Let Love Rule: Read the First Two Chapters

Below is an opening extract from my latest spicy romance, Let Love Rule. It's a work rivals to lovers, fake-dating romance with grumpy(her)/sunshine(him). The story starts in the creative agency where Mina and Charlie both work and this extract contains references to chronic illness (namely migraine disease), there are some sexist and racist microaggressions and there is swearing throughout. Go gently if any of these things are triggering for you.

And if you want to read more, Let Love Rule is available on Amazon here!

Chapter One

Bring It On


I swear some human beings are walking, talking, breathing migraine attack triggers.

I mean it. I hand-on-heart believe that if someone in a white coat researched it, they’d find that certain personality types and certain characteristics are guaranteed to induce migraine attacks, and the worst kind. The kind of migraine attacks that come on hard and fast, blurring my vision, stabbing a dagger into one side of my head, and leaving my stomach lurching with the need to empty itself.

And if some doctors were ever to research this, I would be able to point them to two people who should top their list of likely specimens to prove this theory.

One of these people, these men - because of course, they’re men - is my boss Garrett Hardcastle, a skinny, white Yorkshireman in his late forties who still believes that British indie music is going to make an imminent and stunning comeback. That’s the only reason I can believe he dresses the way he does with those ball-smuggling skinny jeans and one-size-too-small plaid shirts that cling unflatteringly to a beer belly I’m sure he can’t see in the mirror when he goes to check his spiky mullet that was no doubt ironic in a cool way in 2007, but now it just looks like his hairdresser forgets to cut the back of his hair. But I can’t blame his dated aesthetic for his migraine-inducing skills. No, that’s all down to his voice and the words that voice makes. His tone is more of a drone, like it’s an effort to breathe let alone use that air to form words, and what he says is rarely insightful or inspiring, which is unfortunate considering he’s the Executive Creative Director of HNO, the advertising agency I work at. The only time I ever see him partially animated is when he’s sunken three or more beers and snorted a line or two of cocaine at the after-work drinks that are only officially supposed to happen Friday evenings but are a near-nightly occurrence.

Some may think I’m being harsh, saying that a man who has a borderline coke addiction and has spent the last fifteen years listening to The Libertines on repeat could cause a migraine attack, but it makes a lot of sense to me. If the beautiful, delicious and life-affirming creations that are cheese and chocolate can cause migraine attacks, then why not a pot-bellied Liam Gallagher lookalike whose voice makes Ringo Starr’s sound invigorating.

The second human migraine-trigger in this room is much easier to grasp as such. Charlie Atkinson is loud, he’s camp, he’s smiley, he’s chatty and he wears very, very colourful clothes. I’m talking Blue Peter presenter-in-the-Seventies colourful. They are bright and rarely match, and with his blond hair and bright blue eyes he could easily be the token white man in a United Colors of Benneton advert. Furthermore, Charlie perpetually looks and smells like he literally just stepped out of the most refreshing shower, no matter the time of day. He’s all clean and fresh and annoying as fuck. This may not be offensive to others but the shower in my new flat currently doesn’t even have hot water so hell, yes, freshly-showered, sweet-smelling people with pores that are opened and clean are very triggering to me right now.

     “The thing about this campaign, right…” Garrett drones on, “is that we missed our chance with them two years ago. Okay? We fucked it. Totally fucked it. Wasn’t my doing, of course,” he holds his hands up but it’s so slow it’s like they each weigh ten kilograms, which I know isn’t true because that retro 80s Casio watch with a calculator keyboard is no Rolex. “I wasn’t on the pitch. But I know about it. Everybody knows about it. It’s a HNO Hall of Shame legend. This is why we have to get the fuckers next week.”

The fuckers he’s talking about are our new potential clients, Status Hotel & Venues, a luxury hotel brand famous for their period properties and design hotels. I assume we won’t be calling them “the fuckers” to their faces when we pitch to them next week.

Shit. Next week.

“Next week?” I ask to confirm it, but I know my voice betrays the panic and dismay I feel at the prospect of pulling a pitch together so quickly, on top of all the other work I already have. I press my lips together as if that will undo the question and the emotions it conveys. There’s a reason my nickname in the office is Moana – and no, it’s not pronounced like the Disney film - and while I don’t care, really I don’t, I do try to avoid feeding the beasts who call me that.

“Next week. Friday,” Garrett confirms, his voice low and dull. He picks up his phone and starts tapping and scrolling with a deep sigh. “The good news is our tissue meeting was a big success, they’ve already done the target audience research for us and that plus the sales and brand goals that Jessica put together are heading to your Inboxes right now.”

Right on cue, my phone buzzes in my pocket.

“Should be totally doable,” Charlie says. After I offer the ceiling a quick eye roll, I glare at him. Clearly having a very different reaction, he leans forward in his chair, elbows on the table, and clasps his hands together as if watching Garrett scrolling on his phone is the most interesting thing in the world. “I’ve done it before, I can do it again.”

“When have you ever done it before?” I challenge Charlie.

“Remember that Herbal Essences pitch last summer? Wasn’t that done in less than a week?”

I can’t stop my top lip curling. “No. You had a month for that.”

“Really?” Charlie’s head tilts to the side, like a puppy who thinks he just heard the word “walkies”.

I nod as I recall exactly what Charlie is referring to. “Yes, you had a month, but you were away for three weeks of it, so it felt like only a week to you.”

“Oh, yes, my Greek-island-hopping adventure. That was a wonderful holiday.” Charlie’s eyes gloss over as he reminisces, and I grip my pen a little harder. I haven’t had a holiday in four years, but who’s counting?

Garrett looks up from his phone at this and eyes us both in turn. “Am I speaking Swahili or something?”

My spine straightens and I don’t miss how Garrett’s eyes linger on me a little longer. I wonder if it’s because he thinks he just said something racist or if he is asking me a serious question.

“Just because I’m brown, doesn’t mean I speak Swahili,” I say before muttering under my breath. “For fuck’s sake.”

“I think Garrett was being sarcastic.” Charlie leans towards me. “Although I agree he could have picked his words better.”

“Was what I just said racist?” Garrett raises his eyebrows and I see exactly what direction this is going in now. He’s going to play dumb. He’s going to put the burden on me to explain his faux pas rather than just acknowledging and apologising for it. Like every other time a microaggression slips out of someone’s mouth in this godforsaken place.

“Was what I said racist, Charlie?” he asks the other white man in the room because of course he does.

I wave my hands around and the noise of my silver bangles and bracelets chiming together fills the room. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s focus on the work we have to do and fast. Who’s going to be the Creative Team managing it? And who will be the project lead?” I ask, which is what I really want to know. I see Charlie lean forward a little more, I know he’s wondering exactly the same. If I’m made project lead, that will actually make this worth doing. I’ve only been waiting the last two years for it and the timing would be perfect considering the mess that is my personal life. Yes, being project lead would give me something good to focus on.

“You’ve got to get the project first,” Garrett mumbles as he goes back to his phone. “And isn’t it obvious who will be the Creative Team?”

I shake my head.

“The two of you, of course,” Garrett points to us in turn, again with heavy hands.

“Me and Charlie?” I ask. “But Charlie is already in a team with Sasha.”

“My work wife,” Charlie says a little smugly and I ignore him.

“Well, it’s not like you have an established team,” Garrett points out and I flinch at the accusation, because it’s true. I’ve managed to avoid becoming one half of a Creative Team since joining HNO seven years ago and I like it that way. It’s a little unorthodox, I accept, but the thought of working with only one copywriter on every single project turns my stomach. That said, I know it’s held me back. I know that if I maybe had a few more team awards under my belt I would be in with a shot of becoming Creative Director, a role that hasn’t yet been filled since last month when the last one left claiming burnout but a week later photos of him surfing in Bali emerged on his Instagram. My brain kicks in as I start to think how I can use this to my advantage.

“But we should have a project lead now so we can really hit the ground running and maximise our time.” I sit forward myself now. “My direct reports should be able to take on a decent chunk of my outstanding work and I can easily clear my schedule for the rest of the week—”

“As can I,” Charlie interjects. “Faith is more than capable of leading my other campaigns for a week, and Hassan is whizzing through both the Cadburys and British Airways copy.”

The way he name-drops his team’s star players prompts another micro-eye roll from me, but not before I go on to do exactly the same thing. “Well, Toby has already delivered Heinz’s proofs and I sent you the concepts Kwazi and Olivia came up with for Interflora, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Garrett drawls with a nod, his eyes half-closed, but I’ll take it. I give Charlie the quickest but most conceited grin.

He reacts by stretching even more towards Garrett. He must have exceptional core muscles to stop him toppling forward. “You know, Garrett, I really think Faith’s ready to take the lead on Cadbury’s. She’s been here as long as I have, which is a fair few years longer than Mina,” he shrugs at me. “I’m sorry, but it's true.”

I narrow my eyes at Charlie. I’m about to open my mouth and tell him that strictly speaking, I am at a higher level than Faith but then a thought crosses my mind. Is he pitching me against Faith, because she’s also a woman of colour? That’s low. And actually, not at all like him. He’s annoying in any number of over-the-top ways – he’s too cheerful and chatty, and his campness knows no bounds – but he’s not a bitch. Until today, apparently.

“Well, I’m sorry I joined the company many years after you and yet you’re still at the same level I am,” I say directly to Charlie and my words twist with sarcasm.

“But with a much bigger team. An award-winning team,” he says back quickly and with emphasis.

“We’ve won awards too!” I point out.

“No, Mina, you’ve won awards. Not your team, which I know you can’t always blame on the leader but…” Charlie trails off, his unsaid words as intentional as those he speaks.

I roll my eyes and look away. Whatever it is that’s got his knickers in a twist, and I’m not altogether joking when I refer to Charlie’s underwear as knickers, I have no time for it. Not today. Not after the weekend I’ve just had. A weekend that involved me moving all my stuff out of my ex-girlfriend’s flat into the dingiest bedsit, an overpriced one-room studio flat that was the only thing available at such short notice. Because I couldn’t stay there a day longer with Hannah. Not one more day.

I shake my head a few times to refocus my attention on the conversation, to stake my claim on being the lead. I look at my boss whose eyelids have fallen so low I could question if he’s still conscious. “Status is a modern hotel and events brand. They’re visual. They’re all about aesthetic and design. It makes sense that they have a design lead, Garrett. I speak their language and—”

Garrett holds his hands up in an unusually fast action and that silences me. “Alright, alright, I get what you’re both doing. You’re peacocking. I know you both want the lead on this campaign, and you’re both more than qualified. But frankly, I don’t have time to pick a lead now. Besides, I want to see how well you work on the pitch together.”

“Together?” I repeat.

“Yeah, you’re a Creative Team now,” he says with a yawn.

“But then we’re both taking time away from our existing campaigns and pitches,” Charlie points out with a sunshine smile that doesn’t match what he’s saying or the slightly jittery tone of his voice. “And I’m already in a Creative Team with Sasha.”

“Are you saying I don’t know how to run my own creative department?” Garrett stares at Charlie from under a heavy brow.

A snort of a laugh wants to roll itself up my throat and out of my mouth, but I manage to hold it back. Charlie never pisses people off, even Garrett. That’s typically my job.

“No, Garrett, God no.” Charlie holds his palms up in defeat, that smile only slightly slipping. “Not at all. You’re excellent at what you do.”

I find myself shuffling in my chair and needing to cough rather than say the words that are at the tip of my tongue, because what the fuck, kiss arse.

“Then you’ll crack on then, won’t you? This campaign will be worth a fuck ton of money and some of that will trickle down to you both. So, you can buy some more stripey polo shirts, Charles, and you, Mina, you can go and get the inside of your eyeballs tattooed because it seems you’ve run out of space anywhere else.”

I resist the urge to pull my shoulders in and cross my arms over my chest, to hide my heavily-inked body from his gaze and his words. Once again, it’s a passing comment, an indirect remark that would be hard to explain to HR why it feels so inappropriate, so wrong. Especially because HR at HNO is made up of white twenty-something straight women who rely on Garrett to get their bumps during after-work drinks.

“You can count on us,” Charlie says, his hands clasped together again, but now it looks more like he’s praying than gripping them together in delight.

“Mina?” Garrett says as he stands, putting his tightly denim-clad crotch far too close to my eye level.

“Sure, yeah, whatever,” I mutter, glancing away. I spread my hands flat on the table as if to steady myself, because suddenly the ground doesn’t feel so sturdy. In fact, one of these human migraine attack triggers could be having some success with me as I feel the sudden sting of my nearly ever-present headache sharpen a little above my left eye.

It will pass. It will pass. It will pass, I tell myself as I focus my eyes on a spot on the table. I’m still sitting there motionless as Charlie practically leaps up to stand and nod goodbye to Garrett who leaves the meeting room with a long and unnecessarily dramatic sigh.

“Shit,” I say as the pain sharpens, but it doesn’t spread, and so far, I am still seeing one of everything.

It will pass. It will pass. It will pass.

“You could say that,” Charlie says jovially as he flops back in the chair next to me.

I stay silent, hoping he’ll take that as an invitation to leave me alone. Not that I’d be alone. I am never completely alone when I have the threat of a migraine attack hanging over me. Indeed, it feels like having your worst enemy peering over your shoulder waiting for you to trip up only for them to then push their foot down on your back as you try to get up again.

It will pass. It will pass. It will pass.

Charlie shifts in his chair to face me, but still, I don’t look up from the table. I shouldn’t have gotten so worked up. Stress is my number one trigger and I was already feeling crappy and tired after moving all my stuff out at the weekend. I let this meeting get to me. I let those stupid things that Garrett said crawl under my skin and stress me out. I let the pressure of needing to prove myself, to be the lead for my first big campaign, the chance to prove myself as the right choice to be Creative Director cause me to get a fucking migraine attack. How could I be so stupid?


It will pass. It will pass. It will pass.

“Listen, Mina. I know this is less than ideal,” Charlie says and his tone is less affected now Garrett has left the room. That said, it’s still annoyingly cheerful. “But I think we’d make a pretty good Creative Team, and hey, I guess with such limited time, two brains may well be better than one.”

“Even if one of those brains is yours?” I deadpan, still not looking at him.

“Haha!” Charlie actually laughs at the insult, laughs out loud. “Very funny. But seriously, you’re super good at what you do, and in many ways, it makes sense to have input from both a copy guy and an art girl on this project from the outset considering how visual a brand they are.”

I shudder a little at the way he calls me a girl. I’m twenty-nine for fuck’s sake. I hate being called a girl.

“But Garrett said only one of us will actually get the lead, should the campaign come in.” I remind him. “And we both know leading a project like this will help determine who becomes the new Creative Director.”

“You want that role?” Charlie blinks at me incredulously, which pushes all my buttons. Does he not think I’m qualified? Does he think just because he’s older, and a man, he has more right to it than me?

“Yes, I want that role,” I say slowly, enunciating each word.

“Right,” Charlie drags the word out and because the pain above my eye isn’t worsening, it’s possibly subsiding, in fact, I turn my head towards him to try and ascertain what he meant by that.

“You know I be a very capable Creative Director,” I tell him forcefully. “Better than you, possibly.”

Charlie laughs again, and again it sounds genuine if a little less hearty. “I know you could,” he says simply.

I don’t know what to say to that, so I don’t say anything.

“Listen, I know you could do it. I just want to it,” Charlie adds.

“Well, so do I.”

“No, but I really want it. I have had a shitty few weeks and it would be nice to have a new client, a new campaign and a new role to focus—”

“Well, I really want it too,” I interrupt with a clenched jaw. “For similar reasons,” I mumble.

Seriously, does he think I’m just going to give it to him because he really, really wants it? Does he think I’m going to give it to him that easily because everything else comes so easily to him?

“I see that, so I guess we just have to both work as hard as we can to try and secure the lead and maybe the Creative Director role although I daresay we’ll also have to interview and there will be external candidates too,”

“Duh,” I cut in and I only regret saying it when it echoes as a childish sound in my ears.

“But I think the best thing we can do right now is focus on coming up with a winning pitch that impresses Garrett enough that he picks the right man, oops, I mean, person for the job.” Charlie blushes a little as he stumbles over his words and if I was a kind person, I would almost describe it as cute.

But I’m not a kind person.

“But that will also mean working together, just us, as a Creative Team,” I remind him. “Don’t tell me you don’t think it will be an absolute nightmare?”

“I don’t think I’m the one who has the ability to make it a nightmare,” he says and he looks me up and down.

And I know what Charlie sees. He sees my black lipstick, the ring in my septum piercing and the flash of silver of the barbell through my tongue when I talk. He sees how the light brown skin of my arms and neck and chest are covered in black ink. He sees my sharp shoulder-length bob, my heavy fringe and my dark eyes framed with thick eyeliner hiding beneath it. He sees my perma-scowl and hard jaw. I look like many people’s idea of a nightmare, so yes, I suppose he’s not way off track in what he’s saying, especially when you compare us. Him with his fresh linen smell, clear pale skin, and the baby blue polo shirt that clings to the muscles on his forearms and his narrow waist as it’s tucked into his ridiculous teal-coloured jeans, both of which I bet he ironed last Sunday evening as he planned a week of outfits.

Ugh. I’ve had enough of this. I’ve had enough of him.

I stand up before giving my response. “Nightmare or not, I’ll do my job and I’ll do it well. It’s up to you to do the same, Charlie.”

I don’t wait to hear what he has to say with that. Instead, my headache and I leave the room, my chin held high and my thick-soled Doc Marten boots clomping across the carpet.

Chapter Two

Are You Gonna Go My Way?


As I lift my bottle of beer to my lips and ignore the chatter that bounces around the group I’m stood with, in the office kitchen area, I sneak a look at the only member of staff still at her desk, still tapping away on her keyboard albeit with a non-alcoholic beer by her side.

I feel bad. I probably shouldn’t have said half the things I said to her in that meeting earlier. I effectively called her a nightmare. And it’s not even true. She’s frosty, she’s withdrawn, and she doesn’t suffer fools lightly, but she’s not a nightmare. Moana, shit, I mean, Mina is exceptionally good at her job and aside from being one of the most talented artists in the whole company, she has proved over the last year or so how capable she is at managing a team. Admittedly, her management style is completely different to mine – I’ve barely seen her crack a smile in her team meetings meanwhile I have been known to start our weekly briefings with a few minutes of laughing yoga to get everyone loosened up – but she gets the job done. She delivers.

No, Mina is not a nightmare. She just looks like one.

Not my nightmare you understand. I actually find her Morticia-meets-Wednesday Addams style endearing in how consistent she is about wearing black or dark shades of purple, green or grey every single day, and I doubt anybody can argue with how striking her dark eyes are with the elaborate cat-eye eyeliner she pulls off. Ever since I first met her, I’ve been wanting to ask Mina how she manages to get those thick flicks so symmetrically identical. I’m dying to know because my own attempts at a similar effect have left me looking like I let a five-year-old at my face with a blunt Sharpie pen.

Yes, I have been known to wear eyeliner, which would surprise absolutely nobody at HNO. I’m the company’s token over-the-top queer guy. The effeminate man who minces around the office making small talk with anyone and everyone. I’m safe for women to chat with, I’m camp enough to get away with flirting with straight men, and my fellow queer guys love to roll their eyes at me as we have innuendo-offs that I always win.

The one thing that would surprise all my colleagues is that I’m not actually gay. No, I’m bisexual.

Sometimes it bothers me that people don’t know this about me, but for so long now, I’ve been what is effectively HNO’s gay mascot that I wouldn’t know where to start to correct these assumptions and I also wouldn’t know how to navigate the questions I would inevitably get when I tell people I’m bi.

But you’re so camp.

But you only date men.

But you’re a bottom, aren’t you?

But you have a boyfriend.

Ah. They can’t say that last one now. Not anymore, because as of three weeks ago, I no longer have a boyfriend. Nope, Markus and I are no more.

I sigh as this realisation kicks me in the gut and I’m even more oblivious to what Faith, Ryan and Hassan are playfully arguing about. I suddenly have no energy for after-work drinks banter, but nor do I want to go home. Home to a flat I used to share with Markus. A flat that is now tauntingly empty, even with my much-loved dog Goldie eagerly ready to give me as many hugs as I need.

It doesn’t hurt knowing he no longer lives there – breaking up was my decision after all – rather it hurts knowing the flat is empty and will stay that way for the rest of the evening after I get home. And because it’s Friday, I’m also looking at two full days of an empty flat, interrupted only by my mother’s 70th birthday party, an event I now have to go to alone.

I may have decided Markus wasn’t the man for me, and I don’t miss him specifically, at least not in the gut-wrenching way I should had I really been in love with him, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss having someone. Someone to share my flat with, someone to accompany me to family functions, someone to squeeze my hand when my mother says something indirectly but very successfully insulting.

That’s another reason people are surprised I’m bisexual. My love of having a monogamous relationship with one loving partner is apparently contradictory to having a sexuality that dictates you could potentially be attracted to anyone and everyone. I’m sure there are some biphobic roots to this assumption, but it gives me a headache to even think about pointing this out and trying to prove my loyalty.

Not in the mood for banter, and not in the mood to leave, I decide I am in the mood to do something that will help ease some of the discomfort I’ve been feeling since our earlier meeting.

Nodding and smiling my way out of the circle we’re stood in, I go to the fridge where I grab two more bottles of beer, one non-alcoholic, and I use the opener to flip their lids off. I cross the kitchen area quickly, leaving the chatter behind me, and make my way to Mina’s desk.

“A peace offering,” I say holding out the 0% beer to her.

She looks at me first before her eyes settle on the beer and I see in that quick glance that the irises of her eyes aren’t as dark as I assumed. They’re actually a warm, almost mahogany shade of brown, very distinct from the black pupils that study my outstretched hand without revealing anything.

“A free beer from the office fridge.” Her eyebrows lift slightly. “You shouldn’t have.”

I smile hard enough to bunch up my cheeks. I’m not a vain man despite what many people think, but I know I have what could be described as a dazzling smile so I deploy it hoping it helps melt some of Mina’s frostiness. “Now I’m no expert in Mina-risms, but I do believe that was sarcasm.”

“Mina-risms,” she says and turns in her seat to snatch the bottle from my hand. “Don’t you mean Moana-risms.”

My smile shrinks to a stunned pout in half a second. “You know about that name?”

“I know everything,” she levels at me, and her voice is so earnest, her face so serious it cracks something inside of me. I laugh, loudly.

“I don’t doubt it.” I chuckle as I take the liberty of resting my backside on the side of her desk. It’s not a large backside. In fact, some women have called it cute and pert, although I highly doubt Moana, I mean, Mina would be one of them, but I’m not going anywhere until I at least try and have a conversation about what happened earlier. I have a strong feeling I know exactly why I behaved the way I did and it’s highly likely she doesn’t give a flying fuck, but it would make me feel better if I could just try and explain it to her. So, I begin, “But listen, I really do want to apologise.”

“And why is that?” she says and it could sound accusatory, but it could also sound just plain curious. Mina is frustratingly hard to read, what with her empty expressions and intense stares. Stares that just got a bit more intimidating now I know about the warm wild honey colour in her eyes.

“Because I was a bit of a dick to you earlier,” I say and my shoulders lower a little with the confession.

“A bit?”

“Okay, fine, I was a massive throbbing erection of a dick!” I hold my hands up and pull my eyebrows up high on my forehead. When I see one corner of her mouth twitch, it makes me smile.

“You weren’t that bad,” she concedes.

“Not a fan of erections?” I ask, probably being far too nosey but the thing is, we have this bet going in our team…

Mina’s bronze-brown eyes assess me once more and it slows my thoughts, which is a silly thing for her eyes to do. “Will you split the money with me if I tell you?” she asks abruptly.


“Your bet. About my sexuality.” Mina shrugs like I should keep up.

Wow. She really does know everything.

“I don’t know what you��re talking about.” My hands are now on my chest and I know that I doth protest way too much.

“Half the winnings is still half,” she points out, and she’s not wrong.

“Fine, I’ll split it with you.”

“I’m bi, but typically only date women or femme presenting enbies,” Mina informs me like she’s reading out the weather forecast.

“Oh,” I say, because I don’t believe anyone betted that specific orientation. It was really about whether she was gay or not. And yes, I definitely should have known better than to be so reductive and binary-minded about it.

“You thought I was a man-hating lesbian, am I right?” She cocks an eyebrow as a coy smile tilts her black lips. It’s possibly the first time I’ve ever seen Mina’s face arrange itself in something that isn’t a disapproving scowl, and it makes me realise how pretty she actually is. In fact, I’m fairly sure her face is a perfect heart shape as I take in her pointed chin, small button nose, and wide-set eyes that are round and big despite their thick frames of eyeliner. Mina has been blessed with a skin tone millions of women – and possibly almost as many men – would spend thousands of pounds on sun beds or fake tanning products to achieve and while most of the ochre-brown skin of her arms, chest and neck are covered with tattoos, her face is free of these interruptions and it’s now I’m looking at her that I see how despite the dark make-up and the frown she normally gives everyone, the skin on her cheeks glows. Mina has a beautiful complexion and the texture of her skin is the kind that begs to be appreciated, admired, touched…

If she let you, of course.

“The bet was on whether you were gay or not, yes,” I admit. There’s no point in lying, not when she’s giving me such a knowing look and I think I’m starting to like the copper tinge in her cheeks as she becomes a little bit more animated.

“How boring of you all.” She curls her upper lip before taking a swig at the new beer she took from me. “Hardly outside of the box thinking, and not really the kind of creativity I would want leading the Status campaign.”

“Which we haven’t got yet,” I add.

“But we will,” she says, very matter of fact.

“Because I’ll make it happen,” I finish for her and puff my chest out a little for effect.

“Jesus,” Mina mutters as she takes another drink. “So, how much money do I get for settling that bet.”

“Twenty-five quid.”

“That’s all I was worth?”

“No, you were worth fifty quid but we’re splitting it, aren’t we?”

“Apparently so,” she says. “So why did you act up in the meeting?”


“Does your apology about calling me a nightmare include an explanation or is it just to cover your arse in case I report you to HR.”

“You’re going to report me?” I can’t stop my eyes from widening.

“Wasn’t planning on it.” She shrugs. “But I could. Especially for playing me and Faith off against each other.”

“You and Faith? Wait… what?” It’s my turn to frown and it’s all from confusion as I try to recall what I said in the meeting.

“Trying to replace one woman of colour with another?” She offers as a prompt.

A wave of prickly heat rushes through me, from head to toe, and it leaves me feeling very, very cold once it passes. I did say something along those lines. Oh, Jesus, was that… was I being racist?

“God, I’m so sorry,” I rush out. “I did say something like that and I know I didn’t mean it at the time but I can see how it looks and well, I shouldn’t have said it and that was foolish and clumsy and, shit, I’m really sorry, Mina.”

She blinks at me and is silent for a few moments. “Well, thanks. For the apology, I mean,” she says eventually.

I put my hand not holding my beer in my hair and rub at my scalp, still feeling a little uncomfortable in my own body.

“Jesus, I knew I was being a dick in the meeting – I’ve had some shit happen in my personal life recently – but I didn’t realise I was being a racist dick.”

Mina narrows her eyes at me. “I don’t think you were being intentionally dickish, or racist.”

“I was just so obsessed with getting the lead on the pitch. I kind of need the focus, you see,” I blunder on, “I kind of want a reason to work overtime even.”

Another slow blink. “Why?”

“Oh, I don’t want to make excuses for my behaviour. That would cheapen my apology.”

“No, I’m interested. You said you’ve had some shit happen in your personal life. Unfortunately, I can relate to that.” She sighs, and her shoulders rise and fall with it.

“Oh, really?” I relax with the change of conversation even if it’s one that means discussing the end of my longest relationship to date. “I’ll tell you my woes if you tell me yours?”

“Go on then,” she says but I’m not sure if she’s agreeing to my suggestion or prompting me to tell her all.

“I split up with my boyfriend,” I explain.

“I split up with my girlfriend,” she blurts out at exactly the same moment.

“Snap!” I say with possibly a little too much unwarranted excitement.

“Yeah, we win.” She lifts her beer to me but her voice is anything but celebratory.

“Did she break it off? Or was it mutual?” I ask.

“I ended it.” Mina stares straight ahead at her computer screen. “It wasn’t going anywhere. We weren’t getting on and were spending more and more time apart. I just, I don’t know, I thought I fell out of love with her, but now I don’t know if I was ever really in love with her.”

“Sounds familiar. Markus and I started off as friends and about five years ago we just sort of evolved into this relationship that was super easy and simple but not necessarily all sparks and butterflies. I liked having him around, but I haven’t really missed him since he moved out, you know? Rather I just miss having someone. Someone I guess I am actually in love with, if that makes sense.”

“Oh, Charlie, you really are as soft as you look.” Mina gives me a wry smile. I pout and put one hand on my hip as if to protest but I realise quickly that only proves her point.

“I don’t think it’s soft or bad to want to fall in love, I think it’s human,” I say instead and the copywriter in me is impressed with the phrasing.

Mina doesn’t look anywhere near as impressed. “You know that’s not technically true. There are many aromantic people in this world and other people who are perfectly content and complete without needing to fall in love.”

“Are you one of them?” I ask because I’m genuinely intrigued, but once the question leaves my mouth I wonder if it’s a bit too personal. I’m about to apologise and take it back, but to my surprise, Mina answers me.

“Annoyingly, no,” she says in her icy tone, but she doesn’t elaborate.

“I think that’s why I was all on the defensive or maybe even the offensive in the meeting,” I clarify. “I saw being the lead on the pitch and campaign as a way to fill the coming days and weeks with more work rather than wallow in self-pity.” I jump a little when my phone starts vibrating in my jeans pocket. I pull it out and look at the name on the screen. I sigh as I put the phone back in my pocket unanswered. “It would also give me a good excuse to not answer my mother’s phone calls.”

Mina arches her eyebrow again and I decide I’m starting to quite like it. “Mummy issues?” she asks.

I give her a half-smile. “Like you wouldn’t believe. It’s her 70th birthday this weekend. She’s having a huge party at her golf club – don’t laugh, I’m aware how white and middle-class this all sounds – and I finally told her a few days ago that Markus and I had split up. Now she is trying to get me to get back with him because ‘he’s the best thing that ever happened to me’ and ‘how dare I show up at her party dateless’ which I didn’t realise was such a crime but apparently at age thirty-four, I should be married off already like my brother was. My brother with his perfect husband, perfect job and perfectly timed nuptials.” I stop myself when I hear how bitter I sound.

“Hmm, that sounds familiar. In fact, I think I can beat it. My younger sister just got engaged. She’s twenty-six.”


“Yep, and it gets worse. Guess who my sister’s best friend is?”
“Royalty? MI5? Miss Piggie?” I guess.

Mina frowns at me. “Those are weirdly specific suggestions, but no. My ex.”

“The one you just broke up with?”

“Yep. Not that she cares about seeing me again. She’s already got herself a new girlfriend. Took her all of two weeks. I’m pretty sure that’s a world record for rebounding, even for a lesbian.”


“Yeah, so now I have to go to my sister’s engagement party and see not only my younger sister fulfil all my parents’ dreams, but I have to do it while my ex snogs her new girlfriend in the corner or something. Oh, and of course we’re going to be bridesmaids together.”

“Okay, I think you win,” I say, laughing lightly as I cross my legs at the ankle, which makes me abruptly aware of how much more comfortable I am leaning on Mina’s desk now than I was ten minutes ago listening to my team’s small talk. “When is the engagement party?”

“Next weekend.”

“Ah, see now you have a whole week to find someone else to go with you. My mother’s party is tomorrow. I’m completely screwed,” I say and as I do the dust particles and fragile fragments of an idea start to spin around my mind.

“Oh, I would rather just not go,” Mina says with a sigh. “Although that would be a pretty shit thing to do. My sister has asked me to be Maid of Honour so I suppose it’s not very honourable of me to bail.”

“Wait,” I say and I hold my hands up again, but this time it’s to ensure I have her full attention. I even manage to keep my wrists firm and steady. “Why don’t we be each other’s date?”

Mina gives me her longest, slowest blink yet. “What?”

“Are you busy tomorrow night?”

She squints. “No, but—”

“Then please will you come with me to my mum’s birthday party?”

“Are you asking me out?” She dips her chin in disbelief.

“Sort of, yes,” I admit. “And you can ask me to be your date for your sister’s engagement party.”

I pause and wait for her to follow my lead. It really is a genius idea. My mother will hate that I show up to her party with a woman. But of course, she won’t be able to say anything about it because she does know I’m bisexual, even if she refers to it in the past tense. She’ll have to play along with me and keep up appearances because that’s truly all Mum cares about once we’re in a public setting.

“Let me go with you next weekend by way of apology for my behaviour today,” I add when Mina doesn’t say anything. “In fact, you don’t even need to return the favour and come with me tomorrow, although it would really piss my mum off and that’s almost worth paying for.”

“You will not be paying me,” Mina warns in a low voice.

My smile is instant and big, bunching up my cheeks again. “So, you’ll do it?”

“Wait, isn’t it a bit… inconsistent that you show up with… me?” She points a black-painted fingernail at her chest.

“Oh, because you’re a woman, well, technically no. I’m not gay, I’m bisexual,” I explain and I wait for a clap of thunder, a flash of lightning or at least Mina’s jaw to drop to the floor. But none of that happens. She doesn’t even look like she heard me.

“No, not that.” Mina shakes her head. “I know you’re bi.”

“You do?”

“Sure. The first week I worked here you stared at my tits for seven seconds during a brand brainstorming meeting when I made the mistake of wearing a shirt missing a button.”

“I did?” I gasp sounding very much like the gay mascot everyone else at the company believes me to be.

“That and I never make assumptions about people’s sexualities until they declare them themselves to me. Instead, I just do the normal thing and assume that everyone is bi or pan or somewhere on the multisexual spectrum.”

“That’s the normal thing to do?”

“Sure it is. Don’t tell me you disagree?”

I muse on this for a few moments, chewing my bottom lip as I do. “I mean, it does make the most sense to me personally.”

“Exactly. It’s just a much better starting point than the boring old default of heterosexuality. It makes sense to opt out of multisexuality rather than opting into a completely different sexuality from being straight, which as I’m sure you’ll agree, is the orientation that makes the least sense of all.”

I find myself smiling at this theory, laughing a little too. I also can’t deny how seen I feel, how validated. So rarely do I think about my bisexuality making sense when it seems to go against what everyone else assumes me to be, but the last few minutes of conversation with Mina has me feeling seen, affirmed, validated, and I like it. I like feeling this way a lot. That is until I remember what she said. “I couldn’t agree more. But also, I’m so very sorry for staring at your tits. I actually don’t do that very much.”

“I know you don’t. Haven’t noticed you do it since, by the way. Not that I could blame you. I do have excellent boobs.”     

“So, will you let me be your plus one for that party? And if you want, you can be mine?” I ask, suddenly eager to talk about something else, anything other than Mina’s breasts.

“You didn’t let me explain what I meant earlier,” Mina says. “I meant it would be inconsistent and a little odd if you showed up with me because, well, bisexual or not, I doubt I’m close to being your type.”

How do I tell her that that’s exactly why I want her to be my date. “Well, I suspect that goes both ways, am I right?” I cock my hand on my hip, just to camp it up a little and make my point.

Mina nods. “I haven’t dated a boy since I was doing my A-Levels, and even then, it was an accident.”   

“An accident?”

“He was my Dutch pen pal and his name was Jan, spelt J-A-N, so for the first five months of exchanging letters, which got very intimate, very quickly, I assumed he was a she. It was a huge shock when he walked off the bus at six feet two with patchy stubble.” Mina’s eyes and thoughts seem to drift away a little. “I always did think it was strange when he said how hard I made him, but I just assumed it was lost in translation.”

“Poor Jan,” I say, bringing my bottle to my lips, surprised I have to tip it back quite far as I’ve nearly finished it while talking with Mina.

“Hardly. I gave him several hand jobs and a tit wank over the five days he was visiting.”

I cough and choke as my shock makes the beer go the wrong way.

“Yeah, you’re definitely not gay if that ruffled your feathers,” Mina says with an amused smile as she reaches for her bag and gets up to stand.

“Wait, so are we doing this?” I ask, wiping at my mouth with the back of my hand. “Come on, I actually think it could be fun.”

Mina stops placing things in her bag to consider this with a look on her face that could just as easily be a thoughtful smile as a slightly repulsed grimace.

“You’ll really come to my sister’s engagement?”

I bow slightly. “It would be my pleasure.”

Mina assesses me once more, her expression still unreadable, but her eyes narrow, which I feel somewhat sad about because it means I can’t look at the warm mahogany swirl of her irises again. Without saying anything she picks up a pen and starts writing on the pad of Post-it notes on her desk. Once finished, she pulls the top pink note off and then slaps it against my chest, sticking it there.

“One condition. Nobody at work knows about it,” she says in a low voice as her eyes pin mine.

“Deal,” I say, because it will benefit me too, after all.

“Text me where to be and when. You can also let me know about a dress code, but I’ll almost certainly ignore it,” she says as I stare down at the note she left, its fluorescent pink colour clashing brilliantly with the blue of my T-shirt. I should wear pink and blue together more often, I think to myself.

When I look up, Mina is already walking away.

“Great, I’ll see you tomorrow, and thanks! Can’t wait! It will be fun!” I call out as she and her hips, which I am noticing for the first time are very voluptuous, sashay out of the office without looking back.


Read the rest in Let Love Rule! 

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Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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