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Arc Over Time by Jen Silver

Chapter One

 

Meetings

 

 

 

“She calls, you go running.” Jasmine looked at her friend in disgust. “Aren’t you fed up being second best?”

 

Denise glanced out the café window. Jas always insisted they go to Starbucks even though she knew her friend wasn’t keen on supporting the franchise. “They stood up for gay marriage,” she would say to appease her. Den would have preferred her usual haunt, the French bakery on the Marylebone High Street.

 

It was true she hadn’t hesitated in agreeing to meet the professor off the train when she’d phoned the night before. It had been a month now since they’d gone to the wedding at Starling Hill and the night of passion Den had hoped for on that occasion hadn’t materialised. Instead, the night was spent consoling the older woman. Watching the ‘love of her life’ marry a woman she despised had proved more than Kathryn could handle.

 

Poking around the remnants of the cappuccino froth in her mug, Den finally looked up. “We’re friends, that’s all. She knows she can talk to me.”

 

“Well, she needs to change the record. It’s getting boring. And I know you want more from the relationship than holding hands.”

 

Den sighed. She couldn’t argue with that. Jas had a way of getting straight to the point. They’d known each other since high school. She recalled that first day, a nightmare, trying to find her way around a building the size of a prison and twice as intimidating. Jas had been lost as well and they met in a dark downstairs hallway leading nowhere. It was an unlikely pairing. In their first year, Jas soon got in with the popular girls, discussing boys and makeup with ease. Den was always an outsider. She hung around with the other misfits, getting kicked out of classes, smoking in the toilets, frequenting the after-school club known as Detention.

 

Things changed in their second year. Jasmine had tired of the empty-headed views of her peers and persuaded Den to join her in the library at lunchtimes. They read books, shared ideas, and became politically aware. With encouragement from their English teacher, they started a newspaper. Suddenly, they were the cool ones. Kids who had ignored them before now wanted to be in their gang.

 

It was no surprise they both chose careers that involved writing. Jasmine Pepper was in public relations, mistress of the beguiling press release, and Denise Sullivan was a reporter. Her journalistic career had mostly been low-level, covering minor local events, until the year before when Jas introduced her to Dr Kathryn Moss, a professor of archaeology at a northern university. Reporting on the extraordinary finds at Starling Hill and using some underhanded methods, she had finally made it, her byline on the front page of a national newspaper. The fame had come at a cost, and her hopes of a more permanent relationship with Dr Moss had derailed before it really started. There was a mutual attraction though, and when they met up, more often than not, they would have sex.

 

As if reading her mind, Jasmine broke into her thoughts, saying, “Come on, Den. All you get from her is a comfort fuck now and then.”

 

“Yeah, well, something’s better than nothing.” She would be seeing Kathryn again in an hour’s time and it was all she could do to keep her body still.

 

“I don’t know why she’s hung up on Eleanor what’s-her-face, anyway. Stuck-up, bitch.”

 

“Now who’s got a hang-up? I thought you were over Robin.”

 

“Robin who?”

 

Jasmine’s studied indifference didn’t fool Den. Jasmine had been in love with Robin Fanshawe and thought their affair meant something. Jas still couldn’t believe that Robin had gone through with marrying Ellie. And, it seemed, Kathryn hadn’t got over that either. Den stood up, unable to stay seated any longer.

 

“Gotta go, Jas. Don’t want to keep the lady waiting.”

 

“You never do. Good luck, anyway.”

 

 

 

Den huddled into her jacket, the cold easterly wind dramatically lowering the temperature of what had earlier seemed like a nice June day. Making her way to King’s Cross train station to meet Kathryn, she wondered what mood she would be in. Their phone conversation the night before had been brief. Kathryn hadn’t even said why she was coming to London.

 

She really hoped they weren’t going to be rehashing the wedding. It had been upsetting to see Kathryn’s pain. The professor had thought going to the wedding would help her get over Ellie’s rejection. Instead it had just intensified her distress at what she had lost. Den thought Kathryn was probably deluding herself about what their affair had meant to Ellie. From what she had seen when she met them, Ellie was devoted to Robin.

 

Checking the arrivals board it looked like the Leeds train was on time. Den waited by the platform exit point. She checked her phone again. No messages. Not even an ‘I’m on the train’ one. So, it looked like Kathryn was in a non-communicative mood. Hopefully lunch at their favourite restaurant in Soho would jolt Kathryn out of whatever hurt she was carrying around.

 

People started coming through the gate. With her height, Den could see over most heads. The first-class carriage would be at the front of the train so she shouldn’t have long to wait.

 

Kathryn saw Den as she passed through the ticket barrier. There was no mistaking her tall form, shaggy hair standing on end, looking as if she’d just got out of bed. Whose bed, she wondered? But she didn’t really have any right to ask.

 

“Hey, Prof. Over here!”

 

Kathryn smiled. It was hard not to when greeted by Den’s enthusiasm. She let the taller woman pull her into a hug.

 

“Thanks for meeting me,” she said when Den released her.

 

“Can’t have you wandering around the big city on your own.” Den took her briefcase from her. “Is this all you’ve got?”

 

“Yes. I’m only here for one night. Change of underwear and toothbrush.”

 

“So, what’s the occasion?”

 

“Second interview at UCL.” Den’s look of delight didn’t escape her notice. “Don’t get too excited. At the moment it’s a toss up between here and Durham.”

 

“Durham! You can’t be serious.”

 

“Why not? They’re up there with Oxford and Cambridge as far as archaeology’s concerned.”

 

“It’s only about a thousand miles from here!”

 

Kathryn laughed. “Two hundred and seventy-five, actually.”

 

“Far enough.”

 

It wasn’t difficult to read Den. Kathryn knew she wanted more from her. She had tried very hard to let go of her feelings for Eleanor Winters. But it proved difficult. Everything she did now tied in to the events of the previous year at Starling Hill farm, Ellie’s home. Every time she spoke at a convention the topic everyone wanted her to discuss was the discovery of Queen Cartimandua’s burial place. Happy to use the boost to her credentials that the excavation of the bones had given her and with that the chance to make a move to a more prestigious university, there were some memories of the dig that she knew should be left behind. In particular, the memory of a night of passion with Ellie when she had dared to hope that it would lead to something more—maybe the long-term relationship that had always eluded her. Ellie had shattered that dream and married Robin. It was time she moved on.

 

“What time’s your interview?”

 

Den’s question pulled her back into the present.

 

“Four thirty.”

 

“Good, plenty of time for a psychological adjustment, then.” Den had expertly maneuvered them into a taxi.

 

“I can’t turn up reeking of drink.”

 

“A glass of wine with lunch isn’t likely to harm your chances. And I’d say you need a drink to help you loosen up a bit.”

 

Over lunch they stuck to general topics. By the time they’d finished their main courses the weather and politics had been thoroughly covered. Den had recovered her cool demeanour but Kathryn wasn’t taken in. It was all or nothing with Den. And she knew the journalist wanted it to be all. She still wasn’t sure she wanted to live in London if they offered her the job. The idea of being at the centre of things was appealing, close to the museums and galleries. But every time she returned to her northern home, she felt the draw of the open spaces, the hills and deep valleys; the mysteries still to be unearthed. If only it didn’t also remind her of a certain blonde with beguiling blue eyes. London would offer many distractions, and one of them was sitting in front of her. She met Den’s questioning gaze and smiled.

 

“I’ll text you when I’m finished.”

 

“How long will it take?”

 

“I’ve no idea. There will be more in-depth questions about my area of research. And I will have to negotiate on the number of teaching hours they expect from me.”

 

 

 

 

 

After her coffee with Den, Jasmine walked back to her office deep in thought. Watching Den enjoy her frothy cappuccino while she sipped at her Americano, sans sugar, sans milk, sans taste had been a form of torture. Her friend could eat and drink what she liked and stay rail thin. Jas had to count every calorie to keep her weight down. Den had also never seen the inside of a gym. But Den at least had the glimmer of a sex life, even if it was with the elusive professor. Jas was finding it hard to be interested in the scene, to even think about dating again. The emotional fallout from Robin’s defection had hit her harder than she’d thought at the time. It was almost a year now since that ill-fated trip to Starling Hill. She had been in love. Or was it just in lust? Robin had never given her anything other than the most amazing sexual experiences.

 

Time to get her mind back on work. Her assistant, Ray, met her at the door.

 

“Thank God. I was going to send out a search party.”

 

Jasmine eyed him suspiciously. “Why, what’s up?”

 

“That new client. They want to see us an hour earlier.”

 

“Shit! Have you got the proposal?”

 

“Yup. Two copies, printed and bound.”

 

“Great.” She turned on her heel. “Taxi ordered?”

 

“Should be here now.”

 

A black cab was just turning the corner as they walked out onto the street. Settling back in the seat, Jas took a copy of the proposal from Ray and flicked through it. Their research had been pretty thorough but she didn’t want to be hit with any surprises. This was a big project and they would only get one chance to pitch for the business. They were meeting the marketing director, Max Fleetwood. Wonder if he got teased at school, Fleetwood Max, ha-ha. Better give that a miss.

 

 

 

 

 

The company’s headquarters, all chrome and glass, complete with upper-class receptionist, looked suitably impressive. They were directed to the uncomfortable-looking seats by the wall between two large potted plants. Jasmine took her compact out of her handbag and checked her lipstick. Hair could have done with a brush, but it was too late now. “Sit up, Ray,” she said sharply. “First impressions and all that.”

 

Ray gave her a look that said he couldn’t care less, but he sat up anyway. She liked that about Ray. He probably thought she was a bitch but he had the good manners not to say so out loud, not to her anyway. A striking blonde dressed in a tight miniskirt and almost see-through blouse came out of the lift and walked towards them. Ray straightened up further before standing.

 

“Armadillo?” she asked as she approached.

 

“That’s us.” Ray extended his hand. “Ray Donovan. This is Jasmine Pepper.”

 

Jas stood up and gave the girl her best smile. “I’m the account manager. Ray’s my assistant.”

 

“Right-o. I’m Roisin. Max is ready for you now.” Irish name, Australian accent.

 

Roisin led the way to the lift and they ascended to the sixteenth floor. Hierarchy. The higher you were in the company, the higher your office. Jasmine avoided looking out as the lift rose majestically up the outside of the building, its sheer glass walls giving the occupants a fine view of the city. She didn’t suffer from vertigo but she wasn’t a fan of heights. Her worst nightmare was having to take clients on the London Eye. She had delegated that task to Ray on more than one occasion. He grinned at her knowingly, enjoying her discomfort. Bastard. She would make him pay.

 

 

 

 

 

Once inside the meeting room, Roisin took their orders for coffee and disappeared. “Nice arse,” said Ray as he sat down.

 

“Behave!”

 

“You noticed it as well. I saw you looking.”

 

“I was not!”

 

“You ogled her tits, though.” He placed the proposal documents on the table.

 

Jas ignored him and took her iPad out of her bag. “Make sure you take good notes,” she said to him. Roisin returned carrying a tray with coffee in china cups and a selection of biscuits on a plate. They settled down with their drinks, Ray helping himself to two biscuits. He knew Jas wouldn’t be having one.

 

The door opened again and another woman entered. She was the antithesis of Roisin, the buxom, tanned, blonde surfer girl. Tall, slender, short brown hair, smart business suit, the newcomer was the epitome of a successful city executive. Jas tried not to breathe heavily. Her research hadn’t been good enough. This was obviously the marketing director, Max Fleetwood. Roisin carefully placed a black coffee in front of her boss as she sat down at the head of the table.

 

“So, Ms Pepper, what have you got for us?” It was a soft, low-pitched voice, almost accent-less.

 

Unable to utter a word, Jasmine passed one of the proposal documents over to her.

 

Without looking at it, the director passed it across the table to Roisin. “Talk me through it,” she said, piercing Jasmine with a clear blue-eyed stare.

 

The next half hour was the most uncomfortable Jas had ever experienced in her career.

 

 

 

 

 

Out on the pavement when the ordeal was over, she looked despairingly at her assistant. “I think we’ve blown it, Ray.” She always found dealing with men easy; women were much harder to read. Especially smart high-flyers like Max Fleetwood.

 

“Oh, I don’t know. I think that Roisin likes me.”

 

“She’s not the one making the decisions.”

 

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”

 

Jas stared at him. “What? You don’t think she and Max are an item?”

 

Ray flagged down a taxi and waited until they had settled into their seats before replying. “There were looks passing between them. You probably didn’t notice, too busy trying to make an impression on her highness.”

 

“Yeah, well, I don’t think she was impressed.”

 

The rest of the day passed in a flurry of the usual phone calls, emails and press release deadlines. A text from Den late afternoon said she was meeting the professor at her hotel later. Another reason Jas thought Kathryn wasn’t really interested in a serious relationship with her friend. The professor always stayed in a hotel when she came to London and had never spent the night at Den’s place, a house she shared with three others. Although, admittedly, Den would need to hire professional cleaners and a team of decorators to make her room look presentable.

 

She was tidying her desk prior to leaving the office at six thirty when her phone rang. She snatched it up, thinking it would be one of her friends wanting to meet for a Friday night drink. The voice on the other end caught her out completely. “Ms Pepper? Max Fleetwood here.”

 

Jasmine gulped and tried her best to sound professional. “Yes, but please call me Jasmine, or Jas.”

 

“All right, Jasmine.”

 

The sound of Max’s sexy tone saying her name made her squirm. So glad they weren’t on Skype or FaceTime.

 

“I would like to discuss your proposal in more detail with you,” the low voice continued. “Could you meet me for lunch tomorrow?”

 

“I’ll just check my diary.” Jasmine’s attempt to sound cool wouldn’t have deceived anyone. Even if she had an engagement with the Queen, she wasn’t going to say no.

 

“Yes, that would be fine,” she said after a moment’s pause.

 

“Good. I’ll see you at The Ivy at one o’clock.” The line went dead.

 

Jasmine put the receiver down and stared at the phone. Had that really just happened? Max Fleetwood invited her to lunch, at The Ivy. She had only been there for corporate events. It wasn’t somewhere she could afford to eat if paying her own way. It was only as she walked down the stairs that she remembered—tomorrow was Saturday.

 

 

 

 

 

Kathryn’s call had set back Den’s plans for the evening. It seemed her interview was being continued over dinner. Maybe it was too much to hope that Kathryn would be persuaded to take the London job by being taken out to a posh restaurant by her prospective employers. Her own attempts to sway the professor in favour of the capital on previous visits with expensive meals hadn’t made any impression. Still, at least she would be seeing her afterwards and maybe a night of lovemaking would help her make her mind up.

 

She sat on the wall outside the pub watching the muddy water flow past. The tide was out and the river didn’t look very appealing. Den thought of Sarah, a one-time girlfriend, who had belonged to the rowing club nearby. She’d never understood the appeal of rowing down an open sewer. The Thames was cleaner than it had been in previous centuries, but it still wasn’t advisable to swim in it. Sarah had been an enthusiastic rower. A bit too much of a fanatic as it turned out. Den couldn’t compete with her rigorous training regime.

 

Time to make a move if she was going to make it to Kathryn’s hotel by ten. She returned her empty pint glass to the bar and set off for the Hammersmith tube station. The walk under the flyover was as dismal as ever even with the recent makeover. At least the old ‘Free Bill Stickers’ and ‘Bill Stickers is Innocent’ graffiti was gone, along with the original signs ‘Bill Stickers will be Prosecuted.’ The tube took her into the West End and alighting at Piccadilly Circus meant she only had a short walk to the hotel.

 

The bar wasn’t very busy and she didn’t see the professor. It had been a long day for her, so she had probably gone straight to her room. Den took the lift up to the fifth floor. Kathryn had been able to get the same room she’d had before. Knocking lightly, Den waited, hoping she wasn’t too early. The door opened just as she was thinking she would have to wait a bit longer in the bar. Kathryn was wearing a bulky white hotel bathrobe, her hair damp from the shower.

 

“Hey, babe. You look great.” She reached out to touch the wet strands falling over Kathryn’s face. Without her glasses, her pale blue eyes had an unfocused look.

 

“Come in, you idiot,” she said, backing up to let Den in.

 

“Did you think I was the maid bringing more towels?”

 

“No. She’s already been.” Kathryn continued walking into the bedroom.

 

Den’s eyes followed her. Even in the oversized robe, her movements were sexy. She experienced the familiar jolt of desire that characterised any meeting with Kathryn. The older woman made her feel like a hormonal teenager, out of control, raw with need.

 

“Kat?” She wanted her now. “What happened? Did they offer you the job?”

 

Kathryn had opened the mini bar. “What do you want to drink?” she asked.

 

Den closed her eyes and hoped this night wasn’t going to turn out to be a damp squib. “A lager, if there is one,” she said, trying not to sound annoyed. She waited impatiently while Kathryn fixed herself a gin and tonic and opened a bottle of Becks for her. Taking her drink and sitting down in the chair by the window, the professor finally looked at her.

 

“They’ve made an offer.”

 

“Kat, you’re killing me.” Den sipped at the lager she didn’t really want. “Are you going to take it?”

 

“I’m thinking about it.”

 

“Only thinking?” Den wanted to hurl the bottle across the room and shake Kathryn up.

 

“Well, it’s a big move for me, if I take it. Where would I live, for a start?”

 

“You could stay with me for a bit, until you find somewhere.”

 

“What? In that squat you call home?”

 

“You’ve never been. It’s not that bad. Anyway, you’ll be lucky to find anywhere closer to the uni, at a decent price.”

 

“See, that’s what I mean. If I go with the Durham offer, it won’t be much of a change. I can afford a house nearby, almost in the country, but within easy commuting distance. Or maybe even a flat near the university. It would be healthier to be able to walk to work. To even buy my own house down here I’d have to live a hundred miles out and spend a fortune on train fares.”

 

“Brighton’s only fifty miles away.”

 

“I don’t want to live in Brighton.”

 

“Is that the only reason you can come up with for not taking this job?”

 

Kathryn had found her glasses and put them on. She looked across at Den. “I think it’s a good one.” The robe had fallen open giving Den a good view of the professor’s well-shaped legs. Her eyes travelled up to the tantalising glimpse of bushy hair, a slightly darker colour than the hair on her head. She swallowed, taking another sip of the now tepid beer.

 

“Great. Just great. I thought maybe I meant more to you than the occasional fuck. Jas is right. I don’t know why I put up with this.” Without waiting for a response, Den slammed out of the room. Checking her phone as she left the building she realised it was probably too late to call on Jas and she didn’t feel like hitting a club either. Fighting back the tears that were threatening, she made her way down the steps of the tube station. Might as well join the other late Friday night travellers on their journeys into the dark. The first train to come along was a District Line one so she jumped on. The walk from the Ravenscourt Park station wasn’t as picturesque as her preferred ramble by the river, but safer at this time of night.

 

She kept checking her phone. No messages. No missed calls. Well, Kathryn really didn’t care, did she? Turning the corner into the street, she was relieved to see no lights on. Good, she wasn’t going to have to speak to anyone.

 

Her room was as she’d left it earlier in the day. Bed unmade, clothes in a heap by the window, newspapers everywhere. She was such a slob, how could she even imagine Kathryn wanting to live with her? She collapsed onto her bed and fell asleep immediately, overcome by the exhausting overflow of emotions.

 

 

 

 

 

Sleep hadn’t come easily. Kathryn kept going over the events of the day. She had been pleased to see Den when she arrived at the train station. Their lunch had been enjoyable and she cherished the anticipation of their sexual encounter later. Then there was the interview at the university followed by a tour of the facilities. It was a large department and really did offer her the best chance to develop her field of study and research projects. The dinner had been an undisguised attempt to give her a chance to get to know some of her prospective new colleagues. They were pushing hard for an answer. Almost as hard as Den. Why did she keep pushing her away? Was she afraid of the younger woman’s intensity? There was only an eight-year age difference, but sometimes it felt like twenty. At least with Ellie, she felt she was on equal terms. No, she couldn’t go there anymore. Ellie had made her choice clear; although why she picked the feckless Robin over her she would never know.

 

Waking early, she spent more time tossing and turning. Her train back to Leeds wasn’t until three. When she planned this trip she had thought the morning would be spent in bed with Den. Finally, giving in, she got up and checked the hotel’s restaurant guide. Breakfast not served until eight on Saturdays. She could order room service. Or, she could go out and find a café open somewhere—she was in the big city after all.

 

Getting dressed, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. What did Den see in her? The lack of sleep made her feel like a frumpy fifty-two-year-old, fifty-three this year. She remembered the hurt in Den’s voice the night before and wondered why she hadn’t at least called her.

 

There was something she could do. Den was right. She had never seen where she lived. The business card Den had given her when they first met was still in the inside pocket of her briefcase. She noted the address and feeling suddenly more positive, Kathryn collected all her belongings and made her way down to reception. Settling the bill, she walked out onto the street and hailed the first passing taxi. It was a longer journey than she’d expected. Her knowledge of London only revolved around visits to the British Museum and the university. She was vaguely aware that Chiswick was to the west but she had thought it was just past Kensington.

 

The sight of the smart terraced houses the taxi left her at was a surprise. She had expected to be dropped off at one of the seedy-looking terraces they passed en route. This street close to the river was much more suburban looking than she thought it would be. The way Den dressed and acted, Kathryn really did think she lived in a less refined area.

 

 

 

 

 

It was only seven thirty, but she decided to take a chance that one of the occupants would be up and about. The doorbell sounded a chime in the hallway. The door was opened by a young man, late thirties she would have guessed, smartly dressed in a neatly pressed button-down white shirt and light-coloured chinos, not too different from her own outfit.

 

He looked at her enquiringly, probably thought she was canvassing for the local elections. “Hi. Sorry to bother you. Is Den in?”

 

“Um. Yes, I think so.” He smiled suddenly. “You must be Kathryn. I’m Henry. Please, do come in.”

 

Kathryn followed him down a hallway to a bright kitchen at the back of the house. French windows opened out onto a small well-kept garden. The smell of freshly brewed coffee hit her nostrils.

 

“Paul and I were just going to have breakfast. Would you care to join us?”

 

“Yes, that would be lovely. Thank you.”

 

“Please, have a seat.” He indicated the kitchen table, which was set for two.

 

Den hadn’t told her anything about her housemates. She would have suspected a less conventional household. The kitchen she found herself in had all the trappings of a television chef’s dreams. Henry bustled about, setting a place for her, and placing a very welcome cup of coffee in front of her. “Den’s not likely to surface for a while yet,” he said as he started to scramble eggs.

 

“How did you know who I was?” she asked.

 

“Not hard to guess. She talks about you a lot. And we’ve read about you, of course.”

 

Of course. Last year’s excavations at Starling Hill had made headline news with the feature articles written by Den. “So, you have me at a disadvantage. I don’t know anything about you.”

 

“Well, I’m hurt. That’s her off my Christmas card list.” He gave her a camp flip of his wrist, and then turned his attention back to the eggs.

 

Another young man appeared from the garden. “Got a few chives, but we’ve finished the parsley. Hello!” He stopped to look at Kathryn. “Oh my! It’s Dr Moss, isn’t it?” He dropped the handful of chives on the counter next to Henry and extended his other hand towards her. She took it and nodded. “I’m Paul. I guess you’ve met Henry. So, to what do we owe the pleasure?” He helped himself to coffee from the pot and sat down in the chair opposite.

 

“Den and I had a bit of a fallout last night. I thought I should see her before heading home.”

 

“Ah, right. Do you want me to go and wake her up?”

 

“No. I mean…there’s no rush. My train doesn’t leave until three.”

 

“Great. So, tell us, how did it feel when you first realised who was buried at Starling Hill?”

 

“Paul!” Henry placed a plate of perfectly scrambled eggs with brown toast on the side in front of her. “Let the poor woman eat before you start grilling her. Please go ahead, Kathryn. I’ll just do our toast.”

 

Kathryn realised she was very hungry. She was halfway through her eggs by the time Henry sat down with his own plate.

 

“These eggs are wonderful,” she said. “Do you get them locally?” Only after she asked did she think that was probably a stupid question. She wasn’t in the country now.

 

“Well, as local as anything around here. They’re supposedly ‘farm fresh’.”

 

“Free range,” added Paul.

 

They were a handsome couple, Kathryn thought. Paul was more casually dressed, wearing cut-off denim shorts and a tank top that showed off his pecs. “You’ll have to fill me in on what you two do, as Den has told me nothing about you.”

 

“I’m a pilot,” Henry said. “Long-haul flights, so it’s a treat to be home for a few days now.”

 

“And I’m a kept man,” said Paul, lightly.

 

“Hardly.” Henry smiled fondly at him. “He’s a ward nurse at St Thomas’s.”

 

“Isn’t there another person living here, apart from Den, that is?”

 

“Oh, yeah. Steph. She’s a gardener. Must tell her we need more parsley. Anyway, she shot off to Brighton after work yesterday. Somebody’s fortieth birthday bash, I think.”

 

Paul started again, gently quizzing Kathryn about last year’s dig. They both seemed interested so she humoured them and talked easily about the excavation and the main findings. “The skeletons will be on show at the British Museum later this year,” she told them. “An exhibition is being prepared. Finally some recognition for the Queen of the Brigantes.”

 

They had all enjoyed a second round of coffee when Den appeared in the doorway wearing only a scruffy T-shirt and black boxer shorts. Her hair was standing on end and Kathryn’s heart lurched at the sight of her lover’s long limbs on display.

 

“I could murder a coffee, Hen!” She stopped, seeing Kathryn staring at her. “Oh, Christ!” Her cheeks flamed and she turned on her heel. They heard her thumping back up the stairs.

 

Kathryn bit her lip. She stood up. Paul put a restraining hand on her arm.

 

“I think she might need a bit of time.”

 

“I have seen her looking worse.”

 

Henry laughed. “It’s her bedroom she’s concerned about. If she wasn’t expecting a royal visit, it’ll be a tip.”

 

She sat back down and leant back in her chair. Now that the time had come she wasn’t sure what she was going to say to Den. With all the excitement of the past year, the excavation, the discoveries, the constant requests for talks, as well as her ongoing responsibilities at the university, she hadn’t really thought about the implications of moving. Her house in Lindley, a leafy part of Huddersfield, was all she had ever wanted in a home. The idea of uprooting was suddenly more frightening than appealing. A new location would mean having to register with a new doctor, dentist, and finding a hairdresser she liked. Was she really prepared to go through all that at her age? Another voice in her head was saying, ‘go for it, you only live once.’ And that was a philosophy she had always promoted.

 

“Would you like help with the dishes?” she asked Henry as he began to clear the plates.

 

“No, definitely not. Den’s room is on the top floor, just follow all the stairs up.” He seemed to have sensed her anxiety.

 

“Okay. Thanks for breakfast. It was absolutely delicious. Much better than I would have got at the hotel.”

 

“Go on!” He poured another mug of coffee. “And take this up. She’s not worth talking to until she’s had a hit of caffeine.”

 

Kathryn smiled at him and took the mug. She followed the stairs up to the top of the house. No wonder Den was in good shape if she climbed these several times a day. The door had a hand-painted porcelain sign on it. Den’s Den. Cute, but not quite the image she had of her lover.

 

Pausing to catch her breath, Kathryn raised her hand to knock.

 

 

 

 

 

Jasmine woke in a sweat. She had been dreaming. A highly charged erotic dream and for the first time in over a year, the face of her lover wasn’t Robin. She sat up and tried to recapture the rapidly fleeing images. Max Fleetwood. The lunchtime meeting. Not for the first time since last evening’s phone call, she wondered, did the woman really want to discuss the PR proposal or was this a date? Jas licked her lips and checked the time on her phone.

 

Ten fifteen. Damn! She struggled out of the damp sheets. Just time to have a shower, slap on some makeup and decide what to wear. Her flat was in one of the few areas with a London postcode that wasn’t on a tube route. She was at the mercy of the Saturday bus schedules. Making it down to the Theatre District in time to meet Max at The Ivy for one o’clock would be pushing it unless she got a move on. And she had the feeling Ms Fleetwood would not be impressed if she was even a minute late.

 

 

 

 

Den opened the door. Unsmiling, she stood aside to let Kathryn enter. She had hastily thrown on the jeans she’d been wearing the night before and tidied the rest of the clothing on the floor into the laundry basket. Newspapers were now piled up in the corner by her desk and a quick flick of the duvet made the bed look more respectable. She had just opened the window when Kathryn knocked. Glancing around she decided it would have to do.

 

Kathryn handed her a mug of coffee. “Henry thought you might need this,” she said.

 

“Too right,” Den muttered. She watched the professor over the rim of the mug as she glanced around the room, assessing the size of the mess that constituted Den’s life.

 

“I guess I should have phoned.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Mind if I sit down? Those stairs are a killer.”

 

“Fine. Make yourself at home.” Den realised, belatedly, that she hadn’t combed her hair.

 

“The boys seem nice.”

 

“Yeah, they are.” Sipping at her coffee, Den tried to work out what Kathryn was trying to say. The shock of seeing her in the kitchen was fading and being replaced with the anger of the night before.

 

Kathryn looked up at her. She had chosen to sit on the bed. “Den, I’m sorry. Last night, I was…I don’t know. This isn’t like me. I just don’t know whether I’m doing the right thing.” Tears were now streaming freely down her face.

 

Den put her mug down and sat next to her. This wasn’t a Kathryn she knew. The professor was always so much in control of her emotions. Softening, she put her arm around the crying woman’s shoulders. “Hey, come on.” She reached over and removed Kathryn’s glasses. “I’m sorry, too. I guess I’ve been putting pressure on you.”

 

Feeling Kathryn slowly relax against her chest, her breathing calming, Den moved a hand to lift her face up to hers. She kissed her closed eyes first, tracing the salty tear tracks down her wet cheeks. Their lips met and Kathryn’s parted to let her explore with her tongue. The professor’s moans encouraged Den to move her hands down to her breasts.

 

Several hours later, both naked and sexually sated, Kathryn glanced at the time on the clock by the bed. “I guess I’m going to miss my train,” she said.

 

“Do you need to go back today?”

 

“No. I might be tempted to stay the night.”

 

Den grinned at her. “What, in this squat?” she asked playfully.

 

“It’s a nice house.”

 

“I would have cleaned up if I’d known you were coming,” Den said more seriously.

 

Kathryn reached up and tugged at her hair. “I’m glad you didn’t. It’s just you.”

 

With no further encouragement needed, Den rolled over on top of her and pinned her to the bed. “Well, if you’re not going anywhere, how about another round?”

 

“Have some respect for these old bones.”

 

Den kissed her deeply before answering. “I have every respect for your bones, Professor.”

 

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