A sneak peek of Book 6
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My phone vibrates in my pocket, saved by the call, I apologize to the extremely friendly butcher and close the door as politely – and as firmly – as possible before answering the phone.
“Brandon Hazelwood,” exclaims a happy voice. “As I live and breathe.”
The last time I saw, or spoke to Janey, was… two months ago? Early morning. My phone had rung and rung and gone on ringing forcing me to unwind my arm from around a sleeping Janey and get up. After searching everywhere, I finally located the phone somewhere in the scattered clothes we’d dropped on the floor the night before in the urgency of passion.
“Yes?” I answered it, my voice sharp with impatience, my eyes on the naked woman yawning and watching me.
“It’s your brother.” My mother sobbed.
And my life changed.
“Where have you been?” Janey asks now. “I’ve been trying you all morning, but your phone was unavailable.”
I drag my mind back to the sparsely furnished sitting room in my brother’s cottage, the sun pouring in through the bay window, the pork chops in their wrapping, all the food gifts from people on the island who apparently loved him.
“What’s this I hear you resigned from the QEC?” Janey demands. “Why? What happened?”
I scrub a hand over my face, my jaw is scratchy with stubble. “I just felt it was time for a change.”
The only person who knew the real reason for my resignation was the head of the orchestra and he promised to keep the information private. In the shock of it all, the last thing I wanted was a deluge of condolences and hugs from everyone in the classical music industry. They didn’t know my brother, so none of it would mean anything.
“So? Where are you now?”
“Just taking a short holiday.”
Not true. I’ll be here a full year. To fulfil a promise, a request, a deathbed wish.
The hot bath and some dry clothes have transformed her. I can’t help staring.
Made longer by the dark leggings and knee high boots and the figure hugging jumper that comes half way down her thighs. Then there is the hair. A cascade of loose, dark red ringlets that fall down her back.
A primitive creature inside me wants to wolf-whistle, so I turn away and get busy looking inside the Aga. The fish pie has browned nicely, the creamy sauce piping and bubbling through the mashed potato. Grabbing a jay cloth, I place it round the baking dish and bring it out.
“Buggery-bollocks!” I yelp almost throwing the dish on the counter because my hand burns. Even the wet jay cloth burns me. I cradle my hand and bend over it protectively.
“Here,” Lessa is instantly at my side, taking my hand and holding it under the tap. Cold water hits my burning fingers, making me hiss.
“You can’t use a jay cloth for hot things.”
“It was wet, should have been —"
“Wet makes it worse.”
“You don’t say.” Bloody hell, that hurts but a few minutes of cold water does help soothe the pain. Finally, I look around. “Did I ruin the dish?”
“Keep your hand under the tap for a bit longer. I’ll deal with the food.” she says sounding nothing like the scared creature I found in the dark two hours ago.
This new improved woman takes charge, finds a dry towel and transferred the baking dish to the table. When the kettle comes to the boil, she pours hot water into the large teapot I had waiting next to it.
A few red ringlets fall forwards when she dips her head over the teapot to inhale with her eyes closed. “Mmm, I love earl grey.”
What’s wrong with me? Women don’t normally affect me this way. Especially, not women I hardly know.
“How is the hand?” She glances over her shoulder after placing the teapot on the table.
Unfortunately, the burning pain has receded to a dull throb and left space for other, inconvenient, senses to come centres stage. I’ve been standing like a teenager staring at her.
Turning off the tap, quickly, I find a dry towel. “Much better. Shall we eat?”
Now the little drama is over, I don’t know what to say. I’ve never been so affected by a woman before, no matter how attractive. Lessa is … it’s hard to explain, something about her makes me want to look and keep looking.
I put food in my mouth but hardly taste it; my eyes follow her. She slices the fish pie, adds a little salad on the side, picks up her fork and knife and starts eating.
A little later, she glances up and catches me watching her. Damn!
“You’re an impressive cook.” She says.
“You think I cooked all this?” I scoff. “Didn’t you witness the hand-burning earlier?” I hold up my fingers to show her where the skin is still red. “I’ve never cooked anything more complicated than toast. Normally I’m a talented restaurant booker and delivery orderer.”
Her eyes stay on me, a little quizzical.
“What?” I ask.
“Somehow, I didn’t think this tiny island stretched to food delivery.”
“What they lack in UberEATS, they more than make up for in neighbourly gifts. My fridge is growing with stuff I’ll never eat before it goes off. You’re doing me a favour consuming some of it.”
She laughs, a nice clear laugh that sounds like a flute trill.
Oh, I like her. I like her a lot. She’s not only beautiful with a smoking-hot figure, but she has a real spark. Smart quick-witted women are my weakness.
“And there I was feeling grateful for your generosity.” She gives me a mischievous grin. “It turns out you see me as a food-disposal service.”
I hold her gaze and give her a deep, slow smile. All awkwardness of a moment ago has melted because now, this is familiar territory.
“Have you considered a compost box?” She glances around at the recycling bin by the wall.
“You’re a much nicer dinner companion than a compost box,” I say in a more serious, more intimate tone.
We’re here, the point where the subtle flirting comes out into the open with a frank invitation. If she responds, we would ... we will … The thought makes me weak.
Far away, at the distant back of my mind, a tiny, tiny image of that letter, my promise of celibacy, waves trying to attract my attention. It has no chance against the sound of blood crashing in my ears.
I’ve never wanted a woman so much. I let my eyes linger on her face.
But she isn’t looking at me. Something in the recycling box snags her attention and holds it. Slowly her smile falls. All colour drains from her face.
I look, but there’s nothing, just a box on the floor full of torn packaging and old newspapers.
The fork and knife fall from her suddenly limp hands and clatter on the plate. The sudden noise make us both jump. She glances at me with an expression like… like fear.
Surely it can’t be my flirting that scared her.
Confused I turn to look at the recycling box, then back at her. But before I can ask, she makes an inarticulate sound deep in her throat and runs from the table. Her chair falls over but she pays it no attention. She’s at the sink, the tap gushing water again as she begins to retch.
What’s in the recycling box? I go to check, but there’s nothing there, some cardboard and a copy of the Guardian from two weeks ago. It’s folded around a headline about that politician and his researcher. The picture shows a blonde business type woman, and the … wait … I glance back at Lessa. She’s bending over the sink rinsing it, something about her profile… I pick up the newspaper for a closer look, and just then, Lessa turns and sees me with it.
A whisper of realization passes between us. There’s no need for words; it’s clear in her eyes, a look of being cornered.
To be continued