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‘Sorry to hear that.’

‘Do I come across as a bitch?’

He blew out his cheeks, ‘well, you’ve got to head up a team of coppers, you’ve got to be tough.’

‘Thanks.’

‘I didn’t mean it like that, Boss.’

‘Don’t call me boss, call me…’

‘Miss Ross,’ finished Peterson. They both burst out laughing, and then they smiled at each other. Erika looked down at her glass and when she looked up Peterson had moved closer he took the glass and placed it on the table in front. He leaned over and gently cupped her chin and kissed her. His lips were soft and warm and sensual, and there was just a light flicker of his tongue. He tasted of whisky and man, and she began to melt. Erika reached up and ran her hands down his firm muscular back, and hooked her fingers under his t-shirt. His skin was warm and smooth. His hands found their way under the t-shirt and his fingers moved slowly up to her bra strap. With a flick he’d opened her bra and it released her breasts. He moved his hand round and gently squeezed at her nipple. She moaned and lay back as he moved on top of her, their lips now pressed together.

Suddenly Mark’s face came rushing at her. An image so clear, and she cried out.

‘What? Are you okay? Did I hurt you?’ said Peterson, moving back. She stared into his beautiful brown eyes and burst into tears. She leapt up and made for his tiny bathroom and locked herself inside. She sat on the edge of the bath and cried, huge heaving sobs wracking her body. She hadn’t cried like this for so long and it felt good and bad at the same time. When her sobs had subsided, there was a soft knock at the door.

‘Boss, I mean, Erika. You okay? I’m sorry if I was out of order,’ came Peterson’s voice. Erika moved to the mirror and wiped her face then opened the door.

‘You didn’t do anything. It’s just hard to be a widow. Mark was my life, he was the live of my life and he’s gone. He’s never going to come back, and I spent everyday thinking about him… and it’s exhausting, grieving and living with this huge gap. I’m human and I’d love nothing more than to just… with you, but there’s guilt,’ she shrugged and wiped her eyes again.

‘Erika, we can just chill. Look, I can give you a minute, I’ll go and whack off to that picture of Yoko Ono…’

She looked up at him grinning. ‘Too early for a joke?’ he added.

‘No,’ she smiled. ‘A joke is what I need.’

She stood and looked at him leaning in the doorway with a smile. She stood and grabbed him and began to kiss him again. They moved off, him stumbling backwards, feeling their way together along the hallway, until they found the bedroom door and they collapsed onto the bed. And this time she didn’t let him stop.

 

 

49

 

 

Lenka lay awake in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling and listening to the rain pelting down outside. Eva clucked and snuffled in her sleep, and she reached out a hand to check she was okay, stroking her soft head and fine hair.

The argument she’d had with Erika played heavy on her mind. She waited up until well after midnight, sitting in the dark living room with the children sleeping, but Erika didn’t return. Just after midnight, she realised Erika had stormed out of the house without her phone when it had started to ring, but the battery had died mid-ring and she couldn’t find the charger.

She knew that Erika had a friend, who was a Forensic Pathologist, but she couldn’t remember his name, and she knew Mark’s dad was called Edward Foster, and that he lived near Manchester. She worried for her sister, worried what the future held for her on her own.

 

* * *

 

Erika lay with her head on Peterson’s chest and felt his warmth and listened to the calm rhythmic beating of his heart. He stirred and pulled her close to him with his strong forearm. She felt shock, shock and a mixture of excitement and guilt that they’d had sex. Twice. The first time had been intense and fast, and then almost straight away they’d done it again, slow and sensual. They’d fallen asleep soon afterwards, but she’d woken up an hour ago, and her mind had been whirring as she watched the digital clock in his bedroom. It was now 3.04 am. She snuggled into the crook of his arm, closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep.

 

* * *

 

Lenka rolled over in bed, picked up her phone from the bedside table, and saw it was 3.05 am. She flopped back and put her arm over her face. She froze as she heard a noise, like the cracking of plastic. It came again and then there was a clink, which sounded like a thin metal bar coming free and hitting the floor. She jumped out of bed and scanned the room, the vacuum cleaner lay in the corner, the pipe coiled round and the metal bar was detached. She grabbed it and ran through to the living room.

The patio door had been pushed open, and she could see where the plastic had been removed to force it open. The curtains flapped in the strong breeze rushing through the gap. She turned with the metal pipe over her shoulder looking around the dark room, and unbelievably, the children were still asleep under the blankets.

There was a faint creak and Lenka felt a pair of powerful hands encircle her neck. Without thinking she screamed and swung the metal pipe up and over her shoulder. There was a crack and a yell. The kids then woke up and started screaming and Lenka turned to see the large shape of a man coming at her. She swung brought the pipe up and hit him in the crotch, it wasn’t hard, but he groaned and it gave her enough time to really swing with some momentum and as he double over she brought it down with full force on his head. He fell to the floor and she brought it down again and again battering the man three times before he slumped forward and stopped moving.

Jakub and Karolina were now screaming and crying, and Lenka told them to go into the bathroom. Keeping her eye on the figure on the floor she grabbed the landline from its charger and followed, still holding the pipe.

‘Lock the door,’ she said to the children. She ran past and grabbed baby Eva. When she came out the man was still on the floor. She joined the kids in the bathroom and locked the door.

‘It’s okay,’ she said to them as they crouched like two little frightened animals in the bath. ‘Karolina, I need you to help me and take Eva,’ she said. The little girl gulped and took the baby who was sleeping through all of the drama.

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