Chapter 1

Caution: This Romantic Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, Romantic, Heterosexual, Tear Jerker, First, Slow, Prostitution, .

Desc: Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Pete's given up on finding a congenial partner and resorts to paying for companionship... but has he found his soulmate in a prostitute?

My name is Peter Brewster – Pete to my friends. Nothing special; six foot, slim build, brown hair, blue eyes, receding hair, trimmed beard, glasses. I'm a simple sort of chap ... but the English language being as it is, I probably have to qualify that. Simple, not stupid. My IQ (for what it's worth) is above average. Of course, brains aren't everything and social stuff is quite another matter, not to mention emotions. Anyway ... where was I? Oh, simple stuff. Simple pleasures; steak pie and beer. Sitting with a good book or music by a roaring fire in winter. Riding a classic motorbike in the country. Walking the dog. Sailing; alone or with a good friend and anchoring in a quiet place; a glass of wine listening to water-birds while sitting in the cockpit at anchor.

"Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough,

A flask of wine, a book of verse – and Thou

Beside me singing in the wilderness -

And wilderness is paradise enow."

And there, as the Bard once said, is the rub.

Is anything simple? Simple food ... cooking is a gift. Simple food is tasty, satisfying and not too difficult to eat. Haute cuisine is not simple food. The roaring fire? Hard work to maintain unless you pay someone else to do it, but for me the task of clearing the ash-pan, chopping kindling, splitting logs is a simple pleasure in itself completed by the use of them in fireplace or stove. The classic bike needs tender loving care; cleaning, lubricating, tuning. In some cases, riding a classic bike is far from simple because a simple machine needs more input from the user. The sailing boat is similar in that sailing requires skill, knowledge or even art. Again, part of the simple pleasure.

Not so simple, is it?

Particularly when we turn to emotion. Omar Khayyám (who I can only read thanks to Edward Fitzgerald) described a simple pleasure I could only aspire to. I had no 'Thou' beside me, in the wilderness or anywhere. At thirty ... ish ... I hadn't found anyone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. There was always something that didn't fit. Not just with me; the decision to part after a week, a month or more would be roughly equally divided between my self and my erstwhile partner-of-the-moment.

Sometimes, I got fed up of waiting. I mean, I don't expect perfect punctuality from a woman, but waiting up to an hour in her lounge as she finished whatever preparation she needed? Make-up. I don't like it and don't believe any of the ladies I courted needed any. Okay, I know it's for the woman rather than the man usually and I can live with it, but getting the deposits off my clothes after an evening out? Or having her disappearing into the bathroom immediately on waking because she can't bear to be seen without make-up or with untidy hair?

Clothes. Let's not go there, alright?

Then there's sex. Surely there's a happy medium between boring and weird? I enjoy cunnilingus and don't much care whether she reciprocates, as long as Pete Junior finds a nice, snug, warm home in a welcoming pussy. No, anal doesn't do it for me. That was the reason I parted with ... Jessica, I think it was. She liked it that way and wanted to end up that way every time. But ... was it Linda? Wouldn't let me go down on her at all and insisted on missionary every time.

But I've got off track. I'm sorry – I really didn't intend to go off into a rant. However, I've laid the ground work for the background of my story. Perhaps I should say, the story.

It got so I'd about given up. Not completely, but I made a practice of every month or so taking off to a different city. I'd get a hotel room, pick up a professional who looked as though she'd be congenial for a couple of days, and negotiate a deal. If she made a little less than usual, she was off the streets and got square meals and a couple of nights' sleep once she'd tired me out. It worked quite well, especially after word got around on the street I was a good mark. I even had one or two I was happy to hire for a repeat performance.

One of them was Felicity. That wasn't her street-name, of course. I first met her as 'Bambi'. When I explained what I was after she raised her eyebrows, but quite quickly agreed. I parted with fifty pounds, not without qualms, but it was a necessary risk ... and a couple of hours later she showed up at my hotel, pimp in tow, make-up either absent or very subtle and dressed modestly and well enough, with a small bag. Over a drink or two we agreed terms and arrangements, and I had my ... companion ... for the weekend.

That first week-end we just ... seemed to fit. I assumed it was because she was going out of her way to please me, but for whatever the reason, it was very enjoyable. When we parted after lunch on Sunday, she (predictably, but apparently sincerely) asked if I'd like to do the same again. I smiled and told her, 'absolutely'.

I'm not wealthy, but as a senior administrator in a successful business, I could afford to pay for my house and indulge myself from time to time, say, one week-end a month. I'm not saying how much I spent, though. I have to say ... in the end, it was worth it.

The second month, I noticed 'Madama Butterfly' was on offer the Friday night I planned to enjoy 'Bambi's' company again. 'Why not?' I asked myself. I'm not a great enthusiast for opera, but for once I just fancied that. I booked two seats and a table at a nearby restaurant for afterwards. A restaurant, do I have to say, that offered good, wholesome, unpretentious food.

It was only as I got off the train that it occurred to me I might not find 'Bambi', but I told myself I didn't really mind if I had to settle for a different girl. I had a mobile number, though, and her voice sounded genuinely pleased to hear from me. I left a package at the reception desk and sent a text so 'Bambi' knew where to come.

That first week-end, I thought she was playing a part. By the end of the second one, I was almost convinced she was genuine. If not, she was a world-class actress. 'Butterfly' had her in tears. Over our meal, we talked about opera and classical music in general. I found she was fairly familiar with some better-known composers but rarely had the opportunity to explore. I said I wasn't keen on grand opera because the endings always had to be sad (otherwise it wasn't grand opera). She looked very serious.

"But that's life," she said.

Which set us into an argument about hope, destiny and karma. We were quite late and a little tipsy by the time we got back to the hotel. In our room we headed for bed, shedding clothes on the way. I didn't understand at the time and wasn't about to analyse what happened, but when we kissed, something 'clicked'. That kiss was something else. Something more than before. Our hands were all over, though mine definitely concentrated on her breasts. They were maybe average in size, or a bit less, but they were firm and round, with only a little sag. Her nipples were quite large and got even larger as she was aroused. When we fell back onto the bed, I tried sucking on them, which both of us enjoyed. I forgot who I was with to the extent that I went down on her; she made some half-hearted protests but those stopped as she ramped up to her first orgasm.

It may have been an act. Professionals do act, but I can usually tell and I thought it genuine, not that I was really thinking about what we were doing ... I was too busy positioning myself to enter her. Once we were joined, I had to stop for a moment.

Someone once spoke about 'the bits fitting', and, yes, they usually do, but in this case it was more than physically fitting and we both just pressed together until our bodies took over and began to move. I nearly said something about synchronising, but I'd have to say it was more of a ... harmony. But however I describe it, it was special; way beyond anything I'd experienced before. We made love.

I woke, briefly, in the small hours of the morning. She was turned away from me – possibly that was why I woke, as she moved away from me – and she was quietly crying. I laid a hand on her waist and slid it up her side and she stopped instantly, captured my hand and moved it to her breast; I spooned up behind her.

"What's the matter, Sweetie?" I think that was the first time I'd used an endearment and I did so without thinking.

"Oh, nothing. Just being silly. Don't worry."

Perhaps I should have pressed her at the time, but I didn't and dropped off to sleep immediately afterwards.

We spent Saturday exploring art galleries, would you believe? She knew something about art – more than I, to be honest, though I didn't mind arguing about the subject. I like art that looks like something and on the whole don't enjoy surrealism or abstract art. However, this isn't the place for my Philistine opinions.

We had a very nice Italian meal in the evening, but she drank very little even though it was a very nice wine. Not that I know a thing about it. Anyway, we made our way back to the hotel where I enjoyed her body and she relieved me of a couple more loads of semen. I was aware that something was missing, however, though I couldn't put a finger on it at the time. When we parted Sunday afternoon, she didn't ask me if I'd want her again, but when I suggested seeing her in a month she found a smile and agreed.

The following two months I had her again and the weekends followed a similar pattern. Except we never had a repeat of that second Friday; never the ... one-ness ... that I, at least, experienced. We had intercourse, fucked, and it was very good, but it was not making love. However hard I tried to make it so ... and I did try.

The next month ... it was early November ... I thought I'd call Bambi and try to make sure of her ... but ... she... 'wasn't available'.

I was a bit – make that very – peeved. "Why not?"

After some pressing, which she could have avoided by just hanging up, she said, "Dazz," (that's her pimp) "doesn't want me seeing you again. He says it unsettles me."

I wanted to say, 'I'll unsettle him.' but managed to resist. Somehow, I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for trolling for a replacement, though, and didn't go after all. But a couple of weeks later she rang me – it was a Friday afternoon.

"I need to talk to you, Pete. Will you come? Will you meet me at the big Starbucks in the town centre?"

"Yes," I said without a moment's hesitation. "Tomorrow? What time?"

"Eleven?"

"I'll be there," I said.

As usual, I took the train, but on a day-return and I was in place before ten-thirty with my coffee and one of those little bags of shortbread 'bites'. My expectations of female punctuality meant I had a paperback novel tucked in my pocket both for the train and the wait I expected in Starbucks; but I was wrong. She came in the place at quarter to eleven and having got her own cappuccino looked around for a seat. Her eye passed over me until I waved and caught her attention, when she made a bee-line for me.

I looked at her and suppressed a frown; she'd lost weight and there was a bruise on her cheek just below her left eye, new lines on her face, her eyes seemed ... dull, somehow.

"Thank you for coming, Pete," she said, sitting down. She sipped her coffee.

"I was glad to come," I answered. "I was disappointed not to see you a couple of weeks ago."

She gave me what I can only call a 'speculative' look. "I was sorry about that. I should not be here, really, but I need a big ... an enormous ... favour."

"If I can, I will," I shrugged.

"I am not well," she said, "and Dazz ... has started suggesting that Anji, my daughter, is old enough to..." she stopped abruptly, but her implication was clear enough. She swallowed hard then, looking me in the eyes, said, "I want you to take her away from here. Anjali is fifteen, but she'll be sixteen in a few weeks. I have some money for her and she's bright, but she needs a safe place and someone to support her. I think ... I'm sure ... I can trust you to do that. I ... never mind. Will you do that for me?"

I didn't have to think too long. "Yes, Bambi, I will. But I have a condition," I paused, looking at her as she had looked at me. "I will only take your daughter if you come too."

"Oh," she waved a hand dismissively, "you don't want me. Why would you want to saddle yourself with a prostitute?"

"That's not who you are," I said, "it's what you have been doing. Get away from this town, have a place to live and a bit of support and you ... and ... Angela?"

"Anjali," she corrected, "it's a Sanskrit name. It means, 'Gift'."

"Okay. You and Anjali can have a new start. Beginning with a visit to a doctor for you."

She took a little persuading. In the end, I reached across the table and took her hand.

"Bambi," I said, "when you were with me, were you acting a part? Humouring me? Or did you enjoy the time too?"

Her eyes fell to the table. "I ... liked ... looked forward to the weekends with you. Dazz could tell I ... was fond of you. He ... hates the idea of one of his women getting attached to someone else."

"Bambi, I'm thirty-two. I haven't had a relationship that lasted longer than a month. The reason I kept coming back to you was that we seemed to fit well. Something I've been looking for since puberty. I want you to come. If it doesn't work, at least you can have a new start in a new city. Pay rent, if you like, though I don't need or want it. No obligation."

She straightened up. "Very well, if you're sure..."

"I'm sure."

"Then ... My name is Felicity Lindon and I'm happy to accept your offer."

It took a few minutes to make plans, then Bambi... Felicity left to organise her daughter, whilst I ... paid a call on Hertz, then a barber.

I didn't have much idea of a disguise, but at least I could shave off my beard. I carry contacts with me, but my eyes don't make enough tears and they're uncomfortable for more than a few hours; I thought the lack of beard and glasses might be enough to divert anyone who tried to describe me.

It went smoothly enough. They lived in an undistinguished block of sixties flats, rather ugly. Anjali was expecting me and was all ready with several suitcases and bags and a couple of boxes of books. It took some time to lug all the stuff down to the Galaxy I'd rented, and we set off to find her mother, who was to be patrolling around a couple of streets I knew from our initial encounter. Wonder of wonders, she was and I only had to circle the block once (with Anjali out of sight on the floor) before stopping next to her and winding the window down. She peered in.

"Get in Mother," Anjali whined from the floor, "so I can get up and be comfortable."

No sooner said than done, and we were on our way...

I headed north, initially, before turning on to the motorway and heading east, then south on the M1 to Sheffield. It was around midnight when we drew up outside my terraced house, and we carried all their luggage indoors.

I showed them the attic room. Like many houses of the type, it had a large attic, which had been converted well into a very satisfactory bed-sit place. When I first bought it, I had a student, sometimes two, rent the space, which helped with the mortgage, but I hadn't needed that for several years. There was a single bed and a futon that folded up into a couch or out into a double bed: I got out linen and a double and a single duvet.

"We'll sort everything out in the morning," I told them, "for now, let's just get a few hours sleep."

Felicity looked puzzled, but didn't say anything right then. The two looked at each other, then back at me. I retreated down the steep stairs and shut the door behind me. 'I should tell them about the lock' I thought, 'and find keys'.

I fell into bed in my usual t-shirt and boxers, asleep almost as soon as my head touched the pillow. I stirred once in the night enough to be aware I had company, but not enough to actually stay awake.

Ah, the simple pleasure of a lie-in on Sunday morning, especially after a rather tense as well as late night. Augmented by finding I was not alone. Is there a greater pleasure than waking alongside someone you know you're getting very fond of? I turned and faced Felicity, who was already awake and looking at me with an anxious expression.

"Do you mind?" she asked, tentatively.

I smiled and slipped my arm under her neck, then drew her toward me. Initially stiff and tense, she relaxed against me and laid her head on my chest as I caressed her, finding that she was thinner than even I'd thought. I'm sure I could have counted every rib if I'd tried and the breasts she pressed against me were definitely not as firm.

I thought for a moment. There was no need, I thought, to express my concerns for her health, so I just said, "Mind? No. Not at all. In fact, I'm very happy."

It would have been nice to just stay in bed cuddling Felicity; however thin she was, holding her made me happy, but ... things to do, places to go, people to see. Actually, not the last, not on Sunday. We needed a couple of wardrobes and more food; trips to IKEA and Tesco were in order. But first, we needed breakfast. I was a little surprised that both Anji and Felicity wanted porridge. I mean, I like porridge. I'd have rolled oats in the house anyway for making flapjack, but, anyway, porridge was made and consumed, followed by boiled eggs and toast. By the time we'd finished that, it was getting on for mid-day. Still hungry we went straight on to lunch. The larder was a little sparse, but I had potatoes, and fried up chips to go with baked beans.

Suitably fortified, we sallied forth. The less said about our shopping the better, but we returned with two small wardrobes, two small chests-of-drawers, a new desk and chair, small filing cabinet ... do you get the picture? Oh, yes, and food. And, while we were in Tesco's, assorted 'essential' clothing for my two guests.

On return, Felicity shooed both Anji and me out of the kitchen. I didn't know what else to do, so suggested a DVD. I had a fair selection thanks to my succession of girlfriends as well as my own tastes; Anji picked out 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' and we sat to watch it.

After half an hour or so, Anji took the remote away from me and paused the film.

"Why are you doing this?"

"You mean, why am I letting you live here?"

She sort of screwed her face up, thinking. "You've gone to a lot of trouble and some expense for us..."

I shrugged. "I really like your Mum," I said, "and she asked me to look after you."

"I don't need looking after." Grimly determined.

"Perhaps not." Conciliatory.

"I don't!"

"Felicity ... you mother ... thought it possible you might be forced into ... the same line of business as herself."

"No way!"

"If she was threatened?" I didn't say anything about other means of 'persuasion'.

Anji was silent.

"Anji," I said as gently as I could, "I'm afraid your mother is ill. Perhaps very ill. How would you have responded if your ... co-operation ... was the price of her treatment?"

She looked at me, eyes wide. "Do you think..."

"I don't know, Anji," I said, "and I don't want you saying anything to her, because it may be nothing. But I've seen other people like her. I just want her to see a doctor as soon as possible."

There was a long pause as Anji fiddled with the remote in her hands, then she turned and looked at me, steadily. "And what is your price, Peter?"

I met her gaze. "I'd have taken you in for nothing," I said, "because I would hate to see your ... potential ... wasted and your life ruined. I made your mother's coming too a condition because I think you need her and ... I think I do too."

She cocked her head and looked at me speculatively and opened her mouth, taking a breath to speak again, but shut it without saying anything. She was about to start thee DVD again, but rather obviously decided to say it anyway.

"She slept with you last night."

"Yes, she did. That was her choice, not a condition of your staying here."

"She loves you."

I didn't know what to say to that.

After a long pause, she started the film again and we lost ourselves in the magic and teenage angst of Potter's world. We hadn't finished watching when Felicity brought a tray through from the kitchen. Fricassee. Easy to eat with fork in one hand as we continued to watch, though I was sandwiched between them, which made things a little cramped.

The fricassee was followed by apple pie with ice-cream...

We finished eating and Felicity took our dishes back to the kitchen. I sat back with a sigh of satisfaction as the film ended and the credits rolled, and closed my eyes. Felicity returned from the kitchen, lifted my arm and tucked herself in beside me, which was really nice, but then Anji did the same; I was sandwiched between mother and daughter, their warm bodies snuggling with me. I was confused, but not about to complain. I think I was surprised at the way Anji was relating to me; I'd expected her, as a mid-teens daughter of a single mother, to resent or at least be very suspicious of me, but apart from an initial reserve she seemed to have accepted me. I was also surprised that we were just sitting and cuddling. No music, no film, just sitting. It was rather nice; not something I'd done with previous girlfriends.

When I heard a little, ladylike, snore from Felicity, though, I disturbed them both and sent them off to bed, telling them I needed to send an email and needed to get up promptly in the morning. The email was to my boss, telling her I needed a week's leave to deal with some personal issues, but that I didn't think there was anything outstanding that needed my immediate attention, but that I'd be available on my mobile or by email if questions arose. I shut the computer down and took myself off to bed via the shower.

The main light in my bedroom was out, but the bed-light was on, so I could see Felicity's dark hair on the pillow; I shed my robe and slid in behind her. Whereupon she turned toward me, tucked under my arm and laid her head on my chest.

"Pe-ter..."

"Yes, 'Lissa,"

There was a pause as she assimilated the pet-name I'd used, then,

"Peter, I'd really like you to make love to me."

I was a little ... more than a little, in fact ... worried about her health and wasn't entirely sure sex was a terribly good idea, but then, if she wanted to ... Perhaps she needed to be reassured in some way. My ruminations, however, caused a delay that worried her.

"Please?"

"Hey! You don't need to beg," I joked, "I was just thinking about where to start. It's like having a delicious buffet laid out in front of me!"

She snorted at that, but she was smiling when I rolled her onto her back and lowered my lips to hers. I kissed her very gently at first. We hadn't kissed much before, except that second weekend and it was good to build up slowly. As we kissed her hands explored my back and her touch made my skin tingle. My hands wandered too. As I said, she was underweight, which I don't find particularly sexy, personally, but her responses to my touch were. Her sighs, gasps and moans, twitches and stiffening as I found particularly sensitive places, followed by relaxing and spreading herself. She came on my fingers and I slipped into her. She was warm and wet and gripped me; we looked into each other's eyes as we moved together. I felt as though she was looking into my soul ... I felt that I could see into hers, and it was beautiful; a deep well of love, touched with vulnerability. But I could see pain there, too, pain and emotional scars. We came together. It was gentle, not overwhelming, but, yes, satisfying.

Still in her, though softening, I said quietly, "You don't need to worry, ever again. I will look after you, I will care for you, I will love you, Lissa."

Tears welled up in her eyes and trickled down the sides of her face. I held her close and rolled to the side, but despite my care I slipped out of her as I reached for the box of tissues I kept next to the bed. Still holding her, though, I handed her a wad then used some more to dry her face and mop her eyes.

"Oh, Peter," she sighed, closing her eyes.

I switched off the light and followed her into sleep.

I woke at my usual time, six o'clock. I know, I know, but it's the way I am ... rummaged for boxers in my drawer in the dark and snagged my robe from the back of the door after picking my way carefully across the room, visited the toilet and made my way downstairs before turning on a light.

I was half-way through a bowl of cereal when Felicity stumbled in, bleary-eyed and hair all over the place. As I stood, I thought she was beautiful, just as she was.

"Peter," she mumbled, "what time do you call this?"

I glanced at my watch. "It's ... six-fifteen, love."

"It's the middle of the night ... I smell coffee..."

I took her in my arms and she sort of slumped against me. I stuck a foot out and hooked a chair back from the table. "Sit, Lissa. I'll get you coffee." I heated milk and frothed it, half-filled a mug with coffee, topped it off with frothy hot milk, and placed it on a mat in front of her.

"I have to take the car to York," I began, "to return it to Hertz."

"Why York?"

"Maybe no-one will bother to try to trace you, but there's no need to make it too easy," I said, "I took a roundabout route to get here and I'll return the car to their depot in a different city, get the train back here. But I'll buy a ticket to ... London, maybe."

She thought about it, then nodded. "I'll come with you," she stated, firmly.

"NO!" My sharp tone startled her and I went on more calmly, "You need to be here with Anji. You need to walk down to the Medical Centre and register the two of you with a doctor. You, especially, need to make an appointment with one of them."

"I want to come with you," she declared firmly.

"Lissa, I..." I took a deep breath. "I'd love to have your company, Lissa, but you can't leave Anji here on her own."

"Then I'll get her up and we'll both come with you."

I sighed and looked down at the table, before looking up again. "Lissa, I don't intend to make a habit of ordering you around. I want you ... both of you ... to be free to live your lives. But in this, you will obey me."

Her eyes widened; I could tell she was taken aback by an aspect of me she hadn't seen before.

"Lissa, this once, I don't want to take a chance of you ... either or both of you ... being seen somewhere with me that might lead your past here. Believe me, I'm not ashamed of you. I don't mind my friends and colleagues seeing you with me. I don't even care about your past, because it is past. But I want to give you as good a chance of a clean break as I can. In particular, I want to get you to a doctor as quickly as possible."

I held her eyes with mine for several seconds before hers dropped in recognition of the truth of what I said.

"Walk down the road," I explained where she needed to go, "register, try to get an appointment for today or tomorrow." I looked at her hair and added, "It wouldn't hurt to go to a hairdresser and go from blonde to brunette."

She quirked a half-smile. "Won't you mind? Don't you like me blonde?"

"Don't care what colour your hair is," I said.

"That's good, because I really am brunette," she said. "Making sure I don't have dark roots is a pain in the..."

I took the last mouthful of cereal. She was silent as I chewed and swallowed, then drank my coffee and stood.

"Peter," she said softly, looking up at me, "I really don't like letting you out of my sight. Promise you'll drive carefully and come back as quickly as you can?"

"I promise," I said. "but I'm not coming straight back. It'll be all morning at least."

At before seven in the morning, the traffic was fairly light and I got on to the M1 north-bound quickly, but the traffic rapidly built, and by the time I got to York, not much more than an hour later, their rush hour was in full swing. And, of course, I had to find the Hertz depot. Not that it was too difficult; right next to the station, which is just outside the old walled city.

It took a few minutes to hand the car over, then I had a short walk to the station and a few minutes wait for a train. York to Nottingham; just under two hours, a short wait for the change, then Nottingham to Sheffield, less than an hour. All in all, plenty of time to drink coffee and wonder what I was doing. I got home just after one.

I barely got through the door when Anji cannoned into me and clung to me.

"Hey! What's up? Where's your Mum?"

She let go of me, but grabbed my hand and dragged me through to the kitchen.

"She's upstairs. We saw a doctor this morning."

"And?"

"She's got to see a specialist."

"I'm not really surprised, Anji. That's why I was so anxious to get her to a doctor."

Her voice was low, "I don't think she realises," she went on, "don't say anything, but, I'm worried now. Really worried."

"Okay," I said as reassuringly as I could. "Don't borrow trouble. I wasn't saying anything either, but I'm not going to get het up until I know what's going on. Right?"

She opened her mouth to say something else, but we both heard Felicity's steps on the stairs. She came in, smiling.

"We've been good girls, haven't we, Anji? We're signed up with the doctor and I've been seen. She didn't seem too worried, but she wants me to see someone at the hospital. I haven't had time to cook, though. Do you think perhaps we deserve a treat? Pizza?"

Anji perked up immediately, looking expectantly at me.

"Why not?" I asked, rhetorically. There were several places within walking distance where we could get a decent pizza. "Would you like to go out for it, or shall we call Domino's?"

I looked at Anji.

"Could we go out, please?"

I was a little surprised, as we ate our pizza in Pizza Express, that Anji raised the question of school. Looking at Felicity, I could see she was – rightly – proud of her daughter. I left it to her to answer.

"I don't think there's a great rush," she said. "We've time to ring round local schools. I expect Pete will have at least an idea of what schools there are..." she looked the question at me.

"Three that I know of that are fairly near. King Ted's, just a walk up the hill; Silverdale and High Storrs a short bus-ride. All have good reps. Silverdale is high on the national performance list and hence popular with high-flyers," I shrugged. "It's not as though I have any personal experience of them. You could ring up and ask for a tour..."

The rest of the week we spent sorting things out; building the flat-pack wardrobes and a replacement desk for Anji. A computer for her, which she used to catch up, as far as she could, with her subjects ... one advantage of the National Curriculum. Showing them round the city, visits to the three schools in striking distance. In the end, Anji got a place at King Ted's (King Edward VII school) a neo-classical building only half a mile up the hill from my house, but she didn't start 'til after Christmas. Lissa's place in my bed was firmly established.

I went back to work, thinking that things were reasonably sorted; Lissa had her first appointment with the specialist. Anji went with her. She was told to go back in a week.

I'd put my concerns about her health out of my mind; the matter was in the hands of the professionals and I had a layman's trust in their abilities, so I was unprepared, when I got home from work, the day she had the follow-up appointment, for the reception I got.

I hardly got in the door before Anji flung herself into my arms and clung to me. "Hey, hey ... what's up, lass?"

She backed off, took my hand and led me into the front room, pushed me into an arm-chair and sat in my lap with her arms round my neck, her face pressed against me. My arms wrapped round her, reflexively rather than consciously.

"It's Mum," she mumbled against my chest. "That doctor says she's got 'lymphoma'. That's like cancer. There's different sorts. Hers has met ... as ... ter ... sized. That means it's spread. He thinks they can treat it, but he doesn't think they can cure it. Anyway, she ... we ... made a stew, but she felt tired and is having a nap. I promised to send you up when you got in, but I need a cuddle, Pete. Do you mind?"

"Of course not," I said, "you can have a cuddle any time you like."

We sat like that perhaps ten minutes before Anji got off my lap. "Off you go and give Mum a proper cuddle too," she said, "I'm going to make dumplings to go with the stew, so supper will be ready in three-quarters of an hour or so. I'll call you, okay?"

"Sure! And, Anji ... well done."

She coloured and shrugged, waving me away, so I made my way upstairs leaving my shoes by the door.

In the bedroom, I could see Lissa was very still, on her side. I shucked off my outer clothing and slipped under the duvet behind her in my t-shirt and boxers, spooning up behind her as gently as possible and held her to me.

I had told her I would love her. As I lay there, I realised for the first time that, no matter what faults she might have, that might show up in the future, no matter what her past, here was a woman I could happily spend the rest of my life with. Here was a woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I didn't want to contemplate not having her in my life; that I did love her.

She stirred in my arms and turned toward me. "Oh, Peter..." She blinked and her eyes focussed on me; I wrapped her in my arms and kissed her on the forehead.

"Lissa, I ... I love you," I said. "Will you marry me?"

Her eyes widened in shock and there was a long pause before she spoke. "No, Peter, I won't. It won't do, in so many different ways."

I've never been good at concealing my feelings; I'd be a hopeless gambler. She could read my distress and disappointment like a book.

"No, Peter. It's not that I don't want to be your wife, or that I don't want to be with you. I will stay for as long as you want me. You can have me any way you like, but not as your wife."

"Lissa, please..."

"No, Peter. I'll say this, though, it looks as though I..." she stopped and swallowed hard, "Anji knows, I think, but she doesn't realise I know too. I'm probably going to die, Peter. I'll fight it, and knowing you love me will help. But if I make it to five years, if I beat this thing and you still want me, ask me again. But not before, please."

I could read her determination, and with it, her love. If she wouldn't marry me right away, at least she wasn't leaving me. It wasn't what I wanted, but if it was all I could have, then I would make the most of it.

Anji's voice floated up the stairs, summoning us to the table. We held each other a little longer, I kissed her again, then we made our way down to the meal.

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