C1 Chapter One
Garrett glanced up from his laptop and looked around the business class cabin of the airplane. All seemed to be in order, but something had caught his attention. Then he saw out of the corner of his eye, one row back on the opposite side, a man had spilled his drink and was frantically trying to wipe the mess off his dress shirt.
Good luck, bloke. Hope you have a spare.
Garrett had learned the hard way to have a backup shirt and tie easily accessible when traveling for work. He turned his attention back to his laptop screen and clicked Play on iTunes. He always made sure to have music on his flights. There was nothing worse than listening to the incessant drone of jet engines—especially when he had this much work that needed to be done. He blinked a few times as the images on his screen blurred. A cup of tea would really be brilliant about now.
Garrett had checked in at Heathrow at five o’clock that morning for his flight at seven. Of course that meant he’d actually left his flat in Epsom at four. He was a well-seasoned traveler, not unused to early or late flight times, but considering he’d only gotten two hours of sleep last night, Garrett was knackered. Garrett’s boss had called him to say that the officers and board of Totally Five Star Hotels, the company he worked for, had called a late meeting yesterday. They wanted to make significant changes to the design of their newest hotel in the thirteenth hour.
The flight from London to Istanbul was nearly half over, and while he would love to have a lie-down, there was simply too many items still on his checklist before landing. The newest property was scheduled to break ground in a matter of a couple of weeks, and it was now up to him to break the news of the changes to Kyle LaFleure, the primary architect on the project. Kyle had already been in transit to Istanbul when Garrett’s boss had called the meeting. Garrett knew that Kyle was not going to be happy. He’d already spent months drafting and finalizing the blueprints for the hotel. They’d already gotten approval from the building inspector, municipality, infrastructure departments, and had obtained their building permits. Basically, they’d now have to start from scratch.
Garrett rubbed his temples as a headache threatened. He wasn’t even sure if his boss’s ideas were viable for the lot they’d purchased. He sensed many long, late nights working with Kyle in his future. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, because Kyle was bloody gorgeous, but Garrett had a strict hands-off policy when it came to co-workers. The last few months working with the Frenchman had significantly tested Garrett’s resolve. It certainly didn’t help matters that he’d caught Kyle glancing in his direction on more than one occasion, either. Garrett jerked his head up quickly when someone touched his shoulder.
“Can I get you anything, sir?”
Garrett removed his ear buds. “A cup of tea? Please?”
The flight attendant walked off and Garrett dug a tiny bottle of painkillers from his laptop case—another thing he’d learned never to travel without. He placed the small capsules on his tray table then looked back at his notes. The proposed changes were complex, but if possible, they would ensure that the new hotel would be the ultimate Ottoman luxury experience, which, of course, was the goal. Since being named European Capital of Culture two years ago, Istanbul had become the fifth most popular tourist destination in the world. According to the demographics Garrett had gathered in preparation for the project, eleven point six million foreign visitors arrived each year—partially due to the city’s historical draw, but increasingly due to its emergence as a major cultural and entertainment hub.
“Here you are, sir,” the attendant said as she set his tea down.
“Thank you. I might just survive now.”
He popped his painkillers and sighed as the warm brew fed stimulants to his veins. Garrett knew he had to have everything organized for his meeting with Kyle this afternoon, and with the pharmaceutical assistance, Garret should be able to get himself back on track.
* * * *
Garrett gathered his carry-on and made his way off the plane. The local time was almost one in the afternoon. His meeting with Kyle was scheduled for three. Fortunately, his company had arranged for a car service to take him from Atatürk Airport to Beyoğlu. They’d also taken care of leasing a flat and a car since he’d be in Turkey for the duration of the project. He was supposed to pick up the car from the leasing office in the morning.
Garrett followed the signs to passport control for other nationalities after retrieving his checked luggage. He’d applied for his extended visit visa before leaving the UK. Since he’d already been to Turkey several times in preparation for the project, Garrett was familiar with which queues to enter. It seemed as if there was light traffic this afternoon, which was very relieving. He made his way up to the counter and handed over his documents to the agent. Garrett watched as the agent slowly entered his information into the computer system then stamped his passport without interest. He nodded his thanks then retrieved his identification. He collected his luggage after checking the monitors for the proper carousel then headed toward customs. Garrett didn’t have to do a spot check, so he quickly entered the arrivals hall. He looked around for the car service driver. He’d been told there would be someone holding up a sign with his name on it, but it was hard to see through the hundreds of travelers dodging each other and toting luggage through the terminal. An older gentleman nearly collided with Garrett, but must have felt that the near accident was Garrett’s fault, because he started waving his arms and cursing at him in Turkish. Garrett had picked up a few phrases on his previous trips and didn’t appreciate the man’s comments about his mother.
There was another bloke dressed in a black suit running toward the customs area. Garrett watched until the man skidded to a stop, looking around the terminal. He held up a sign and Garrett saw his name printed in large letters. He raised his hand as he walked toward the harried driver.
“I’m Mr. Sloan.”
“My apologies for my lateness, sir. Your original driver was involved in an accident, and I’m a last-minute replacement. My name is Semih and I’m from Efendi Travel.”
“No worries. I only just arrived. I hope the other driver wasn’t hurt?”
Semih took the handle of Garrett’s large suitcase and started walking. “No, no. More damage to the vehicle than him.”
They exited the arrivals hall. As he stepped outside the glass doors, natural air hit Garrett. After breathing the canned oxygen of the airplane, the freshness was a pleasant change. The temperature was probably hovering around twelve degrees centigrade, which was quite comfortable for March. Looking up into a blue sky was a nice change from the gray visage he was used to back home. Semih led him toward the area where a bunch of taxis waited. They reached a white Mercedes minivan and Semih opened the rear passenger door. Garrett stood by while Semih loaded his luggage then climbed in.
“Can I offer you a refreshment?”
Garrett settled himself comfortably in the seat and looked out of the window. “No, thank you. The service gave you the address to my flat?”
“Yes, sir. I believe you are staying in Cihangir. That is a very nice neighborhood. Lots of cafés and shops. Taksim Square, one of the most popular tourist destinations, is only a few minutes from there.”
“Sounds good. My company made the arrangements, so I have no bloody idea what I’m walking into. Our build site is located right on the Bosphorus, so I hope it’s nearby.”
“Yes, sir. Very close. You are here for work?”
“Yes, I’m a project manager for Totally Five Star Hotels. We’re building a new luxury hotel.”
“There are many in Beyoğlu. What will make yours special?”
“So many of the choices on that side of the Golden Horn could be transported from here to any other Western European city and the patrons wouldn’t know the difference. They’re full of modern furniture, minimalistic design and stark colors. Your city is full of rich cultural and historical significance, but travelers like modern and familiar conveniences. Our concept is to merge the two. Our hotel will be more than a place to stay. It will be an experience.”
“I wish you success.”
Garrett looked out of the window as Semih drove. The route they took was a new one to Garrett and ran alongside the Sea of Marmara. To his left was the city and to his right an expansive green park with the waters just beyond. The motorway had a steady flow of traffic but fortunately wasn’t too congested. Out on the water, personal craft and large ships alike dotted the slightly choppy surface. Garrett peered out of the window as they passed a massive sculpture. There were several hands holding up a bowl with what appeared to be fern leaves sticking out of the top.
“What is that?”
“I’ve heard it’s supposed to signify people around the world supporting all life, but I don’t know for certain. It just appeared one day. We are approaching the old walls of Constantinople. You can see the Yedikule Fortress outside your window.”
Sure enough, looming stone walls appeared in the windows. There was greater traffic here, as it was a heavy tourist area, which allowed Garrett a better look. Since taking on the project, he’d done some reading on the region and had learned that initially the walls had surrounded the entire city of Constantinople. Throughout antiquity, there had been additions and modifications to the walls, and what stood today was a glimpse of the last great fortification system. Up ahead, he noticed something a little peculiar. It seemed as though the walls had been literally cut in half and a motorway built in the gap. They were now in the area known as Fatih.
They turned away from the sea and toward the old city. Garrett gasped as the motorway passed right beneath the arches of an old Roman aqueduct. He didn’t know if this was really the most efficient way to get to his new flat, but he appreciated Semih’s personal tour of the city that would be Garrett’s home for the foreseeable future. On all of his previous trips, he’d been in and out so quickly that he hadn’t taken the time to visit all the sites he’d been reading about for the past two years. However, now maybe he would make the time, possibly even convince Kyle to go with him. Garrett was confident that he and Kyle could enjoy their time in Turkey without crossing any professional boundaries. At least he thought so.
“Mr. Sloan, if you look to your right, you can see the Süleymaniye Mosque. It is the biggest mosque in Istanbul.”
“Wow, it’s spectacular. I’m sure my business partner is already in love with your city. He’s the architect of our crew and I know he’s been itching to explore. Maybe I’ll try to carve out some time to tag along with him.”
“If I might suggest, sir, make the time. Istanbul is a city that will seduce you, given the chance. You seem like the type of man who would appreciate a true local experience. The tourist places are designed to draw the eye, but the heart of my city beats in the small bazaars, hamams and families who live here. May I suggest you contact my cousin, Derin? He runs a tour company and will take you to all the hidden gems. I will give you his information.”
“Thank you. Maybe I will.”
They passed over the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn, a harbor. The waterway served as a natural separation between the two divisions of the city, and the bridge was a way to unify them. On one side, traditional Istanbul, home to imperial palaces and religious institutions of the Ottoman Empire. On the other, the heart of Istanbul’s entertainment and foreign merchant districts. As Garrett had read many times, the bridge itself was often romantically portrayed in literature as a pathway between two worlds.
Bigger, modern buildings now dominated the skyline. They passed by Taksim Square. At first Totally Five Star had thought to build their hotel near there, but there were already several well-known luxury hotels in the immediate vicinity. Garrett had been the one to suggest staying in the Beyoğlu district, but finding a location that would be unique and still convenient for travelers. They knew their target demographics would be upscale tourists and business people working out of the financial district not far away. But to separate themselves from places such as the Marmara, Ritz-Carlton and InterContinental, they’d have to bring something special to the table. That’s where the new design ideas came into play. And, quite frankly, if they could pull it off, Garrett thought they would have a gold mine on their hands.
They drove for only a few more minutes. Semih pulled to a stop in front of a building. Garrett looked down at his watch. They’d only been in the vehicle for a little over half an hour, but he felt as though he’d traversed both through time and over a great distance from one culture to another. Semih got out of the van and came around to open the passenger door. Garrett stepped out with his laptop case.
“I’ll help you upstairs, Mr. Sloan.”
“Thank you. That’s very generous.”
Garrett took his garment bag and Semih the large piece of luggage. It wasn’t a lot for the duration of his stay, but Garrett knew he’d be going back to London several times and could replenish his wardrobe as necessary. The building appeared to be well maintained, and he appreciated the secure entry. There was a tiny lift, which just barely fit the two of them and the luggage. It was an old style with ornate iron bars through which Garrett could see the stairs. Five floors up it came to a halt with only a slight bounce. Garrett pushed the gate away and peered at the door number across from the lift. He turned left and found the correct number at the end of the hallway. Using the key his office had provided before he’d left London, he opened the door to his temporary home.
The entryway was a narrow hallway. Garrett looked to his right and saw the bedroom. The rest of the living areas were to the left. They carried the luggage to the bedroom. Garrett removed his wallet from his trousers and took out a couple of euros. He handed them to Semih.
Semih held up his hands. “Not necessary.”
Garrett offered again. “Please. You’ve gone way over and above the job description of a car service.”
“Welcome to Istanbul, Mr. Sloan.”
Garrett saw Semih out of the door then decided to explore the flat. He peered around the bedroom. There was a low platform bed, plenty big enough for himself and a partner. It took a few seconds to imagine himself and Kyle locked in each other’s arms, rolling around the white sheets. Kyle’s lithe form would arch in pleasure as Garrett sucked his cock. He shook his head to make the fantasy disappear. Best never to go there again—especially with Kyle’s arrival in only a couple of hours. Their time together was hard enough on Garrett. How much worse would it be tonight, knowing that a perfectly good bed was right down the hall? He sighed and left the den of temptation. Outside the bedroom was a small alcove that served as a study. Across from the study was a door.
Garrett walked over and pulled it open. “Ah, good, the loo.”
He stepped inside and relieved himself. As he washed his hands, he used the mirror that ran along the length of the wall to inspect the rest of the room. “Where’s the…?”
Garrett shut off the tap then turned around. There was no shower or bath. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw what appeared to be a removable showerhead attached to the wall. Upon closer inspection, he noticed a couple of small levers next to the nozzle. He looked down, found a drain in the floor and discovered that there was a distinct slant to the concrete that would funnel water toward the drain. Garrett stood against the wall and activated the control. Above his head, water fell from the ceiling. Well, not really the ceiling. There was a plate filled with holes that allowed water to fall as though it were raining.
“Oh, that’s bloody brilliant!”
He left the loo and went down the hallway. He found the closet that held a washer and dryer. The kitchen seemed well appointed and functional, the salon comfortable and stylish. The design of the whole place was very contemporary with clean lines, but the materials used were all warm woods and soft natural fabrics. There were floor-to-ceiling windows on every wall so far, which let in heaps of light.
Garrett opened one of the two sets of French windows. He stepped out onto the terrace and was rewarded with a stunning view of the Bosphorus. “I’ve got to call Bridget at the office and give her a giant telephonic snog.”
He left the windows open as he wandered about the flat. When he checked his watch, he realized that Kyle would arrive within an hour. He retrieved his laptop case and pulled out his work materials. He needed to get everything ready to drop the bomb on Kyle. Maybe he could soften the blow if he served him dinner—and several bottles of wine. Garrett headed for the kitchen to find out what kind of ammunition he had to work with.