Skin of the Night

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Chapter 77. I Might Not Get Another One

We ate in silence the first few minutes, and it was mainly because I was very hungry and couldn’t focus on anything other than the delicious dish he’d made. However, when my hunger subsided somewhat, I decided to ask him about Oliver, because I’d been wondering all day if he’d received any updates on the case.

After swallowing my mouthful, I grabbed around the stem of my wine glass to lift the red liquid toward my mouth. “Have you heard anything from the police?”

Immediately, his eyes steered to mine. “Yes, just today, as it happens. I was going to tell you, so I’m glad you brought it up.”

I released a nervous breath. “And? Will he make bail?”

He shook his head, leaving my rising pulse to instantly calm. “No. They’ll be holding him in custody until he’s summoned by the magistrates’ court. The case is likely to be passed on to the Crown Court after that, as the magistrates’ court won’t have sufficient sentencing power.”

My shoulders sank with my relief. Knowing Oliver would remain behind bars – at least for the moment – would surely help me sleep tonight. “Under which charges is he being held in custody, specifically?”

He swallowed his bite and reached for his glass of water as he answered, “He’s being charged with attempted murder, rape and domestic violence, as well as blackmail, harassment and stalking.”

My eyes widened. I hadn’t expected all of those, but come to think of it, it was only natural. “So they’re combining your case with Francesca’s?”

He nodded. “Sort of. They’ll likely be tried separately, so I won’t have to go to court for her case, but all charges are being considered for his final sentence. As of now, he’s looking at a life sentence, though I was told he’s likely to plead guilty straight away since he was caught red-handed.

“He’s got decent solicitors working on his defence, and rumour has it they’ll have a brilliant barrister on their side to plead his case in court. Harold Finnley. He’s renowned for his ability to sway a jury and soften sentences, but Dad’s gathered a brilliant team to work for both Francesca and I, so it’s likely that dear Mr Finnley won’t be able to sway this one much.”

“John’s sorted out a team of solicitors for Francesca as well?” I enquired both touched and surprised.

He nodded. “I wanted to help her out. I feel terrible for everything she’s gone through, specially since plenty of it happened right under my nose. I’ve been experiencing some guilt because of that. I keep feeling I should’ve picked up on the signs. She’d have bruises, for instance, but she always insisted they resulted from training or difficult photoshoots.”

“William–”

“I know what you’re going to say, and you don’t need to. I already know it’s not my fault. Either way, providing her with legal assistance is the least I can do, and it makes me rest easier about it all. Dad agreed it was the right thing to do. Besides, aside from the moral aspect, providing her with solicitors of our choosing will ensure better control of the proceedings in court. It’s a win-win situation.”

I frowned to myself and dropped my gaze to the red liquid in my hand. The fact that they were charging Oliver with attempted murder specifically made an alarm go off in my head. “If they’ve charged him with attempted murder, they’ll need to be able to prove intent; beyond reasonable doubt. Will they be able to do that? Did you ask them why they didn’t charge him with a grievous bodily harm offence instead? Have they got any evidence that he actually meant to kill you, and that the decision wasn’t made in the spur of the moment?”

The potential was absolutely horrifying, and it nearly made me cry again. To prevent it, I had to focus all my energy on remaining composed.

Since the police had decided to charge him with attempted murder rather than a GBH offence, it was plausible that they possessed evidence that Oliver had been planning to kill him, and that made me think that if Oliver had decided to do it another way, he might actually have succeeded.

I sensed him staring at me, but if I met his eyes, I was certain I’d start crying again, so I avoided them as I concentrated on my breathing.

Eventually, he quietly said, “Yes. They’ve got evidence he planned to do it, although not in the way you’d initially think. Apparently, Oliver wasn’t aware I’d be attending the event. However, they’ve discovered evidence that he actually meant to do it at a later time, but they suspect that the spontaneous encounter with me provoked him to act sooner.”

Tears prickled my eyes. I could hardly fathom this, so my voice was feeble when I queried, “Do you know what sort of evidence?”

“Mainly circumstantial evidence. They’ve discovered a detailed document of my schedule on Oliver’s computer, which they’ve confiscated. It contained information like when I tend to go to the gym in the morning, when I leave for work, when I come home, etcetera. They also found a cryptic event in his virtual calendar and have been able to match it with my schedule. If their analysis is correct, he meant to kill me approximately a month from now. On Francesca’s birthday.”

Each second slowed as I struggled to digest the information without breaking apart. Meanwhile, he looked sideways for a moment, thinking. Was he imagining himself being dead the way that I was imagining it? God only knows what I would have done had it come to that. Oliver would have destroyed far more than one life, had he managed his objective. That was certain.

“Apparently, he hired a private investigator to keep Francesca under surveillance,” he finally said. “That’s how he found out about us in the first place. It was clumsy of him. Since a private investigator informed him of our affair, he would’ve been the prime suspect either way, as they would’ve been legally obligated to inform the police of it, seeing as it would have been seen as potential motive. I mean – it would be conspicuous to say the least. They inform him that his girlfriend is having an affair, and some time later, her lover ends up murdered? He’s clearly thick as mince, that’s for sure. Albeit, he didn’t hire anyone to stalk me. Apparently, he surveilled me himself.”

That made me look at him, and the second I did, a tear of mine escaped. Speechless, I could only watch him.

His jaw clenched when he glimpsed my fallen tear. “Cara, please... I... I hate to see you like this.”

I collected my head in my hands and rested my elbows on the table. My appetite had completely vanished. “Have they discovered anything else?” I asked, although I could barely hold my voice together.

“An illegally obtained gun.”

All air abandoned me while blood drained from my face. Truly, this made me feel nauseous. “Christ,” I whispered through trembling lips.

“Hey, come here, you,” he softly ordered. Once I found the strength to look at him again, I discovered him reclined in his seat while he smiled faintly at me, head tilted. He patted his lap to prompt me. “Come on, then.”

After a single sniff, I charged up from my chair, eager for his mollifying embrace, and just about ran round the table to dump my body on his. Immediately, the soothing scent of him drifted into my nose and placated me, but it didn’t help the grave pout I wore when I looked up at him.

His arms came round me. “There she is,” he grinned and lowered his head to nuzzle his nose to mine. “You look adorable when you pout, do you know that?”

In response, I circled his neck with my arms and hid my face against his chest. “I love you,” I mumbled into his shirt.

His embrace tightened. “I know. I love you, too, and I’m not going anywhere.”

We sat cuddled up for quite some time, savouring each other’s presence. During the while of it, all I could think of was Oliver Flander and how badly things could have turned out if he hadn’t responded to impulse and attacked William where and when he did. Eventually, I had travelled so deep into the dark alleys of my mind that my tears returned and ultimately stained his shirt. But for a long while, he said nothing. He merely held me against him, hands rubbing my back while I wept in silence. I was positive he could feel me trembling, but I was grateful he resorted to holding me instead of telling me not to cry.

Once I’d calmed somewhat, I pulled back to wipe my cheeks, only to see that I’d left my mascara on his shirt. “Shit, Will, I’ve left make-up all across your shirt. I’m sorry,” I mumbled through my swollen lips. They always swelled when I cried, and my nose was no exception. It was probably as puffy and red as my lips.

He stared at my swollen mouth. “Don’t mind it.”

“It’s not waterproof. It should vanish once you wash it.”

He directed his gaze to mine and arced a brow. “Cara, I don’t care about my shirt when you’re crying.”

“If it helps, I feel better now. I’m only a bit shocked he planned it.” My face twisted as agony made its return. “Fuck,” I groaned and covered my face with my hands.

He sighed. “You know what? Fuck the riddle. I’ll do anything to see you smile right now,” he muttered and twice patted my bum to hint that I should get off his lap.

I peeked at him through the gaps of my spread fingers. “What?” My voice was hoarse, so I cleared my throat.

“Give me a second and I’ll show you.”

Since I didn’t move, his eyes turned strict. “Love, either you get off willingly, or I’ll have to lift you off, and I’m not keen on having my ear screamed off once you scold me for it afterward. But you’re not giving me much choice.”

It took me less than a second to obey his command. “Talk about determined.”

He chuckled as he stretched from his chair. Then, after dropping a generous kiss on my mouth, he turned for the clock on his wall. Once he took it off the wall, my eyes rolled back into my skull.

“Oh, my God. ’Course it’s time. I’m so stupid.”

He turned toward me with a crooked smile while his hands collected another envelope. “Nah. You’ve hardly slept, and you were too excited about Arctic Monkeys to really give it a think, I reckon.”

I folded my arms, amused, and watched him approach after he’d hung the clock back to its rightful place.

“Thanks for giving me excuses.”

He winked. “I’ve got your back, darling. Always.”

When he’d nearly reached me, I opened my right hand to invite the envelope, but to my surprise, he hesitated.

“Listen,” he sighed and, while staring at it, repeatedly flipped the envelope between his handsome hands. Was he nervous? “I don’t want to hear any objections, all right? I need this. It will make me happy. If this ordeal has taught me anything at all, it’s to appreciate every moment, because I might not get another one. And one thing is clearer than all the rest, Cara, and that is that I want to spend as many as I possibly can with you.”

Now dreading the content, I gulped. “William, what have you done?”

Another sigh. “I’ve booked us a holiday.”

My heart stilled while my lips parted. For a few seconds, we only stared at each other. I couldn’t believe it. This was far over, above and beyond, the top. “You’ve what?” I finally uttered, my voice low.

He grimaced. “Cara, please don’t be difficult. You’re bloody irritating when it comes to things like these. Just accept the gesture. It’s simple.”

“William–”

“No, you listen, now. Either we can quarrel about this before I’ll get my way, or we can not quarrel about it, and I’ll still get my way. The result will be the same. I’m not forfeiting this one. Besides, you know full well I can afford it, and if I fancy spending money on you, then I fucking very well may.”

Leaning slightly backward, I gaped at his brusque phrasing and tone. In turn, he was scowling at me, somewhat bent toward me. He was clearly resolute.

Eventually, I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked away from him. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but it makes me uncomfortable when you give me grand gifts like these, because I can’t return the gesture.”

He looked to the ceiling, despaired. “And I don’t expect or want you to. Just accept it, Cara. Please.”

“You haven’t even told me where to.”

That made him chuckle. “Rome and Corsica. I’ve been to Rome before, but I want to take you there. It’s beautiful. Striking, really. And I’ve not been to Corsica, but I’ve always wanted to go.” Excitement poured from his eyes then. “We’ll go hiking in the mountains. I can hardly wait.”

I stiffened. “Hiking? Mountains?”

“You’re athletic. You’ll do fine. And it won’t be every day. We’ll also be spending some time on a yacht while we’re there. Alex and Ivy are joining us for Corsica. Though, not in Rome. That’s just for us. Have you been to either of those places?”

“I – no. ” I shook my head to myself. He was tossing surprise after surprise at me. “Alex and Ivy are coming with? And we’re going to Rome, too? I... Christ, William, you’ve pulled out all the stops, haven’t you? And, now that I think about it, how long is this holiday? In case you’ve forgotten, I’m currently enrolled in an internship programme at your dad’s firm. Disappointing him is out of the question. If all goes well, he might be my father-in-law one day.”

His eyes gleamed, and for a second, he looked miles away into a daydream. “So you’re not opposed to the concept of marriage.”

I blushed. “Well, no. It’s practical when it comes to family and such. Any lawyer would say the same.”

That wasn’t what he wanted to hear, and I could tell from the underwhelmed expression on his face. “Way to bereave it of any trace of romance, Cara.”

I couldn’t help my bashful smile. “Sorry. I wasn’t being entirely sincere. The little girl in me does want to marry for the romantic sake of it.”

He placed the envelope on the table beside us before he tucked his left hand in his pocket. “You have a tendency to pretend you’re made of ice. I often wonder why.”

I shrugged. “It’s because I don’t prioritise ideas based on feelings. What’s rational comes first, my feelings second. And I’m sorry. I don’t mean to come across that way.”

“The same applies to me, but unlike you, I’m less ashamed of admitting to having them. Feelings shouldn’t ever be ignored. They ought to be acknowledged and processed, regardless of whether they’re silly or not. Ignoring them is unhealthy. And, you know, the older I get, the more I appreciate them. It’s what differentiates us from machines – it’s what makes us human, and I quite enjoy both being and feeling human. In fact, I’m proud of it.”

I grabbed my hips. “As ever, William, you make valid points, and while I’d love to discuss this further, I was going somewhere earlier. My job, Will. I’ve got a job.”

He smirked. “Right. We really are experts at derailing.”

“We are.”

“What were you saying again?”

“That disappointing John is out of the question,” I reminded him impatiently.

“Right.” He nodded to himself. “Well, you might as well put that out of your mind. I’ve already consulted both him and Violet, and they were encouraging to say the least. They practically ordered me to take a holiday, and when I asked to bring you along, they said they thought that was a given.

“It will only interfere with the last week of your internship, seeing as I’ve made the arrangements for the end of August, and it won’t have an impact on your CV. It will still say that you’ve completed an entire internship despite my stealing you away for the last week of it. The holiday is two weeks long, and we’ll return just in time for when you’ll start your LLM.”

I blew my cheeks out as I processed the reality of this. The idea of going to Rome with William Night was honestly magical. At last, excitement flooded me, leaving me to successfully startle him when I suddenly swung my arms around his neck and cheered to my heart’s content.

“Oh, my God, Rome, William! I can’t wait! I’ve always wanted to go! I know nothing about Corsica, but I’m going to research the hell out of it before we leave!”

Endearing laughter poured out of him when he welcomed my attack by wrapping his arms around me. “That’s the reaction I’d prefer.”

“I really am extremely grateful. You’re unbelievable, and you’re spoiling me without end, but if it pleases you, I’m not about to take it away from you.”

“Thank you. I truly appreciate that, knowing how you are about things like these. Though, are you fine with Alex and Ivy joining us for Corsica?”

“Absolutely! It will be an excellent opportunity for me to do some bonding with them both. And knowing how dear Alex is to you makes me eager to get to know him better. Andy I see all the time, so that’s been easier.”

His responding grin made my heart throb. “Good. And now that we’re on the subject of them, they’ve invited us for dinner next week.”

“Have they?”

“I said I’d bring it up with you.”

“When exactly?”

“Friday.”

“Then I shall write it in my calendar.” I beamed.

“Brilliant. I’ll let him know tomorrow. But you mustn’t tell Ivy about the trip. He’s making it a surprise for her as well.”

I nodded my head as I directed my attention to our abandoned dinner. “I’m sorry I ruined your dish. It was really good.”

He shrugged. “It’s fine.”

“I’m sure it will taste good served cold, too.”

He smirked. “Maybe. I’m about to find out. I’m still hungry.”

“Yeah, my appetite’s returned as well.”


We had settled on the sofa after dinner to watch the news. However, I only lasted five minutes before I was struck by both food coma and sleep-deprivation, so I passed out. I’d had no idea I’d fallen asleep, much less for how long, when he eventually – however gently – shook me awake. I frowned in slight annoyance as I clung to my state of dark, but he wouldn’t leave me alone.

“Cara, you need to wake up or you won’t be able to fall sleep later.”

I released a sound of complaint and snuggled closer to him.

“Cara, come on,” he sighed and shrugged the shoulder my cheek was resting against so hard that my head was tossed back. I opened my eyes only so that I could glare at him, but, half a second later, I saw the relatively large spot of drool I’d left on his light blue shirt. Consequentially, a crimson blush heated my cheeks while I hurried to wipe my cheek dry.

“I’m sorry. That’s embarrassing. I’m just leaving all sorts of bodily fluids on your shirt today.”

“Sadly, neither is the one I aspire to leave you leaking of. Drool is a close second, though.”

My blush intensified. “Pig.”

Now wearing a smirk, he glanced at the wet spot of his shirt. “So much drool, though, darling. Were you dreaming of me again?”

My cheeks heated even further while I folded my arms and looked away from him. “Twat.”

“I wasn’t wearing clothes, was I?”

I pushed him away. “I wasn’t dreaming of you.”

“I’m not sure I’m convinced. Let me have a look,” he argued and placed his hand to my thigh to then slide it under my dress toward my knickers. I smacked it away.

“I’m drier than the Sahara.”

“I can help you to the Nile of it real quick.”

“Oh, my God,” I groaned. “Leave me alone, Will. I’m dead tired.”

Laugher spilled out of him while he draped his arm over my shoulders to squeeze me against his side, and after he’d left a peck on the top of my head, he said, “Sorry. I’ll stop.”

“Maybe later. I’m too tired right now.”

“I’ll check in later, then.”

Underwhelmed, I lifted my head to eye him. “Pun intended?”

His crooked smile was answer enough, but when he spoke he changed the subject, “What was your first thought when you read the riddle earlier? It’s been bugging me that I caved in so fast. I’d been looking forward to witnessing your thought-process.”

I groaned and directed my gaze to his telly, though I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening on the screen of it. I hesitated before I said, “A flying squirrel.”

While he processed my reply, he resorted to staring at me, and I could tell he wasn’t sure whether to take me seriously. However, once he realised that I’d been utterly serious, he laughed until not a sound came out of him. Bent over, he clutched his stomach.

“Oh, it’s that funny, is it?” I grumbled sarcastically and folded my arms. “You asked what came to mind!”

“I can’t believe that’s the first thing that popped into your head!” he exclaimed through his fit. “How can a sober person even think along those lines? That’s the least intuitive thing I’ve ever heard!”

“Well, it can form a ball, can’t it? That’s sort of a circle, isn’t it? Just three-dimensional. And then when it soars, it forms a line? When seen from the side? Or perhaps it can also form a square, then, when seen from below, which the riddle said nothing about...” I sighed. “You’re right. It wasn’t very clever. But I was hung up on the fact that it could fly without wings.”

Rendered incapable of replying, he shook his head back and forth while he continued to laugh, and since it was the most beautiful melody I’d ever hear, I couldn’t help the grin that caught my mouth. Eventually, I couldn’t help but join him. He had quite a contagious laugh. However, when a sudden hiss poured out of him, my mood instantly plummeted.

I wanted to help him cope with his pain somehow, but since there was nothing I could do, I just ended up with my hands flying aimlessly around, hopeful they’d be of use somehow. “Shit, Will, you shouldn’t be laughing like that. You might break your ribs again.”

He turned his head to look at me, and the smile he carried made my heart contract as infatuation pumped through it. He was so bloody handsome, and I was still getting used to the gorgeous look of him after his haircut.

“Really, Cara? You expect me not to laugh at something that ridiculous? Seriously, you’re going to be the death of me. God, how you make me laugh. You really are a funny little thing. Absolutely hilarious.”

“Like I said, I was stuck on the fact that it could fly, but didn’t have wings.”

He watched me in incredulity. “Yes, but I also said it was hidden somewhere in the flat. Did you think I’d have a flying squirrel around?”

I blushed. “No. It was just the first thing that came to mind. Obviously I eliminated the option once I delved further into the theory.”

“Perhaps I should’ve had one. Are you a pet-person?”

I paid him my Cheshire Cat smile. “Yes. So if you intend to stick around, you should prepare.”

Amusement swam in the corners of his mouth. “I’m on board with that. Cats or dogs?”

“Since you ask, I want a raccoon, but an otter would do. Grew up with a cat, though. Lizzie. She died when I was twenty.”

He rubbed the back of his head. “You’re...” he paused until a chuckle leapt out of his tempting mouth. “I asked whether you’re a pet-person, and you respond with wanting a whole zoo. Honestly, you’re so odd. You’re normal – for lack of a better word – in the aspects that matter, but when it comes to the small things, you’re exceptionally peculiar. Why on earth would you want a raccoon?”

I scoffed. “Because they’re bloody clever. Such underrated animals. Did you know that a raccoon has got more neurons in their brain than a dog does? Imagine all the things we could teach it! I’d name him Gary.”

“Gary?!” That sent him straight into a new fit of laughter.

I nodded firmly. “Yes, Gary. I happen to think that giving human names to pets adds another element to the relation. I see it as an incentive to recognise their moral status even better. I don’t really know how to explain it. It would just feel more personal that way, like they’re actually family.”

When his laughter quieted, he focused on me again. “Is that why your cat was named Lizzie?”

“Yeah. But you should blame Dad. It’s all his idea. He’s the one who indoctrinated me. He reasoned for it by giving me a lecture in moral philosophy. I was three.”

I chuckled to myself. Although I didn’t remember it, Mum had told me that story. Apparently, I’d asked why we couldn’t name her Whiskers, to which Dad had spoken to me as if I were an adult capable of complex and abstract thought.

“Granted, I didn’t understand anything back then, so he persisted to remind me every now and then while I was growing up. His view on that particular matter is aligned with the utilitarian perspective.”

He astounded me with his astute comment, “Jeremy Bentham’s in particular, I bet.”

“Yes, you’re quite right, actually.” I watched him impressed. In the same moment, it dawned on me that Dad and William were going to get along so well that if William and I parted ways one day, Dad would probably end up the most heartbroken.

Since I’d fallen silent while I imagined their perfect alliance, William arched a brow, suspicious. “You’ve got that look on your face again. Penny for your thoughts?”

“What look?”

“Like you’re incredulous.”

“I’ve got a look that tells you that?”

“I tend to prompt it quite frequently, so yes, I would know if you do.”

I snickered. That was true. “Well, I was only thinking that Dad’s going to adore you.”

His responding grin split his face apart. “I hope so. I’ll try not to give him any reason not to. Though, I must admit, I’m positive he will. When you mentioned he was a philosophy teacher during our first date, I essentially rejoiced. It was one of my favourite subjects in school. Not only that, but I’ve read and still read plenty of books on it. We’ll have much to talk about.”

“I believe so. Anyway, I know you’re a pet person. Jason has mentioned you had both a dog and a cat growing up.”

“That’s true, we did. Sherlock and Watson, respectively.”

“I love that.”

“It was Jason’s idea. He was a great fan of Sherlock growing up. Still is, come to think of it, but toned down.”

Upon the mention of his younger brother, my chest warmed. “Jason,” I uttered affectionately as I smiled to myself. “I miss him. It’s weird not to see him every day.”

“I’m touched you love my brother so much,” he said, and I could hear he was being sincere.

“What’s not to love? He’s the most loyal, devoted, genuine, kind and brilliant human being I’ve ever had the privilege to befriend. He’s also an ideal flatmate. Honestly, Will, your brother is the easiest person to deal with on planet earth.”

“He says the same about you. I’ve always found that odd, because I don’t find you easy to deal with at all. Makes me wonder what he’s on about.”

I arched my brow at him. He was obviously teasing. “Ha-ha.”

“I’m obviously joking,” he assured me. “In any case, have you given a thought as to when you’ll move back in with him?”

“I have. I was thinking to move back Saturday next week, so after we’ve had dinner with Alex and Ivy.”

He was quiet for a moment, and it made me curious. “What’s on your mind?”

“I’m just getting used to having you here, is all. It’s going to feel weird to have the place to myself again.”

“You should appreciate it while it lasts. In all likelihood, you won’t be living alone most of your life. Before you know it, you’ll have kids screaming in your ear every other minute.”

“Five of them?”

I laughed. “The more the merrier?”

“Indeed.” He grinned to himself, clearly imagining it. “It’s going to be such a shit-show. I can’t wait.”

“Nonstop action.”

“Absolutely.”

“Perhaps you’ll lower it down to three once you’ve interacted with Andy’s baby.”

“I doubt it, honestly. I’ve always wanted a big family. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m in no rush to see it through. It’s not a decision I’ll make with haste. Ideally, I’ll have been with my partner for a few years before we get to it, just to be sure that we truly make for a good, capable team so that we’re prepared for the amount of work it entails. But I do know that once I start reproducing, I’ll want to do it five times.”

“This factory will close after three, so you’ll need to find someone else.”

He eyed me shrewdly. “Oh, I’ll change your mind in due time.”

“If the first kids don’t change yours before then,” I countered.

He released a confident exhalation. “They won’t. I know for a fact that I’ll be a capable father. Parenting is in my genes. When time calls for it, Jason is going to make for an exceptional mother as well.”

I had to fight back my laugh. “He’s not even here, and you’re still pulling his leg. Poor Jason. Even Andy jokes about him when he’s not around.”

“That’s ’cause my mates are Jason’s mates. He’s essentially part the crew, even if he’s got his own. He’s always invited to everything we do. When we were younger, he often hung out with Andy and Alex even if I weren’t there. Had we not been brothers, I’m sure we’d still be best mates. Nobody reads me better than he does. Not even Dad.”

“Does Alex tease him as well?”

He closed his eyes, rested his head against the back of the sofa and smiled to himself. “Alex doesn’t really tease anyone. He’s generally not a teaser. He doesn’t know how. He’s innately kind. Every once in a while, he’ll laugh at others, but he hardly ever pulls someone’s leg. Whenever he tries, it just ends up being pathetic. I absolutely love that about him. It amuses me to no end, because he never stops trying.”

I traced my fingertips along the cast of his right arm while I asked, “So he and Jason get along well, then?”

“Yeah. They’re a bit similar, actually, only Alex is far more introverted and much more serious. Jason’s more of a clown. But yeah, Alex was always the one to defend Jason whenever Andy and I took it too far back in the days.”

“So none of you ever paid attention to the age gap between you?”

“No, not really. But he’s only three years younger than me, and Jason’s always been mature for his age. Speaking of that, I need to make arrangements for his birthday. Has he said anything to you about throwing a bash? Twelfth of August is next month. Fortunately, I’ll be back in rude health by then.”

“No, he hasn’t said anything.” My lips spread apart with my smile when I recalled Jason’s birthday last year. “Oh, this is so weird. I just recalled last year, when I asked him what he had planned for his birthday, and he said he had plans with you. You brought him to Scotland. That’s so weird to think about now. You were going to be my boyfriend, and I’d no idea at the time. Jason’s brother was just Jason’s brother. I’ve heard so many stories, so it’s strange to think that all along, that brother has been you.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, I usually steal him for a few days. He tends to repay the favour. It’s good bonding time. Alex, Jon, Stephen and Andy joined us last year. Was great fun. We went to a Scotch whisky distillery. He got so plastered by the end of that day that he vomited. Granted, there was no hair for me to hold when he was bent over the toilet that night.” He sent me a look, but I refused to bite.

“You’re a horrible brother for letting that happen.”

He scoffed. “As if. That was all Stephen. I tried to steer him away from anything containing alcohol after six o’clock, but I was outnumbered. I was the one forcing him to drink water.”

“Then I take it back.”

“You should.”

“So what will you do this year?”

He grimaced. “I haven’t planned anything in particular. Have you got any ideas?”

“No. But I’ll have a word with him. I can’t go anywhere though, because Phoebe will be coming home around that time.”

He faced me. “That’s right, your sister. That’ll be good. I can’t wait to meet her. Am I meeting her before your parents? Or all of them at the same time?”

I poked his nose. “I haven’t specified any plans yet. Though, knowing Phoebe, she’ll want to meet you as soon as possible.”

“Perhaps we should invite Jason’s friends over for a surprise party at your flat, and we could invite her as well. You said they knew each other rather well, and I’m sure he’d appreciate a bash like that. I’ll co-host.”

“That’s actually not a bad idea.”

“Should we get started on it straight away?”

I looked to the clock on his wall and saw that it was only eight. “Why not?”

“Brilliant. Fetch your computer.”

“All right, Mr Highhanded,” I replied as I pushed out of the sofa.

He chuckled. “Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

I smiled at him across my shoulder. “I know. You’re just efficient, and efficient sometimes comes at the expense of being polite.”

“You know me so well. Already.”

“I’ve seen you nearly every day since we reunited. It would be impossible not to learn a thing or two about your character.”

“Yeah. Do you reckon our relationship would’ve bloomed later, had it not been for the fact that we’ve interacted every single day?” he enquired as I went.

“Certainly.”

“How long, would you guess?”

“That’s hard to answer, Will. Usually, people who date don’t see each other every single day. So what’s the average amount of time it takes for a couple to define the relationship? Let’s say five-six months. Then I’d take that minus one, and you’d have us.”

“Why minus one?”

“Well, because you’re a fast-paced man, naturally.”

“Naturally. Except when it comes to sex.”

That made me burst with laughter. “Truer words have never been spoken.”

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