He watched her for several long moments. Barbara Havers, asleep, was just about the most fragile thing he'd ever seen. If you didn't mind the snarl of hair and the bit of drool – which, on this particular morning, he didn't.
She turned, her small hand blindly reaching out. Tommy touched it, lightly, and her eyes opened.
"Good morning," he said, tucking a strand of hair out of her face.
"Good morning," she answered, shyly. This was something else. Something after.
He leaned down and kissed her, pulling her against him. It took several long moments before Barbara relaxed into his embrace, resting her cheek on his chest.
"Yes, thank you," he stroked his fingertips up and down her arm.
Barbara usually considered herself to be pretty thick-skinned but was suddenly, irreparably, feeling inside-out. She didn't know how to act, what to say – they were too far down the rabbit hole. Her body could still feel his touch; the look in his eyes before he'd completely surrendered.
Tommy guided her chin up and gently kissed her again. She couldn't avoid his big brown eyes as they locked on hers. "Tell me you don't regret last night."
"I don't," Barbara answered honestly.
He pulled her closer.
"Oh," she whispered, as though surprised.
"Oh," he agreed
A few hours later, Barbara blinked awake again and immediately realized she was alone in the bed. Stretching, she looked around the room before pushing back the warm covers and pulling on her discarded pyjamas.
Tommy pushed the bedroom door open with a hip, two steaming cups in his hands and a small plate of toast balanced on top. "Good morning, again," he smiled.
"Hiya," she smiled back. They fell quiet for a long moment. "One of those mine?" she wondered, blinking against the column of sun in her eyes.
"Yes, of course."
After coffee, Barbara showered and changed. She would have herself shot (again) before wearing tweed or a twinset but jeans and Musto, she could do. Tommy followed suit and they set off for a walk around the estate.
Eventually, they ended up by the water. They stood - shoulders touching, gloved hands stuffed in pockets, the icy wind chafing their cheeks. The dock was empty; the sloop was in winter lay-up. Barbara listened to the water churn up against the shore. The noise of it reminded her of childhood caravan summers. It reminded her of walks with Lynley on a dozen different boardwalks.
A folly, just visible on a small hill in the distance, caught her eye. "What's that?"
"Vacennes," he answered, squinting behind his sunglasses. "It's managed now by the Heritage Trust, dates back before Tintagel."
The name sounded familiar, and Barbara remembered that it was the secondary title Tommy had been known by before his father died; Viscount Vincennes. It would be the courtesy title his firstborn son would carry. The thought was like a punch to the gut.
"What is it?" he asked, clocking her change in expression.
She shook her head and began walking again, purposefully striding in the opposite direction.
Brow furrowed in confusion, he followed. Waiting it out. It was the only way Tommy knew to deal with Barbara when she was in this mood.
"I…" she eventually stopped.
Barbara exhaled loudly. "You don't want me."
"I beg to differ. Would you care for another demonstration?" he lifted an eyebrow as his lips curved into a flirty smirk.
She blushed, "You know how I mean."
"I do not," his argued, his voice firm, insistent. "I want you. I want you in every 'how' possible."
She shook her head.
"Barbara, what's really going on here?"
She pushed her hands back in her pockets and began moving again. He fell back in step beside her. They walked parallel to the shoreline for half a mile before she stopped and turned to him; "I warned you, right from the start, that I wouldn't be any good at this."
"We've only just started. Give us a chance."
They had reached the crest of the hill overlooking the house. "You lot always think that everyone wishes they were you," she said, as though it were published fact.
Barbara's hatred of the upper crust was half upbringing and half defensive shell. He knew which half this was. Despite everything that had changed between them, one thing hadn't – Barbara still felt out of place in his world.
Tommy pulled off a glove and cupped her cheek with his palm. That she didn't flinch was a good sign. "On the news yesterday, as I was driving to the station - Simon Featherstonehaugh has been appointed the new Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs."
Barbara's eyes turned soft with compassion. This was Tommy reminding her that there was a whole world that belonged to just the two of them. They knew each other's secrets, each other's joys, each other's terrors and regrets. That Simon Featherstonehaugh was a murderer – or as good as – and walking free, it weighed terribly on Tommy.
"It's ridiculous," He complained, inhaling deeply. "He should be…"
"The world isn't fair, sir," she agreed. At his sharp glance, she amended; "Tommy."
He leaned down and kissed her quickly and firmly.
"What was that for?" Slightly taken aback.
"No reason. Just because…"
She cocked her head and he slipped his hand back. Pulled on the glove before his fingers froze. "Because I wanted to," he continued. "Because I've often wanted to. And now I can."
"Just like that?" she challenged.
He kissed her again. A little harder. A little longer. He dragged his lower lip against hers and watched her cheeks go pink and was practically hard in freezing temperature just from that.
"Yes," he smiled. "It's my prerogative now, and I fully intend to exercise it. Be warned."
"Give us a chance," it was an order, this time. He could see the confusion play in her eyes. Barbara was teeter-tottering over a dozen emotions. Tommy reminded himself that this was her first real relationship. She needed a gentle hand. A tall order against his Neanderthal surges of ownership. Tommy had always wrestled with feeling protective of Havers, but this was dizzying – an overwhelming sense that she was his, now.
"There's a new restaurant in Penryn, I think you'd like. No herbed chips or fancy salads," he promised. "Might be nice for Thursday? A break from the family?"
"I won't be here."
"Of course you will. You've just arrived, for God's sake."
"Friday night, before the party – Tate put me on temporary attachment to Lothian & Borders."
"Temporary?" he fought back the tendrils of panic.
"Three weeks, most like."
She shook her head and met his gaze. "No."
He stared back.
"It's Acting DI," Barbara explained.
"And not before time, of course. Congratulations, Acting Inspector." Damn. Damn. Damn. He felt a lurching deep in his gut.
"You know, I have some time…"
"I played second fiddle quite well in…"
"Don't. This isn't Kent. Or even Balford-le-Nez."
He sucked in a breath. "What do you mean?"
"You've got to let me take an assignment on my own eventually," she chided.
"Yes, of course. It's just the timing…"
"The attachment's not to get me away from you!" she scoffed but reading his expression, she realized the arrogant sod really DID think it was somewhat about him. Barbara swallowed her response and began walking away.
"Just wait a moment," he called, catching up to her. "You have to understand, a woman like Michelle Tate…"
"What are you implying?"
He sighed, and shook his head. "Tate's motive at separating us isn't as important as how we respond."
"That's taking on rather much, don't you think? How we respond?"
"No, I don't think it is – all things considered."
She crossed her arms and pursed her lips, trying to get her anger under control. "Do you know, do have any idea what it felt like when I became a DS? No, you wouldn't. Never any doubt you'll be Commissioner one day. But when I made Sergeant, especially at the Met, that was…" she exhaled. "Everything. My dad was so proud of those stripes."
"As he ought to have been," he agreed, his voice a little rough with admiration. It was so easy to forget, sometimes, the obstacles (mostly those of her own making, but many about not fitting the mold) that she had worked through. There was no "golden girl" about Barbara Havers, just begrudging respect earned over and over again.
"So," she shot him an exasperated look. "I've been offered Acting DI. I'm taking it."
"Yes. Of course."
Barbara stood in the window at the end of the South Hall. It had an amazing view of the grounds all the way to the lights of town in the distance. Really, it was a grand old family pile.
She'd spent two awkward, heated, disconcerting, giddy, disbelieving days in and out of Lynley's bed – and arms. Aside from his barely concealed impatience with her forthcoming departure, he seemed to have slipped into their new relationship like a signet into a pond. She, on the other hand, felt pushed from the banks – arms pinwheeling, feet slipping, knowing she couldn't stop herself but fighting anyway.
Throughout the days, they'd been as they always had – happy in each other's company, never without conversation, taking part in holiday obligations or walking the estate. Then, come night, as soon as his lips would touch hers – all the anxiousness would burn away and leave her just wanting, and needing.
Tommy crossed his arms and watched her from the doorway of his suite of rooms.
"First time I visited," she said, without turning. "Your engagement party."
"You said; 'I have a favour to ask you. Would you call me Tommy this weekend?'"
He shook his head. He didn't remember.
"Yes?" She felt him approach; his hands slide onto her shoulders.
"Call me Tommy?" he whispered into her hair.
Her body could still feel his touch; the look in his eyes before he'd completely surrendered. She leaned back into him, and sighed. "Not on your life, sir."
His lips twitched in a smile.
The grandfather clock at the other end gave a quick tone.
"Merry Christmas," she turned to face him, looking up.
"Merry Christmas," he answered, with a jolt of realization that it really was.
Tommy was already down to breakfast by the time Barbara was dressed. She was looking under the bed for her other shoe when her mobile chirped.
"Happy Christmas," she answered, unable to keep the smile from her voice.
"Not in Melrose," Tate responded. "You're needed. Three pensioners from a care home never returned home from church last night. They've just located the abandoned vehicle."
Barbara froze in surprise.
"Good. I'm sending the information now. There's a shuttle from Gatwick to Edinburgh."
"But I'm not…" Barbara realized that the other woman had already rung off and exhaled, slowly lowering herself onto the bed. For several moments, she was paralyzed by her thoughts – and feelings. How could she go? But then, how could she not?
"Hiya," Barbara stuck her head around the door of the dining room. With a glance, Tommy knew to excuse himself.
"Tell me," he prompted, recognizing the look on her face.
She explained the situation as they walked to his office. There, Tommy leaned his hip against his desk as his mind tumbled for a few moments. Disappointment. With a grimace, he nodded and took a swallow from his water glass.
"I'll drive you to Newquay Airport."
"But it's Christmas! Your family…"
In three steps he was facing her, cupping her upper arm in his hand. "No buts," he admonished.
She nodded, and met his eyes. "All right."
A light slushy snow made piloting the car a bit dodgy. Barbara filled the silence with updates as she received them on her mobile. Tommy remained uncharacteristically quiet as he focused on the road ahead. By the time they stopped for petrol outside Truro, they were both feeling the strain.
"I left something for your mother," she told him, almost absently, as she watched the flashing decorations in the shop windows.
"She'll appreciate it, I'm sure," he sighed, trying to let go of the plans he'd had. They drove the next kilometer in silence.
The small airport eventually came into view. Tommy pulled into the departures area and swung out to gather her bag. She buttoned her wool coat as she stepped up to the curb. Barbara took the rucksack and turned to leave but his hand stayed her.
"Ring me," Tommy instructed. "Please."
She nodded and he leaned in to kiss her cheek. They lingered for a moment before she broke away and marched purposefully into the terminal without looking back.
Havers found DC Turner standing with a larger uniformed woman by the Meet and Greet desk at Edinburgh Airport. "Merry Christmas."
"It was," he griped.
"DC Docherty, ma'am," the woman introduced herself. "You'll be wanting to get to Melrose straightaway, I'd imagine."
"Yes. You up to speed?" She asked Turner.
He nodded, falling into step as the three of them moved toward the exit. "Vehicle pulled out at 11PM last night with three pensioners and their aide driving for a Watchnight Service that was supposed end at midnight."
"Watchnight? On Christmas?" Barbara shivered as they stopped by the exit and the doors automatically slid open.
"Blimey," Turner zipped up his jacket against the icy wind.
Docherty's expression clearly amused that the two up from the South were afraid of a little gust. "Bide here."
As she stepped out the door, Turner gave Havers a smug smile.
"What?" She demanded, somewhat crossly.
"I don't know."
"Direct flight from Newquay, was it?" The smirk grew.
"Enough of that," Barbara ordered, blushing slightly. "Tell me about the missing pensioners – and the aide."
They talked about the case for the hour's drive out to Melrose. Barbara's mind swirled with thoughts of the missing pensioners. She stuffed the personal away and forced all her attention on the case.
The otherwise barren stretch of road was crowded with over a dozen people - press, curious folks, technicians, and police. Barbara and Lee pulled on Wellies before slipping under the cordon.
"Acting Detective Inspector Havers?" Two men stepped forward. One was in full uniform and the other in the stripped-down navy coverall of the PSU. "Detective Chief Inspector Iain Shaw, Lothian and Borders Police. This is our Polsa, Inspector Brian Cook."
"What do we have?" she asked. Both men were quick to the point and spare with their words. Within 10 minutes, Barbara was up to speed on the search – there had been some light foot traffic in the grassy area near the minivan and they'd found the keys in the snow about 20 feet from where it had been abandoned. It had started right up, no appearance of motor trouble.
A dog and handler was following a possible trail in the direction of the river Tweed and four search trained PC's finishing the outer reaches of the grid search. Both Docherty and Turner joined them and Barbara was itching to get out there as well, but Cook belayed her. Pointing to the Bluetooth in his ear, he stepped closer to Shaw and Havers. "That's the handler – they've found a body."
Lynley nursed a drink while he watched the news. Barbara was grim as she answered questions. Standing at her elbow was an equally grim Detective Chief Inspector.
Behind them, a shelter had been erected over the body of a 76 year-old pensioner from Newcastle; a religious widow named Smith.
"They've identified the victim but no sign yet of the others," he answered, recognizing his sister's footsteps.
"She looks well," Judith noted, glancing at the flat screen. "How is she doing?"
He didn't answer.
He shook his head.
"Tommy," she pushed. "Barbara isn't Helen."
"Of course not," he snorted, as though the very thought was absurd.
He turned, finally.
"There's an old saying, that you have to let something go in order to –"
"Leave off the new age philosophy, if you please," he interrupted, pouring himself another finger – or three.
"Oh, scotch always did make you maudlin," Judith groaned. "Tommy, she has to step out from your shadow. You can call her your partner but until you aren't also her boss that's just wishful labeling. Let her move forward. Encourage her. If you want a real shot at this, you need to surrender the reigns."
He rubbed his cheek, glancing sideways at his sister. "I hate that I'm not there."
"I know," her look was compassionate. "But new age philosophy or not – it doesn't take a guru to know what you ought not to do – show up there," she indicated the telly with her chin.
He nodded and rubbed his mouth with his hand, as though stopping any more words from coming out of his mouth. She shook her head, and then swallowed down the last of his scotch.
Lee Turner nudged his boss awake. Barbara blinked slowly, the dawn sun burning her eyes through the office window. She accepted a hot cup of coffee, breathing in the steam for several moments before asking Lee for updates.
"Mr. Ferguson's still alive, but they regard him as critical. SOCO is doing a sweep at the river now the sun's come up, ma'am."
"You don't have to call me that, Turner," she told him, chafing her cheeks with her palms. "Especially when it's just us." Barbara checked her face in a small mirror and frowned. Two hours of sleep had left her looking worse – not better.
"Think I do. Think I will," Lee retorted, the smile in his eyes softening his abrupt tone. "Detective Chief Inspector Shaw says when you get a moment, he'd like to do another appeal."
"Right," she stood and found her rucksack. "I want updates from the M.E. on the post-mortem. Oh, and the status of our survivor."
Havers stepped into the ladies and did what she could with a change of clothing, toothbrush, and flannel. She moved to the bustling incident room and the buzz fell silent.
Barbara had briefed on high-profile cases before, but a part of her missed Lynley's R.P. baritone in counterpoint. With a deep breath, she began the meeting.
"Inspector!" Docherty called from the doorway just as Barbara was wrapping up.
Barbara pulled her purse strap over her head as she hurried across the room. "Lead?"
"Just phoned in from two riders on the Eildons, Ma'am. I have a feeling about it."
Brian Cook, standing in the hallway, overheard and began jogging with them towards the exit. At the car park, he indicated a Land Rover and the three were quickly on their way.
The high country was a vast snowfield. Docherty gave directions. Slowly, they inched along several rough roads along the foothills, about a half-mile as the crow flew from the abandoned minivan.
They followed the faintest tendril of smoke to an abandoned cottage. Running, Cook reached the door first and put shoulder to it. With no electric and curtained windows, the interior was dim. They found the bedraggled Mrs. Fuchs curled up in front of the dying fire in the reception room. Barbara found a pulse and tried to rouse her. With no luck, Cook caught up the old woman in his arms and carried her to the car, keeping her close against his body in the back seat.
With a spray of snow and gravel from the tires, they raced to hospital.
"It's homicide," Barbara pronounced, her phone tucked against her ear.
"It's certainly malfeasance," Tommy agreed.
"The aide abandoned those three pensioners – including poor Mrs. Smith, who had onset dementia. Her death was completely avoidable. Mrs. Fuchs and Mr. Ferguson both have hypothermia and may not survive," Barbara paused to beckon the DC who'd arrived at her doorway with food. "Cheers."
"Breakfast," she explained around a mouthful of McMuffin.
"Right. What about the PM?"
"Not completed yet."
Tommy changed the subject, "Tell me about the DCI."
"He's all right, actually," She finished the McMuffin. "We've had two burglary calls from Boxing Day sales – there's been a rash of them over the last month. They're pressing for a quick result. Turner will stay on and work the case. Everything fine there?" Barbara asked.
"Yes, of course. I've been informed that Peter will be making an appearance after all."
"I suppose," Tommy agreed.
Lee knocked softly on the door and Barbara rang off, feeling farther away from Lynley than Scotland.
Tommy was glad he'd dressed for weather. The clouds had rolled in as he walked towards the cliffs, and the temperature had dropped accordingly. The evergreen shrubs clinging to the rocky ground shivered with the wind.
Listening to Barbara, he'd found himself fighting – and nearly losing – the urge to fly to Scotland. For the better part of an hour, he climbed in and out of the familiar nooks. Stopping now and again just look out; letting his thoughts sort and tangle.
Tommy pivoted in surprise to find Peter standing above him. "When did you get in?"
"Just now, really." he answered, jamming his hands into his jacket pockets. "You all right?"
"Am I all right?" Tommy was surprised at how seriously Peter asked the question.
"You walk the cliffs like this when you're troubled."
"Is that so?" he climbed up beside his brother. "Well, what about you? There's been great mystery accorded your whereabouts."
"Brief retreat holiday. It's helpful at times like this, to…clear my head."
"What do you mean, times like this?"
"I've got some news, Tommy. I've brought Portia with me."
"Your girlfriend?" Tommy vaguely remembered a very thin, very blonde, bored-looking barista.
"The thing is, Tommy," his voice was solemn. "We're getting married."
"Well," he inhaled. "Congratulations."
"We mean to do it here, after the holidays. I've already told mother – she and Portia are fixing the date and planning the details. Olivia has informed us that she is to be flower girl."
"We've been together a while." Peter reminded him, ducking under a snow-laden branch and then stopping. "And… she's pregnant."
Both the revelation and the branch hit him square between the eyes. Tommy shook off the snow as Peter attempted not to laugh.
"Due just about Easter, is the word."
"And you're…ready for this?"
"I am over 30, Tommy," Peter reminded him, the old bitterness of being alternately neglected and bossed about by Tommy frosting his voice. "And clean. And working."
"Yes, yes, of course," he backtracked. "I was just thinking…having a baby, it changes everything."
"I'm looking forward to it."
"Then I'm glad for you both. Truly," Tommy assured him.
Peter assessed his brother's sincerity and was chuffed to see he meant it. They smiled and continued walking.
"What are your plans, then?"
"We're moving house. Portia wants to settle in Portsmouth, near her family. The firm has an office there."
"Portsmouth? But surely…"
"We need a place that's ours."
"This is yours, Peter. You've always loved Howenstow."
"Tommy," he gave his brother an almost pitying look, with just a last hint of a lifetime's resentment. "I've spent too much of my life as the bad boy tear-away next-in-queue in true old tradition. It's time to move on, don't you think?"
"Don't be so hard on yourself."
"That's not…" Peter shook his head. Tommy could be incredibly thick. "I start in Portsmouth first week of February. We'll have to talk about the flat – probably best to let it. My neighbors have had theirs for sale for ages and, what with the economy…"
"Actually, it's a great opportunity."
"Me. I'm looking for a place to live."
"Did I hear you correctly? You want to quit your place for mine?"
"Don't look so astonished. Yours AND the neighbors. Will make something quite nice, together, I should think."
"I..." Peter was at a loss for words.
"Of course, I don't know what shape it's in…"
"Bin the bongs and condom wrappers, should be good as new."
"Wrappers yet no actual condoms, I see?"
Peter burst out in laughter, shocked that his brother had made the joke. "Clearly!"
"We're agreed then?" Tommy thrust out his hand, and Peter shook it.
As they entered the house, the men stopped to shed their extra clothing. Tommy was about to slip back into his office when Peter stopped him. "You never said, about yourself. How you're faring."
Peter stopped himself from pushing and let it go. At the end of the day, there still seemed to be as much that separated them as brothers as brought them together.
Havers leaned back in her office chair and looked out the small window. Church bells were ringing somewhere, reminding her of the holiday she'd missed.
They still hadn't found the aide, Sally Holmes. It gnawed at Barbara, a low boiling frustration that didn't go away. Keeping busy hadn't helped. There was a pile of information being worked on the robberies – employee background histories, financials, connections in the area. But her mind kept going back to the aide.
She fidgeted with her mobile, completely unsurprised when it vibrated in her hand.
"Peter's arrived. With his pregnant fiancée."
"Portia is expecting. They are marrying and relocating to Portsmouth."
"Portia that worked at the coffee house? That does the knitting? Good for them! When's the wedding?"
"Two weeks. I knew she was a barista but not about the knitting."
"Two weeks! Will it be there, then? Posh scarves and mittens and the like – sells them online and a shop in Notting Hill."
"I had no idea. Yes, here at the estate chapel. You'll come?"
"Hang on," she spied her DC gesturing from the doorway. "Got to go – I've an update from Turner."
"Hard to believe she remembered my favorites," Dorothy beamed as she opened the box.
"She is a detective," Tommy half-chided his mother.
"Piffle," she rejoined. "This is a delightful surprise."
He watched his mother nibble the candy. It gladdened him to see Barbara so thoughtful and his mother so appreciative.
"And will Barbara be returning for the wedding?"
He didn't answer. He didn't have an answer.
"Is there one for me?" Judith entered the room and flashed a 'I'm here to rescue you' smile at her brother as she picked out a chocolate for herself. "Oh, I'd forgotten how good these are."
"Give over," Peter demanded, sauntering into the sitting room as though he owned the world. His mother briefly frowned at his vernacular but passed the chocolates.
"Portia finally get to sleep?" Judith asked, perching on the arm of the settee.
He nodded as he chewed.
"Thank heavens. That poor girl! Riding over 200 miles in her condition; in the snow," Daze shook her head reprovingly.
"It was her idea to travel by car," Peter defended, wondering how it being snow outside had made it somehow more exhausting for his partner to sit and watch him drive.
Into the soft quiet, the four looked at each in simultaneous realization. It was the first time they'd been alone together since Tommy's father had passed away. It should have been damned uncomfortable.
Surprisingly… it wasn't.
"Did he tell you, he's taking my flat?" Peter settled his elbow on the mantle.
"You're not. He's joking," Judith looked between the brothers in disbelief.
Peter shrugged, "Apparently, big brother has a craving to go downmarket. Mind you, he means to buy the adjoining flat and double its size."
"I quite like the idea," Judith announced. "It's got that lovely view, and the area has a completely different sensibility – it'll do you good."
"With the extra room, it should do nicely," Daze agreed. "And your Sergeant should love it, in any event."
Tommy winced, but didn't say anything. It was hard to know when his family meant the barbs and when they just blundered into insulting each other from sheer habit.
"On that note," Peter saluted. "I'm off to bed. I've a feeling Portia will have me up early."
"Good night," Daze murmured as her other two children quickly followed.
"Did you get the link I sent you to her Flickr page?"
"Yes. You shouldn't have…"
"It's just research, Barbara. A few minutes on the computer."
"All right, I'm looking at the picture now. How can you be sure it's Whitby?"
"That bit of stairs behind her shoulder? They lead up to the Abbey."
Barbara had never been, so she took Tommy's word for it. She printed out the picture.
"Something happens during the transport, and she panics and tosses the keys…"
"Or one of the pensioners does…"
"So she starts walking…"
"And somehow ends up where? The train station?"
"It's possible. There were only two trains out Christmas morning and big gaps in the CCTV coverage of the station. But no one saw her anywhere near there. No one has come forward about seeing her, full stop."
"She'd have gone on the southbound train, which left Melrose at…"
"Half-six, no…holiday schedule…"
"7:10 AM," Tommy was also on the train's website. "She'd have to change trains in Darlington."
"The ex-boyfriend sent her an SMS around 6AM. Told us it was just to wish her a happy holiday but he's erased the actual message so it may very well have been to set up a meeting at the train station or even Whitby itself. I'm going to follow this up."
He rang off and Barbara went to find Lee. An hour later, Barbara was summoned down to the path lab. She stopped short when she arrived in the doorway, Lee nearly colliding into her.
"Acting Inspector," Tony Philips said with displeased surprise.
"Tony," Barbara tried to keep her tone more neutral. "You're far from home."
"So are you."
She crossed her arms. Turner looked between Philips and Havers, wondering what the history was there. "Right. What do you have?"
"Skip the foreplay, then?"
"Did she drown?" Lee asked. It was the answer that would decide the charges.
"Cerebrovascular accident,"Tony told them. After a moment, he elucidated, "She died of a stroke. The ME didn't find any fluid in her lungs or antemortem bruising, which suggests she'd expired before she fell down the bank into the river."
"What caused it?"
"I've just completed the toxicology, there was nothing foreign in her blood. Though there should have been."
Havers raised her eyebrows.
"She had very high cholesterol, which caused the atherosclerosis. Change in lifestyle wouldn't have been enough. She should have been taking a statin, I should think, to control it."
"And she wasn't?"
"Other than tea and a biscuit, there was absolutely nothing in her system," his answer was given in the same tone a parent would explain to a child why they shouldn't play with matches.
"So the exposure, the walking around – it didn't contribute directly to her death? Is that what you are saying."
"It may have been the trigger, but the underlying condition must have been unchecked for some time."
Barbara missed Lafferty like an ache. "Right, send me the report," she ordered, turning on her heel and leaving.
"Watch yourself with that one," the pathologist warned Lee as he moved to follow.
Turner didn't give him the courtesy of response.
Darlington Train Station CCTV had caught what appeared to be Sally Holmes as she'd changed trains. It was enough to request the North Yorkshire constabulary to search for her.
Barbara went a bit batty waiting for word. She wanted to be in on the search herself, but it was over a 3-hour drive and she was SIO on two other cases – including the high-profile burglaries.
She'd known being an A/DI would mean new challenges, but she hadn't counted on the higher level of frustration. Barbara had somehow though more responsibility and rank would mean more freedom to do things as she thought best. Instead, she'd found it meant even more constraints.
Barbara put in 14-hour days right through to New Year's Eve. The lucky coppers who'd been given leave for the night were all for the Edinburgh Hogmanay. Lee himself had been sporting a curvy, ginger lass on his arm as he'd saluted farewell.
For the rest, catering had been ordered and the murmurs of shifts rotating in and out for bite could be heard all the way up to Havers' office at the back of the incident room. Dragging a hand along the side of her face in exhaustion, Barbara finally admitted to herself that she wasn't going to get any more work done.
Closing her laptop and slipping it into her bag, she stood. And then froze.
Leaning against the doorway in his leather jacket and jeans was Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley. A small smile playing on his face.
"Just in the neighborhood?"
"Not really, no," he took a step towards her.
Barbara moved out from behind her desk. He carefully closed her door, then cupped her face and kissed her. Felt her kissing back. They both took a deep breath, as though some invisible finish line had been crossed.
"I thought you and St. James had some plans with a 20 year-old Scotch?"
"Black Bull, 40 year-old," he sighed as though it was a woman who'd gotten away. "But Joseph injured himself last night."
"Is he all right?" Deb's father was an irascible and beloved figure in their lives.
"He's got a boxer's break in his hand, from trying to stop his fall. They released him this morning; Simon and Deb are sticking close."
"Which left me at a loose end," he smiled into her eyes. "Happy?"
"Very," she agreed, rubbing the back of her neck to relieve some of the tension. "Sometimes I lose track of what day it is."
"The glamourous life of he DI," he noted dryly. Tommy took the strap of her laptop bag and put it on his own shoulder. They headed to the exit, and down the steps.
"How long are you staying?"
"Just the weekend. Although I have put in for temporary attachment in Newcastle."
"Since apparently I'm banned from the Borders," he reminded her wryly, "It was either that or Glasgow."
"Shoulda picked Glasgow."
"What exactly are you implying?"
"Think I'm saying it outright, sir."
"I get along quite well, thank you."
"Why aye, chicken pie," she teased.
Her smile, so genuine, made Tommy's stomach flip as he unlocked the doors of his hire car. "I've booked a boutique hotel near Edinburgh."
After a long pause, he prodded, "Should we stop in for your things?"
He turned on the engine, and then glanced over at her. Her indecision was clear. "This is new for both of us. Just tell me what you're thinking."
"Newer to me, I think."
"Yes. Look, we don't have to…"
"Just give me a moment, would you?"
He briefly considered if they were about to spend New Year's Eve in a car park.
As she tucked her hair behind her ear, Tommy was struck; she's lovely. It wasn't just fine bones and green eyes – it was a polish she'd slowly acquired since they'd been partnered.
She had been hidden under those oversized jackets and ill-fitting sweaters. He'd sometimes wondered if she'd bought her clothing at Tesco while popping in for crisps and bin liners. But he'd never know her now as the Barbara Havers of 10 years ago. Appearances weren't all that mattered – but they did matter. He liked to think he'd had some influence there.
"Don't look at me that way," she grumbled.
"What way is that?"
She lifted her eyebrows.
"All right, then just choose – topic, destination, name it."
"This hotel you've booked, how far?"
"Not very," he smiled, putting the car into gear.
"Darling?" he stepped out of the bathroom the next morning with a towel slung low on his hips. "Did breakfast arrive?"
"Mmm hmm," she answered from the sitting room.
He dressed quickly and joined her. Barbara handed him a cuppa and poured another for herself. "Oh, and … don't call me that."
"I didn't expect us to be able to woo peaceably," he found a small pot of preserves for his toast. "That's from…"
"Shakespeare, I know," she added sugar to her cup. "Don't look so surprised."
"Keanu Reeves was in the film."
"I missed it. Read the book, instead."
He was laughing at her. "Yeah, all right," she conceded.
"You never did say – Peter's wedding, a week Saturday."
"It's a family do, surely."
"If you're sure."
"I'll have Denton make reservations."
He leaned back in his chair and clocked her mood. "This is about the fare?"
She took a breath. "Tommy…"
He used to have similar awkward conversations with Deborah, once upon a time. "I don't want to overstep, Barbara. But things would go a lot easier if we could come to rapprochement and close the subject. If I invite you to something, I expect to take care of the expense – that is the usual dating custom."
"We're not talking fish and chips. I pay my own way." She remembered seeing his name on the rich list and felt slightly ridiculous but she wouldn't sacrifice her independence.
"Barbara, you're being irrational."
"It won't work, constraining our lives to your salary."
"I wasn't aware that living on a budget was such an unacceptable lifestyle."
"You're deliberately misunderstanding."
"You've got your head up your arse."
"Christ!" he took a step back – literally and emotionally. "I am asking you to treat me the same as you would anyone else. Just the fare, Barbara. I want you at the wedding, with me."
He'd offered to pay the fare when she'd traveled to Cornwall for his engagement party, but she'd turned him down flat. This time, things were different. "Just the fare," she capitulated.
"Good." Finishing his toast, he held out his hand, "Walk?"
"Please," she stood as well.
Barbara hated how quickly she blushed. But that didn't stop her from stepping closer. She'd never had an argument to make up over before.
DC Stella Docherty's personal car was an aluminum can equipped with an engine that sounded like it was nicked from a motorboat. All dipped in rust and mud. And she drove it like a madwoman.
Barbara gamely watched the road and tried to remember her prayers. When they reached the dress shop, she didn't hide her relief.
"You all right, ma'am?"
"I think so," she unclenched her hands and got out of the car.
Docherty ushered the A/DI Havers into a rainbow of dresses. Barbara was immediately flummoxed by selection.
"Here it is!" the constable called. She held up a mass of jade and sage-colored material. "My cousin looked amazing in it, and she has just your colouring."
Barbara doubtfully took the hanger; there was no harm in trying it on. The PC had been trilling on about it since she'd asked for a local recommendation.
She was shocked when she looked in the dressing mirror. The fitted dress was simple, flattering. The velveteen coat had frog closures at the waist. And Barbara looked…
"Like Princess Bonnie Dress Up," she muttered, as Docherty approached.
"Nay, ma'am," the PC shook her head. "Just bonnie."
Barbara dared to glance then at the price. Her gut clenched. She closed her eyes, then opened them to her own reflection. Smiled. "Yes, I suppose it will do."
A few days later, Tommy tried to hide his anxiety as he waited with his brother at the altar. He hadn't seen Barbara since she'd been commandeered before breakfast – still in her pajamas – by Judith to help with something or another. His partner's look of bewildered discomfort as she'd been led away had been alarming. Tommy half expected her to bolt.
But no, there she was.
Her hair was lighter, twisted up. The green fabric made her eyes glow. Someone – most likely his mother – had made sure she had a spray of Cornish heather pinned to her lapel.
She was exquisite. His chest grew tight.
Barbara could hardly breathe, either. Years fell away, and there he was – waistcoat and morning suit and every inch the toff standing in a church full of toffs. Everything she'd hated, at first sight. Tall, arrogant, handsome, presumptuous, looking down his nose at her…
Oh my God...
She broke eye contact as emotions pressed into her. Barbara slid in next to Sidney despite wanting to jog out of there – back down the aisle, out the door, and far far far away.
Everyone stood as Portia entered the chapel with her father. The antique satin gown and Lynley emeralds cast her as a princess. When she arrived at Peter's side, he solemnly turned to take her hand. With a snap of shock, Barbara realized that while everyone in the chapel was admiring the beautiful bride – Tommy was still staring straight at her.
Her heart stopped for a long moment.
Then, thankfully, the vicar began the service and both she and Tommy put their attention where it belonged.
Outside the chapel, after the service, Tommy offered his arm to Barbara. She looked at it a moment, as though unsure what it was for. He took her hand and placed it in the crook of his elbow while leaning down to whisper in her ear, "You're lovely."
"So are you," she answered before thinking it through. He chuckled; she blushed. Together they navigated the path back to the house.
During the breakfast, Barbara felt a vibration in her pocket. Tommy caught her peeking at her phone under the table and lifted his eyebrows. She pushed away from the table and he followed suit. They made their apologies and drifted out to a small sitting room.
"They found Sally Holmes in Salford."
"I'll drive you to Newquay," he said, dragging his hand through his hair.
"Yeah, thanks." She turned and headed up the stairs to change into work clothes.
They met back at the Edinburgh boutique hotel the following Saturday evening. Watched each other undress in silence. It was almost unbearably intimate – and erotic.
She moved onto the bed; he followed. Looking into her eyes, he rolled into her. As she yielded, Barbara felt tears on her skin. His? Hers?
Still trying to catch their breath as they finished, Tommy leaned his forehead against hers. "Barbara…" he whispered, overcome.
He gathered her close, and they fell asleep for a few hours. Supper was delivered to their room and they ate it in robes.
"How are the victims doing?"
"Mr. Ferguson had his foot amputated yesterday," she felt a pang thinking of the pensioner's pain. "Mrs. Fuchs has pneumonia."
"Is the aide still refusing responsibility?"
"Yes. She's given us a full accounting, now. Maintains that Mrs. Fuchs had some kind of fit on the way home from church and when she pulled over to check on her, Mrs. Smith took the keys and ran off. Mr. Ferguson followed to bring Mrs. Smith – and the keys – back. She is adamant that she attempted phoning for help but her phone battery was dead. Went looking for the lost couple and didn't find them, says she wandered in the cold, lost, for hours. Swears she doesn't know how she ended up on the train."
"They have experts interviewing her."
"Your opinion?" He knew Barbara could be very soft-hearted at times, and was curious how much Sally's version had plucked at his partner's heartstrings.
"I think it would be easy to lose your way in the dark out there. But if you're asking me? She knowingly left those pensioners to die." Barbara shook off the gloom. "Uh, you know about Winston?"
"The promotion? Yes, of course."
"I think his mother may just write his new rank into all his shirts."
He gave her a small smile. "He's asked if I want him Newcastle."
Barbara swallowed a bite of chicken and raised her eyebrows. "He drives you batty."
"Only over sustained exposure. And he's good, especially considering that the best isn't available," Tommy conceded as he poured more water into each of their glasses. "Have you heard from Hadi?"
"They've just come back from Canada. Hadi says my plants are barely alive. I left those glass reservoirs you gave me in the sink."
"They don't work if they aren't actually in the pot."
"Got that, thanks."
They shared a smile.
"How goes the move to Hammersmith?"
"You needn't say it like that."
"Well, you didn't seem happy last time you stayed in that neighborhood"
Internally, he winced to remember how he'd treated Barbara. Well, dismissed her. "I wasn't meant to be happy," he shrugged. "They call it grieving for a reason."
"You'll want to see the place before any changes are decided."
"Yes… of course." Barbara wasn't sure why but was afraid to ask. She quickly changed the subject.
"Charlie," Tommy opened the door. "Come through."
They carefully inspected the nearly empty flats. The wall between the two had already been partially removed and the wood floors gleamed as they moved through the rooms. The freshly whitewashed walls reflected the sun so brightly in the reception room that both men stepped back.
Denton indicated the farmhouse table that Peter had left behind. It was a 19th century French piece that his mother had sent from Howenstow. It now appeared to have…cigarette burns?
"Get it restored," Tommy ordered.
He looked out the windows and realized that the view of the church, the bridge, and beyond to the city skyline were stunning. He stepped towards the balcony doors to get a better look, excited - this was something he could truly enjoy.
Tommy reached out his hand as Barbara stepped in. She took it, feeling awkward under Charlie's gaze. Tommy noticed, but pretended he didn't.
Walking from the tube stop, Barbara's first impression had been of a residential block that was not terribly posh. The property, however, was definitely a mansion flat. No, make that TWO mansion flats about to be combined into 150-plus square meters of renovated perfection. Well, of course it was.
Charlie cleared his throat and indicated the arrival of the architect and her assistant. Introductions were made and Barbara stepped back to allow for Tommy to focus on his consultation. He put his hand on the small of Barbara's back, essentially dragging her into the fivesome as they began touring the combined spaces of Flat "A" and Flat "B".
They stepped around one of the formal dining spaces, and he pointed up at the plasterwork ceiling medallion. It was chipped, but the fleur-de-lis pattern was still recognizable. "What do you think?"
"Hmmm," Barbara shrugged. Fancy ceiling work that could fall on her head, she was supposed to have an opinion?
The kitchens of the two flats had been back-to-back but the wall between could not be entirely removed because it was load-bearing. Both were small, galley types.
"Practical, though," Barbara mused.
"Hardly," Tommy sighed.
"What if space from this receiving room, on the "A" side, was utilized? Extend the kitchen this way, instead of joining the two?" The architect gestured.
Tommy stepped back. "There's a thought. Darling?" he prompted.
Barbara stood mutely, unsure what to say.
The other three quickly clocked the by-play and pretended not to. He inhaled. She refused to meet his eyes. "Excuse us?" Tommy didn't even glance as Charlie ushered the other two towards the "B" side to discuss the needs of the security system.
Once alone, the silence stretched between them.
"You seem upset." Tommy wondered if she knew how embarrassing her behavior was to him sometimes.
"Yeah, alright…why am I even here?"
"Barbara - you're my partner. Your input is valuable to me."
"I'm…" she stopped. Suddenly all the meanings of the word 'partner' flew around in her mind like drunken bats.
"You're…?" he challenged, curious and scared of what she was about to say. Tommy stepped into her line of vision. "Explain this to me. I thought we were in a relationship. A serious relationship. Aren't we?"
"Aren't we?" Barbara met his eyes.
"I know how I feel. I'm asking about you. Your intentions."
It was like being transported back into an Austen farce. Intentions? Who even talked that way?!
"Yes, we're in a relationship," she admitted.
It was like an electric shock that re-started his heart. Tommy exhaled with relief. "Then what is so inappropriate about asking you be involved with the renovations?"
"Not at the moment."
"This is your home."
"And perhaps, someday, ours."
"I never said."
"You wouldn't have," he retorted in a slip of temper. He took a few more deep breaths. "Indulge me. Please. This is part of it. Living in hope of more. Building things together."
It sounded terrifying.
Tommy took a small step in her direction. "I'd like this to be a place in which we can both be comfortable."
He was putting too much on her. Barbara wanted to take a runner. Tommy could see it on her face the way he could see it on a suspect. For just a tick, Tommy fought back a longing for Caro, and Helen, and all the women for whom this exercise would have been as simple as thumbing through a glossy magazine.
Barbara closed her eyes and took a few cleansing breaths, the way she'd been taught on her Cornwall retreat so many years ago.
They stood, a foot apart. Looking at each other but eyes not meeting.
Tommy waited. He'd spent years waiting on Barbara. Train stations. Crime scenes. Reports to be filed. Chips to be devoured. The last swallows of a pint. Last point to be made, talking in the car park next to the Bristol. Before she'd splashed into his life he'd been marching along at his own pace in the directions that pleased him. It seemed so very long past and so very far away.
'You go - I go,' she'd said to him once, leaning against a fence. He'd been pleased to hear it, at the time. Flattered, even. She'd latched on to him from the start, snarling like a kitten but claws firmly embedded in his skin. Now she was a tigress – sleeker, savvier, stronger. The sodding hell with glossy magazines. "I… could find a place closer to Chalk Farm," he mused.
"God, no," Barbara did a spit take.
"Don't say things like that. It does my head in."
"Wait a sec…"
"Yeah, fine," she sighed.
"Will be. If you stop calling me darling. That's the end."
"You hate it that much?"
"As I've said. More than once."
"Then I will try to stop. We'll come up with something else. Dearest?"
She cocked her head.
"Poppet it is, then," he placed a soft kiss in her hair.
"Just my name, is all," she shrugged.
"The way I say yours, Tommy."
He inhaled sharply with the pleasure of hearing it. "I may slip from time to time," he warned.
"Me, too, sir."
He touched his fingertips to her cheek and they stayed quiet until the tentative return of footsteps could be heard. "The kitchen…" he reminded her.
"Open," Barbara announced.
"Like my first flat?"
"You mean the one with the external refrigerator?"
"Yes," Barbara gave him a teasing look. "There."
"There was no kitchen, there."
"It was open plan!"
"It was…" he struggled for the right word.
"Open plan," Barbara repeated.
He opened his mouth and then closed it. This was Barbara, expressing an opinion about the flat, he reminded himself.
"If I may?" The architect began sketching. "If we assign "B" as the more formal reception room and then the second opening here to "A" as more of a lounge, encompassing a kitchen and…" she drew on her iPad with long, sure strokes as Barbara and Tommy sidled up to watch.
"What is this?" Tommy shook his head, pointing. "Bedroom? It needs to be reconfigured."
They followed Tommy as he walked through the space. "One of the bedrooms will be used as a study, and should open here," he indicated.
"So… two doubles here," the architect pointed at the back of the combined space. "And another double here, suited as a study."
"I would think so." He turned to Barbara. "What about you, poppet?"
Charlie burst out in uncontrollable coughing.
The architect's assistant admired the ceiling medallions and bit his lip.
That Barbara didn't snap Tommy's head back with a side kick was a victory for their relationship, and a testament to her sense of humour. Instead she walked the space and thought about it. "It's a thought, sir. But…maybe switch it around? So the other cloakroom is off the lounge? And not the bedrooms?"
"Oh, yes," The architect nodded and sketched again.
Barbara and Tommy looked at the result, and smiled.
"That's it, then?" Charlie was doubtful.
"Yes," Tommy nodded, feeling lighter than he had in months.
Inspector Brian Cook, recently single, had liked A/DI Barbara Havers straight off. He'd found her to be just as she seemed - honest, observant, no-bullshit and attractive to boot. In the job, women like her were few and far between.
He was leaning against Barbara's desk at Lothian & Borders CID in Hawick, trying for perhaps the 10th time to talk her into a friendly dinner when he happened to look up and see someone bearing towards them with purpose – a man with a predatory gaze utterly focused on Barbara.
Brian's heart did a sink, sank, sunk.
"Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley," the dark-haired man announced himself as he approached, long coat open to a bespoke suit and a tie probably worth a month's pay.
"Inspector Brian Cook," he straightened and shook the other man's hand.
"Hiya," Barbara said warily, leaning back in her chair.
"Just off a scene not too far from here, thought I would stop in and see how you were doing."
"Our primary suspect on the robberies just went into labor," Barbara sighed.
"That's a new one," Tommy shook his head.
"You're telling us," Brian chuckled. "I was just trying to talk Havers here into a pint."
"Sounds like an idea," Tommy glanced back at his tired-looking girlfriend and willed her to meet his eyes. "Barbara?"
She pushed away a pile of papers with a expression of surrender. "You're buying," she announced, trying clamp down on the panic rising inside. She wasn't ready for the world to know about their relationship.
"And dinner, too, if you want it."
"I'll take you up on it even if she won't," Brian said with a grin.
The trio stepped into the night to find that spring was definitely around the corner. The snow was melting and there was a hint of moist warmth in the breeze. They crossed the street and began walking. "The pub has good food," Brian said with a nod.
"Yeah?" Tommy caught Barbara's eye.
She shook her head. It was the copper's local.
Brian wasn't slow by anyone's estimation. He stopped and thought a moment. "There's excellent grub not far from the inn. Bit out of the way, mind, but the food's stunning."
Decided, Barbara and Lynley clambered into his hire car and Brain followed as they headed into the night. They quickly found a table and ordered dinner.
As they settled in over a drink, Brian pulled out his best tales of his many foreign posts. Barbara relaxed enough to tell the story about her and Lynley stuck at a caravan park, and Lynley related an interesting account from his University days of backpacking in Iceland – in winter. Eventually and inevitably, the conversation drifted to the MET and they began finding colleagues in common.
Later, as they stepped back out to the car park, Barbara turned and spontaneously slipped her hand in the crook of his elbow. Tommy gave her a pleased half-smile.
"I'm for home, then," Brian inhaled deeply of the fresh night air. "Need a lift?"
"Cheers," Barbara shook her head.
"Good to have met you," he nodded to Tommy. "We'll see each other again, I'm sure."
"Good night," Lynley nodded back. Then he and Barbara strolled off towards Tommy's hire car on the other side of the building.
Watching them go, Brian decided he couldn't hate the bloke. Imperious toff that he was, Tommy Lynley clearly doted on their Barbara. With a whistle, he headed into the night.
Tommy phoned from Newcastle the following weekend just as Barbara was leaving to meet him. "I'm sorry. They've found a body and somehow the locals have decided I should take the case."
"They must like the look of you."
"Just the opposite, I'm sure."
She turned off the engine of the hire car. A spanner in her first truly free weekend she'd had since arriving in Scotland? She just barely stopped herself from throwing a strop.
"Look, we have to sleep sometime. Go on, and I will meet you there."
Barbara's mobile began to vibrate with an urgent text. "I have to go, too. Later, yeah?"
Fighting back a dark mood, Barbara climbed back up to the incident room. Turner was leaning against a desk, taking print-outs from the nearby printer.
"You got the text?" he greeted Havers as though she had never left.
"I've got the text. You mind driving?"
"Can't. Haven't seen my hire car in days."
"You remember the bird from Hogmanay?"
"Oh, yeah. I've been all over the shop, really," his bluster melted a little.
As if her evening hadn't already gone all to pot. "Are you dead from the neck up? You need get the report in."
"What do you think this is?" he indicated the printed sheets he quickly stapled and handed to her. "You're ratty tonight," he added in a mutter.
"And you're the sodding copper who got his hire car nicked!"
Lee exhaled and then nodded.
"We'll finish with this later," Barbara hissed, indicating Iain Shaw approaching.
Tommy Lynley was absolutely livid. It was dark. It was sleeting. It was the middle of nowhere. He was supposed to be in bed with Barbara by now. This was probably some kind of prank call. And there were bloody sheep in the middle of the bloody road!
A traffic cop tapped on his window, making him jump. "Sorry sir, for your own safety you'll have to turn back. We've got a bit of an official situation, here."
He pulled his warrant card from his pocket. "Which situation would that be, constable? The sheep loose on the motorway?"
"It's because of the fence, Detective Inspector. If you'll follow me?"
He turned up the collar of his overcoat as he stepped out of the Audi and followed the young man up the embankment. Slipping several times in the muddy grass, he arrived at a trampled wire fence. Beyond that, a second one had been clearly cut. At the edge of pristine line of massive evergreens, two SOCO and another constable were attempting to put up a marquee over a body.
"Sir? Inspector Lynley!" Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata came jogging up the hill, his lithe frame handling the terrain easier than Tommy despite a takeaway coffee cup in each hand.
Lynley took his gratefully. "You made good time."
"Sat nav, guv. Couldn't live without it." Winston took off the cover to take a sip, letting the steam warm his face. Sure, Barbara got the holiday assignments to beaches and boardwalks and he got a wet, blustery, flipping ice bath of a Friday night at the Scottish border.
Glancing over at Detective Inspector Toff, though, Winston didn't mind so much. He'd made a bollocks of the Thompson case with that reporter and he knew it'd been Lynley that'd fixed things with Hillier. And Lynley who'd recommended him with Tate.
"Let's make tracks, Winston. The body isn't going to get dryer!"
"Yes, sir," he walked quickly to join the group under the marquee.
"Didn't we just leave Scotland?" Barbara spun in her seat, looking back.
"Not technically," Iain shook his head. "The true border extends from where that line of trees ends. There's a 100-yard gap between the signs that no one has been able to explain since they were first installed, thank ye very much. But to be sure, there's been committees to discuss it," he sounded a bit exasperated and Barbara shot him an understanding smile.
A series of flares on the motorway warned them to slow down until they reach a traffic cop. A glance at their warrant cards, the uniform directed them to park along the edge.
"Bloody sheep!" Lee muttered, stepping into a pile of shit.
"Oh, aye," the cop agreed, leading them to the best spot to climb the embankment. "Piles of them."
Barbara held back a giggle as the trio began their ascent.
"Isn't that…" Barbara indicated.
"It's not…" Lee breathed.
Lynley turned, gobsmacked.
The five of them stood: Lynley and Nkata faced Iain Shaw, Barbara and Lee Turner.
"Bloody hell," Shaw swore. "You must be new."
"Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley."
"Detective Chief Inspector Iain Shaw. Welcome to Scotland, Lynley."
"You've got to be kidding me."
"Not usually," he growled. They all stepped deeper under the marquee as the wind changed. "What have we got, here?"
"Female, 28, at first glance looks to be strangled. SOCO says rigor has come and gone. According to her wallet, she's an aide at a pensioner's home in Newcastle."
"How did you know?" Winston looked up from the victim's wallet.
"She worked with Sally Holmes," Lee Turner answered, squatting down to inspect the body closer. "Sweet girl, actually."
"This is related to the pensioners incident?" Winston mused.
"That has yet to be determined," Lynley half-chided, half-answered.
"That settles it, then," Shaw decided. "Jurisdiction is ours, Acting Inspector Havers – you're SIO. Good to have met you, Lynley."
"Quite," his reply was classic Lynley – respectful and sardonic. Fighting his annoyance, Tommy gave over his coffee to Barbara and marched back to the Audi with purposeful strides. Winston passed over the evidence and quickly followed.
It was too dark for her to see if he looked back. She indicated to Lee and turned towards the body to begin the case.
It took over 24 hours, but eventually he sent a short SMS. Instead of writing back, she knocked on his door at the hotel early the following morning.
The pale light of dawn illuminated her tiny features, the blond and ginger highlights in her hair. Her coat was floppy, round-collared, and French blue. She was achingly pretty. "Come in," he said, opening the door wider.
"Heya," her voice was tired as she followed him into the room. "The other night…"
"It was not your fault."
"Obviously," Barbara snorted. "This what it was like, then? All those times it was you watching me get knocked about?"
"What are you…" he looked over at her, his eyes snapping with anger. "That little prank was a waste of resources and time during a critical murder investigation! It wasn't a schoolyard tug of a girl's braid, Havers!"
"Of course," she murmured.
"For Heaven's sake," Lynley swore.
"So do you…"
"This is funny to you, is it?"
"Extremely," she agreed, sanguine. Although Tommy's temper had grown more vicious since Helen's death, she had become less afraid of it. In fact, if there was one person she was the least afraid of on Earth – it had to be Thomas Lynley. Despite his jowly frown aimed directly at her, Barbara just relaxed against the bed pole.
"And what, exactly, do you find so amusing?" His tone was a whip-strike of challenge.
"The sheep shit, mostly. The tyres on your hire car still reek of it. I noticed out in the car park."
"The expression on Winnie's face when Shaw said 'You must be new,'" she nodded. "The expression on YOUR face when he said 'Welcome to Scotland.'"
Lynley cleared his throat. It was the preferred alternative to snapping the bed pole in half with his bare hands. "Anything else?"
"The way you handed me your coffee as you stormed off."
"Oh, if this is about treating you as my subordinate then let me assure you..."
"I looked at it and thought about all the cups we've handed to each other over the years. I'll be staying out in the cold so you gave me your coffee. It's what I would have done, too."
Tommy watched her eyes soften and felt his temper slip away. "What made me angriest was that…there was a moment, when I saw you and was…the thought of working a case together…"
"Yeah. I miss being in the job with you, too."
"I've always believed we should stay close to what makes us happy."
"Murder makes you happy?"
"Working cases with you makes me happy."
"And I missed you last night."
"I've missed you, too."
"My foul temper? My shit-covered tyres?"
"All of you."
She kissed him. It tasted sweeter because she was the one to initiate it. Finally, they reached for each other – passionate and impatient, as though making up for lost time.
Much, much later, they found supper at a local pub. Just as they were tucking in, Barbara's mobile vibrated. It was Lee Turner with an update on the aide's murder.
"Where are you? A pub?"
"Just having a bite," Barbara acknowledged. "So, have the CCTV tapes arrived from the area petrol stations?"
"Are you eating?"
"Does it matter?"
"I'm half-starved, ma'am," he whined. "And skint. Buy me supper?"
"Cadge yourself something. About the…"
"The tapes? They've arrived. Almost done with them, yeah?" Lee rang off quickly after that. Barbara was left looking at her mobile in confusion.
"What was all that?"
"Lee Turner. He's barking," she announced. "You don't notice it, at first. But after sustained exposure, it becomes clear."
"He likes you," Tommy guessed, fighting a twinge of jealousy.
"Daft. As. A. Brush."
They went back to their food. Just over 30 minutes later, Inspector Brian Cook and DC Turner plopped down at Barbara's table.
"This one told me that if I gave him a lift, you'd buy us supper," Brian nodded at Lee.
"Ma'am!" Lee clapped a hand over his heart.
"Come on, take pity on a pair of poor, lonely sods."
"No pity for that one – he's about as lonely as a tom. Ask how he got his hire car nicked!"
"Completely brassic," Brian agreed. "She's leaving me with nowt and less to show for it."
"Using your divorce for sympathy," Barbara shook her head.
"What else is it good for?"
Barbara relented to smile.
Brian looked at the empty chair. "So…where's Lynley?"
Barbara froze, her eyes darting towards Turner.
"Oi, his lordship's here and all?" Lee looked around.
"Give over," Brian indicated the jacket hung over the back of the fourth chair.
Suddenly, it seemed ridiculous to pretend. "He's in the gents'."
An apple-cheeked woman announced the beginning of the quiz, and Brian and Lee demanded they join in. As they ordered their own suppers, Barbara dug through her bag for a pen. When the first query came for the collective noun for guinea fowl, the trio gave each other a blank looks.
"Oh, we're in the money for sure at this rate," Lee groaned, shovelling chips in his mouth.
"It's a confusion," Tommy announced, lifting a hand in greeting to Brian.
"Hiya," Barbara smiled up to him, her heart rate suddenly erratic.
"Hello," Brian agreed.
"A confusion of guinea fowl," he reminded Barbara, heading back to the bar.
"You're telling me," she exhaled, noting the answer on their paper.
Tommy returned with his drink. There was a moment of awkwardness as he sat down and gave Lee a hard look, "How did you know we were here?"
At Tommy's glare, Lee folded. "I heard the quiz announcement in the background."
"There's only one 'Tup & Ewe' in all of Britain, I should think," Brian pointed out.
"Shhh," Barbara tapped the pen onto the paper, thinking. "England's lowest team score."
"All-time?" Tommy asked.
"Yeah," Barbara nodded.
"It'd be an old one. I remember something, like 26…" Brian guessed.
"I think you're right," Lynley nodded. "The 1955 match with New Zealand."
"Brilliant," Lee smiled.
"Don't get comfortable," Barbara chided. "You've still got the CCTV from the petrol station to review."
"Finished," Turner answered. "Every last minute of it – Docherty helped. Didn't find a damn thing."
Brian devoured the last of his supper and reached for Barbara's discarded plate. At Tommy's lifted eyebrow, he grinned. "Aye, we're a chummy lot."
Barbara met Tommy's gaze and half-smiled. "Just like at the Met."
"Water of life," Brian tapped the paper.
"You were saying?"
"The word Whisky means 'water of life'," the inspector explained. "Ye Gods, I agree with the mite - we can win this bloody quiz. What's the pot?"
"Mite?" Turner looked outraged.
"What?" Barbara and Brian looked over at Tommy.
"What is the largest private estate in Cornwall?" the question was repeated.
"It's not…" she gaped.
"Of course not," Tommy shook his head. "It's Tregothnan."
"And for a bonus, what is the second largest private estate in Cornwall?"
"There it is," Brian laughed.
"You're joking," Barbara gasped.
"You didn't know?"
"Why would I?"
"Do you keep her in a jar?" Brian asked Tommy.
"Apparently," Tommy responded, acerbically. All the same, he wrote 'Howenstow' on the paper.
In the end, they won fifty quid and a free round.
Peter's son Alexander was born on Shrove Tuesday, ahead of schedule. The new baby weighed barely half a stone but had ten fingers and ten toes, alert blue eyes, and a head full of sandy hair (which quickly leant a nickname.)
Barbara hadn't been looking forward to Easter at Howenstow, and tried to draw the line at accompanying Tommy to Portsmouth. In the end, she capitulated for a brief weekend holiday.
"Back for work on Tuesday," she reminded him.
Barbara landed in London on Good Friday and was quickly whisked off to a quiet lounge she'd never known existed. Tommy met her there with Judith, Stephanie and her pale boyfriend, Rufus. She'd barely time to start a pint when they were called for their flight.
Daze was already at the house on Hilltop Crescent when they arrived. Barbara smiled to see the usually perfectly coiffed woman with no make-up and a cloth nappy thrown over one shoulder. Daze looked miles more approachable than usual.
Judith stepped forward to embrace her mother. Stephanie quickly followed, bussing her grandmother's cheek.
"Sleeping, thankfully," Daze flashed a tired – but glowing – smile to her eldest as Tommy also leaned over to kiss her.
Rufus nodded as he took up the rear. Peter jogged down the stairs grinning and Tommy quickly embraced him in a heartfelt and uncharacteristic bear hug. "Portia and the baby are well?"
"Perfect!" Peter smiled. "She was amazing, Tommy. Simply amazing! Six hours start to finish, barely enough warning to make it to hospital. It was…" he ran out of adjectives and just held up his hands helplessly, "…amazing!"
"Thank God," Tommy answered, his voice rough with emotion. He tried not to picture Helen. He tried not to think of his own lost son, Jasper. It was Peter's time. Peter's...
As Judith took up the questioning, Barbara slipped her small hand into his. Tommy looked down in surprise. Then he slowly squeezed, feeling her support.
"Come up and meet him," Peter cajoled.
"Yeah?" Barbara whispered.
"Uh," Tommy cleared his throat. "Of course."
He felt the warmth slip away as he followed his sister and brother up to the bedrooms and Barbara lagged behind with Daze, Stephanie and Rufus. They waited their turn in the hallway, listening as Tommy congratulated the new mother and murmured a welcome to baby Sandy.
That night, Barbara and Tommy booked into one of those upscale boutique hotels he favoured ("not enough room at the house," Barbara had translated to mean "not enough privacy".)
"What about you?" he'd asked as they'd tucked into bed.
"You know what I mean."
"No. I mean, I hadn't really thought about it."
He rolled to face her, propping up on one elbow. "Everyone's thought about it."
"Not me. Unless they invent some new way of doing it – it hasn't been a likely possibility in my life, now has it?"
"It is, now," he reminded her.
"No," she scoffed. They were, after all, taking double precautions.
"Could you see me? Not bloody likely. I don't have that mothering gene."
"You're wonderful with Hadi."
"As an honorary aunt, sure."
"It's more than that. You've always fought hardest for children."
She bit her lip. This was one more of those things she couldn't give him that he should have…
Tommy pulled her onto his chest and held her tightly. "All I ask is that you leave the door open, all right?"
"Hmmm," she couldn't give him an answer. In her heart, Barbara just didn't see herself as a mum.
Early next morning, Turner woke her with news that a body found in the Threipmuir Reservoir some weeks back had been identified.
"Someone finally reported her missing," Lee growled. A case like that weighed on everyone. "An aunt up in Darlington who'd been expecting her for the Easter holiday. The victim was Cassandra Stewart, just turned 22. Was working in Newcastle at a shop last the aunt knew, and sharing her flat with a bunch of other girls."
"And none of them noticed her gone?"
"There's no phone number associated with the address. These days, everyone has a mobile, anyway."
"Get the names of her flatmates. Track each one down. Positive identification?"
"Your Tony is checking against dental records now but we've got a preliminary match based on the aunt's description. The birthmarks especially."
Barbara let the sarcastic 'Your Tony' go. "Get SOCA back on the reservoir."
"It's cold, ma'am," he was referring to the time lapsed since the body was found.
"I know. Go with them, get them engaged. I'll be back as soon as possible."
"They've got you as acting senior detective," he grumbled as she rang off with Lee. "Bootstrapping this secondment indefinitely…"
"Just until their other DI gets back from Maternity Leave…"
Tommy held up a hand; he'd heard it before. This was the third excuse Lothian & Borders had given for extending Barbara's assignment but they both knew that she hadn't fought very hard to come back South. She'd sunk her teeth into the experience of running her own show and Shaw had actually turned out to be a supportive guv – albeit one who held on tight to a good thing like Barbara.
"How many active cases are you handling?"
"Four," Barbara admitted. "Including what looks now like two murders."
"Then it's past time. What about Nkata?"
"You need another seasoned investigator on board, Barbara. You can't do it all."
"But…" She considered. "I don't have the authority…"
"Of course you do," he shook his head. "How many times have I called you up over the years? Never take responsibility for anything without the resources to acquit yourself successfully," Lynley advised. "And your credo of 'it's always easier to ask forgiveness than permission' certainly applies when it comes to staffing."
"MY credo?" she lifted her eyebrows.
He lifted his own.
"Yeah, ok," Barbara capitulated.
"Look, it's not like we're overflowing with experienced detectives back at the Yard but right now I'd say your need is most pressing. It's that or risk failure."
Nkata answered on the second ring. "Barbara?"
"I need you moving, Winnie. There's a direct flight to Edinburgh in less than 2 hours."
"No joke. A case that was going cold just got hot. Turner is on-site with the locals, you'll be met at the airport by one of the PC's."
Nkata groaned. "Turner?"
"Treat him well – you're SIO on this one, DS Nkata, until I get there and maybe longer. Not sure how this fits in to another case we're working. Turner will fill you in."
"SIO? Cheers, Barbara! I mean –uh– Acting Inspector Havers."
Barbara grinned. "I'll see you there."
It would be his first lead on a murder. Winston wanted to punch the air with joy. "Right. I'm leaving now."
"Regular updates," she ordered.
Winston was about to ring off when he heard a familiar baritone in the background. He'd know that voice in his sleep. And sometimes in his nightmares. "Give the guv my best, then. Congratulations on the new nephew."
Barbara paused. "Will do."
Tommy rang off with Charlie a moment later. "We're set for the flight out tonight. How did Nkata take it?"
"He's doing cartwheels down the halls as we speak," she acknowledged. "Uh, you're coming to Edinburgh?"
"Since that's where you're going, yes," he closed the lid to his laptop with a finger. "Tomorrow's Easter…"
"And you should be with…"
"You," his deep eyes met hers.
"But your family, and the new baby…"
"Don't," he cut her off. "We've got to be done with this now."
"Done?" she challenged, unsure what he meant but entirely familiar with the tone.
"Relationships can't be built part-time, Barbara."
"Wait a minute, what happened to your big words from last year? Promising that we could go as slow as I wanted?"
"Slow implies progress."
"Pardon me? What about Christmas at Howenstow with the family! Every weekend! Here and… and… talking about babies!"
"Interludes! I want the day-in and day-out. I want share a home – or, at least, a city. I want a life together, Barbara!"
They stared at each other, breathing heavily. The deep vertical lines between their eyes announcing their frustration.
"God," Tommy swore, dragging a hand through his hair.
"It's too much," Barbara told him, her voice an octave softer.
"All of it. I think… I think I need some time."
"Yes, fine," he turned his back to her, looking out the window at hazy Portsmouth morning.
In the quiet, Barbara quickly packed up her few things and left to spend a long, long day sitting in a small airport.
It was late Spring but felt like Autumn in Hawick – blustery, wet wind that crashed branches into windows and an overcast sky that made late afternoon into midnight. The conference table was littered with cables and print-outs and half-finished cups of tea and coffee.
At the end, Nkata stood by the whiteboard and tried to make sense of the snake's nest of information. Turner and Docherty sat with a third DC – Andwell – and checked frame after frame of security videos against photographs of possible suspects.
Barbara looked up at her team with exhausted eyes and accepted that they were all running on empty. "Right," she announced, standing up. "Time for a pint. I'm buying."
With yips of relief, everyone snapped up jackets and umbrellas and made their way down the street to the local. Barbara stopped in shock as her eyes adjusted to the room – there was Tommy and Brian at a table.
Turner pushed past her to join the other men, followed by Stella and the new guy. Finally, she pointed her feet in their direction.
"Making him buy me a round while I'm still here," Brian announced, moving down a seat so Barbara could slip in between him and Tommy.
"What?" Barbara felt the surprise in her blood.
"The divorce is final, now. Bits split, papers signed. Time for a new vista, wouldn't you say?"
"Not another international secondment?"
"Oh, aye," Brian waved his beer. "Kosovo. Executive policing. The 'executive' means more paperwork and less actual policing."
"Kosovo?" Barbara breathed with concern.
"I'll essentially be giving training on police technologies, old girl. No worries."
"When do you leave?"
"About a fortnight, is what they said. Long enough for you to tie off this Aide case, don't you think?"
"That's the million-Euro question around here," Lee sighed. "Another round, sir?"
"No, I've got to get going," Tommy stood. He took a quick, last look at Barbara – the real reason he'd taken the errand of delivering some evidence from Newcastle. Now that he'd seen she was all right – a bit frail looking, but all right – it was time to leave.
Barbara couldn't stop herself from watching him go.
It was a rare brilliant day in the borderlands – deep blue skies, bright ball of sun, grass a stunning green. Nkata huffed as he pulled on his new wellies - which he was no big fan of wearing (like condoms for feet).
The rest of the team was already spread out, following tracks. Like Nkata and herself, they were all carrying short-wave radios and wearing fluorescent vests to protect from being mistaken by hunters.
Cassandra Stewart and Rosemary Costler had been linked – the two women had once been flatmates, and they'd even dated brothers. The one who'd dated Cassandra had been Roald Glover. He had moved on from Cassandra to Sally Holmes. Glover had been the ex-boyfriend who'd 'accidentally' erased the Christmas SMS to Sally.
Unfortunately, they'd discovered it literally a day too late. Sally had been released pending a finding of psychiatric distress and was to have reported to a day treatment program that morning. She'd vanished.
"This guy is a piece of work, yeah?" Winnie winced as he stepped into the muddy field. He loved London and its parks. Loved holidays to picturesque places. But all in all, was not a fan of bugs, bogs, or the feeling he was always about to fall into slippery muck.
Barbara snorted impatiently and led the way down their allotted route. "You think Glover's the mastermind?"
"Come on," Havers chided him to hurry along.
"Right," he gamely caught up. "The forensic accountants certainly have proof enough that the care homes were being siphoned but found nothing of the missing money with any of these girls."
"And that the 'fit' Mrs. Fuchs was having on Christmas Eve was about her missing pin money." It was another piece of the puzzle that had come in only recently as the pensioners had recovered enough for sustained questioning.
But it had been the mud and Barbara's keen eye that broke the case. She'd been reviewing security videos from petrol stations when she'd finally noticed it. An ancient Land Rover with a male driver, cap pulled low, who paid with cash. The interesting bit – only the passenger's side was truly muddy. As though the driver had pulled over onto an embankment, leaving the driver's side on firmer ground.
Like the area where Rosemary had been found.
From there, the case had snowballed. The Land Rover had been traced to Raold's brother except he'd had been working abroad since his break-up with Rosemary.
"Shouldn't dogs be doing this, or something?" Nkata complained as they continued along the tracks.
"Look around you," Barbara shook her head. "Thousands of acres, Winston. Dozens of tracks from hikers, hunters, and just kids out in their parents' all-wheel drive for a jolly. Cook is POLSA with maybe a half-dozen trained coppers available for a search –and that's for the entire district. Everyone's got to help. We're just lucky the weather's holding so we can see the mud trails."
"Oh, lucky indeed," he muttered.
They continued on for another half mile in relative silence. The Land Rover had last been spotted heading down to the field the night before by a pair of lovebirds who'd responded to DCI Shaw's media appeal.
Barbara looked at how the tracks they'd been following split into two fainter sets that headed off on their own. "Uh, you take left and I'll take right. Careful, yeah? Keep your eyes open. If you see anything, report in on the radio."
"Yes, ma'am," he inflected the word so she couldn't tell if he meant to be respectful or tease her for being like a mum. Cheeky bastard.
Twenty minutes later, Winston's shout echoed across the cool, bright fields.
Barbara waved her radio over her head and then pressed 'talk'; "Go ahead, Nkata."
"Over there," he responded, then moving his arm in a wide motion to indicate a dark spot ahead of him.
Barbara and many other volunteers pulled small binoculars up to inspect. Sure enough, it looked like the top of a vehicle parked in a small depression.
"This is Cook. On my way," Brian reported over the channel.
"Docherty as well," Stella announced.
Barbara began jogging through the uneven ground, tripping a bit here and there.
Winston edged a little closer and lifted the radio back to his mouth, "there's a mound next to the car. Everything looks empty."
"Hunting blinds are supposed to look empty," Barbara taunted, a little out of breath as she approached.
"To little woodland creatures, I suppose. But I'm a trained detect…"
The crack of the rifle echoed like thunder over the fields. A sudden commotion as dozens of birds took flight. And then, silence.
"Step aside," Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, Lord Asherton, used a voice that brooked absolutely no argument. The A&E attendant gave way and he pushed past the curtain.
Barbara looked tiny on the hospital bed. His eyes quickly scanned her form for injury – there was a bandage around her ankle, which was lifted by a sling. Splatters of browned blood on her arm. And a small bandage on her forehead. Any other damage was hidden by the patient gown.
"And you are?" the doctor at her side challenged.
"Thomas Lynley, her partner," Tommy gripped the rail tightly.
"Not family, then."
"No," he sighed. "I mean, yes. She hasn't any except an aunt who's in Whales. I'm her family," he whispered. "Her leg? Will she be all right?"
"Absolutely. We think the foot's broken, x-ray will confirm."
"What about the blood?"
"She landed on some rocks and suffered abrasions along her head, side, and to her arm."
"Why isn't she awake?"
"I'm assuming the knock did it, or the shock. It's not a coma, and her brain activity looks good. We'll do a CT in addition to the x-rays to be on the safe side."
"Safe side of what?"
"Swelling to the brain, internal bleeding…" the doctor scanned the chart. "You said you're her partner?"
The inflection was unmistakable. "Yes," Tommy confirmed.
"Then is there any chance she could be pregnant? If so, we'll need to draw and test before radiology. I'd prefer not to delay if we don't need to."
Tommy remembered from Helen's pregnancy about the risks of x-rays. He did the math in his head. "No, she's not."
The attendants arrived to wheel Barbara to the radiology department. "You can wait in the lounge," the doctor advised. "I'll have one of the sisters advise you when they're done."
"Thanks," he dragged his hand through his hair and exhaled slowly. As Tommy turned around, he came face-to-face with DCI Iain Shaw. He knew in a flash that the other man had heard the conversation. His jaw tensed but he kept his expression neutral.
"We've met before," Shaw noted.
"How is she?"
"Unconscious. Broken foot. How's Nkata?"
"They're operating on him now," Shaw indicated the hallway and the two men walked out to the lounge. A small crowd was gathered. Brian Cook stood and joined Shaw and Lynley as they approached.
"What the hell happened out there?" Tommy demanded, barely able to keep his temper under control.
"Apparently, Glover attempted to kill Sally Holmes with a Remington 700 loaded with .458 Winchester Magnums," he held up a baggie with a bloody cartridge over 7cms long. Shaw and Lynley stared at the massive brass ammunition with horror.
"They took this from DS Nkata's shoulder. The rifle is meant for dangerous game hunting, like wild boar," Cook explained. "They're tracking where Glover got it. It appears he heard Havers and Nkata just as he was pulling the trigger and the shot went wild. It passed through Holmes' side and then traveled 10 yards and into Nkata. He is incredibly lucky. They all are."
"You're telling me Holmes is alive?"
"Massive blood loss but hanging in there. The search absolutely saved her life. Nkata's collarbone is broken in three places and the muscles around his should are ripped up but otherwise he'll be fine. He landed on Havers – how is she?"
"Unconscious. They're sorting out why."
"Glover's in custody and not talking but that's neither here nor there – a dozen witnesses converged on the scene. He's sorted."
"Get that cartridge to Evidence immediately," Shaw ordered. "I'll be at Midlothian with the suspect."
Cook nodded and headed out with Docherty playing driver. Shaw turned towards Lynley, "Please keep me posted. If there's anything she needs…"
I hate hospital sympathy, Tommy thought to himself almost idly. "Of course. I'll contact Nkata's mother, as well."
Shaw looked like he was about to argue then thought better of it. He nodded and left.
"Sir?" One of the A&E sisters called. "She's asking for you."
Lynley turned and began jogging down the hall.
He slipped into the room and found her green eyes, huge in her elfin face, locked on him.
"Hiya," she said, a little hoarsely.
"Barbara," he gave her a relieved half-smile.
He pulled a chair over and draped his leather jacket over it before taking a seat near enough to hold her hand. "You saved Sally Holmes' life."
"Hanging in there, though by the look of the shell it's a bloody miracle."
"And Winston. Is he… is he…?"
"He's fine. Broken collarbone."
"Thank God," she breathed. "Nkata's really all right?"
"I promise. You buffered his fall beautifully."
"That's what happened to me?"
"Yes. You have a broken foot and damage from the rocks."
"I imagine so."
She inspected his face – the creases seemed deeper, and there were dark circles under his eyes. "What's with you?"
"My partner gave me a hell of a scare," he sighed, cupping her hand against his cheek. "Though, to be honest, I haven't been sleeping well."
"Me neither," she admitted, feeling the bristles of his five o'clock shadow with her fingertips.
"It's nice to know you haven't been dancing on the bar while I've been twisting in the wind."
"Hardly twisting, I would…"
"Please," he whispered.
"Since you asked like that," she exhaled with a twitch of smile. "Sir."
"I should put you over my knee for that one."
"Just you try," Barbara challenged. Then she glanced down at her leg. "Well, wait a while yet."
He settled back in the chair. "Look…" he cleared his throat. "You and I…that is to say…"
"Perhaps I have been pushing," Tommy confessed. "The thing is, well…I suppose, at my age, perhaps there's been this sense of…of wanting it all to come together."
"What, like a case?"
"Hardly," he rubbed his fingertips into a tired eye and sighed. "This is neither the time nor the place…"
"No," she agreed.
"But I just wanted to say, when I got the call. Christ. I just want you to know, even if we're in a disagreement…"
"I love you, Barbara."
She swallowed, loudly. Lying in a hospital cot, foot in traction, bandages itching and sodding Thomas frigging Lynley announces he loves her?! Bastard!
"I've pushed again," he realized.
"A bit," her head was beginning to throb.
He nodded to himself and stood. "I'll be…" Tommy pulled on his jacket and tried to think of a way to end the sentence. "…Back." It was lame but it would do. He shot out of the room, out the hall, and out the door to the parking lot.
"Havers?" Deputy Commissioner Hillier stuck his head around the door.
"Sir!" Barbara struggled to sit up straighter.
He waved away her efforts and took a seat. "How are you?"
"Fine, really. Just another couple of days of traction and then it'll be a moonboot and back to work for me."
"Well, don't rush things. I've said as much to Nkata. We want you at 100%."
"You've heard about the commendation?"
"Yes. Thank you."
"No, thank you. Because of your call, a young woman's life was saved and a proper result was made on the Aide case."
"I know you've had an offer? Permanent transfer to Scotland?"
"Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. If it's all the same."
"They knew it was doubtful you'd accept," Hillier shrugged. "What about another temporary secondment?"
"I think I'd just like to come back to the Met, if it's all the same."
"That's exactly where you're most needed - though it appears you're awfully popular at the moment." He looked around at the many bouquets of flowers.
"Oh, and thank you for yours,' Barbara gamely smiled, trying to remember which it was.
"Don't mention it," Hillier didn't know, either. His secretary had been the one to order them. "This is also for you."
Barbara looked at the document the AC was holding out with confusion before accepting it and reading it. She couldn't help the smile that stretched her lips, or the blush heating her cheeks.
"Detective Inspector Havers. Has quite a ring to it, yes?"
"Thank you, sir!" Barbara reached across the bedrail and shook Hiller's hand awkwardly.
"Congratulations. I'm excited about your future; you are a fine detective, Havers." He surprised himself with the truth of it. Once upon a time, he'd worked to have her implode by partnering Havers with Lynley. Instead, it had been the making of the two of them. He gave himself no little credit for that.
"Thanks," Barbara breathed again, watching Hillier excuse himself in a daze.
"Barbara? "Brian stood in the doorway, staring at his frazzled friend.
"Was that DC Hillier? Pretty far from New Scotland Yard, isn't he?"
Barbara nodded, her eyes shining with delight.
He sat down. "What's up, then?"
"I've got my pips."
"You have? That's wonderful! Congratulations," he leaned over to squeeze her hand.
She didn't move.
"Why do I have the feeling that I'm more excited about this than you are?"
"Never mind, Detective Inspector Havers," he taunted. In a flash of insight, Brian knew that he wasn't the person with whom she'd want to be sharing the moment. He went in search of Lynley.
He didn't have to go far.
"She's got some news," Brian told Tommy in the hallway.
"From Hillier? What is it?"
With an exasperated sigh, Lynley pushed himself from the wall and crossed over to Barbara's room.
Her smile was incandescent. "I've got my pips!"
"About time!" he reached for her and Barbara wrapped her arms around his neck. "Detective Inspector Havers!"
"Yes, Detective Inspector Lynley?"
"I'm proud, Barbara. Well done."
She felt the sting of tears and pulled him closer. There was no way to explain how much his words meant to her.
Although he was bent awkwardly over the bedrail, Tommy didn't break the embrace. Nothing in the world could pull him from her side.
In the next week, the dust settled. Barbara and Tommy watched on the telly in her hospital room as Shaw and Hillier gave an interesting joint press conference that revealed the results of the last months of Barbara's life: the calculated neglect of the pensioners, the siphoning of monies, the murders, the arrest of Roald Grover and the ongoing investigation into the care home.
Once she was released, Tommy helped pack up her things and they road by rail home to London. Charlie met them at the station and helped transition everything into the Bristol before heading off on his own.
It was a loaded question. "Chalk Farm," she answered.
Tommy didn't argue – he'd been expecting it. They didn't talk as he drove. Or even as he'd helped Barbara into her flat and then fetched her bags.
"Your plants have come back to life," he broke the silence, indicating the bit of wilderness by the bay window. Azhar had stepped in. Under his green thumb, Barbara's lounge had become a mini-arboretum.
"He's a miracle worker," she agreed.
Tommy swallowed back his jealousy and put on the kettle.
"We should talk," she ventured, softly.
"Yes, please," He brought two mugs over and settled himself in the small armchair facing Barbara on the sofa. "I don't want to lose you, Barbara."
"I don't want to lose you, either," she promised.
"I can practice more patience," he offered. "But I need to know we're going in the same direction."
"Why do we have to be going anywhere?" she wondered. . "I like how we are. I like the spaces between us. Maybe I spent too much of my life alone to be comfortable living together…"
The silence fell between them like a rock. Tommy and Barbara stared at each other.
"Do you blame me? For wanting us settled and secure? For wanting more of you, for wanting a life with you?"
"No," she breathed. "I don't blame you. I just wish... I just wish I could give it to you. But I don't know how."
"It's not that bloody difficult…"
"It's impossible!" she corrected him, adamantly. "Tommy, women come in a certain model for you and I'm not it. Whatever you say," she forestalled his argument. "Listen, yeah? This is about me. I don't fit in that domestic image you've got. I want to be in the job. I need to be. I hate cocktail parties. I'm shit at shopping and decorating and most things domestic. And that's where your road leads. Me freezing in a fancy flat while you save the world and miss supper. No, Tommy. Just… no.""
"That is ridiculous." Barbara's injury obviously had her feeling fragile and unreasonable. "We'll talk about it later, when you're feeling better."
Before she could say another word, he was on his way home to Hammersmith.
"Thank you," Deborah St. James smiled at the maitre d' as she dropped into a chair across from Tommy. Due to the rare un-London-like warmth of the early June evening, Lynley had requested a private balcony tables that was open to the sky. Deb's smile was appreciative.
"In the lobby. Work call," she rolled her eyes. A few moments later, the man himself joined them and they ordered. Tommy had the Moyallon veal chop; Simon and Deborah some vegetable kebab things and Orkney scallops. They discussed work, politics and friends in common over cocktails. The discussed Peter's growing family and Deborah's father's health over starters. When the main courses arrived, they fell silent and enjoyed the food. Feeling mellow, Tommy ordered a tawny port to finish. Deborah had the Château Partarrieu. A cheese plate sat between them, untouched.
"I'll need to do an extra round of cardio tomorrow morning to pay for this," Deborah murmured after a sip of her wine, showing no regret.
"I'll simply use money," Tommy teased.
"We're neither of us getting younger," she argued, a pointed glance at his crow's feet.
"Now, children," Simon groaned, oldest of the three.
"How goes the new flat?" Deborah asked.
"Coming along, I should think. The last of the furniture is due from storage. The French oak - do you remember it?"
"The Henri II? Didn't Peter carve his name into one of the headboards?"
"Yes. And I noticed that he wasn't the first. I've discovered dear old dad's name along a side rail."
"You're joking!" Deborah's nose wrinkled with pleasure. "So how are the plans for Ascot? Is Judith doing the whole season for them, do you think?" Deborah asked.
"Lord, I hope not. If Rufus wants a Sloane Ranger or whatever the hell they're called now, he can bloody well find another girl's coattails to ride."
"Tommy," Deborah chided. "Give the boy a chance."
"Please. Stephanie hated Ascot both times we took her. The second time, Mother practically fled in frustration."
"I remember that - it was sleeting, for God's sake," Simon pointed out.
"So Stephanie is besotted and, perhaps, showing off a bit for her the young man. But you've said they are both maintaining honors in their studies and according to Judith, he's got a future."
"We'll see," he made the point with a sweep of his snifter before taking another swallow.
"So, back to Barbara."
"Oh, Tommy," the 'what have you done now' Deborah left unsaid.
"Let me ask you; was I such a horrid husband?"
"Yes," she answered promptly. Almost emphatically.
"Take your time to think it over!" Tommy sputtered. He looked to Simon for aid but the other man held up a hand that clearly said 'I'm with her.'
Tommy paused. "Yes."
"Balford-le-Nez," Deborah said simply.
It was a body blow, and he recoiled. "That was…"
"Work?" she finished for him.
Their eyes locked and suddenly Tommy knew, knew, that somehow Deborah was aware that he had been the one to ring Webberly from his honeymoon, hunting for his missing Havers. That he'd been the one to offer to travel to Balford. That Barbara's temporary assignment to Emily Barlow at Balford CID had sent him into a small panic. And if Deborah knew, that meant… Helen had known. Tommy rubbed his cheek roughly, shame and confusion pressing into him. "That was work," he repeated.
"You've said," Deborah agreed mildly.
"I never meant to hurt her," Tommy swore, trying to remember the exact lines of Helen's face. The exasperated smile that she saved just for him.
"Of course you didn't. You loved her. And she loved you, too, Tommy. I've never seen her so happy as after you'd reconciled. "
After Helen had the lost the baby, and disappeared. And Barbara had been shot, and Tommy had spent days pacing hospital corridors. After Helen had recuperated at her sister's, alone, while Barbara had recuperated at a retreat centre with Tommy not 45 minutes down the road waiting for her at Howenstow. He didn't want to look at his actions. He didn't want to see any of it. Tommy closed his eyes for a long moment.
"I'm not having an affair with her!" He'd shouted at Helen once. "I sometimes wish you were!" She'd shouted back.
"What's this about, Tommy?" Simon accepted a small cup of coffee from the server with a polite nod.
"Uh…" he looked away, up at the stars for a moment. Gathered his thoughts.
"Barbara's pegged you as bad husband material?" Deborah asked, a little teasingly.
"Something like that, yes," he admitted, huskily.
"You'll sort it," Simon assured his old friend.
Tommy gave them a terrifically frightening attempt at a smile. "We'll see."
Barbara remained on leave into the following week. On Tuesday, Tommy found a dinner invitation from her in his voice mail after an endless conference. He arrived in Chalk Farm promptly at half-seven with flowers and a bottle of wine.
Hadi had spent some of her afterschool hours visiting and together the girls had managed rice, kebabs, and some sort of curry. All surprisingly edible. All, Barbara had confessed, from a beginner's cookbook she'd ordered over the internet.
Tommy appreciated the effort a spot more than the product, but the whole of it – including the candles on the table – touched him deeply.
Finally, they settled on the sofa with Barbara's moonboot up on a small hassock.
"Did you get the news? Michelle Tate's taken Acting AC of Security Command."
"I knew she was leaving but Security Command? Security's proactive and crime directorate totally reactive. That's a quite a switch."
It always impressed him, how quick Barbara was. "She'll have an uphill climb, I should imagine."
"And now, what? You've been offered the job?" she ventured.
"How'd you guess?"
"You stepped in after Webberly, didn't you? But then you said you didn't want to leave the field."
"Yes." Tommy exhaled. He wasn't used to making his thoughts transparent – not to Barbara, not to Helen, not even to Deborah or Simon. It hadn't been until just this moment that it occurred to him that the conversation was in order. "You're right. I have a decision to make. And I want to discuss it with you."
That surprised her, he could see.
"What's going on?" She asked, giving him her full attention.
"You know the shortages. They won't have two DI's in the same Murder Investigation Team. The Met just doesn't have that kind of depth of field. Hell, these days a MIT is lucky to have even one DI on the team; it's becoming more civilians and recent graduates by the day. If we want to work together then changes must be made."
She opened her mouth to argue, then shut it. Their maneuvering to protect their partnership went back to the beginning. It had always been assumed that wherever he was, she would be. This, then, was just Tommy making it obvious. "Right," she answered. "But I have to think that me in the field and you as A/AC isn't exactly 'working together' unless you mean the same building."
"Ah, but DCI's are still SIO's. I wouldn't be utterly desk-bound."
"DCI? So you'd take over the MIT? But haven't you been doing that already?"
"In an acting capacity. It's saved me from the worst of the administrative drudgery. But if I step forward to accept it officially, we can continue to work together for some time."
Barbara's cheeks dimpled as she held back a bit of a giggle.
"This is funny?"
"It's a bloody riot. Poor you, made DCI against his will for the sake of..."
"Have your laugh, Havers."
"And when I make DCI, your flimsy excuse for taking AC will be…?"
Her optimism was exhilarating. He suddenly remembered her, appearing at Simon and Deborah's wedding in that egregiously oversized pantsuit and staring daggers at him with those sparkling eyes. Tommy felt a surge of satisfaction that he'd spent the last ten years on this journey with Barbara. That they stood as keepers to so many of each other's experiences. "Barbara…" he said, softly. Seriously.
"Yes," the smile slipped from her face.
"Each time we've had this kind of conversation, it's gone badly," he cleared his throat. "But I'd like to try again."
He stood up and poured himself a nightcap. Took a long swallow. "You were right. I handled being married poorly. I handled many things poorly…" he dragged a hand through his hair, unable to articulate the guilt he carried at his failure. "So let's just say that based on prior actions, I don't blame you for being cautious."
"No, that's not what I meant. You expect a certain kind of woman and…"
"I'm in love with you, Barbara."
She stared at him, struck silent.
"In my 20's, I spent a long time in love with a woman who clearly wasn't in love with me and it wrecked me. It's what, in fact, brought Helen and I together in the first place. And now I'm terrified that it's happened again."
"I'm asking. Because the rest of this? The decorating, the living where, the future, family? We can handle it. We can handle anything. Together, we've proved pretty unbeatable. So I have to believe we can handle this, too. That is, if you feel the same." He put down his drink. And waited.
She looked at his face and checked her heart. It was inconceivable to her that he didn't know. For years, Barbara had been following him around like a baby chick imprinted on the first thing it sees – how could he not know? "Does it need saying? We're English."
"We're human," he corrected, his pulse racing. "It needs saying."
"I…" she cleared her throat. "I love you, too."
He could tell by the rough sandpaper of her voice that it had been a long time since she'd said those words to anyone. He cupped her jaw in his hand and grinned, his eyes crinkling with pleasure. "Good."
"I love you," she repeated.
Tommy lifted her up against him and kissed her, hard. It was their first kiss in a month and felt like an explosion. "Yes," he groaned, reaching for her shirt.
"Oof," she answered as she twisted her body into his. "My arm. My foot."
"You broken thing," he leaned away in frustration. "I suppose a rain check is in order?"
"Just, maybe, a bed?" she countered.
"Absolutely!" He reached out his arms and helped her up, and together they hobbled to the bedroom.
Haver's new office was two doors down from Lynley's old office and half the size. There was barely room for the desk and chairs but it did boast a sliver of a view the Thames - if one stood on tiptoes. Which she did, as often as possible.
It was glorious.
Nkata – in a bright blue sling – and Turner had been standing in the hallway waiting on her when she'd arrived.
"What do you have?" she demanded, exhausted with only a few hours sleep. She accepted Turner's coffee offering with a flash of gratitude and settled in.
"Good morning to you, too, Detective Inspector," Nkata grinned.
"And to you, Detective Sergeant," she couldn't help but roll her eyes. More than a week back at the Met and Winnie was still having a grand time with the new titles.
They'd caught their first murder case the day before. A retired copper, so pressure was high. Lynley was taking a lot of heat for a quick result.
"Right. There's a special-needs preschool along the path from the tube stop to the park where the body was found. One of the children there has a kind of autism. All he does all day is look out the window and write down the number plates of cars."
"They've already looked through the security video…"
"Sure," Turner interrupted. "But get this, the kid writes down ALL the reg numbers – even off cars that only drop or pick people up."
"Which aren't caught on the cameras because of the angles," Nkata explained. "He's wizard this kid – give him any date and time and he can just list these things off."
Turner pulled out his Smartphone, thumbing through until he got the right picture and handed it over to Barbara. "It's the reg off a cab that dropped a fare off not two blocks from the park just minutes before the murder."
"Good work," she breathed, pleased. "Now you should…"
"Track down the driver," Nkata finished for her. "We're on it."
Like two kids pleased with some new treasure or toy, the men quickly left to follow up on their lead. Barbara smiled after them, proud of the successful team they'd created.
"Hiya," she stood in the doorway to his flat. "Forgot my key."
"Hello," he exhaled, reaching for her.
Like a zombie, she stepped into his arms and let him hold her closely. She breathed in the faint smell of him – the very soft musky scent of expensive aftershave and just him. It was the scent of the Bristol. It was the scent of his bed pillow. It was the scent of his suit jackets, especially those he draped over her shoulders to ward off a chill. It was the scent of his favorite armchair. It was the scent of his bathrobe, hung on the back of the bathroom door.
Barbara couldn't stop her eyes from watering. She squeezed them tight and buried her face in his chest and felt his hand against the back of her head, his fingers sifting through her hair.
"Here, now," he whispered at her, not understanding. "Here, now, what's wrong?"
Barbara shook her head, unable to speak.
Tommy kissed her forehead before resting his cheek against her. "It's all right. Whatever it is. We'll make it all right," he tied to soothe her.
Barbara inhaled a shaky, gasping breath and tried to control her tears but couldn't.
Tommy kicked the door shut with his foot and just continued to hold her. Rubbed her back slightly.
After she seemed to have let it all out, he tipped her head back to look into her jade eyes. "What's this about?"
"Hadi and Azhar…"
"Are they all right? What's happened?"
"They're emigrating. To Canada. He's taken a position at McGill."
"Now," she rubbed her cheeks with the palms of her hands, suddenly embarrassed. "They want him next week, for the Michaelmas term."
"That's rather sudden, isn't it?"
"There was some kind of cancellation, I don't know," she exhaled in a gust. "They're leaving this weekend. I don't know… I don't know if they'll be back," Barbara couldn't hold back the return of her tears.
"Oh, Barbara," Tommy was helpless to be of any use. With a sigh, he simply gathered her close and stroked her hair until she let it all out. "Come in," he finally urged. "Stay the night. Things will look better in the morning, all right?"
They wouldn't but Barbara nodded anyway, and let him lead her to bed.
It was a chilly rain that forced them to run for the door. Barbara waited while Tommy shook the water from the umbrella to let them in. Once upstairs, they divested themselves of overcoats and sodden shoes. He grabbed a couple of towels and tossed one to her.
"Want me to put on the kettle?"
"Yeah," she agreed, heading to the master bedroom. "I'm soaked through."
Thirty minutes later, she was in her warmest muftis with hands curled around a steaming cuppa at the farmhouse table.
Barbara nodded. Once they were dried off and settled at the table, she launched into an update of the copper's murder. "It's looking more and more like the girlfriend," she explained. "Remember last year, when the victim was given instructions where to go only once he was in the taxi?"
"Yes – the Lawford case."
"Right. Same M.O. here – he received several quick calls from a disposable mobile and relayed the instructions to the driver."
"Do you think the cases are somehow connected?"
"No," she sipped her tea. "Though Turner's tracking it down, just in case."
When she fell silent, Tommy reached out and tugged her fingers to get her attention.
He slid a small box across the table. "Happy Anniversary. Very early."
"Anni…?" Barbara lifted the lid slowly, nervously. Exhaling in relief, she pulled a metallic key fob from the velvet. Barbara flipped it over and gave an unladylike snort of laughter. It was a touristy etching of Versailles.
He took it from her gently, and produced her old key ring that just he'd filched from her coat pocket. One by one, he moved her keys over to the new ring. Then, deliberately, he'd added a shiny pair that were clearly duplicates to the flat. "No more forgetting," he announced, sliding the set over.
Barbara fingered the fob with a delicate finger. Leave it to Lynley to turn a gift into a point.
He was standing alone at the bar when she spotted him. "Tommy? I was hoping to find you!"
"Isabelle Ardery," he met her smile. "How are you?"
"Fine. Great, in fact," she signalled for a pint.
They'd met during his months of grief, when he'd wandered Cornwall in a stupor and happened to fall on case. Isabelle had been SIO and she'd been kind enough to let him help a bit. There had been some drunken flirting and a bit of drunken kissing that had ended with his hasty retreat back to London. He hadn't seen her since. "So what's new?"
"Well, I heard a rumour that the Met was handing out DCI appointments to just anyone, " she grinned. "So I decided it was time to make the move."
"I met with Evans and Hillier this morning, then spent the rest of the day interviewing staff. I think the most they gave me is a DC with two years under his belt."
"It will loosen up. With all the events coming next summer, there will be funds to get some proper detectives."
"Not soon enough," she sighed. "Care to let me buy you a drink in return for some pointers? Maybe I could even talk you into lending me some of your people?"
Tommy dug his card out of his wallet and slid it over to her. "Perhaps tomorrow, at the office?"
Barbara froze as she began making her way from the door. Tommy was standing next to a gorgeous woman who was making cow eyes at him. Then she took a breath and reminded herself that most women made cow eyes at Lynley sooner or later. And infidelity had never been one of his failings.
"Barbara," Tommy called.
"Sorry," she apologized for running late.
"I only just got here myself," Tommy assured her as his hand drifted to the small of her back. "Isabelle, this is Barbara Havers. Barbara, meet Isabelle Ardery, the Met's newest DCI. She's out to poach staff, so be warned."
"Absolutely," Barbara smiled and shook the other woman's hand.
Isabelle had heard of Barbara Havers – who hadn't? Said to be brilliant but insubordinate, obstinate, slavishly loyal to Lynley, and prickly as a hedgehog. However, the fresh-faced woman in front of her wearing smart slacks and a pretty green jacket seemed nothing like that paragon. Huh.
"Welcome, then," Barbara added politely. "Are you new to London?"
"I was at college here, once upon a time. But since then, I've been with Truro CID."
"Cornwall? So you know each other from there?"
"Yes," Tommy finished his pint.
"Right," Barbara caught his mood. "It was nice to meet you. I'm sure we'll meet again."
"I'm sure," Isabelle echoed as the couple left.
At the flat, Tommy carried a bag of takeaway to the table while Barbara fetched the glasses and wine. "It's good to be home," he exhaled, dropping into a chair. "When was the last time we had a leave day in common?"
"And whose fault is that?"
"Stop that," he scolded. She was right, he'd been inundated with getting up to speed on all the MIT's open cases and the never-ending paperwork.
"Oh, this will cheer you up," she handed him the bottle to pour. "Did I tell you they found Turner's stolen hire car?"
"You're joking! It's been, what?"
"I'd say seven months," she calculated. "He took her to Hogmanay, and she nicked it a couple of months later."
"Who, the thief?"
"I remember now, it was a woman scorned – wasn't it? So all this time he knew who took it but couldn't find it. And we call this man a detective?"
"Calling Lee Turner a man is already stretching things," she laughed. "The problem was lack of anything resembling evidence. I can't begin to tell you the hours he put into looking for that car."
"I thought all hire cars had a satnav location device these days."
"Two, in fact. Both disabled somehow."
"Was the woman a mechanic?"
"No, but her brother was."
"So where did they find it, the car?"
"This is my favorite part – in the car park behind Hawick station."
"They reckon it was pushed in over the grass to avoid the CCTV. Parked in the farthermost stall with muddied plates. It was there for days before anyone noticed. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but it was Lee's birthday last week."
"I'm impressed, too," she took a bite of her pasta and her eyes lit up with pleasure. "SOCO says the whole car had been wiped clean of prints – down to the oil stick thing and the rims. They're even having a challenge with the Edinburgh SOCO tomorrow, who claim that Hawick must have missed something."
"This isn't exactly good publicity," Tommy groaned.
"It's all a bit of fun," she took a swallow of her wine. "Speaking of which…"
"That commendation for Turner on our retired copper? He was the one who got the evidence that broke the case; he really found a way to connect with that autistic boy. And after this thing with the stolen car, he'll need something good to balance."
"I've already made the notation in his file."
"Thanks. Oh, and I have something for you," she rummaged in her bag and passed him an envelope.
He opened it and had to read twice before it sank in. "You're going to Paris?"
"We are. But only if you want to. And only for a long weekend. Brian said the hotel was good…" she said, suddenly very nervous about the whole thing.
"It's lovely," Tommy confirmed.
"You've been there?"
"It's fairly well known. How did you…?"
"A small compensation cheque from the injury. Charlie helped me find the deal on the internet."
"Thanks," Barbara blushed. "I've never been, well, I've never been anywhere, really, so…"
"So let's go," he reached across the table and squeezed her hand. "If I'd known you were interested in traveling, I would have taken you."
"Let's see how this trip goes, first. Then, maybe, Canada?"
"All right," Tommy smiled and read over the reservation listing a third time. Then he noticed the date. "Wait, so you're taking me to Paris for our Versailles anniversary?"
This time, he stood and pulled her up into a tight hug. "Brilliant," he whispered in her ear, before kissing her.
"I thought so," she smiled, and kissed him back.
Isabelle Ardery rang the bell. The residential neighborhood had a lively feel to it but absolutely no parking on a Friday afternoon. She'd had to walk several blocks.
Lynley answered in his shirtsleeves. "Isabelle?" he stepped back to let her in.
"I wanted to make sure you got it before you left," she handed Tommy an envelope with some files he'd forgotten at the office.
"Come in," he invited, heading down the hall past the formal reception and dining rooms and into the open plan lounge and kitchen at the back.
"I don't want to keep you."
"Not at all," Tommy glanced at his watch. He poured her cup from the pot.
Isabelle wandered around, admiring the comfortable, modern room as Tommy flipped through the papers she'd brought. He signed his name with bold strokes of his gold pen on several lines and then began bundling the papers back into the folder.
Isabelle noticed a line of matted photographs mounted over the buffet and leaned in to get a closer look. "These are Joe Cornish!"
"You know the photographer?"
"I have one of his prints, as well. It's of Howenstow, actually," she flashed him an abashed smile.
"I might know the one," he responded wryly. "These were gifts from the family for my last birthday."
"It's a gorgeous collection. The place looks familiar," she pointed to the middle frame.
"It's Scotland, at least according to some renegade sheep I once met."
"Sorry, bit of an inside joke. That was a gift from Barbara; it was the start of the collection."
At that moment, small feet exited one of the doors down the hall and the woman herself emerged, in snug jeans and a comfortable cashmere pullover. She stopped in surprise to find herself facing Isabelle. "Hello?"
"Poppet," Tommy called, a dimple showing in his cheek. "Look who stopped by with that file."
Isabelle had taken approximately one second to clock the situation. "Hello, Barbara."
"Hello," she attempted a welcoming smile. Failed.
Tommy handed the folder back to Isabelle. "I appreciate the favor."
"Think nothing of it. So…Paris?"
"Anniversary trip," Tommy explained, leading her back to the door.
"Well, I hope you both have a lovely time," Isabelle flashed an incredibly artificial smile and lifted her hand in a wave as she let herself out.
Barbara stared at Tommy with lifted eyebrows as he shook his head, denying all responsibility for what had just happened. When the bell rang again a few moments later, she shot him a look that said 'That better not be another woman.'
It was Charlie. "Thank God it's you," She stepped back and let him in.
"Who else would it be, ma'am?"
"Never mind," Barbara smiled at Tommy as Charlie fetched their luggage.
Although the she'd been the one to make the reservation and pay for everything, the hotel had not come by its stars lightly. "Bonjour Monsieur le Comte d'Asherton; bonjour Mademoiselle Havers," the manager greeted them.
"Hello," Tommy put his arm around Barbara. "We're expected?"
"Yes, of course," the man took the hint and responded in flawless English. They were registered in record time.
The room was, in a word, breathtaking. Two balconies overlooking the Louvre, a sitting room with oversized couches, and two bathrooms. Barbara ran around giddily, thrilled.
"You upgraded us!" She accused, literally hopping into the large closet.
"I didn't do a thing; I swear."
"The flowers?" She sniffed the bouquet of massive roses.
"All right, that was me," he admitted, grabbing her arm and pulling her into a hug. "Happy?"
"Yes," she leaned in and kissed him.
"Then while I'm on a roll…" he reached into his pocket and pulled out two rings. "Happy anniversary."
"Tommy," Barbara inhaled, stricken.
He'd had them reworked from an oversize family ring that, according to Daze, had been considered ugly even when it had been created. The designer had cast two rings out of the heirloom gold – the woman's version set horizontally with one of the Lynley emeralds.
"I'm sorry," he said, holding the rings out to her in the palm of his hand. "I know you often feel like I'm pressuring you."
"I'm all right," she breathed. And, surprisingly, she was. "But are you, I mean, is this you proposing?"
"Would it be all right if I was?" he asked. "Because this never goes well for us."
"Maybe Paris will bring us better luck."
He led her to the bed and they perched on the edge. His innate confidence slowly rebooted, and he took a deep breath. "I intended for this to be a proposal for a proposal. Actually, I would have proposed this time last year. Just skipped the dating and the arguing and moved right into Hammersmith with you."
"There was no Hammersmith this time last year."
"Details," he shrugged.
That got a quick smile out of her, and it was like a bolt of caffeine to his chest. "Say you'll marry me, Barbara. If not this instant, then some day. Say yes to the life we're building together."
"I bloody hate being afraid when we argue that'll you walk out the door and it will be days, maybe weeks, before we're together again. I hate double-guessing myself when I make plans whether you'll join me. I want our lives to be our lives. I want to wake up with you," he exhaled, loudly. "This past winter, I dreaded Mondays. Dreaded having to go back to this life that used to be solitary but then became, so obviously, one that simply missing you."
Sometimes, a person can be smart enough to know when they're happy. To know when to take a leap of faith. Sometimes, the right answer comes easy instead of hard. Barbara Havers had not had a lot of those moments in her life.
But this was one of them.
She shocked Tommy by taking the larger ring and slipping it on his finger. Wiping her eye with the back of her hand, she nodded. "Yes."
Thomas Lynley's heart burst. His pulse thudded as he made a fist, felt the metal on his skin. He'd expected to show her the wedding rings, not to actually wear them anytime soon. There was no way now he'd ever take it off. "Just to be absolutely clear… you did just say yes?"
"Yes." She felt herself completely capitulate. Like jumping out of a plane.
Tommy pushed the other ring onto her shaking hand then pulled her close to his chest. "Thank you," he whispered reverently. "About damn time. And thank you."
She snaked her arms around his neck and braved his eyes. "You're welcome."
He leaned in and kissed her, gently.
"But, just to be clear…"
He kissed her again.
"No, really, I can't wear…"
"Yes, you can. For the rest of our lives, no arguments…" he kissed her again.
"No," he was emphatic. He kissed her deeply, tasting her, pulling her closer.
"And we have to wait…"
"For nothing," he argued, leaning past her and brushing their luggage and their belongings off the bed.
"I mean about any kind of wedd…" She fell on top of the bed with his push, half-surprised and half-laughing.
He dropped on top of her, unyielding, and kissed the smile off her face. "I hate weddings. No wedding," he dismissed, taking a quick breath.
"We'll give notice and do a civil ceremony at the register office."
He leaned a little away from her body and arched his eyebrows.
"Good," she agreed. "But what about your mother?"
"Let's leave my mother out of this, shall we?" Barbara groaned as he found that spot between her neck and shoulder. The one that made her arch uncontrollably. "I just want you to think 'honeymoon'," he directed. "We'll practice here, then go there. Not Canada. Think very warm, very naked, and no mobiles. There's a place in Caribbean…"
"Under no circumstances can I be called…"
"Anything you damn well please," he pull her shirt over her head.
"Our lives, our rules," he kissed the skin just about the front clasp of her bra. She wiggled at the sensation, trying to get free and have a proper conversation.
He pinned her hand over her head and kissed her again, thoroughly. Then he twined his fingers with hers, until their rings clanged together. "Just give it a bloody rest," he whispered, pressing their hands into the mattress and his body into hers. "I love you, Barbara Havers."
She lifted her free hand to his thick hair. Felt another tear escape from the corner of her eye. "I love you, too. But…"
And then he silenced her again.