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My first night in Miami, and I was sitting in the hotel bar trying to decide whether I wanted dinner or not. I was reading a book, something I always do when I’m away from home – in fact something I always do, period – and thinking of nothing at all other than how hungry I felt.

The hotel was close to the beach, and considerably more up market than those I was used to staying, but this was being paid for by my client and they probably had a corporate account or some such.

The waitress had just placed a cold beer on my table when I became aware of something going on a few tables away. A tall, stunningly beautiful woman was trying to discourage a dark haired overweight man. I knew his type, saw them everywhere I went. He was almost certainly in sales, but if you asked what he sold you would be no wiser after he told you than before. Corporate bonds, derivatives, ground nut futures, eco electricity, something everyone had heard of and no one knew anything about – especially not the guy selling it.

It looked like the blonde was about to slap him, and he must have finally seen sense or, more likely, other prey. Crisis averted I turned away and returned to my book.

I picked up my beer and took a long cold swallow, was just putting the glass back when I became aware of someone standing across from me, and a quiet voice with a not quite right accent said, “Excuse me, but do you think I could ask you a favor?”

I lowered my book and turned to find the blonde standing by my table.

I’m usually pretty good placing where people are from, but her accent threw me: faint, almost American, most people would probably not notice, but I had always had a good ear for intonation and often amused myself by trying to guess regions and even towns people came from.

“It depends what the favor is,” I said. I was suspicious now. Gorgeous blonde in a hotel bar – I’d come across that situation before and was wary.

She smiled, showing bright, white, perfectly even teeth. “Nothing unsavory, I assure you. It’s just…” she hesitated, glancing down at her hands. “This might not sound quite like I mean it, and please don’t take it wrongly, but you seem safe.”

I smiled at her. “That’s me,” I said. I knew exactly what she meant. I had always been safe.

“You obviously cannot know this, but I tend to attract attention… usually the wrong kind of attention.”

“Really? Why on earth would that be?” I smiled, hoping she would recognize an ironic tone of voice. Luckily she smiled back. “Please, sit down,” I said.

She folded herself into the chair across from me, long, lean and unreal. I don’t think I had ever seen anyone as stunning.

“What is it I can do for you?” I asked.

“I was standing nearby when you checked in,” she replied, “and couldn’t help notice that you are staying here all week?”

I nodded. “Until Saturday. Then back home.”

“I am here all week as well. And…” she hesitated again, looking down. “This is going to sound odd, I know, but I’ve come this far now… I wondered if you would mind me joining you in the bar, and for dinner?”

I looked back at her and couldn’t think of anything to say.

” I have insulted you now?” she asked.

I shook my head quickly. “No, not at all. But why?”

“Because I am tired of being hit on all the time. If I sat over there,” she lifted a long, elegant arm and pointed to a group of chairs across the room, “I can guarantee within five minutes, almost certainly less, some big macho man would sit down and try to talk me into having sex with him.”

“I saw,” I said. I smiled. “What is the world coming to?”

“You’re joking with me now,” she said. “But it’s true. You must know it’s true. Do you stay often in hotels?”

I laughed. “All the time, I’m afraid.”

“Then you know what I mean. A woman, on her own, will always attract attention.”

“Particularly when they look like you,” I said, then immediately held up my hand in apology. “Sorry, that probably sounded like a come on. I didn’t mean to do that. But you must know you are incredibly attractive. Can you blame these men?”

She thought a moment and then shook her head. “No, I cannot blame them. But that does not mean I want to be with them – and certainly does not mean I want to sleep with them. You are right,” and she held her hands out to her sides as though to say, look at me, and continued, “I do know how I look, but that is not an excuse for men to think I will sleep with them. The kind of men I mean, they do not know what No means, do they?”

“Some people are like that, I guess. “

“But not you?”

“Me? No, I’m one of the safe ones.”

She nodded, “Yes. I think that’s true – you are.” She smiled that dazzling smile again.

Like I said, story of my life. Here I was, a couple of months off fifty, married for twenty-eight of them, never strayed, never really been tempted, and never been the target of any attention, because I’m safe. It had always been this way. When I was in High School it would drive me mad. I knew dozens casino şirketleri of girls, pretty girls, sexy girls, girls everyone wanted to be with, and they all liked me – just not in that way. I was the one they came and told their problems to, the one they could tell who they really liked and could I, you know, drop a hint? It was never me they liked, not in that way.

This woman, no doubt, was another one of those. Despite knowing that, I was not foolish enough to turn down the offer of her company.

“It would be my great pleasure if you would join me,” I said. “Can I order you something to drink?”

She smiled, warming my heart, and I struggled to keep my face still.

“A cocktail. Something frivolous.”

I raised a hand for the waitress and she came across.

“What kind of cocktail?” I asked the vision.

“You choose. I really don’t know one from the other.”

I picked something at random and sat back in my chair.

“My name is Annie,” she said, and offered her long, slim hand across the table.

“I’m Thomas,” I said, and shook her hand. I was surprised. I had expected one of those limp handshakes that melt away to nothing. Instead her grip was cool, firm and sure.

“What are you doing here, Thomas? A holiday, perhaps?”

I laughed. “Afraid not, Annie. I’m working.”

“And what is your work?”

The waitress brought her drink and Annie thanked her, took a sip of the cocktail and smiled. “Very good choice, Thomas. I like it.”

“Good. I’m not sure quite how to describe what I do. You might call me a trouble-shooter, but that sounds far too glamorous. I fix things, computer systems, for companies.”

“And you like this work?”

I smiled. “I’m not sure how to answer that. If I say yes it makes me sound very sad. If I say no that’s probably even sadder.”

“So which is it?” She took another sip of her drink, staring at me over the rim of the glass.

“I guess I do enjoy it,” I said. “I’ve always liked solving puzzles, and my job is just that. I solve puzzles other people cannot.”

“It pays well?”

I shrugged. “Okay, I suppose. “

“You are very good at your job,” she said. It was a statement, not a question.

“I think I am.”

She nodded firmly. “I thought you would be. You have that look about you. You are self-contained and confident.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say for a moment, and sipped at my beer.

“And what brings you to Miami, Annie?”

“I am a model,” she said.

I laughed. “That doesn’t surprise me at all. What else could you be?”

She laughed back. “I am working here until Saturday also. Will you be my protector for the week, when I am back in the hotel? I know it is a lot to ask, but it would mean so much to me. And I am not difficult to get on with. I will not bother you if you want to read, just sit here and read as well. I will get myself a book.”

“You don’t have one?” I asked.

“I don’t read very much. But I’m sure they have books for sale here. I will get one.”

I thought for a moment she was going to get up and buy one there and then, but she relaxed and sat back in her chair, crossing her longs legs at the knee and sipping more of her cocktail.

“It would be my pleasure, Annie.” I said, and I meant it. Apart from her beauty, I liked the person. She made me laugh, and she was easy to talk to. There was something innocent about her that I found enchanting.

“You are eating dinner here?” she asked.

“I ordered a table when I came in. I was trying to decide if I was hungry or not.”

“I can join you?” She looked down again, suddenly shy.

“Of course,” I said.

“I will pay the bill,” she said firmly. “I will pay all the bill, for both your meal and mine. And the wine.”

“There’s no need,” I said. “I think I can manage to cover a little food and drink.”

“No,” she shook her head, “I will pay the bills for our dinners this week. I have a lot of money, Thomas. It is silly how much they pay me for nothing. For looking like this.” She held her arms out again, framing her perfect figure.

“You should not underestimate yourself, Annie. You are a very beautiful woman. Whatever they pay you is almost certainly not enough.”

She smiled, shy again. “Thank you, Thomas. From you that is a real compliment.”

A waiter approached us. “Mr. Harper, your table is ready.”

“Thank you, Jerry.” I always made a point of remembering the names of as many of the hotel staff as I could. Good manners cost nothing, and often made my stay more comfortable. I had noticed over the years that the majority of guests treated staff as though they did not exist. “Would it be okay if Annie joined me?”

Jerry looked at Annie and nodded. I could see in his eyes what he was thinking, but didn’t care. Let him think what he liked.

“Of course, Mr. Harper. If you would come this way?”

I tried to keep the smile from my face as he led us past the table I had watched being made up, and took us through the dining room to the far side. He pulled casino firmaları a chair out at a large table set directly against the picture window looking over the beach. The sound of surf came faintly through the triple glazing.

Annie sat, and because Jerry appeared to be distracted, I pulled my own chair out. Jerry handed each of us a menu and made a discreet exit.

Annie put her menu down and turned to look out through the window; her face, reflected in the glass, showing a smile. “I love the sea,” she said in a soft voice. “I was born and brought up in a small town by the sea.”

“Where was that?” I asked. “Somewhere in Europe, I would guess.”

She turned back to me, her smiled growing. “Yes. But I thought I sounded like an American now.”

“Almost. But accents are a kind of hobby of mine. “

She clapped her hands. “So where in Europe? If you guess right I will order a very good bottle of wine for us.”

No pressure, I thought. Although it was true, I was good with accents, and nine times out of ten I could pin someone down to a county if not a town. But that applied to people born here, not in Europe.

“Speak to me, Annie. Tell me something about your town.”

She laughed. “Then you will know where it is!”

“Tell me about something else then. Tell me about how you became a model. I need to hear your voice so I can pin it down.”

She looked at me, and then began to speak.

“Okay Thomas. That is fair, I think. Well… where to start? “

“How old were you?”

“Oh, very young,” she said. “Seventeen. A woman came to our school play, and saw me on the stage. After we had finished she came and asked to speak with my parents. She said I was very beautiful, and she would like me to go to-” She stopped suddenly. “Oh, Thomas, you’re cunning aren’t you. I nearly gave myself away then.”

“Go on,” I said, my head resting on my hands, watching her. It wasn’t difficult to watch her.

“She would like me to go to a large town,” Annie smiled. “To have some photographs taken. She believed I could be a model. She believed I could make a career and make a lot of money. It was the money, I think, that persuaded my parents.

“My mother took me on the train. I did not understand the process then, just that it seemed dull and not at all exciting as I had imagined. I had to pose, had to wear different clothes, clothes from famous makers. And then we went home again and heard nothing for a long time.”

“How long? What happened then?”

“It was probably three months. I know I had moved on to my final year at school. I letter came in the post, saying that an agency would like to take me on, would like more photographs. So I went again, for a week this time, and they sold the pictures and after that everything became mad. I never finished school. From that moment on I hardly ever returned home.”

“And your parents? What did they think about this?”

“They were happy for me. I made a lot of money, and I bought them a new house, a new car, new clothes. I never had to buy my own clothes because fashion houses always want me to wear their latest creations. This,” she said, turning her upper body to show off her dress, “This is Gaultier. You could not afford this if you had to buy it. In fact, I don’t think you could buy it.”

As she spoke about her teenage years and her family I watched, listening to the intonation of her voice, but also entranced by her beauty. It was easy to see what the scout had seen in the girl. Her hair was ice-white blonde, very straight, cut so well it looked as though it was not styled at all, but every hair fell in exactly the right place; it framed her face, cut level to her chin on one side, slightly longer on the other.

Her cheekbones were pronounced, her eyes a brilliant blue, clear and sparkling. The eyebrows arched above them were perfectly styled, so pale as to barely show. Her nose was slim, perfectly formed to enhance the features of her face. Her mouth was wide, with full lips that might look sullen in repose, but at that moment held a faint smile that enhanced her beauty. Her bottom lip was slightly fuller than the top, and as she hesitated to think her perfect white teeth would catch at it. She may have worn wore makeup, but it was too subtle to tell, and I doubted she would need it in any case.

Finally, she stopped speaking.

“Finland,” I said.

Annie stared at me, and then smiled.

“And the town?”

“Oh come on,” I said, “Give a guy a break! I thought it was pretty good to get Finland. It could have been Sweden, possibly Denmark. It is Finland, right?”

Annie nodded.

“And it must be west coast,” I said, because the north is too cold, and there’s not much south coast so I’ll guess west coast.”

She grinned, eyes sparkling, playing the game.

“And it must have been pretty close to the capital.”

Geography was a passion of mine. As you already know, I’m a sad boring middle aged man. I know many men my age who would rather admit to reading pornography than an interest in güvenilir casino Geography. Very sad.

Annie put on a neutral face, but the hint of a smile played on the edges of her beautiful lips.

“So, let’s see…” I hummed a moment. “Merikarvia”

Annie laughed out loud, making other guests turn and look at us.

Look, I thought. Look at this vision of loveliness laughing with me.

“No!” she said.


“It is Kristiinankaupunki. The next big town up the coast.”

I laughed at her. “And your name – it’s Niki, not Anni. Right? You were named Anniki, and in America you shortened it to Annie – but your parents call you Niki, right?”

“Niki,” she said, wistfully. “Yes, I am Niki.”

I held my hand out across the table, “Hello Niki, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Thomas.”

Niki took my hand and held it for a moment longer than necessary. “It’s a great pleasure to meet you, Thomas. And I think for that you deserve a very good wine indeed.”

“And do they call you Niki at home? “

“My mother calls me Anni, without at e. My Poppa calls me Niki.”

“What do most people call you? What should I call you?”

“In America most people call me Annie, with an e. But I would like you to call me Niki. Is that alright, Thomas?”

“It will be my pleasure,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone before who changed their name in the first thirty minutes after meeting.”

Niki laughed and picked up her menu, scanned it quickly then looked at me. “What are you going to eat?” she asked.

I barely glanced down. “Fish,” I said, “Some sort of fish.”

“Not steak? I thought American men always ate steak.”

“Not this one. I do eat steak, but not often. Given a choice I usually have fish, or even, God forbid, something vegetarian.

Niki laughed. “Yes,” she said, “Fish – I like fish too. White wine then. Pick a white wine, Thomas, and make it a good one. I don’t know what is good and what is not. You pick, please.”

I opened the wine list. I know a little about wine in the same way as many people know about art – I know what I like. I wondered if she really meant for me to choose what I wanted.

I studied the wine list, allowing my eyes to drift on beyond my usual price band, on into the serious wines, the $100 plus bottles and beyond. I decided to not push my luck and chose something a third of the way through the list.

“Muscadet,” I said, “I nice Loire Muscadet. Usually underrated, but one of my favorite whites.”

“Good. I trust your judgment, Thomas.” She looked across at me, her face losing its humor and becoming serious, “I trust you, Thomas. I think I made a good choice talking to you in the bar. Thank you.”

I smiled, flustered, suddenly becoming aware for the first time that I was sitting across the table from someone who might be one of the ten most beautiful women in the world. It all felt unreal, and then Niki laughed.

“Your face has gone… funny, Thomas. Are you okay?”

“I was just thinking how glad I was you came and spoke to me,” I said.

Jerry appeared silently next to our table and hovered. “Are you ready to order, Mr. Harper?”

We had the Snapper. When Jerry brought the wine he tipped a little into my glass to try. I knew the routine, from many, many years in hotels. To show you know about wine you never taste, there is no need.

I swirled the clear liquid around my glass, tilted it to watch the alcohol rise up the side, pushed my nose down inside the bowl and sniffed once. I put the glass down and nodded. “Very nice, Jerry, thank you.”

Jerry smiled. He knew the rules as well. He filled my glass half full, repeated this for Niki, then drifted away.

I raised my glass to Niki. “To a week as friends,” I said.

She smiled. “A week as friends. An excellent toast – Kippis.”


“It is Finish for ‘cheers’.”

“Kippis,” I returned, and touched her glass. The wine was indeed very, very good, and I realized that there was sense in spending so much money on a single bottle. I had never tasted anything as good in my life.

As we ate Niki pumped me for more information, and I told her about growing up in the sixties and seventies. She was fascinated because she had been born in 1987 and knew nothing of the revolutionary times in the States, of Vietnam, draft dodging, hippies and the counter-culture. I told her my hair used to come down below my shoulders, and ruefully ran my hand over my much shorter locks, which were now more gray that brown.

“You are married?” she said, glancing down at the ring on my left hand.

Involuntarily I looked down as well, lifted my hand from the table.

“I am. I was.”

“You are no longer married? What happened, Thomas?”

“Death happened, I’m afraid.”

Niki’s face fell and she put a delicate hand to her mouth. “Oh, Thomas, I am sorry. I did not mean to pry.”

I smiled across at her. “It’s okay, I don’t mind. It was five years ago now. It doesn’t hurt too much anymore.”

“You miss your wife?”

I nodded. “Not like I did in the beginning. Back then I honestly had no idea how I was going to get from one day to the next. But now it’s just a dull ache somewhere and there are some days when I don’t think about her at all.”

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