THE SUBSCRIBER CANNOT be reached. Please try again later.

This was the message Amara got every time she tried to call Blu. When Blu convinced her to go on the date, a part of had been excited to meet someone. It seemed like a good idea at that time, but now she felt an irritating combination of anger and self-loathing.

Amara had an obsessive behaviour of dealing with her anger when it bubbled. Blus adamant avoidance annoyed her more than the boxes of her things littered around her studio apartment.

It was a Sunday. Her off day. The risen sun shone softly on the city streets, bringing with it a flurry of early morning activity. From her studio apartment, she looked outside the window at the people walking into the theatre across to see the new movie that was released yesterday.

The walls to her apartment were still pathetically decorated with the last owners pictures of huge-eyed Japanese cartoon characters. Recently, she started decorating. So far, she had created a division between the living area with a classy see-through curtain. The kitchen had hooks on the walls for hanging light items. She used mirrors to create an illusion of a larger space. She was on the way to the hardware store, for soft yellow paint, and the flea market for groceries, art and string fairy lights.

Amara dialled Blus number again. The subscriber cannot be reached. Please try again later. Suppressing her scream, she jumped into the shower and got ready for the day.

The roads shimmered in the heat of the midday sun, looming above her, pretty enough to ignite her heart. Waver was the name of the flea market. It had a diverse group of vendors with different items both new and old, from body butter to art to fashion and a whole lot more.

The boho-chic decor was right up Amaras alley. She stepped into a flower shop. It was clean and white except for a few smudges on the wooden floor. Thornless roses surrounded her head. Absurd blossoms protruded from round vases and bristled in the aisles. Miserably, she looked around for succulent decor. She tried Blus number again. The subscriber cannot be reached. Please try again later.

At the height of her anxiety, she saw him through the glass wall of a coffee library across the street. She immediately noticed his gloating expression. His gaze penetrated her so thoroughly, it was as though he had thrust his hand into her chest. She recognized the coldly cynical element in his watching and waiting as opposed to greeting her.

Amara stepped out of the flower store. Her anxiety approached despair. She smiled and crossed the streets with foolish confidence in the power of her smile.

”I was about to come over, ” he said. ”I just needed to pay for my coffee. ”

”Hey, Zach? Long time no see. ”

”How long has it been? ” he asked. ”Six months? ”

Zachary wasn a male model, but he should have been. People always remarked that his best features were his entrancing wayfarer-blue eyes. Sloe shaped they could shine as bright as the evening stars when they were a-light with joy. At other times, they could resemble two liquid-blue pools of flashing fire. Handsome in an understated way, his basalt jaw and Spartan shoulders spoke of strength. He possessed a latent, leonine power and always walked with purpose and authority. Qualities that traditionally defined a man and still had a great effect on most women, herself included.

How many years had she wasted, cooped up in the safety of their one-sided love? How many years had she spent loving, giving, and spoiling, but for all the wrong intention? Despite his nefarious behaviour, she had looked at him as if he hung the moon. But he loved her best as a pretty picture. Smiling. Unchanging.

Foreign emotions ran through Amara. Six months but still the wounds seemed as fresh as the day he gave them to her. ”What are you doing here? ”

”I got a promotion, ” he said. ”My companys headquarters is in Khana. I moved about a week ago. ”

”Oh! Congratulations. You always wanted the promotion. Im glad you finally got it. ”

When they met, he was a misanthropist trying to find footing in the world. She had just lost her mother. They were such a suitable pair trying to divide the desolation between them. A shift happened in two years. He stopped being the man she knew when he got a job as a consultant for one of the top financial companies.

”Its been a while since we saw each other, yene fiqir. How have you been? I heard you finally got a job. ”

Amara glared at him. Her stomach churned at the endearing words he had often used. A hint of betrayal and pain from the past flooded her eyes. The last time they saw each other, shortly after their breakup, a petite redhead hung from his hand like a cheap designer handbag. Souhaila, wasn that her name? They had been introduced before. She remembered Zach insisting on the word friend. It was soul-shattering. The final straw for her. The next day, she packed her bags and flew to Khana to visit Blu.

”Yes. The MBA was worth something after all. ”

He examined her with a smile. ”You look good. ”

”Thank you. I lost some of that weight you always had a problem with. ”

Almost imperceptibly, his eyes darkened. A hard gleam entered the bottomless depths before his lashes swept down to veil his expression. ”Do you mind joining me for coffee? We could catch up. You can tell me all about your new life. ”

”I can . My boyfriend and I were shopping for a few things for the house before I saw you. Hes somewhere around… ”

Her eyes roamed outside the window. She pointed to a random man across the street with his back to them. He had a glide that manifested confidence and class. A perfect rival for the overconfident Zachary.

”Maybe another time? I miss you. ”

She shrugged. ”Maybe. Bye, Zach. ”

Zach still watched as Amara marched towards her supposed boyfriend. A tall man who looked to be in his late thirties dressed in a freeing, floral shirt. A tourist? Her heart jumped right into her throat, beating even more rapidly than before. She didn have any idea of what to say to do as she got closer to him. Maybe a hello? Sorry for disturbing you, but my ex is watching me, and Id rather die than give him the satisfaction of confirming how damaged he left me? That sounded absurdly dramatic.

”Excuse me? ”

Before he could say anything else, she touched her lips to his. It was meant to be a peck, light and friendly, but it wasn . The stranger gazed at her. Beautifully bronzed, his large glasses drew his face down, made it look sombre and elegant. The literal definition of tall, dark and handsome. He had a hawkish nose; well-defined cheekbones and his eyes had the same startling clarity as molten lava pouring out of a burning volcano. Sharp and laser-like, they pinned her in place with a tightening frown. It took her breath away and all else became irrelevant.

”Um… do we know each other? ” he asked.

”Im so sorry. ” She pressed a hand to her throat. ”Im trying to avoid someone, and I lied to him that you were my boyfriend. Hes watching us. Im so sorry but do you mind pretending with me for a few minutes? ”

His eyebrows arched. ”You don know me. Why me? ”

”The vendor was smiling a little too hard when you were talking to her, ” Amara explained. ”Either you
e charming enough or you
e kind. I like both options. ”

”What if Im a serial killer? ”

Her eyes widened. ”Are you? ”

He smirked. ”Im sure serial killers don mind helping damsels in distress. ”

She chuckled. ”How benevolent. ”

Suddenly, his hand slid behind her neck drawing her back against him. Her body stiffened for a split second, then began to melt into him despite herself. He kissed her leisurely, his mouth playing sensuous homage to hers. His lips were warm and compelling as they gently massaged hers. His hand drifted from her waist to her hip, moulding, heating her with a touch so electric, she forgot to breathe. What sorcery was this?

He took a step back. ”Is that good enough? ”

Amara wanted to say something, but the words couldn come out. It was nothing she had ever experienced in her life before and to find words that described what she felt was just pointless, they didn exist. She nodded.

”Ive never kissed a woman I don know with so much passion, ” he continued as he nonchalantly wiped his lips. ”Whats your name? ”

How was he still able to form logical sentences? Why didn he seem as shaken up as she was? Her legs could barely hold her weight up. Her stomach was knotted up.

Shaking her shoulders, Amara straightened and snapped herself out of the trance. ”Does it matter what my name is? ”

”I need a name, ” he said. ”I need to know who to report to the authorities for stealing my breath away. ”

She caught her bottom lip between her teeth. ”The kissing bandit. ”

His eyes were a-fire with mirth. ”It was nice to meet you, kissing bandit. ”

Turning, he disappeared into a crowd of people.

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