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Circle Dance Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Sasha Fairfield looked at the pile of manuscripts with dismay. They represented not just a lot of unread, and in some cases, unreadable words but also a host of anxious writers wondering why they hadn’t heard yet whether their work of art was likely to ever be seen by a publisher. The life of a literary agent wasn’t all Harry Potter and Fifty Shades. But she had to keep an open mind for there might be a gem hidden in the lot.

 

Stevie jumped up onto her lap and gave her his green-eyed stare, which always made her think of Jamie. Her ex-lover’s eyes were brown but it was the same intense look. She stroked Stevie and he settled down on her lap and not for the first time in the last few months, she wished she could be stroking Jamie. It was a mystery to her now why she had thrown away the best relationship she’d ever had. For what? To satisfy an urge? An illusion? A distraction at best? She had found the first few months with her new lover exciting in and out of bed. They shared a passion for fiction and Phoebe’s enthusiasm for discussing books was endless, whereas Jamie’s idea of good reading material started and ended with computer manuals.

 

“Do you miss her, too?” she whispered. The black cat opened one eye briefly and continued purring. She thought he did, he just wasn’t going to admit it.

 

It was Jamie who had named Stevie. Thinking he was female when they brought him home from the cat rescue shelter she had named him after her favourite singer, Stevie Nicks. Good thing it hadn’t been Adele. His gender had been revealed When they took him to the vet for routine shots they told them his gender. By that time they had decided the name Stevie suited him.

 

Sasha found herself dwelling more and more on her life with Jamie. It had been good, more than good. She had loved the way Jamie looked after her, opened doors, always put her first. In return she had held her heart. But somewhere along the way she’d dropped it. Surely she wasn’t so shallow as to have been affected by listen to the way her friends put Jamie down at every opportunity. “For God’s sake, Sash. It doesn’t matter how good she is in bed, eventually you need someone with a brain.”

 

Jamie had every reason to hate her for the way she’d behaved. She turned into the bitch from hell and she hadn’t even registered the hurt in Jamie’s eyes the last time she’d seen her.

 

And now she’d disappeared. The solicitor dealing with the house sale hadn’t been able to tell her where she had moved, deflecting her enquiry with some sort of client confidentiality bullshit. Always a fan of social media, Jamie had withdrawn from that as well. No sign of her on Facebook or Twitter. But as a highly qualified computer whiz she could have set up other accounts in another name. There was only one option left. Trying to find her at her place of work, the location of which she had carefully extracted from a mutual friend. It felt like stalking. But the need to connect with her was getting stronger and harder to ignore.

 

Sasha sighed and picked up the first page of the novel on top of the pile. The Moons of Septimus Seven by Felix LeMar. Did this author really think they could write like Philip K Dick? Why send it to her? Smoke Rising Publishing didn’t deal in fantasy or sci-fi.

 

Well, this shit wasn’t going to read itself, unfortunately. She’d try the first twenty pages and then it was toast.

 

 

The doctor looked down at her patient and sighed. “Do you think you could relax a bit more?”

 

“You know I hate this. I’m only having it done because you say I have to.”

 

 

“It just takes a few seconds. Lie back and think of something pleasant.”

 

“Like what? When I know you’re going to plunge that cold metal thing into me…”

 

“Don’t be such a baby…and it’s plastic.”

 

Jamie Steele closed her eyes and gripped the sides of the bench firmly. “Do your worst, Doc.” She braced her feet as well and prepared for the moment of agony.

 

It was over quickly, as the doctor had said, although Jamie did let out a squeak when she pulled the speculum was pulled out.

 

“All done. Get dressed and come through to my office.”

 

Jamie had chosen her garments carefully for the occasion and quickly pulled on her soft cotton briefs and sweats. She went into the doctor’s office and sat gingerly on the edge of the chair.

 

“I don’t care what you say, it still hurts. How many more of these tests do I have to endure?”

 

“Let me see. You’ll be fifty in December, so only two, possibly three more after this. Every five years. Although I see you managed to stretch this examination to six.”

 

“Well I had reminders coming through my door as frequently as letters from Hogwarts for a certain boy wizard. I couldn’t ignore them any longer. The arrival of owls might have upset the neighbours.”

 

“It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re coming round for dinner tonight and wouldn’t be able to escape.”

 

“Don’t tell me you have these instruments of torture at home? I don’t know how Laurel puts up with you.” Jamie imitated the doctor’s voice. “Oh, don’t put the veg on yet, dear. I’m just going to give our guest a smear test.”

 

“Very funny.” Dr Madeleine Hope leant back in her chair and gave her friend a stern look over the top of her glasses. “Seriously though, you don’t look like you’re eating properly. You’ve lost weight since I last saw you.”

 

Jamie stared at her feet. The problem with having a doctor as a friend. Nothing got past her. She hadn’t been eating properly for some time. Ever since the abrupt departure of her girlfriend of six years, the one she thought she would be spending the rest of her life with. Sasha’s timing had been shit as well. Jamie had just found out the promotion she had hoped for was going to someone else and she was being made redundant. Arrived home that day to share the bad news with her partner, a shoulder to cry on, and was greeted instead by a note on the kitchen table and empty spaces in the closet.

 

She picked at a loose thread on her sweat pants unable to meet the sympathy she knew would be in her friend’s eyes. Standing abruptly, she said, “See you later,” and made it out to the street before the tears started to leak out. She shook her head and walked back up the steep steps to her rented room. There was no time to give in to the pain of the past, the early morning appointment with the doctor meant she was on a tight schedule to get changed and head off to work.

 

 

Handled that well, doc, Maddie berated herself. Note: must work on bedside manner.

 

She finished filling in the form to send Jamie’s smear test off to the lab and closed down her notes on the computer. Having managed to fit Jamie in before the regular start of surgery hours, she had a few minutes before her next patient arrived.

 

It had been a shock to see how much Jamie had changed when they met up again at the university alumni reunion the previous year. Gone was the cocky, slightly pudgy teenager she remembered from their early acquaintance at the Gaysoc social for freshers. They had hung out together for a while during the first year before the demands of her coursework drove them apart. The rigours of studying medicine didn’t leave much room for a social life. At the reunion, it was Jamie who had recognised her straight away and spoke to her. It took Maddie a few moments to realise who she was. The baby fat had disappeared and it looked like she worked out. But it was the lines around the eyes and an edginess in her demeanour that really made the difference from the young woman she had known back then.

 

So much had happened in that thirty-year gap. She was married with two children, one of whom was about to set off to university himself. And Jamie, it seemed, was suffering from a recent disintegration of a long-term relationship. When they talked at the reunion, Maddie had been enthusing about Hebden Bridge and how much they enjoyed living there. And Jamie had seized on that, asking her for details. She was ready for a change of scene. The house she and her partner had owned jointly in Bury was taking a long time to sell. But she couldn’t wait to move away from the memories. So, Maddie had encouraged her to take a look at the town. If she could find somewhere cheap to rent it could be just the lift needed to make the break and start building a new life.

 

Maddie pulled out her mobile and called home. Laurel answered right away. “What’s up, hon?”

 

Even after twenty years together, Laurel’s voice warmed her.

 

“I’ve just seen Jamie. You were right; I don’t think she’s coping very well. I’m not sure about the plans for this evening.”

 

“Don’t worry. Van’s been briefed.”

 

“I just don’t think she’s ready to move on yet.”

 

“It’s been a year. She just needs to get out more.”

 

A timid knock on the door reminded Maddie that her next patient was waiting. “Okay, but please remind Van to take it easy. She can be a bit full on at times.” The doctor ended the call, put the phone down on her desk and called out, “Come in.”

 

 

Van Spencer stared at her computer screen. It stared blankly back. Only an hour to go and she would be out of here. No more listening to the woman in the next cubicle talking loudly on the phone to a friend. They were talking about a TV programme. Not anything Van had seen but she could have recited the plot backwards by now. She wouldn’t be suffering through the vivid descriptions of who did what to whom if their supervisor hadn’t disappeared for a managerial meeting. Mobiles were supposed to be left in their lockers during working hours.

 

She thought about the dinner that evening. Deciding what to wear hadn’t been difficult even though she suspected Laurel was trying to set her up with someone. Okay, so she’d been out of the dating scene for a while. That wasn’t unexpected given the disastrous nature of her last affair. She would definitely be reading the small print before clicking the ‘Agree’ button anytime soon. So Laurel’s text to remind her to take it slowly with their other guest was hardly necessary. She wasn’t planning to jump the woman’s bones as soon as they were introduced.

 

All she knew was that this Jamie person was more a friend of the doc’s than Laurel. They had been at university together and only got back in touch when Jamie showed up at an alumni reunion. There had been a painful break up with a long-term girlfriend. Did she really need to hook up with someone with that sort of baggage? Still, at her age, it was unlikely she was going to find anyone travelling light, unless she wanted to try cradle snatching. And that really wasn’t an option.

 

“Hey, Van. You joining us for a drink after work?” The question came from the cubicle to her left. Looking up she saw Connor leering at her, head resting on the top of the divider.

 

“Nope. Got a date.”

 

“You’re kidding.”

 

“Why would I be kidding? You think I’m too old to have a date?” Connor was twenty and no doubt thought she was old enough to be his gran, tucked up in bed with a mug of cocoa by eight o’clock on a Friday night.

 

“Well, no, but…”

 

“Well, yes, but. You do.” She enjoyed teasing him. “So, any chat up lines you can suggest, stud?”

 

He turned red and his ears looked more prominent than usual.

 

Loopy Lou, as she thought of her, had finished her phone conversation and decided to join in. “Who’s the lucky woman, Van?”

 

“No one you know.” Van’s screen lit up with an incoming chat request. She looked at the clock; time to give the customer the benefit of her wisdom. “Sorry, guys. I’ll have to take this one.”

 

As she typed out instructions for ‘distressed of Denton’ who couldn’t figure out how to change their pin number, she mentally ran through her exit plan. She had her overnight bag with her. A quick stop at M&S for a bottle of wine, then leg it to the station—just time to catch the next train stopping at Hebden Bridge. And time to have a shower and change when she reached Laurel’s house. And maybe time to thrash Leo on one of his Xbox games. At eighteen years old and preparing to start his first year at university studying physics, he thought he was good but there were still a few things she could teach him. The thought made her smile, forgetting she was being set up for a blind date.

 

 

Carrying the bike up to her room on the top floor was hard work but she was fitter than she had ever been. The last six months had been tough but the move had helped. Jamie put the bicycle down to get out her key. The door opened into a large attic space. She had been pleased to find it. The rent was cheap and it was only five minutes from the town’s main square. She had her own en-suite bathroom but no kitchen facilities.

 

Placing the bike against the wall, she went over to the window. It was a great view looking out over the valley and the tops of the trees. She put her iPod in the docking station and restarted the album she’d been listening to on the ride home from work. Sasha had cleared out their CD collection so she’d had to download her favourites onto the credit card sized device. All on the Cloud now. No one could take them away from her again.

 

With Annie Lennox’s voice giving vent to ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, she stripped off her riding gear and got into the small shower stall. The water took a few minutes to warm up but the initial coolness gave her some relief from the heat generated by her ride. Washing between her legs she was relieved to find that the sting had gone. Peeing had been uncomfortable for most of the day after her early morning visit to the doctor. Maddie was right. She had put off having the regulation smear test for as long as possible. Her last experience with a male doctor had been excruciatingly painful—the bastard hadn’t even bothered to warm his hands up—and she’d sworn she would never have another cervical smear test, ever. When the letters kept coming from the local surgery, she had finally talked to her friend and said she would only go through with the procedure if Maddie did it. Well, it was done now. She could forget about the whole ghastly experience for the next five years, at least.

 

Putting on a clean pair of black jeans and a magenta and white striped Oxford shirt, she studied herself in the small mirror by the door. With her short brown hair brushed back, did she look too butch? Was there such a thing as looking too butch? And did it really matter? Whoever it was Laurel was trying to set her up with, they would have to take her or leave her. And the way she felt at the moment, being left was fine with her.

 

She tucked her reading glasses into her top pocket and checked she had her key and a tenner in her pocket, just in case. There wasn’t likely to be a ‘just in case’ as she was walking to her friends’ house. But, on the other hand, if she found she couldn’t face a few hours enduring sympathetic smiles and conversational glitches, she could always head off to the pub and find a quiet corner to sit playing Super Stickman Golf on her phone. She had never played actual golf, but the virtual game was fun.

 

Out in the open she started to feel better as she walked through the park onto the canal towpath. September was one of her favourite months as a crispness started to return to the air and the leaves were already changing colour. Annie was now singing ‘Walking On Broken Glass’ and Jamie switched the music off, stuffing the ear buds in her pocket before the words filled her head with more sadness.

 

She turned off the path and began the climb that led to the doctor’s house near the top of the hill. With the hours commuting on the bike and the number of steps up to her room, she was able to make this journey without having to stop every few minutes to catch her breath. When she reached the driveway leading up to the house she saw that Maddie’s Freelander wasn’t there which meant she would be alone with Laurel for a bit. Perhaps she would have time to find out something about the so-called date before she had to be introduced.

 

Laurel Chambers was a music teacher. She gave piano lessons at home and also did after school sessions three days a week at the local high school. When she met her for the first time at the reunion, Maddie introduced her as her wife and Jamie felt sorry for her old friend thinking the woman looked remote, but stunningly attractive in a Nordic way—blonde hair piled up on her head, piercing blue eyes, a good few inches taller than her partner—an ice queen. Since getting to know the couple better over the last six months, she realised this was mainly a front and had witnessed Laurel letting her hair down in more ways than one.

 

The front door burst open just as she reached the flagged pathway. Jamie stopped to watch the youngster as she flew down the steps at breakneck speed.

 

“Hey, Tay. No need to break a leg to get your Mum’s attention.”

 

Taylor Hope stopped in mid-stride and launched herself at her. Jamie instinctively held onto the girl.

 

“What’s up?” she asked gently, stroking the back of her head.

 

“Nothing,” came the muffled response, hot lips brushing the side of her neck.

 

Jamie let go of the teenager and took a step back.

 

Tay grinned at her. “I just wanted to know what it feels like.”

 

“Well, cut it out. Both your mums have drawers full of sharp knives and know how to use them.” She studied the girl’s outfit. Cut-off denim shorts that might have started out as thigh length now barely hugged her butt and were bordering on being called swimwear. Her sleeveless top was also showing more skin than should be legally allowed on a fully formed sixteen-year old. The chill in the almost-autumn air was making her nipples stand out. At least, Jamie hoped it was the cold and not the recent close contact with her body.

 

“Mm. Like what you see, James?”

 

“Taylor!” Laurel’s voice reached them from the top of the steps. “You’re not going out like that. Get back in here, now!”

 

“Aw, Mum.” Tay turned to Jamie. “See what I have to put up with. She wants me to dress like a six year old. It’s Friday night, for Christ’s sake.”

 

“In! Now!”

 

Taylor started to trudge back up the steps.

 

“Hi, Jamie. Come on in.” Laurel’s voice softened as she addressed her. Jamie followed the girl, averting her eyes from the vision of long tanned legs disappearing into the frayed edges of the shorts.

 

 

Laurel took the casserole out of the oven. The vegetables were ready to be cooked but she would do them once everyone had arrived. Maddie was running late at the surgery as usual and Van had phoned to say her train was stuck at Littleborough.

 

She smiled at Jamie who was uncorking the red wine she’d brought. “So, when are you going to buy a place, J? You can’t want to stay in that garret much longer.”

 

“I like it.”

 

“Yes, but now you’ve got the money from the house, you could find somewhere with more space, maybe even a garden.”

 

“What do I need a garden for?” She yanked the cork out fiercely and looked around for the bin.

 

Laurel could have kicked herself. Of course, Sasha had done all the gardening in their old house. According to Jamie, not only had she come back shortly after she left to take most of their CD collection and a large number of DVDs, but she’d also carted off most of the plants from the garden.

 

“So, has Tay got a date?” Jamie asked as she poured wine for both of them.

 

Laurel led the way out to the conservatory. “I don’t think so, but who knows what she gets up to once she leaves the house. We didn’t have a moment’s bother with Leo, but Taylor is testing us every way she can.”

 

“She’s just a different creature, more physical. You don’t know what Leo might be up to online.”

 

It was true, Laurel thought. Their daughter was very sporty and couldn’t sit still for five minutes. Whereas Leo always had his head either in a math textbook or fixated on his computer screen.

 

“I don’t think he’s doing anything dodgy. Playing games on his Xbox against his friends is his main hobby.”

 

“Ah, well. You never know. It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”

 

Too true, thought Laurel, studying Jamie’s profile. And you’re too quiet for your own good these days.

 

They both sat watching a squirrel making its way carefully across the garden. The cat from next door was also watching it closely from the top of the fence. The squirrel made it to safety and dashed up the nearest tree. The cat rearranged itself into a more comfortable position and closed its eyes.

 

“All right, Laurel. You might as well tell me. Who’s this woman you want me to meet?”

 

“I think you’ll like her. She does something with computers as well. Her name’s Van.”

 

“Short for Vanessa?”

 

“No. Her parents called her Ivana. They’d been reading Nabokov. She’s always having to tell people she doesn’t have any Russian roots.”

 

“I guess she’s lucky they didn’t choose Lolita.”

 

“Indeed!”

 

The doorbell chimed and Laurel leapt to her feet.

 

“That’ll be her now. She’s come straight from work so she’ll want to use the shower and change. Maddie should be back soon. Help yourself to more wine.”

 

Leaving Jamie to her thoughts, Laurel walked down the hall and opened the door to her friend.

 

“Sorry about that. Bloody trains. Hope dinner’s not ruined.”

 

“No. We haven’t started yet. Maddie’s still at the surgery.”

 

“Okay. Good. I swear the climb up this hill gets longer. I’m sweating like a pig.”

 

“Well, go hit the shower and join Jamie in the conservatory when you’re presentable.”

 

Laurel returned to the kitchen to check on her preparations. Time to make the salad dressing before Van returned and Maddie arrived home.

 

 

The shower did its job, washing away the frustration of the last hour, sitting in the train at Littleborough wondering along with all the other Friday evening commuters why it wasn’t moving out of the station. It was too early in September for the leaves on the line excuse. There hadn’t been any copious amounts of rain recently so the tunnel couldn’t be flooded. No announcements were forthcoming. Everyone had their phones out either to call home or trawl the internet to see if there was any news of an incident on the track.

 

The passengers cheered loudly when the train finally moved and trundled at a slower pace than normal through the long tunnel to Walsden and beyond. Reaching Hebden Bridge an hour later than planned, Van hoped Laurel wasn’t pissed off about delaying dinner. So it was a relief to find that Maddie wasn’t home yet either.

 

She dried her hair with the blow-dryer Laurel had thoughtfully left out for her and changed into her Friday night ‘date’ clothes. They wouldn’t be going out dancing, but she liked to look the part. Perhaps a sparkly midnight blue blouse wasn’t appropriate for dinner with friends, but she had been told it brought out the colour of her eyes. The tight blue jeans were feeling a bit of a squeeze to get into these days. Maybe it was time she took up jogging again.

 

When she finally felt ready to meet the woman Laurel told her was just her type, she walked downstairs and out into the conservatory. Van was dismayed to see that young Taylor was already making a move on the woman perched on the edge of the two-seater.

 

“So, Jamie, do you think Mum will approve of this outfit?” Tay said as she practically thrust her barely covered breasts into the startled Jamie’s face.

 

“Tay! Give it a rest. Go out and play with your little friends.”

 

Taylor turned and glared at Van, sticking her tongue out at her.

 

Van stuck her tongue out in response. Childish, she knew, but it had the desired effect. The girl got up and gave Jamie one last lingering glance before sashaying into the kitchen.

 

“Hi, I’m Van. Sorry about that. The brat’s going through a Miley phase.”

 

This comment at least drew a wry smile and Jamie stood to take her proffered hand. Nice, thought Van. In fact, much better than expected. Not just some loser pal of Maddie’s who’d been dumped. With the elevated heels she was wearing they were the same height and she found herself looking into deep brown eyes.

 

Whoa! Laurel really should have warned her. This one was cute, way too good looking to be let out on her own. The bitch who had broken her heart must be seriously demented.

 

“Jamie. Pleased to meet you.”

 

Nice voice too. Not a local accent.

 

“Would you like a drink?”

 

Van smiled. An old fashioned butch. This evening was looking better and better. “Yes, please. A white wine, which I know Laurel has chilling in the fridge.”

 

Jamie smiled back and Van thought she better sit down before she fell down. That was a killer smile.

 

“I’ll be right back,” Jamie said as she moved towards the kitchen.

 

Van watched her go. The back view wasn’t bad either. What was her ex’s problem? Did Jamie snore loudly, fart in public, or have chronic bad breath? Only one way to find out and Van wouldn’t pass up the chance if it came along. Flirting wasn’t something that came naturally to her, but tonight looked like a good time to practice.

 

Jamie returned, placing the glass of wine carefully on the table in front of her, within easy reach. “Laurel says you’ll like this. It’s the New Zealand one she usually buys.”

 

It was no effort at all to give Jamie another warm smile. Van picked up the glass. “Cheers! Here’s to the end of another working week!”

 

They clinked their glasses together and sipped in unison, taking each other’s measure it seemed to Van as they looked at each other over the rims. Jamie put her glass down first and asked, quietly, “So, what do you do?”

 

It was as good a start as any. Van planned to keep her answers short as she wanted more than anything to hear more of Jamie’s sexy voice.

 

 

 “Hi honey, I’m home!” Maddie left her medical bag by the door and walked down the hall to the kitchen. The wonderful aroma assaulting her nostrils told her it was Laurel’s famous coq au vin that was on the menu for this evening.

 

Her partner was stirring something at the stove, so she crept up behind and swept aside a lock of hair to kiss the back of her neck. “Something smells good,” she whispered.

 

Laurel leant back into her and Maddie took the opportunity to wrap her arms around her waist. “Sorry I’m late. Do I have time to wash the blood off and get changed?”

 

It was an old joke but got a reaction each time. “Get your bloody hands off me, then.”

 

Maddie pulled back and Laurel turned to face her.

 

“Are the others here?” the doctor asked.

 

“Yes, they’re in the conservatory. So far, so good. However you need to have words with your daughter.”

 

“What’s she done now?” Maddie sighed.

 

“She seems to think it’s funny to come on to Jamie wearing not much at all.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yes, oh. I’ve had to send her upstairs to change twice now.” Laurel bent down and retrieved a covered plate from the oven. “Take this up to Leo. He’s working on something and wants to stay in his room.”

 

Lucky boy. Room service. “Okay. I won’t be long.”

 

Leo was engrossed in whatever was on his laptop, headphones on, tapping away. Maddie left the plate on his desk and moved on to the next room. Her daughter, as Laurel said, was standing by the bed in her underwear contemplating an array of garments scattered across the duvet.

 

“Hey, trouble. What have you been up to now?”

 

“Nowt.”

 

Maddie winced at the use of the colloquialism. But she knew better than to react. “Not what I’ve been told.”

 

“Mum needs to chillax.”

 

“Yeah, right.” Maddie walked over to the bed and looked at the clothing on display. “What is it this evening? A burlesque show?” She held up the strip of material that looked like it might be a skirt.

 

Taylor snatched it out of her hands. “No.” She pouted, looking about ten. “Just meeting a few mates.”

 

“Okay. So I expect you to be leaving the house wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.”

 

“That’s so boring.”

 

“That’s the deal. Or you’ll be spending the evening here in your room. And unlike, Leo, I don’t think that’s what you want.”

 

“Oh, yeah. Mister Perfect.” The lower lip was starting to tremble.

 

“Shit. Come here,” Maddie hugged the girl and held her close. “We love you, sweetheart. Just the way you are.”

 

 After placating her daughter further by promising to take her snowboarding the next day, Maddie left her to get dressed. Her own shower and change of clothes was completed in record time. She flicked her fingers through her shoulder length brown hair deciding to let it dry naturally and headed downstairs to see how their guests were getting on.

 

 

Jamie had to admit it was the best meal she’d eaten in a while. She suspected Laurel was trying to fatten her up and turned down the offer of more potatoes twice. The conversation was flowing easily. Although she’d been wary about meeting this friend of Laurel’s, the evening was turning out better than she’d thought it would.

 

Van Spencer wasn’t what she’d expected either. She was funny and irreverent and Jamie had immediately felt at ease with her. They bonded, laughing about the foibles of their respective customers. If it weren’t for the fact that she wasn’t looking for a relationship, she had to give Laurel credit for introducing her to someone who pushed all the right buttons. Van was attractive without being intimidating. Jamie could imagine running her fingers through the unruly mop of curly brown hair as she pulled the woman closer to kiss full looking lips with two generous handfuls of breasts pressing against her, waiting to be explored.

 

Jamie took a deep breath. Maybe there was hope for her yet. She took a sip of wine and continued with the story she’d started about one of the more ludicrous help requests she’d dealt with recently.

 

“I got a call to go to a lecture room to see if I could get the equipment working. It was in Interactive Media session, and I thought, oh yeah, another knob-head professor who doesn’t know how to unfreeze the whiteboard screen. I couldn’t believe it, the twerp was using an overhead projector, which must have come out of a long-forgotten storage room and the light bulb had blown. The students were immensely relieved when I told him we didn’t have a replacement. Death by PowerPoint is one thing, but death by OHP is infinitely worse.”

 

They all laughed and Jamie caught Laurel smiling at Van. So it seemed their little conspiracy was working. Okay, she was happy to go along with it for now. She was enjoying herself and hadn’t talked so much for a long time.

 

Laurel was definitely making the effort to draw her out and asked about her volunteering for the local Search and Rescue team. So she answered, explaining that she had wanted to do something that got her out and about at weekends. She had done an orienteering course once upon a time and thought it would be a good way to get to know the area. Her probation period was almost over and the team was pleased with her fitness level and enthusiasm for trekking over the moors in wet and windy weather.

 

Sometime during the meal, Taylor came in wearing a pair of skinny jeans and a loose maroon sweatshirt. Maddie told her to come over and give her a kiss. Taylor complied, but Jamie noticed that Maddie was checking to see what was under the sweatshirt. She gave her daughter ten pounds and told her to be in by eleven. That drew a pout but the girl nodded and left.

 

“Why is that she listens to you and not me?” Laurel asked when they heard the front door close.

 

“Threats and bribery. Works every time.”

 

“Is she likely to back by eleven?” asked Van.

 

“She will be if she wants to go snowboarding tomorrow.”

 

“Snowboarding? It’s only September. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s no snow,” Van said.

 

“We go to the indoor ski place near Wakefield.”

 

“Oh, yeah. I’ve been there.” Jamie said.

 

“Do you snowboard?” Van asked, surprise showing on her face.

 

“No. Skiing. But I haven’t been for a while.” Not since the preparation for the last skiing holiday with Sasha. But she didn’t want to dwell on that. It had been shortly after that holiday that Sasha had gone. Had she already been carrying on with that woman? The thought had tortured Jamie during many a sleepless night. She hadn’t noticed any change in her lover during their après-ski sessions, making love for hours at a time in the warmth of the hotel room, stimulated by the outdoor exercise and what Jamie had thought was the passion of their love for each other.

 

Before she could wallow further in that unwanted memory, Laurel brought out dessert and Jamie groaned. She was already full but it was going to be hard to resist her hostess’s homemade apple crumble with custard. It looked like she was going to have to head out for a night ride.

 

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