened that evening.

Chapter Three

 Lilly couldn’t sleep well. She had some strange dreams where people and images merged and blended into one another.
...She is on top of a high mountain observing the world at her feet. Stretching her arms up to the sun and feeling as if touching the sky. At this very moment a black shadow casts a threatening shadow on her. It is not a shadow, it is Andon. She attempts to smile at him but she can see a massive glistening knife in his hand as his face is contorted by a nasty grimace…
She woke up with a scream. It took her a while before she realised it had been just a dream and she was now sitting alone in her dark bedroom. She drifted off and this time her dream led her to a pair of azure eyes, so deep and so familiar - they were calling her, alluring her, she was stepping closer and closer until she finally sank into them…
In the morning she felt her eyelids swollen and heavy. It was her turn to start early and open the shop. She had a quick cup of coffee, got dressed and set off.
Still drowsy Lilly put the key in the lock of the security roller shutter which covered the front door. Her mind was working slowly and it took some time to figure out the key was rotating freely in the lock with nothing stopping it. Her heart missed a beat. Instantly fully awake, she looked closely at the lock and saw the roller shutter had been kept down by a stick being inserted between the shutter and the window while the lock was broken. She moved the stick aside and pulled the shutter up with her trembling fingers.
As expected, the sight inside was devastating. The shop had been gutted, the shelves knocked over, some of the items were missing while others were just scattered around among torn packages. Tears filled her eyes as she rushed to the back of the shop where the storeroom was located. She had invested in a double locking system for it and most people had mocked her for it. She turned the doorknob, it seemed to still be locked. Her shivering fingers found it hard to unlock the door. She sighed - the thieves had obviously been in a hurry and hadn’t spent enough time trying to break through the security system. The stock inside was exactly where it had been the day before.
How could this be? They were going to have a meeting to sign the renewal of the security contract later today. How could they have left something as important as this so late to be renewed? Lilly furiously banged her fist on the counter. There was no time for timewasting.
She collected herself and got down to work. She called the police and then phoned Masha. She hung a notice on the front door to say the shop would be closed for the day and proceeded to evaluate the damage. Fortunately, they didn’t keep much money in the till during the night so cash losses were minimal. Most of the goods were kept in the storeroom, so they were safe. The hardest part was to put the items back in their rightful places and to find out what was missing.
Fifteen minutes later Masha burst into the shop.
“On, no,” she looked around. ”I’ll smash their faces! I’m gonna kick their fucking arses!” she began cursing the perpetrators. ”Lilly, this is no coincidence, believe me! This was committed by people who knew our security contract had expired and we were unprotected!
“I think you’re getting paranoid… you can see they didn’t know how to get into the storeroom and they weren’t aware we didn’t keep any cash in the cash register.”
“That’s information only we have. Had they known that, it would have meant one of us had been the initiator. I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence.”
“I told you, last week a shop down the street was broken into. It must have been the same gang… it’s all our fault we didn’t arrange the extension of the security contract on time!”
“Did the shop down the street have a running security contract?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. I’d have to ask Yavor, the guy from Donnie’s crowd, he works at the security company and knows...”
Masha froze her with a glance.
“Haven’t you, by chance, mentioned the expiring contract to him?”
“Masha, I think you are too suspicious!” Lilly was indignant and embarrassed at the same time. “I’m also angry but I don’t think we should go blaming the whole world for our own foolishness. I don’t believe I’ve discussed the topic with them, they are hardly interested in my problems. One is for sure, Yavor knows better than me who in town has got a valid contract and when it expires… Come on, let’s get down to work so we can reopen as soon as possible. Let the police deal with the investigation.”
“Investigation? Ha-ha. They’ll just come round, have a look and they will say they can’t do much about it,” Masha groaned.
She was proven right. The policemen dryly informed them there were several similar cases in the past months which were probably committed by an organized gang but gave them no indication that the criminals would be apprehended. After the police left Masha and Lilly got back to putting the items back on the shelves. The thieves had taken mainly electronics as well as some rare equipment. The loss amounted to thousands of euros. They were lucky to have at least their insurance but waiting for all the terms of procedure and payments was going to cause them some hardship in terms of cash flow. Moreover, they had just invested a lot of money in advertising; customer flow had increased and people were searching for some specific goods of which they had had single items or had been stolen. That meant they definitely had to find some money in order to request more deliveries…
Both girls worked tirelessly all day. Shortly after lunch they managed to open the shop again and rushed to order new quantities of the stolen items. It wasn’t until five o’clock in the evening that Lilly realised she hadn’t yet informed Andon about what had happened. Now that everything was back to normal, she felt a sense of dread. She desperately needed a shoulder to cry on. She grasped the phone intending to call Donnie when suddenly it rang in her hands. Her brother. She had totally forgotten about him.
“Pavel, I am so sorry I didn’t call you earlier today! It was a really awful day!” She quickly told him about the incident. She suddenly realised it all sounded like a contrived excuse so she could decline his request for help. Pavel comforted her saying he was not angry at her but after hanging up Lilly was ready to burst into tears.
She hurried to call Donnie before letting depression subdue her.
“Oh, sweetheart, how terrible!” Andon sounded shattered. “Why didn’t you call me earlier?”
“We had so much to rearrange… It took all day to get things back in order. I didn’t even have the time to go online and message you. Are we going to meet tonight?”
“Oh, did I forget to tell you? I had to go to Plovdiv. In fact, I’m on my way now… Oh, I’m so sorry I can’t be with you now. But I really can’t be back before tomorrow…. Will you be okay on your own?”
“Oh, of course I will, don’t worry. Drive carefully,” Lilly collapsed on the chair. Utter disappointment seeped through her. They talked a little longer over some insignificant things and ended the conversation.
“Where has your good lad gone this time?” Masha asked, overhearing part of the conversation. “He claims he’s so much in love, why didn’t he come and lend a hand, we would have finished it all by now?”
“I don’t know… he said he had some urgent work to do in Plovdiv.”
“What urgent work can somebody like him have in Plovdiv? Doesn’t he work in the production department of the factory?”
“Yes, he is in charge of his shift. Well, I guess it’s not connected to his job. I didn’t ask him.”
“I don’t like that man,” Masha said sharply.
“You don’t like anybody today,” Lilly tried to smile.
“I wouldn’t mind if Monsieur Le Pierre came over and asked me out to dinner.” Masha smiled. “Hе is woman-proof, though. I don’t know if he finds me that disgusting or he has some big drama in his past but he is really a causa perduta.”
Lilly froze. They had had such a busy day that there was no time to mention the unexpected meeting from the previous evening. Lilly was wondering what to say about it as Masha went on talking.
“You know about my little success in convincing him to go out for a coffee. But he was like a stone. Kind and polite, never letting me any closer to him. Since then, he’s had moments of genuine rudeness in trying to keep me at a distance. Well, I know he’s not the only man in the world but... He’s attractive, his body is absolutely perfect, tall and strong, no fat, just muscles. Most men by the age of thirty-five have already got those beer bellies, some are going bald. Whereas he looks like an ancient Greek statue,” Masha was dazed, as if in a dream. ”And what’s more, he’s single. Even if he had that woman in France - I couldn’t figure out if he’s divorced or they just lived together and then broke it off but she is no longer figures in his life.”
“Do you think you are in love with him?” Lilly asked carefully.
“In love?” Masha laughed. ”Silly Lilly! Sometimes you sound so naive. He’s cool, I would enjoy a night or two with him but who the hell is talking about love?”
Lilly wouldn’t admit it to herself but she felt deep relief by Masha’s reply.
The next day more deliveries were expected to come. Lilly found herself constantly glimpsing through the window to check for Kamen’s van. It was usually Masha’s job to accept deliveries and the van drivers often didn’t even enter the shop. She was wondering whether she was supposed to go out and say hello after their encounter the previous night? Or would he come in to greet her?
Her phone beeped to indicate she’d received a message and she quickly grabbed it as if to get rid of what was going through her head.  “I’m just back sweetheart.”
“I’m so happy you’re back. How are you, was everything alright?”
“Yes. I’m dying to see you. Are you coming to the bar tonight?”
Resentment filled her body reaching all the way to her throat. He supposedly wanted to see her but surrounded by his awful friends, she would once again feel like a wallflower. They would talk about their own things and she would once again try hard to find something in common to chat about. Sometimes she got the feeling he lacked the desire to see her in private.
“Can’t we go to the cinema tonight?” she tried.
“I have an arrangement with a friend to bring me some money in the bar tonight. Let’s leave it for tomorrow or the day after?” he replied. Painfully familiar. She had heard it so many times.
“OK, we’ll talk about it tonight,” she typed and closed her messenger application.
She rubbed her hands down her dress. Her palms were moist. She regretted having put on the beautiful but rather uncomfortable dress which required high heels. The garment limited her movements and the customers, especially male ones, seemed to be more interested in her legs rather than the items on the shelves.
While trying to gain control over her feelings, she saw the familiar van coming round the corner. Her heart skipped a beat. I must still be furious at Donnie, she thought to herself. She asked Masha to go out and handle the delivery as she leant closer to the window so she could spy out.
The door of the van opened. The man who came out though, was definitely not Kamen. He was a bit fatter, quite shorter and at least ten years older. Lilly watched him and Masha fill in forms and move boxes around. Where could Kamen be? She had a quick look around the shop, there was nobody intent on buying anything soon so she made a quick decision and hastily hurried outside.
“Masha, could you check what the problem with the radio ads is? Dennis called and I couldn’t answer for you, as the agreement was yours?” Dennis had indeed called but about half an hour ago. “I’ll finish what’s needed here.”
Masha lifted her head in amazement and nearly dropped the box she was examining. What was Lilly up to? Just as she was scrutinizing her, the right hand side door of the van opened. A man whose presence they hadn’t noticed slowly emerged.
“Hello girls,” Kamen greeted them, lifting his sunglasses. The baggy shorts and wrinkled T-shirt were gone. He was wearing elegantly lined and what appeared to be rather expensive trousers with a light trendy shirt. Even his shoes attracted attention with their glow compared to the dusty trainers he used to wear before. “I heard there’d been an incident at your shop the other night?”
Lilly and Masha exchanged glances.
“That’s unfortunately true. We seem to have been some gang’s latest target.” Masha gave a big dramatic sigh.
“Were the losses significant? What did the police say about it?” He seemed genuinely concerned.
“What could the police say? They recorded the crime and that was it, of course,” disappointment and anger sounded in Masha’s voice. “The losses were not small but it has to be said that it could have been much worse.”
“Is there anything I can help you with?” His eyes were fixed on Lilly who couldn’t take her eyes off him and not daring to even open her mouth. His tone required a reply.
“No, I don’t think so. You’re so kind!” Slightly embarrassed at addressing him in an informal manner, she corrected herself to her usual formal register. ”That’s very kind of you.”
“Have they stolen money or goods?” Kamen took a small step towards her and she had the strange feeling that she was plunging into a deep blue ocean while Masha and the other driver slowly faded away and disappeared into the background.
“The money stolen was insignificant. They have mostly taken expensive gadgets and small but valuable accessories.” Lilly had the impression that the ground was shaking underneath her feet and she leaned on the handrail behind her to steady herself.
“Have you thought of tracing them?” His eyes couldn’t help straying to enjoy her long exquisite legs barely covered by her dress.
“Tracing them?” she echoed, dazzled by his sudden interest.
“Yes, tracing them. Doing the police’s job.” The other driver announced his presence. “To figure out where they could sell these goods themselves - in pawnshops, on the Internet, by means of “street sellers”? You could catch them by pretending to be fake customers.”
“I’m convinced they have something to do with the company providing our security services,” Masha intervened. “It was stupid of us but having been busy with many other issues, we’d forgotten to extend our security contract on time and were left unprotected for a few days. The burglary occurred exactly on one of those days.”
“It’s quite likely,” Kamen reluctantly moved his eyes away from Lilly to address Masha. “But I do recommend spying and listening very attentively to everything happening around here. Your merchandise is aimed at a very specific audience and the burglars would need your customers in order to sell them. And please, don’t hesitate to ask for our assistance in case we can help you!”
His eyes returned to Lilly who grabbed the handrail. She hoped she hadn’t flushed but nodded and thanked him.
“Are you finished with everything?” He turned to Masha and the driver. His tone was abrupt and imposing. “Martin, get the boxes inside please, don’t make the ladies spoil their manicure.”
The driver quickly obeyed the order. They exchanged a few more pleasantries and the two men got in the van and drove off. Masha gasped as the vehicle disappeared.
“Lilly, did you just see that?”
“Come on, let’s get in, there’s no one at the cashier till!” Lilly swiftly hurried into the shop.
“Yeah, yeah! Of course, but, Lilly, didn’t you notice anything?” Masha followed her as she went on gibbering excitedly. “I’m totally astounded! Monsieur Le Pierre looked like a model in a fashion magazine! He looked nothing like the simple van driver he used to be! And the new one? He would have been happy to start licking his shoes if ordered! You’ll see, he’ll turn out to be a success story, probably a CEO or something! And his sudden interest? He’s been rejecting all my attempts and offers for such a long time, he even rudely let me carry heavy boxes on my own and now he’s got out the van just to talk to us and to offer assistance!”
“It’s worth considering some of his advice, right!” Lilly didn’t dare to comment on the other part of Masha’s rambled statements. “It was very kind of him.”
“Very kind!” Masha laughed. “He won’t get away with this, I promise. As soon as the evening comes, I’ll call to ask him to share more of his advice on a personal basis! I can’t miss this chance: he’s promised to help us!”
Lilly couldn’t understand why these words stabbed her like a knife or perhaps she simply didn’t want to.

Chapter Four

The table was covered with thick cigarette smoke that was choking her even in the open air of the outside garden, it was so hot and stuffy that evening. The fumes produced by the cigarettes around her seemed to be blown directly in her face, making her feel a desperate need for fresh air. She was absently listening to the conversation that was going on around her.
“... fish are biting better in Plovdiv. I think we ought to get ready for the fishing again, we just need plenty of decent bait,” one of Donnie’s friends said bursting into hysterical laughter.
“Fishing will be discussed later” Andon cut him off sharply. “Do you want to know what happened today? I was up in the office round the corner, the one with the tidy birds, to pay for my phone bill. I went in and there was just one of them there…” And he went on telling a trivial story which his friends found hilarious but Lilly couldn’t even smile at.
What am I doing here, she asked herself gloomily. Something had happened to her after that evening on the hill. Why had she become so dissatisfied with her life? Still, it was no use kidding herself any longer - she found these people extremely repulsive and her only reason to keep tormenting herself in their company was Andon. There was another reason for her anxiety that night - it was so long since they last had sex that she knew he would insist on her spending the night at his house. God knows why, she had recently been getting more and more unenthusiastic about it, she had even warded off several of his attempts using her tiredness as an excuse. She was running out of excuses now and couldn’t postpone it any longer. Her only desire was to get out of this smoky place as soon as possible, do what they were going to do and go back to her nice, safe home… Lilly, get yourself together, girl! You love Donnie, don’t you? You want to be with him, don’t you? This is all due to the traumatic times you have had because of the burglary and the long time without his affection, it is natural this has somehow alienated you from each other! Once you fall into his arms, you know heaven will come down to Earth!
Time was slowly passing, the minutes dragged on one after the other. Andon seemed to have no intention of leaving his friends. She tried to start a conversation with a girl who was accompanying one of his friends. Unfortunately, the girl didn’t appear to know any other words than “yes” and “no”. Lilly couldn’t eat or drink anymore, she would only restlessly reposition herself on the chair while Donnie was pouring glasses of vodka down his throat. And another. And another.
“So here’s my gorgeous girl!” he wrapped his arm around her shoulder so abruptly that she jerked with surprise. He hooked her closer to him and his hand reached out for her breast. “Well, her boobs are not as ample as Stacy’s but she’s still sexy, isn’t she?”
Disgusted by his abusing hand, Lilly tried to imperceptibly twist her body in a way to get rid of it. He got her side and grabbed her so tightly that it caused her physical pain. But it was even more painful to hear his inappropriate comparison and the grotesque laughter of the other men around the table.
“Donnie, let’s get going, please. I’m really tired,” she said quietly gently putting her palm on his chest.
“You’re not the one to tell me what to do, you, whore!”
Panic swept over her. Oh no, it was the same old story! The huge amount of alcohol running through Andon’s veins had turned him brutal again showing off to his holy company what an alpha A male he was! She summoned all her temper and made one last attempt.
“Donnie, I think it’s time to go,” she smoothly fondled his arm.
“Don’t tell me what to do! I can do with you whatever I want!” Rudely pressing her, he used all his power to drag her to his lap, gripped his iron fingers around her waist and started pushing her up and down in an indecent movement.
All the others rolled with laughter.
Lilly was stuck in such a humiliating posture, as if in a vice and it suddenly came clear to her. This was it! She had no reason at all to be here with these people, with this person! She had overcome so many difficulties, conquered so many challenges in her life, she was not going to let herself be put down by a stinking alcoholic any longer! Not one minute longer!
However, it was also clear to her that she was in a difficult situation and getting out of it unharmed would only be possible by acting carefully. Firstly, she had to persuade him to loosen his grip as her strength was not sufficient to struggle free from him. She pretended to laugh as though she found it all really amusing and turned round to caress his face with her hands. He met her with a wet slimy kiss and it distracted his attention so his grasp softened.
With an abrupt jerk Lilly forced herself out of his arms, grabbed her purse and said:
“I need to go to the bathroom!”
This generated a new burst of laughter. She rapidly breezed into the main lobby of the bar and rushed to the toilet only to reach it and realise she was looking for the way out.
Lilly left the toilet and looked around the bar, exploring the tables and the people who were sitting at them having their evening drinks. She had to sneak to the exit and dash secretly into the street to make her way back home. Unfortunately, the only way to the exit was back through the garden. Andon’s table was in one of the corners. She just had to find a darkened place and wait for the right moment to race the short distance without being seen. Talking to Andon had to wait till later, when his mind was not obliterated by alcohol.
The moment finally came. Somebody said something that everybody considered hilarious and they all split their sides with laughter. Lilly rushed to the gate at the end of the garden. If only she had come here by car! Now she had to walk alone through the dark streets of the town, constantly checking out for drunkards following her.
She heard a cry, far more of a roar behind her back and hurried out of the gate. She had to quickly find a taxi, or hide somewhere. The main street the bar was facing was pedestrian though. Taxis were standing in the distance. Hiding was impossible as the main street was brightly illuminated and her elegant but uncomfortable shoes prevented her from moving fast enough.
“Lilly!” she heard Andon’s harsh voice following her.
Lilly didn’t turn, she hurried even faster, crossing to the darker side of the road hoping to find a place to hide from him.
“You whore, stop right where you are, fuck…” Andon stumbled over and this interrupted his tirade of insults, leading to a new outburst of rage at the rutted pavement.
Lilly spotted a little side street and took it. There was nothing but a tree to hide behind. She stuck firmly to the trunk and began praying his drunken head would not figure out where to look for her. She couldn’t see him, she could only hear his cursing. In fact, it could be heard all over the central pedestrian street of the town.
“I’ll find you, smelly bitch, you can’t get away from me! I know you are here! I’ll rip your...”
His voice was coming closer and closer. Her heart was throbbing. Maybe she should phone the police. But should she take out her phone, he would hear where she was hiding. For the first time she felt a deep physical fear of him. All of a sudden, there was another familiar voice, deep and uncompromising.
“Did I hear you yelling, mate?”
“She hid somewhere, that bitch...”
“Now, mate, shut your mouth and get yourself home before I call the police. There’s actually a police car over there,” he was speaking politely but his tone was icy.
“Agh, I know you! You’re not going to tell me...” Andon commenced but his words were stopped by what sounded like a blow.
“I warned you. Move your arse! Now!”
Lilly heard snorting and shuffling footsteps. Had Andon given up? She was trembling like a leaf and her breathing was uneven. She couldn’t stand on her legs anymore so she slid down the trunk. She stayed there, squatting and leaning on the tree. The rough surface had rubbed her back but she was unaware of the pain. She closed her eyes. Now that the menace had gone away, the shock she had experienced knocked her down.
Kamen inspected the dark street. He saw nothing but a cat leap over the fence of the nearest house and run down the street.
“Lilly?” he called her softly. “Lilly, where are you?”
“I’m here,” it was as if her voice was coming from somewhere deep inside her. It was too big an effort to speak more loudly. She tried to stand up but her muscles failed to obey.
Kamen followed the direction of her voice and went round the tree in front of him. There he saw her. Sitting on the ground, her hair in disorder, her purse unbuttoned and thrown away at her feet. His heart sank. She had lowered down, folding her knees with her arms, her chin flaccid on her knees. Her white trousers and top were covered in dirt and sticks.
“That dirty bastard!” said Kamen through clenched teeth. His blood boiled. “I shouldn’t have let him get away with it unpunished! Come! Can you stand up?”
He offered his hand. She slowly raised hers and touched it. His warmth gave a sparkle to her numb fingers. He raised her with little effort. Her legs were still shivering and she grabbed his hand really tightly, afraid she might once again collapse to the ground if she let go. His firm and solid hand comforted her and made her feel protected.
“What did he do to you?” He touched her shoulder with his other hand to gently turn her towards him, scanning her with his eyes. “Did he hurt you?”
“No, no, he didn’t” she groaned. “At least not physically.” She briefly told him what had happened. “It was all my fault. I shouldn’t have teased him knowing he was so drunk…”
“Your fault?!” Kamen erupted. “Girl, stop that nonsense! Whatever you have done, nothing can justify what I saw. I don’t want to hear or...”
Lilly felt tears streaming down her cheeks. She tried to clench her teeth and halt the tears but she failed. The more she was trying to pull herself together, the more abundant her tears became.
“Oh, damn it! Come here!”
His arms welcomed her in a strong warm embrace. She snuggled in him, rested her head on his broad chest and let herself sob.
“Don’t worry, it’s all over!” he gently stroked her back and hair. “I’m here with you now and I won’t be leaving you here alone!”
Kamen went on speaking softly and reassuringly to make her sobbing fade away. His voice lowered and became hoarse. Compassion was giving way to a different feeling. The tops of his fingers quivered as if with electricity as they were touching her hair. His head was getting dizzy from her scent. No, he hadn’t meant to go this far. He admitted Lilly had attracted his attention since their very first meeting - no, even before, since her first phone call. She was a beautiful girl, with inspiring looks, trying to look independent but she was vulnerable in such a feminine manner. He had sworn not to a let a woman close to him before he’d decided what to do with his life but now that she was cuddling him and in his arms so trustingly he was ready to forget his resolutions. The mere thought of that tosser, her boyfriend, was enough to make him furious again and he felt that very little prevented him from going back to find him, batter him and kick his fucking head in. 
“Come, let’s sit on a bench,” he attentively moved her body a little away from his to check whether she had calmed down.
“No,” Lilly sprung. “I don’t want to sit on a bench in the middle of the street where everyone can see…”
“We’re not going to sit in the middle of the street. Come on, let’s go to the benches in the churchyard. Can you walk?”
“I just need to get my bag.”
The bag was lying on the ground, open and her personal belongings sticking out reminding her of her humiliation. Lilly swallowed hard, picked it up and hastily returned to Kamen.
Kamen softly leaned his arm around her waist to support her as they went to the churchyard. With every step she was getting over the stress and it gave way to other feelings which were sneaking over her. His fingers were barely touching her but she felt as if they were burning her body. Walking very close to him, she soon became aware of his warmth, his scent, his movements…
They soon got to the little garden outside the church. There were a few secluded benches in it where lovers usually found the much desired privacy they couldn’t find elsewhere. There was just one teenage couple who left as soon as they saw them approaching. Kamen carefully set her down as if she were a porcelain doll.
“I’m fine now. I was just a bit taken aback by such behaviour. I’m so sorry for the trouble I’ve caused to you.” She made an attempt to sit further apart from him but his hands seemed intent on remaining where they were.
“You haven’t caused me any trouble at all, but you were in trouble. When I picture it all again,” he shook his head and clenched his teeth, “he was so drunk and totally obnoxious to you, I don’t even want to think about what he might’ve done if he’d managed to catch up with you.”
“I doubt he was going to do anything nasty,” looking at his angry face Lilly felt obliged to counter.
“Why were you running and hiding from him then?”
“Well… he was horrible to me.” Lilly shuddered at that thought. ”It’s not the first time though. When he abuses alcohol, he gets out of control and starts shouting his mouth off. I don’t think he realises it. He’s always extremely sorry afterwards but he’s obviously one of those people who turn aggressive when they drink a lot.”
“My goodness! You’re trying to excuse him again! That idiot was going to rape you or at least bruise your face in the middle of the High Street! I saw you long before I managed to get to you - you were running and he was staggering behind you. I saw you swerve into that side street though I was still too far away to catch up. I saw it all with my own eyes. Are you so blindly in love that you can’t see it?
Lilly paused confused. Was she in love with Andon? No, she definitely wasn’t, she suddenly realised. She even doubted she had ever been. Kamen turned away sharply and grunted. He rubbed his chin with his fingers and angrily stomped his foot.
“You women never know what you want.”
“Kamen, please, I’m really grateful to you for what you did for me!” Lilly intuitively reached out to touch his shoulders. “The thought of him catching me was all too apparent. He was so close to me, just a few steps away. I’d just about given up when I heard your voice. I can’t blame anyone else but myself. I do apologise for getting you involved.”
“Stop talking nonsense! I don’t want to hear it was your fault anymore!”
Still angry, he grabbed her and shook her shoulders. He gazed in her eyes and he read his own puzzled emotions in them. He longed to feel her delicate body next to his, to comfort and protect her… He couldn’t help drawing her closer.
This time his embrace felt different. His arms locked round her and she gave in but raised her head to meet his eyes. They looked huge and dark. Her stomach quivered in a sudden thrill.
“I’m sorry, I had no right to shout at you,” he mumbled and his lips covered hers in a tender intoxicating kiss.
 Lilly had once again the feeling of being weightless, of soaring over the ground in another dimension and universe. He was kissing her gently and attentively as if he was tasting her and was enjoying every single sip. Her arms slipped around his neck as she wiped out any distance between them. She was craving to be ever closer to him, to merge with him… She couldn’t say when the tender and comforting kiss had turned into an outburst of passion. His lips parted with hers only to caress her neck and face with a thousand light kisses all over her skin. His hands moved along her body. She sighed and kissed his chin and forehead, her lips moved on to his ear. Her fingers explored his muscular shoulders and arms and went down examining his chest. His shirt seemed to be an impediment. She yearned to touch his bare skin. His hands had gone down to her hips and insatiably drew her closer. His fingers were trying to reach her warm skin under the belt on her trousers.
“Lilly,” his voice was low and husky. ”I… didn’t mean to…” he intercepted his words with a kiss as if the time needed to pronounce them was more than he could bare away from her lips.
“Neither did I,” she couldn’t face withdrawing. She hugged him, explored him, kissed him. She found a way to pull his shirt out of his belt and reach out for his hot skin. She wasn’t aware of what had happened to her but she was sure she had never wanted anybody so wildly before.
They had fallen into complete ignorance about who they were, where they were and why they were there. There was just this universe of yen and fascination surrounding them. Kisses followed one after the other, sighs and groans blended with each other, time was flying by, never enough to be together.
“You’re driving me insane,” Kamen pulled his head a little backwards, gasping as if he had run for miles. “It’s probably fifteen years since I’ve started it on a bench…” he jolted his head. “Let’s go to my apartment?” she felt some hesitation in his question.
Her whole body was convulsing with desire, her mind was so enchanted that if he had suggested to have sex in the middle of the street she would probably have agreed. However, her mind was gradually coming back and taking control over this enchantment. What was she doing? No more than an hour ago she had run away from a man only to fall into the arms of another whom she barely knew?
“Sorry, Kamen… I … I think I was somewhat confused. I admit I also fell into it but I don’t think it’s a very good idea.”
“You’re right, it wasn’t a good idea” he conceded so quickly she felt a hint of disappointment. “This story with your boyfriend apparently turned us too emotional and we gave in before we realised it.”
“It looks like it did,” Lilly stepped back and straightened up her blouse.
“Do you live alone?” Kamen also started tucking the edges of his shirt into his belt trying to disguise his anxiety. But he wouldn’t let her go back to that drunken bastard…
“Y-yes, I do. Why?”
“Is there any chance this moron will come and bother you?”
“No, I don’t think so. He was so drunk and he is certainly long in bed by now. He doesn’t have a key for my place either,” the thought about Andon had been so blurred and at the back of her consciousness that it was hard to believe how that evening had started. “Only… Can I just ask you to drive or walk me to my place? I left my car at home tonight and it’s already quite late. I don’t feel like walking through the city on my own, not tonight…”
“Of course I will!” Kamen cast a peculiar look at her. “My car is parked on the other side of the High Street. Shall we go?”
Lilly unwillingly stood up. They walked side by side failing to touch or talk to each other. The moment had now gone. He had become alienated, lost in his own thoughts. She only spoke to give him directions to her house. He insisted on going up to the door of her apartment to make sure she was fine but he refused her half-hearted invitation to come in. He blew her a kiss and quickly went down the stairs.

Lilly closed the door and leaned on the inside. What an incredible evening! She wasn’t able to think anymore… she needed a good sleep. Things would be clearer in the cold light of day.

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