Single mother Coralie Hartlett enters a radio competition to have her song featured on One Direction's new album... but the prize might be more than she ever expected.


6. Darien

"Mama! Look Mama!” Rory squealed, swinging higher as Coralie pushed him. His laughter echoed in the open air but they were the only ones outside, and were free to make as much noise as they possibly could. Coralie knew that she had a few hours in the morning free, as her stylist had arranged their appointment for eleven, and she’d made the absolute most of it she could. First stop had been breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, something she hadn’t done in forever. Rory had loved the attention showered on him by the staff, and had even managed to earn himself a free muffin to go with his beans and scrambled egg. Coralie understood perfectly just how he’d done it; several times he would bat his pretty eyes at her and she’d melt, and give him whatever he desired.

In that sense, Rory was quite spoiled, without being rotten. He had to be prompted to use his manners sometimes but was always quick to comply, and his grin was full of devilish charm. It was the dimples, Coralie figured, as she stood back and let Rory’s swinging slow down. He still giggled as she ran around the set to catch him mid-swing, and made a show of falling over dramatically, one hand over her forehead.

“Silly Mama!” he cried, giggling as she grabbed his feet from beneath him and pinched his toes through his trainers.

“Silly Mama, did you say?” she asked, sitting up and unbuckling him. Rory wriggled his own way down and as soon as his feet touched the ground, he was off and running as fast as he could. Coralie scrambled to her feet, hawk-sharp eyes always trained on him, and thudded her feet as she gave chase. “Cheeky boy! I’m gonna catch you!”

“No!” Rory shrieked, his little face screwed up with effort as he bolted for a tree and ducked down behind the trunk. Coralie could see his backside hanging out but she stopped running, throwing her arms up.

“Oh no!” she cried, trying to sound more upset than amused. “Where has my Rory gone? I can’t see him!” A burst of giggles came from behind the tree and a grinning face peeked out, golden curls flashing in the morning sun. He didn’t give himself away though, to his credit, and Coralie sighed as she ‘fainted’ onto the grass, half-covering her eyes. “I guess I’ll have to go to sleep then, until he gets back!”

She saw him peek out again, and he was apparently convinced. Coralie braced herself for impact as he ran and leapt upon her; she caught him and rolled him onto his back, kneeling over as she attacked him with tickles until he shrieked with laughter. “Tickles, Mama! No!” he cried, wriggling free as Coralie’s phone started to play Batman’s theme tune. “Batman!” Rory cried, as his mother answered the call and hooked one finger through his belt loop, keeping him close.

“Good morning, Coralie. Are you ready to meet Darien?”

“Sure am,” she replied, tugging Rory close when he tried to get away. “Shall I meet him in the lobby?”

“Give him ten minutes, that’s a girl. Have a good day!”

“Thanks,” Coralie replied, stashing her phone away as she rolled to her feet. Freed, Rory ran back for the tree, expecting to be chased, but she didn’t move. “I’m going now, Rory. Are you coming?”

“No!” he shouted. “Play more!”

Coralie put her hands on her hips, and clicked her tongue. “I guess you’ll have to stay here forever, then. Bye!”

Without another word, she started for the doors. It didn’t take long for Rory to shout in protest and hurry as fast as he could to catch up. Coralie scooped him into her arms and the duo journeyed up to her room for her purse before returning to the lobby.

A well-dressed man in a salmon shirt and black trousers spotted her emerging from the lift and broke off his conversation with a stunning redhead to wave a finger at her. The redhead turned and upon spotting Coralie letting a squirming Rory down to go look at the indoor pond, sneered. She stalked over to the lifts and the man approached, smiling with his hands held out wide.

“You must be Coralie,” he beamed, and upon her nod, kissed both her cheeks before she could react. “My name is Darien, you can call me anything but late for dinner,” he paused, waiting for a response.

Coralie just snorted, raising on eyebrow. “Such a dad joke,” she quipped.

Darien seemed pleased and turned her around; she felt more self-conscious than ever. Why couldn’t he have done this in the privacy of her room? “Now, this is a rarity,” Darien said as she spun to face him again. “Your clothing does not do you justice, darling. You’re a natural beauty. Cheekbones! Bless your cheekbones; you are very proportionate, has anyone ever told you?”

“No,” Coralie replied honestly. She’d been told she was pretty before, but that was usually after she’d made an effort to be so, and the comments had only reaffirmed her belief that she could be pretty, if she tried. Darien made a few more clicking noises, examined the ends of her hair- Coralie concentrated on Rory, watching him- as the man fussed over her before finally nodding to himself.

“Quite a few split ends, darling, and absolutely no style. So, the plan for today is to get your hair cut- would you like highlights? I think highlights would be good. Yes, we’ll get them-“ he didn’t even seem to breathe as he mapped out her day; Coralie’s head was spinning with the jargon he threw at her, but she was grateful that she hadn’t heard the word ‘waxing’ yet. She just hoped he didn’t ask her to try on a skirt; she really needed to shave her legs. “And who’s this?” Darien said at length, peering down at Rory who hid his face in Coralie’s knee.

She picked him up, and gently coddled him into not hiding. “This is Rory. Rory, this is Darien. Can you say hi?” He shook his head, and she tickled his chin gently. “Don’t be rude, sugar. Say hello.”

Rory peeked up. “Hello,” he uttered ungraciously.

Darien produced a lollypop from a pocket Coralie couldn’t even see, and presented it to Rory. “I always come prepared for the grumps,” he said as Coralie smiled and Rory brightened considerably, his shyness forgotten as he took the sweet and said thank you, unprompted. “Are we ready?” Darien clapped his hands and threaded his arm through Coralie’s free one, leading the way out to a black SUV that Modest had loaned to the radio station for the duration of the contest. The conversation was thick and fast throughout the journey, and Darien pointed out buildings he knew and had worked in, much to Coralie’s interest. Topics ranged from hair to clothes to music to politics to children; Darien had two little girls whom he saw every other weekend, and from all accounts absolutely doted on them.

By time Coralie staggered back into her hotel room that evening, with Patrick carrying the things Darien insisted she buy and Rory drooling on her shoulder, she was utterly exhausted and felt quite delighted to have made a new friend. 

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