Read an Excerpt
On my first night inBudapest, I woke up to find a strange man in my bed.
Now, while the decision to come here had been taken so rapidly that I hadn’t had time to do any research on the place and had little idea of what to expect, I was fairly sure this wasn’t normal. I’d had vague notions of goulash, gypsy violinists and splendid 19th Century architecture. A strange man in my bed, not so much.
In the low dawn light filtering through the ill-fitting shutters, I turned my head fractionally – afraid of waking him – and tried to discern the contours of his head and upper body. Judging by the shape beneath the covers and the feet sticking out of the bottom, he was tall and well-built. His face in repose was peaceful and rather touching, but in a more animated state I could imagine it being proud and even fierce, or perhaps I was just projecting my own prejudices about men with large moustaches. Moustaches like that always seemed to come with a bayonet, in my mind. The full lips below the thicket blew out brief whistles of air whenever he exhaled. He had long eyelashes and thick, dark hair. Like most of the Hungarian men I’d spotted between the airport and the apartment, he was a looker.
But what the hell was he doing here?
Carefully, with infinite precision, I edged my body away from him. The heel of my left foot found the place where the mattress ended and my toes flexed, looking for the floor. Just at the moment I tried to pivot my hips away, he flung an arm across my chest. His arm was very heavy and I abandoned all my efforts to handle this situation calmly and screamed.
He grunted and muttered something completely incomprehensible and then his eyelids fluttered and I did my best to scramble away but that arm was just a dead weight, so I kicked him hard in the shin and tried to bite him.
That woke him up.
There was a horrible moment of pure terror during which I felt sure my heart would splat across my ribcage, then his eyes focused and his stare was every bit as shocked and appalled as mine, which was weirdly reassuring.
He sat bolt upright and stabbed a finger at me.
I don’t know what he said, because I don’t speak Hungarian and besides, I was too busy leaping out of bed and leaning flat against the wall, trying not to vomit with panic.
He spoke again, rising to his knees so that the covers rumpled about his hips, exposing his bare chest and the gold chains around his neck. He really was fit. Pity he was probably some crazed axe murderer who preyed on women alone in theirBudapestbeds.
This time I understood one word. The word was “Jodie”.
‘Jodie!’ I seized on this, nodding my head urgently. ‘She is gone.’
‘Jodie is gone? What you mean?’
‘She’s atLake Balatonfor the month. You know her?’
‘Lake Balaton? Who she is going with?’
‘I don’t know. Some guy she met. Sorry. Are you … her boyfriend or something?’
‘Who am I? Who in hell are you?’
‘I asked you first. And I think I have a right to know what strange men are doing in my bed.’
‘This is my apartment! You answer me.’
I skipped a beat, let my jaw drop for a moment. His apartment?
The note Jodie had left for me on the kitchen table came back to mind.
‘You can get round the landlord by sweet-talking him. He’s a bit scary at first but a pussycat really.’ What had she called him? She’d told me his name, but I just couldn’t remember it. It was a strange name and I had no idea how to pronounce it.
‘So you’re …’ Oh God, what was it? ‘…János?’ I pronounced it Jay-noss.
He snorted and shook his head. ‘Yah-nosh,’ he corrected me. ‘Yes. And you?’
‘Ruby. Friend of Jodie’s. She said it would be OK …’