So this is the last chapter - sort of. It's 'suitable for all' but if you want the 'with added smut' version you'll have to ask for it I'm afraid. If I included it here, I'd have to change the rating of the whole story to 'M' which means it would disappear from the main page. Send me a PM which includes your email address (spelt out phonetically - i.e. d and m at hotmail dot com) and I'll send you the Word file under brown paper wrapper ;-)

Chapter 26

On A Cold Dark Winter's Night

REO Speedwagon – Can't fight This Feeling (1984)

And I can't fight this feeling anymore.
I've forgotten what I started fighting for.
It's time to bring this ship into the shore,
And throw away the oars, forever.

Whilst Dempsey slowly ate the remaining marshmallows, Harry sipped at her hot chocolate.

He watched her for a moment out of the corner of his eye. He could barely keep his hands off her! How was he supposed to get through the rest of the night? Maybe he should just make an excuse, plead a headache and go to bed.

"Very good," Harry said, pointing at her drink. "Really, very good."

She was playing it like she hadn't felt the electricity that had threatened to fry them both alive just then. But no, he wasn't being fair on her; she was fully aware of her feelings, he'd made her feel awkward by pulling back like he had.

"The Brandy was a good idea," she carried on. "I'll bet Cointreau would work well too… or a coffee liqueur possibly. That would be like mocha, wouldn't it? I suppose the possibilities are endless when you think about it…"

She ground to a halt.

Dempsey couldn't help her, he was wound up too tight to make any sense.

"Guess it's all good," he managed.

They sat drinking their chocolate in silence for a time, the tension between them palpable.

"You gonna do somethin' with that?" Dempsey asked finally, eyeing the skewer Harry had been holding all this time.

Wordlessly, she thrust it forward into the fire but almost instantly it caught alight. "Blast!"

Quickly transferring his mug over, Dempsey's right hand shot out, grabbing Harry's hand and keeping hold of it as he pulled back from the flames.

"Keep it moving," he said quietly as he calmly blew the sizzling flames out.

Lowering their joined hands back to the fire, his grip didn't loosen.

"Just gotta keep turnin'."

It only took a few more seconds and they were done. Dempsey drew back, releasing his hold on Harry at the same time.

"I'm ahh…" he ruffled his fingers through his hair. "I'm gonna get goin' in the morning."

He couldn't look at her, just kept on staring into the flames even though she was now looking at him openly.

"Going?"

He shuffled uncomfortably. "Yeah, might as well."

"Why?" she asked steadily despite the fact that her throat had tightened up almost painfully.

"Not like I ain't fit to take care of myself now, ya know. I should be home."

Harry turned away and looked down at the row of slightly charred marshmallows.

"If that's what you want," she said pleasantly.

"It's what I want is the problem," he mumbled.

The fire crackled loudly as a lump of wood was dislodged, drawling both their attention.

"I don't think I follow."

"I just… I just need to go, okay?"

When she didn't answer, he risked a glance in her direction. The firelight cast a translucent glow over her skin and drew a dark, hazy outline around her.

"Is it something I've done?"

He laughed at that, a raw, desperate sound that jarred Harry's nerves.

"What?" she asked with a nervous smile.

"See, you don't get it, Princess," he tossed out with a dismal air. "Yes, it's somethin' you've done… something you're gonna keep right on doin' 'til I screw up the whole show!"

"You're really not making much sense you know."

"This was a mistake. Shoulda stayed another couple nights in the hospital."

"Thanks!" she cried, hurt and oddly panicked by his attitude towards her.

Dempsey shook his head. "I didn't mean it that way, Harry." He looked into her eyes. "Just the opposite."

"Well forgive me for reading more than I should into, 'I should have stayed another couple of night in hospital'," she said with high pitched sarcasm. "Maybe you'd care to enlighten me." She threw down the marshmallow skewer angrily.

Rather alarmingly, when Harry turned to confront him, Dempsey appeared to be just as angry.

"You want enlightenment?" he said with a strange fury flashing hotly in his eyes. "I'll show you enlightenment!"

He lunged towards her, abruptly dragging her against him with one arm whilst his hand fastened to the back of her head, securing her tightly in place as his mouth mashed against hers.

Instinctively she resisted him but he held fast and instead she found herself melting into acquiescence. The hands which had been flailing at his back slowly curved up around his shoulders until she was clinging just as tightly and the acquiescence had become participation.

It was a surprise to Dempsey, both the fact that he hadn't yet been beaten severely about the head and that Harry was (as far as he could tell) enjoying the experience as much as he was.

Her lips felt exquisitely tender; soft and full and as his tongue foraged hesitantly beyond, he was invited to taste the sweet darkness of her mouth. There was no thrust and parry, no forceful, muscular battle – their tongues melded easily together without the rough urgency of an ill-considered liaison.

For Dempsey's part, he had lived this moment in his mind over and over; had lost himself in this innocent, perfect fantasy a thousand times. Maybe what his mind had concocted as a run on to this wasn't quite so chaste but he wasn't pretending to be a saint.

It was the would-be saint who broke the kiss, leaving the angel starry-eyed and stupefied.

"Tryin' to think up an excuse and make some kind of apology but seenin' as my cajones are still intact, I figure maybe you're gonna let me off the hook with this one."

Their arms were still around each other and although the way they were seated made it quite awkward to do so, they kept hanging on, neither wanting to give up this new found physical pleasure.

"No, you're not off the hook, James."

Her face was almost completely expressionless but the excitement in her eyes shone out brightly.

"No?" he asked. He wasn't fooled – he could read her eyes as clearly as he could her lips.

"No. I rather like you wriggling around on your hook."

And to prove it, she sat forward, raising herself up on her knees and leaning down to place her mouth upon his again.

Dempsey wrapped his arms about her waist as he adjusted his position so that she was knelt up between his knees. The kiss continued, long and deep and predominated solely by Harry from her vantage point. The sound the television was emitting seemed a million miles away – it was only the whispered sound of their movements, the soft, sliding suck of their tongues and the tempered sigh of their breathing that they heard.

"Don't remember marshmallows ever tastin' that good before," Dempsey marvelled, continuing to feast his eyes on her lips when at last the kiss ended. Harry had actually quite shocked herself with her impiety and although hungry for more, she resisted the urge. Instead, she turned herself about and sat with her back against him, giving herself time to consider exactly what might be allowed to happen if they continued in the same vein.

Picking up her marshmallow skewer again, she began to pull it apart and eat it, not really knowing what to say.

"Do I take it that's the reason you felt you should go?" she said tentatively.

Dempsey laughed. "Tried to warn you, Tiger."

"Actually," she began, watching him drop a couple of marshmallows into his mug, "I didn't think it was that bad."

"No complaints from me either only…" he nuzzled gently into the back of her neck, "there's always room for improvement."

"Mmmmmm." It was half agreement and half arousal. "Practice makes perfect."

"Uh huh." His hands lightly held her upper arms whilst he continued to nuzzle. "I love a perfectionist."

Harry let her head fall forward and his lips drifted to the exposed nape.

A shiver ran through her and Dempsey picked up on it with a laugh.

"That get you?" he asked, his lips hovering just a fraction of an inch away so that his breath fluttered against her skin.

Harry's shoulders lifted. "No," she squeaked, trying to hide her ticklishness.

"Think you're a big fat liar, Makepeace," he said quietly just before his mouth returned to softly kiss her neck again.

She squirmed deliciously, arching her back.

Dempsey held her arms more tightly, restricting her movements as he brushed his mouth against her throat.

"So go on, Dempsey," she challenged, "make a liar of me."

She could scarcely breathe now. She had never imagined she would get such a thrill out of him of all people restraining her, imposing his will upon her but here she was, practically begging to be dominated by him.

"You're just askin' for trouble, ain'tcha?"

His hands slid roughly down her arms to capture her wrists where upon he pulled her backwards, at the same time twisting his body and rolling onto her.

She gasped, automatically fighting against him but he had her wrists pinned to a point somewhere just between her waist and shoulders which made it virtually impossible to obtain any leverage.

His head descended to smudge rough kisses along her jawline before his mouth fell again to her throat.

"Oh, God," she whimpered.

She was paralysed, unable to defend herself even when his hands moved to the tie of her bathrobe.

"I'm way outta line here, Princess," he said, pulling her robe open. "I'm gonna need a pretty good knock back and soon."

"You're right, this is getting out of hand," she agreed unconvincingly just before Dempsey's fingers found the top button of the white silk pyjama top she wore underneath the robe.

"I've overstepped the mark big-time."

The second button was deftly unfastened and he was on the third before his mouth made contact with Harry's again.

What started out as a warm and tender kiss quickly escalated into something altogether more passionate. And yet still Harry showed her objections by remaining a passive participant. Her hands curled into fists in an attempt to stop them shaking and she willed her sex drive to go and park up in a nice quiet little cul-de-sac before she got a speeding ticket. He was on the last button and she was trembling so badly it was embarrassing.

Dempsey was clearly confused by her behaviour and he sat up straight, gently pulling the two halves of her pyjama jacket together.

"Guess this is where I do the gentlemanly thing, huh?"

Harry closed her eyes in an attempt to calm her emotions.

"If you stop now, Dempsey, I swear I'll kill you. I just… I just need you to tell me that we're doing the right thing, that it isn't all going to end in a hideous disaster."

He lay down beside her, leaning on one elbow to look down into her flushed face.

"I can't tell you that, Angel but I know if we go on any longer like we have been doin', at some point it's gonna blow up in our faces. Half the time I can't concentrate for thinkin' 'bout you – about wanting you and me to be 'us'!"

Harry bit her lip and swallowed hard.

"Our self control's worn a bit thin so that gives us the right to jump into bed and possibly ruin a bloody good working partnership, does it?"

He smiled ruefully.

"The way I see it, it's make or break, ya know. Something's gotta give."

"But that's just it; it isn't simply a case of getting it out of our system… getting past it. If we… sleep together, things will never be the same again between us, you must realise that."

Harry blinked away the sting of tears. "And I couldn't bear to lose you, James."

He touched her cheek lightly with his fingertips. "Well then Houston, we have a problem 'cause I got a confession to make."

Harry awaited his next words with dread. The words 'problem' and 'confession' never sat well together.

"I've fallen for ya babe!"

There was a moment of silence whilst she tested out her translation of that statement inside her head.

"Is that like being a little bit in love?" she asked tentatively, hardly daring to hope.

Dempsey grinned. "Nah. It's like bein' a lottle bit in love – such a lottle bit that when I don't see ya, even for just one day, it feels like that whole day is a wash-out."

"I feel that way too," she said with a child-like pleasure, gazing up into his adoring eyes.

Dempsey smiled softly. "And when you're beatin' ya gums 'cause I've done somethin' or said somethin' to make you mad, it really turns me on 'cause you're focusing everythin' you got on me."

"Now that's actually a bit weird."

His fingers played with her hair.

"Strange but true."

They laughed but then when Harry's hand came up to curl around the back of his neck they both became serious again.

"It feels wrong somehow, to love you I mean," she said, honestly. "I keep trying to pretend it hasn't happened but…"

"You love me?" he asked, grinning from ear to ear. "For real?"

"For my sins," she answered flippantly but then she nodded in earnest. "Yes, yes I do love you and it's been driving me insane for weeks because it's such an improbable thing to happen."

"Ain't that the truth!" he agreed.

Harry traced an unsteady forefinger over his mouth. "I mean, you're not really my type at all."

A tiny smile fluttered at her lips but she kept her eyes down.

"Tell me about it! Never imagined in a million years that I'd get the hots over a snooty, condescending, ice-cold broad like you," he jibed as he leaned down to kiss her warmly.

"Well, I have to admit, rude, loud and brutal has never really appealed to me before."

Harry pulled him back down again and this time there was fire between them.

"Brutal?" he asked when at last they came up for air.

She smiled. "Mmm, and yet still I love you. Amazing, isn't it?"

Dempsey grinned, running his thumb against the corner of his mouth as he looked down at her from scant inches away. "Would you just run that by me again?"

"I said, it's amazing," Harry smirked.

"Uhh uh. The other part."

"Ohhhhhhh, you mean the 'I love you' part?" she questioned innocently.

"Yeah, that's the one. Say it again."

"Maybe you should've paid more attention the first time, Dempsey."

"And maybe I'm havin' a hard time believin' my own ears."

Reaching up, Harry put her hands either side of his head, shaking him gently by his ears. "Or you're going deaf in your old age," she chided.

"Just say it already." Their lips were almost touching. "Go ahead, before I grow real old and die."

Harry merely raised her eyebrows.

"Hey, let me start you off… I…"

"I…" she repeated.

"Love…" Dempsey continued softly.

"Love…"

"You."

Harry smiled victoriously. "Good."

"Ha! So that's the way it's gonna be, huh?" He rolled between her legs. "Well talk is cheap, Princess."

There were no words they could have used that would have expressed their feelings for each other any clearer than their bodies did for the rest of that night. 'I love you' was whispered softly against warm, sensitized skin. 'I love you' was transferred on moist lips and searching tongues. It was heard in every sigh and moan and every cry of pleasure. And 'I love you' was felt so deep down that it could never be forgotten.


Outside it was snowing again; big fluffy flakes that had already formed a white blanket over the ground. It would be gone by the morning but standing in each other's arms at the bedroom window in the early hours, Dempsey and Makepeace would enjoy the palpable silence that filled the street below. It cocooned them in their new-found closeness, holding them together in their altered world and marking out a fresh, clean start.

In the small, walled garden at the side of the house, growing up against the brickwork was an attractive, deciduous shrub. Roughly four feet in height, its leafy, arched branches bore sparse clusters of large white, waxy berries, bright orbs that appeared to glow in the moonlight. When opened up, the flesh inside resembled fine, sparkling, granular snow. The Symphoricarpos, or Snowberry as it was more informally known had been planted by the original owner of the house in Camberwell Grove many decades before when it had been fashionable to introduce foreign species. The North American import had long since ceased to be anything special and the mythical annals of its somewhat legendary properties had been lost down the years.

It was said that the shrub was indestructible; impervious to the ravages of fire, the blight of snow and ice and would even remain unmoved by earthquake and tremors. The North American Indians perceived Symphoricarpos to be enchanted and believed that having the bushes growing within the confines of their encampments would bring if not immortality, then certainly a big advantage to their lives. They saw the bush as adamantine; strong, imperishable, qualities they knew to be vital to human survival and the white berries of winter and pretty pink flowers of summer were often used to consecrate sacred objects and as part of their protection rituals.

Strangely, Harriet Makepeace was unaware of any such whimsy…

The End

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