Chapter 13

That evening Erskine ventured along the Embankment until he came to a large single-decker passenger cruiser with a glass roof. He checked the name, The Barracuda, with the flyer he took from the bar promoting Natascha’s gig. He stepped onto the gantry, paid the entrance fee and boarded. He concealed himself by mingling amongst groups of other passengers. He sat at a corner table at the back, farthest from the stage. He scanned the audience. They were smartly dressed, over thirties. Erskine could tell by the way certain groups clustered eagerly around the stage that many were fans that had come specially to see the band.

Soon the boat’s engine gurgled into life and its huge frame lumbered away from the pier, bobbing gently from side to side. It moved away slowly and began its careful journey along the Thames, low in the water beside the procession of towering buildings that lined the route, each with their contours stitched in light.

Inside there was a hush as the band appeared, followed by polite applause. Three men. Double bass, piano, drums. A pared down combo, specially designed for a sparse, haunting sound. They started to play. First, the double bass with a low menacing loop, then the piano and drums.

When the rhythm was in full swing, Natascha strolled out under the lights. She was wearing a black sequinned dress with a plunging neckline. A roar went up. An middle-aged man sprang to his feet and began clapping wildly above his head. Erskine was the only one in the audience who wasn’t clapping. He was shocked at the crowd’s enthusiastic greeting. He looked around at them in their excited rapture, then he leaned forward and squinted at this diva, to see if it really was the same woman he’d met in the bar previously. She was changed in her guise of glamour — the dress, the hair, the confidence, the attitude. His mouth fell open at the totality of her metamorphosis.

Natascha ignored the eruption of noise, stepped up to the microphone and began to sing. Her voice soared in the air, a twisting, soulful, melancholic sound. Erskine tuned into the lyrics:

I’m not sure about loving you
The hard thing to figure is what to do
A part of me’s afraid of being two

Erskine took out the camcorder and began filming her singing, zooming in on her face. He found himself being drawn into her pathos, and he felt his mood changing, as if his emotions were wired to hers via some invisible umbilical. She unclipped the microphone from the stand and wandered out amongst the crowd, engaging with faces. The spotlight tracked her, amplifying the sheen of her dress and the sparkle in her eyes.

After the encore the crowd erupted. Erskine watched as men got up from their seats, slamming their hands together in appreciation, half respect, half lust.

Amongst those showing their appreciation was her best friend, Megan. She was in her mid-thirties, tall and elegantly beautiful, her facial features subtly caved and boned. There were times when she hated the skullishness of her appearance, and others when she liked its uniqueness. She was married with two children, living the opposite life to her best friend. They were drawn together by their differences, their sense of humour, and by their appreciation of each other’s beauty. These simple connections had sustained them for years. Natascha envied the fact that Megan was married with two children, and had sustainable love in her life. She looked upon her with a certain curiosity, because she was a working example of something Natascha did not think was possible.

Natascha took her bow, gestured to the band, and they stepped forward and took theirs, and then it was over. The boat docked back at the Embankment and the guests began to shuffle out.

As the band started to pack up, Charlie, the bass player, sneaked secret looks at Natascha’s body, her black figure curving like a panther in her skin-tight dress. Megan rushed over to her, gushing with enthusiasm. “You were great,” she said. “So great. Every time I come to see you it just seems to get better.”

“Thanks, Megan,” said Natascha, squeezing her hand. She felt euphoric, but also hollow in her chest as she came off stage to no one — as she came away loveless.

“And where’d you get that amazing dress?” asked Megan.

“Oh, it’s just one of my secondhand things.”

“It’s great.” Megan looked her up and down with admiration and envy. They kissed and hugged, and Megan departed with a loving wave. “I’ll see you in art class,” she said.

Charlie saw the gap and walked casually over. He slipped his arm around Natascha’s waist. She smiled at him, her lips curving upwards out of politeness rather than affection.

“Nat, me and the boys are going for a drink after,” he began. “Want to join us?“

“No thanks, Charlie.”

He hesitated, then said “OK....Shall I come round later?”

“No. I’m tired.” There was the smile again — the polite twist of her mouth. The kind of smile an airline stewardess gives to an annoying passenger. Charlie backed away, concealing his disappointment.

Erskine had been watching close by. He approached Natascha from behind. Charlie saw him and watched as he packed away his equipment, pretending not to see, or care. Natascha turned sharply as she heard Erskine’s voice behind her, and for an instant they were silenced by the sight of one another. She remembered him from the bar. She asked him what he was doing there and how he’d managed to find her. When he told her, she was annoyed and impressed that he’d gone to all that trouble to track her down. She was attracted by his newness, by the fact that she knew nothing about him, and that sex with him only existed within her imagination, unlike her other lovers who had grown stale from familiarity.

Erskine asked her to walk with him, no particular destination, and she heard a voice reply, “Yes,” but she would swear that it was not hers.

They strolled along the Embankment. The promenade was beautifully illuminated against the night. Erskine re-assessed her face against the street lights. No make-up — a raw, unprocessed beauty. She wore flared jeans, flat slip-ons and a simple white vest under a lightweight black jacket.

As Natascha looked at Erskine her eyes were animated but her facial expression remained blank. There was a hardness, a caution to her now, unlike the night they met, when she was drunk and loose. Now she was closed and coiled — her emotions locked in storage deep within her. Erskine realised now that this was how she was, that on the night they met it was the alcohol that had opened her, and now the lack of it that had closed her again.

He complimented her on her performance, and she shrugged modestly. Then he asked how she was. She nodded in a meaningless way. She spoke in short sentences, listening, but not saying what she really thought. She stared without looking at him. Like someone glancing at words without reading them. He asked her something else — some kind of question — and she looked at him as if the question was so inconsequential that she could not be bothered to respond.

They came to a late night café and stopped for drinks. They made a move for a vacant table, and Erskine ambled nervously, not knowing whether to sit down first or to wait for her to do so before him. Finally they sat down together. He ordered coffee and she asked for a tin of lemonade and a plain croissant. As the waitress left he got up and went to the toilet. On his way back she glanced quickly at his groin, wondering about his penis, and what it might feel like inside her compared to the others in her collection.

When their order arrived she slipped off her jacket and took an enthusiastic bite of her croissant. Erskine watched as the pastry flaked and settled delicately on her vest like a cascade of tiny broken wings. Instead of brushing them off she left them there, as if they were part of her clothing now. She opened her tin of lemonade. Erskine glanced at her as he heard the psst and cluup of the ring-pull. He watched as she parted her lips and put the can to her mouth. He was aroused by this, and by the sight of her body in the vest. The outline of her breasts was an obvious attraction, but it was her neck and shoulders that drew him the most — they had a ballet dancers poise and elegance.

“Don’t you want to know if I’m single?” he asked randomly.

She shrugged her shoulders. “What difference does it make?”

Erskine wanted to know what was behind her statement, what had happened to make her this way. This was not his business, but he was intrigued by her secrecy, and desired her more as a result. He watched her mouth, as if he was waiting for some exposition to tumble out.

She stared out of the café window, suddenly thinking about her mother. She wondered how she was, all alone in her house. She’d wanted to phone her earlier that day, but she hadn’t. It was a chore she didn’t want to do, and it made her feel guilty. She wondered if the reason she didn’t call was because she no longer loved her as she once did. Ten years ago she would not have hesitated to call, even for the slightest of reasons, just to chat, just to hear her voice — but not now. She felt ashamed that after everything her mother had done for her, she was slowly phasing her out, loving her less with each passing year.

Erskine registered a change in her face, a mask of melancholy. She saw him looking, maybe on the brink of asking her why, and so she turned away from him. This broke the moment, and they got up to leave. Erskine watched as Natascha slipped on her jacket. Its collar became twisted, and so he reached out and straightened it, simultaneously touching the skin on her neck. She turned and looked at him, wondering what that touch meant, or if it was an accident.

They went back to her flat by the River Thames at Hammersmith. She didn’t want to at first. She preferred to have sex with him at his place, so she could leave whenever she pleased. But she was tired from the gig that night and she had a bag of clothes with her, and so she relented. When they arrived Erskine stepped into the lounge and scanned the room. He focused on the jacket covers of classic jazz LPs she had displayed along the floor, propped against the wall like art. On the table there was a framed picture of her as a child with her father.

CD’s nestled in angular piles everywhere, some exposed, with others in their covers. On the floor lay a large mound of pistachio shells. Four full-length black dresses were draped around the room on doors and hooks, shimmering under the light. But dominating the centre of the space was a harp, ornately decorated in gold and silver. Erskine gasped as he saw it. “You play?”

She nodded. “Ever since I was twelve.”

She could see that Erskine was impressed, and this embarrassed her. She did not want to give him cause to like her, or to stay longer than necessary. She fiddled with her hair, then buried her hands in the back pockets of her jeans.

There were things she thought she wanted to say to him. The words revolved in satellite in her head — a carousel of options waiting to be selected. When the silence became unbearable she walked over to the CD player. A Love Supreme by John Coltrane (1964) kicked in, the shrill sweetness of its saxophone intro filling the room.

She turned the volume down, then went off to the kitchen to get drinks. She came back and handed him a glass. As he reached for it he accidentally touched her fingers, and in a reflex she retracted them, almost like she would from a hot stove. Erskine pretended not to notice. He had touched her again. A second signal — another prelude to things.

“Where do you live?” she asked.

“I’ve got a one-bedroomed flat on the moon,” he quipped, trying to lighten things. “That zero gravity thing’s a bitch though. I keep hitting my head on the ceiling.”

Natascha let out a controlled laugh. Short and reserved. He asked her if she lived alone. She said she did. “Don’t you get lonely?” he enquired.

“There’s nothing wrong with loneliness,” she replied coldly. “There are worse things in life.”

He toured her flat, complimenting her on its cultured decor. She moved in his wake, watching him like an animal wary of attack. When they reached the kitchen she stopped and busied herself, preparing a snack. A salad was still in the colander in the sink. She turned on the taps and flushed the leaves, even though she’d already washed them earlier.

As they ate he studied the form of her mouth. He picked a moment and tried to kiss her, but she turned her head sideways — a gesture like a baby being offered food it does not want. Erskine was embarrassed. What did you get me round here for if you don’t want to fuck?

She got up and walked to the window. He followed and stood behind her and they both watched the flow of the river outside. She felt his face at her shoulder, like a kind of heat. She half-turned and they exchanged a transparent kiss — a hollow delight, full of space, like an Easter egg.

What are you doing here? she thought. Intruder.

Erskine turned her by her shoulders and kissed her again, testing her mouth. Her eyes were open, watching him, and he realised that his were too. As his mouth met hers once more he thought of all the women he’d ever kissed in his life, and all the emotions he’d left behind with them, like jettisoned cargo.

They pulled away from each other and tried to talk again, but things were corrupted now. Erskine kissed her again, harder this time, trying to arouse something, to press out a sign. She met his energy, as if it was a contest. He ran his hand audaciously across her breasts and then down into her underwear, his finger against the groove of her. He would steal a sample of her moistness, as a memento for when he walked away later, and also to see if she smelt like his Genevieve. She let him do it, challenging him to arouse her, ready to sneer secretly at any lack of skill in his eager fingers.

Erskine thought about Dennison’s proposition — that he had to film her to get the money — but he felt that he could not stop for that now. It was too late — and he already felt too guilty.

As they undressed, Natascha thought of her other lovers. She considered that she’d never promised to be faithful to them. Them. As if she was married to them all equally, and therefore owed them fidelity. She realised that she was becoming like her father, and this made her feel sick. She wanted to stop, but she felt she couldn’t now.

His hands found the stations on her body, like stops on a railway — the curve of her back, the nobbled track of her spine, the imperfect circularity of her breasts, the concave pools in the sides of her hips, the pepper of freckles behind her left ear. He focused on her hair, the way it fell across her face like a nest of cables, each settlement a fresh configuration, a new art.

He entered her, the connection taut and smooth. Somehow he could not believe that he was actually inside her, after everything, after all her resistance. As she gripped his flesh the air eased out of her lungs in a mellow gust, and she blew it gently into his mouth, like a present.

And in the sexual language of the strangers their connection was silent, two noiseless engines, all their energy in the action.

Sound seemed inappropriate in their synchronised see-saw. He had not earned the right to enjoy the audible gestures she might make if she loved him — her whispers, her moans of pleasure. No man had.

Natascha recorded this new intruder. The feel of his muscles, the texture of his skin, the weight of his touch, the proportions of his penis. She extended her neck sideways from her body — an action like an Indian dancer — and watched Erskine as he moved against her, assessing his thrust and rhythm with a certain detachment, as if the body beneath the head was not hers; as if she was there to judge, not enjoy. She tabulated and compared him with her stable of other lovers, placing him within a secret top ten in her mind.

She had lost some of her sense of pleasure. She could not extricate herself from her own caution, her anxiety and her fear of losing control. She wondered what she was doing it for, sexing him, if she could not even surrender to it.

She turned and pressed her backside against him and let him enter her from there where he could not read her, where he could not see her eyes or sample her mouth.

She had decided that she would have an orgasm, that she would authorise it, but it would be an empty delight, like an ice-cream cone with nothing inside.

But then strangely, against her will, she began to feel an intensity in their connection. As if to verify it she turned to face him, and quickly he slid over her, pushing himself inside her again, unable to stop. His eyes met hers, the pace quickened and they both felt themselves losing their caution. She felt a maddening friction as he rubbed against her insides, and the contact sparked her pelvis, bucking to meet his.

Their orgasm burned with intensity, beyond what either of them had ever experienced. They stared at each other, madly, fearfully, as if they’d both been punched suddenly in the face. In the confused pleasure of the moment they wondered how they, strangers, could connect so perfectly, so without rehearsal. And in that moment it occurred to them that they were strangers to themselves, as well as each other.

The energy subsided, and the two spent, fleshy slabs lay heaving and glistening under the low light and the stillness of the night. As their bodies crackled in the electric air the strangers rolled away from each other, alone again, afraid of what had happened, unable to comprehend it.

She wanted Erskine to leave, but he lay there waiting for either of them to say something about what had just happened, to offer some adjective of explanation. She turned to him, suddenly impatient. “You have to leave now.”


“Please go.”

Erskine was stunned by her coldness. He stumbled up, backed into a bedside lamp with a porcelain base. It hit the floor and smashed, plunging them into semi-darkness.

Natascha looked away painfully. “Leave it,” she said. “Just leave it and go.”

The Sexual Language of Strangers
Genre: literary fiction/romance
Author: Ben Arogundade
Publisher: White Labels Books
Word count: 70,000
ISBN: 9780956939418

Best New Erotic Romance Stories In Raunchy Novel Backed By Actor Laurence Fishburne

SOME OF THE BEST new erotic stories in fiction feature in The Sexual Language Of Strangers, Ben Arogundade's raunchy psychological drama set in present-day London. But why has actor Laurence Fishburne endorsed it?


By Kate Broadhurst 16.09.2016

(White Labels Books) explores the themes of dysfunctional romance, commitment-phobia and casual sex in a dark and sometimes erotic drama set in present-day London. The novel, raunchy and literary in equal measure, has attracted the attention of Hollywood actor Laurence Fishburne, star of The Matrix trilogy, who endorsed the title after reading an early draft passed to him by author Ben Arogundade.

The novel's story centres around Dennison Carr, an eccentric millionaire who is charismatic, mysterious, successful — and bored. He invents a bizarre game in which he pays a group of handpicked men to seduce women he selects at random from the streets, bars and clubs of London town. The chosen women are diverse — young, old, black, white, married, single — but they all seem to share the same desire for the thrill of no strings sex with a stranger.

One of the male seducers, a down-and-out graphic designer named Erskine, is recovering from a recent trauma that has made him averse to relationships. Things begin to unravel when, against the rules of Dennison’s game, he begins to develop feelings for one of the women he is paid to seduce — a commitment-phobic jazz singer called Natascha. As they both battle against their aversion to intimacy, and their expanding feelings for one another, neither is prepared for the shocking conclusion that Dennison has planned.

The novel features some of the best new erotic stories in modern romance fiction. Its many, and often poetic sex scenes are crafted with originality, humour and passion, infusing the plot with an intensity that drives the narrative forward without let up.

Since its release, Arogundade's raunchy novel has seeped out into the market with little fanfare, taking on cult status amongst readers who have discovered its complex plot and collection of erotic stories and characters. “A clever, dark drama.” is how British men's magazine, Esquire described it, while Laurence Fishburne himself called it “Brilliant. Inspirational. Flawless.”

Get a taste of the novel in the sample chapter below.

'The Sexual Language Of Strangers' is out now on Amazon - all formats

SEX & ROMANCE: Some of the best new erotic stories in contemporary fiction feature in Ben Arogundade's raunchy debut novel, 'The Sexual Language Of Strangers'. Dysfunctional relationships, promiscuity, commitment-phobia and betrayal collide in a dark romance endorsed by actor Laurence Fishburne after reading an early draft of the manuscript.

The Creativity of Author, Designer & Publisher Ben Arogundade





“Brilliant. Inspirational. Flawless.”

“A clever, dark drama.”

Laurence Fishburne


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