Enjoy extracts from . . .
Rachel decides to lay her cards on the table. . .
After the meal, she had taken her glass and gone back to her place on the sofa while Paul cleared up the plates and made coffee. Rachel found his behaviour rather perplexing. He had invited her to stay for dinner and had definitely been flirting with her when they had worked together at her house. Here in the flat, he seemed to be backing away. Paul had gone from what she thought of as potential boyfriend material to a ‘colleague’ again.
What had she done to put him off her? Was she not making it plain that she really rather fancied him? As she sat in the sitting room, feeling nicely woozy after the wine and dinner, she wondered what to do. Perhaps strip down to her smalls and drape herself over the table with the words ‘Come and get it!’ tattooed across her chest?
She was gently chuckling to herself when Paul came into the room. As if reading her mind, he came and sat by her side and gently smoothed her hair back from her face. “You are a very attractive women, Rachel.”
She held her breath waiting for the kiss, which didn’t come. “But?” she asked, the hint of frustration obvious from her tone.
Paul leant back and sighed. “I have heard from my uncle. His shoulder is better and he plans to come back to the shop very soon.”
“Oh, well that’s good, isn’t it?”
“It is, in one way,” he said, smiling. “But it also means that I won’t be needed here anymore so I’ll be going back to Paris.”
Rachel drooped for a moment, disappointed that the one man in Dreste who she actually found attractive was about to leave.
Paul had got up and was standing by the window, gazing at the view. “And there’s something else,” he added, turning back to face her.
“Oh dear.” Rachel knew what was coming. “Don’t tell me – you’re married?”
Paul nodded. “Technically yes.”
Rachel raised an eyebrow. “Explain.”
“It’s a bit like you and your husband. We are almost divorced, but not quite.”
“I’m sorry Rachel. I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve spent together and would have liked to get to know you better.”
It might have been the wine or the good food or the conversation they'd had, but Rachel felt bold that evening. “So, it’s not that you don’t find me attractive or think I’m mad, or anything like that?”
Paul laughed and came back to join her on the sofa. “You are definitely attractive and only moderately mad.”
“Cheeky!” Rachel picked up a cushion and whacked him with it, playfully. “I don’t know whether to be offended or not now.”
“You should be flattered that I don’t just want to sleep with you then disappear.”
She looked at him with the hint of a smile on her face. “When did you say you were leaving?”
“Probably in a week or so.” He looked at her quizzically. “Are you saying you don’t mind?”
Rachel put her hand behind his head and gently pulled him towards her. “I don’t if you don’t.”
A London Affair
Kate expected to spend her first Christmas away from home in the capital, but her friend Ned has other ideas and the gang heads to the coast...
Having set up the bonfire and their Christmas star, the group walked back to the house for supper. Valentina had prepared a spicy stew in London and put it in the oven to heat up while they were at the beach. Ned buttered thick slabs of crusty bread and asked Freddy to open the wine while Kate set the table and lit the candles.
The journey and the walk along the beach had given them all an appetite and they ate with gusto.
Kate thought they were set for an early night, but after the plates had been cleared away Ned stood and made an announcement. “Friends, it is Christmas Eve. Therefore, we must head to the beach, build a great fire and drink to the health of our planet.”
Valentina frowned. “You want us to go outside again in the cold and the dark?”
Ned grasped her gently by the shoulders and kissed her on the tip of her nose. “It will be magical, I promise.” He rubbed his hands together. “However, it might be a little on the nippy side, so grab hats, scarves, boots and bring rugs to sit on.”
Bundled up, the trio dutifully left the warmth of the kitchen and followed Ned back along the path to the beach. He and Valentina carried paraffin lamps to light the way, but the moon was so bright they barely needed them. The landscape was quite different at night: the dunes could have been the edge of a desert range and the wind rustled through the coarse sea grass.
When they reached their Christmas star, Ned stopped and threw out his arms towards the sea. “Enjoy that fragrance, people. There’s nothing like it.” He breathed in deeply, then waved vigorously with both hands.
“Who are you waving at, darling?” asked Valentina. “I can’t see anyone out there.”
“We can’t see them, but there will be people on beaches in Holland and Scandinavia waving back.”
Kate and Freddy tried not to laugh at their eccentric companion.
“Have you done this kind of thing before then, Ned?”
He turned, his eyes crinkling into a smile. “Many times, Frederico.”
“England, India, Thailand – the sea’s the sea, my friend. Now, let’s make fire.” Ned knelt on the ground and lit the bonfire, which soon sprang into life. The others arranged themselves on the rugs and gazed into the flames. After a while, Valentina unpacked the champagne and glasses.
“Don’t open that yet, darling,” said Ned. “We need to dip our feet into the ocean first. Come on – get those boots off and roll up your trousers.”
Groaning quietly, Kate pulled off her boots and double layer of socks and stood on the cold sand, shivering. Freddy hopped over and took her hand. “Come on, Kate. Let’s do it.”
“I’m sorry about this. Ned is a bit bonkers.”
Fred turned towards her and laughed. “Why are you apologising? This is brilliant.”
The tide was in and Ned had already run the short way to the water’s edge with Valentina who had rolled up her skirt to her knees. “Hurry up, you two,” she said, laughing. “We must do this together.”
Freddy and Kate stepped gingerly across the sand, then the four of them walked hand in hand into the inky sea, squealing as icy water lapped over their ankles. Behind them the fire crackled, throwing a flickering red light over Kate’s star, which stood like a beacon on the beach.
They dashed back and forth into the water shrieking and jumping over the waves, then separated so each of them could walk alone in silence. It was a spontaneous moment of contemplation under the moonlight: magical, as Ned had promised. Afterwards they dried their feet, put on their boots and lay on the rugs watching the stars and listening to the rhythmic whooshing of the waves. At midnight, they drank a toast to good times and wished each other happy Christmas.
The moon was high in the sky by the time the bonfire had burned down and all the champagne was drunk. Ned’s body cast a dim shadow on the sand as he stretched and stood. “Friends, I think it’s time for bed.”
Valentina packed up the glasses while Freddy and Kate folded up the rugs. Ned pulled the star sculpture from the sand, balanced it on his shoulder and led them across the dunes to the vicarage.