ExtractRead the first chapters of the novel Virtually

"It's these old units," J. explained. He indicated the cooker and toaster, microwave and fridge, not to mention a whole host of other obsolete items cluttering the kitchen. "Couldn't simply plug them in. Not compatible. So I made a few modifications."

"So I see. Pretty shoddy. Still, not to worry, easily fixed."

"Could you just... fudge it for now?" He drew Sorensen's attention, once again, to the wine and the food.

"No can do," he said. "Hazard, left like this. The whole building could go up. You want me to have that on my conscience? Don't worry, won't take a jiffy."

But whatever his idea of a jiffy was, it didn't match up with J's. The Bartok ended, was put on again, got halfway through, and still Sorensen was there, clattering and cursing in the kitchen. After a while, J, began to notice a nip creeping into the air again, and going back into the kitchen he found that the oven had been switched off.

"Had to," Sorensen said. "The whole kitchen. Bigger job than it looks. If I - ah." The front door buzzer had just sounded. "Don't mind me," he said. "Be done in two shakes of a lamb's proverbial. Won't even know I'm here." And he kept industriously on, no nearer to being finished, to J.'s untrained eye, than when he had started.

What a mess. What an unmitigated disaster. It was unmistakable now, that nip in the air. Half an hour more and it would be frost-on-the-windowpane freezing again. Unless (fat chance) Sorensen had finished by then. And the pizza: there was no way of cooking it now, short of lugging the oven through to the lounge and jury-rigging it in there. An utter disaster. The whole evening, a write-off.

But she took it well.

"Not to worry. Can't stay long anyway, I'm afraid. Sorry I'm late."

She shrugged off her imitation-fur coat - was that a shiver, politely stifled? - and greeted Sorensen, curtly, dismissively, seeming to size him up in the bat of an eye: bumbling, ineffectual. It leant her an air of snobbishness, helping to substantiate the image he had of her in his mind, sketchy, an outline only, fashioned from the hearsay of those catty rumour-mongers in the office. But what else could he go on? Even the company files had next to nothing on her: Chambers, Anne-Yvonne (no middle name); head of Sales and Marketing; one rung above him on the company's salary echelon; in terms of seniority, they were roughly on a par, although it had taken her only half as long to get there. And that was it, the rest a blank. He had cast a few discreet questions here and there and learnt nothing. As a last-ditch attempt to find out about her, he had grasped the nettle, invited her to dinner. And surprisingly, she had accepted.

"No, really," she said, in response to his suggestion that they go out to eat. "A blessing in disguise. I really can't stay long."

She took the proffered wine glass from him with a whisper of thanks, went through to the lounge and sat lithely down on the end of the settee. She looked about the room, at the period furniture, early twenty first century, smiling gracefully and uttering charming things charmingly. And there was just something about her. Something so... what? Alluring? She was that all right, no denying it from the sensuous seriousness of her fawn eyes down to her shapely calves, shown off by her sleek slit-skirted dress. The brocaded necklace nestling on her chest seemed to have been put on merely to draw his lascivious eye. But alluring wasn't it. Fetching, perhaps? Fetching hell: stunning was more like it, with her poise and easy grace. Even her movements conveyed a sense of beauty. But stunning wasn't it either. Charming? Warm? Giving? Yes to all of them, and no to them all. She was just so... right, like the chord struck at the end of a piece of classical music, that the whole work has been building up to, every instrument straining towards it, every theme and variation a step along the way, all those disparate parts needing that surging climax to knit them together and make them make sense. J. lived a fairly tame life, wasn't disappointed with it, didn't think there was anything lacking. Yet there was. He realized it now. He needed her. He was, quite simply, smitten.

"Bartok?" She indicated the hi-fi and the music purring out by raising her glass, as if making a toast.

"You like classical music?" He sat down at the end of the settee, leaving the space of two people between them, or one very large person, not wanting to crowd her. His heart tripped along giddily. He began to sweat. His thoughts clouded over, his tongue felt thick and furry, easily tied. It was so long since he had done this. How long? Too long. He felt foolish, reckless - in a word, young. In two words, young again. "There's so few of us about," he said.

"Dare say. But not me. Never had more than a passing interest. My first husband though - he was a real nut for classical music. Bartok, Kodaly. Anything Hungarian. He was Hungarian."

Available for purchase now

Buy the e-book version of Virtually online via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).

The paperback version is available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk and in North America from Amazon.com.


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