On Your Own? – A Short Story by Lorna Peel

THIS ONE OnYourOwn-darkerblue

On Your Own? is a short story loosely connected to ONLY YOU but can be read as a standalone read.

For the first time Meggie Joyce goes on holiday on her own. In Malta, she meets the mysterious Edward Rowley. He has the same name as the hero from her favourite television series – and is just as handsome. Could this be a coincidence which leads to romance? Meggie hopes so. Until she finds out why Edward has also been holidaying alone…

Meggie had only been in Malta half an hour and she had been asked the question five times already. Well, okay, she’d been asked once at Heathrow Airport and twice on the plane but that wasn’t the point. What on earth was wrong with going on a week’s holiday on your own? It was quite a brave thing to do, especially when you were doing it for the first time.

She wheeled her suitcase from the airport out to the car park, handed it over to the driver, and watched as he hauled it into the boot of the coach. She climbed aboard and slid into the row of seats behind the driver’s cab. So far so good. Reaching up, she turned the air conditioning on, then watched the others destined for the Paradise Hotel emerge from the airport into the sunshine.

They appeared to be the usual suspects – families and couples, both old and young, eager for a break in the September sunshine on the Mediterranean island – but nobody else on their own. Unless, yes, the man at the back; he seemed to be alone. Tall, but whether he was also dark and handsome she couldn’t yet see, thanks to the black baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. He wheeled his large black suitcase out to the coach then disappeared from view.

The holiday representative climbed on board, clutching a clip board. She smiled at everyone, then had to make way for the straggler. He’d taken the baseball cap off and both Meggie and the rep stared. Wow. Tall, dark and handsome.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” He indicated the seat beside Meggie.

“Oh. Oh, no, of course.” She had been staring even more rudely than the rep. “Sorry.”

“Thanks.” He sat down, his thigh touching hers, and rubbed his knees. “More leg room here,” he explained.

“Yes, there is.”

She struggled to think of something else to say, but the warm feel of his leg alongside hers was far too distracting. The rep launched into her introduction and they were soon on the last leg of their journey to the hotel. His thigh rubbed deliciously against hers each time the coach rounded a corner and she forced herself not to glance down in case he moved.

Two other coaches arrived at the same time as Meggie’s and she lost him in the mêlée in the hotel foyer. But once she settled into her room, unpacked, and changed her clothes, she would try and bump into him again without making it look pathetically obvious.

Her room contained two narrow single beds and was painted a cool cream. It had tea and coffee making facilities, a small flat screen TV, a telephone, and a hair dryer. A table and two chairs stood in a corner and a sliding door opened onto a small balcony with another table and two chairs. She lifted her suitcase on to the spare bed, opened it, and began to take her clothes out.

Twenty minutes later, Meggie gazed at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The navy blue dress with thin shoulder straps only emphasized how pale and haggard she had become. Oh, God, how she needed this holiday. She turned the light off, went out onto the balcony, and smiled. The view really was lovely. The hotel sat on a hill overlooking St Julian’s Bay, just north of Malta’s capital, Valletta. She watched a group of teenagers shrieking as they jumped off the rocks into the sea, then closed her eyes and let the breeze blow though her hair. Until the shouting began.

Her eyes flew open and she squinted against the sun as she hurried to the front wall of the balcony. Looking down, she saw that houses backed onto the hotel, and the back yard of one of them lay right below her. In it, a man and a woman were having an almighty disagreement over a basket of laundry.

“I don’t believe it.” She heard a half annoyed, half amused voice from the next balcony. The wall separating the two sloped down from the ceiling to waist height and she saw a shadow approach. It was Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome and her mouth went dry. He’s in the room next to mine.

He seemed to have just come out of the shower, as he was securing a towel around his waist and his dark hair stood on end. Open-mouthed, she gazed at his broad, tanned chest and then was treated to a great view of his back as he went to the wall and leaned over. He took a long look down into the back yard before glancing at her.

“Oh, hello again.”

“Hi,” she squeaked, then cleared her voice. “Hi.”

“They’re clearly not in the mood for a siesta, are they?” He nodded to the couple below them.

“Doesn’t sound like it, no.”

Down in the back yard, a door slammed, and all was quiet again.

“Hallelujah.” He gave her a grin and disappeared from view.

Reluctantly, Meggie returned to enjoying the scenery beyond the balcony’s front wall.

* * * *

The hotel complex boasted an Italian Restaurant, so Meggie decided to go there that first evening and check out other local eateries the following day. She chose a table outside near the swimming pool. It was only set for one, so she didn’t have to wait until the waiter asked the inevitable before taking away the offending place setting. She ordered a spaghetti carbonara and a glass of white wine then settled back in her chair in the evening sunshine to wait for her meal.

She had just begun to eat when Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome walked past and sat down at a table two away from hers. He acknowledged her with a smile and she smiled in reply. Lovely brown eyes. She felt him glancing at her occasionally, so the pasta took on a life of its own, sliding off her fork, just as it reached her mouth. The sauce dripped and splashed onto her dress, and she felt a complete fool when the waiter discreetly brought her another napkin. In the end, and so that she wouldn’t be there all night, she cut the pasta up into small pieces and ate it with a spoon.

“Did you enjoy your meal?” the waiter asked as he took her plate away.

“Yes, I did, it was delicious. Thank you,” she mumbled, watching as Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome made short work of his spaghetti bolognaise, his khaki-coloured T-shirt remaining annoyingly pristine throughout the procedure.

She returned to her room to change out of her splattered dress and into a t-shirt and shorts, then decided to brave the cocktail bar. She bought a Piña Colada and brought it out onto the poolside terrace opposite the Italian restaurant. The cocktail was adorned by no less than three umbrellas and she had begun to extract them when Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome sat down with a pint of lager at the next table.

“They’re not stingy with the umbrellas, are they?” he commented and she flushed. “Piña Colada, is it?”

“Yes.”

“The food’s good here, isn’t it?”

She glanced suspiciously at him as he took a long sip of the lager. What was that supposed to mean?

“I’m Edward Rowley.” He put his glass down and leaned over, holding out a hand.

“Edward Rowley?” she echoed as Piña Colada began to drip onto her hands from the end of one of the umbrellas. “Like, from The Hunger?”

He looked puzzled and withdrew his hand. “The Hunger?”

“Yes. It’s a novel about the Irish Potato Famine. It was adapted for TV and shown last autumn.”

“Oh, I see. Sorry, I didn’t see it.”

“It’s not really the sort of thing a bloke would watch, really.”  

She cringed. Bloke? He was anything but a bloke. She glanced down at her hands. Her fingers were covered in drying Piña Colada and she automatically brought them up to her mouth. She was busily licking them when she realised he was watching her intently, his lips twitching a little, trying not to smile.

“Do you have a name?” he enquired, taking another sip of lager.

“Oh, er, yeah.” She began to search the pockets of her shorts for a tissue, trying not to cover them in the sticky liquid.

“Here.” He pulled a packet of wet wipes from the plane out of a trouser pocket and passed it to her.

“Thanks.” She tried to open the packet, but it refused to tear.

“Shall I?” Taking the packet from her, he moved into the seat beside hers, and tore it open. “Hold your hands out,” he instructed, extracted a couple of wipes, and began cleaning her fingers.

“Thanks,” she replied, just managing to speak calmly. “I used all mine up on the plane.”

“Am I allowed to know what it is?” he prompted with a smile. “Your name? Or are you a spy working undercover?”

“Oh, er, yeah.” She continued watching him wipe her hands, acutely aware that he was probably wondering whether, ‘Oh, er, yeah’ was all she was capable of saying. “Sorry, I mean no, I’m not a spy.”

He put the wipes down on the table. She wriggled her fingers to dry them, then reached out a hand.

“I’m Meggie Joyce.”

“Meggie?” He shook it. “Meggie as in “The Thorn Birds?”

The Thorn Birds? Sorry, I-” She broke off as two teenage boys jumped into the pool in front of them, showering them with water.

“Hey!” They both shouted at the same time. She met his dark eyes as they gave each other an awkward smile. She looked away, feeling heat creep across her cheeks, and saw one of the waiters from the restaurant telling the boys to get out of the pool.

“You all right?” he asked and she turned back, watching as he brushed droplets of water from his muscular arms. He had borne the brunt of the splash and his black cotton trousers were soaked and sticking to his legs.

Don’t stare. She reached for her glass and gulped from it. “Yes, thanks. You?”

“Oh, I’ll dry off soon.”

Not too soon, I hope. “So, um, you were going to tell me about The Thorn Birds?”

He nodded, leaned across to the neighbouring table for his pint of lager, and took a sip. “It’s a TV mini-series. I think it was based on a novel. My Mum has it on DVD. She has a thing about Richard Chamberlain.”

Who? Meggie opened her mouth to say something along the lines of, ‘Oh, er, yeah’ but picked up her drink again instead.

Dr Kildare?” he prompted.

“Oh, Dr Kildare, yes. I’ve heard of that series. From the sixties, isn’t it?”

“Yes. So, tell me about this The Hunger and how it’s not really a bloke thing?”

Meggie quickly put the glass down before she dropped it. He wasn’t chatting her up, was he? She couldn’t be that lucky. “Oh, you wouldn’t have liked it.”

“Well, try me?” He sat back crossing his wet legs. “I’ve managed to sit through The Thorn Birds umpteen times.”

“Your Mum must be very proud of you.”

He laughed and she couldn’t help but stare this time. “I’m very proud of me. Most of it is toe-curlingly awful. The things we do for our parents, eh?”

Parents. Meggie’s heart lurched. She just about managed to smile politely but didn’t reply.

“I’m sorry, have I said something wrong?” he asked with a sudden frown.

“No, not at all.” She reached for her glass and got up. “Excuse me, please.”

She finished her drink in the hotel lobby, then retreated to a chair on her balcony with her Kindle. She put the eReader down after less than five minutes, unable to decide which of the five books she had downloaded to read. She wasn’t in the mood to concentrate on reading something, anyway. She sighed and watched the sun slide down behind the horizon instead. She heard Edward Rowley’s balcony door slide open about half an hour later and felt a sharp pang of regret. Maybe she shouldn’t have been quite so rude to him. He didn’t know.

* * * *

In the morning, Meggie paused with her breakfast tray and gazed around the vast dining room. Her heart sank. It was eight o’clock, and the room was crowded with guests eager to get away on early excursions before it got too hot, but Edward Rowley wasn’t amongst them. She ate her breakfast of pancakes with chocolate sauce, barely tasting them, downed a cup of black coffee, then took a bus to Mdina.

Wishing she had seen him and apologized for her rude behaviour, she spent what should have been an enjoyable two hours wandering miserably around the hilltop village. She explored its cathedral, narrow medieval streets, and gift shops before returning to St Julian’s and consoling herself with a sandwich and coffee in a nearby café.

She idled away the afternoon in and beside the hotel pool, but if Edward Rowley was around, he was avoiding her, and she couldn’t really blame him.

* * * *

On her second morning in Malta, Meggie delayed going down to breakfast by an hour. She helped herself to scrambled eggs on toast and a glass of orange juice at the breakfast buffet, before turning to face the already half-empty dining room. Her heart leapt when she spotted Rowley’s dark head. He was either a late riser or he deliberately came down at nine o’clock in order to avoid the crowd. He sat at a table in a far corner with his back to her and she wound her way through the tables, then stopped as though she had only just spotted him.

“Oh, hi.”

He glanced up at her from a simple breakfast of coffee and toast. “Morning,” he replied crisply.

Uh oh. Apologise, quick. “I’m sorry if I was rude to you the other day.”

“Well, I clearly put my foot in something.”

“Sorry.”

“Would you like to join me?” he offered politely.

“Thank you.” She put her tray on the table and sat down opposite him. It was time to explain her rude behaviour. “Look, I don’t want to embarrass you, but.” She took a deep breath. “Both my parents are dead. That’s why I was a bit…”

He winced. “Oh, God.”

“No, it’s all right.” She leaned forward and was squeezing his hands before she realised what she was doing. “You didn’t know.”

“No.” He glanced down at their hands and she reluctantly let him go. “But all the same, Meggie, I’m very sorry.”

“Thank you.” Lifting her plate, cutlery and glass off the tray, she put the tray on a neighbouring table. “It’s still a bit raw. I must try and learn not to be so touchy about it. Are you going on any of the excursions?” she added brightly, beginning to cut her scrambled egg into squares.

He smiled and shook his head. “I’ve been on them all.”

All of them? “Oh? How many times have you been here?”

“This is my fourth trip.”

“Fourth?”

He shrugged and smeared low fat spread onto a slice of brown toast. “I try to come every spring and autumn. I love it here. I might buy a place and retire here eventually.”

“So where would you recommend I go on an excursion?” she asked, eating a forkful of scrambled egg.

“Mdina. It’s a town on a hilltop with fantastic views over the island. Very middle-eastern looking. You can get there on the bus so you can stay as long as you like. Actually, make good use of the buses. They go just about everywhere.”

“I went there on the bus early yesterday morning before it got too hot,” she told him. “It’s an interesting place.”

“It is. I was very disappointed when the vintage buses were done away with a couple of years ago. It was a bit of a shock to see the new ones everywhere on my next visit. You get used to it after a while,” he added, taking a bite of toast.

“The new buses?”

He chewed and swallowed. “No, being asked, ‘Are you on your own?’ all the time.”

“I see,” she replied, wondering whether she should risk asking him why he was holidaying alone on a regular basis.

“Oh, and go on a trip to the Blue Grotto,” he continued. “It’s a boat trip to some sea caves and the water is incredibly blue. Actually, I might go there again myself.” He picked up his cup of coffee, then put it down again. “Look, Meggie,” he added, sounding quite nervous. “Say no if you want, but would you like to go there with me today or?”

“Yes, that would be lovely, thank you,” she replied, not too quickly, she hoped.

“Good. And I might even get to hear what this The Hunger is about?” he went on with a raised eyebrow and a little smile. “I was here last autumn, otherwise I would have been glued to the television.”

She laughed. “All right. Now, concentrate. It’s set in 1847 in the west of Ireland and is about a landlord called Edward Rowley. The potato crop has failed again and his tenants are unable to pay their rents. Many are dying. Rowley’s land agent tells him he is in big financial trouble because he has received little or no income from rents for over a year. The agent also tells him it would cost him half as much to send his tenants to America than it would cost to keep them on the estate. So Rowley pays for them to emigrate to America rather than evict them, even though he knows that many people will accuse him of clearing his estate and of doing it to consolidate it and move it away from labour-intensive crops to cattle and pasture.”

“You know your history.”

She flushed and took a sip of orange juice. “Well, I have read the book it was based on quite a few times…”

“I take it that it doesn’t end well for Rowley or his tenants?”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly tell you that,” she replied, realising and not caring that she was flirting with him. “You’ll just have to buy the DVD.”

“I might just do that, but it had better be good.”

“I can guarantee that it’s very good.”

“Are there lots of extras?” He smiled. “Because I only buy DVD’s with lots of extras.”

“’Bit of a tight-wad, are you?” she teased and cringed as soon as the words were out of her mouth but, luckily, he just laughed.

“You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Yikes. “So, The Thorn Birds?” she prompted.

“Oh no, please..?” He sighed and scratched his head. “Okay. It’s about a girl called Meggie, who meets a Catholic priest when her family moves to the Australian outback. She loves him from the moment she meets him until the day he dies. She spends her whole life pining for a man she could never have, as he always chose God above her. But secretly he is also in love with her…you get the idea?”

“Yes, but it sounds like a bit of a cryathon.” Which I can do without at the moment.

“Yes.” He laughed. “Give me a bit of action any day,” he added with a wink.

* * * *

They took a bus to the Blue Grotto, bought their tickets, and were soon climbing into a small boat with outboard motor. The boat set off along the cliffs, winding its way in and out of the caves.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“It’s lovely. I’ll just take a couple of photographs.”

She went to stand up, wobbled, and sat down with a bump which rocked the whole boat. That’s it, Meggie, she told herself as a couple seated opposite glared at her, turn a simple boat trip into Titanic.

“Stand up, I’ll hold onto you?” he offered.

She pretended to fiddle with her camera. It would be very nice but she didn’t know anything about him. But this wasn’t the 1840s and she would have a boatful of tourists as witnesses if he tried anything. And hey, he did have very nice hands…

“Okay, thanks.” She got up and felt his long fingers closing around her waist.

“It’s all right, I’ve got you.”

She took two photographs of the caves. Whether anything would come out was another thing as his hands tightly clasping her waist was far too distracting. She sat down and smiled. “Thank you.”

“Just look down there.” They peered over the edge of the boat into the bluest, clearest, water she had seen outside of a swimming pool. “Amazing, isn’t it? I wish I could dive.”

“Can you swim?” she asked.

“Yes, I can. I must take diving lessons.”

When the boat returned to the quay, she stepped out and made a beeline for a kiosk, where she bought a bottle of ice-cold water.

“Want a drink?” she asked him as he approached.

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

She enjoyed a long and satisfying drink of the water, feeling him watch her.

“Meggie, can I buy you dinner tonight?” he blurted out as soon as she lowered the bottle and it almost slid out of her fingers. He sighed. “Sorry. Look. Confession time. I saw you for the first time on the plane when you went to the toilet. I watched you walking up then down the aisle and.” He gave a comical shrug. “On the coach from the airport I did have to sit beside you at the front because my knees were killing me after the plane but I wanted to anyway. Then, that first evening, I watched you with the spaghetti carbonara and…”

“You thought it was the funniest thing you’d ever seen?” she finished.

“No, I was watching you, I admit it, and you were struggling a bit. But did you really have to go and ruin my evening by cutting the stuff up and using a spoon?”

Meggie couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes. Otherwise I’d probably still be there now.”

“That’s true.”

“Did you really have to watch me?” she asked as they walked back to the bus stop. “I was doing quite well up to then.”

“And the cocktail umbrellas?” he teased. “They were my fault as well?”

“Of course. I’ve never been given three umbrellas before in my entire life. If you hadn’t been there, I’d only have had one and wouldn’t have made a complete fool of myself.”

He gave her a solemn nod before roaring with laughter. “Is that a yes to dinner with me?”

Oh, yes. She smiled and nodded.

* * * *

Thankfully, the white summer dress she had brought with her wasn’t too skimpy and she appeared quite presentable when she joined Edward in the hotel foyer that evening. He looked good enough to eat, in a white cotton shirt and black trousers.

Taking her hand, he brought her to a seafood restaurant overlooking the bay only a few minutes walk from the hotel. A waiter handed them a menu each and they sat silently for a few moments contemplating what to order.

“I don’t know anything about you,” she began and he lowered his menu.

“I’m Edward Rowley, I’m 35, I’m a computer programmer, and I’m from London.” He smiled. “Sorry, that sounds very Blind-Date-ish.”

“It does, a bit, but go on.”

“I don’t believe it.” A male voice shouted from a nearby table and they both jumped. “Eddie Rowley.” Edward twisted around in his chair and Meggie peered over his shoulder at a man of about fifty in a yellow short-sleeved shirt seated alone. “How the hell are you? And is that your lovely wife, there?”

Your lovely wife? Meggie felt the blood drain from her face as Edward turned back to her, his face equally white. She got up as the man began to shout good-naturedly at Edward again.

“When exactly were you going to mention a wife?” she hissed, flinging her menu down onto the table. She grabbed her handbag from the back of her chair and left the restaurant.

* * * *

Meggie hurried along the pavement until she saw a bus and ran to catch it, not caring where it was going. It brought her along the coast before depositing her in a small fishing village. She found a bench on the promenade, sank down onto it, and burst into tears. She cried until no more tears would come, then sat watching the brightly-coloured fishing boats and the fishermen mending their nets.

Why did she always choose men who let her down? Mark, her ex boyfriend, had left her less than a month after her father had died suddenly of a heart attack just before Christmas. He had been so good when her mother had died the previous year and she had almost fallen apart. Clearly, he couldn’t – more likely, wouldn’t – do it a second time, but at least he hadn’t been keeping a wife a secret like some pseudo Mr Rochester.

“Madam?” A voice shouted from behind and she jumped. “Hoi? Last bus.”

Meggie pushed herself up from the bench, feeling an ache in her behind from being seated on the hard surface for so long. Climbing aboard the bus, she was transported back to where she had begun her journey.

“Excuse me?” Another voice, this time English, shouted at her from across the street as she made her way up the hill to the hotel.

She swore under her breath. What was this? Shout at Meggie Joyce Evening?

“Yes?” She stopped, shaded her eyes, and bit back a groan. The man from the restaurant was crossing the street.

“I owe you an apology,” he began.

“Oh?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, the sun was in my eyes, and I thought you were Edward’s wife. I’m terribly sorry, you look nothing like poor Ann.”

Poor Ann?

“It was such a dreadful thing to happen. I really had no idea that she had died. I’m very sorry for my blunder. Edward’s a good chap. Look after him, won’t you?”

Meggie forced a smile and watched him walk away. Oh, God, Edward’s wife is dead. She covered her face with her hands and let out a groan before continuing up the hill to the hotel.

“Has Mr Rowley come in, please?” she asked the woman at the reception desk. “Room 304?”

“Yes, he has.”

“Thank you.” She took her own key and headed for the lift.

She knocked at his door before she had even begun to work out what on earth to say to him. The door opened slowly and she stared. His white shirt was undone, as was one of his cuffs. Oh, no, had she interrupted him getting ready for bed? She felt a deep flush race across her cheeks.

“I, I er, I saw the man from the restaurant just now.” She found herself stammering. “There seems to have been an enormous misunderstanding.”

An eyebrow rose. “A misunderstanding?”

“About your wife,” she mumbled, lowering her eyes. “Your late wife.”

“Yes. Will you come in?” he asked and her head jerked up. “Meggie?” He held the door open.

“Thank you.” She went inside and he closed the door. Like in her room, a suitcase lay open on the spare bed.

“Come onto the balcony, it’s cooler out there.”

They went outside and he turned to face her. His open shirt flapped in the breeze and, despite her willing him not to, he did up a couple of buttons. “Until this evening I hadn’t seen Alan Jones for two years,” he explained. “The last time was at some function or other in London. I was there with Ann. A week later, she was dead. Hit and run.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, knowing it sounded feeble.

“Thank you. I was going to tell you, if you’d given me a chance,” he went on and her flush deepened. “It’s not really a subject that can be just brought up ‘by the way’.”

“No,” she whispered.

“I came here in the beginning to try and come to terms with it all, but I slowly fell in love with the island.” He turned, rested his arms on the front wall, and looked out over the bay. “It certainly beats London weather-wise.”

“I know.”  

He looked back at her and frowned. “You’re from London?” She nodded. “You don’t have a London accent?”

“I was born in Manchester,” she told him. “I’ve lived in London since university. My father retired three years ago and he and my mother moved down to London to be nearer to me. It was not long before Mum died, actually. Then Dad died just before last Christmas and my boyfriend decided to dump me. I came out here to try and come to a decision on whether to stay down south or go back up north.”

“It seems to me,” he said, turning around and leaning back against the wall. “That between us, we could have an entire series of Jerry Springer to ourselves.”

“You watch Jerry Springer?” Her nose wrinkled.

He shrugged comically. “I used to, with my Mum.”

The Thorn Birds and Jerry Springer. She must be some woman, your mum.”

“Want to meet her when we go back?”

When we go back? “You don’t live with her, do you?”

“Not anymore.” He tilted his head to one side and she followed his gaze as a couple, considerably the worse for wear, all but fell out of the balcony doors two balconies down from them. They picked themselves up, the woman gave the man a sloppy kiss, and they staggered back inside. He gave a brief shake of his head, then turned back to her. “I did live with her for a bit after I sold the house. I couldn’t live there after Ann. I’m in an apartment now. I can make as much mess as I want and watch what I like on TV.” She laughed. “And do you know something else? I rang her just now and she saw The Hunger last year. She says that Robert Armstrong, the leading man, is a bit of all right.”

“How old is she?” Meggie asked.

“Sixty-eight. She’s made quite a few friends on the internet, apparently, all fans of this actor. And do you know what else she told me?”

Meggie dreaded to think, if she’d been on the internet. “What?”

“The heroine’s name, which is Margaret Joyce.” She felt her cheeks burn. “She becomes Rowley’s love interest, after the departure of his wife. I take it that your full name is Margaret?”

She nodded and he smiled.

“Well, in that case I think we were made for each other, don’t you?” He lifted a hand and touched her cheek. “You’ve been crying,” he whispered, then bent and gently kissed her eyes.

Oh, God. “I’ve just one question?” she managed to croak.

“Oh?”

“You don’t own, work in what used to be, or have anything to do with landed estates or farms, do you?”

He began to laugh. “My apartment. I did a bit of research into it when I moved in. It’s in a converted townhouse, which belonged to an Irish landowner about a hundred years ago.”

What? Her mouth fell open and she stared at him. “No?”

“Yes. Dare I ask whether your father was a farmer, like Margaret Joyce’s?”

“He was a landscape gardener. I’m a garden designer. Will that do?”

“Oh, yes.” He grinned. “Mum also mentioned something about cravats. I’m sorry, but I have to draw the line at cravats. They’re awful things. I mean, old men wear cravats.”

“Not the kind Edward Rowley wears. The other Edward Rowley, I mean.”

“No? So you think I’d look good in a cravat, do you? Maybe you’d like to elaborate on that over some room service?” he suggested, and she couldn’t help but notice that he seemed a little nervous. His hands were gripping the back of one of the balcony chairs so hard his knuckles were white.

“That would be lovely,” she told him softly and he gave her a relieved smile. “Shall I sit here?” She indicated the chair.

“In a minute.” Taking her hands, he pulled her gently towards him. Bending his head, he kissed her, pulling at her lips, until she clasped her hands around his neck and pressed herself against him. “Stay, Meggie,” he whispered, his fingers sliding around her waist just as they had done in the boat. “Stay here with me tonight? Will you stay?”

“I’ll stay.” She smiled and his face lit up.

“Thank you.” He kissed her lips again. “Hungry?” he asked. “For food?” he added with a wink.

“Yes, I am.”

“Good.” He held the chair for her as she sat down. “I’ll get the room service menu and see if it includes spaghetti carbonara.”

Meggie laughed as he went inside. ‘On your own?’ a voice in her head asked. ‘No, I’m with someone,’ was her jubilant reply.   

© Lorna Peel 2014

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