Sam returned home rather later than he had indicated at breakfast, and mentally prepared himself for a dressing down and a ruined dinner. He opened the front door to be greeted by a savoury smell and a dog who thrust her nose into his hand. Anna’s voice called from the kitchen.
“Busy day, love?”
“Do you want to wash and change first, or is the prospect of a glass of wine more alluring?”
Anna appeared in the kitchen door with a glass in one hand and a bottle in the other. She came over and kissed him tenderly.
“You look so tired Sam. Come and take the weight off your feet.”
He followed her into the kitchen and out onto the patio, where she had set up two comfortable garden chairs with a small table between them.
“Sit,” she said, and when he obeyed she put a glass of dark red wine in his hand. “Relax.”
Sam laid his head against the cushioned seat back and contemplated the glorious colour of the wine in his glass. Anna returned with a plate of small biscuits spread with pate and surrounded by little cubes of cheese.
“Appetiser. Just to keep you going until you have relaxed enough for supper.”
She sat in the other chair and regarded him over the rim of her own wineglass. He reached for a biscuit.
“This is delicious. Did we buy pate?”
“No klutz. I made it.”
“You can make pate?”
“Course I can.”
“If I wasn’t mad about you already, this welcome home would have tipped me over the edge. Lately, I’ve been coming home to an empty house and a frozen ready meal. Before that. Well. If I’d been as late as I am tonight it would have been the cold shoulder and burnt dinner…”
“Oh my. She was a silly cow, wasn’t she. She married a doctor. Did she expect nine-to-five?”
“I guess she did. Or, to be more accurate, she expected her own way in all things. Which mostly she got. I’m not into fighting, so I had to feel pretty strongly to put my foot down.”
“I don’t like rows, either. I won’t be walked on, but I don’t want to fight about it.”
“That’s how I feel, but I married a screamer.”
“And you never noticed beforehand?”
“She never did it until she had me firmly married. Had the first tantrum of the marriage on the first night of our honeymoon.”
“Jeez Sam. And you put up with that for how long?”
“Five years. Though it felt like fifty. To be quite honest, the divorce was a relief in many ways. I was lonely, and I felt betrayed and beaten up. But I don’t think I missed Christina at all.”
“No. She doesn’t sound like the sort of woman you would miss. Not unless it was like missing a toothache.”
He grinned and snaffled another savoury biscuit.
“How apt. One thing, though, it’s a fairly good bet that she will do something spectacularly bitchy when she finds out I have a woman in my life.”
“You are the second person to tell me that. Carrie said something to that effect this morning. Thing is. As far as I can see it’ll be her problem. I don’t give a shit what she thinks of me, and if we tell each other the truth at all times she won’t be able to hurt us. So.”
He took another mouthful of wine and sat quietly for a moment savouring the peace.
“There is another thing, Anna. The hospital’s charitable committee has taken a table at this big charity bash in the Smoke. Senior doctors are expected to turn up in monkey suits, with suitably shined partners in attendance. It’s next month. Will you come?”
“Senior? Aren’t you a bit young for that?”
“Age don’t come into it, I’m the Consultant orthopaedic surgeon. And that makes me a senior doctor whether I like it or no. But we are digressing. Will you accompany me to this god-awful fucking bash?”
“Course I will. We’ll need a Bonnie sitter. However, Carrie said she and Oscar would be willing to come and sleep over if we ever needed.”
“Brilliant.” Then he gave Anna a sly look. “I’ve finished my appetiser and now I’m really, really hungry…”
She grinned appreciatively.
“Go wash your hands, and I’ll have food on the table.”
He complied, and on his return to the kitchen found a savoury-smelling casserole in the centre of the table flanked by a green salad and a basket of warm bread. Anna helped him to a portion of meat and vegetables.
“Get your own salad and bread,” she said as she served herself.
Sam ate in silence for a few minutes, then smiled happily across the table.
“I dunno what you call this, but it’s bloody excellent.”
“Chicken cooked in cider. And I’m glad you like it.”
“I do. And I feel really spoilt.”
“Good. That’s my job. I think you need a bit of spoiling. It seems to me to have been severely lacking in your life. Anyway, I like having somebody to look after.”
He reached for her hand and held it strongly.
“I want to look after you too.”
“You are, love. Just by being here. I keep pinching myself. Not so long ago I didn’t even know you. Now I never want to be without you. It should be frightening, but somehow I have confidence in you.”
“In us. Confidence in us. There are bound to be challenges, but if we face them together.”
They finished their meal and Sam insisted on clearing up while Anna and Bonnie made coffee.
“Inside, or out?”
“Out. If that’s OK with you. I’ve been cooped up all day and it would be nice to feel the evening air.”
“It would. Will you bring out a Bonnie treat? She usually gets one when I have my after dinner coffee.”
They sat and watched the sunset for a while then Anna said. “I’d like to move the camper. It’s a bit obvious out the front, but it could go on that pad behind the garage.”
“Yes. It could. The last vicar to live here had a Winnebago. He built the pad. And I can see the sense of putting the camper away from prying eyes.”
“It does make sense not to allow people to see you loading up to go away. And that pad is well built. I can even plug into electric to keep the batteries topped up. I nearly moved her this afternoon, but then I thought you’d have a bit of a fright if you came home and the camper wasn’t on the drive.”
“I would. I’d’ve thought you’d left me.”
“Stoopid. I won’t do that.”
He picked up her hand and kissed the palm.
“I hope not. I think it would break my heart.”
Anna leaned forward from her chair and kissed the end of his nose.
“Me and Bonnie are here for as long as you want us.”
“Forever then. Now, shall we move the camper?”
“Yeah. You wanna do it for me?”
“If you like. And I promise to be more careful than I am with the Audi.’
“So I should hope. That Audi is a mess. Though I notice the inside is in better nick than the exterior.”
“In my defence, it was battered when I got it. I bought it as a stopgap during the divorce and I’ve never got round to replacing it.”
“Okay. I’ll get the keys and open the gate.”
She got up and Sam watched her tall, elegant figure as she walked into the house. She whistled Bonnie indoors and threw him the camper keys.
“On your feet, doctor.”
By the time he had clambered to his feet, Anna had the gate open. He ambled out to the front drive.
“Push the button with pimples on the little blue doohickey to disarm the alarm. Then chuck me your keys and I’ll shift the Audi.”
He obliged, and Anna neatly backed the battered black car down the drive to the gates. Sam started the camper’s engine and drove slowly forwards before reversing gently through the wide gate beside the garage. He wouldn’t have liked to admit it, but he found himself glad of the reversing camera as he manoeuvred the beast onto the wide pad. By the time he was satisfied with the job, Anna had moved the Audi back in front of the garage and closed the gate. He jumped out of the cab and shut the door.
“How do I set the alarm?”
Bonnie poked her nose out of the kitchen door.
“Yes. You can come out.”
The dog frisked out to them grinning a doggy grin.
“Did Sam park the camper for us? What did you think of that?”
Bonnie flattened her ears and wagged her tail frantically.
“I’ll take that as a vote of confidence.”
Sam patted Bonnie’s silky head and rubbed her ruff.
“I never thought I’d be craving the approval of a dog,” he remarked.
“She’s a very aristocratic dog.”
Then he laughed and scooped Anna into his arms.
“I’m fed and watered, but now another appetite has raised its ugly head.”
She giggled and nibbled his neck.
“Satisfying sir’s appetites must be my first concern.”
She walked her fingers into the top of his shirt and his grin turned feral as he marched indoors with his arms full of giggling woman.