It's the smells that wake you. The muskiness of coffee, freshly brewed. And bacon. Thick and salty, like a dribble of creamy fat tickling your nostrils, coaxing you back to consciousness.
The sheet beside you is rumpled, rolled back – too hot last night for the duvet, so you slept under a single layer of cloth, rolling like thunder, as Elton John would have it, while the midnight sky flashed with far away lightning. The distant storm has cleared the air.
Now it is morning, and the bedroom is full of a thick male fug, the miasma of a long hot night. Your skin is flushed and clammy. The sheet sticks to your back, the pillowcase to your cheek. You shouldn't want hot coffee. You shouldn't want a hot fry-up. But you do. You do, because he is out there, making it for you.
He is in the kitchen, dancing his Sunday morning sarabande amongst the pans.
You stand in the shadows of the hall, take a moment, watch him lit up by the morning sun, count your blessings. Because it wasn't supposed to be like this. You weren't supposed to get this lucky twice in one lifetime. If you believed in God, you'd thank Him. (Never mind, leave all the thanking God to James.)
He has opened the kitchen door to let the dewy morning air in. The breeze cuts a crispness into the fatty vapour rising from the frying pan in his hand. Outside on the patio, a butterfly unfolds its wings in the potted lavender, testing the air. A bee ventures into the doorway, then thinks better of it, and bumbles away. A startled blackbird swoops across the lawn, chucking. A neighbour starts up a lawnmower.
The sun spills a glowing rectangle on the lino, makes a halo around his head, a golden aura. It catches the summer-bleached down on the crests of his cheekbones and the brown nape of his neck, that lovely soft swoop, so bare and vulnerable. He's dressed in just jogging pants, slung low on his lithe hips. How many times you have told him off for cooking half dressed, worried that the fat will spit and burn his smooth skin, but this morning you are glad he has taken the risk.
He is lovely. Over six feet of long, lean, golden loveliness. Not much meat on his bones. That flat stomach worries you still, just as it did when you first laid a palm on it all those months ago, awestruck at the privilege. Outlined in sunlight this morning, the wall of muscle's subtle flexion and the soft line of spun silk hair look like they are gilded . A fine sheen of sweat on the skin. Perfection.
You watch him move back and forth in the galley kitchen, one side to the other, chopping board to hob and back again, dancing the tango between fried eggs and bangers. His long bare feet slap on the floor. Occasionally he stops, wriggling his toes, enjoying the warmth where the sun has fallen. Then he is off again, beating a tattoo of fish slice and chopping knife.
James in his element, making the music of life, the miracle of food, dancing out the joy of cooking for the one he loves.
You wonder again how in hell you got this lucky.
He is chopping mushrooms to fry. Long, bony, nimble fingers on the knife, slicing, slicing. The knife too, what a work of art that is. He bought it when you signed the papers on the house together. Ordered it from a master cutler. A hand turned knife, perfectly balanced for James' grip, cut and tailored to fit his hand just as a master cobbler makes a last for a bespoke shoe. That knife has a handle of polished walnut. It gleams glossy golden brown, like James' skin.
And because you are a detective, because you know him, you know what that knife means.
It's not just that James is the kind of man who likes to have the best tools for the job, who appreciates a good suit, a well-designed watch, who knows style and quality can go together. A perfectionist with a passion for cooking, who wants the pleasure of working with the ultimate utensil. That knife is the Hathaway equivalent of the perfect socket set to a man who rebuilds vintage cars for a hobby.
You know that knife means so much more.
James is a man of taste, but in all the times you visited the austere little flat where he lived before, you never saw a piece of furniture, a lamp, a picture, a single object, in fact, that was made to last. That spoke of his investment in his home. Or lack of it. Because he never saw the point. He'd never had a home before this one he shares with you now. Not one worth investing in. Not one that was safe and stable and welcoming.
You haven't given him a ring.
You've given him much more than that.
In return, he has dared to believe. The greatest gift of all.
No ring from him to you, either. Instead, you get trust, that rarest and most precious of all things, far harder to mine from the heart of James Hathaway than all the diamonds in South Africa .
No, he has not bought you a ring. (You wouldn't wear it anyway.)
He bought that knife. A six inch, steel-bladed declaration of lifelong commitment. A reminder every time it sits perfectly in his hand, nestled against his palm, that this sunny kitchen is where he belongs. An everyday affirmation of his love for you.
He wouldn't say. And neither would you. But you know, nonetheless.
He has started humming, some daft lyric, 'Fly Me To The Moon' maybe, except you can't quite hear for the depth of his voice and the crackling of the bacon in the pan. He picks up the knife and slices a few more mushrooms with mathematical precision. Pauses for a moment, hefts the knife in his hand, feeling the handle against his skin, curling his toes again.
Then sensing your presence at last, looks up, his face breaking into a gentle smile.
'Hungry?' he asks.