Ella held her ground out of sheer stubbornness. She needed some form of strength and stubbornness was her forerunner that morning – who was she to knock it?

If her plans to have a ten o’clock brunch in a casual restaurant out west had played out as she would’ve liked… well, basically she would not have ended up in the far glitzier Sandton side of the north instead. Aside from not being dressed for Sandton, she didn’t quite feel… qualified to be there either.

“No, no, it’s not a bad time – I’m glad you called. Lucky for us, I’ll be free from noon until about two. But I need you to meet me at Sandton City – we can have lunch on the Square. I need to be ready to bolt should my next appointment call unexpectedly.”

That had been the phone call between her and her dear friend, Cassie. On a personality level, they had so much in common. Lifestyle-wise, though, Ella always felt out of depth in Cassie’s world. Ballet pumps could only walk you so far – which was nowhere near the land of stilettos and botox.

When Ella had walked out of her rented cottage that morning, her fitted harem pants, wrapped top and wild afro had felt just right. She never needed more than a dash of lip-gloss and barely made eye contact with the rest of the world from behind her glasses.

Part of it was shyness, sure; a hint of her realism in knowing girls like her didn’t adorn the pages the world scoured for beauty definitions and tips. But mostly, she dealt constantly with a lack of interest in becoming that glossy girl who wore expensive labels and stayed out of the rain. Besides, she’d never be able to pull off perfection as elegantly as Cassandra did.


All right then – only an hour since the slightly-less-endeared Kai had abandoned her. And well over an hour to go before Cassie would come to her rescue.

Meanwhile Sandton gleamed in the sun – all diamonds and gold.

Well, one thing one could always count on was the presence of bookshops. Ella’s steadfast life security blanket was knowing there was always one place she could feel at home everywhere.

She parked in the cool underground basement in Johannesburg’s most affluent shopping tower and rode a glass elevator up towards the daylight. This specific one passed two shopping levels before breaking out into the sunlight on the plaza level. On the way up Ella watched ladies carrying boutique bags and gentleman speaking on their mobile phones. Everyone was busy; each one ignored the others.

One man on the level just before the plaza was standing outside a bag shop, looking bored as the woman beside him pointed out four different bags through the window. It took her two seconds to pick favourites that Ella knew to cost the same as a year’s rent at her cottage. As the elevator slowly carried her out of sight, Ella took in the man’s tailored midnight suit and his fearless light eyes. Money was the last thing to worry him, no doubt. His hands were the last thing she stared at, large and strong.

The bookshop took some finding.

It had been two years since her last visit and the tower had been renovated since then.

At first she’d cringed at the line of restaurants in the sunlight, watching impossibly striking couples laughing behind expensive sunglasses. Then she’d frowned at the directory board: it was no longer the simple map she knew, but an interactive system that kept asking her to clarify her search. After that a security guard had pointed out the nearby library with a shrug then moved on.

She didn’t mind the delays so much. After all, passing time was the point of the whole exercise.

Which is why she was most annoyed the next time she checked her watch as she entered Stranger Than Fiction: 10:45




Sandton City was a dream come true and a living nightmare rolled into one.

This was Rylan’s thought every time he strode its gleaming corridors. How much of this assessment was due to his personal tastes and how much a result of shopping experiences with Diane was debatable.

He was too busy and driven a man to be spending random Friday mornings over expensive breakfasts and bag-shopping. Yet there he was, more mornings than he cared to count. His main reason for putting up with the boredom was because he liked Diane in most other areas of their (so far) short dating relationship – and it was time to settle down. At least those had been his mother’s words for over a decade now.

Keeping his cool this morning was a small price to pay. Certainly smaller than the bill would be by the time Diane left the centre.

The boredom bothered Rylan more than he admitted, even to himself. And he refrained from admitting it because he felt it was simply a part of this stage of life. Everyone grew up and settled down. Besides, there was no way he could have lived the spontaneous adventure of his youth with Derek and Ben indefinitely. If nothing else, the fact that between them those two had already been married five times and fathered four children was proof of that.

The glare of the brightly lit line of shops and expensively tiled floors was too much.

Diane had insisted on them having lunch together as well once he’d made the mistake of letting slip that the morning’s work could be delegated though he preferred not to do so. She preferred tapas in the sunshine – so that is what they would be having at noon. He’d then handed her a credit card, negotiated an hour to himself to make some calls and marched out of the store even as she called after him.

He’d agreed to the lunch because he knew that she, for all her poise and assertiveness, was still insecure about their relationship. They’d been out a few times over the last two months, but he’d never made what could be construed as a serious move. Like letting her spend the night. Gods knew she’d tried – but he always sent her packing or insisted on visiting her… and then leaving before morning.

And, even though he’d never intentionally set out to become a focal point, he found himself the centre of much interest and speculation. He was very eligible on paper: a self-made success considered fair-minded yet exceptionally driven; the right age to make a mature and reliable husband; and good-looking enough not to have faced rejection yet. Actually the opposite was truer. Considering how many tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed men walked the planet, Rylan still found it rather baffling that he had to fight off women as much as he did.

Awareness of the interest also made him sensitive to Diane’s skittishness, though. So, he showed some consideration by agreeing to some of her moments of neediness. She wanted to feel like her place by his side was a broadcasted message; and he wanted to grow into this stage of life everyone hyped about.

It seemed a fair compromise.

He would be breaking one promise made this morning, though: there was no way he’d consider staying away from the gourmet ice cream parlour until after lunchtime. A man needed his vices. Diane meant well, but telling him what to eat and when was beyond his patience capabilities.

Now, if he could only remember how to get there.

By the time he turned into what must have been the twentieth endless corridor, he was very sure that he didn’t know the shopping tower as well as he’d always assumed he did. But that thought soon evaporated as he approached the huge bookstore near the elevators.

There was a girl standing outside it with one hand on her hip.

At first she caught his eye because she didn’t look like anyone else around her. She wore black pants in an interesting cut that was a mid-calf length and outlined her curves without actually being tight. They made her look like an enthralling African elf. Her top was a deep sinful red that made her brown skin glow, though Rylan doubted she had any idea how breath-taking her natural beauty was beneath the unforgiving lights and in contrast to the made-up pinched faces that passed her.

She was fairly tall even in flat, snug shoes; with an innate elegance that slowed his march. She stood out even as she tried not to.

And that is what held Rylan’s eye more than everything else. She stood out, sure – but she was also such a collage of contradictions. She had enough confidence to make a unique fashion statement yet seemed unsure of how to carry her own creation. She stood there in front of the enormous store, clearly not really wanting to be there – yet also defying all with a lift her chin to challenge her presence. Her hand was on the tempting curve of her hip, her shoulders back one moment; then she suddenly switched to fidgeting with the bag hanging on the crook of her arm and pushing her glasses up her nose.

He was at a snail’s pace by the time he neared her, but wasn’t too worried about alarming her. She was making a point of not looking at anyone at all.

Up close he was even more drawn in by her flawless coffee skin and full lips. She couldn’t be more than twenty – almost certainly out of his league. He was no young Adonis anymore.

He watched her eyes soften as she looked past all the people and took in aisle upon aisle of books. A bookworm then; the thought made him smile. Her hands came up and she tangled her fingers in her massive afro, a move he instantly somehow recognised as a habit of comfort. She was in her element around books; and the way she expressed the comfortable familiarity made him want to touch her.

With her hair up, he became aware of the beautiful lines of her structure: she had a high brow and cheekbones; her jaw was angular, interesting, and her chin defined. The sharp cut of her black glasses seemed to have been chosen to draw one’s eye to her own angles and lines. Her neck and arms were slim. Not skinny, just… graceful.

The biggest surprise was feeling heat slowly roll over his skin and then settle at his groin. There was no way he was getting hard while staring at a complete stranger in a busy shopping centre. Rylan shoved his hands in his pockets to hide a state he hadn’t found himself in since his bloody twenties and picked up his pace again.

As he passed behind her, the scent of lilies, lemons and mint reached him; just as she checked her watched, checked it again then muttered, “Fuck.”

Rylan grinned even as his heart thudded at the intoxicating scent that wouldn’t leave him.



The bookshop was five times the size of Ella’s cottage and miles more complex to navigate.

It was a good thing that she was just looking for looking’s sake. Her first ten minutes in there passed in mute wonder at the plush carpets, gorgeous leather armchairs and categorisation that beat any stretch of the imagination. One moment she stood before an enormous section on low carb, gluten-free, dairy-free, GMO-free, environmentally friendly, unprocessed food recipes… and the next she was tilting her head curiously at books on interracial gay adoptive parenting.

Some of the blurbs in the non-human fantasy erotica aisle gave her a good giggle. And then piqued her curiosity. She quickly moved along before letting herself get tempted into taking Lucien, vengeful lord of the oppressed vampire nation of the Ancient Dimension, home with her to find out exactly how he intended awakening Sonya Cleary’s true desires and bringing her to life as only the undead could.

Poetry. Ella beamed. She was at home in this section.

She took slow steps along the shelves then bent down when she got to the C’s.

Ce… Ch… Co…

She bent even lower.

Ah. Cu…

On the second-lowest shelf she spotted e.e. cummings.

She sat down on the thick carpet and crossed her legs. She knew what she was looking for and within seconds she found it:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it
in my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)
i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

“Um, excuse me, miss?”

Ella jolted out of her romantic musings to look up into the polite smile of a freckled boy. It took her a moment to remember that she was in a bookshop and understand the young man was one of the employees… and that giving her heart to e.e. cummings and fictional characters was the most exquisite heartbreak anyone could (and should not solely) choose for themselves.

A croak came out when she tried to speak, so she cleared her throat. “Yes?”

He seemed a little in awe of her which was ridiculous. More likely he was stumped by the adult sitting on the floor like an unruly child.

“I just wanted to check if you needed anything,” he said. “And let you know that, aside from the little seating areas within the book side, we also have a new coffee area built in at the far end.”

Before Ella could voice a defensive response, he added, “It just looks like you’re really enjoying your read and I wanted to make sure you were as comfortable and happy as possible.”

Her self-consciousness was replaced by appreciative surprise and Ella smiled. “Thank you. I… yes. Thank you.”

He watched her a moment longer, a moment too long actually. Then came to his senses and with a quick nod left her. Ella resumed back to her poem:

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Ella closed the book with a sigh. There had to be someone like that out there – somewhere – for her as well. Or else what is all the rest worth?

“Now turn to page 44,” a deep voice instructed softly.



It turned out the ice cream parlour was on the level above.

Rylan joined the long line reluctantly, suddenly significantly less keen to have any. This queue would undoubtedly take a good twenty minutes to get through – which would mean he’d then have little time left before needing to head back to meet Diane. And he still hadn’t made any of his calls.

In the time he vacillated, a petite woman walked by with a huge bouquet of lilies. The scent alone began reawakening his waning erection.

This is ridiculous. I haven’t responded to anyone like this in…

“Excuse me, are you in this line?”

He didn’t even look at the speaker. “No, I’m not.”

He was on his way back to the elevators before he could question his impulsive decision.

As the lift began its descent, Rylan turned to the back wall and squeezed his cock. How was it even possible for some girl no one else noticed to possess him as she has? Was this some sort of previously unrecognised fetish? A sudden lust for Black women? Or maybe it was her age or completely different style and air that enchanted him.

Enchanted? He scoffed at his own word.

You’re not “enchanted” – you’re just bored with your life and a little unsatisfied with how… proper… Di is in the bedroom. That’s it. You’re horny and uninspired – feng shui some shit and fuck someone. Di – fuck Di. Quit the suburban bliss act and start showing her more of yourself – start fucking her the way you’re craving to do. Hell, she just might love it as much as the others have. And it’ll kill this fascination or whatever it is you have with –

The ping of the elevator door silenced his inner lech.

As he stood outside the bookstore, Rylan spent some time watching the women walking by. He looked at all sorts: sophisticated businesswomen, slender girls in short skirts, Black, White, Asian… Nothing, he felt nothing.

What the hell?

His phone rang then. His heart dropped just a little when he say Diane’s picture on the screen – and not just because it still irritated him that she had set up a profile with her picture on his contacts list.


“Hi, darling, just checking how you’re doing.”

He scowled. “We saw each other half an hour ago and I haven’t left the centre – what is there to check?”

She gave her throaty laugh; the one that usually made him feel sympathetic towards her because of how practised it sounded. “Don’t be such a grouch. I just missed you, Ry. We’re still meeting on the plaza in an hour, right?”

“Yep.” He hung up before she could make a “Ry and Di” comment – another peeve.

The bookstore window provided a reflection as clear as a mirror’s. His suit, like all his suits, was specially tailored. He ran three times a week – more when stressed – and had a small gym at home. Partly because good health was important to him; but also because he liked entering a room and looking his best. He knew he owned most boardrooms he entered before even saying a word because people took in his height, powerful form and unwavering grey gaze and felt he had a presence compelling enough to make them want to hear what he had to say. And either obey or agree to it. Much like the women whose bedrooms he entered.

But what did any of that mean to a twenty-year-old who couldn’t be bothered with the crowd’s latest hype and who cursed before entering bookstores?

Only one way to find out, old man.

He stared at the entrance then glanced at his watch.

“Fuck it.”

He entered.

He did a quick walk around then told himself he was happy that he couldn’t find her. She’d obviously left. And that was good.


“Since when are you this inept, Kade? And over a girl in glasses and nothing you usually go for. Get outta here.”

And then he saw her.

She’d wandered into the poetry section and looked so content he couldn’t help but approach her. She disappeared from sight when she bent over; and when he got to her aisle, he was greeted by the sight of her lush behind stretching her pants out to accommodate her new position.

That heat returned. Right in his cock this time.

When she bent lower still, he almost groaned. How the hell was he meant to resist grabbing a hold of her, pulling her pants down and simply slamming his entire engorged length into her heat?

She pulled a book from one of the lower shelves and sat down. Again the elegance as she lifted the soft thickness of her hair off her neck with one hand while paging through the book with the other. Her movements were unrushed and genuine.

Rylan roughly ran his fingers through his hair. In the next instant he succumbed to her pull and stepped a little closer.

It was while he was formulating his first words to her that the red-headed kid approached.

The first thing Rylan noticed was the boy’s enraptured expression. The next were his own clenched hands and bunched up shoulders. Gods, when was the last time he even had the urge to pulverise another man? Let alone a boy… over a girl he didn’t know and who most likely wouldn’t want to know him?

He watched them speak and then her smile as she thanked him shyly. Something dark bubbled inside him.

After the boy left Rylan’s eyes traced the line of the girl’s spine as he told himself to turn around and leave. His heart betrayed him and his mind went wild. Vivid images of them naked together flashed before him. The dip at the small of her back, the scent of lilies as she moaned his name, the taste of her…

He didn’t notice his feet moving until he was right behind her.

She was reading e.e. cummings, softly mouthing one of his favourite poems to herself. Lilies reached him first. Then the lemons followed by mint.

When she finished the poem, the silence that followed was torment.

As with her scent, the husky warmth of her voice was intoxicating. He needed to hear more.