Paul was better at mornings now (not least because, at nine, Jake rarely woke up before he did) but the first few hours after he’d gone back to Leonie still had the power to disarm.
He’ll iron some shirts. Maybe go to the gym, then take a shower and eat. Those few things will give the evening a shape. A couple of hours of television, maybe a flick through his files, just to make sure everything’s shipshape for the case, and then he’ll sleep.
He’s just finishing the shirts when the telephone rings.
‘Hey,’ says Janey.
‘Who is this?’ he says, even though he knows exactly who it is.
‘It’s me,’ she says, trying to keep the slight affront from her voice. ‘Janey. Just thought I’d check in and see how we’re fixed for tomorrow.’
‘We’re good,’ he says. ‘Sean has been through all the paperwork. The barrister is prepped. We’re as good as we can be.’
‘Did we get any more on the initial disappearance?’
‘Not much. But we have enough third-party correspondence to hang a pretty large question mark over it.’
There is a short silence at the other end of the line.
‘Brigg and Sawston’s are setting up their own tracing agency,’ she says.
‘The auction house. Another string to their bow, apparently. They have big backers too.’
‘Damn.’ Paul gazes at the pile of paperwork on his desk.
‘They’ve already started speaking to other agencies about staff. They’re picking off ex-members of the Art and Antiques Squad apparently.’ He hears the hidden question. ‘Anyone with a background in detective work.’
‘Well, they haven’t approached me.’
There is a brief silence. He wonders if she believes him.
‘We have to win this case, Paul. We need to make sure we’re out there in front. That we’re the go-to people for finding and returning lost treasures.’
‘I get it,’ he says.
‘I just … I want you to know how important you are. To the company, I mean.’
‘Like I said, Janey, nobody’s approached me.’
Another brief silence.
‘Okay.’ She talks on for a bit, telling him about her weekend, the trip to her parents’, a wedding she’s been invited to in Devon. She talks about the wedding for so long that he wonders if she’s plucking up the courage to invite him, and he changes the subject firmly. Finally she rings off.
Paul puts on some music, turns up the volume in an attempt to drown the noise of the street below. He has always loved the buzz, the vitality of living in the West End, but he has learned over the years that, if he’s not in the right frame of mind, its in-your-face revelry serves only to heighten the inherent melancholy of Sunday night. He presses the volume button. He knows why it is, but he won’t acknowledge it. There’s little point in thinking about something you can’t change.
He has just finished washing his hair when he becomes dimly aware of the door buzzer. He swears, fumbles for a towel and wipes his face. He would go downstairs in a towel but he has a feeling it’s Janey. He doesn’t want her to think this is an invitation.
He is already rehearsing his excuses as he heads down the stairs, his T-shirt sticking to his damp skin.
Sorry, Janey, I’m just on my way out.
Yeah. We must discuss this at work. We should call a meeting, get everyone involved.
Janey. I think you’re great. But this really isn’t a good idea. I’m sorry.
He opens the front door with this last one almost on his lips. But it isn’t Janey.
Liv Halston stands in the middle of the pavement, clutching a weekend bag. Above her, strings of festive lights bejewel the night sky. She drops her holdall at her feet, and her pale, serious face gazes up at him as if she has briefly forgotten what she had wanted to say.
‘The case starts tomorrow,’ he says, when she still doesn’t speak. He can’t stop looking at her.
‘We’re not meant to talk to each other.’
‘We could both get in a lot of trouble.’
He stands there, waiting. Her expression is so tense, framed by the collar of her thick black coat, her eyes flickering as if a million conversations are taking place inside her that he cannot know. He begins an apology. But she speaks first.
‘Look. I know this probably doesn’t make any sense, but could we possibly forget about the case? Just for one evening?’ Her voice is too vulnerable. ‘Could we just be two people again?’
It is the slight catch in her voice that breaks him. Paul McCafferty makes as if to speak, then leans forward and picks up her suitcase, dragging it into the hallway. Before either of them can change their mind, he pulls her to him, wraps his arms tightly around her and stays there until the outside world goes away.
She pushes herself upright, slowly registering where she is. Paul is sitting on the bed, pouring coffee into a mug. He hands it to her. He seems astonishingly awake. The clock says 6:32 a.m. ‘I brought you some toast too. I thought you might want time to go home before …’
The case. She takes a moment to let this thought penetrate. He waits while she rubs her eyes, then leans over and kisses her lightly. He has brushed his teeth, she notes, and feels briefly self-conscious that she hasn’t.
‘I didn’t know what you wanted on your toast. I hope jam’s okay.’ He picks it off the tray. ‘Jake’s choice. Ninety-eight per cent sugar or something.’
‘Thank you.’ She blinks at the plate on her lap. She cannot remember the last time anybody brought her breakfast in bed.
They gaze at each other. Oh, my, she thinks, remembering the previous night. All other thoughts disappear. And, as if he can read her mind, Paul’s eyes crinkle at the corners.
‘Are you … coming back in?’ she says.
He shifts over to her, so that his legs, warm and solid, are entwined in hers. She moves so that he can place his arm around her shoulders, then leans into him and closes her eyes, just relishing the feel of it. He smells warm and sleepy. She just wants to rest her face against his skin and stay there, breathing him in until her lungs are entirely full of tiny molecules of Paul. She has a sudden recollection of a boy she dated as a teenager; she had adored him. When they had finally kissed, she had been shocked to find that his skin, his hair, all of him, had smelt wrong. It was as if some fundamental part of him was chemically composed to repel her. Paul’s skin – she could just lie there and inhale it, like really good scent.
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