The House of Elyot

The Number

Posted on: April 10, 2016

Here’s the opening of The Number, as promised in my last post. Those who have read The Business of Pleasure will know these characters.


‘9.45 a.m. from Colliton South.’  That had been the text message in its entirety.

Anyone scrolling through Charlotte’s inbox would infer that this bald line of digital information had come from a timetabling service or similar; its true provenance was known only to Charlotte herself.  And even she only knew that it had come from The Number.  Identities of the sender or senders could not be revealed.

She screwed in her iPod earplugs and looked again at the message – so perfectly straightforward and yet so unutterably cryptic.  Arrowing down to The Number provoked a shiver of delicious nervousness.  How many people had The Number?  How many people were involved in this game?  And how would it play out?  She did not even know where she would be this time tomorrow.

All the same, she supposed she had better prepare to play, and she took one of her college texts, Social Psychology of the Workplace, from her tote bag.  Within a few minutes, her absorption was such that she huffed under her breath at the click of the compartment door before she remembered what she was actually doing here and looked up.

‘Mind if we join you?’

She looked swiftly away again, the paragraphs swimming under her eyes.  Them!

The men from the station; pinstriped professionals, both in their forties, both carrying large briefcases, one bespectacled, one silvering at the temples.  If this was Fantasy #3, as she presumed it was, they fitted the bill perfectly.  She had spent the twenty minutes by which the train was delayed sizing them up sideways along the platform, and they certainly seemed to be doing the same, but more openly.  If they were simply innocent bystanders, they were not very well-mannered ones.

The train drew in just as Charlotte could have sworn they were talking about what she was wearing, causing her to flush hotly and cross her arms over her chest, hiding the swell of her breasts in the light white silk blouse she wore on that May morning.  Could they see the outline of her white lace bra underneath, she wondered?  Was her mid-thigh plaid skirt too short?  Had one of her nude hold-up stockings fallen to her knee without her knowledge?  It was a relief, and yet also a disappointment, to hoist herself up in the carriage away from their predatory scrutiny.

When, after fifteen minutes, she still found herself alone in the compartment, she had assumed they were not involved; that the players would embark later on.  But it seemed now that she might have been mistaken.

The taller and senior-looking of the two men stood in the doorway, one hand keeping the sliding portal from springing back, staring down his bespectacled nose at her with an expression that owed less to query than coercion.

Charlotte was a courteous, rather shy young woman; a people-pleaser by upbringing, and answering his request in the negative would have been as unthinkable to her as a plain ‘fuck off’.  Besides, there was something effortlessly intimidating about this man, a sense that, for all his outward civility and charm, you would not want to mess with him.  Exactly what she had ordered up.  Surely he must be…

He smiled, entered the compartment, and his companion followed.  He wore a lighter suit, and seemed lighter in almost every other sense, including his manner and the piercing grey-blue of his eyes.  Charlotte expected them to sit at the far end of the compartment, by the door, and she was instantly disconcerted when they slid their briefcases on to the rack directly above her.  The older man – whom she thought of as Alpha Male – sat down by her side, his friend opposite her, smiling ingratiatingly.

Defensively she turned her eyes down to her book and made to switch on her iPod, but before she could drown out the suddenly scary reality of her situation, the man opposite her spoke and she reluctantly halted her fingers in their mission.  It would be rude, she supposed, not to engage in conversation if that was what they wanted, even if they were just simple strangers on a train.

Social Psychology of the Workplace  – now that sounds like a nice bit of recreational reading.’

‘Oh, no, it isn’t for pleasure.  It’s for a course I’m doing.’

‘Shouldn’t you have read that before setting off to college?’  The other man this time, his tone mock-censuring.  Or was it mock?  Perhaps it was real.  ‘I hope you’re up to date with your assignments.’

‘How do you know I’m on the way there?  How do you know I haven’t just left college and I’m so keen I’m doing the assigned reading already?’

The men raised eyebrows at each other.  ‘Feisty,’ noted Alpha Male.

‘Isn’t she?’ responded his colleague.

Charlotte flicked her eyes nervously out of the window towards the sheep and trees rolling past.  If it was nothing to do with the game, this was wrong, somehow.  This was not normal.  But she had the oddest tightness at the base of her belly and her heart was racing.  Were they flirting with her or…what?  Perhaps she should not go through with this.  Perhaps she should leave now – but something held her back.  The same thing that got her into trouble time and again.  She loved a story and she always had to know the ending.


Do you have to know the ending? It can be found in the Black Lace anthology Sexy Little Numbers.

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