Actions

Work Header

Paperback Hero

Chapter Text

“I appreciate that, Mr. White, but I’ve written to you five times advising you of this new date.” Stressed, attorney Abigail Mills rubbed her temples as she listened to her client whine about her expectations of him. She’d put up with a lot from him in the last few weeks, but this? This made a new low.

“Let me get this straight,” she said, very slowly. “I take the time to type a letter, address and mail it, but it’s too much effort for you to open and read it?”

She listened to him on the other end and rolled her eyes so hard she was surprised they didn’t bounce out of her head. “Your cat can’t have separation anxiety that bad. I don’t care what the vet said.”

He barked something about cat psychologists to her and she thought she might shoot herself because it would be more enjoyable. “Mr. White, you are due in court tomorrow. Not showing will make things extraordinarily bad for you.”

He whined about it being her fault for not notifying him properly.

Abbie wished she could pull him up through the phone line and stomp on his head. And other parts of his anatomy that might feel significantly more pain. “I’m afraid the courts are unlikely to see it that way since I have written to you several times to inform you, not to mention left you five telephone voice mails.” She held the phone away from her ear as he blathered on at length, and at a significant volume. Finally he agreed to show up, acting for all the world as if he had just done her a very large favor.

“Moron,” she muttered under her breath. It was a good thing her hourly rate was high. There’s no way I would represent someone like him without big bucks at stake.

The task done, she hung up, and her gaze strayed across her desk to thebag of donut holes she’d bought this morning, anticipating a day of idiots.

A little bit of sugar often did her a lot of good.

She snagged the bag and leaned back in her chair, taking her time opening it, savoring the first whiff of dough and sugar as it filled the air immediately around her. She slid one from the pack, licking her lips in anticipation.

Slipping out of the smart, black and white wedge heels she wore, and looking forward to putting on her converse at the day’s end, Abbie put her feet up on her desk, taking a moment to admire the shiny purple polish on her toenails.

The phone rang.

Biting back a curse, Abbie tossed the donut hole back on to her desk and snatched up the receiver. Why hadn’t she thought to take it off the hook, just for a few minutes? “Mills,” she all but snapped into the handset’s small speaker.

The office secretary, Caroline, suppressed a chuckle. “Well, aren’t you in a good mood today?”

Abbie had a feeling she might need some aspirin to chase the donut hole with. Caroline had spoken with that someone’s here to see you tone. “What is it?”

Caroline did chuckle this time. “Interrupt you in the middle of a donut hole, did I?”

Was she that transparent? Abbie wondered. “Never mind.”

“Abbie, I’ve got a woman on the phone – Sophie Foster? Says she’s your cousin. Calling from Taylor & Wit Literary Services in London?”

Abbie mentally flipped through files in her head until she came to the one labeled Sophie . Tall, long hair dark, full mouth. They hadn’t spoken in a while. Had something happened?

“Put her through, thanks,” she instructed.

“Hey, Abs,” Sophie’s London accent floated up the receiver.

“Hi, Sophie.” Abbie couldn’t help but smile at her cousin’s voice. She’d always been a sucker for foreign accents. “How’re things with you?” she asked, deliberately curbing her curiosity about why the other woman was calling.

“Oh, good, good. I’ve been at Taylor & Wit for around a year now - I love this job!” She enthused for a few moments about her colleagues and the nightlife in London.

Abbie opened her email inbox and began to scroll through new arrivals as she chatted casually to Sophie. Finally, when there was a long silence, she gave in. “What can I do for you? If you just called to chat, this is going to be one expensive gossip session.”

“While I do love gossip…” Abbie heard the rustle of papers, and then Sophie cleared her throat, sounding a bit awkward. “Listen, Abbie, you’re an attorney, aren’t you? Family law, am I right?”

“Mainly family.” But she had been known to dip her fingers in other pies when it was required of her by the firm. “Do you need some legal advice? Because, last time I checked, they did have lawyers in England.”

Sophie laughed. “You’re a hoot. Not legal advice for me. But let’s say someone was writing about a smallish US town, and wanted their main character to be a lawyer, a female one, obviously attractive-”

“Sophie, you’re babbling.” Abbie recognized it because she had a tendency to babble too, when nervous. “Lay your cards on the table already.”

Sophie drew a breath. Abbie heard the brief drum of fingers on a hard surface. “I’ve always been a babbler. The thing is…” Another pause. “Don’t be mad.”

In Abbie’s vast experience, the words don’t be mad never prefaced anything good. She wished for coffee. A lot of very strong coffee. And maybe a second donut hole after she’d had a chance to eat the first. “I can’t promise to not be mad. Just tell me what you need.”

“Okay.” The sound of drumming fingers commenced for a moment. Abbie surmised that it must be a nervous tic of Sophie’s. “Have you heard of Ichabod Crane, suspense and thriller writer?”

Abbie took a moment to search her huge stock of memory files again. Crane. She’d read a few of his books, one of which had caused her an uneasy night’s sleep. His writing had her flipping pages anxiously, often for hours at time. She thought he might be one of the best suspense writers of the past few decades.

The New York Times often agreed.

She pictured the photo on the inside of the book jacket, a man with a face of planes and angles, arresting blue eyes, and thick hair of autumn golds and summer sun.

“I’m familiar with him,” she told Sophie, puzzlement creeping through her mind. “But what does a British suspense writer have to do with me?”

“Well, the thing is…”

Time to cut to the chase. “Sophie, I charge a fee for every six minutes of my time. You are coming close to racking up a hefty bill, and I have cases to work on.” And I want to eat my damn donut hole already. “Spit it out or hang up.”

“Well.” Her cousin blew out a breath. “You must be a good lawyer. Crane came to me last week – I’m his agent’s assistant.”

“Go on.” Abbie looked around on her desk for something to play with. She liked to keep her hands busy when she talked. She finally settled on rubbing a red stress ball between her palms. She’d picked  it up at a college fair when she’d volunteered to advise students who were looking to sign up to the legal career path.

“Well, quit interrupting me and I will spit it out!” Sophie heaved out a sigh, but there was a smile in it. “He was all excited about setting a book in the US, particularly somewhere like Sleepy Hollow – he always travels around, sets each one in a different, fun, exotic location. And he dreamt up this character. A female lawyer, one that gets drawn into a murder case. Full of intrigue and romantic tension, he said. He’s just brilliant at drawing you in, setting the scene.”

Abbie dropped her head on the cool surface of the desk for a moment and closed her eyes.

“I didn’t go to law school for nothing. You sent him here to talk to me for advice on his character, didn’t you? Well… I have a break in my schedule next month….”

“You don’t sound mad. That’s good,” Sophe interrupted.

“I’m not mad. Just give me a date and I’ll tell you if I’m free.”

“Well, the thing is…. He’s sort of on his way.”

“On his way?” Abbie was going to ensure Sophie had a long and painful death. “Just tell me he’s staying somewhere - not with me?”

Sophie named the fancy hotel on the outskirts of Sleepy Hollow. Abbie supposed she’d let her cousin live.

“He’s staying for two weeks.”

“Soph, I have work. I won’t be free all the time.”

“Of course. Just.. you know, talk to him a bit. And.. be nice. I owe you one.”

Abbie pushed aside her annoyance. Writers must spend more time at their computers than out and about, she thought. He’d probably only need bare bones from her. Maybe he wouldn’t see her more than once.

She hoped.

“You owe me ten, actually.”

“One more thing,” Sophie added, the words rushing out of her. “I mean, the thing is, he should be with you-”

Her phone buzzed twice, the signal that she had a call waiting. “Bang on time,” she murmured.

No rest for the wicked around here.




Chapter Text

Abbie pushed back from her desk and cracked open the window at the rear of her office, then ran her fingers through those few waves of her hair that always refused to bow to the power of her GHDs. As a final nod to presentation, she spritzed a small cloud of her favorite perfume into the air in front of her and walked through it.


A moment after she set the rose quartz colored bottle down, there was a knock at her door. Show time, she guessed.


“Come in.”


She saw the doorknob turn before the door itself opened. And then her first impression struck. Oh, boy.


The grey tweed of his jacket looked touchably soft, and the color of a moody sky in winter. The hem of it hit him mid-thigh. Underneath, she could see a crisp white shirt, apparently uncrumpled by hours of travelling. It fell open a few buttons to reveal his collarbone, and an inch of lightly tanned chest, with a few peeking whorls of chest hair. He hadn’t tucked the shirt in, and its color was a deep contrast to the black jeans he wore. Worn brown boots took her the final inch to the floor.


She looked up – he had to be over six feet – and met his gaze.


His old-gold, tousled hair wove around his face, the ends of it brushing the collar of his jacket. His dark cerulean eyes reminded her of the gorgeous shade of the sea in the tropics. Striking, black-framed, rectangular shaped glasses only drew her focus more intently to his searing gaze.


A beautifully sculpted jaw and cheekbones, and a currently unsmiling mouth, completing his face of planes and angles, ended her visual exploration of her guest.
“Miss... Abigail Mills?"


She’d expected his accent to be James Bond crisp, so sharp the end of his sentences would be able to slice through glass. But instead, his voice held a wonderfully deep baritone – with softened edges.


“Yeah. Yes.” She walked around her desk and offered her hand. Ichabod Crane's publisher's picture didn't do him justice. Not even a smidge. She hadn’t expected this. Hadn’t expected a man so painfully gorgeous that it was probably dangerous to look at him without protective goggles.


He shook her hand. His own had a wide, warm palm. Long fingers. Short, clean nails. He held her hand a fraction longer than was polite. When he let go, Abbie felt an odd sensation run up her arm.


“You’re Crane.” It wasn’t a question. She had no other appointments with pant-wettingly gorgeous men from England today. She stepped back behind her desk, and gestured to the two chairs, used for guests and clients, that stood opposite her own. She waited for him to sit before she did. “Something to drink?” God help her, she needed coffee. Mankind shouldn’t have to suffer a working day without caffeine.


“Coffee, black. No sugar.”


She smiled at him. “It seems you read my mind.” Well, she might still waste an hour, but at least they’d already agreed on something. She dialed Caroline. When her secretary answered with a chipper, “Yup?” she replied, “Caro, be a doll and run across to Starbucks on the corner? I need two black coffees and-” Screw it. She was hungry. Woman could not exist on coffee alone, as amazing as it was. “And a pecan Danish, maybe two?” She lifted her eyebrows at Crane, a silent question. He lifted his hand in a universal “I’ll pass” gesture. “Actually, just the one. Thanks.”


Abbie replaced the receiver, glancing at the Brit beneath her lashes as she did so. For a writer, she’d been surprised to find him so incredibly attractive. She bit back on the thought, surprised at herself, but it was true – writing was a sedentary position. It couldn’t involve much working out, and yet Crane looked as if he’d made good friends with daily exercise a while ago. That, or he had a really mean metabolism.


“So.” She crossed her legs, joined her hands and cupped them over her knee. “You have impeccable timing, Mr. Crane. I’d barely got off the phone with your agent when you arrived.”


He had the grace to wince. “I’m just glad she got to you before I did.” He shifted in his seat. “Is now not a good time? Should you need, I'm willing to return later.”


Abbie would have bowed at his feet. Hardly anyone sitting in her office ever offered to come back at a time that might be more convenient to her.


Just as she opened her mouth to reply, there was a knock on the slightly ajar door. Caroline's smart, brown-shoed foot appeared, followed by a tray which contained two Starbucks takeout cups, a full paper bag and two napkins.


“Here we are.” She glanced at Crane before setting a cup before him. He gave a nod of thanks.


Behind the Brit, Caroline caught Abbie's gaze. She jerked her chin towards the writer and winked lasciviously, sliding her tongue around the corner of her mouth.


Abbie resisted the urge to roll her eyes and had to swallow back a laugh as Caroline slipped out of her office and closed the door behind her.


Reverently, Abbie peeled off the takeout cup lid and breathed in the smell of the piping hot liquid. She opened her desk drawer, took out two small yellow sachets of sweetener and emptied their contents into the cup, frowning when she realized she didn’t have a spoon.


After a moment, she remembered that Crane still sat in the room with her. She looked up at him, an apology ready on her tongue, and she noticed that the left side of his mouth had quirked up in a half-smile of amusement.


“If you’d like a moment alone with the coffee, you only had to say so.” The tiny hint he’d given of a smile grew into a full-blown grin. Even though she couldn’t help smiling in reply, Abbie almost swallowed her tongue. Wearing a serious expression, Crane struck her as formidably attractive, but smiling, he was, quite simply, devastating.


“Coffee and I have a very special relationship.” She took a sip. It was almost better than sex. Probably better, considering Abbie hadn’t had sex for quite a long time, and as such, had a bit of trouble remembering the details. She set the cup aside. “Now. We’d better talk before I open the bag with the pecan Danish inside.” She flashed a smile at him. “I will want to be alone with that.”


He coughed slightly, and Abbie wondered if he was suppressing a laugh. Then his searching gaze snapped to hers. “I don’t suppose you’d consider sharing?”


Abbie  placed her hand protectively on the bag. “You had your chance to order.”


“And foolishly, I said no. However, that was before I saw something I think I’d like to take a bite of.” He let his eyes meet hers, and held the contact for a few blistering seconds.


Abbie  broke it off, all but shivering inside with unexplained excitement. Is he flirting with me?


He totally is. It thrilled her.


Before she could respond, Crane sat back in the guest chair, getting comfortable, his tone businesslike and calm once more. “Do you have any questions for me, before I begin firing them at you?” He reached down, picked up a leather briefcase, and took from it a notepad and two pens. His pens were old-fashioned, inkwell ones.


“Why?” she wished he’d look at her like he had before – all fire and heat.


“To me, it seems only fair.” He took a sip of coffee. “As I am requesting information from you, I should at least offer you the chance to get some information from me.”


Abbie felt a surprised smile curve her lips. Maybe she wouldn’t cry off for an early lunch after all. Maybe they could have lunch together. This had the potential to become very interesting. “All right.” She glanced at the notepad he held before him. The page sat waiting, clean and unlined. She wondered what his handwriting looked like. She took a long sip of the coffee, and then regretfully set it aside for now. Too much caffeine in one go would have her jittery until late afternoon, and, worse than that, command frequent bathroom trips.


“Let’s start with the basic stuff,” she decided, meeting his gaze. His eyes, a compelling shade of late-summer sky blue, had a way of making her feel truly seen, maybe for the very first time. “What part of the UK are you from?”


He picked up his coffee cup and watched her over the rim for a long moment. “Care to hazard a guess?”


She spread her hands, palm up. “I’m not familiar with many English towns. Or even cities.” When he said nothing, simply smiled and waited, she narrowed her eyes, replaying his voice in her head. “Not London,” she decided almost immediately. “Not as far as Liverpool or Manchester – Paul McCartney is from that area, and you don’t talk anything like him.”


She watched him suppress a chuckle, and huffed. “Well, it would help if you’d throw me a bone here. Give me a county, a general area to start in?”


“Oxfordshire.”


Abbie mentally flipped through the towns she knew of in that area. "Seems too easy, but... Oxford?"

“Correct.” He flashed that devastating grin again.


“Well, you’re a long way from home. What do you-”


Her phone’s shrill buzzed filled the room, interrupting her. Irritated, she picked up. “Yes?”


“Sorry to interrupt, Abbie. Don’t forget the weekly staff meeting, one-thirty today. Just letting you know so you have time to grab a quick lunch.”


Great. The weekly staff meeting. It was almost as much fun as waiting for paint to peel. Abbie thanked Caroline and hung up, glancing at the clock. It was almost twelve-thirty – time had flown, and the delicious Crane hadn’t asked her a single question yet.


She stood. “Mr. Crane, I’m sorry, but I’ve got an appointment I’d forgotten about. Can I arrange to see you later this week?”

He glanced at her hands, spread palm down on her desk. “Of course. As soon as you can, if I may.”


Abbie crossed to the windowsill and plucked her diary from between two folders, sliding it open to the current day’s page. Flicking through, she saw with mild annoyance that the nine-to-five of her week, and the one that followed, had been completely filled with time in court, or client appointments. She moved back to the desk.


“I am sorry about this,” she began, meaning it. “I haven’t got an inch of breathing room for a fortnight. My colleagues-”


Before she could finish, he rounded the desk and was standing before her. This close, she could make out his spiky eyelashes and smell the woodsy scent that floated up from the vee where his white dress shirt hung slightly open. The delicious aroma wasted no time in permeating through her, and her libido, long presumed dead, perked up and made itself known.


“Dinner?” he asked. The word wasn’t above a whisper.


Silence hung in the room for a long moment. The computer beeped, signaling an incoming email. All Abbie heard was the sound of her own breathing as she replayed his question in her head.


“You don’t need to take me to dinner,” she said, automatically, having fended off other unwanted advances.  However, this advance was definitely not unwanted. “I can meet you at your hotel to answer your questions.”


A little voice inside her head cried: what the hell, woman! Accept a free meal when a handsome man offers it.


Crane moved a fraction closer to her. “I realize there is no need to escort you to dinner,” he said slowly. “What happens if I want to?”


She hesitated.


“I believe you owe me,” Crane told her, with just a hint of a grin. “You didn’t want to share the Danish, after all. You can at least allow me the pleasure of your company over dinner.”


Her gaze dropped to his mouth as he spoke. An imagined image of them sprawled across her desk, his lips ravaging hers, filled her mind for a fleeting moment. Then her gaze snapped back up to his as she felt twin roses of heat bloom in her cheeks.


Then I guess it would be rude of me to refuse.”


“I guess it would. Perhaps... tomorrow evening?” He stepped back a little.


Abbie took the opportunity to catch her breath, which had suddenly started to come up very short. Once he’d backed up to his original side of her desk, she arranged a calm expression over her features. “Do you have a restaurant in mind?” When he hesitated, she laughed. “How silly of me. You’ve only just arrived. How about I come to your hotel and we decide where to go from there. It’ll be a weeknight, so I don’t think we’ll need to reserve a table.”


“Perfect.” He gave her a long look. Something definitely occupied his thoughts – Abbie sensed the heat of his gaze all the way down to the toes of her stockinged feet – but his expression remained unreadable. “It’s the-”


“Hyatt.” At his raised eyebrow, she added, “Sophie.”


“Funny, isn’t it, how very much that one word explains.” He slid his pad and pens into a pocket on the side of the briefcase. “Seven?”


She’d been watching his hands, and her mind dipped back into her fantasy of him ravishing her on the desk. His voice snapped her back to the here and now. "Seven will be..." she nearly said heaven, but caught herself just in time. "Perfect."

She tried not to look at his butt when he left the room. She nearly managed it.

Chapter Text

“It was like…” Abbie swiped a French fry through the small dish of ketchup at her side. “I suppose the only term for it would be libraian-meets-office porn.”
As Abbie munched, her sister sputtered with laughter. They ate at Sleep Hollow's most popular pizza and burger joint, Smokey Joe's.
“Office porn.” Jenny shook her head as she picked up a burger that almost filled her plate. “As if you would have had sex, right there in your office. Where anyone could walk in.” She turned toward Abbie, her eyes narrowed. “Wait… Would you have?”
"Of course not," Abbie snorted.
“That means yes.” Jenny swallowed her bite and grinned. “He’s visiting from England. And not England like in the soaps or Only Fools and Horses - no, posh Mr Darcy England. After this, you’ll never see him again. If you want him, go for him. And I’d say that the fantasy you just shared is a pretty sure sign you want him.”
"There was no fantasy," Abbie groused.
"Only the one written all over your face."
Used to these antics from her sister, Abbie rolled her eyes and reinvested her interest in her French fries. “Gee, thanks for the advice."
Jennt stabbed a fry in her sister's direction. "Like you need advice. What you need is a date."
Abbie rolled her eyes so hard they threatened to pop right out of her head and on to her plate. "He wants information for his book. I get food. End of story. Literally," she smiled, laughing internally at her own joke.
"Haha," Jenny deadpanned. "Well, I, for one, am pretty damn excited. My sister, on a date, for the first time after Loser Luke."
"Must you call him that?"
Jenny shrugged. "If he didn't want to be called that, he shouldn't have been a loser, am I right?"
Abbie couldn't argue with that logic.


* * * *

A mug of lukewarm coffee sat forgotten on Abbie's tiny dressing table as she crouched on her bed. God had not meant for women to paint their toenails. It was the only reasonable answer to why the damn task was so hard. Trying for balance, she swiped the fiddly brush over the nail on her little toe, wanting to cheer when she didn’t smudge the surrounding skin.
When she'd finished, she wondered why she had started. This was Not a Date after all.
Three dresses hung on the door of her closet. She’d taken a precious hour of annual leave to sort through the designer items (three), vintage finds ( six, if you included her Aunt's dresses) and bargain items (too many to count) that made up her wardrobe. It had been tough, but she’d picked three contenders from her meagrely sized rack of going-out evening dresses.
Dress number one was knee length, black, and sleeveless. It possessed a demure, slightly curved neckline, but was otherwise plain. It had quickly become the dress she reserved for funerals or emergencies when everything else was in the laundry hamper.
Dress number two was an outfit she wasn’t entirely sure she should have purchased. It was red, and hit her mid-thigh, exposing most of her legs. It had a wide, wide neckline, so whenever it was worn, one shoulder was always exposed. Apart from exposed legs and shoulder, it should have been demure – except for the fact that the material clung like a second skin. She felt less exposed when she was naked than in that dress – but it was one of the only dresses she had that was both suitable for partying and also a bold colour, so it was a contender. It wouldn’t have been fair not to consider it.
Finally, dress number three stopped an inch short of being floor-length, and was a pale grey, the color of the early evening fog. It covered her legs, and had been cut with long sleeves that hit her arm between elbow and wrist. Its main disadvantage was the built-in bra that squeezed and lifted her breasts towards the deeply scooped neckline. It meant she’d become boobzilla for the evening.
Abbie screwed the lid back on the small pot of nail varnish and smoothed her palms over her freshly shaven legs as she considered all three dresses. Right now she favored the black for tonight. A classic LBD could go anywhere to meet anyone.
But it was her go-to funeral dress.
Abbie thought about how often she went out to dinner at nice places. Hardly ever.
The grey boobzilla dress could have an outing. She deserved to feel good, after all.
As she donned the dress, then spritzed a cloud of her favorite perfume, she resisted the urge to call the hotel and get them to give a cancellation message to the Brit writer.
If she did, she could stay home and watch the latest episode of her favorite crime drama on FOX. Then there’d be a new series of Nailed it! on Netflix. And she could wear her PJs. And become better acquainted with her good friends Ben and Jerry.
She glanced at herself in the mirror. “I didn’t become a top lawyer by staying home and eating ice cream,” she said firmly, even though her cozy pink PJs peeked temptingly at her from under a corner of the duvet. She’d made an appointment with the intriguing writer from England, and she would keep it, like it or not.
But maybe the issue was that she did like it.
Besides, he had said he'd treat her to dinner. A girl could leave the comfort of PJs for a free meal. His stupid sexy face had nothing to do with it. Obviously.


* * *

 

 

The elevator opened with a shrill ding, and Ichabod Crane, bestselling author, stepped out into the lobby. The grandeur of plush couches and big, tiled coffee tables, lovely as they looked, didn’t impress him. He’d been to so many hotels in the last few years that they all seemed to merge into one. One place that whilst beautiful, was not home.
When the taxi he’d climbed into outside the airport had pulled up to the Hyatt, he’d been thrown off a little by the stall down the street selling Halloween headgear and masks – surely it wasn’t that time of the year already? And then he’d realized, without much sadness or surprise, that he’d be here for the end of October holiday.
And probably elsewhere for Christmas.
His life had somehow become one that revolved around travelling. Travelling and writing were both quite solitary pursuits, often.
He scanned the lobby for Abbie, the beautiful lawyer. No sign – but he was early. Whether the punctuality stemmed from politeness or nerves, he couldn’t tell, and didn’t particularly want to examine the difference too closely.
This trip marked his first time in this part of America, and to hell with examining anything too closely. He was here to get the atmosphere of the place and the people, get his plot, and then go home, as he always did.
The extensive travelling, although tiring, always excited him, and Ichabod felt each place added a new flavour to his writing. He’d been to Kenya, Edinburgh, Canberra, Bangkok, Hamburg and Madrid in the name of research. Each time he immersed himself in the place and its people for a week or two, walked, wrote, and ate. He explored the cities' nookes and crannies, prised aparts their secrets, drank in their posh and dive bars, his ears always open.
At the end of it he always came away with a tight, suspenseful and action filled plot, and without leaving a trace of his presence when he left.
And that was pretty much the way he liked it.
And if he didn't, he told himself he did.
He took a seat in one of inviting couches facing the entrance, content to watch people outside huddle past in their coats, talking on cell phones or carrying large bags of groceries. Beyond the doors and the sidewalk, the road was populated with American taxis, their well known yellow hue standing out in stark relief against the encroaching darkness of the October night.
He anticipated an interesting evening with Abbie, cousin of his agent's assistant, Sophie, the enthusiastic and efficient babbler. Eager to help, she’d practically leapt on him about her lawyer relative when he’d stopped by the office. An hour into their unepected chat, he had a reservation at the Hyatt, and a half hour after that, he held a piece of paper with Abbie's office address written on it, in Sophie's small, neat handwriting.
It would be the first time he’d conducted research through a woman, firsthand. Ichabod frequently wrote about female characters in his books. He was the first to admit that they weren’t always one hundred percent three dimensional, but then, he wasn’t a woman.
But his female characters did need more realism. For one, he'd had a few letters extolling his virtues, from readers, who loved his writing but wanted to see more female-centric dialogue, and a more "flesh and blood" female character.
The company who published his books thought his words were script worthy. The one thing, they’d insisted, the one reason why hotshot Hollywood film makers weren’t kicking his proverbial door down, was his “lack of female realism.”
Ichabod had wanted to reply with the fact that he’d become an author to write books, not films. But seeing his name flash across a cinema screen, hearing actors recite his words, had become a strong pull in his mind. Added to that, he didn’t want to make any enemies in the company that published his books. He knew which side his toast was buttered on.
So he’d dreamt up a strong female character. A lawyer – she’d be brisk, with a soft heart guarded beneath the walls she’d put up. She'd need the help of a strong man - not to rescue her, but to help her rescue herself.
And small-town America had called to him for some time. He was ready.
He couldn’t wait to wander the streets and subways tomorrow with his notepad in hand. He wanted-
Abbie walked in. All coherent thought floated out of Ichabod's mind.
She wore a grey dress – but dress seemed a poor word for the way the material wove down her body and almost to the lobby floor. It had sleeves, but they clung to her arms, accentuating the slimness of her limbs. And the scooped neckline served only to showcase a tantalizing glimpse of what appeared to be an incredible cleavage.
He wondered if someone would come by soon to help scrape his tongue off the floor.
As his gaze ate her up, he saw her scan the lobby. Her eyes lit on him. By the time she’d made her way over, Ichabod felt almost certain he’d composed himself enough not to drool. “Ms. Mills.”
She smiled, and it was small and a little shy. Not at all like she'd been in her office - her domain, he guessed. “Abbie, please. You’re buying me dinner, the least I can do is let you use my first name.”
“Abbie it is, then.” And the name felt delicious on his lips; the cadence of it suited her small, perfectly formed frame and bright eyes. He leaned forward to give her the customary “hello” kiss on the cheek.
As luck would have it, Abbie chose that moment to turn her head and admire the luxurious décor of the hotel lobby. Ichabod found his mouth landing squarely on hers. Her lips met his own, warm, and soft, and they parted. He could have sworn she’d emitted a little sigh of pleasure into his mouth.
And then the second that had seemed endless, ended, and they sprang apart.
“Allow me to apologise.” The depth of the kiss had surprised Ichabod. He hadn’t expected her to taste like that – all innocently minty fresh, and at the same time, hot and sultry. Her taste lingered on his lips and he resisted the urge to lick them and taste her all over again. “That was ungentlemanly of me,” he repeated, feeling useless.
“It’s… It’s okay. Really,” she half stammered. "Just a mistake."
God's teeth, it hadn't felt like a mistake to him. It had felt.... like home.
He shook the feeling off. “Then let us start over, as you Americans say."
Please, please, let her say yes. Let her forget that I’m a bumbling English fool. Who wants to kiss her again.
Seemingly unaffected, Abbie held out her hand. “I believe we were at the “you can call me Abbie” part.”
He took her hand and bowed over it, ignoring the surprised looks of others in the lobby.
She smiled, indulging him. "That's common in England?"
"Not really. But I have always been a little old-fashioned in my way."
"You broke the mould, huh?"
He offered her his arm. "So it seems."
They turned towards the doors. “I mean to look up places to eat on Yelp," Abbie began, "But I ran out of time. Let’s just walk until we find somewhere we both like the look of. Have you had much of a chance to explore since we spoke yesterday?”
He chuckled and met her gaze. Her eyes were a charming doe brown, shot with hazel. For a moment something in them flickered, and he wondered if she saw more than he wanted anyone to, saw deep inside. But then the moment passed, and he replied, “I’ve been sleeping off jet lag, so I’m afraid I haven’t any tall tales for dinner.”
She flashed a smile. “Well, that’s not a problem. I’ve lived here a long time. I doubt you’d have any tales that could surprise me.”

Chapter Text

A smartly dressed doorman held open the door for them to walk through. Ichabod thanked him as the chill of mid October bit at them with a strong gust of wind. Ichabod dragged his coat a little tighter around him. “God's bones, it’s cold here.”
Abbie lifted the hood of her own coat, after unlooping it from around her arm and pulling it on. “You wait. It’s not cold enough for snow yet.”
“Well, I, for one, am glad.” He glanced at her as they started to walk. “Are you very cold? We could take a cab somewhere, or simply eat in the hotel restaurant.” Right now going back inside the warmth emanating from the hotel seemed like a very good idea. He looked to Abbie for confirmation.
Her hands were stuffed as far in her pockets as they would go, and he could hardly make out her vloud of dark hair under the huge hood she’d pulled up. “Yeah. Right now, the hotel restaurant sounds really good to me.”
Relieved, Ichabod instinctively placed his hand at the small of her back as they walked back the few feet to the hotel entrance. To his credit, the doorman said nothing as he opened the door for them again.
After spying the sign that told them where each part of the hotel was located, Ichabod led them back towards the elevator. He could feel every cell of his body sighing in relief at the warmth inside the building.
As the doors closed on them with a gentle click, Ichabod became acutely aware of the light, summery scent which was drifting towards him from Abbie. She smelled of honeysuckle and fresh summer meadows. The innocent yet enticing scent had first hit him when he’d met her in her office yesterday. She hadn’t been what he’d expected then, and she wasn’t what he expected now, either.
He longed to feel her mouth under his again, to taste and inhale her.
It seemed he’d have a rather long evening ahead.

 


* * * * *


Abbie tried to hide the deep breaths she was taking as she stood in the elevator with Ichabod. Turned slightly away from him, she snuck a look at him out of the corner of her eye. He wore the same coat she’d seen him in yesterday. Underneath lay a dress shirt in a pale grey, a similar color to her dress. Black trousers and boots finished his outfit. She glanced at the grey, and a smile tugged at her mouth. It was almost if they’d unconsciously dressed to compliment each other.
There was something about him.... an old-fashioned air, something.... gentlemanly, as if he was from another time. That quirkyness drew her in. Were all writers eccentric?
The lights in the elevator glinted off his milk-chocolate brown hair, and, looking at it, Abbie wondered on the texture. A sudden image flashed through her mind of them embracing, her hands buried in his gorgeous thatch of hair.
As she gazed at him, he turned suddenly, as if he realized she’d been looking. Embarrassed, Abbie quickly looked away, calling herself a fool.
He seemed so… she supposed stoic might be the word. Or calm. How could he be so calm after that kiss? After he’d taken all the nerve endings in her mouth and set them on fire? After she’d been surrounded by his gorgeous woodsy scent, and felt the tip of his tongue whisper across her bottom lip?
Phew. She wanted him to do it again
Get a hold of yourself. He didn’t mean to kiss you. It was a simple mistake. She was a lawyer. She handled big law cases every day. She defended and prosecuted her heart out, and was up to her eyes in paperwork most weeks. She could handle one man for one evening. She could handle the fact that they’d kissed. She was hardly sixteen.
The fact that he was devastatingly attractive didn’t really help matters, of course.
The lift ascended slowly, and Abbie fiddled with the strap of her bag as she thought of something to say. Should she apologize for staring at him? She couldn’t seem to stop looking at his mouth. It tasted better than it looked, and oh, boy, was that saying something.
The elevator doors opened on to a small foyer. The restaurant entrance, bright and colorful, welcomed them from the other side of the space.
Preoccupied with her own thoughts, Abbie failed to exit the elevator completely. The elevator doors closed on the fabric of her dress. She moved forward.
Her dress did not.
Before she had time to think uh-oh, she was cart wheeling towards the plush-looking carpet.
And then she stopped.
A heartbeat passed before she realized that Ichabod had caught her.
He turned her slightly, and she looked up into his face. A few tendrils of his hair had escaped from the chestnut thicket and brushed his cheeks. His amber eyes bore into her own for a moment, before he said, “Are you all right?”
The lower half of her body pressed intimately against his. Abbie could feel the heat of his hands on her through the thin material of her dress. The B-movie thoughts she’d had about him yesterday flashed through her mind, and she felt sure that the color of the skin on her face and neck would probably soon resemble ripe tomatoes.
Her mind screamed two things at once: Let me go! And What are you waiting for? Kiss me!
“Yes. Thank you.” She surreptitiously glanced down at her dress. The scooped neck thankfully wasn’t hanging any lower; her dignity was intact. She was quite sure though, that her hair was another matter entirely.
Ichabod continued to hold her, the seconds stretching into a long moment. Abbie tried, but failed, to read the expression in those gorgeous golden eyes. Desire? Disappointment? Amusement?
“I’m not normally this clumsy,” she felt the need to say.
The corner of his mouth tipped up in a rather sexy half smile. Inwardly, Abbie steeled herself. She was going to have to be careful around a man with that sort of smile. Combined with his talented lips, it could easily be quite deadly.
A horrible thought occurred to her. Before he could answer her comment, she blurted,
“Is my dress ripped?”
Ichabod gently set her upright. Abbie was surprised at the disappointment she felt at being away from the warmth of his embrace, the security of his strong arms enfolding her.
“Let me see.” He crouched down, slightly behind her now. Abbie felt him rub the fabric of the tail of her dress between finger and thumb. His hand brushed her bare ankle, and she wondered if he’d touched her by accident or on purpose. His index finger stroked over the heel of her foot, naked in the backless shoe she wore. Her nerves tingled – just when had her feet become an erogenous zone?
She suspected that, where Ichabod was concerned, every part of her body might become an erogenous zone. It was a surprisingly arousing thought.
She almost moaned her displeasure when he straightened up and shifted to face her. “No damage appears to have been done.”
“Great,” she smiled, while her mind demanded: why did you stop touching me?
Afraid he’d somehow read her thoughts, she speedily added, “Let’s go eat then, shall we?”
“A capital idea."
Through the glass door entrance, Abbie glimsed pristine white tablecloths, buckets of champagne on tables, origami-worthy folded napkins. Waiters strode past diners, depositing and collecting plates. Delicious aromas curled up into the air as they made their way through the small foyer.
Abbie half expected Ichabod to place his hand at the small of her back, as he’d done when they’d proceeded back into the hotel. She felt strangely disappointed when he didn’t, but pushed it from her mind. Why should he do that? They were practically strangers, after all.
A server greeted and seated them. Abbie automatically stepped back when Ichabod moved around to her side of the table and pulled her chair out. It had been so long since a man had done that for her that she wasn’t quite sure what to do.
“Thanks.”
He smiled at her and took his own seat. A waiter came by for their drink orders, and then they were alone again. Before she could speak, Ichabod whipped out his pad and pens from the pocket of his jacket.
Abbie felt another stab of disappointment. It definitely appeared not to be a date. It was a chance for the writer to gather information. She’d have to remember that, despite the party the nerves in her leg had thrown at his slightest touch. Despite the unintended kiss she’d thoroughly enjoyed.
Why was she disappointed?
Hadn’t she spent the whole day hoping it wasn’t a date?
Man. She really irritated herself, some days.
She shrugged the feeling off as Ichabod spoke.
“My thanks for allowing me interrogate you.”
“Interrogate?” She felt a smile pulling at her mouth. “I would have thought interrogation took place somewhere dark and private, and involved handcuffs.” The moment the words were out of her mouth, she swore silently. Why had her brain suddenly decided it was time for flirting?
His gaze flicked to hers as he snapped the lid off one of the ballpoint pens he’d laid out on the table. “I’m sure I can arrange for us to go somewhere dark. The handcuffs however.... may be a little harder to come by.”
The heat of embarrassment crept up Abbie’s neck, followed by something – something more. Was he flirting with her again?
“I was joking,” she felt the need to say. The words came out awkwardly.
His cornflower blue eyes met hers again for a brief instant. He didn’t qualify whether or not his own answer had been in jest. Instead he said, “Would you like start now? Or perhaps, wait until after we’ve eaten?”
Abbie ran her index finger over the embossed text on the front of the menu before her. It was so much easier to look at something neutral. If she looked at Ichabod’s face she’d just think about the kiss again. “What do you usually do?”
He sat back. She noted that the overhead lighting caught on his hair, making it appear thicker and darker. His eyes seemed to search hers as he said, “to be honest this is the first time I’ve conducted such an interview over dinner."
Abbie struggled not to let a giddy feeling fill her. “Then let’s eat first. I’m starving.” She rubbed a hand over her stomach, watched Ichabod carefully fold away his writing instruments.
The server brought their drinks. Producing a match, he lit the slim red candle that sat in a festive pot between them on the table. The flame flickered for a moment, and Abbie couldn’t help noticing how it played over the curves and lines of Ichabod’s face.
She hadn’t been this fascinated with a man since her frequent movie star crushes as a hormonal teen. She sipped her mineral water – no alcohol, she wanted to be able to answer Ichabod’s questions with some semblance of decorum, although she’d been sorely tempted by the in-house cocktails – and kept her eyes on him as he opened the menu and perused it.
His eyes were narrowed very slightly and he wore a stoic look again: he was concentrating. Abbie couldn’t help but wonder what went going through his mind. Having read some of his writing, she knew that his extremely attractive countenance didn’t hide an empty brain. Was he plotting his novel? Mentally listing things to ask her? Wondering if he should have kissed her?
God, was he regretting having kissed her? It had been a mistake after all.
Or perhaps, Abbie reasoned as she hid behind her menu, he wasn’t analyzing everything and was just reading the menu like a normal person.
She sighed. His earlier, possibly unintentional caress on her leg had sent her senses haywire. The spots he’d touched, still felt warm. Her whole body had responded to his hands, and other places, places that hadn’t had the right sort of attention in a long time, had been woken up.
Now her body longed for his touch, her lips sizzled from their unintentional kiss, and her mind was in meltdown wondering what to make of it all.
It made deciding what to eat pretty hard.

 

 

 
*****

 

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anywhere so gorgeous,” Abbie said conversationally after they’d ordered and their menus had been taken away. “I like the pumpkins they had dotted on the desk in the lobby.”
“They caught me... rather off guard,” Ichabod admitted as he sipped the beer he’d ordered. “Until today, I hadn’t realized that All Hallow's Eve is upon us.” He said it like he didn’t know where the year had got to.
“Only two weeks to go.” Abbie finally unfolded her napkin and smoothed it over her lap, with a little regret. It had been so beautifully manipulated, sort of like art. She felt like she’d destroyed something. “You’ll be staying here until the end of October, then.”
He nodded. “It certainly appears that way.”
“Do you travel a lot, for research?” When he nodded, she asked, “Won’t your family miss you?”
“Sadly, there is no one waiting around for me,” he replied. His tone was light; he relaxed back into his chair. For all appearances he looked as if he didn’t really care much about not having a family to celebrate the season with. But Abbie hadn’t missed the flash of something that had paraded over his handsome face, before it had been quickly quelled.
She hadn’t been able to read anything into it, but she was willing to bet he wasn’t half as callous as he sounded.
Why not? Were the words that burned on her tongue, but she swallowed them back. She hadn’t even known the man a whole day. This was not the time to bore into his lack of family connections. Besides, he was here to ask the questions, not her.
“And you?” He asked, taking another pull on his beer. He set it back down and fiddled with it as he spoke, his index finger drawing slow, small circles in the condensation. Abbie watched his progress for a moment, thinking about the heat of his hand on her leg, and wishing to be the bottle.
Maybe I’m going a bit crazy. Was it normal to want a man to touch you so much? To yearn for it?
She never had before.
“My mom died when I was young, and, my dad found it hard to cope, so... I don't see him much. But my Aunt, Ruby, and Jenny and I, always have Christmas together, with tons of food, bickering, board games, and of course, falling asleep in front of the TV."
"I'm glad you have people there for you, when your parents could not be."
The way he said it was so different to what others might have said. No pity, no looking at her differently. A simple admission that he was glad she had something to hold on to.
She had a sudden urge to tell him more. To unburden all her secrets. It was his blue eyes that did it. They saw into her soul.
But a good spleen-venting session wouldn’t do either of them any good, so she did her best to put it out, and change the subject. She cast around for something to say. Something that wasn’t I think you’re hot or Please put your hands on me again.
Both those statements were likely to a) make the dinner a very unpleasant one, or b) make Ichabod very uncomfortable. Most likely they would achieve c) both.
“Do you go on book tours?” she asked, because it seemed as if the silence had stretched out for a long time. Immediately she bit her lip. Great, she had said something totally irrelevant to the conversation they’d been having. He probably thought she had a syndrome. She quickly added, “Sorry, I bet you hate being asked that.”
He lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. Abbie watched his muscles move under that gorgeous jacket, and wondered what his torso looked like under the grey dress shirt he wore. She was willing to bet he worked out.
“I don’t mind questions. I certainly ask enough of them. To answer yours, I generally try and avoid book tours. Once a book comes out, I’m more often than not on to the next. I find it... irritates me to have to talk about something that I consider closed, when I’m trying to work on my next project. But…” He took another sip of the beer. “They are a necessary evil, and signing a few books is a very small price to pay for getting to do what I love – and being able to afford to stay in places like this.”
“Do you always stay in the best hotels?” Abbie asked, before she realized it was rude. She all but slapped her hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry, don’t answer that. It was very rude of me to ask.”
He seemed about to reply when their appetizers arrived – salmon bruschetta for her, stuffed jalapeno peppers for him.
After the waiter had departed, Ichabod said, “I do my best to stay in places that have been recommended to me. I actually heard about this place-” he waved a hand to encompass the hotel “-from Sophie. She said friends had stayed here on honeymoon and were most reluctant to leave.”
The word honeymoon flashed the image of an opulent, king-sized bed suite through her mind, and she quickly turned her attention to the plate of salmon before her. She didn’t need any more distracting little fantasies.
Especially not now, now that she had the taste of him, that accidentally perfect little kiss.
“Once,” he continued, “I passed a few nights in a tiny guesthouse in Ireland, run by a widow. She baked the most delicious cake every day at teatime, no matter how many or few guests she had.” He grinned wickedly at her. “I am most relieved that I only stayed a few nights – any longer and twice the man I am now would be seated opposite you.”
Abbie subtly admired his trim figure. She studied the lines of his chest beneath the thin shirt he wore. A man didn’t get a body like that by eating teacakes.
Oh my God. Am I ogling him?
He took his jacket off. Abbie couldn’t help noticing the flex and pull of the muscles under his shirt as he shrugged the outer layer off. The shirt fit him almost like a second skin.
Oh, yeah. I totally am.
The dress shirt he wore didn’t need cufflinks, and the sleeves were slit open a few inches down from the elbow. Through the gap, Abbie looked at his slightly tanned arm and wrist. Dark hair was peppered over the skin up to his wrist. His watch was slim, silver. The face looked old-fashioned, genteel.
“Tell me about the other places you’ve been,” she said. Anything to distract her from the way he looked. He really was stupidly attractive – more so than any man had a right to be. She thought about Luke for a moment. He paled next to a man who looked like Ichabod.
“I’ll regale you with some travel stories, if you'd like,” Ichabod replied. He noticed a server heading towards them. “Would you care to share some wine over dinner?”
Abbie studied her glass of mineral water. What the hell, she only lived once. Perhaps alcohol would dull the terrible need she had to feel his touch. “Sure. I hope you like red.”
“Absolutely.” He asked the server to recommend a bottle of shiraz as the smartly dressed woman placed their meals before them.
Abbie eagerly peeled the foil from her wrapped Dover sole. Marinated rosemary potatoes and leeks stared up at her. In the gaps between them she could see the succulent white fish. Her stomach growled.
She glanced over at Ichabod’s plate. He’d ordered some sort of steak, with a small side of fries, and a pile of winter vegetables in thick gravy. The tangy scent of the meaty gravy filled the air and made her mouth water.
The wine arrived, and after the server had deposited the bottle and half filled both their glasses, Ichabod entertained her with stories of his travels. He told her about the time he’d been tempted to buy a monkey as a pet in Bangkok, the beer festival he’d attended in Hamburg, the tiny Joey he’d been allowed to hold in a small zoo in Canberra.
The more Abbie listened to him talk, the more she wished she’d been part of the stories. Wished she’d had the same chance as he’d had to explore the big, wide world she’d been born into.
“So,” Ichabod said as he polished off his steak, which had looked delicious, “I feel I have talked the back legs quite off a donkey. Please, tell me about yourself.”
Abbie put down her cutlery and drank some wine. It was a bottle from 2003 – a fabulous year for wine, especially the red variety. “I have it on good authority not to tell a writer anything you don’t want to end up reading in a book one day.”
He grinned at her, shamelessly using that quick and deadly smile; the one she knew she had to cautious of. “Well then. You’re lucky I don’t have my pad and pen out at this moment, aren’t you?”
Abbie tapped a finger to her temple. “I’ll bet you have a pad and pen in here.”
His brows lifted a fraction and that half-smile lifted the left side of his mouth. “I suppose you’ll just have to trust me.”
She pushed her plate aside, slightly disappointed that she’d eaten the fish as fast as she had. Now it was all gone. She rested her elbows on the table and her chin on her laced hands. “Just what do you want to know?” She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t go using anything personal about me in your book, or in your characters.”
He leaned back in his chair. “It’s going to be hard to entirely keep you out. Pieces of you might get in.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Abbie opened her mouth to speak, but then decided to let that lie. The strong possibility of flirtation hung in the air between them, and she didn’t want to pursue it. Even if Luke hadn’t been haunting her conscience like a bad smell, Ichabod wasn’t a native here. He was only in town to do research and go home. Anything the two of them got into would be serious f-word material.

Fling.

And Abbie had never been a woman who indulged in flings.

“What do you want to know?” she repeated.

“Whatever you want to tell me, considering we’ve only known each other for a few hours.” He picked up his wine glass, and stretched a little, looking for all the world as if he had nothing more on his mind than hearing her speak.

But Abbie knew better.

She’d read his books, and no one could write like that by letting the world pass by and simply enjoying. She’d bet that the proverbial pad in his head was turned to a crisp new page, and the pen was full of ink.

“Why don’t you tell me about what sort of music you like?”

 

***

 

“I’m a classical music fiend,” Abbie said as she sipped her wine. Ichabod watched her, noted the faint, rose-coloured imprint her lips left on the glass. Her tongue flicked out for a moment to lick a stray droplet from her bottom lip. The sensual move certainly didn’t go unnoticed, and he shifted a little in his seat. “Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven…” she continued, “Especially with a bubble bath and a good book.”

He almost bobbled his wine glass on the words bubble bath. An image of Abbie’s slender, lithe body, submerged under water and slick with scented soap bubbles, flashed before his eyes. He carefully set the wine glass down. Best to be safe.

He desperately wanted to know if she’d been offended by his kissing faux pas earlier. She didn’t seem offended. She didn’t seem to be anything else, either. Had she felt what he had – that quick jolt, and then the rush of pleasure? On the surface, she seemed calm as a lake. Or maybe she’d just learned to appear that way – she made a living as an attorney in a top legal firm, after all.

“Classical music makes for a surprisingly good backdrop to your novels, actually,” she added, surprising him. He’d privately wondered if she’d read anything he’d written, but thought it inappropriate to ask. “Especially the creepy parts. I’ve often had trouble sleeping alone in my apartment after a few hours reading.”

Humbled, he smiled at her. Giving people an uneasy night’s sleep was the dream of every suspense or thriller novelist. “Thank you.” Then he ran back over the sentence in his head. The words sleeping alone were highlighted in bright ink on his proverbial pad.

Who did she normally sleep with? Did someone live there with her? Perhaps she had a boyfriend. He studied her profile as she turned to watch one of the servers set a lobster platter on another table. She had a long, elegant neck, a delicately defined jaw line, long, thick lashes. And an attorney to boot, which meant she had to have a hell of a brain. Why wouldn’t she have a boyfriend?

But if she had one, why had she kissed him back? Reflex?

Ichabod considered it for a moment, rewinding the evening. She had kissed back, albeit tentatively. He’d felt her lips part under his, heard her soft sigh. She’d enjoyed it, all right.

It made him feel slightly more manly.

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask her outright if she was in a relationship – for curiosity’s sake, he told himself. But he didn’t, because what right did he have? If he was going to have any part in her life at all, it would only be for three weeks at the most. Three weeks and a fumbled kiss didn’t give him the right to any kind of relationship.

“Do you live alone?” he asked instead.

Her dark-eyed gaze flicked away from his for a moment, and she toyed with the stem of her wine glass, running her fingers up and down the thin flute. Ichabod tried hard not to think of other objects she could apply a similar motion to.

“Sometimes,” she said eventually. “I mean, most of the time when I’m there, I’m there alone. I take it you mean – do I live with a man?”

“I meant anyone.” He caught the do you think I was born yesterday? look she shot him, and he lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. “Yes. I meant to ask whether or not you live with a man.”

“I don’t live with a man. There is a man. Well, sort of. There was.”

Ichabod served Abbie, and then himself, some more wine. “Does that allude to the phrase “it’s complicated?””

Abbie performed a very good impression of a teenager rolling her eyes. “You have no idea. I think we actually broke up, although I’m not sure. He said something about this town not being a place to settle down, despite the fact I’m at the top of my game and hadn’t made any noises about kids or white picket fences.”

She sipped her wine and was silent for a long moment, her mouth turned down. “I’m not really sure we were that into each other anyway.”

“Is that what you want, though, eventually?” Ichabod asked quietly, watching her over the rim of his own wine glass. “The fence, the children? The proverbial dog that goes along with those first two?”

Abbie set her own glass down and slowly slid her index finger around the rim. It made a pretty little shimmering sound. “Who doesn’t want that? Eventually, I mean. Right now, I’m pretty content to do what I do. I’d like to think that somewhere there’s a small house with a fence and a yard and a dog, with my name stamped all over them. But it’s hard to have a family and a top career when you’re a woman, so you have to choose. I thought I was perfectly willing to give it all up in a few years for Luke, for kids, but I guess he didn’t want that. Or me,” she added quietly at the end.

She abruptly stopped, and met his eyes. Her own had a self-deprecating smile in them. “Check me out. No expense spared when he comes to the violins. Sorry about that. Ready for dessert?”

“Of course. And no apology is required.” Ichabod nodded his assent and smiled politely, but silently he was cross with himself. He hadn’t had any right to ask her about white picket fences and families and her career. Abigail Mills was the kind of woman who wanted a family – the whole American dream deal. And she deserved it.

He really wasn’t the kind of man who could give her the whole shebang. But that was okay, because in three weeks he’d be out of her life, and another man would look at her across a dinner table, watch her sip her wine, check her dress for rips, and feel the softness of the skin on her ankle.

He suddenly felt very depressed, but pushed it aside as the server presented them with ornate, leather-bound dessert menus. Decadent tarts, pies and gateaux were listed alongside liqueur coffees and in-house cocktails.

“See anything you like?” he asked.

Her gaze flashed to his. Before he could read anything into it, she looked down at the menu. “Raspberry crème brûlée. I haven’t had crème brûlée for years.”

Ichabod perused his own menu. He’d expected her to make some comment on how she shouldn’t have dessert, how the calories were bad for her, or blah blah. Instead, there she was, poring over the menu, her small pink tongue flicking out over her lips.

He closed his eyes for a moment. If he wasn’t careful, that tongue would be his undoing. Her sexy little lip-licking action was more than likely to find its way into his book.

They ordered, and then Ichabod fished out his notepad. She arched a delicate eyebrow at him. “I thought we agreed no writer stuff until after dessert.”

“I know we did.” But if he didn’t have something apart from her sexy ankles, tongue and hair, he would likely go a little bit mad.

Or he’d swing her over his shoulder and settle things in his hotel room, in a manly and satisfying fashion. Since that wasn’t on the cards, he took out two pens and laid them side by side. He liked having a spare pen handy; it irked him to have to look for another one mid-flow if one ran out of ink.

He waited as Abbie settled back in her chair, resting her chin on her laced hands. “All right, Mr. Crane, do your worst writer stuff.”

Amused, he scribbled on his pad and then glanced up at her. “ Please, call me Ichabod.”

“Okay, Ichabod.” She glanced at her watch. “I’d better remind you that I charge ten units per hour,” she smiled, clearly making a joke.

He blew out a breath. “Well. I guess I’d better make sure you’re worth the money.” He’d liked the sound of his name in her voice.

Leaning as she was, the deep neck of her dress hung slightly lower, and he could see the shadow of her delicately pale cleavage. He had a sudden image of himself kneeling before her, his mouth in that gorgeous spot where her breasts met the rest of her torso. Jesus, this was hard. He’d be pretty hard before long. Trying to keep it light, he added, “And are you?”

“Every penny,” she said, her voice only just above a whisper.

Holy Christ.

It didn’t help that it had been, well, a while. Ichabod wasn’t one to take lovers too often, and lately he’d been unsatisfied with sex for the sake of sex. He wasn’t denying that a casual affair was a boatload of fun, but he also liked to have women as friends. Casual affairs tended to eliminate that possibility, and he had yet to find a happy medium.

Right now, his trousers were all for casual sex. He ignored the ache, and tested his pen on the pad, unnecessarily.

“So.” Just as he was about to speak, the server arrived with their desserts. Ichabod had no idea what the hell he’d ordered. He’d been too busy being fascinated with the distracting way Abie licked her lips. With the distracting way she did everything.

So it was with some relief that he saw a simple apple crumble before him, complete with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a pretty sprinkle of chocolate shavings. It smelled delicious.

Across the table from him, the object of his attention was tapping the hard layer of caramel on top of her brûlée. It had arrived in a red and gold ramekin. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration. He thought she looked adorable.

He put the pad away.

She looked up, having sensed his movement. “I can talk and eat at the same time. Women have been known for their multi-tasking for many years now.”

“I don’t have any doubt about that. I just think it’ll be hard to write with the food here.” He omitted the fact that he was normally alone at dinner, and that it was nice just to talk to her, and to not to think about his work for once. “Do you have time to move to the bar after, perhaps? We’ll do the questions then.”

“I have time.” She finally cracked the shell. “I love doing this.” She licked the tip of her spoon.

Ichabod forced himself to look away.

After she’d had a spoonful, she peered over at his plate “Aren’t you hungry?”

He looked at the plate, then to her. The candle the server had lit earlier cast shadows over the curves of her face, illuminating her delicate cheekbones, her long eyelashes. Tendrils of raven black hair spilled down behind her ears, caressing the slim column of her neck. As she lifted the spoon to her lips again, he noted a slender silver bracelet adoring her wrist. The large band slipped down almost to her elbow, serving to emphasize the smallness of her arm.

He paused in thought and stared at his wine glass. Noticing how small a woman’s arm looked? Wow, he’d really had too much to drink. It must have come from mixing wine and beer. Hadn’t he been warned against that as a lad?

“Of course,” he replied, digging in. The crumble must have tasted incredible, but he hardly noticed. Instead he asked, “Desserts are your favourite stage of a meal?”

She nodded, digging the spoon in again. “I’m not afraid to admit it. The whole point of a meal is getting to dessert.” She all but licked the bowl clean, then pushed it aside and glanced behind her. “Excuse me, I’ve just got to use the ladies’ room.”

Mouth full of crumble, Ichabod nodded his assent and hoped he didn’t have ice cream or apple chunks on his face. She pushed her chair in and walked through the aisle created by tables towards the staircase at the rear of the restaurant. He noticed several male heads turn as she did so.

He didn’t miss the gentle way her hips swayed as she walked, or the line of her slender legs beneath the long dress.

The urge to catch up to her, turn her to face him, and kiss her, in front of the whole restaurant, seized him. He wanted her.

And he had a feeling that the next two weeks might well be the longest of his life.

Chapter Text


What the hell am I doing?
In the bathroom, Abbie stared at herself in the mirror, hardly believing her behaviour in the restaurant. She splashed a little water on her face, and closed her eyes, pressing her fingers to her temples.
What had she said in response to his flirtatious quip about her worth? Every penny. Holy cow, she had meant to be joking. But the wine had had some sort of weird effect on her, and her voice had come out all husky and throaty. Like she was flirting back. And he’d grinned at her. Like he’d enjoyed it and had got the message loud and clear.
A kiss, then leg touching, and then flirting to top it off. Well, she appeared to be making up a ton of lost time as far as the dating scene was concerned.
She sank down on to one of the two small brown love seats in the middle of the bathroom, squeezed between the sinks and the stalls. Another moment came back to haunt her. What was it she’d said about violins? Oh, yes. Luke. God, why had she even brought Luke into the conversation?
Ichabod Crane, bestselling writer, was only sitting with her to research a book. Nothing else.
She smoothed her palms along the long skirt of her dress. He’d asked her if she lived with a man. Come on, Abs, Jenny would say. You aren’t stupid. He’s clearly interested.
The million-dollar question was – am I interested?
Hell yes.
There wasn’t anything not to be interested in. Sexy robin's egg blue eyes, very sexy accent, and definitely built if the lines under his shirt were anything to go by.
But.
But, he was a man on the move. The stories he’d shared with her about his extensive travels proved that. He obviously got itchy feet after too long in one place.
Although Abbie would like to see the world, she didn’t share his wanderlust. As a young girl, she’d dreamed of getting to the top of her game, then getting her dream man – always in that order. She was at the top of her game now, and if she was honest, she’d hoped that Luke would fit the dream man profile.
But with him, it had always been a severe and inoperable case of round peg, square hole.
Ichabod certainly fit the image requirements for her dream man. He was so hot that she wondered if she’d need to pierce a hole in a piece of paper to be able to look at him for long periods of time.
But her dream man would also have to share her non-work dreams. He’d want kids. And he’d love her, so much that they would still feel passion and tenderness for each other into the winters of their lives.
Wanderlust did not bode well for the white picket fence life. She swallowed back disappointment, without really understanding why she should feel that way. Neither of them had voiced their attraction to the other. And she’d known the man less than twenty-four hours, for God’s sake. There was nothing to be disappointed about.
She was being silly. She stood up, splashed her face again, and then checked her reflection in the mirror.
Oh no. Oh no.
Why, why, why hadn’t she brought some new waterproof mascara? She looked like a panda in a human costume. This was so not a good look.
She grabbed some tissues from the dispenser by the mirror and did her best to repair the damage. After a few swipes, it was a little better, but she still looked as if she’d had a nice good cry.
Great.

 

******

 

 


Worry crept up Ichabod's neck. He’d already been asked if he needed anything else. The dessert plates had been cleared away by a server. Now he was nursing a black coffee, wondering where Abigail had got to.
He’d ordered a coffee for her, too, and it sat opposite him, the heat from the untouched liquid seeping through the china and slowly melting the tiny chocolates that had been placed on the saucer. Where the hell was she?
He became increasingly sure that the kiss had upset her. God, why hadn’t he stuck to a simple handshake? Why hadn’t he waved, or hugged her, or anything but do what he did.
Writing suspense had its downsides – he’d started to entertain morbid images of her sprawled on the floor with a bottle of an unknown substance, he glimpsed her grey dress at the top of the stairs. Relief flooded him as she headed back towards their table.
The relief was quickly replaced by horror as he saw her make-up. She’d definitely been crying.
God. What had he done?
He studied her face as she neared the table. Her eyes weren’t red. That was a good sign. Perhaps it had only been a short cry. Nevertheless, the idea that he had caused her to cry at all made his stomach clench painfully.
The apple crumble didn’t sit so well now.
She pulled out her chair to sit. Ichabod couldn’t help but notice the way the fabric of her dress pulled tight over her breasts for a moment as she reached back to pull the chair in.
“Sorry about that,” she said.
“No problem.” He smiled at her, but his head filled with questions.
She looked down and saw her coffee, still steaming. Smiling, she tapped the cup’s handle. “Thanks. How did you know?”
Now he smiled a real smile. “Lucky guess.” He leaned in, teasing. “Would you like to be alone with it?”
“That depends.” She slowly unwrapped one of the tiny chocolates and placed it on her tongue. “Have you ordered me a Danish to go with it?”
He chuckled, enjoying her, and then his smile faded. She was so beautiful. The slightly smudged make-up around her eyes made them seem bigger, brighter. Even the possibility that he’d made her shed tears made him feel like a huge, huge asshole.
So he had to know.
Before he really knew what he was doing, he took the coffee cup from her hand, and then enclosed that hand between both of his.
Her skin was soft, her fingers warm from holding the cup of coffee. Her nails were short, and shiny with a transparent gloss. Her hand was so small cupped between both of his. She seemed so delicate. “Miss Mills, what’s wrong?”
Her hand trembled once between his, and then she smiled. He didn’t know her well enough to tell whether it was a real smile or a false one. “Oh, that. I was just freshening up. I splashed some water on my face before I remembered that I’m not wearing waterproof mascara tonight.” She looked contrite.
Ichabod narrowed his eyes slightly in concentration. Was it a lie? For the first time in a long time, he wished he had more female friends. They’d have given him some sort of manual on all aspects of women. No doubt it would have a chapter on how to tell truth from lie.
“Are you sure?” he asked. He hoped that she understood that those three words actually meant if I’ve upset you, please tell me. If you’re annoyed, or upset, or offended about the fact I kissed you – tell me.
Abbie answered with a quick little nod. She tugged on her hand slightly. He let it go. She unwrapped another of the tiny chocolates. “I’m sure. Really. That’s it.”
He sat back, relieved.
“Sorry,” Abbie said around the last of the chocolate. “I guess I should be more complicated and emotional.”
Her words startled him before he realized with a grin, that she was joking. “Come on,” he told her. “Let’s move to the bar. There are big sofas there. You can relax while I interview you.”

 

******

 

All the big couches – or sofas, as Ichabod had called them – were taken, Abbie saw, with a pang of nerves. Which meant they’d have to take one of the more private booths along the walls of the bar. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the restaurant’s walls were glass.
Customers could watch the bustling streets of the town as they enjoyed drinks and snacks.
Ichabod strode towards a booth that hit dead centre of the bar. Abbie waited a moment, allowing herself the guilty pleasure of watching him move. He had a confident walk. His hands were tucked into the pockets of that gorgeous jacket he wore. It fitted the lean lines of his body perfectly.
He moved to slide into the both, and she followed. The seats were soft, and curved around to form a loose U shape. A glass-topped table stood between them. The booth was quite small. They’d have to sit pretty close together.
Abbie made a quick scan of the other booths. Every occupied one was filled with couples, cuddled up close and smooching.
As if she wasn’t having a hard enough time forgetting their accidental kiss earlier.
She finally sat, her leg just a few inches from his.
“This one to your liking?” he asked.
“Oh, sure.” They were only going to talk, after all. Talking was okay. She talked a lot at work. She was a lawyer; practically paid for her fast talking abilities.
So how could it be that when she got close to Ichabod Crane, her tongue went limp and words flew out of her head?
Ichabod slowly and methodically took out his notepad and pens, and she watched his face. His eyes were narrowed, his brow slightly creased as he tested the silver biro he’d used before.
Concentration looked pretty damn good on him.
A waitress arrived at their booth. “Can I get you something to drink?”
He ordered a beer. Abbie considered a moment, then ordered some mineral water. She’d already had two glasses of wine, and a good red wine plus another type of alcohol was not a recipe for a clear head at work the next day.
She glanced at Ichabod, expecting him to make some quip about her not drinking. To say something like “come on, live dangerously.” Luke had always been ready with that one in particular. He thought she was too straight-laced.
But instead, when he opened his mouth, he said; “Tell me about how you got to where you are today. You must have a pretty laudable education behind you.”
“Thanks, I do.” The drinks arrived and she sipped her water. It was chilled and she felt the cold liquid all the way down to her stomach. “I got my undergraduate degree in Law at NYU. I did pretty well.”
Ichabod stopped writing and met her gaze for a moment. Behind the lens of his glasses, his amber eyes glowed. “I would wager you were a good student.”
“I like to think so.” she played with her silver bracelet. “I actually think I was a bit too dedicated to my studies. I was determined. Too focused, some of my classmates said. I was lucky to have the few friends I had. I turned down party invites to study, because I watched so many of the “good time” crowd drop out and get jobs under the Golden Arches. I didn’t want that to be. After a time, I stopped being invited. I-”
Abbie stopped. He’d asked her about her education. He hadn’t given her permission to throw a pity party for herself.
“I’m sorry. Can’t seem to keep those pesky violins in their cases.” She gave him a self-deprecating smile.
When she reached out to pick up her glass, Ichabod covered her hand with his. Abbie almost started at the dance her nerves did upon feeling the warmth of his touch.
“You seem to have this rather odd idea that I don’t enjoy listening to or talking to you,” he said, his voice so quiet that she almost had to strain to hear him. “Or that I won’t understand what you went through. It’s the same with writing, you know. Many a time I’ve had to say no to bachelor party invites, holiday invites, and the rest. Because of a book deadline. Or worse, because I actually preferred staying in with my computer and my characters to getting inebirated in a bar.”

Abbie looked at him in a new light. “You do understand.” She thought about turning her hand over, so she could grip his, palm to palm. What would he do? Before she could think any more about it, he withdrew his hand, and the moment was lost. “So,” he began. “What happened after NYU?”
“Well, I did well enough to make it into Yale to read Law at a Masters Degree level.” Abbie couldn’t help herself swelling just a little with pride at this statement. And why shouldn’t she be proud, dammit. She’d earned her way. “I knew then that I wanted to work in Family Law. And that I wanted to be back here, where I grew up. The firm I'm with now took me on as a paralegal.”
“What is that?” Ichabod asked, without breaking stride in his writing. His hand moved across the page fluidly. The pen almost seemed to be an extension of his fingers.
“It’s sort of like a paid slave in a lawyer’s office. I got all the grunt work. But I did it well, and I offered to work after hours without pay. After eighteen months, one of the partners noticed me, and, well, here I am.”
Ichabod put his pen down and flexed his fingers. Abbie's gaze dropped unconsciously to his hand, and remembered how his touch had felt on her leg. How she longed to feel him stroke her face, her neck, pretty much anywhere. She’d never felt so… so damn needy before.
She didn’t care for it.
“Sacrifices,” he murmured, “but for ultimate gain. Controlled and determined.” An expression of deep concentration bathed his face.
Abbie tapped his notepad. “What?”
“I’m thinking of elements for my main character. She has made sacrifices, but all along she was certain it’d be worth her while. Missing out in the past leads to rewards in the future.”

Chapter Text

“How do you create them?” Abbie asked, then immediately wanted to zip her mouth shut. “Sorry. I bet you hate being asked that.”
“Often.” But he grinned, quick and charming, and Abbie relaxed. “But in your case, I find I should make an exception. I am interrogating you for information, after all.” He made another small note on his pad, in the margin this time, and then set it aside. “They’re pieces of people I’ve met, seen on the television, read about, passed in the street.”
“Do you ever let yourself get into your books?”
“I do try not to. It becomes.... too personal, then.” He took a long drink of his beer, and swiped at a few strands of hair that had fallen boyishly over his forehead.
Abbie wanted to tuck them back in for him, to feel the texture of the strands. To breathe in that gorgeous woodsy, masculine scent that surrounded him.
The next hour passed pretty quickly as Ichabod asked questions, inserting them neatly into the conversation that moved easily between them. When Abbie checked her cell phone, out of habit, she saw that it would soon be midnight.
It was time to bring the evening to an end.
She really didn’t want to. But an early start awaited her – she’d be seeing a client at 9am, and she had to iron a suit in time for her session in court at 3pm.
“I’m afraid I’ve got to leave,” she said abruptly, regretting it. “I have an early meeting in the morning.”
He glanced at the clock behind him, above the bar. “I do apologise, dear Miss Mills. I hadn’t realized it was so late. Let me get your coat. We’ll go down to reception and they can call you a conveyance home.”
Abbie sat back in the booth as he wandered off to find a server. She’d done it. She’d survived her first date with a man who wasn’t Luke. Hell, she’d thoroughly enjoyed it. But even as she allowed herself to relax, she felt an empty feeling creep into her stomach. It was over. Ichabod no longer had any reason to see her again.
She closed her eyes, recalling the sensation of his lips whispering over hers. It wasn’t hard. Her own mouth tingled at the thought of it happening again.
“Miss Mills.”
She jerked, opening her eyes. The writer stood by the booth, holding her coat out, the inside facing her, so she could easily slip into it.
“Thanks,” she said sincerely as she stood and angled her arms into the sleeves. “I guess I was just a little tired.”
“My pleasure. The hour is late. I shall accompany you.” He stood aside and Abbie walked towards the elevator that would take them down to the lobby. The elevator that would take her out of the handsome writer’s life. Maybe for good?
“You don’t have to,” she said quickly as he pressed the button for elevator car service.
He glanced over at her; she recognized the heat in his percing azure eyes. “What if I want to?”
Well, what could she say to that? She wanted him to. He wanted to.
Would he kiss her goodbye? If he didn’t kiss her, was she allowed to kiss him instead? She cursed inwardly and called herself a fool. She was her own woman. If she wanted to kiss a man, she’d kiss him. She would not allow herself to dissolve into a pile of nerves.
She felt his hand at the small of her back as they stepped into the elevator. Abbie had never experienced a man as gentlemanly as Ichabod before. Did all English men behave like this? Perhaps she ought to take herself off on a little vacation to London.
“My sincere thanks for tonight,” Ichabod said to her as the elevator descended. “Really. I am aware that Sophie called on short notice. You hardly had to accommodate me.”
“You didn’t have to buy me dinner.”
“Did you enjoy it?” He stood very close to her now. Abbie had no idea whether he was talking about the food, his company, or the kiss.
She opted to believe that he meant dinner. It was all around easier. “I could have kissed the chef’s feet. The food was excellent. And you?”
“Oh, I enjoyed tonight very much.”
All she had to do was lift her head a fraction, and they’d be kissing. Abbie tried working up the gall to do it. Come on. Just a few inches. You could even make it look like you didn’t mean to.
The elevator stopped with a shrill ding. The door slid open, and people started to flood in. Abbie and Ichabod stepped out. Despite the fact that it was now after midnight, the gorgeously decorated lobby was a hub of activity. Couples and families lounged in the corner couch arrangements. People milled around the huge glass door entrance, saying hello or drawing out goodbyes.
Ichabod stopped at the reception desk to order a cab. She listened as he spoke politely to the young girl behind the desk. She really was a sucker for accents. She especially liked the way he said her name. He made it sound so exotic, when she knew it really wasn’t.
He made it, and her, sound special.
She already knew she’d miss that quite a bit.
“Your ride home shall be here momentarily.” Ichabod walked Abbie to the entrance. "Thank you for your most enjoyable company. And for making me the envy of every man in the room this evening."
Abbie felt a flush creep up her neck. “You’re welcome.”
They stood, facing each other. Abbie looked into his eyes for what seemed an endless moment. She couldn’t have said how long they stayed that way, each entranced by the other.
Then a horn beeped, and Abbie recognized it as that of a yellow cab. It was probably hers.
“I shall walk you out,” Ichabod offered. He led her through the glass door.
Abbie bent to the window of the cab. “Taxi for Mills?”
“Yeah,” the surly-looking driver replied, in a thick Montana accent.
“Well, this is me.” Abbie turned to face Ichabod again. God, he really was too gorgeous to be human. She wondered if she’d wake up in a second, in bed, and find out that she’d dreamed it all.
She hoped she hadn’t.
The October wind whipped around them, disturbing Ichabod's thick caramel-brown hair. She searched his cerulean gaze.
Oh, to hell with it all. She took the proverbial horse by the reins. “Ichabod?”
“Yes?” He looked as if he’d been waiting for her to say his name.
“I owe you a meal,” she said quickly. “What are you doing Sunday, around lunchtime? I know this great place a few blocks from here.”
She saw something like surprise, and then pleasure, pass over his face. “I believe you do owe me lunch. Sunday it is. I-” he paused, and for a horrifyingly long moment Abbie thought he might make some excuse. Instead, he lifted his hand to her face, and gently skimmed the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip. Her legs turned to jelly. She wanted to turn her face into his palm and purr. “I don’t have a mobile phone that works in this country. May I call your office?”
“Oh, yeah. Sure.” Abbie had no idea what she’d just agreed to. All she could hear was the pounding of her own heart, echoing all over her body. It was chilly out, but she didn’t feel cold. She only felt the touch of his hand, and the huge, desperate need that suddenly clawed at her. Her instincts took over. “Aren’t you going to kiss me goodbye?” she asked, and heard herself use that sly, sultry tone that she hardly recognized as her own voice.
“I should very, very much like to.” He lowered his head to hers. They were so close that Abbie saw flecks of flinty grey in his deep blue eyes. “But here, I am unable take my time over it.”
“Oh. Oh.” Heat blazed low in her belly. "I’ll see you Sunday.”
Before he could reply, she threw herself into the cab and told the driver her address. As the cab pulled away from the curb, she turned her face to the window and watched the gorgeous English writer with the blazing blue eyes get smaller and smaller, until he was totally enveloped by the darkening night.

 

*****

 

* * *
“Oh, yeah, baby. Pay up,” Abbie's sister Jenny ordered her boyfriend Joe the next evening, as the three of them congregated in the living area of Abbie’s cozy apartment.
Abbie stood at the kitchen’s short counter, pouring out the Mojitos she’d made into tall, skinny glasses. She added a few slices of fruit to each and placed the four glasses on a tray.
“Did you guys bet on whether I would kiss the writer?” she asked dryly.
Jenny chose a Mojito from the tray. “We have to get our kicks somewhere. But, aside from the betting, I’m really glad you did kiss. I was hoping you would. So. What was it like?”
Abbie hesitated, then pulled out her favorite beanbag from under the short, squat coffee table, and sat down.
“It was like an explosion of heat. My mouth was on fire, even though I realize he hadn’t meant to kiss me. And even though I hadn’t expected it, I kissed back.”
“Oh, wow.” Jenny settled back on Abbie’s couch and sipped her cocktail. “This is better than Desperate Housewives.”
"Speak for yourself," Joe piped up. "I never watch that crap."
Abbie and Jenny shared a look because Joe did regularly watch reality TV.
Jenny adjusted the hot pink, heart-shaped cushion at her back. “So, then what happened? Tell me he threw you over his shoulder and you ended up having dinner and dessert in bed.”
Abbie found all eyes on her again. She threw her hands in the air. “Jeez, when did my life become something you wanted weekly installments of?”
“Just make it up for my amusement at least," Jenny cajoled.
“I have no more fuel for your dirty mind. But I am meeting him for lunch on Sunday.!
Jenny's eyebrows winged up. "And what are you wearing for this ltitle excursion?"
"I have no idea," Abbie groused. "I've had things like, you know, court cases to think about."
Grimacing, Jenny put down her drink and rolled her up sleeves, like a woman about to take part in hardy labor. “Thank God I'm here. This might take some time.”

Chapter Text

For the second time in less than a week, Ichabod found himself waiting for Miss Mills in the hotel lobby. This time, however, he felt something which hadn’t been present last time.

Nerves. He rarely felt nervous. Nerves were something he associated with his career. Nerves were things which made themselves known to him when he submitted a new manuscript, or started a book tour. Not when he met a woman. At least, not usually.

But, he supposed, he’d never come across a woman like her before. Abigail was not the kind of woman a man had a fling with. She was smart. Witty. Kind. She had firmly planted roots here in Sleepy Hollow. She was beautiful.

 

And she was, most likely, not for him.

Thinking about Miss Mills with another man saddened something inside Ichabod. But thinking about the whole American dream deal gave him itchy feet. The American dream was just that – a dream. Nothing lasted that long, in this fast paced modern world, to his way of thinking.

One person would just be unable to go the distance.

Flings, affairs, tete a tetes, were easier. Both people knew what they wanted. Both people understood that each could walk away without fear of hurt, abandonment or awkwardness. In the past, he had to admit, sourly, he had preferred that option.

So why did he continue to stand here, waiting for Abigail, a woman who had FAMILY MATERIAL and  FOREVER practically stamped all over her forehead?

The answer lay with him, he decided. For a reason he didn’t yet understand, he’d become tired of sex for the sake of sex. 

Ichabod stared at himself in the long mirrors that flanked the lobby’s glass entrance door. He must be working too hard. He never normally pondered deep and meaningful questions, and now he knew why. It made his head hurt, more than conjuring plots for crime thrillers.

He was jolted from his thoughts when he recognized Abbie climbing out of a conveyance – a cab, he reminded himself. People called them cabs here.

She wore her hair loose today, and it cascaded down her back in obsidian waves curls that looked soft and silky. Silver sparkled at her ears and on her hands. She wore a smart, belted brown suede coat. The hem hit her mid-thigh. Underneath she wore a denim skirt and high heeled, brown leather boots. They encased her slim, shapely legs. 

He quickly peered into the mirror to check his own reflection as she approached the door. Her steps were quick and confident. He found it hard to reconcile this confident, sure woman with the one who’d suddenly babbled at him about kissing, a few nights ago.

She truly intrigued him. Ichabod worried that he was already more interested than he had any right to be.

To hell with worrying. He was interested. Very.

Just as Abbie approached, a couple in the lobby stopped a few feet short of him and began to engage in a very passionate embrace.

“Ichabod. Ah, hi.” Abigail stopped before him. She seemed distracted, her gaze lingering on the amorous couple. Then, she turned her deep hazel eyes on him. “How are you?”

“Well. Thank you.” He let his own gaze drink her in. She looked beautiful. What right did any woman have to look so beautiful for a simple Sunday lunch? "You look wonderful."

“Thanks.” Abbie's small pink tongue flicked out over her bottom lip. Ichabod's mind immediately jumped to their accidental kiss. He wanted to do it again. And properly. Whether anything would come of it or not, he would kiss her. And soon. “What have you been up to since we saw each other?”

“Exploring, mostly. I cannot help but love what I’ve seen so far,” he added. “Sleepy Hollow is a charming place."

He offered her his arm. If she was offended by the courtly gesture, she didn't show it, and tucked her hand into his elbow. Such an innocent touch shouldn't have lit a fire under him, but it seemed that all bets were off when it came to one Miss Mills.

**********

They passed extravagant shop windows and Abbie was momentarily struck by how close to Christmas it was – barely two months - and how much shopping she still had to do.

Forgetting she wasn’t alone for a moment, she stopped by the window of a department store. While not yet totally given over to Christmas, the window held a small collection of baubles, a stack of presents, and a sign counting down the days until Santa’s arrival.

“And what will you ask Father Christmas for?” Ichabod said with a smile as he paused next to her, arms still linked. The considerate, courtly gesture had charmed her socks off.

 A kiss from you, she wanted to reply, but didn’t. Instead she said, “To have a good time with my sister Jenny and my friends. To not burn the turkey. To not forget the cranberry sauce.”

“All good things to wish for,” he murmured.

People and traffic passed but Abbie kept her gaze on his face. “And what would you wish for?”

“I... find I am unsure,” he replied, too quickly.

She met his azure gaze. They looked at each other for a long moment. She longed to ask him what currently flew through his mind, but that would be prying. And wasn't he basically a stranger, although he didn't feel like one?

So, regretfully, she turned from him, and said brightly, “Okay, I’ve had my daily dose of extravagantly decorated windows. Let’s eat. The restaurant’s right around the corner.”

Abbie moved forward. Ichabod didn’t. She turned to see that his gaze was trained on the decorated window. He seemed pretty fixated. But his eyes looked.... sad.

“Aren’t you hungry?” she asked, but looking at him, her own appetite seemed to have taken an unauthorized leave of absence.

“No, I don’t think I am.” He turned to face her, and her heart squeezed as something passed over his face – something so sad, so incredibly sad, that it made her question whether she’d imagined it or not. Then his expression changed, and he smiled at her. “Let us go and do something.... fun. Something we may only do here.”

“Sure.” After all, even if he was doing research, the man was still a tourist. A small stem of excitement sprouted in Abbie. This was her home turf. She’d never shown anyone around before. This had serious fun potential. She mentally flipped through all the known tourist attractions. And then it hit her. “Do you know how to skate?”

“Skate? As in, on ice?”

“Yeah.” What other kind of skating was there?

“No, I confess, I have never skated on ice before.” He flashed that fatally gorgeous grin at her. “I’m guessing that you’re going to educate me in the mysterious ways of skating?”

“I sure am,” Abbie replied, even though she privately thought, I know what I’d like to educate you on.

Jenny would laugh her head off if she knew her sister was thinking about hot, sweaty sex on the street in the middle of the afternoon.

 

Chapter Text

Ichabod waited with Abbie in what was a mercifully short queue. Ahead of them, people purchased tickets and got fitted for skates, all chattering excitedly.

Abbie had assured him that “no one should ever visit America in the Autumn without skating at least once.”

Although Ichabod didn’t usually indulge in touristy activities, he’d wanted to do something fun. By the shrieks of laughter coming from the rink beyond them, this certainly seemed to fit the bill.

And it might eek out his time with Abbie, too.

He could not say no to that.

“You okay?” Abbie asked, nudging him slightly with her elbow.

“Yes.” He made himself smile. He knew he’d fallen quiet after his initial excitement at the prospect of ice skating. “I am excited to try it - however, I must admit that my balance skills likely hover around zero.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Abbie protested, grinning.

Ichabod let out a short laugh. “Trust me. After an hour on the ice, I shall fully be expecting to find a mass of black and blue where my backside used to be.”

Abbie gave him a funny look, and then said, “You’ll only be here once. Live on the edge, wild man.”

Ichabod studied her for a long moment.

The cold had injected a rosy flush into her cheeks, and her lips were red, both from the cold and from the lip balm she’d rubbed on earlier. The winter wind had tossed her hair a little, teasing the ends into curling waves.

Beautiful.

“All right,” he agreed. He was about to do just that, live, and lean over and kiss her in a manly and impulsive fashion. Too late - they were called forward to the skate counter. But, perhaps it was just as well. He had a book to write and a city to explore. Kissing a pretty lawyer was only going to complicate things.

Even if he did really, really want her.

More than he’d wanted anyone in a very long time.

They took their skates and sat down in the room that led to the ice rink. Ichabod took a bench near the door and Abbie sat down next to him. He watched her concentrate on tying the laces, her slender, nimble fingers easily securing the knots. He wondered what she was like on the ice. A veteran skater? A holiday skater?

He managed to tie his own skates and hoped he wouldn’t look like an idiot out on the rink. Well, at least if he did fall over, a lot of people would be around to see him do it.

Happy days. At least the people here would be unlikely to ever see him again. Except possibly on the inside cover of a book jacket.

He glanced over at Abbie. She had finished with her skates and was pulling on a wrist-length pair of brown leather gloves. She’d scooped her hair back into a simple ponytail. The style enhanced the delicate bone structure of her face.

“Ready?” Abbie stood carefully in the skates.

“As I shall ever be.” Ichabod stood, too, and resisted the urge to grab on to something. It was hard, because he wasn’t even on the ice yet, and he already felt terrified of falling and breaking something. Several somethings. Hmm. He wondered what Abbie would think of his sudden and obvious fear. He wished he could be more manly, but it was so difficult to be manly when you were supported by nothing more than thin slice of metal.

They made it out to the ice. Ichabod hesitated. To his surprise, Abbie took his hand in her smaller, gloved one.

He glanced at her. “I don’t think this is such a good idea. I weigh more than you, so if I go down, I shall certainly be taking you with me.”

Abbie grinned at him. “I’ve fallen on my ass before. As bony as it is, I’m sure I’ll survive.”

As subtly as possible, Ichabod checked out her ass. It was no by means bony. It looked to be an ass that man would enjoy getting a handful of.

They made their way on to the sleek, wet-looking white surface. People whizzed past, some skating well and clearly at an advanced level, some treading hesitantly along the edge of the rink, holding on to the walled sides. Ichabod grimaced as someone towards the rear of the rink skidded and fell down.

“It isn’t that bad.” Still holding his hand, Abbie squeezed it reassuringly. “Come on. If you fall down, I’ll buy you an ice cream and kiss your boo-boos.”

Ichabod idly wondered if what he got when he looked at her for too long would be considered a boo-boo.

Best not to ask.

He put his right foot out on to the ice. It stayed where it was. His left foot followed. He hadn’t fallen over yet. Success!

“Now,” Abbie announced, still gripping his hand rather tightly, “Some safety tips.”

“Safety tips?” Ichabod wondered how fast he could get out of his skates and back on the nice, safe pavement. The pavement that didn’t require you to wear huge knives on your feet. “You’re giving them to me just now? Would earlier not have been more… pertinent?”

He watched a smile tug at her lips. Finally she gave in and a little laugh came out. “I thought that if I started talking before, I’d never get you out on the ice.” She patted his hand with her free one, then let go of him altogether. “First, relax.”

“I was perfectly relaxed before you let go of me,” Ichabod grumbled. But he was secretly pleased. He still hadn’t fallen over.  The fairy lights strung around the walled ice and the surroundings trees reflected on to the rink’s white surface, creating watery but stunning reds, blues and pinks.

Ichabod found it rather inspiring. A scene for his book started to build in the back of his mind.

“Bend your knees,” Abbie instructed. “Take small steps. Keep your heels together. Do not look down.”

Ichabod feigned a wince at her tone. “Is that how you talk when you’re in court?”

She smiled. “How did you guess? It’s the easiest way to get people to listen to me.” She skated forward. Ichabod’s eyes were drawn to her long legs, calves visible between the hem of her skirt and the top of the skates she wore.

Watching her, he was reminded of something soft and fluid, like ballet.

She moved further and further away from him. Wanting to catch up, Ichabod made sure his heels were close together and took a tentative step. Still upright. He took another step. Still upright. Each step led to another, and his steps became small and cautious glides.

He skated towards Abbie, grinning at the look of happiness and serenity on her face. “You love this,” he said.

“I used to come here when I was stressed out about a paper or a test,” she told him. “It find it totally relaxing. Helps to clear my mind.”

“And…. do you still come here when you are under stress?” The moment the words left his mouth, Ichabod wondered why he’d asked. He supposed that, when he left, he’d like to have a way to remember her. A place to think of her in – maybe, just maybe, he wanted to know if there’d be somewhere he could find her if he ever visited the city again.

“Sometimes,” she replied, skating away from him in a half circle. “It really depends how busy my day’s been.” She stopped skating and turned her head. Ichabod turned to see what had captured her attention.

A young couple stood at the other end of the ice rink, facing each other. The woman’s face was tilted up towards the man’s, and his hands cupped her cheeks. Their bodies pressed close together, each one’s entire being wrapped up in the other person.

Ichabod felt warmth grow within him at seeing the other couple. Unfortunately the warmth was intertwined with a chilled sadness. He would probably never have that.

His gaze flicked back to Abbie. She was still looking at the couple, and yearning had sketched itself across her pretty features.

He considered making some flippant comment to draw a laugh from her, but he couldn’t. The couple’s affection for each other looked so sincere. It was just too beautiful to be cynical about.

“They look so happy, don’t they?” Ichabod said softly, meaning it.

Abbie abruptly stopped staring. “Oh. Yeah, they do. Sorry, I didn’t mean to go somewhere then. I just sort of…”

“Went somewhere?”

She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Yeah.” For a moment, she did a very good job of staring at her skates. Then she appeared to brighten up. “So, I haven’t seen you busting any moves on the ice yet,” she teased him.

“The only thing I am in any danger of busting is possibly a leg Only one, if I am lucky.” Then he’d be stuck in the US for a lot longer than planned. He tested his skates a little, and glanced up to find Abbie smiling at him.

Looking at her, bring stuck halfway across the world from England suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

“Aw, come on.” She skated backwards a few feet, beckoning him with a gloved hand. “Live a little. Whatever happened to men being all manly and impulsive?”

Ichabod skated forward a few inches. “Miss Mills, I dare you to come here and say that.”

“All right.” She skated towards him, getting closer inch by inch. Then suddenly, he saw her slip, and without fear of his own skates giving out on him, he headed towards her and caught her, wrapping his arms around her body as quickly and as firmly as he could.

Abbie immediately stopped moving as Ichabod caught her. Her skates continued sliding for a second longer, and her body bowed back slightly. Her hips shifted, pressing intimately to his. Caught in his arms as she was, her own were pressed straight to her sides. Her chest heaved with the adrenaline rush of slipping on the ice, causing her breasts to be snuggled up close to his chest.

“Are you quite all right?” he asked, lowering his head to hers.

All she’d have to do was tilt her head up, and they’d be kissing.

“Yeah. Yeah…. I think so.” She lifted her head suddenly and rapped him on the chin.

His grip tightened around her convulsively, pressing them even closer together. Ichabod felt the heat of her body through the clothes she wore, a sharp and heady contrast the cold of the ice underneath them. “Oh, God, sorry,” Abbie apologized, wincing.

“Please. No apology needed.” She hadn’t hurt his chin. If she had, then he couldn’t feel it. All feeling was centered on the parts of his body that hers was pressed up against. There couldn’t be any blood left in his head.

Despite the fact that she said she felt fine, Ichabod didn’t let her go. Didn’t want to let her go. And the delectable Abbie felt much the same way, if her complete stillness was anything to go by.

 

* * * * *

People skated around them. Sparkling fairy lights flashed on and off. The shouts of happy children bounced off the walls of the rink.

Abbie didn’t hear or see any of it. Every fiber of her being focused on the sensation of being pressed up against Ichabod’s body. Her heart pounded everywhere at once. Her breath came in short gasps.

All he’d have to do was lower his head slightly, just an inch or so, and his lips would be on hers. She wanted him to do that.

She ached for it.

A strange, desperate kind of heat had enveloped her the moment Ichabod had caught her in his arms. It had started in her breasts and hips, and spread to her legs, her arms, her face, and the more private parts of her anatomy.

“Ichabod-”

“Yes?”

Oh, God, he had such a sexy accent. And gorgeous amber eyes. Eyelashes a girl would do unspeakable things for. An extremely kissable mouth.

“Oof!”

And then without warning, Ichabod’s extremely kissable mouth was removed from her sight as an unidentifiable force whacked into his back, sending Abbie sprawling backwards. She had a second to register the sight of Ichabod falling towards her, another second to think oh, crap, and then she lay flat on her back, sandwiched between a pane of cold ice, and Ichabod, who was not cold.

In the slightest.

Over Ichabod’s shoulder, she saw a small child peering down at them, eyes huge. “Sorry,” the girl all but whimpered. “I didn’t mean to.”

“That’s, ah, okay.” Abbie actually considered thanking the girl. Although lying on the ice wasn’t that much fun, lying under Ichabod was a rather …. Lovely experience.

The girl skated off. Pink mittens attached to her coat sleeves trailed behind her.

Ichabod lifted his head slightly and smiled sheepishly at Abbie.

Jeez, that smile could be pretty deadly. “Am I crushing you?”

“No, not really.” He was a little, but feeling the weight on a man atop her was a such a novel thing that Abbie couldn’t really mind. She wondered if he would kiss her. She prayed that he would kiss her. She considered trying to ask him to kiss her by telepathy, or sheer force of will.

But of course, he wouldn’t kiss her. They were surrounded by skaters. They were lying on a glorified slab of ice. Also, her butt had started to get pretty cold and the low temperature so close to her skin was making her need the bathroom.

Before she was ready to finish enjoying the sensation of Ichabod’s long, lithe body pressed so intimately to hers, he shakily stood up and offered her his hand.

She couldn’t help but smile at the relative ease with which he’d gotten to his feet. “Looks like you will be ready to bust some moves soon, after all.”

“I rather think I busted enough things in that fall to last me for quite a while,” he said. His mouth didn’t smile, but laughter glowed in his deep blue eyes.

God, he’s hot. . Was that level of gorgeousness even legal?

She’d have to look it up in one of the legal tomes she kept on her office windowsill, although she’d be surprised if there were laws against looking too good.

A bell rang. Abbie recognized it as the end of their skating session. As she opened her mouth to tell Ichabod as much, she realized that she was still holding the hand he’d helped her up with. Reflexively, her fingers tightened on his.

“Did you have fun?” she asked.

“I did. I’m glad I had the chance to examine the surface of an ice rink in such detail,” he deadpanned. He began heading towards the exit of the rink. “This was a good idea, Abbie. I’ll have to make sure I recommend this to my friends at home.”

Back home?

Oh, yeah. That’s right. He’s from halfway across the world. He doesn’t live here.

Sadness swept through Abbie, but she brushed it off. Why should she feel sad? After all, they barely knew each other.

She’d only taken him ice skating to cheer him up. She hadn’t intended on holding his hand, or enjoying being fallen on by him. Or getting lost in his cerulean eyes. Or rejoicing in the feel of his strong arms catching her before she skidded on the ice.

They took their skates off and headed out into the Autumn sunlight.  Suddenly she wanted to be back there, in Ichabod’s arms. She should have kissed him then. And why hadn’t she?

Because her inexperience haunted her.

One guy, one time.

Who knew how many women Ichabod had been with? Who knew how beautiful and sophisticated they’d been. Had he loved any of them?

Inwardly, Abbie laughed at herself. Why was she plaguing herself with these questions? It wasn’t as if she and the handsome writer might ever have a shot at becoming a couple.

She felt a plop on the end of her nose. When she tilted her head up, she got spattered.

It had started to rain – proper rain, coming down thick and fast. The kind of rain that got someone soaking wet in three seconds flat.

Ichabod stepped out of the street to stand under a jutted-out arch above the doorway of a closed-down, boarded over shop. There was just enough room for two in the makeshift alcove.

The rain got harder, and was joined by a fierce, whipping wind. Abbie thought briefly of the suede boots she wore, and wondered idly if the boot care polish she had at home would restore them after this downpour.

“Are you cold?” Ichabod asked, bending his head to meet her eyes. The darkness of the archway above them shadowed some of his face, highlighting his beautiful cheekbones.

“Yes.”

“Come here.” Ichabod had unbuttoned the blazer he wore and held it open for her. Abbie looked up into his robin’s egg blue eyes, darkened by the building they stood under. He must be cold in that blazer. Yet here I am, bundled up in a suede coat, and he’s worried about my health.

Somewhere in her mind, a little voice chanted, don’t fall for him, don’t fall for him, don’t fall for him.

Abbie had a feeling that the little voice had spoken a little too late. She ignored it, and stepped towards Ichabod’s welcoming warmth. He immediately gathered her close, wrapping them both up in his blazer. The edges covered Abbie’s arms, but the blazer wasn’t large enough to wrap completely around her body.

Ichabod rubbed her back. “Any better?”

Abbie tilted her face up and made eye contact. The rain continued to thunder down around them. Natives and tourists trundled past, coat collars pulled over their heads. Umbrellas of every color bloomed over heads, or were deemed useless and tossed in trash cans.

Abbie found herself within this scene every day. But today, today was gloriously different. Today she was wrapped up in the arms of a handsome English writer, feeling the hard lines of his body pressed snugly to hers, and breathing in that gorgeous masculine scent that she’d started to smell even in her dreams.

“Nothing to do but wait it out,” she murmured. Wait, and think of reasons not to be dazzled and charmed by him.

Ichabod obviously didn’t agree with her, because before she realized what flashed through his mind, he bent his head and touched his lips to hers.

Chapter Text

n coherent thought returned to Abbie, she knew she’d never been kissed like this.

Sure, Luke had kissed her. Sometimes, Luke’s kisses had been really nice.

Ichabod’s kiss, however, achieved perfection. It was akin to one of the Great Fairy Tale Kisses – the kiss Sleeping Beauty awoke to, the kiss that cured Snow White of the poisoned apple piece she’d eaten, the kiss that had returned Gisele to life in Enchanted.

She all but trembled with pleasure as Ichabod’s skilled mouth whispered over hers. Her lips parted of their own volition, and she pressed her body up against his. A sigh escaped her as the tip of his tongue stroked her bottom lip.

He drew away, and Abbie bit her lip to keep from whimpering in disappointment.

How had she not known that a kiss could do that? That a kiss could make colors explode behind her eyes and make her legs weak? Every nerve in her body stood to attention and cried for more?

You’ve been too busy working on your career for this kind of intimacy, the unwelcome voice inside her head said. She hated that voice. Her career mattered to her.

“Ichabod, I…”

His lips curved a little at her speechlessness, and he lifted a hand to her hair, gently winding one of the loose, curling dark strands around his finger.

Abbie’s gaze wandered to the hair he played with. “God. I straightened that just this morning.” Clearly, she needed to write a strongly worded letter to the manufacturers of GHDs.

“I rather feel that your hair is prettier when it’s like this. Natural,” he qualified.

On the street, the rain was still pounding down. Peopled hurried past. It was Sunday. She saw no reason to subject her suede boots to the downpour just yet.

Closing her eyes, she moved closer to Ichabod and rested her cheek against his chest. After a moment, she felt the gentle weight of his chin on the top of her head. She wondered about his thoughts. Was he worrying about falling for her? Was he thinking about the best fairytale kisses ever filmed?

She almost laughed. Her own mind always ran a mile a minute, so she assumed that everyone else thought at the same speed. However, this was usually not true, especially not of men. They were simple creatures. Ichabod was probably not thinking a million things at once, or worrying about his feelings. He probably just wondered when they might get around to eating lunch.

* * *

Sometimes, Ichabod wished he could be one of those guys who didn’t think much. Someone who had a simple but fulfilling job, maybe something in labor or construction. A job where he did what was told and his head wasn’t always swamped with twisting plots and clamoring characters.

Unfortunately, his life could never be that simple. And the woman in his arms had just made it a hell of a lot more complicated.

What had he been telling himself earlier about liking his life how it was? About not getting too deeply involved, because someone always walked?

Apparently, he was terrible at listening to his own advice, because he already liked the lovely Abbie far more than was good for him. And he already knew that he would never be satisfied with just one kiss.

She felt so small in his arms, and so delicate. He rested his chin on the top of her head and wondered how something so simple could feel so… so damned good. Her breasts rose and fell against his chest. Soft strands of her raven hair tickled in his neck, heightening his already, very keen awareness of her.

The wind whipped around them, and changed direction, blowing inward. Ichabod felt the spatters on his face and knew it wouldn’t be long before they were soaked. Bloody weather.

Ah well – he did live in England. If there was one thing he’d become used to, it was rain.

“Come on. It’s rather imperative that we get somewhere warm and dry, or you’ll catch cold.” He shifted slightly and took her hand in his.

She no longer wore the gloves she’d put on to skate, and his pulse jumped at feeling the touch of her palm against his. Her hand was small and warm. Her fingers curled around his, and the trust that the movement implied twisted something deep inside him. His heart squeezed.

Together, they pushed through the crowds of people and umbrellas. It was hard to see in the driving rain, and the rain soaked Ichabod’s hair and blazer. He wished he’d had the good sense to pull a jumper on over his t shirt.

The neon sign of a deli loomed ahead of them in the grey weather. It looked pretty empty, and the Italian pizza-type smell emanating from the doorway reached out towards them. Ichabod headed towards it. He heaved the door open, sprinkling water droplets from his clothes on to the dark brown wood flooring. A burly man in a watch cap stood behind the counter and greeted them. After giving them a few moments to peruse everything on offer, he asked, in a light Italian accent, “What can I get you?”

Everything smelled amazing. Ichabod glanced at Abbie with a silent question. She smoothed her free hand over her hair, shiny from the recent rain fall. “Oh, anything. Something hot and filling,” she told the man.

Her words conjured more than a few bedroom-related images in Ichabod’s head. He was sure that, were they alone in his hotel room, he’d be more than capable of giving her something hot, and it would definitely fill her.

He shoved aside the tempting, but inappropriate thoughts and turned to the deli guy. “I shall have…the meatball sandwich,” he decided, as a man in a suit walked past the counter, taking a bite out of the same. It looked fantastic and smelled better.

They made their way through the deli, between tables of people eating, talking, laughing, reading, or fiddling with mobile phones or Blackberrys. Ichabod was glad he didn’t require one of those little machines. A mobile phone and a laptop was more than enough technology for him. He liked to travel for research, and the more gadgets he had, the more the likelihood of someone interrupting his writing increased.

The only exception to that might be Abbie – how would he feel if she phoned, and he was in Africa, or Spain, or Canada? He had an odd feeling that his reaction to hearing her voice wouldn’t be annoyance. He’d be very excited to feel connected to her in any way.

“What a day,” Abbie laughed as she slid into the booth at the back of the deli. The seats were old and a little scarred, but very comfy. “First we end up falling on an ice rink, and then we get soaked.”

Ichabod smiled at her. “Despite those things, or maybe because of them, this has been one of the very best days I’ve had in a long time.”

“Oh, really?” A smile tugged at her lips. Ichabod couldn’t help but smile back. Abbie was very attractive when she wore her normal resting expression, but smiling, she became stunning.

He loved the fact that he could make that happen.

Then, unbidden, the memory of what she’d said a few days ago at dinner returned to haunt him. The whole American dream deal. And hot on its heels followed the fact that he couldn’t be the man to provide it for her.

He shoved the disappointing thoughts aside. “Yes. Really. I have been here but a few days, and already my visit is turning out to be one of the most memorable.”

She gave him a funny look, and Ichabod wondered if she was trying out things to say in her mind. But then the food arrived and they both dug in, and Abbie fell quiet. Ichabod guessed she’d either forgotten what she wanted to say, or had dismissed it out of hand.

“I’m afraid I’ve got to cut the day short,” Abbie said as she folded her napkin on the plate she had all but licked clean. The woman knew how to enjoy food, and Ichabod really liked that about her.

“Do you have somewhere you need to be?” Ichabod asked. It was on the tip of his tongue to say I’ll come with you, but he shouldn’t. He had no right to follow her around, even if he wanted to.

“Sort of.” She ran her fingers through her hair, which had dried a little after being soaked by the rain outside. “I have birthday and Christmas shopping to do, and some legal paperwork to catch up on. It’s strange. The nearer the festive season gets, the more vindictive people become.”

“It upsets you.”  Before he thought about it, he reached across the table and took her hand in his, stroking his thumb over her knuckles.

“Yeah.” She blew out a breath. It made some of the hair around her face flutter slightly. “Yeah, it really can, even though it means I make money. I can laugh about it when it’s silly. But normally, normally there are kids involved, and it’s horrible.”

Ichabod said nothing for a moment. He wasn’t the kind of man who offered meaningless platitudes. Even if he had been, he wouldn’t be sure which particular one might fit this situation. Instead he said, “I would stake money on the fact you are an excellent lawyer.”

Abbie’s gaze slid up to his. “What makes you say that?”

“You care.” He squeezed her hand in his. Her fingers were so small and delicate. “You care about what happens, and you feel for them. Each person, each family, are people to you, with feelings. Not just a job. I don’t think there are many lawyers out there like you.”

“No, I guess not.” Abbie knew more than a few sharks in her building. Some hid it well. She squared her shoulders. “You know, Mr. Crane, you have an uncanny way of making me feel better. It’s a shame I can’t carry you around in my pocket.”

Ichabod searched her gaze for a moment. He thought about what to say to her. Should he tell her now, why he couldn’t stay? He hadn’t spoken about it for a long time. Years. And he still didn’t want to talk about it now.

He decided not to say anything. Abbie was a smart woman, she knew he’d only be around for two weeks, three at the most. He didn’t need to justify himself to her – to anyone.

So why did he feel the need to bare his soul to Abbie?

Eventually, he said, lightly, “The moment you can find a shrinking machine, I agree.”

Abbie chuckled. “Too bad I haven’t got time to look today. I have presents to buy and papers to fill out. I’m going to need a lot of coffee,” she joked.

He toyed with her hand, appreciating her long, tapered fingers, and short nails. She’d applied some sort of shiny polish so they gleamed under the strip lights of the deli. He was very aware that he was stalling for time when he said, “So, who are you buying for?”

“My sister, Jenny, and her boyfriend Joe. And my sort of boss – Frank, it’s hard to explain.”

“Do you need some assistance?” Ichabod knew he shouldn’t have asked. He should have gone back to his hotel room and done some writing, had a nap, watched some TV.

Anything apart from spending more time with a woman he already found intoxicating.

She laughed. “No, I have to shop alone. I’ve been informed that I’m an awful shopping partner,” she said light-heartedly. “We probably wouldn’t be friends after. That is,” she murmured, catching his gaze, “If we’re friends now?”

Were they? Or had they become more than friends?

“Yes. Of course we are.” He allowed himself to stroke her hand one more time, then he made to stand up. It was for the best. The more time they spent together, the more attached he’d get. And that would be bad news, for both of them.

The bill arrived and he reached for it. “Allow me, Abbie.”

“No, I owe you.” She fiddled in her bag, and plucked a purse from its depths. The purse was the size of a postage stamp. He wondered a) how she’d found it in that big bag, and b) how it could possibly hold anything of use.

She strode to the counter and pressed bills into the deli guy’s hand. He gave her some change, and she turned back to Ichabod. “Now we’re even – well, sort of.”

She dropped into step beside him, and Ichabod longed to take her hand. Did she expect it “Why do you say sort of?”

“Well, the meal you bought was ten times nicer, and probably cost a lot more than what we just ate.”

Ichabod moved his shoulders in a sort of shrug. He’d enjoyed the deli food. Having travelled a lot, he’d eaten pretty much everything, anywhere. He’d eaten rice stew from a roadside stall in Thailand, just as he’d eaten a five course meal at the Hilton. The rice stew had tasted better.

“I enjoyed it. Cost isn’t important, Abbie.”

She smiled at him, and he knew she was thinking of work. “I know. Sorry. It’s just in my job I can get sort of fixated on it.”

They stood outside the deli for a moment, looking at each other. The rain had cleared up, and the air was frosty but clear. Abbie looked over her shoulder for a second, and Ichabod thought she was probably thinking of all the tasks she had to complete today. “I guess I should let you go,” he said at length.

“I guess you should.”

So, there’s no sensible reason for you to see her again, is there? A little voice in Ichabod’s head asked.

No, there wasn’t. And he had a book to plot, and a city to explore. And there were so many other places in the world that he hadn’t seen yet. And there was the big, nasty reason he couldn’t and wouldn’t stay here, with her, hanging over him like a bad smell.

“Abbie…” She stood so close that, if Ichabod reached out, he could tuck a wayward curl of hair behind her ear. He wanted to; to feel the softness of the strands, to feel the warmth of her face.

“Hmmm?”

Say something. Invite her somewhere. Say you need to ask her more stuff for your book. Idiot! Say something. “What are you doing tomorrow night?”

A smile lit up her face. Ichabod knew right then that he stood on the precipice of falling in love with her – and if he did, he wouldn’t be getting up again for a very long time.

Chapter Text

“I’m – Oh. Tomorrow is the twenty-second, isn’t it?” She ran a hand through her hair. “I can’t believe Halloween is so close. It’ll be November before we know it. Tomorrow, I’m – Oh. I knew that date rang a bell. I’m going to a club with my sister Jenny. She and Joe have some vouchers."
“Oh, well, I feel sure you'll have a splendid time.” Why did he feel so disappointed? She was her own woman. She was gorgeous, successful, fun. Of course she had evening plans. Frankly, he was surprised that suitors weren’t currently hammering at her door.
“Thanks. I think we will.” She grinned, and a rosy tint flushed her cheeks as she added, “Jenny wants us to dress as red devils. You know, in preparation for Halloween. She's a loon."
Ichabod couldn’t help but laugh. “Do they perhaps also offer pointy ears or tails at this club?”
“I hope not, because once my sister gets something into her head, it’s hard to talk her out of it. I may have to resort to petty threats.” She hesitated, staring at her boots for a moment. “Hey, I don’t suppose…”
“What is it?”
“Would you like to come?”


* * * * *

"I'm stoked you invited him tonight," Jenny smiled as she pushed tiny balls of cotton wool between her toes. She and Abbie were getting ready in Abbie's apartment, as Abbie's bathroom was marginally wider than Jenny's.
“I can’t believe he isn’t on Facebook," Jenny continued. "What sort of respectable fiction writer isn’t on Facebook?”
Abbie rolled her eyes and wedged herself between Jenny and the bathroom wall and started to straighten her hair. “A sensible, one, probably. Facebook is terribly addictive for all the wrong reasons.”
“You should convince him to join. Otherwise, how will you see what he’s up to after he goes back home to England?”
Abbie huffed, and concentrated hard on straightening a particularly stubborn lock of hair near the back of her head. Thank God for her GHDs. “I wouldn’t. I don't snoop.”
Jenny painted the nail of her little toe a bright crimson. “Come on, wouldn’t you be just a tiny bit curious?”
“I suppose.” She turned off her straighteners and studied her reflection in the mirror for a moment. “I guess I’d like to know what he’s up to, from time to time. But it really wouldn’t be any of my business.”
“Pfft. Like that matters.”
Abbie started on her mascara, applying a small coat to her bottom lashes first. “I guess so. I don’t know.” She dipped the mascara wand back in its sleeve and started on her top lashes, trying to ignore the tickle she felt in her nose. Mascara always made her sneeze. “He travels a lot. I think even if he had internet access, he wouldn’t use it that much – at least not for social networking. He seems like a very private person.”
“But he agreed to come along tonight.” Jenny threw a used cotton wool ball into the bin the corner of the room. “That must means he really likes you.”
Abbie chewed her lip. “I don’t know. He might just want to see some of the city’s nightlife.” She left the bathroom to fetch her dress. When she came back, she said, “You have to promise not to vet him. You know what you're like," she added, when Jenny scoffed. "He’s not my boyfriend.”
Although you wish he was, don’t you? An internal voice whispered.
"I do not vet your guys," Jenny insisted.
"You told Luke you'd boil his balls and feed them to him if he hurt me."
Jenny grinned in memory before she sobered. "Yeah well. I didn't, did I?"
Abbie laughed in spite of herself. "You showed heroic restraint."
Jenny inspected her toenails carefully. "I promise not to tell him I'll boil his balls."
"I am so reassured."
Abbie finished fussing with her dress and once again faced the full length mirror on the bathroom wall.

The dress did compliment her, and she was glad she’d bought it. She rarely indulged in impulse buys. She often allowed herself to try things on, but never put the money down.

This time had been different.
She’d spied the dress in a boutique window and had been immediately captivated. The material was the deepest midnight blue she’d ever seen. The hem of the dress fell just above her knees, but at the back it swept down a few extra inches, and flowed outwards in wavy, romantic pleats. The neckline curved deeply, exposing her cleavage.
She remembered the way Ichabod had gazed at her in the grey dress. She stroked her hand down the dress’s bodice absently. What would it be like to feel his hands on her?
On her waist, her neck, her breasts?
Abbie looked in the mirror and reminded herself that she didn’t need that kind of complication. She already liked him a lot, more than she’d liked any other man in her life. More than she’d ever liked Luke.
“What’s with the smacked ass face?" Jenny asked, getting up from her position on the closed toilet.
“Ichabod,” Abbie replied absently. “I like him. I really like him.” She plopped on to the toilet lid and rested her elbows on her knees, her chin on her clasped hands. “But he’s... the roving kind. And I can’t blame him, you know – there’s such a lot of world to see.”
Jenny reached for a towel. “Two drifters, off to see the world?”
“What?” Abbie asked, brow creased.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” her sister explained. “So, why can’t you go with him?”
Abbie scoffed. "You've got mad. Since you met Joe you're no longer my reliable, cynical, man-hating sister."
She stalked past Jenny and grabbed her shoes.

As she stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder, her sister looked her up and down and let out a low whistle.
“Knock him dead, baby.”

 


*****

Just before ten that evening, Ichabod waited outside the club Abbie had named, watching people line up behind the red rope, or mill around smoking and chatting. He checked his watch again, more out of nerves than anything.
He couldn't recall when he had last been this nervous. It was her. She was too important not to be nervous.
He’d spent the day alternately writing in his hotel room, in the hotel café, or making notes out and about. He already his the beginning of his plot, a few snatches of dialogue, and a strong female character.
No prizes for guessing who the character most closely resembled.
He watched the women who stood around in front of the club. One of them held a very long, thin cigarette. Despite the weather, she’d come outside in a criminally short pair of hot pants and a loose-fitting shirt that revealed a lot of cleavage. Earlier she’d looked him up and down, her smile unashamedly predatory. Ichabod had been mildly surprised to find that he wasn’t the least bit interested. For the moment, only one woman held his interest.
And she’d be here soon.
A strange sound made him jerk, along with a curious tingling feeling in his hip. He remembered that he’d purchased an American mobile phone – cell phone, they called them here – and the shop he’d bought it from had miraculously allowed him to keep his own number. The phone would work here and anywhere else abroad, which was a blessing.
“Hello?”
“All right, mate. Long time no speak.”
The voice on the other end of the line belonged to Abraham Van Brunt. He and Abraham had been friends for a long time. Ichabod trusted the older man because they had similar pasts, and understood each other. Abraham had been a shoulder for Ichabod many a time, and vice versa. Years after they had met, they kept in touch sporadically.
Both understood that neither was likely to settle down or acquire a fixed address or family.
“Abraham!” Ichabod didn’t need or want to keep the genuine delight from his voice. “How are you keeping these days?”
“Good, good. Did I wake you? Where have your feet taken you this time?”
“Sleepy Hollow. And you didn’t wake me. It’s about ten in the evening here.”
“And what’s been going on there? New book?”
Ichabod imagined his friend, booted feet propped up on a table, beer by his side. He’d no doubt be somewhere exotic, surrounded by warm and willing women. Abraham's blond, surfer-boy looks were an asset he used mercilessly, and always to great effect.
“Well,” he told his old friend, “Some things have happened.” And he unraveled the whole messy, gorgeous lot from the beginning. Abraham didn’t interrupt, just blew out a low whistle when Ichabod ended the story with, “and now it’s ten in the evening, and I find myself waiting outside this... establishment.”
“Man. Her sister is going to be there, right?”
“Yes, they are. Actually, they’re running a little late and to be blunt, I’m getting nervous.”
Abraham sniggered into the receiver. “Ichabod Crane, master of suspense, nervous in the presence of a female. Who’d have thought. Man, you are toast.” He paused for reflection. “You do know her sister is here to vet you, don’t you?”
Ichabod ran his hand through his hair. "Of course she is. What do you suggest I do, old friend?”
“I’d advise being your usual charming self.” There was a long pause, then Abraham said, all the friendly mocking gone from his tone, “This is the first time you’ve ever met the friend, or sister, of a woman. She’s quite something, isn’t she?”
“She truly is a treasure,” he said at length. “And I’m not really sure what to do about it.”
At the kerb, a car pulled up.

The window wound down, and he recognized Abbie's face as she spoke to another woman, out of sight. “Abraham, I must go – they have arrived.”
“Break a leg, man,” Abraham gave his final parting shot. “We’ll catch up some more later. I’ll call you.”
“It isn't my legs I'm concerned with.” He flipped the cell phone closed, and sighed.
Then Abbie stepped out of the car, and Ichabod forgot all about his legs.

And everything else.
He saw her feet first. They looked impossibly delicate. The silver shoes on her feet seemed to have been stroked on to her skin. Their straps wove up around her calves, wrapping around her skin like the caress of a possessive lover.
He saw the dress next. The front of it stopped a few precious inches above her knees.

The back hung down lower, elegantly ruffled. His eager gaze travelled up past the hem of the midnight-blue fabric, up over her tapered waist, and to a tantalizing cleavage. A little further, and his eyes met hers.
She looked ethereal. Her lids had been lightly caressed with the faintest blue powder.
Her lashes were long and looked spiky-soft. Her lips were painted a dark red.

She looked like the heroine of a fantasy ghost story.
“Miss Mills.” He stepped towards her. He wanted to touch, but was worried that he might get his hand smacked away, lest he leave a mark. “You….” His heart bumped. “You steal my breath.”

Chapter Text

“Well.... thank you.” Abbie flushed at the searing heat in Ichabod’s gaze. When the cab pulled up to the curb, all Abbie had been thinking was please don’t let me fall over in these stupid shoes. Why did women buy shoes they’d probably fall over in? It was a mystery the world over. “You look pretty good yourself.”
Good isn’t the word. If Abbie had been more adventurous, she might have said edible.
Really edible.
His chestnut hair wove around his faze. Abbie had never thought herself a woman who liked messy, longer hair on men, but on Ichabod the tousled, collar-length strands gave him a dark, exotic look - all dangerous and gorgeous and exciting.
God, she wanted him to do bad things to her.
“Thank you,” he replied at length, his gaze still locked on hers. Behind her, Abbie heard Jenny say in a low voice, “Would you look at that. I am so on the next flight to England.”
"I'm right here," Joe groused.
Her sister's voice made Abbie remember her manners. It became hard to remember anything when looking at a man like Ichabod. He made all her thoughts fly out of her ears.
She couldn’t find a reason to complain.
“Oh. Ichabod. My sister, Jenny, and her boyfriend Joe Corbin."
“Charmed.” Ichabod inclined his head politely. In the black of the winter twilight, his blue eyes had a grey tint to them. Abbie had to wonder what color his eyes would go during sex.
Shame I won't find out.
“Pleased to meet you, too.” Jenny was the first to move towards the long red line. Fishing in her bag, she took out a few pieces of card. Abbie knew they were the vouchers. They entitled up to six people to half price entry, and better, a queue jump.
Jenny showed them to the burly bouncer-type, who murmured something into his earpiece and then lifted the rope to let them through. Abbie heard groans in the background from people waiting at the end of the queue.
She almost jolted with surprise when Ichabod, who was behind her, took her hand.
Instinctively she curled her fingers around his longer ones, enjoying the smooth warmth of his skin. She couldn’t help but wonder what he looked like under those clothes, what the contours of his body felt and tasted like.
She could smell him, too, that deep, masculine scent he wore. Would he smell like that all over?
She'd been having these thoughts for a while. Since that first evening.
They reached the bar, already surrounded by customers. Some people wore fancy dress, others had dolled up in short skirts and high-heeled boots. The men looked smart in dress shirts and jeans or casual suits.
Abbie held back as her sister and Joe separated and headed off towards the other end of the bar, where the queue was less deep. She was both pleased to have some time with Ichabod, and nervous.
They were on a proper date, at night, in a club.
She felt rather than saw Ichabod shift his body behind hers. He bent slightly, and his warm breath caressed the shell of her ear as he said, “I see the devil dress-up plan was aborted.”
She chuckled. He could always make her smile. Why didn’t he live in this damn city? Or even in the same time zone? “Yeah. We, ah, persuaded Jenny that it wasn’t such a good idea.” She glanced around the room. “I really don’t think I’d look good with pointy ears.”
“Oh, I rather think you’d look good in just about anything,” Ichabod disagreed. He’d moved his head slightly lower, and his breath caressed her neck. Any closer and his lips would be on her skin. Every muscle in Abbie’s body tensed, waiting and hoping for the contact she craved.
But it didn’t come. Suddenly it was their turn at the bar. Ichabod ordered a beer for himself and turned to Abbie, who asked for a glass of the house rioja.
After being served their drinks, Abbie turned from the bar and saw that Jenny and Joe had commandeered an area of corner sofas near the back of the club. As she reached for Ichabod’s hand to tug him in the right direction, the music pumped and flowed around her. It was loud and fluid, with a steady beat and strong sexual overtones. Perfect music to dance to – the bump’n’grind kind of dancing, that led to another sort of dance entirely, one done horizontally between soft sheets of material. One she was suddenly aching to try with Ichabod.
“Do you dance?” Ichabod asked by her ear. She adored the fluttery sensation that the tickle of his breath caused.
“Not very well. Do you?”
“Occasionally, but only when I’ve had too much alcohol to know better. But that won’t be happening tonight.”
Abbie laughed into her wineglass. “Why’s that?”
“Because your sister and Mr Corbin are here to vet me,” he answered, with that quick and gorgeous grin. “You look surprised.”
“Well, I didn’t think men knew about the whole vetting process,” Abbie said, wrong-footed. "Also, I doubt Joe is here to give his opinion. Besides, I told them you’re only in town for another two weeks. At the most.”
“Yes. Yes, that’s right. I can scarce believe it’s been a week already. Time seems to go faster here than anywhere I’ve ever been.”
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Abbie quipped, and moved to sit down on the couch that was opposite her sister's.
Her gaze strayed to Ichabod. If she did indulge in a fling with him, would she be the kind of girl who could keep in touch, who could stay friendly but casual? Could she email him back and forth like an acquaintance, as if having him in her life for these few weeks hadn’t affected her?
She decided it might be best just to drink her wine and to not think about that. Cross that bridge when you come to it.
If you ever come to it.
It suddenly occurred to Abbie that she’d changed since meeting Ichabod. She’d never been a cross that bridge kind of girl. She liked to plan. She liked to have set objectives. She liked to know what was happening from one day to the next.
She’d never just taken one day at a time.
But now, she saw that looking ahead would only lead her to the day Ichabod went home.
And that was a day she didn’t want to see the dawn of.
So instead, she took a deep drink of her wine, and enjoyed the feel of Ichabod’s denim-clad thigh pressing against hers as he sat down. “Do you go out to clubs a lot?” she asked. She wasn’t unaware of the female heads he’d turned as they had walked to the corner couches together. A man like him wouldn’t have any trouble finding a playmate in any club, any city, and any country.
And didn't that disturb her.
“It's a rare occurence for me,” he replied. “My idea of a night out is dinner and a film. Or maybe something fun. Like when we went ice skating. Something different. But then,” he added, “Lamentably, there isn’t really anyone I know well enough to go with.”
“You don’t have any friends?” He was ... amiable. She couldn't imagine him lonely.
“Oh, I do have friends, and some dear ones, but they’re scattered about. My closest friend, of a sort, I suppose, Abraham, travels a lot, like me. We understand each other well. Our friendship is…. An unusual one, but it works for us.”
“I guess friendship isn’t always an easy thing to understand.” Abbie had leaned in closer to hear him over the sway and thrum of the music. They sat so close to each other that she could make out the lines of each of his spiky dark eyelashes The beautifully clear sky-blue of his eyes burned in the low light of the club. His deep, woodsy masculine scent curled up around her, intoxicating her. The white shirt he wore emphasized the smoothness of the lightly tanned skin she could see disappearing into the V of material. He wore a plain, brown thong necklace with a plain, green jade pendant that rested in the hollow of his collarbone. She longed to move the small stone and put her lips in that shallow spot, to see what he tasted like.
“No, it isn’t. Take the two of us as an example.”
“Us?” she echoed.
“We’ve come into each other’s lives for a short time, knowing we’ll probably never see each other after these few weeks, and we’re enjoying each other’s company. Perhaps some people are only meant to be friends for a set amount of time – call it the hand of fate.”
Abbie lifted a brow. “You believe in fate?”
He shrugged. “I write fiction. I believe in most things, including legends of werewolves and vampires. I’m open to a lot of ideas. I think writers need to be – we need to have a large variety of resources available for our creative processes.”
“That’s a lot of long words in one go.” Abbie lifted her half empty wineglass and waggled it. “I think I may have had too much wine.”
“Already?”
“She is a Grade A lightweight,” Jenny said teasingly from the opposite sofa.
“Gee, thanks hon,” Abbie shot back. She couldn’t help bobbling her wine glass as she reached over to put it down on a table near the arm of the sofa. Ichabod foresaw the possible spill alert and took the wine glass from her, her fingers brushing over hers as he uncurled them from the glass’ delicate stem.
“Here, please alllow me me.”
“Oh, thanks.” Abbie’s head felt fuzzy. Man, she really needed to practice drinking. The cocktails she made in her apartment were either non-alcoholic, or watered down versions of the normal. Her system wasn’t programmed to handle a large amount of alcohol. Why had she ordered a large glass of wine at the bar? Stupid, stupid, stupid. “I think maybe… I guess I haven’t eaten that much today. I was pretty busy. Court waits for no man. Or woman.”


* * * * * *

 

Ichabod would not have called Abbie a lightweight, but she seemed a little merry. The alcohol had injected a rosy flush into her cheeks. He guessed that she probably wouldn’t object to being swept up in his arms and carried out into a cab, and then maybe up to his hotel room. God knew that was what he wanted, more than the beer he held.
More than anything, right now.
Maybe even more than going home to England.
To feel her skin against his, her lips against his. To taste her mouth and the warmth of her sigh. To hear her moan his name.
He cursed his overactive imagination and adjusted his trousers as surreptitiously as possible. It was a damned good thing that this club was pretty dark.
“Your health is paramount,” he said, more to take his mind off his desire for her than to change her eating habits.
“I know,” she murmured. “But sometimes I just plain forget. I get busy and the hours tick by. If my office door is closed the office junior will probably think I’m out, or with a client, and she won’t come in to take a lunch order for me.” She folded her hands in her lap. “I sometimes wish I’d taken a different route – for my career I mean, something creative and impressive.”
A faraway look had entered her cerulean eyes. Intrigued, Ichabod couldn’t help moving a little closer. His gaze scanned over her long, dark lashes, her silky soft hair, and her beautifully sculpted, high cheekbones. “To my mind, what you do is extremely impressive.”
“Really?” She looked at him for a moment, hope shining in her eyes. Then she sat back on the sofa. “I just think… I mean, sorry to be morbid for a moment, but when you’re gone, your words will remain in print for everyone to see. People won’t forget you. You won’t be left behind.”
“Abbie…” Her words struck something in him, something he’d tried to bury a long time ago. For the first time in years, he itched for a cigarette, for the hit of relaxation one long drag would bring. “I’ve been left behind in ways you couldn’t imagine.”

He saw the confusion flicker across her face, and was angry with himself. He hadn’t told anyone about what had happened for so long – only Abe and maybe one other person knew. Why did he suddenly feel the need to bare his soul to this woman? Her dark eyes promised comfort. Promised love.
Frustrated, he set his beer down and headed towards the little patio area at the edge of the club, where those who craved a smoke or some fresh air could gather.
The cold air hit him like a slap in the face, whipping around his body. It was just the wakeup call he needed. If he’d continued to sit there with Abbie, all cozy and warm, looking into her gorgeous dark eyes with their long lashes, he’d have spilled everything. And did she need to hear it?
She didn’t. He was only here for two weeks more, at the most, and he didn’t want her to look back at their time together and feel pity for him. Pity had no use.
Ichabod would never be happy with what had happened to him, but he was happy with the person he’d become because of it. He was independent. He’d become successful, on a worldwide scale.
And he didn’t need anyone.
Until recently. Recently, he’d begun to think of Abbie all the time. He woke up in his hotel, and thought about her. He sat down to write, and saw her face in his mind. He sat down to breakfast, and thought about sharing the meal with her.
It was too much. Too much for a man who didn’t like to depend on anyone except himself.
He felt a soft touch on his arm. Abbie stood behind him, her dark blue dress shimmering in the moonlight. Her hair wove silkily around her face. Her cheekbones were hid in shadow, emphasizes the brightness of her eyes and the soft fans of her lashes.

Chapter Text

“Ichabod.”

He turned. It hadn’t been fair of him to run off on her like that. “My apologies, Miss Mills. I didn’t mean to abandon you so – I felt that I required a moment alone.”

“Do you want to go somewhere else?”

Ichabod was touched that she’d abandon the night out she and her friends had planned together. He was sorely tempted to say, yes. Let’s go to my hotel room. Where I can do everything I’ve thought about doing to you. Then maybe, maybe I can stop thinking about you every minute of the day.

“Thank you, but no.”

Gently, she touched his face, cupping his cheek in her hand. Against his, her skin was soft and warm. “Who broke your heart, Ichabod?”

“Ah, Abbie…” At times like this, when his emotions rubbed him raw, kindness cut him to the quick. It just made him feel all the worse. He closed his eyes a moment. He couldn’t bear to look into Abbie’s kind gaze.

Her bottomless, dark eyes made him ache to tell her everything.

“I would rather not discuss it.” He paused for a moment. The music had shifted. It was still highly sexual, but slower, more fluid.

Softer, like the moonlight that streamed down on to them from the black sky.

“Perhaps instead, you would do me the profound honour of a dance,” he said, aware that the words were more of a plea than a question.

“Okay,” she accepted, but he knew wheels still turned in her head. They’d have to keep on turning for now.

He took her into his arms, and they moved inside the club, on to the dance floor. Other couples were already swaying gently to the music, wrapped up in each other, kissing, laughing, touching each other in intimate ways and places. He noticed a man tuck a lock of his partner’s hair behind her ear, a comfortable gesture that spoke of long term attachment. Ichabod watched and yearned.

They stood still for a long time. Ichabod placed his hands on Abbie’s back. She looped her arms around her neck. She tilted her chin back and looked at him for a searching moment, her eyes locked on his. Ichabod became convinced that she was going to speak, but she didn’t. Eventually she started to sway her hips to the music. His face must have registered his surprise, because she said to him, “you did say you wanted to dance.”

Ichabod lost his voice. Abbie’s hips were swaying gently against his, her body brushing his intimately, but at the same time oh, so gently. He thought he might have died and gone to heaven.

Her eyes were cast downward, watching her feet, and her shyness touched him deeply. Was this dancing? If it wasn’t, it was good enough for him. It was certainly more enjoyable – and yet nore torturous - than any dancing he’d seen or done before.

She lifted her head, and smiled at him. “Check it out, I’m sort of dancing.”

“Miss Mills. You are doing famously.” The excited, child-like grin on her beautiful face was irresistibly attractive. Suddenly he could no longer help himself; he bent his head and kissed her full on the mouth.

Her lips parted under his. He devoured the taste of her – red wine and woman and the dark night outside, beyond the club. He pulled her tighter against him, relishing the feel of her pert breasts pressed against his chest. She’d become quickly aroused; he could feel the small hard points of her nipples through her dress. He longed to put his mouth there, to swirl his tongue over her intimate places, to see if she would gasp and moan and strain against him.

God’s bones, he wanted her. “Abbie,” he whispered urgently against her mouth.

“Yeah?” she murmured.

He drew back and looked at her. Her lips were pinker, and slightly swollen from his hard, passionate kisses. Desire glazed her eyes. Never had she looked more attractive to him. He glanced around the club. Had anyone noticed? They’d been making out for some time.

The minute his gaze landed on other people in the club, he realized that kisses this passionate while dancing was not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, many couples seemed about to have intercourse against the club walls.

He dreaded to think about what went on in the toilets.

Abbie was a stunning woman, in every sense.

One who deserved to be treated with respect. Ichabod couldn’t deny that, when he’d been younger, he’d… taken his pleasure in some rather questionable places. But he was thirty-two now, and he enjoyed exploring the pleasures of the flesh in a comfortable bed, in a warm room. A place where he could take his time over a woman’s body, and be sure of her enjoyment.

A woman like Miss Mills was too good for the likes of him.

“Abigail.” He touched his forehead to her own. How could be vocalize what he felt? “You deserve better than me. I can’t give you what you need.”

Something flashed across her face. Ichabod couldn’t work out what it might be. Then she stepped back from him, slowly and carefully. Her voice had frosted over when she asked, “And how do you know what I need?”

The cold danger in her voice should have stopped him – however, he ploughed on, thinking of protecting her dreams.

“You told me before,” he reminded her gently. “Picket fence, dog, man, flowers. That’s what you deserve.” He wanted to reach out to her, but she looked so tense and so fragile. He was so afraid that she’d shatter if he touched her. “And I depart in a fortnight. Or less.”

“Maybe I only want what you can give, for however long that is.” Her eyes glittered; Ichabod feared she was on the verge of tears. “Maybe I’m not ready to settle down. Maybe I just want to have some fun.” Her chest heaved as she tried to hold her emotions back. “Don’t you dare try and protect me. Maybe I’m stronger than you know. Did you think about that?” She poked him hard in the chest. "You idiot."

And she turned on her heel and walked away.

Ichabod hung back, letting her go. He saw her stop by the sofa that her sister Joe were gathered on. Jenny threw him a look that could have killed, even from all the way over there.

He felt sick of himself.

 

*****

“Here.” Jenny closed her freezer door and passed Abbie the pot of Ben and Jerry’s she’d removed, along with a large spoon. “This will help ease the pain.”

It was early afternoon on the day before Halloween. Abbie and Joe sat in Jenny’s apartment, lounging on her beanbags and leather couches. Abbie had always liked her sister’s apartment. It was cozy, and funky. In her lounge, all the walls were white, except one, which had been painted a cool, aquamarine blue. A painting of a whale wearing a sombrero and sunglasses hung above a mantelpiece covered in geodes.

Jenny was nothing if not eccentric.

Abbie stared at the pot of ice cream for a long moment. “This is your favourite flavour.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Jenny performed an eating motion with her hands while nodding encouragingly. “It’s the most effective medicine I know of, and at the moment, you need it more than me. Eat.”

Gratefully, Abbie peeled off the lid and dug in. Despite the fact it had been frozen for a few days, the ice cream remained soft and fluffy. “Thanks. And you, Joe – you didn’t have to leave the club that night.”

“Yeah, we did,” Joe piped up. His gaze was riveted to the TV, where a football gamed played. “We’re your friends, if you leave, we leave.”

His matter of fact tone of voice warmed Abbie.

Then Jenny said, matter-of-factly, “You haven’t been at work since we went to the club, have you?”

“No. Of course not. I had some annual leave coming.” And what a relief that is. Abbie ate another spoonful of ice cream. It numbed her pleasantly. “I needed a break from all the angry people I’ve been dealing with lately. What are you getting at?”

“Just that that’s the only number Ichabod could have reached you on since we left him that night.”

Abbie's spoon paused halfway to her lips.

The doorbell buzzed. Joe jumped up. “Pizza! He left the apartment door on the latch and hurried down, barefoot, to receive the goodies.

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Hollow legs.”

Abbie put the lid back on the ice cream slowly and licked the spoon.

Her sister  had a point. An annoying point, but a point all the same. What if Ichabod had left her a message? She wouldn’t have picked it up. Plus, he didn’t know where she lived. Her work phone was the only avenue he could pursue to reach her.

Suddenly she didn’t want any pizza. She grabbed her bag and made her way to the kitchen. “Guys? I’m sorry, but I have to go.”

Chapter Text

Jangling her keys in her pocket, Abbie sped down the sidewalk to the nearest subway station. Her office was only two stops away from Jenny's apartment. She could’ve walked, but the subway was faster.

She was nothing if not impatient.


Had he left her a message? Even though she still felt cross that he’d been trying to protect her from whatever flaw he thought he had, she still cared deeply for him. Her stomach churned with more than plain lust or attraction. Something that meant she wanted to see him as much as possible while he was still in her city. For as long as that lasted. She felt something with him that she'd felt rarely. Maybe never. She wasn't going to throw it into the trash.


She barreled down towards the subway station, and after taking a second to check the destination, leapt on the train that stood at the platform, about to leave. She barely made it – the subway train’s doors almost closed on her hair. 
As the subway glided and grunted, Abbie took out her iPod and skipped to something shiny and happy. She bopped along to it until the subway car shunted to a stop. She practically rammed her ticket into the barrier as she sped out into the bleak winter sunlight. She turned the corner, barely missing a collision with an elderly couple and a young girl walking a huge dog. Abbie called out a frantic apology.
The security guard at the reception desk barely looked up as she flashed her pass at him. He was engrossed in the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. Abbie swallowed her laugh until she stood safely inside the elevator.


On her floor, people bustled in and out of doors.  Abbie flashed them a smile and, despite the anticipation that rolled inside her, she made herself walk slowly into her office and crossed to her desk, afraid to expect anything. The message light on her machine blinked a bright red. She hesitated a moment, then pressed play.


The first message was from the legal firm’s office furniture supplier. Pfft, a sales call. Irritated, Abbie deleted it. The second was from a potential client wanting an appointment. The machine stated that the message had been left this morning. Abbie listened and made a note on her desk calendar. She'd ask her assistant to schedule the man in the day she got back from her leave.


She only had those messages. Her shoulders slumped. She regretted what she’d said at the club. Why, why? Maybe the writer was right. Maybe she really was a woman who could only settle for the whole American dream deal. But she always behaved so carefully – wasn’t every woman entitled to one night to regret, one fling to look back on when she was seventy and had varicose veins and grey hair?
She sighed, and allowed herself a moment to plop into her chair and feel sorry for herself. Then she got up and turned off the lights. As she began to close the door behind her, the phone started to ring. She decided to ignore it, but then thought differently. “Well, hell. I’m here, aren’t I?” But she’d be damned if she was going to make any appointments. They’d have to ring through to reception for that.
“Abigail Mills speaking,” she answered.
There was quiet for a moment. Then, “Miss Mills.” The sexy rumble of Ichabod Crane’s accented voice slid silkily down the line.
“Ah, hi."

"I called several times today,” he admitted. “Your machine answered, but I found myself lost for words. This time, ironically, the time you answered, I had a message prepared.”
“Did you?” She both yearned and feared hearing it.
“As you said, very astutely, I am an idiot. Of course you are your own woman. Of course you know what you want. While I personally think you would be making an error of judgement to get into anything with me-”
“Ichabod?” she interrupted.
“Yes?”
“Come to my place tomorrow. We’re having a party. A small one.” When he hesitated, she said, “I won’t take no for an answer. I make a mean punch, and better cocktails.”
She heard a laugh in his voice when he replied, “How can I say no to such an offer? Allow me to take your address. Do I have to wear a costume?”

 

****


Later that evening, Abbie stood at the small kitchen counter in her apartment, preparing the party food she intended to serve the next day. She planned to cook vol au vents, cocktail sausages, chicken wings, and quiche. She would also set out a variety of cold snacks. Her sister had hollow legs and could eat snacks twenty-four hours straight.


She surveyed the spread, happy with it. They were celebrating her boss-cum-friend Frank's birthday. He was a low-key kind of guy, but he liked to party when he had the opportunity. She counted the bottles of beer and wine she'd bought last week, then popped all her glasses in the dishwasher, turning it to the eco setting.
She had finished up and was about to flop on to the couch with a well deserved glass of wine and a trashy novel when the buzzer in her apartment sounded. She glanced at the clock. Eight pm. Could it be Ichabod?

Probably not. They'd see each other tomorrow. She laughed at her own excitement where he was concerned. Down, girl. He's gotta write sometime.


“Hello?” she said breathlessly into the connecting part of the buzzer in her apartment.
There was a long silence, and then, “Abs, it’s Luke”
Great. “Oh. Hi,” she grouched. What did he want?

"Can I come in?" Luke asked into the intercom.
Abbie looked at the kitchen. The counter was a mess of crumbs, cutlery and chopping boards. She didn’t care what Luke thought about her or her apartment, but she did have some sense of pride. She hesitated, her finger on the buzzer."What do you want?"

Chapter Text

"Just to talk."
Abbie rolled her eyes on a sigh. "Did it ever occur to you that if we "just talked" a lot more when we were dating, things might have worked out differently?"
Although in her current situation, she knew Luke had done her a favour by being a dick.
“Never mind. I’ll come down.” What could he possibly want? She wondered as she pulled on an old sweater that proclaimed God is a Woman and shoved her feet into a pair of ankle-high black boots, leaving them unzipped. He’d only ever stayed at her apartment a few times, and she didn’t think he had left anything behind.
If he has, I’ll happily throw them to him from the window. Maybe they'll hit his thick head.
Grabbing her keys, she let the door swing shut behind her, and made her way quickly downstairs. When she got to the small porch of the apartment building, she saw Luke through the pane of glass in the security door.

She swung the door open, frowning. “So. What do you want?”
“Well, it’s nice to see you too.” His face softened. “You look beautiful, Abbie. You look…different.”
Did she? “I don’t think it’s any of your business how I look.” She folded her arms and took a small, but very deliberate, step back. “We broke up, Luke, and I don’t have any of your stuff, so what exactly are you doing here?”
“I…” He looked at his shoes for a moment. Abbie noticed that a touch of pink infused his cheeks. It was out of character for him. Luke was the shoot first, ask questions later type. “I miss you. I didn’t really mean it when I said we weren’t having fun, it’s just…”
Silence hung in the air. Then Abbie said, “Please. Credit me with some intelligence. Of course you meant it. You just wanted to dip your fingers in other pies.”
He was brave enough to look her in the eye this time. “I guess you’re right.” He sighed. “You are right. I’ve been really stupid. You’re gorgeous and smart, and any man would be pleased to have you on his arm. You’re lovely, Abs, and I…”

“Was distracted by someone with large frontal appendages?” Abbie asked, not pulling her punch. Luke had never made it a secret that he was a breast man, and the bigger the better, regardless of whether the effect was natural or fake.
At the time she hadn't cared because they were together, but when hed' thrown her over for someone with a different body type, that had galled.
“We’re young. I just wanted to test the waters a bit. But you’re wrong, Abbie, we never actually broke up.”
“We never said we were exclusive either! God, I don’t know why I am even standing here talking to you. We have nothing to say to each other. You were the only who chickened out of settling down here - I hadn’t even made a single noise about kids or white picket fences.”
“I know. I know. I was scared. I thought that was what you wanted.”

Abbie’s mouth tightened. “That’s what I want eventually. But Jesus, Luke, look at you. You left me once to “test the waters.” If you can do it once, you can do it again, and I believe you will.” She sighed. “You’re still a little boy inside. And I need a man.”
Fear and hurt warped his features. “But Abbie-”
“Good night, Luke, and good bye. I don’t expect to see you here again.” With that, she slammed the security door and stomped upstairs to her apartment. She didn’t look back once.
And it felt pretty damn good.


* * * * *

The next day dawned bright and clear. Ichabod gazed down at the streets of the already thronging town for a few moments, then closed the curtains and stripped out of his boxers and night shirt, getting ready to have a shower and a shave.
Perhaps he prepared too thoroughly for a simple party, but it was important to him. It felt hugely important, especially as his feelings for Abbie overwhelmed him.
Last night he’d tossed and turned in bed, telling himself to make some excuse and not go. Telling himself that spending the evening with her would only lead to bruised feelings.
But the thought of seeing her again made a giddy, lightheaded feeling swirl around inside him. He couldn’t help but smile at himself in the mirror as he started to neaten up his beard.
He felt like a teenager again.
When he’d finished grooming and taken a hot shower, he looked at the small selection of clothes he’d hung in the large hotel room wardrobe. Why hadn’t he brought along something smarter? All told, a party, especially a Halloween one, was perhaps no occasion for a suit, but somehow he thought he’d feel more confident if he looked smart.

He glanced at the small package on the bedside table. It had been beautifully wrapped by the clerk at the store he’d stopped at yesterday. Ichabod wouldn’t dream of showing up to eat someone’s food without bringing a gift. He had considered flowers or chocolates for Abbie, but when he’d passed the window of this particular store, he hadn’t been able to resist buying the sparkling object.
He hoped Abbie would accept it as what it was, a gift. A gift given freely with no expectations attached to it, save the pleasure of enjoying being near her.
Ichabod was fortunate enough not to worry about money, and so if and when he wanted to buy something for someone, or for himself, he did so.
He couldn’t give Abbie what she needed, what she deserved, and so he’d give her something she could keep.

His attention drifted back to the complicated business of choosing an outfit. White shirt? No, he always wore white shirts. A t-shirt and sweater, or perhaps a zippy, would be better. More casual.
Although he abhorred casual clothes for outside, they had their uses. Zipped sweatshirts were excellent for writing days.
He set aside his reservations about looking too smart. He respected Abbie and her life, and wanted to show it with his clothing choices.
He donned a grey button down shirt, skipped the tie. Smart black jeans followed, then a slate-grey waistcoat. He studied himself in the mirror. He looked sharp, at least.

Now he had almost the whole day to write before he set off for the party.
Ichabod made himself a coffee from the small percolator in the hotel room. The tea here wasn't the same as that from his home country, but the coffee was excellent.
He sipped, added more sugar, then sat. The moment he opened the document that held his manuscript and notes, he started writing. He didn’t stop for two hours straight, his coffee at his elbow, forgotten. The words had poured out of him, and now he felt exhausted, butt the good kind of exhaustion, the kind which came from hard, satisfying work.
Ichabod sat back, surprised at himself, and plowed his fingers through his hair, stretching. He hadn’t had this kind of non-stop inspiration since…
Well, never, actually.
He knew the cause. Abbie.
She made something inside him come alive. He’d be very sad to leave her. He already knew he would leave a part of himself behind when he got on a plane in less than thirteen days’ time. But he was leaving, and that was how it was.
How it had to be.


* * * * *

 


“It’s not Luke, is it? Jeez, I hope you showed that asshole the door.” Comfortable in his friend's kitchen, Frank, Abbie's former boss and now sort-of-mentor, plucked a grape from the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. “If he comes in, Abbie, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”
“It’s not Luke .” Abbie looked at the older man with exasperated love. “Give me some credit. His name is Ichabod. He’s a writer from England.”
“What’s he doing all the way over here?” Frank ate another grape. Like all the men she knew, he had hollow legs.
Abbie swatted his hand away. “Those are for the guests. If you’re hungry, have an apple.”
“Apples don’t taste as good as grapes. You know that.” But he took one anyway and bit in; making sure his face was set in a sulky expression. “So? About this Ichabod character.”
“He’s here researching and part-writing a novel. Ichabod Crane - you know, he wrote A Twisted Web, the one that made the NYT list a few years back. He writes thrillers and suspense stories. Last time I read one of his books, I slept with the light on for a week, terrified of finding a murderer hiding in some shadowy corner of my apartment.”
Frank whistled. “Must be pretty good, then. I'll look him up. So. Are you two, you know, together?” He finished the apple and tossed the core into the trash can.
Abbie took a deep breath. She opened the fridge and pulled put plates of snacks, then faced her friend, and admitted honestly, “I don’t really know.”
“You invited him over for a party – one I know you only throw for the people close to you. It must be at least partially serious. I know you, Abbie. You aren’t the type for flings, and if this guy is from England, he isn’t going to stay this side of the pond forever. He’ll miss all the tea and crumpets.”
Abbie rolled her eyes. “Frank, leave it. I don’t know, okay? I’m still trying to figure things out.” When he looked wounded, she felt bad, and moved forward to give him a warm cuddle. He only poked and prodded because he cared so much about her. “Don’t worry. I’m almost thirty. I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”

 

Chapter Text

Ichabod pressed the buzzer and stepped back from the security door. It was broad and built of dark oak, with a large glass panel so people on either side could see each other. He looked through the panel towards the stairs. The building appeared to be sturdy, although the old brownstone was in sore need of a few surface repairs to keep it attractive.
A woman like Miss Mills should live in a palace.
He knew he was ridiculous for thinking it, but if she were his, he would do his utmost to give her nothing but the best. Forever.
The thought sent the little mouse of fear skittering down his spine.
He moved back as a man coming down the stairs entered his line of sight. The stranger wore jeans, smart brown shoes, and a blue dress shirt.
This must be Abbie’s friend, Frank.. He remembered that she’d said he’d be attending.
The man swung open the security door. “You’re Ichabod Crane?”
“The very same,” Ichabod answered, swallowing. The darker skinned man was tall and built like two rugby players. “And you would be Frank?”
“Yeah.” Frank offered his hand, and Ichabod took it. The lean, built man seemed friendly enough. “So, this is the first time that Abbie has invited a veritable stranger over for her annual Halloween party,” Frank began, not bothering with niceties.
Ichabod shifted a little, feeling slightly uncomfortable. “Ah…oh. Well, I suspect she kindly took pity on me, as she well knew my alternative was spending the evening bent over my keyboard.”
The two men looked at each other for a long moment, assessing. Then Frank took a step closer to Ichabod, and said, in a low voice, “Listen. She likes you. She really likes you. I don’t know you, but you seem like an okay guy. Nevertheless, if you hurt her in any way, I will make it my personal mission to hunt you down and break you into tiny pieces.”
Ichabod answered seriously, “I understand. Were I you, I would doubtless make the same threat.”
Frank stepped back, his face relaxing and then taking on an all-American, good ol’ boy grin. “I’m glad we’re clear. Come on in. Abbie has the place smelling like a gourmet restaurant. The other guests’ll be here before long.”
“Oh, ah, thankyou. Great.” Bewildered, and a little bit afraid, Ichabod stepped inside after Frank, and wiped his boots on the welcome mat before making his way up the creaking wooden staircase.
He breathed a deep sigh of relief when Frank opened the door to Abbie’s apartment. The smell hit him right away, but Frank had been slightly wrong. The place smelled better than a gourmet restaurant.
And he’d been to enough to tell.
“Hi, Ichabod.” Abbie stood at the kitchen counter mixing some sort of punch. Beside her, platters of baked snacks, chips and dips sat in a line. His stomach rumbled. “Glad you made it here all right.”
“I did. The hotel were kind enough to give me a map.” Mapping roads on a smartphone was not for him; he preferred paper.
Awkwardness churned inside him. Seeing Abbie’s apartment, where she lived, where she slept…They seemed to have reached a new kind of intimacy.
She had excellent taste, which didn’t surprise him. Creamy walls, big bay windows, a feature fireplace, an inviting, cushion-plumped sofa, and a gorgeous sheepskin rug served to make the small living area seem larger, lighter.
The kitchen cut into it a little, all clean lines and chrome.
“Frank, take Ichabod’s coat for him, would you? Then can you get some glasses? People will be arriving soon-. You want some drinks? Wine or beer?”
“Either,” Ichabod said. At the same time Frank stated decisively, “Wine.”
“Wine it is.” Abbie carried the dinner-laden serving plate to the table and then went back to the kitchen to get wine glasses. As she started to pour, the security phone buzzed.
“I’ll get it,” Frank called, hurrying off.
Ichabod stood by the small line of coat hooks and looked at his wool coat hanging between Abbie’s smart work jacket and Frank’s duffel. To him the meaning seemed clear: He was an intruder here.
Had it been a bad decision to come?
The way Frank spoke about the party, it seemed a small, friendly affair. Ichabod had thought Abbie planned on throwing a big party, where friends and acquaintances would mingle. He’d assumed wrong.
“The door release isn’t working,” Frank called. “I’ll go down.”
“Okay,” Abbie called back. "Thanks."
Ichabod went into the kitchen to talk to her. To say how lovely her place looked. How lovely she looked. He faced her, about to speak. But then the light from the window changed, brightening, and slanted across Abbie’s face, curving across her beautifully high, delicate cheekbones Light spilled over her neck, glinting on the small diamond pendant she wore. Her hair curled down to her shoulders, the raven locks glossy as sin in the winter sun.
“Abbie…”
He didn’t think about it. He immediately crossed to the kitchen counter, cupped her face in his hands and kissed her, trapping her between his body and the countertop.
He felt her mouth tremble slightly in surprise, and then she relaxed against him, her body becoming deliciously warm and pliant. She sighed into his mouth, and every fiber inside Ichabod clamored to have her then and there. He pressed his hips urgently into hers, letting her know how much he wanted her. He almost lost control when she undulated against him, touching the tip of her tongue to his.
The sound of the front door opening tossed a dampener on the passionate moment. They jumped apart like children guilty of dipping into the cookie jar in between meals.
Abbie ran a hand through her hair. “Oh, Ichabod, I-”
“Joenny are here!” Frank called out. The door clicked closed.
"Must you call us that?" Jenny drawled.
“We’re ready to eat and drink and dance stupidly!” Joe could be heard saying.
Half-blind with desire, Ichabod had to blink a few times before he could think straight. “Perhaps..... Would you like some assistance with drinks?” he asked Abbie.
She stared at him, and he knew her mind had fogged up as much as his. “I… No, I’ll be fine.”
They chuckled at each other, and Ichabod thought - I've fallen. And fallen hard.
Her sister and Joe burst into the kitchen, handing her bottles of wine and packets of chips and snacks. “Where’s the music?” Joe asked. He headed over to the stereo system and put on some slinky salsa music.
The beat filled the room.
Jenny dumped her camo-print bag on the counter. “Hey, Crane,” she said. “How’s your book going?”
Ichabod relaxed. Thank God, he desperately needed a subject to take his mind off how much he ached for Abbie. “My female character is developing well. I’m finding that being here has really got my creativity flowing.” He directed the last part at Abbie, and was pleased when a deep flush rode up her cheeks.
Frank swallowed a mouthful of wine. “So do you always set your book wherever you’re staying? Or do you find a place you want to write about, and then go there?”

Ichabod took his time answering, sipping his wine first. “Both, if I’m to be honest. I enjoy the fact that I’ve got the freedom to travel and see places most people have not. I like being somewhere new every few months. It’s an honour having stories to tell. The only thing I don’t like is... not having anyone I'm able to send a postcard to.”
The room hung suspended in silence. The beat of the lively salsa seemed too loud as Joe and Jenny looked at Ichabod. Ichabod imagined they felt a mixture of pity and curiosity for him.
Most people did.
“So,” Frank interjected brightly, “Tell me about the sports you have in England? You are a sports man, right?”
Abbie heaved a sigh of relief at the safe subject. Ichabod and Frank soon became embroiled in a conversation about football and baseball, and debated whether or not bowling was actually a sport.
Before she knew it, Hawley had arrived, bringing a couple of bottles of tequila with him. Abbie busied herself topping off drinks and breaking open more wine. She enjoyed playing hostess.
A few hours later, everyone except Frank and Ichabod trooped out. After the flurry of handshakes, hugs and kisses, Abbie felt a deep need to flop down on to the couch. But she wasn’t lucky enough to own a dishwasher and so the dishes would need to be done.

Ichabod and Frank immediately offered to wash and dry. When she protested, Ichabod insisted. “It’s because of you, Miss Mills, that I have avoided sitting in a hotel room alone tonight,” he murmured.
As he left her to assist Frank in the kitchen, Abbie became aware of a heavy feeling weighing down her heart. Yes, it was because of her that he wasn’t alone in a hotel room, but how much damage had she done to herself by inviting him over today? For a moment, she allowed herself to indulge in a little fantasy about him moving to her corner of the world. Staying for good, etching out a permanent place in her town, and in her heart.
When she opened her eyes, Ichabod was sat on the couch next to her. She almost leapt off the couch in surprise.

“I thought you were washing up,” she blurted out. Great, not even a proper couple and already he’d think she was nagging him about cleaning.
Then she rolled her eyes. She knew better than to stereotype him, or herself.
“Frank has given me a brief reprieve.” He reached into the pocket of his jeans. “I... wanted to give you this.”
Abbie stared at the little box he held in his hand, wrapped in that famous, telltale aqua shade. Tiffany’s. The nearest branch was out of town. “What… what’s that?”
Ichabod met her gaze, his expression urging her to take it. “It’s a gift. No gentleman ever arrives to a lady’s house empty-handed.”
She stood awkwardly, questions rushing around in her head.
Ichabod very gently took her hand and pressed the box into her palm.

Abbie stared down at it for a moment. Her heart jumped in her throat.
“You may open it later, if you prefer.”
“Well, I…” She hadn’t expected a gift, let alone an expensive one. What did it mean when a man gave a woman a piece of jewellery?
She peeled off the gorgeous blue paper.

The box underneath was delicate and the same pale aqua shade. Lifting the lid, she removed the most beautiful chunky silver charm bracelet. It had links for twelve charms. Ten were empty, and two held silver charms. Ichabod lifted his hand and touched the first charm, a perfectly crafted snowflake. “This is to show my appreciation for the ice-skating day,” he whispered. The second charm was shaped like a quill. He touched it. “A vain choice. So perhaps you won’t forget me.”

Abbie found herself struck speechless. That was quite a feat, since the best attorneys were usually trained – and liked – to have the last word at any given time.
Ichabod cupped her cheek tenderly. “If it isn't to your liking, I can choose something else."
Abbie carefully placed the bracelet back in the box and stepped forward to give Ichabod a warm hug. As his arms closed around her, she felt a tiny piece of her treacherous heart break off. It would be lost to him forever. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I love it.”
“Allow me.” Ichabod took the box from her. He unfastened the clasp and slid it over Abbie’s slender wrist.

He looked up as he did so, and flashed that gorgeous grin at her, his eyes the blue of the ocean. Abbie allowed herself to imagine that it was a ring he was putting on her.

She quickly quelled that image. What was she thinking? Ichabod had self-proclaimed, incurable itchy feet, and something else – he’d been hurt, badly, and whatever, or whoever had done the damage, had made sure he wouldn’t stay in one place too long.
A sudden urge to throw herself at him and say, wherever you’re going, take me with you flared inside her. She knew her friends would applaud that, as she was very rarely spontaneous, but it would mean leaving everything she’d worked for behind.
And she couldn’t exactly be sure that Ichabod wouldn’t say, actually, I prefer flying solo.

 

*****

 

Later, after all the washing had been done and a last toast made, Abbie caught Frank in a hard hug. “Don’t wait so long between visits this time, okay?” she kissed his cheek.
Frank offered his hand to Ichabod. “Good to meet you, man.”
Ichabod shook Frank’s hand and returned the sentiment. Then Frank kissed Abbie again and left.

The apartment door clicked shut behind him.
They were alone. Ichabod sat still on the couch for the moment, willing himself not to touch Abbie. Not to want to touch her. Not to grab her and take everything her sweet body had offered him earlier.
Then he made himself stand up. “I should leave, Miss Mills. Thankyou for inviting me. Really. I enjoyed myself immensely.”
“I did, too.” She stepped towards him. The dim light of the TV glinted off her hair, giving her an ethereal glow. “I’m glad you came. I couldn’t stand to think of you all alone tonight.”
His heart lurched. “Abbie, you’re too kind by far.” Too nice. Too genuine. Too beautiful. Too many things I could so easily fall in love with. “I must go. After all, I have got writing to do.” He looked around her apartment.

It was so festive and cheery, and cozy. Her gorgeous plush sofa, the warm welcoming rug, the carefully decorated tree…
And Abbie. Beautiful Abbie, with her hair cascading over her shoulders in a rush of obsidian silk, her large, emotive eyes, her kissable mouth. He knew so much about her, and so little. He didn’t want to leave. He couldn’t bring himself to move.
Abbie lifted her hand and stroked her thumb over his lower lip. Her touched ignited the desire he’d worked so hard to keep in check. “Ichabod, please don’t go,” she whispered.


“Abbie...” If she didn’t stop that, she would find herself in a very compromising position on the sheepskin rug they stood together on. “It isn’t good for me to stay. If I haven't made it clear, I want you. Desperately.”
“What if I want you to have me?” she asked, her voice low and husky. She stood so close. Dangerously close.

Another inch or so, and she’d be pressed intimately against him.
“I... don’t think that’s wise,” he groaned, as she closed the distance between them, winding her arms around his neck, and pressing herself against him. Her small, perfectly pert breasts snuggled against his chest; his hips cradled her own. “My dear Abbie. It is far from my intention to hurt you.”
“I’m done thinking,” she said against his lips. Her breath whispered against his skin; he felt the heat of her body against his. One hand played gently with his hair as she rubbed his mouth over his, softly seductive. “Thinking hasn’t got me anywhere fast. It’s time to start doing.”
He tried one more time. “I won’t do this to you, Abbie. For both our sakes.” He shouldn’t have come today. Look what had happened. He should have stayed at the hotel. He’d have been so lonely, but-
“I know you’re leaving. I know. You’re starting to sound like a broken record.” She circled her hips, rubbing herself against his now very prominent erection. “Who’s to say I can’t take what you can give while you’re here? There’s a saying I like – every woman should have one night to look back on and regret when she’s old. I don’t want to be old and alone in my bed, and remember that a gorgeous guy wanted me, and I didn’t have him. Maybe this is bad for us, but I’m done fighting it. Let’s just have what we have, and let it be whatever it is. For as long as it is.”

 

Chapter Text

Ichabod swore his eyes almost rolled back in his head as the delectable Abigail stepped back and started to unbutton her sweater, revealing the creamy flesh of her cleavage. “Far be it from me to deny you anything.”

“Plus,” the temptress added with an enticing smile, “I owe you a present.”

“Then…” He took her hands and placed them by her sides. “Don’t do that. If you’re to be my present, I want to take all the time in the world unwrapping you.” He scooped her up into his arms. She hardly weighed a thing. Her hair tickled his cheek. He cradled her gently as he looked around him. God's teeth, but he was going to be sad to leave this woman, this place, this day.

For the first time in his life, he wondered what it would be like to share a mortgage and a last name with a woman. “You're about to learn, my treasure, that I never do anything by halves. Direct me to your bedroom."

 

 *****

 

The light on Abbie's bedside table was shaped like a mushroom. A fairy climbed on the shade, delicate vines curling through its hair and around its legs. Abbieclicked the button on the lamp’s body. Soft violet light filled the room.

“I hate that lamp,” Abbie told him from her position on the bed. “But it was a present from the first client I won a case for. She’d let her little girl pick it out. It was such a sweet thought that I can’t bear to part with it. Plus, every time I look at it, it reminds me of why I do what I do.”

Ichabod felt his heart constrict. He didn’t deserve this woman, even for the short amount of time he was here. But, like he’d told her himself, he could deny her nothing. Ever. So he would be with her, and afterward, he would be forever grateful. He'd never forget her face.

Or anything about her.

“So,” Abbie teased, when he hadn’t spoken for a long time, “Quit playing with the lamp and come play with me instead.”

Ichabod came to sit on the edge of the bed. The soft lamplight bathed her beauty in its gentle lilac glow. “If you ever come to realize how very enchanting you are,” he murmured, “You’ll be dangerous.”

Her lips curved. “Come here and show me just how dangerous.” His heart hammered against his ribs as he obeyed, moving on to the bed. He was seeing a new side to Abbie. Irresistible. Bold. Definitely dangerous. Not conductive to him returning to his usual way of life.

But when there was a raven-haired siren lying on a bed waiting for him to undress her, who was he to care about anything else?

He took her in his arms. She melted against him, wrapping her arms around his waist. Her mouth sought his and they kissed passionately, furiously. Writing be damned. England be damned. Everything he wanted and needed centered on the woman who held him as tightly as he did her.

He broke the kiss and looked at her. Drank her in. Her tousled hair, her beautifully sculpted cheekbones, the elegant curve of her neck, the rosy flush of her face. She looked like a woman consumed by desire.

He’d never seen her look more gorgeous. He felt like a humble peasant kneeling at the altar of a Queen.

Gently, even though his hands wanted to tremble, he lifted them to the first closed button of her sweater, and slipped the little round disc through its eyelet. With each button he released, his hands brushed the silken flesh he exposed. The third button revealed the lacy curves of the cups of her bra. He traced a fingertip along the swell of her breast, and watched her eyes drift closed. Her lashes were thick and dark against her petal-soft skin.

He made himself take a breath. Everything about this woman infiltrated his defenses, like fine wine. If he wasn’t careful, he would swallow her in one big gulp.

He wanted to make this last as long as possible. To savor her, to give her pleasure.

His gaze flicked to the charm bracelet. He wondered if she’d continue to use if after he left. Would she wear it every day, or would she secret it away, only to take it out late and night and think about their time together? Or would she, in time, give it away?

His thoughts splintered as Abbie stroked her hand down his cheek. 

“Is something wrong?”

Yes. “No. I…” Don’t tell her. Don’t tell her. She doesn’t need your damned emotional baggage. Not tonight. “No,” he said decisively.

He went back to the delicious task of unbuttoning the few buttons left on her sweater. The red fabric was soft, although the texture paled compared to the silkiness of Abbie's flushed skin. Finally the garment parted, and Ichabod put it aside.

His goddess knelt before him, her torso bare but for the small, lacy bra she wore. He gently cupped her breasts through the fabric. “Your breasts are perfect,” he whispered against her skin, kissing the delicate flesh where her neck and shoulder met.

“They’re a little small,” she demurred.

“Perfect,” he insisted. “Perfect handfuls.” He stroked her through the bra’s thin cup, felt the taut peak of her nipple; she’d become very aroused very fast. He slid his hands around to her back, feeling for the garment’s clasp. As he swiftly undid it curses and promises ran through his mind: he cursed himself for not being a stronger man and leaving Abbie alone tonight, and he silently promised her that he’d make it good. He’d show her, with actions, if not words, how very much he cared about her.

A rush of desire flooded him as her gloriously naked breasts faced him. They were small but perfectly pert. He cupped them, stroking his thumbs over the erect nipples, and he was struck by the thought that it seemed they’d been made to fit perfectly in his hands, and his alone.

The little voice in his head reminded him that he was leaving soon, so there might one day be other men. Other men would stroke her breasts, kiss her lips, would unbutton her red sweater.

His heart bumped painfully at the thoughts, and he told the little voice to take a long stroll off a short cliff.

All he wanted was here and now.

* * * * *

At his magic touch, Abbie sighed his name. Her head tipped back slightly as she reveled in the pleasure of his hands on her skin. She couldn’t believe that less than two weeks ago, she’d told her friends she didn’t really like sex. Thank God she’d talked the Brit writer into staying with her after the party.

She hadn’t wanted him to go. She’d wanted to stay wrapped up in his arms for just a bit longer. And the kiss he’d given her before dinner had ignited all sorts of hidden fires inside her. She had experimentally pushed her hips against his, and discovered the most wonderful sensation. And she’d be damned if he was going back to England without giving her a taste of the passion he’d been teasing her with this past week.

She studied his face through half closed eyes – all of a sudden her eyes had become so very heavy. His brow furrowed slightly in concentration, as if he was studying an ancient text, or handling a fragile object. He looked gorgeous. The pale lamplight cast shadows over his face, highlighting the strong line of his jaw and his Adam’s apple.

Don’t leave. Abbie couldn’t be sure whether or not she’d said the words out loud. She guessed not, as Ichabod didn’t look up from stroking her breasts. Then all her thought processes stopped as he put his mouth where his hands had been. Her body trembled as she felt his tongue move gently over her nipple, alternately sucking and stroking. Need flooded her, and she was taken aback by how much he could make her feel. No wonder she hadn’t enjoyed the one and only time she’d slept with Luke; he hadn’t paid nearly enough attention to her nipples.

Who knew they were this sensitive?

Every fiber of her being was centered on the feeling in her breasts, until she felt Ichabod's hands move to her hips. As he continued to give delicious attention to her nipples, his fingers searched for the zipper to her skirt. “There’s a button thing…” she murmured, wanting to give him direction, but finding it hard to concentrate beyond the bright throb of need his touch sparked within her.

Soon he found the button and zip combination, and was sliding her skirt down her thighs. Abbie realized, belatedly, that she was wearing her plainest white cotton underwear. She wished she’d thought to put on a scrap of lace, or a pair of fancy French knickers. It was too late now. What would he think of her serviceable panties?

“My dear Abigail…” Ichabod paused in his ministrations to her breasts. He stroked the exposed flesh of her stomach and moved up to kiss the corners of her mouth. “You have no idea how many times I’ve imagined this. Imagined you.”

Abbie had a sudden urge to confess the fantasy she’d indulged in the day they met, but she refrained.

Instead she murmured against his mouth, “What other things have you imagined?”

Chapter Text

“I want to finish unwrapping my present, and then, I intend to show you.”


God, she was going to miss that voice, Abbie thought miserably. She’d have to get satellite TV and tune into English channels just to hear the accent she’d come to love. Jenny would laugh it up.


She let her eyes drift closed as Ichabod tenderly eased her skirt all the way off her body and down her legs. For a moment, the only sound she heard was the whisper of material as the skirt hit the floor. Then his warm breath whispered across the naked expanse of her stomach and hips as he kissed his way past her belly button, dotting little butterfly kisses along the line where her white panties met her skin. “I should very much like to remove these, too,” he murmured against the fabric.

Abbie felt the heat of his words all the way to her centre.


“Please,” she moaned in response, hardly recognising her own voice.
Ichabod looked up at her. “You are, without doubt, beautiful,” he told her, never breaking eye contact as he spoke. “The most amazing woman I have ever had the good fortune to be with.” His eyes burned with a blaze of ocean-blue fire.
Then he turned his attention to slowly tugging her panties over her hips. They slid down her smooth legs, and with a flick of his wrist, the material was merely a memory that now lay on her bedroom floor.


She resisted the urge to press her legs together. Part of her wanted him to put his hands, mouth, tongue, where she was hot, where she ached. Another part of her held back. If she let him in, everywhere, what were the chances that he'd break her heart in two, and take half of it back to England with him?

Bit late for that, Abs, her inner voice scoffed.


Her answer came when she felt Ichabod's hands on her thighs. He gazed up at her, his expression serious. His cerulean eyes were dark in the soft glow the lamp gave the room. “Abigail. your legs are clamped together tighter than a vice. If this is not what you want - We can just lie together. Being with you is enough for me. We needn't....”

“Don’t go. Don’t go.” She squeezed her eyes tightly closed.


Ichabod moved his long, lean frame up on to the bed, so he lay next to her. He stroked a gentle hand over her face. “Perhaps... Why don’t I just hold you for a while?”


Abbie snuggled up to him, pillowing her head on his shoulder. She should have felt thoroughly exposed next to his clothed frame, but she didn't. He only made her feel... safe.

If only she could be as sure of her own heart as she was of him. He wouldn't hurt her deliberately. She knew that. She'd hurt herself by wishing for what he hadn't promised.

What are you thinking about?” she asked, as she felt his fingers threading through her hair. His touch relaxed her in a way that shouldn't be possible.


“I...” She heard his voice catch. Something serious was coming. Was he going to tell her what had happened to him, who’d broken his heart? “Abbie, I need to tell you something. You ought to know why I can’t give you what you want. What you deserve.”


Abbie swallowed and braced herself for what he had to say. It was time. “Okay.”


Silence hung between them. Just when she thought he’d changed his mind, hand that he might never tell her, or worse, that he might just leave, Ichabod started to speak. “I was about nine years old when my parents were killed in an accident. I found a foster family, and then another, but the first few didn't seem quite right. I was hardly on a wishlist for a family, an angry boy on the cusp of puberty who had lost everything because a stranger behind the wheel had become inebriated and took to the road despite it."

Abbie's throat closed, but she didn't interrupt. 

"Eventually after two years, I was placed with a family that suited me. And I was suitable for them, or, so I believed. They had a daughter about my age, Katrina, and for that summer we became fast friends, and perhaps... perhaps there could have been more there. That Christmas, she gave me hope.. they all did..." He paused to take a long breath, but his fingers didn't pause in stroking Abbie's hair. "I found a letter on New Year's Eve. My foster father had been offered a job in South Africa. In the way of young boys, I was excited. I thought about how many new animals Katrina and I would encounter. How I would board a plane for the first time in my young life."

Abbie held her breath, dreading what was coming. But knowing.

"A few days after, just when I feared I would fair burst from excitement, they sat me down after dinner. And I thought - this is the moment, the moment they will reveal all to me, and I will confess that I had kept the secret, and they would be proud."

He let out a long sigh. "They told me I was being sent to boarding school whilst they moved abroad. Better for me, they said. A better chance. Less upheaval."

"Oh God," Abbie breathed.

"And all I could say was, I thought you loved me. And my foster mother said, sometimes that's not what matters. And I will never know what she meant."


“Oh, Ichabod.” She’d expected heartbreak, but nothing like this. Abandoned by two mothers. First in death, then by leaving the country. She desperately wanted to make it better, but she feared no one could. Who could heal a hurt that deep, that old?


“I won’t allow that to happen to me again,” he said suddenly, his voice stronger. “I can’t afford it. The day they left, I stopped being a little boy, and I became a man. But I can’t lose someone else, someone that I have come to ….”


Abbie listened to the weighted silence. Ichabod probably didn’t even realize how close he’d come to telling her he loved her.

 

"Where are they now?" she asked at length.

"I have no idea. Katrina answered my letters at first, and then they were returned upon, recipient not found. After a time, I stopped, and I became that angry, isolated child once more, until I just stopped. Stopped feeling. Until...." His hand stilled in her hair.  “I can’t lose anyone again,” he said finally, the words struggling out. “So I move on. I don’t form attachments. I have put myself back together twice. I fear there isn't a third time in me.”


"I won’t ask you to." But she wanted to, oh, she wanted to. How can I prove that I won’t leave you? Telling him she loved him would do no good; the sad, lost little boy inside him had been taught that love wasn’t enough. “Thank you,” she whispered against his shoulder.


He tensed. “For what?”


“For telling me. For trusting me enough to tell me.” She lifted her head and looked into his blue, blue eyes. “You need to understand that while I want you to stay, I won’t force you. I won’t beg you. I had a life before you, and I can pick it up after you.” I can do it, she reassured herself.


“It’ll be better,” he replied. “Better for you, if I’m not here.”


“How could anything be better without you?”


Oh God, she hadn’t meant to say that. Not out loud, blurted so suddenly. But, like a reflex, it had simply come out, because it was the truth. Her life wouldn’t be better with him gone. She’d lost vital pieces of her heart to him already; she couldn’t get them back. She sat up, pushing her hands through her hair.


Should she ask him to go? If he stayed the night, would it be harder when he left? It would be, undoubtedly. But she didn’t want him to go. She wanted to feel him next to him, inside her, filling her. They’d come this far; he wouldn’t deny her that. But Abbie knew she wasn’t a woman who could separate sex from emotions. If they made love, her feelings for him would be a thousand fold. It would take weeks, maybe months, for her to pick herself up when he left.

But at least she'd have the memories. What was life without taking the stupid risks?

Jenny would be proud.


Ichabod snuggled her against him. “Never have I shared that part of my life to a woman before. Abraham – one of my closest, oldest friends – knows. He’s been through a similar thing.” He let out a long breath. “I didn’t want to tell you. I did not want to... burden you. Everyone seems to have enough of that in this world.”


“I’m always willing to listen.” She curled up closer to him, cupping his cheek the palm of her hand, stroking his soft, short beard.


“Stay. For tonight. I don’t care if we make love, or not, or if we talk, or if we just sleep. Give me that one night to regret when I’m bent and old and rocking myself to sleep in my old chair, with knitting on my lap.”


Ichabod shook his head. “Don’t give me that image. I know you'll be a siren right into your dotage. There shall be no crazy Cat Lady moments for you, Abigail Mills.”


“All the same. I want that one night to sit and regret. Soon, you’re going to be far away, and I’ll only have memories and this beautiful bracelet you gave me. I love it, Ichabod. Truly. You have wonderful taste.


“Perhaps it is you that's wonderful.” He bent his head and brushed his mouth over hers. 


“Maybe we can pick up where we left off?” Abbie suggested, wiggling slightly closer. “Perhaps with you wearing less clothes?” She’d take her fill now, and think about the consequences later.


“A writer is always open to good suggestions,” he teased, but then his sea-blue eyes went hard and serious. He met her gaze, and gently touched her cheek. “Be sure,” he murmured. “Be sure, because I wish to give you a night you look back on wistfully, not a night you regret with sadness.”


She knew there’d be sadness; that was inevitable. But she pushed that little thought aside. “I’m sure.”


And then he was exploring her body with his hands, and then with his mouth. Abbie writhed under his touch, longing for more, whispering his name he parted her legs and settled between them. When he sent her a truly filthy look from his submissive position, she shivered in anticipation. He didn't let her down, tracing her sensitive inner folds with his tongue until she pressed herself into his mouth, coming on a long, hot shudder.

When he stepped back from the bed and took his clothes off, Abbie drank in the glorious sight of him. Broad chest, firm stomach, strong legs. Her gaze lingered on his erection for a long moment. Lust rushed through her. Sure, she might have regrets later, but this was now, and she was going to grab now with both hands.


Ichabod lay next to her again, returning to kissing and touching her, some of his caresses no more than a flutter against her skin. His lips teased her sensitive nipples, his fingers slid inside her. She clenched her muscles around his digits, wanting more.

"Condom," she whispered, and bent down to retrieve the little packet from her skirt.

Ichabod arched a brow. "Oh, but there is nothing I adore more than a woman who is prepared."

"Yeah, I'm a regular girl scout." She slid it down on to him, stroking as she went, watching his eyes blur with pleasure. He felt hot and heavy and hard as steel in her palms, and she shivered in anticipation.

When he came to rest between her legs, she readily wrapped them around his waist. The velvet-soft tip of him entered her, and Abbie lifted her hips in welcome. Yes. Now.

“My treasure,” he whispered urgently, his voice breaking as he spoke. She knew he was trying to tell her he loved her. And for that moment, it was enough. Every nerve in her body stood to toe-curling attention as he slid all the way inside her. All the way home.


She clenched her muscles, testing the feel of him, and felt him shudder with the feeling. Closing her eyes, she held him tight, and made herself believe that one night of memories would last her a lifetime. She'd make it so.


* * * *

 


Abbie awoke to bright Winter light splintering in through the window. The curtains were only half drawn, and the room was bathed in a brittle, early morning glow.


She stretched her arms above her head, waking up, and then she remembered. Last night. The sexy writer. His past. Their lovemaking. Slowly, she turned her head on the pillow, and saw Ichabod's face, his features relaxed in sleep. He had such lovely eyelashes – ones a woman would be tempted to kill for.


She lifted a hand and stroked her finger gently down his cheek. I will miss your lips, and everything attached to them.


Ichabod stirred at her touch, and his eyes fluttered open. When he came fully awake, he gave her a slow, sexy smile. Abbie smiled back. She’d known from the moment they’d met that his smile would be her undoing. “Morning,” she whispered.


“Good morning.” His deep voice was scratchy, slumberous. He shifted across the bed, and pulled her into his arms, settling her head on his shoulder.


“What are you thinking?” she asked, lazily stroking her hand across his torso and stomach, feeling the play and shift of his muscles. She could have touched him forever.


There was silence for a long moment, and then Ichabod said, “Something rather trivial, actually. How the light looks here. It’s harsher here, brighter. Winter mornings in England never seem as bright as this.” He chuckled. “Writers really are the oddest creatures. We think about very odd things at the most inappropriate times.”


“How is your book going?” she asked, with genuine interest.


He leaned up so he could meet her eyes. “Well. Better than expected. It’s full of you,” he added, a sheepish smile curving his lips. “Pieces of you have been sneaking in on each page. How you smell. Your forttude. Your sass. The little sigh I sometimes hear from you when we kiss. Your long, elegant fingers.” He bent to kiss her, cupping her cheek, threading his fingers through her hair. Almost immediately the kiss went from tender to deeply passionate. "You're unforgettable, Abigail."

Chapter Text

“Regretfully, I should go," Ichabod began at length. "I must….” He raked a hand through his lion's mane hair. “My editor will be expecting a few chapters soon, and they too often need polishing.”

“Oh, sure. Right.” Don’t feel sad, Abbie ordered herself. Well, at least now she’d have something to regret in years to come. “Do you want coffee, or something before you go?”

She knew she was trying to keep him with her, and she wasn’t ashamed of it. She also knew that he probably knew what she was doing.


He turned and smiled at her, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. Sadness engulfed her. For a moment she considered lying down, pulling the covers over her head, and not coming out until tomorrow. But she didn’t. “I’m making coffee anyway,” she stated, and, pulling on a silky black robe, she headed into the kitchen to fill her coffee machine.


She stared at the black gadget for a few long moments before remembering what she’d come into the kitchen for. After she filled it, she went to the window, and stared out across the skyline. It was beautiful. So familliar. It was her home. But in the cold light of morning, when everything wasn’t all right, and Ichabod was definitely leaving, she didn’t give a damn how beautiful it was. He wasn’t staying, and that was all that mattered to her right here and now.


She wondered how long it would be before she could date other people. Should she ask Jenny for a blind date? How many nights would she spend alone, pining for a man who travelled from continent to continent, never making attachments, always running?

If love couldn't stop him, what would?
She jolted as Ichabod wrapped his arms around her. Against her better judgment, she settled back against him. He smelled wonderful. He was warm from sleeping in her bed. When she turned to kiss him, she saw that he was already dressed.
“No coffee, then?” she tried to keep her voice light.


“No coffee, I’m afraid. I find... doesn’t quite agree with me in the morning.”


Abbie would have offered tea instead, but she didn’t. She knew he was searching for a way to leave without hurting her too much. It was a shame that a painless goodbye was already too far out of her reach.


“I doubt my stay here will extend much longer,” he said quietly against her hair. Then, as if remembering himself, he added, “The skyline is beautiful in the morning, isn’t it?” He stroked a hand down her cheek. "Enchanting. Eternally memorable."


Abbie bit down hard on her lip. She wouldn’t let him see her cry. So she just nodded, and then broke the embrace to go to the coffee machine. She didn’t look up as she poured herself a cup of coffee. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him move towards her, and she held up a hand. “Please. Please, don’t. I can’t do this now.”


“All right.” He stepped back. Concern and hurt etched itself all over his handsome face, but he headed towards the door. “I… I am sorry. How much, you'll never know.” He gave her one last, long look, a look she felt the heat of to her bones. She closed her eyes tight, and when she looked up again, he was gone.

 

 

 

 

 ******

 

 

“So he’s really leaving, then?” Jenny asked, dismayed.


“Looks like it.” Abie stirred her soup listlessly, and broke off a section of the bread roll on the plate at her elbow. She and her sister were in a café near Abbie's office. The place was cheap and cheerful. Abbie had come to meet Jenny after a stressful morning in court. She normally dreaded divorce cases but honestly she had welcomed the distraction after Ichabod leaving the way he had.
Unfortunately, even the dramatic verbal sparring between her client and his soon to be ex-wife hadn't taken Abbie's mind off the handsome English writer.


“I can’t believe it. I thought he was… Well, you know, he met us and everything. And Frank didn’t seem to want to kill him... too much.” Jenny neatly sliced up her fragrant tuna melt and forked up a portion. “I honestly thought, when I saw you two together on Halloween, he’d decided to stay here. Or at least, consider a long-distance relationship. He seemed all... goo goo eyes over you.”


“Yeah, well.” A wavering spark of hope ignited in Abbie momentarily, but then she crushed it. “I guess we could.... Who am I kidding? I don’t want that. I want a man to be around five or six days out of seven, or not at all. Ichabod likes travelling. He…I think he needs it. He likes not forming attachments. It’s too painful for him. He’s been hurt badly before. More than once."

 

Sympathy darkened Jenny's eyes. “Do you want to talk about it?”


“I’m not sure if I should - not my story to tell. But let’s just say that it was bad. Very, very bad.” Abbie pushed her half-finished vegetable soup aside. She hadn’t had much of an appetite to start with, and now it had completely deserted her.


Jenny took her sister's hand between both of hers. “I’m sorry, girl.”
“So am I.” Abbie squeezed her sister's hand, then broke the contact to ball up her napkin and put it beside her soup bowl. “I don’t know if I’ll see him again before he goes. We left things badly. Well, I guess I left things badly. I didn’t want him to say goodbye. I couldn’t take it. I just couldn’t.” She played absently with the fork next to her plate, staring at it for a long moment, without really seeing. Then she looked up at her sister. "Want dessert?"


“Chocolate puddle pudding looks good.” Jenny pointed at the picture, which looked glorious. And also one million calories. “It says it has little pieces of marshmallow and chocolate brownie in it. It’s practically swimming in chocolate sauce.” She licked her lips. “God, I actually feel fatter by just looking at the thing.”


“It’s probably incredibly bad for us,” Abbie agreed, feeling a little cheerier. “Do you want to share one?”


Jenny had already motioned one of the waiters over. “What do you think? Chocolate heals all wounds.”

 

****

 

Ichabod stared at his suitcase. It sat open on the foot of his hotel room’s king size bed. It currently lay empty.


As empty as he felt.


Opposite the bed, the clothes he had unpacked less than a fortnight ago seemed to cling to the hangers. Don’t make us go back in that suitcase, they seemed to say. Across the room, at the desk, his laptop was open, the screen alight and on display.


Earlier, he’d used the complimentary internet service to send his completed chapters and a synopsis to his editor. He’d received a very excited reply, and afterwards, inspired, he’d written a single page, forwarding it to her for inclusion in the front of the book.


To my dear Abigail
For so much more than words


He’d never written a dedication page before, had never had anyone to write one for.

A few years ago he’d considered writing a dedication for Abraham, but, thinking his friend might be embarrassed by such a sentimental gesture, he’d dismissed the idea out of hand.


The dedication for Abbie would be a gift he hoped she’d always treasure. She could read those words, and know how he felt. Even now, when he was preparing to leave, he saw her face in his mind every moment. Even though she hadn’t been in his hotel room, her honeysuckle scent seemed to linger in the air. His fingers itched with the urge to stroke her silky, midnight-dark  hair.

Don’t go. He recalled her words that magical evening, the desperate yearning of them. Funny, he always imagined he’d be the one to cry those words, to fear being abandoned.


That was why he had to go. He wouldn’t be crippled that way again. What if he made himself a family, and then felt an uncontrollable urge to leave them? He didn’t know, and probably would never find out, what had made his foster family abandon him the autumn day. But he wouldn’t inflict that kind of pain on anyone else, least of all Abigail.


Beautiful Miss Mills, who was smart, funny, and kind. She’d meet someone new. Her headstrong sister would see to that. He imagined Jenny, Joe and Frank rallying around, taking her out to clubs, setting her up on blind dates, turning up at her apartment, their arms loaded with feel-good DVDs and pots of chocolate ice cream.


Frank would come over and do all the things a guy pal was meant to do: offer to tear Ichabod apart limb by limb, behead him, gut him, etc etc. He would overdo his threats to make Abbie laugh. And Ichabod hoped it worked.


Outside, the clouds shifted, and sunlight streamed in, lighting up the empty interior of his suitcase. “Well, you are hardly going to pack yourselves,” he said absently to the clothes in the wardrobe. He slid shirts and jackets off their hangers one by one, folding them, forcing himself to concentrate only on the actions occupying his hands.


When he finally finished, the hotel room seemed achingly empty. He’d become used to the place during these two weeks, had sort of settled in. He’d got to know the nearby streets, the corner store. He could probably find his own way to Abbie's place.

He glanced at his bedside table. The digital clock told him it was ten to noon. In a few short hours he would fly out of Abigail Mills' life, and leave her to continue with her days. To live and work and love – to love someone else. To share her smile and her wit and her bed with them, and not him.


The thought made his throat constrict, but he put the choking emotion aside, and closed the suitcase. It snapped shut easily, and for the first time, he felt sad that he didn’t have anyone to buy silly souvenirs or t-shirts for.


He turned off his laptop and slid it into his bag. As he did, he also picked up a small envelope that he’d left on the desk.

He’d written the message within for Abbie's gaze only, but now he didn’t know if he should give it to her.

He’d written it late last night, unable to sleep. Ichabod had always been better with words when they came from a keyboard or a pen. Spoken words had never been his forte. So he’d taken out his one good parker pen, and set to work on the monogrammed paper he’d requested from the hotel reception desk.

Ichabod pressed along the bottom of the envelope for the other item he’d slipped inside, and breathed a sigh of relief when he felt its weight.

He was doing the right thing. You are doing the right thing, he told himself. The thought sounded hollow and worthless.


Abbie would be better off without him.

Why, then, did he feel sick to his stomach?

Chapter Text

Ichabod felt exactly zero percent of his usual polite, charming self as he signed books in New York. He had a night here before his flight from JFK tomorrow.

He usually lived for book signings. They were fabulous events where he could meet the people that literally fed and clothed him by buying his work.

He signed another copy with a flourish and hoped that he didn’t look as if he was slowly dying inside.

He’d been here a few hours already and the line was dwindling a bit. He chatted with a lady who was buying his latest thriller to hit the shelves, Freefall, for her adult son who was currently hospital-bound with a broken leg. Ichabod wished him well and signed the book with best wishes for his good health.

Charmed, the woman left happy. From the other side of the room, his publisher’s PR rep gave him a thumbs up.

Normally Ichabod would have returned it, but today he just about mustered up a smile.

Had Abbie read his note?

Had she cried? Had she even cared?

He bit back a sigh as the last few people came forward for a few words and to have their books signed.

The last young woman in the queue came forward, and as Ichabod lifted his gaze to her, his heart jumped into his throat and his stomach bottomed out.

“Katrina.”

Her face had filled out since he’d known her as a gangly twelve year old. So had her body, but her eyes remained the same.

She offered the copy of his book. “I’m happy for you.”

“Twenty years needed to pass for you to say those words?” he kept his tone pleasant, but his words had bite.

Katrina - his sister, or so he’d thought of her then, recoiled. “I didn’t have a choice. I was a child.”

Reaching inside himself for reason, Ichabod softened. She had been a child. What would he have done in her place?

“You’re right,” he allowed.

“I wish I’d been able to stay with you.”

“Do you?”

She looked behind her for a second, and pushed her thick red hair back off her face. She’d been the last in the queue, and had probably, Ichabod thought, planned it that way.

“I really do. South Africa was no picnic. Really. We had a tiny house, not the nice life Mum and Dad had been promised. I think they had an inkling of what might happen, and so they kept you behind.”

Ichabod scoffed. “And you expect me to believe that they took you, their child by blood, into this awful place?”

Katrina folded her arms over her chest. “I begged to go. I wanted adventure. I thought boarding school - If you recall, I referred to it as boring school - was for losers.”

Ichabod remained silent, listening.

“They sent me to boarding school anyway, in our new home.”

“And was it as you expected?” Ichabod asked, a brow raised.

“It was very lonely, but it turned out to be my salvation. A deadly epidemic swept through the town my...our…. parents had been stationed in. They didn’t survive.”

Ichabod felt the pang all the way to his bones. He swallowed back the wave of sickness. “I was never notified.”

“You were eighteen by then, and no longer under their guardianship.”

Brother and sister faced each other for a long moment.

“I wish I had never gone with them,” Katrina said at length.

Ichabod stood up. He wanted to continue this conversation, but not here. He felt raw, scraped from the inside out by a dull-edge blade.

“I should rather not talk.. Here. Perhaps the coffee shop in my hotel? This evening?”

She nodded.

“Only… one more thing,” he added.

Katrina held his gaze.

“What took you so long?”

“I thought you would hate me.”

Ichabod closed his eyes for a moment. It surprised him that he didn’t hate her. After so many years, what he felt was….. Nothing.

But maybe, if they both tried, they could be something to each other again.

Friends, if they were lucky.

 

****

 

What a crummy way to spend a day.

Abbie sat curled up on her couch, wrapped up in a thick, grey afghan throw that Jenny had given her two Christmases ago. The TV was on, playing a re-run of some cheery family comedy. Abbie was pretended to watch it.

Jenny had invited her out drinking with Hawley, Joe and a few other pals. She didn’t feel like it.

She hadn’t heard from Ichabod for since that fractured goodbye, and assumed he had either already left, or would be leaving soon.

In a perverted sort of way, she was glad that he hadn’t come to say goodbye again. She would forever hate herself if she had cried all over him and begged him to stay like someone needy and desperate.

She laughed hollowly at her thoughts. I am needy and desperate. When it comes to him.

The family musical changed, and a drama about two star-crossed, but ultimately wrong-for-each other lovers began. Abbie tolerated it for a few minutes, then grabbed the remote and flicked through channels until she found a Tom and Jerry cartoon. That, at least, was safe.

She rolled her eyes at herself.

She let her mind drift as she watched the cartoon cat and mouse rush across the screen, each carrying a makeshift weapon – one a frying pan, one a large book. She sighed, and snuggled back in the chair. It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay, it’ll be okay.

Why was it she didn’t believe herself?

Tired of fighting a losing battle with her thoughts, Abbie flicked the TV off and pushed aside the afghan. She’d called in sick today, for the first time in actual years, and after hiding in her apartment all day, she ought to go downstairs and check her mailbox.

She shoved her feet into old, comfy-as-velvet sneakers and threw on her favorite ratty SHU sweatshirt. Flipping the door on to the latch, she padded downstairs, shivering a little at the cold of the communal hallway.

She pushed open the large exterior oak door and rifled in her pocket for her mailbox key. Fishing it out, she unlocked the box.

A few bills fell out, which she stuck in the hand warmer pocket of her sweatshirt. There was a letter from an overseas pen pal she hadn’t written to in a while – oops. And there was one other envelope. It was plain white, and addressed in a hand she didn’t recognize.

Perplexed, and a little concerned, she locked her mailbox back up, and hurried upstairs to open the mystery letter.

Her apartment door slammed behind her as Abbie entered. She plopped down on the couch, wrapped the afghan around her, and plucked her letter opener from the coffee table to her left. The slim metal slit the envelope easily. Two pieces of paper slid out, along with a tiny green drawstring pouch.

The moment she unfolded the first piece of paper, she saw the Hyatt Grand logo, and she knew.

Ichabod’s handwriting marched across the page, neat and small. The words looked lovingly penned in thick, black fountain pen ink. She took a deep breath, and then read what he’d written.

 

My dear Abigail,

As you read this, I’ll likely be on my way to the airport.

I didn’t come to say goodbye, thinking that it would be an exercise in heartbreak for us both.  I want you to know that you gave me something I can scarce remember ever having: the feeling of being accepted. Being truly loved.

Please accept the small token included in this envelope. Keep it, give it away, it is in your hands whatever you decide.  But I’d like it if you looked it at, and thought of me, perhaps from time to time.

Please read my book, when it’s released. You’ll see yourself in every line, as I do when I write.

Yours,

Ichabod

 

Abbie stared at the last line for a long time.

The idiot. He loved her. How could he not realize that? But, she reminded herself, it had been drummed into him that love would never be enough. She couldn’t amend his beliefs. Only he could do that, and the man in question was probably already halfway across the Atlantic. Who knew when over the last two days he’d dropped this letter off. She cursed herself for forgetting to check her mail slot.

 

Her attention turned to the little green pouch. Gently, she opened it, and took a small object wrapped in fragile green tissue. Unrolling it into her hand, she couldn’t help but smile when a gleaming silver heart, meant to attach to her charm bracelet, dropped into her palm.

He’s given me his heart. For safekeeping.

She gazed at for a long time, before the other piece of paper that had slipped from the envelope caught her eye.

She gently fastened the heart to her bracelet, then unfolded the piece of paper. It was slightly smaller, and one edge looked to have been ripped off from a larger section of paper.

It was some sort of itinerary, for flights. For a flight today. For a flight that would take off in just under two hours.

Did he accidentally drop it into the envelope?

It looked scrunched up, like it had been discarded for forgotten.

It didn’t matter.

Abbie threw off the afghan and snatched up her cell phone. Her heart thudding in her chest, she dialed Jenny. When her sister answered, she blurted, “How fast can you get me to JFK airport?”




Chapter Text

“Here you are.” Driving her beaten up blue truck, Jenny pulled to a halt in the swarming pick-up area of JFK. She grabbed Abbie for a quick hug. “Go get him. And if he decides he’s getting on that plane anyway, give his address to Frank. You know he’s always been good at delivering suitable punishments.”

Abbie smiled. “I just hope I’m not too late. Thank you, Jenny. Thanks for giving up your day-”

“Shut up and run, girl!” Jenny practically shoved Abbie out of the car door. “Go, go, go!”

Abbie grinned as she hit the ground, her legs already in motion.

Her heart thudded with excitement and fear. What if he rejected her? What if he’d already left? She’d take her chances with both options. She had to try – to make Ichabod understand how much she needed him.

How much they needed eachother.

Heart pounding ten to the dozen, she stumbled into the main airport concourse. A gigantic, yellow-light-up board displayed flight times.

Find the terminal, find the terminal.. . Got it.

Find how to get to that terminal….

She hurried along, passing sign after sign, not stopping even when all the exertion created a nasty stitch in her side.

She passed people gathered in groups, some with children, some looking exhausted, some slurping energy drinks or iced coffees.

Finally, her lungs aching, she reached the terminal she sought. The departure lounge loomed before her, and her shoulders slumped. There was no way she was going to get past security. This wasn’t a film. She was too large to slip under the guards when they weren’t paying attention.

And much as she might wish it, she didn’t have the time or money to queue up and buy a random ticket just to get through the barriers.

She hung around for a long moment, debating what to do. Finally, she took her chances with the security guard who looked to be the nicest. Of course, Abbie didn’t know how good a judge of character she was. He could be a surly old bastard for all she knew, but she’d come this far. Everyone had a soft spot for a happy ending.

Didn’t they?

“Excuse me, sir?”

He turned to her with a smile. “How can I help you, ma’am?”

“I need…” Come on, courage. She wouldn’t fail now. Abbie mentally crossed her fingers. “I need to get through these barriers. Please.”

“That’s fine.” He looked perplexed. “Just give me your passport and plane ticket.” He held out a large hand.

“That’s the thing.” She spoke in front of huge numbers of people all the time. She could do this. “I don’t have a plane ticket. But my friend-” Hell, spill it all, why not? At this point she had zero to lose. “The man I love is about to fly thousands of miles away, and I’ve come to convince him to stay. Here.”

The security guard stared at her for a long time, then laughed, looking around them. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Is this a joke? Are we on film?

Abbie’s eyes burned with the sting of hot tears. She swallowed them back. “No. This isn’t a joke. Please. I need to see him. Please .”

The guard’s eyes flickered with genuine sympathy, but he stood firm, folding his beefy arms across his chest. “I’m sorry. I am, but my ass could get fired for letting you through without a ticket. If you really want to see him, you’re going to have to-”

“Mike.”

Both Abbie and the guard – Mike, as he’d been called – turned around. To their left stood a woman in a smart, recently pressed airport uniform. Her hair was short and blonde. She wore dangling, rainbow-colored earrings. “Let her through,” the woman said, so quietly that Abbie thought she’d imagined it.

“But-” Mike looked from one woman to the other, his expression confused and torn. “But, ma’am, my job-”

“I’ll authorise it,” the woman added, in a very good Do As I Say tone, and the burly man flinched. Abbie guessed that the woman held a position of high authority.

Mike stepped aside. Abbie shot the woman a look full of gratitude. Her lips shook a bit as she tried not to cry with relief. “

Thank you. Thank you,” she called over her shoulder, her voice carrying as she rushed through the metal detector and into the departure lounge section of the terminal.

As soon as she scanned the room, her heart sank.

No Ichabod. What if she’d come too late?

A second scan of the room revealed a lone flight attendant, standing by a small door that looked as if it led to planes outside. She hurried over. The woman offered a polite smile. She looked neat as a pin in her aircraft uniform. Her grey-streaked hair had been gathered into a neat bun. “Can I help you?”

Abbie offered the piece of paper she’d found in Ichabod’s letter. “This flight. Am I too late?”

The older woman looked at the piece of paper. When her gaze met Abbie’s, it held bad news. “I’m sorry, that flight is already fully boarded. It’s in a queue on the runway. It’s due to take off in a minute or so, maybe even less.” Her brows drew together. “Are you a passenger? Where is your ticket?”

“No, I’m not, I’m…” Abbie took a slow step back, swallowing hard. It’s over. “It doesn’t matter. Thank you anyway. Thank you. I’m not flying today.” She staggered to a small row of seats nearby, and lowered her head to shaking hands.

Too late. Too late.

In a matter of seconds, Ichabod would be in the air, heading to a country thousands of miles away.

She squeezed her eyes shut, and bit down hard on her lip. When she could stand it no longer, she made herself walk to the nearest ladies’ room, sat down on a closed toilet seat, and cried herself dry.

After, she felt empty; her eyes gritty and raw. Nausea see-sawed inside her stomach, but she knew there was nothing there to come up. So she stepped out of the stall, her system still shaky, and splashed her face with water.

A few minutes, and several concerned stares from passers-by later, she was back in Jenny’s battered old truck, being rocked and hugged by her friend.

“Come on,” Jenny whispered. “Let’s take you home. I’ll tuck you into bed. We won’t go out tonight. We’ll come over. I’ll bring lots of Robin Williams films. We’ll order out. You can have one of everything if you want. We’ll properly pig out.”

Abbie nodded weakly and leaned back in the car seat, closing her eyes. Her system must have given up trying to stay awake, because when she opened her eyes, Jenny had pulled up outside her apartment building.

“I’ll come up,” her sister offered gently.

“No, it’s fine. Really,” Abbie reassured. “Save your energy. I’ll need you tomorrow.” She forced a smile. “Really. I’ll be okay. I just want to crawl under my duvet for a while.”

“Okay.” Jenny paused, then added, “People have long distance relationships, you know.”

Abbie forced a smile. “Thanks for your optimism. But you know how many of those work out, statistically? Not many.”

“The right one would.”

“Look at you, all romantic and shit now that you’ve got Joe.” Abbie hugged her sister. “I’m happy for you.”

“See you tomorrow,” Jenny said as Abbie reached for the door handle. “I’m prescribing Ben and Jerry’s for tonight.”

Abbie mumbled her assent, sounding less than enthusiastic, and stumbled from the car. She righted herself, took a deep breath, and punched in the security code beside the building’s huge oak door.

When it shut behind her, she leaned heavily against it for a second, her breathing harsh. Her lungs felt like they might constrict at any moment.

It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay.

In three years’ time she’d look back on this and laugh.

Or cry.

At that moment, she really didn’t believe anything she tried to tell her heart. She feared that nothing would ever be okay again. Was she destined to go through her life like this, like a shadow? Devoid of any feeling except this hollow, searing emptiness?

Gritting her teeth against more tears, she made her way up the stairs, and then turned in the hall towards her apartment door, shoulders sagging.

And she saw him.

He sat slumped by her door.

His eyes were closed; he rested on his small suitcase. A laptop bag leaned against the other side of him. He wore dark wash jeans and the blazer she’d seen him in the day they’d gone ice skating.

No man had ever looked more gorgeous.

His eyes fluttered open, and then he scrambled to his feet, on full alert. “Abigail.” He cleared his throat, adjusted his collar.

“..Ichabod.” Tears streamed down her cheeks, but they didn’t hurt her eyes. She felt giddy, light. “What are you doing here?”

“I…” He lifted his hands, as if to gesture with them, then shoved them in his pockets. “I realized something while I was in the security queue. My adopted parents were quite wrong. Sometimes love can be enough, if you make it so. I love you, Abigail Mills. The thought of another man giving you all the things you desire - marriage, flowers every evening, a dog, a house… I wish to be the man to share those things with you. Please let me be that man.”

He stepped closer to her, but didn’t touch her. He kept his hands firmly in his pockets, as if he was afraid that one touch might splinter her. “Please. I promise you won’t regret it. I can write anywhere. But until you, nowhere felt like a true home. It’s my fondest wish to be here with you. All the time.”

“You came back,” she whispered, and her own voice echoed in her head. Her throat felt dry. “I thought you’d gone. The plane…”

And then she was in his arms, and neither of them spoke for a while. Abbie’s heart performed somersaults of joy as Ichabod embraced her tightly, kissing her cheeks, her eyes, her hair. She breathed in his familiar, sandalwood and earl grey scent.

The world held completely still, and it was perfect.

Then he broke the embrace, and smiled at her. “There’s something... I very much wish to give you.”

Abbie smiled. Nothing could be better than having him back, for keeps this time. Forever. “Is it another charm for my bracelet? I won’t be able to lift my arm at this rate,” she teased him.

“It isn’t, actually, although I do hope you’ll wear it. Just not on your wrist.” He fished in his pocket, and retrieved a small black box. Abbie heard her heartbeat pound in her ears as he presented her with it. “Please, open it.”

“Ichabod, I…..” She had to shut her eyes for a moment.

Her heart and head had run quite the gamut of emotions in the past few hours.

When she opened her eyes, Ichabod looked at her intently, his gaze focused on her face. In the light streaming from the hallway window, his eyes were the most vivid, clear blue, a robin’s egg on a bright Spring morning.

She opened the box.

A single sapphire set in diamonds winked at her. Ichabod touched the tip of his finger to the white gold band. “It’s stunning. When I saw it in the window, it lit up the whole display. Like you. Since I met you, you’ve filled all the dark spaces inside me. Don’t take the light away,” he whispered. “Please, be mine, and I‘ll be yours.”

Speechless, staggered, Abbie stared at the glittering ring for a long moment, and then looked up at Ichabod. His gorgeous face was caught in an earnest expression. His cerulean eyes darkened as he looked at her, waiting, hoping.

“I shall even let Frank beat me up a little, if he wants,” Ichabod offered. “After all, I’d wager that I probably deserve it-”

“Yes,” she interrupted, gazing up at him. “Yes.”

“What?” He looked like he’d just won the lottery. “Yes? Just yes ?”

“Just yes.” She laughed as he scooped her up in his arms, and whirled her around the hallway. She felt light-headed with delight and dizziness. “Just yes.” When he set her down, she tilted her face towards his for a kiss. He obliged, whispering his lips over hers, capturing her sigh of pleasure.

“I have much to tell you,” Ichabod whispered against her mouth. “Much to catch you up on. But it can wait.”

Abbie nodded, and kissed him again. Thoroughly.

When they parted, she chuckled. “To think, I was planning on just getting home and crawling under the duvet for the whole evening.”

Ichabod gathered her close. Giving her one of his darkly wicked smiles, he said, “Well, I see no reason why we shouldn’t follow that excellent suggestion.”