Here, for your reading enjoyment, is the first chapter of 'Commitment Issues'.
Evan skidded through the door of the restaurant, his leather soles losing traction on the slick marble floor. He grabbed at a nearby sturdy yucca and avoided ending up completely horizontal.
'May I help you?'
The hostess' slight smile dissolved into a sneer, confirming to Evan that the drowned rat look he was sporting was definitely not in vogue.
'Hi, yes. I'm meeting somebody for dinner, but I wonder if I might freshen up a bit first?'
'Certainly, sir. The toilets are down those stairs.' The route indicated should allow Evan a chance to repair the worst of the rain damage without being spotted by his date.
The toilet was small and dingy, but at least it had a mirror and a hot air dryer. Evan picked soggy bits of the magazine he'd used as a makeshift umbrella out of his hair. So much for making an effort. That's fifty quid literally down the drain. His runway-ready 'do now looked more like an advert for merkins.
Why had he allowed Mel to set him up with one of the losers from her office? Thanks to her, he was once again stuck in his Friday night dating ritual: running late, wearing his tightest jeans, with an early exit plan on standby.
What was this guy's name again? Evan pulled out his phone and checked the calendar. Ah, Scott, that's it. When he'd asked Mel to describe him, she had struggled to come up with firm adjectives, but was keen to stress he was 'Not your usual type'. Evan could only assume this meant he wouldn't be getting lucky tonight.
Scott peered at the menu, giving the impression that he was carefully considering the options. In reality, his brain was frozen. It had been decades since he had last been on a date. How hard could it be? Chat, drink, eat, drink, bill, home. Drink.
Scott had arrived ridiculously early and loitered outside the little Italian restaurant before a surprise rain shower forced him in. It was the tourist version of an authentic trattoria: bulbous bottles of straw-covered Chianti lined wooden shelves and fake bunches of grapes hung from the ceiling. Subdued lighting and Italian popera barely created an atmosphere, but what did you expect in the West End?
Scott had ordered a fortifying glass or two of Pinot Noir to help calm his nerves. He'd now moved on to a fruity Chianti. Scott wasn't sure when enjoying a drink tipped over into alcoholism, but was pretty sure he wasn't there yet. He could stop if he wanted to. It's just that since Patrick...
He put the menu aside and looked around to see if there was any sign of his date. Mel had warned him that punctuality wasn't one of Evan's virtues. Why had he let her talk him in to this? He waved the waiter over to order another drink... make that a bottle.
Evan emerged from the men's room a few minutes later, hairstyle restored for the most part, and returned to the lobby. The hostess cast a rolling eye over Evan, gave a little shrug and asked: 'Your party's name, sir?'
'The table's under my name, Evan King.'
'This way please.' She led him through the packed dining room like a minesweeper with precognition. Evan guessed they must have squeezed in as many small round tables as the London Fire Brigade would allow.
'Here we are, sir.' The hostess indicated the empty chair at the table.
Evan's date was studying the label on a bottle of wine with surprising concentration, as if looking for the instructions. He put the bottle down, then stood. Evan gave him a quick once-over. He was tall: good. Dressed like an accountant: bad. Borderline handsome: slight resemblance to Colin Firth, post-Mr Darcy, but pre-King George. Evan noticed the held-out hand.
'Hi, I'm Scott.'
Evan took his hand; it was warm and large. Scott was beaming at him, one of those smiles that the recipient has no choice but to return. Evan felt a wave of tension leave his body. What the hell, he was here now. He might at least try and enjoy himself.
Scott's heart had started to beat ridiculously fast when Evan arrived. He was fairytale handsome. What was Mel thinking? He's way out of my league. Evan had one of those immaculately symmetrical faces, where all the features actually matched and were in perfect proportion. His eyes were song lyric blue... almost unnatural. Every golden hair on his head seemed to have been precision-placed. His deep purple jacket and pale blue shirt perfectly coordinated with the dark blue jeans, which fitted like a second skin. The top three buttons of Evan's shirt were undone, giving a tantalising glimpse at his chest, which looked lightly tanned and hairless. And he smelled like summer and sunshine and sex. Not for the first time in recent years, Scott concluded he was just not gay enough.
'This looks like a great place. You come here often?' Scott asked, wincing that he had actually used the cheesiest of cheesy chat-up lines.
'No, first time. Mel recommended it.' Evan either didn't hear the cliché or had chosen to ignore it. 'The menu looks OK. Proper Italian food. Calzones, not pizzas. Always a good sign.'
'I was thinking about the lasagne. I love it, but can't bear frozen. It always seems too much effort to cook it from fresh when it's only me. I do love cooking, though.' This is riveting, Scotty. Let's talk more about frozen foods and sad little dinners for one.
'You cook?' Evan asked. 'I'm afraid microwave-meals-for-one are more my thing. I'm brilliant at piercing film and pushing buttons.' Evan mimed his standard meal preparation and seemed pleased to raise a chuckle from Scott.
'You'll have to let me cook for you. I do a mean Sunday roast with all the trimmings.' For pity's sake, stop talking! Why stop at Sunday lunch? Why don't I invite you to move in!
'Sure, that would be nice. Sometime.' Evan had returned his gaze to the menu.
Scott wondered if Evan could sense his discomfort. Evan must know the effect he had on men. Especially men like Scott. Thankfully the waiter was approaching, giving Scott a chance to regroup.
As Scott gave his order to the waiter, Evan completed his initial assessment. It appeared that Scott had taken the brave decision to rely on Mother Nature to take care of things. There was not a sign of a hair plug, fake tan or Botox injection. Not that he looked too old; definitely still pre-daddy era. He was a decent seven. And a half.
It was Evan's turn to order. He declined Scott's offer to share an appetiser, he would nibble at a breadstick instead. Evan ordered the second cheapest salad. The waiter took the menus with a tiny bow and departed.
Silence. The worst thing about blind dates.
Evan liked to believe that it was possible to read someone's mind if you could only unlock that innate psychic ability. He wished he had that skill now, as he had no idea what to say. He gave his date an encouraging smile.
Scott smiled back. 'Mel tells me you're in PR. Sounds interesting.'
'Does it?' Evan replied. 'It has its moments, I suppose.'
'Ever represented anyone famous?'
'Depends where you set that bar. I've managed some corporate events where celebrities have appeared. Don't get excited; we're talking daytime TV and reality shows, not Beyoncé.'
'It must be more fun than my job. I spent the day discussing the future of hearing aids.'
'I don't know, at least hearing aids have an off switch, unlike Fearne Cotton.' Evan stifled a yawn. 'Mel tells me it's been a while since your last date.'
Evan saw a flash of panic cross Scott's face.
'Yes, you could say that,' Scott said.
'You're lucky. I seem to have cornered the market in terrible dates.' Evan wondered why Scott looked upset, then realised what he'd said. 'Present company excluded, of course.' Evan at least had the decency to blush.
Scott laughed; not the response Evan had expected. 'The night is young, I'm sure if we try we could make this a monumentally bad date.'
Evan leaned back in his chair and smiled. 'Do you have any particular suggestions?'
'I could rank all the UK Eurovision entries since 1957 in ascending order of campness.'
A smile tried to take control of Evan's mouth. 'You'll need to try harder than that. I mean really terrible. Like 'My mother is my best friend' bad.'
'Challenge accepted.' Scott stroked his chin. 'Would you prefer to hear about my brother's beer mat collection or my Nan's hip operation?'
The smile broke free. 'I'm not sure which is worse. At least the hip serves a purpose, I suppose.'
'If you like that, she's also on the waiting list for a new knee. I can tell you all you need to know about the brittle bones of the elderly.'
Evan was fully laughing now. 'Please do. I can never hear enough about osteoporosis.'
Scott raised his hands in surrender. 'If you insist. I would usually save that level of detail for a second date.'
Evan met Scott's smiling eyes across the table. Mel, you old cow, you were right. He is different.