Jim Harper

Jim Harper is a young man in big trouble. Last night he lost control and did something unforgivable, something that’s almost certainly going to cost him his marriage, his home, his job… everything. He’s gambled everything he has of any value, and for what? Another conquest? A notch on someone’s bedpost? But as Jim is about to realise, his problems are only just beginning.

Warning – this story contains strong language and sexual references.

I’m in big fucking trouble. I can’t believe what I’ve just done. Christ knows how I’m going to get myself out of this one.

There are mistakes and there are mistakes. There are minor indiscretions you can brush under the carpet, and there are fucking huge mistakes that you know are going to cost you big time and haunt you for the rest of your life. This is the biggest of all the fucking huge mistakes I’ve ever made. This is the worst thing I could have done.

I’m in a hotel room. It only took me a couple of seconds to get my bearings after I woke up. I’m here on a course from work. This is only day two of five but the way things are going it could well be my last day in the job. It’s a quarter to eight and the first session of the morning starts in less than an hour. I’ve missed breakfast but that doesn’t matter. I couldn’t eat anything. I feel sick to my stomach. Problem is, this isn’t my hotel room.

I’m keeping as still as I can, lying on my side and looking out of a crack in the curtains at a dull and rainy morning outside. I’m trying to work my way back through the events of last night, trying to remember everything that happened. We’re here for the week – Monday morning through to lunchtime Friday. There are seventeen of us from different outlets up and down the country. We had a formal meal last night to break the ice and get to know everyone, then we moved into the bar. And that was where we stayed. I got talking to a couple of lads from up north, then I ended up with two girls who work in my area. I’d met one of them before, but I didn’t recognise her friend. Turns out she was Helen Hunter – the daughter of Bill Hunter, my area director and one of the nastiest bastards you could have the misfortune to come across. My missus, Chloe, works in his office.

And here’s where things get really, really fucked-up. I haven’t plucked up the courage to look yet, but I’m ninety-nine per cent sure this is Helen Hunter’s bed, and I’m equally certain that Helen Hunter is in it with me. Whoever it is lying next to me, she’s just wrapped her arm around me and she’s kissing my neck.

Don’t react. Keep calm. Just keep calm and get things in perspective. Am I completely sure it’s Helen? I’m having trouble remembering last night clearly. I remember sitting in the bar with the two girls, drinking hard. I was starting to get to the stage where you know you’ve had a few and your body’s trying to tell you to stop. Sometimes the beer plays tricks on you: the alcohol sort of waits for a while, then creeps up and rushes you all of a sudden. I’d been fine all night but I knew having another drink would have been a mistake. Thing is, I know I stayed for at least two more pints after that. One of the girls went to bed and I remember being left there with the other. It was definitely Helen. The rest of our group were long gone and we were the only two left in the bar.

We were having one of those conversations where you start discussing things you know you shouldn’t be talking about, but you can’t stop. She started telling me about her relationships and sex, then moved on to her likes and dislikes in bed (concentrating more on the likes). I started to get more and more uncomfortable and, at the same time, more and more turned on. She was flirting with me (okay, I was flirting with her too) and I remember thinking I was going to have to try and be a bit more distant in the morning because we’ve got a whole week to get through together and I didn’t want to give her the wrong impression. Problem was, by then I’d already done more than enough, and what happened next was inevitable.

I remember us finishing our drinks and leaving the bar. We walked through the lobby together and went up to our rooms. We walked down the same corridor and I started to get jumpy because I thought she was following me. I stopped outside my room and took out my key and she did the same with the room next door. She made some cheap comment about fate and coincidence and destiny or something and I just mumbled because my brain had stopped functioning properly. I remember thinking that I should just go into my room, shut the door and go to bed but I was having one of those moments where my brain was trying to stay in control but the booze and my dick had long since taken over.

Helen Hunter is a cheap (but fucking gorgeous) tart with a reputation for being a marriage-breaker and sleeping around. I kept telling myself to turn and run but instead of walking away from her I walked towards her. She wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered something filthy in my ear, can’t remember what. I remember smelling her perfume and the booze on her breath, then feeling myself getting hard. We kissed. One kiss, then another, then another and another until we were practically eating each other’s faces. My hands started to wander. I grabbed her backside and pulled her closer. One thing led to another and… and that’s why I’m in trouble now.

It has to be said though, what I remember of last night was damn good. She lived up to her reputation. She was half-undressed by the time we’d made it onto the bed and I was completely undressed seconds later. The lights were full on and the curtains were open but neither of us cared. All I could think about was fucking her senseless. There was no hint of passion, just sheer lust. It felt like minutes, but I remember looking at the clock on the bedside table at one o’clock, then again at two and then three. At some point one of us had turned the lights off and we’d finally fallen asleep.

Despite the fact what I’ve done is wrong whichever way you look at it, it was bloody good. Just lying here thinking about what she did last night is making me feel horny again…

‘It’s ages yet until the course starts, Jim,’ she says from behind me, her breath tickling the nape of my neck. She starts dragging her nails over my skin, just enough to hurt. Christ, she’s barely done anything but she’s really turning me on. I should try to be strong and tell her no, but what’s the point? The damage has already been done. Might as well lie back and enjoy it ‘cause the shit’s going to hit the fan later…

Helen rolls me over and I look up into her face. She’s fucking beautiful – an absolute gem. For a second it’s easy to forget that I’m married and that the woman I’m in bed with is my boss’ precious daughter, because I can’t think straight. All I can do is react to what she’s doing to me. Now she’s sliding down underneath the covers, biting my chest and licking me and she’s not stopping there. She’s going lower. I put my hands behind my head and lie back as she slides herself onto me.

Quarter past eight. It’s over. The sudden frenzied excitement and lust has gone and all I feel now is panic and regret. What have I done, and why have I just done it again? Helen’s grinning at me like an idiot but then, compared to me, she’s got nothing to lose. Chances are I’ve already lost everything. How the hell am I going to be able to look Chloe in the face now? After the last time I promised her this would never happen again. I mean nothing to Helen. This has just been a bit of fun for her. I’m another one of her victims, another conquest, another notch on the bedpost, and some other poor bastard will probably be taking my place in this bed tonight. I should have known better. I knew what she was like. She’ll walk away from this without a bad word being said, and I’ll take all the flack. If Bill Hunter finds out then I’ve fucking had it. I’ve probably just thrown away my marriage, my house and my career for one night of sex. What a fucking idiot.

What do I do now? She’s out of bed and I’m left lying here on my own, looking up at the ceiling and trying to work out how I’m going to blag my way out of trouble. Easiest thing would be to grab my stuff from the room next door and do a runner, but I know I can’t do that. I can’t believe I’ve been so stupid again. This is definitely the worst yet.

She’s in the shower. Despite the fact that we’ve just spent the night together and I’ve already explored every available inch of her naked body, I feel embarrassed now because she’s undressed. I try not to look but I can’t help myself and she knows it. She’s flirting again. She knows I’m watching, and she probably knows what I’m about to say. She’s doing everything she can to put me off.

‘Look,’ I say, clearing my throat, ‘we need to talk.’

She doesn’t answer. I don’t know if she can hear me over the noise of the shower. Most of the course delegates’ rooms are on this floor so I don’t want to shout but I don’t have any choice. This won’t wait.

‘Listen, I’m going back to my room now. I had a great time last night, Helen, but what we did was wrong…’

She peers around the side of the shower curtain, making sure she shows more than enough bare flesh to make me lose my train of thought.

‘I’ll see you later,’ she says. ‘Play your cards right and your whole week will be as good as last night.’

I try to protest. ‘You were great last night, but I made a mistake. I’m sorry. We should just pretend it never happened and…’

She’s shaking her head. ‘Too late for that,’ she says, grinning. ‘You’re going to learn more in this little room than you will on the course. I’m going to do things to you that are barely legal. You’re mine for the rest of the…’

She stops talking.

The expression on her face changes.

‘What’s the matter?’ I ask. Bitch is just playing with me again.

She’s rubbing at her neck, ‘I… I can’t…’

She massages her throat with one hand and grips the shower curtain with the other to keep herself steady. Christ, she’s suffocating. She’s trying to breathe in, but it’s like she suddenly can’t get any air. She’s looking at me with wide, frightened eyes and I don’t know what to do. I just stand there. I can’t move. I want to help but I don’t know what to do.

Her legs buckle and she falls, pulling the shower curtain down with her. Her head hits the faucet with a soft thud that makes me feel sick. Now she’s lying in the bath, shaking and choking, and there’s blood pouring out of a deep gash on the side of her head. It’s washing down the plughole, mixing with the foam and running water like something out of Psycho. I turn off the shower. Christ, there’s blood everywhere. I need to get help.

I run to the bed to get my trousers. My legs are wet from the shower and I can’t get them on. I trip over, then crawl around the room. I grab the phone and ring Reception to get them to call an ambulance but there’s no answer. No one’s picking up.

I’m standing in the bathroom door again now, half-dressed, and Helen’s not moving. I can’t bring myself to touch her. I have to do something, but Christ, I think she might be dead.


I must be a real spineless bastard. For a split second I actually feel relieved because I realise now I might have a chance of salvaging something from this mess. I can tell them I was in the room next door and I heard her fall down so I came in to help and I found her like this… But hold on, isn’t that going to make things worse? My clothes are in this room. And it’s not just my clothes, there will be hairs and fingerprints and God knows what else all over the bed and probably all over and inside her too. Fuck, what if they say I did it? What if they think I pushed her over in the shower to keep her quiet about what we’d done together?

Got to get out of here.

I grab my things off the bed and run to the door. I try and leave the room but then I see her body again and I stop. I have to help her, but I’m too fucking scared. I run out into the corridor, then stop because there’s another body on the floor. Jesus Christ, it’s a porter. I don’t want to get any closer to him. I can see his face and it’s all twisted and contorted with pain and there’s blood on the carpet around his mouth.

There’s another body further down, just outside one of the rooms. It’s Steve Jenkins from the Southampton branch. I sat opposite him at dinner last night. And there’s another on the stairs… one of the course tutors I think.

I can’t handle this. I go back into my room and pace around the bed, trying to make sense of everything that’s happening.

I can’t hear anyone outside.

I try the phone again but no one answers. Same with my mobile. I’m really fucking scared now. I’ll wait for a couple more minutes, then I’ll go and find help.

James Harper hid in his hotel room like a frightened child for hours before finally plucking up courage to go out and look for help. The smell of burning forced him to move. The hotel kitchens were on fire and the fire was spreading down the building.

He searched the rest of the hotel but there was no one else left. They were all dead.



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition