Chapter 1: Cookies
Miranda Blake ate her breakfast sitting on the balcony of her apartment. Her phone was on the table in front of her and she was reading the local news headlines. Specifically, she was reading the item about yesterday’s court appearance for the man who had shot her partner, Max Winter, three months earlier. The man had been remanded in custody again. Court cases progressed slowly, but since he was insisting on pleading not guilty to attempted murder there would one day be a trial, at which she and Max would have to give evidence. That was tedious, but the eventual guilty verdict was not in doubt.
Miranda looked up from her phone screen and gazed unseeingly across the blue waters of the harbour and the bobbing boats, thinking of all the events of the last three months. Max had been lucky to survive the shooting, spending days in intensive care after life-saving surgery. After his release from hospital he had spent a fortnight recuperating in his apartment until the doctors had been satisfied that his injured lung was healed enough for him to fly to stay with his parents in Munich. His friends Carmen and Christian had kept an eye on him during that fortnight, while Miranda had spent every evening and night at his apartment, reassuring his mother Doro that she would not let Max ignore doctor’s orders or do anything but rest.
It had been surprising how quickly they had got into a routine while she had been staying at Max’s apartment, Miranda reflected. She had expected to miss her privacy and her own space while she was spending two weeks sleeping on Max’s sofa, but she had actually found it quite easy to get used to this living arrangement. She had checked on Max every morning when she woke; usually he was still fast asleep, since despite being on the road to recovery he still slept much more than normal. If he was still asleep when she was ready to leave for work, she had left a glass of water and some fruit by his bedside for when he woke. If he had woken earlier, or if she was not working, they had had breakfast together. She had become comfortable with walking around his apartment in the old T-shirt and pyjama shorts she had slept in. In the evenings they had watched films together, or read, or listened to music. Sometimes Miranda had worked on her laptop, and sometimes Christian or Carmen, or both, had come round for dinner. They had thoroughly domesticated conversations about the shopping list; about the need to buy milk or washing-up liquid. And they talked, of course – about all sorts of things. They didn’t even argue that much. It was all a lot less awkward than Miranda had expected. If she had been asked several months earlier, she would have said that Max would have been a deeply annoying flat-mate, but actually it had been…all right. Enjoyable, even. Almost like being married but without sharing a bed. And she was not going to let her imagination go there. Absolutely not.
In fact, after two weeks she had got so used to being there that it had almost come as a shock when those weeks were up and Max departed for Munich. Christian had driven him to the airport, while Miranda had tidied the apartment, cleaned out the fridge, locked up and gone home to her own place, which felt weirdly…empty. She was a very self-sufficient person who had always relished having her own space, but it had taken her a few days to get used to living alone again. Almost as if there was something missing.
Miranda had not worried about Max at all while he had been in Germany. He had kept in touch with texts, pictures and FaceTiming, and so had his mother, who had obviously enjoyed spoiling him rotten. There was no way Doro would have allowed him to overdo things or disregard the instructions about resting. In addition, Max had clearly been having a lovely time being stuffed with his mother’s cooking and catching up with friends and family who had flocked to the Winter home to check on his recovery after the shooting.
After three weeks in Munich, Max had returned to Mallorca for the remainder of his sick leave. At first he had enjoyed lazing around, sitting in the sun, reading and hanging out with his friends. Eventually he had got bored and started swimming, cycling, trying to rebuild his fitness and pestering Miranda and his other colleagues for gossip about the cases they were working on. This had progressed to pestering Inés to let him come back to work. (“I’m fine now, honestly!”) Inés, however, seconded by Miranda, had refused to allow him to return before his three-month check-up, even to do desk work.
Yesterday had been the day when Dr. Garza had examined his scars, listened to his lungs and said, “Well, providing you start gently and don’t do too much actual running around after criminals for the first few weeks, I don’t see why you shouldn’t go back to work.” Max had managed to restrain himself from hugging her, before sending Miranda a meme of Schwarzenegger as the Terminator with the caption, I’M BACK!
Today was his first day back at work, if only on desk duty.
Miranda picked up her cup and plate, rose from her chair and walked to her kitchen. Unless questioned at gunpoint, she would have been reluctant to admit that she had missed Max. But the office had been much too quiet without him.
“Another robbery!” Inés slapped the report down on to the desk in front of her with a loud bang and glared around the crowded room. Her assembled officers exchanged quick glances, shuffled their feet and made a mutual decision to keep very quiet.
“This can’t go on! I’ve had all of you on this for the last two weeks and not only have you not identified a single suspect, there have been three more identical armed robberies during that time!” Inés had reached the stage where she paced up and down the office, waving her hands to make her point. “That makes ten in the last two months!” She jabbed a finger viciously in the direction of the nearest people, who happened to be Mateo and Federico. They flinched away from her. “What am I supposed to say to the Mayor? To the Press? Am I supposed to say that even though there have been ten armed robberies at places full of rich foreigners, my officers don’t have a clue?”
No one answered, wisely believing her questions to be rhetorical.
She cast another accusing glare around the room. Max and Miranda had carefully positioned themselves towards the back of the crowd, near the door. Max caught Miranda’s eye and grimaced uneasily. Miranda raised her eyebrows and gave a small nod of agreement.
“Right.” Inés took a few deep breaths. “This is what’s going to happen. I’m sending a team out to each of the sites of the robberies again. Talk to every witness again. Search each location again. Check any CCTV again. If we’ve missed something, I want it found. And I want this case solved within the next week. No excuses!” She began to pick out specific officers from the crowd. “Romero, Salinas, I want you to go back to the yacht club where the first robbery happened. Torres, Lozano, you go back to the Bulldog bar.”
The crowd of officers began to disperse as they were sent on their way. Eventually Inés’s gimlet eye alighted on Max and Miranda and she frowned a little. “Blake, you can go to the golf club with – maybe, Amador, when he gets back from court. Winter, you can make a start on reviewing the CCTV images –“
It was never wise to interrupt Inés when she was in this mood, but Max decided to stick his head above the parapet. “Inés, I could go with Miranda to the golf club. I’ve been tied to this desk for nearly two weeks now and I’m ready to get out there again. I really am.”
Inés swung her gaze on to Miranda. Miranda could feel Max’s eyes on her too, and although she was not looking at him, she knew exactly which pleading expression he was aiming at her. “It’s not as though we’d be doing any running around today, Inés. Mostly carrying out interviews and searching the crime scene again. I’m sure he’d be fine.”
Max held his breath. Inés gave him another hard look and then nodded brusquely. “Very well. Winter, go with Blake to the golf club. But don’t do anything stupid.”
“Thank you, Inés!” Max was effusive in his gratitude at being released from desk work. “And thank you, too, for backing me up,” he murmured more quietly to Miranda, as they closed down their computers and gathered up their jackets and bags.
“You’re welcome. And at least I won’t have to listen to your endless complaints about being bored.” Miranda led the way as they left the office.
Doing another meticulous search of the golf clubhouse where the eighth armed robbery had taken place and re-interviewing all the available witnesses was not the most exciting task, but Max was clearly delighted to be back in action and out of the office. He was smiling happily as he and Miranda exited the clubhouse to return to headquarters. “See, I’m totally fine. I can do my job. You can tell Inés that she doesn’t need to keep me tied to a desk any more, or wrapped up in cotton wool.”
Miranda followed him across the car park to the BMW. “Well, I don’t suppose Inés will take any notice of my recommendations, but at least I can tell your mother that you look perfectly well.”
“Is she still emailing you to check up on me?”
“Oh yes. I hear from her quite often. And she keeps sending me recipes. It’s very kind of her but I’m not sure why she thinks I need to learn to bake something called – what was it? – Vanilla something – Vanillakipper?”
Max stopped in his tracks and turned to her with an outraged expression.
“Mama sent you her Vanillekipferl recipe? She won’t even give me that recipe! And I love those cookies. Mine are never as good as hers. You have to share it with me.”
Miranda raised a cool eyebrow as she got into the passenger seat of the BMW. “If Doro won’t give it to you, I’m not sure I should be sharing it without her permission.”
“Well, make me some cookies then. Seriously, Miranda, they’re the best thing ever. Even better than her Pfeffernuesse, which are sensational.”
“Her what?” Miranda put on her sunglasses as Max started the car. “It can’t be all that healthy stuffing yourself with cookies, Max.”
“I’m supposed to be building my strength up,” he protested. “I still weigh half a stone less than I did before I got shot. Even after three weeks in Munich with Mama’s cooking.”
“You’re probably healthier for weighing half a stone less. I thought you said you wanted to lose a few pounds, anyway?”
Max waved this jibe off with a dismissive sweep of his hand as he negotiated the BMW along the road back to Palma. “I’ve had a great idea. What are you doing on Sunday?”
“Probably going for a run first thing, buying some groceries, doing some laundry, catching up with my emails. Why?”
“I could come over, we could go and buy some ingredients while you’re doing your grocery shop, and we could bake some Vanillekipferl. It’ll be fun. Honestly, you’ll love them.”
Miranda hesitated, then thought what the hell, why not? Her Sundays were normally fairly dull. And it was clear that Max wasn’t going to give her any peace until he had either his recipe or his cookies. “Oh, all right then. If you must.”
“Great!” He looked delighted. “So, I’ve seen your kitchen; you haven’t got any proper equipment. I’ll bring over some baking trays, mixing bowls, scales and other things we’ll need.”
Miranda was forced to concede that there was a distinct lack of baking equipment in her kitchen. “At least I know how to work the oven…I think.”
Max rolled his eyes at her. “Do you ever use anything in your kitchen except the microwave?”
“Yes. The fridge and the sink,” she retorted.
“Mama told me to tell you you’re invited to visit them in Munich whenever you like.”
“That’s very kind of her.”
“She likes you because she thinks you keep me in line,” Max said, digging through the shopping bags to find the bag of flour.
“Well, someone has to,” Miranda called back as she ferreted inside her lower kitchen cabinets for a wire rack she was sure she had seen there once. “When she’s not there to do it.”
“And my father likes you because he admires your drive, your determination. He likes people who are as over-competitive as he is. I wouldn’t like to see the two of you playing Monopoly. There would be bloodshed.” Max found the flour and started to arrange ingredients and equipment on the counter.
Miranda laughed. “You should have seen me and my cousin Lauren playing Monopoly. I don’t think we ever finished a game. The board and all the money would get thrown across the room by whoever was losing.”
“She sounds as fiery as you. I’d like to meet her. And your father. When is he coming to visit you in Mallorca?”
“My father doesn’t really like hot places.” Miranda found the wire rack, decided that it definitely needed a wash, and squeezed past Max to get to the sink. Her kitchen was rather small for two people to work in at once, especially when one of them was the size of Max. “Right,” she said, changing the subject decisively. “What do we do first?”
Max placed a bowl on the scales and began to weigh the flour. “Watch and learn.”
Miranda enjoyed the baking afternoon more than she had expected. She didn’t often let herself relax and be playful, but their best banter always happened when she was in a good mood. She followed Max’s tuition on mixing biscuit dough and listened to his earnest explanation of why his mother used ground walnuts rather than ground almonds. When it was time to cut the rolls of dough into equal pieces, she asserted herself and insisted on measuring them accurately. She competed with Max to arrange the dough in the most perfect crescent shapes on the baking trays.
“They look pretty good,” she said, as Max closed the oven door on the first batch.
“They’re the best. Wait a little while and you’ll see.” He led the way from the kitchen into her living area and threw himself on to her sofa, spreading his arms out wide and putting his feet up on her coffee table, making himself thoroughly comfortable in her space. She followed him, batting his feet off the table.
“Do you mind? I use that for putting food on!”
Good-naturedly, he moved his feet and patted the sofa beside him. “Have a rest while the cookies are baking. Did you enjoy that? Wasn’t that fun?”
“Yes – I suppose it was,” she agreed.
He cast a glance around her living room, taking in the books on the bookshelf, a couple of framed pictures and a few ornaments dotted about. None of them had been there the last time he had been in her apartment, which had always been rather bare and impersonal. “You’ve got some new stuff.”
“The books and pictures and things? They’re not new. They’re things I left in storage in London when I moved. When I didn’t know if-“
“If you were staying here or going back?”
She nodded, pulling her sock-clad feet up on to the sofa and hugging her knees. “While you were in Munich, I popped back to London for a couple of days and closed down my storage locker. I got rid of some of the things, sent a few things to Dad to look after and brought the rest back here.”
He patted her feet absent-mindedly. “I like that photograph of the lighthouse. Where’s that?”
“It’s the Harbour Lighthouse in Aberystwyth. Where I grew up, you know, in Wales.”
“Aberystwyth.” He rolled the name on his tongue, tasting the pronunciation. “What’s it like?”
“Oh, Aber’s got everything. A lighthouse, a castle, a funicular railway –“
“It hasn’t got you,” he pointed out.
She laughed in acknowledgement. “Well, maybe it didn’t have the excitement I was looking for. But you can’t talk; you couldn’t wait to get out of Munich!”
A heavenly smell drifted through the apartment from the direction of the oven.
“Oh my God, they smell good,” Miranda said.
Max patted her feet again and stood up to head for the kitchen. “I told you. Wait until you taste them.”
She let Max have free rein when it came to dusting the cooled Vanillekipferl with a mixture of icing sugar and vanilla sugar, even though a lot of the sugar seemed to end up coating her kitchen counter and floor. She found herself laughing a lot, too, and when they finally sampled the finished cookies she had to admit that Max had not exaggerated about their deliciousness.
“I’m just going to have one more,” Max said later, reaching for the fast-emptying plate.
“I think you’ve had about ten already, Max.”
“I can’t help myself; they’re so delicious.” He popped the vanilla crescent into his mouth and let it melt there with an expression of ecstasy on his face. “Mmm. So good.” His gaze fell on Miranda, and he spoke through a mouthful of crumbs. “You have some icing sugar on your face, did you know? Just – there.” He stroked her cheek lightly with his finger and Miranda caught her breath at his touch.
She was the most organised, logical, got-it-together person she knew, and it was maddening how just by touching her - or looking at her like that, as he sometimes did - he could make all rational thoughts flee temporarily from her brain. He wasn’t even her type. Okay, he was good-looking. And he made her laugh quite often. And he always remembered how she liked her coffee. And he knew a lot of interesting things about books and music and history, actually. And she didn’t particularly like it when other women they met tried to flirt with him. And he did have amazing eyes. And -
And when he nearly died from a gunshot wound it felt as if the whole world was crashing down around me.
Miranda gave herself a little shake and told herself to snap out of it. She must have been standing gaping like a goldfish for several seconds because Max was now giving her a quizzical look. She put up an impatient hand and wiped the icing sugar off her face. “Right,” she said briskly, “can we please clean up my kitchen now? Look at the state of it. Icing sugar everywhere. You can wash those things up and I’ll dry.” She picked up the plate which held the last three Vanillekipferl. “And I’ll put these in a safe place until we’ve finished.”
Tomorrow, Monday, they would be at work again, the search for the gang of armed robbers would resume and Inés would be back on the warpath. But today – today had been a good day.
Chapter 2: Pizza
Monday was the start of a tough week. Inés’s temper simmered just below boiling point every day that passed without resolution to the case of the armed robberies. She was not calmed by the lurid headlines in the newspapers which pointed out that the robbers were clearly targeting places frequented by rich foreigners – the yacht club, the golf club, exclusive bars and a luxury hotel amongst them. The Mayor had also expressed his displeasure with all this Bad Publicity for the island. With Inés demanding answers and arrests by the end of the week or else, her entire team kept their heads down, kept away from her office as much as possible and devoted themselves to chasing up every conceivable trace of a clue or a lead.
It was not until Tuesday that there was the first real glimmer of hope in solving the case. Miranda would have preferred it if she and Max could have been the ones to obtain the breakthrough, but she did not really grudge Mateo and Javier their luck in getting the crucial tip-off. A source of theirs in the Palma underworld had strongly suggested that a known gang leader from Madrid, now ensconced in his second home on the west coast of Mallorca, was involved in the robberies. His name was Eduardo Vega, and he was rumoured to be associating with Archie Donnelly. Donnelly was wanted for a string of violent organised crimes in the Dublin area, and his whereabouts had been unknown for the last eighteen months, so the Irish police and Interpol had expressed themselves very interested to know if he really was in Mallorca and involved with Vega’s gang.
Getting the names of some potential suspects led to more long hours of work for the Palma police. Any possible location where Vega, Donnelly or any of their known criminal contacts might be was placed under constant surveillance. Minor associates of Vega were brought in and interrogated about what they knew. Hours were spent poring over computer records and CCTV looking for any connections. Max and Miranda found themselves doing long hours of surveillance as well as long hours sifting through information on their computers. Miranda reflected that both these tasks were tedious, but on the other hand they were not too physically taxing for Max, so perhaps it was just as well they were not spending much time actually running around chasing criminals.
On Thursday they managed to get a rare hour’s break at lunchtime when they were not required to be sitting in a car observing some gang member’s remote finca, or staring at a screen full of dodgy bank transactions. Max suggested that they could use their free hour to get out into the sunshine and grab a coffee and a sandwich at one of the open-air cafés near the station. Miranda was not inclined to argue with this idea.
“I feel like we haven’t stopped this week,” she said, as the waitress placed coffee cups on the table in front of them and disappeared to fetch Max’s sandwich and her salad. “And my eyes have been staring at a screen so much this morning that everything’s starting to become a blur!”
Max nodded agreement. “I was just thinking I had escaped from desk duty but I seem to have spent most of my time there yesterday and today.”
Miranda rolled her shoulders a few times, stiff from sitting hunched over the computer. It felt good to get outside and feel the sun on her face. She looked around the square at the trickle of people walking, chatting, browsing shop windows or, like them, having lunch in the cafés. Then she looked back at Max, who was watching the waitress approaching with their food. Despite the boredom of the morning’s work he looked healthy enough today, not pale or tired. Cradling her coffee cup, Miranda mused that he ought to wear blue shirts, like the linen one he was currently wearing, more often. They suited him and made his eyes look incredibly blue. Although there was no way in hell she was ever going to tell him that.
For the next fifteen minutes Miranda concentrated on her food. She was just finishing her salad, and replying to a comment of Max’s about Christian’s upcoming birthday, when she noticed something odd out of the corner of her eye. Trained to observe what was going on around her, she had a strong feeling that someone was watching her. Across the square, a dark-haired young woman was standing in front of a shop window and seemed to be looking at them with some interest. Staring, even.
One result of the infamous Deutsche Musik siege had been that Miranda and Max’s faces had been plastered all over the television and newspapers at the time, which meant that they were sometimes recognised around the island since then. “Aren’t you the officers who were on television? Who saved Jürgen Kuhl?” Miranda, thanks to her distinctive blonde hair and the time she had spent on screen in Kuhl’s villa, tended to be recognised more often than Max. It did not happen every day, but Miranda found it annoying – it was potentially a hindrance to working as a detective if people spotted you as one too easily.
Perhaps this woman had recognised them from the Deutsche Musik incident? But she looked vaguely familiar to Miranda. Miranda looked steadily at the woman until their eyes met. The woman, realising she had been caught staring, looked a little embarrassed and started to cross the square towards them. Max realised that Miranda was looking at something beyond his shoulder and turned to see what it was, just as the woman reached them.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a friendly, apologetic smile. “I didn’t mean to stare at you – it’s just that I thought I recognised you.” She turned to Max. “Do you mind my asking – were you a patient at Hospital de Manacor a few months ago?”
“Yes,” Max answered. “Do I know you?”
“I’m a nurse in the intensive care unit,” she explained. “You’re the police officer who was shot on duty, aren’t you? I was one of your ITU nurses while you were there.”
“Of course, I thought I’d seen you before,” Miranda said. “Please, sit down. I’m Miranda Blake and this is Max Winter.”
“I’m Rosa Fuentes,” the nurse told them, moving a spare chair from another table to join them at theirs.
“I’m afraid I don’t remember being in Manacor, although I know I was there,” Max said. “I woke up in hospital in Palma some time later.”
“That’s right, they transferred you there for more surgery,” Rosa agreed. “I’m so happy to see you’ve made a good recovery.”
Max gave her one of his most charming smiles. “Thanks to all the amazing medical staff like you. I’m very grateful, believe me.”
“Oh, we were only doing our jobs.” The nurse looked at Miranda. “I remembered you quite well when I saw you just now, and then I realised who you were with. It was such a nice surprise.” She turned back to Max. “It’s so wonderful to see one of our ITU patients up and around again. We only tend to see people going through their worst times. It was so worrying for your partner and family. I remember your parents, too; they were lovely.”
“They’re back home in Germany now, but I’ll be sure to tell them about meeting you,” Max promised.
“Oh, good. Of course, I saw more of your partner – Miranda, is it? – because she was there all that first night when you had surgery and were admitted to ITU. I was your night nurse.”
Miranda looked down at her plate and clenched her hands under the table. That first awful night in the hospital in Manacor was a time she had been trying very hard to put out of her mind, and she was still not sure she could chat happily about it. She listened as Max made amiable conversation about his recovery with Rosa for a few more minutes, until the nurse realised that she had to hurry to meet a friend and waved them a cheerful goodbye.
When they got back into the car after lunch to head off for yet another boring surveillance shift, Max did not start the engine immediately. Instead he sat still for a moment, before turning to Miranda.
“I realise I’ve never really said thank you. For staying with me in the hospital and watching out for me. Even the days I can’t remember – I know you were there. Thank you.” He leaned over and gave her upper arm a short squeeze, and Miranda found herself without words to reply as their eyes met. For a wild moment she thought he was going to try to kiss her, and her brain stuttered over how she would react if he did. But he just smiled into her eyes before he released her arm, sat up straight and turned the key in the car’s ignition.
It was Friday evening, and the investigation into the armed robberies had finally reached a key point. One of Eduardo Vega’s minions had taken a deal for immunity and provided information about a planned eleventh robbery – on the Casino in Palma this time. He had also been able to give full details about where they would find the key players in the gang, where the arms and ammunition used in the robberies were stored, and where the proceeds from the previous ten robberies could be found. Inés had been quick to order a major operation which involved surrounding the property where the gang were preparing for the Casino raid. Every member of her team had a part to play and as dusk fell, they moved in.
For once, the operation went like clockwork. Within an hour of the police assault on the property, all the major players in the gang were under arrest, including Vega and the elusive Archie Donnelly. Most of the lesser gang members had also been rounded up, and a large proportion of the loot from the robberies had been found at the remote house where Donnelly had been hiding out. Very few shots had been fired during the operation and no officers had been injured. As the convoy of vehicles made its way back to Palma, Inés was positively purring with satisfaction. She had even pledged to give most of her team the weekend off – once they had finished all their paperwork, of course.
By the time Max and Miranda had done their share of processing the arrested gang members into custody and filling in forms and reports, it had been dark for hours outside the office window and Miranda was tired and hungry and very grateful that she was not one of the team who had to return the next day to question the suspects. Looking across at Max, who had his elbows on their shared desk and was resting his chin in his hands, eyes half-closed, she realised that he was drained with weariness. The lines on his forehead were deeper than usual and he looked older. If she felt worn out by this week’s work, Miranda mused, then he must be exhausted. However many times he claimed to be fine and back to normal, it took a long time to regain full health and fitness after such a serious injury.
She shut down her computer and slapped her hands on the desk resolutely. The noise made Max raise his head and blink at her. “Come on,” said Miranda. “It’s been a long day. Time to go home.”
He rose wearily from his chair, looking relieved. “Yes. It’s late. I’ll drop you off.”
The short drive back to Miranda’s apartment was very quiet. Neither of them had the energy to say much. When Max parked the BMW outside her building they both sat in silence for a few moments, before Miranda made a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“Max. You look totally exhausted,” she said, adding, “and I know I am,” before he could attempt a denial. “Why don’t you just come in and eat with me? Saves you having to make something when you get home. I know, I know, I can’t cook, but I’ve got frozen pizza so it won’t take long.”
He looked surprised, but pleased. “Okay, sure. Thanks.” They both got out of the car, collected their bags and made their way up the stairs to Miranda’s apartment. For once, there was no sign of the stray dog which hung around on a regular basis, which meant that it must already have been fed by one of the other neighbours it scrounged from.
Max was dozing on the sofa by the time Miranda carried the hot pizza into her living area and put it on the coffee table, but he was quickly awoken by the delicious smell and moved over to make room for her to sit down. Miranda had opened the cheap bottle of red which was the only wine she had in her kitchen, and she was prepared for jibes about its low quality, but Max seemed content to eat her pizza and drink her wine without any complaints. Perhaps he was too tired to quibble about vintages.
The pizza and wine seemed to revive him.
“Thanks for this, Miranda,” he said, as he polished off the final slice of pizza – he had eaten about three slices more than she had managed. “I really didn’t have much energy left for cooking tonight. You’re a lifesaver.”
“You’re welcome. I have to look after my compañero, after all.” She raised her eyebrows and smiled a little to show she was joking.
Max didn’t smile back. He put his wine glass down carefully on the table and turned sideways on the sofa, closer to her. His eyes were unusually serious.
“I wish you would let me look after you, sometimes.”
Something inside Miranda shuddered to a halt. Were they having this conversation now? She had known it was coming sooner rather than later, but she was still unprepared.
She looked away. “I don’t need to be looked after, Max. I can take care of myself.” She meant to sound confident, but ended up sounding rather desolate.
“I know you can. You’re so strong, Miranda. But everyone deserves to have someone else care for them too. Don’t you ever want that? Let me care for you.”
His last words were murmured very low, right into her ear. Miranda closed her eyes for a dizzy moment – was it the wine, the fatigue or something else causing the dizziness? – and tried to regain her mental balance.
“I know you don’t do relationships,” he went on. “But we already have – something – don’t we? And after all that we’ve been through together – don’t you think you could give me a chance to prove that it could work? You and me, I mean.”
She still couldn’t look at him. There was a long silence while she twisted her hands in her lap and tried to assemble her thoughts into words.
“At least you haven’t thrown me out yet,” he said at last, with a shadow of a laugh. “That’s a good sign.”
She put her hand out to him quickly, placing it over his hand which was resting on his knee. “Max, give me a minute – I want to explain.”
“Okay.” He waited patiently.
“It’s – complicated.”
“You once told me, nothing’s simple where feelings are involved,” he quoted.
She still couldn’t look at him but, somehow, she had found the words she was looking for. “The thing is - well, you know how difficult it is for me to show my emotions. To let people in. I’ve always been scared of doing that. Probably because of what happened with my parents. I’ve never wanted to let anyone get too close – close enough to hurt me. That’s why I’ve never had what you’d call a relationship. Sex, yes. I’d meet someone and spend the night with them, but it was just a physical thing. They didn’t really know me, and I didn’t know them, and that was fine. If they started to develop feelings for me, wanted to get to know me better, I always ended it. Letting someone know all of me – it felt like too much of a risk.”
She paused. He didn’t say anything, but his hand was motionless and warm under hers. She searched for more words, and found them. “But you, Max – you already know me. If I was with you – there wouldn’t be anything I could hide from you. It would be everything or nothing. And I don’t know if I’m brave enough to risk it.”
He stood up then, and gently pulled her to her feet facing him. They were very close together but she stared resolutely at her coffee table, still unable to look up and meet his eyes. He spent so much of their time together joking and teasing her, but when he was serious she found him very difficult to resist.
“I don’t just know you,” he said, and she knew from his tone how much he meant it. “I love you, Miranda.”
She had a good idea of how he must be looking at her, and she suspected that if she did look up she would let him kiss her, and that was something which could not be undone. “I know,” she said. “And I‘m pretty sure – especially after how I felt when you got shot - I love you too. But I’m still scared of what could happen if -”
He put his hand under her chin and tilted her face up towards him until their eyes finally met. The way he was looking at her made her shiver. “Don’t be scared,” he said in a whisper. “You’re the bravest person I know.” She closed her eyes as he kissed her, very gently. It was hardly more than a touch of lips, as if he was afraid that she would, even now, pull away.
When the kiss ended, she let herself lean forward against him, and they stood for a long moment holding each other in silence, her head pressed against his shoulder and his face buried in her blonde hair. She inhaled the smell of his shirt and felt some long-tight tension in herself relax at last.
Eventually she broke the silence, murmuring, “I’m so tired, Max.”
They both knew that her words had more than one meaning. She was tired, yes – exhausted, after their long week at work. But she was also utterly, utterly tired of fighting against something she didn’t want to fight against any more.
“Let’s sleep, then. We can talk some more tomorrow.”
They had two whole days off now, Miranda remembered wearily, and she found it surprisingly easy to put work out of her mind. By wordless agreement they left both their phones in the living room, on silent. Max took her hand and led her into her bedroom and she went, unresistingly. They took off their shoes but did not undress. They took turns to use Miranda’s bathroom before they crawled under the duvet together and Max put his arms around her again. He stroked the hair away from her eyes as they lay with their faces close together.
“It’s okay. Everything will be okay now. Go to sleep, Miranda,” he whispered.
“All right. Goodnight, Max,” she whispered back, her exhausted brain unable to think of anything else to say. She only knew that she trusted him and so, somehow, everything would be okay. He kissed her cheek gently, and she closed her eyes and fell asleep. For once, she did not dream.
This is the first day of the rest of my life.
That was the thought which came into Miranda’s head when she finally emerged from a deep, dreamless sleep. The Saturday morning sunlight, reflecting off the water in the harbour and slanting in through the gaps in her window shutters and onto her face, had woken her. It had taken her a moment to remember that she was in her own bed but she was not alone. Her cheek was pillowed on Max’s warm chest, and she could feel his regular breathing and his steady heartbeat through his shirt. The weight of his arm lay across her body. He was still fast asleep. Not surprising, considering how exhausted he had been last night.
The old Miranda would have started awake in alarm at finding herself in this situation. She would have leapt from the bed, sent Max home and tried to pretend that last night’s conversation had never happened and that everything could go back to normal now, thank you very much.
The new Miranda lay very still. She was cosy, and comfortable, and she was not going to move an inch. She was not going to be the one to break the spell. She was just going to lie here for a warm, sleepy while and think some more about her waking realisation:
This is the first day of the rest of my life.
The week Max had been released from hospital Inés had asked Miranda, “Why don’t you just give yourself permission to be happy?”
I do give myself permission to be happy, Miranda thought. I must, or nothing will ever change. I will always be on the outside, afraid to let anyone get close to me, watching other people moving forward with their lives. I don’t want that any more. What do I want?
She felt the moment when Max started to wake, because his regular breathing changed slightly, and the arm that was lying across her twitched. Miranda moved at last, lifting her head off his chest and pushing herself up on her elbow so that she could see his face.
When his eyes opened, there was a moment when she could see him mentally orientating himself, replaying the events of last night, just as she had when she awoke. After that, his gaze met hers with a flicker of uncertainty, a flicker of fear. She knew why he was afraid. He was afraid that she was going to pull away from him, pretend that last night’s conversation had never happened and that she had never told him that she loved him.
“Why do you make life so difficult for yourself, Miranda?” Inés’s voice in her head again. “Why don’t you just give yourself permission to be happy?”
Before he could say anything, she raised her eyebrows and smiled at him. “Not a dream,” she said.
She thought she knew what happiness was, then. It was the warmth that swelled in her chest when she saw the look that lit up his face at her smile and her words. It was an amazing feeling to make someone else happy, she realised.
“Not a dream?” he said quizzically, and his smile was a little teasing. He rolled over so that he was no longer lying on his back, but facing her. She raised her hand and touched his face tentatively, thinking about how difficult she usually found it to let anyone be close to her, but how natural it somehow felt when it was the two of them like this. She looked at the scar on his forehead where his head had hit the rocks, the day he was shot. Not for the first time, Miranda said a silent thank you to whatever powers had ensured that he was still here, scarred perhaps but miraculously warm and alive - and hers.
She cupped his face with her hand and edged a little closer until she could reach his lips with hers and kiss him as gently as he had kissed her the night before. As the kiss ended, he pulled her a little tighter against him as if to make sure she was going nowhere. “I thought you might have run away in the night,” he murmured.
“It’s my apartment, Max,” she pointed out, playing with one of the curly strands of hair which fell over his forehead and which she had secretly always rather wanted to touch.
“You’re right, as usual.”
They lay quietly together for a little longer, not speaking. There did not seem to be any need to say anything. Miranda reflected that she had never felt so contented or so safe, although she did wonder which of them was going to make the next move.
It was Max who moved at last, pulling himself up to a sitting position against the pillows, pushing the duvet down to his waist and rubbing his eyes. He looked down at her. “Do you want me to make some coffee?” he asked. “Or –“ clearly remembering her strange British preferences and the family-sized box of PG Tips in her kitchen – “tea, maybe?”
Miranda raised her head and looked up at him. “No,” she said deliberately. “I want you to stay right here.”
He smiled, but did not reach for her, as she had half-expected. He stayed where he was, looking down at her with questions in his eyes, and she realised that he was being so, so careful not to spook her into retreating, not to frighten her away. He was going to let her set the pace. Very well then, she would set the pace for both of them. “You’re the bravest person I know,” he had said last night. She would take the risk.
Keeping her eyes locked on his, she pulled herself up, leaned towards him and began to unbutton his shirt. The smile faded from his face as he mirrored her more serious expression, and his eyes were suddenly very blue and very intense. The air seemed to change and become charged with electricity, just as the air had changed and crackled between them once months ago, during that never-forgotten paso doble.
She finished unbuttoning his shirt, pushed it back from his shoulders and moved her hand to his belt buckle. As soon as she did so he abandoned gentleness and caution, swooping suddenly to grab her and roll her on to her back beneath him, robbing her of breath. “Max!” she protested laughingly, even as she put her arms around his neck to pull him closer.
“I love you, Miranda Blake,” he said earnestly, and began to kiss her – not gently this time, but with a desperate fierce heat which she returned eagerly. That heat ignited long-smouldering embers in both of them and the fire roared hotter and higher until at last the beautiful flames consumed her.
The last thirty-six hours since she had arrived home on Friday evening seemed to have whizzed past like a lovely but surprising dream, Miranda reflected.
It was now eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. Max was padding around her kitchen with his curly hair still damp from her shower, wearing shorts and a T-shirt he must have retrieved during a quick trip back to his apartment on Saturday afternoon to get clothes and toiletries. He had also visited the little grocery store round the corner and come back with fresh bread, eggs, and a bag of other ingredients not to be found in Miranda’s kitchen cupboards. He was now preparing something called Bauernfrühstück for brunch, which he assured her would be a taste sensation. Miranda had been firmly told to relax, sit on her balcony, enjoy the Sunday morning views of the sunlit harbour, drink her cup of tea and wait to be astonished by the upcoming feast. It was as if he was trying to show her how indispensable he was (and it might be working).
Miranda stood up and went to lean on the balcony railing. Seagulls were swooping above the marina, and a fresh breeze was rippling the water. One or two rich yacht-owners were visible sunning themselves on their decks. Below Miranda’s apartment, the smell of cooking wafted up from the harbourside cafés which were preparing to receive their lunch customers.
“Food is nearly ready,” Max said in her ear behind her, making her jump slightly. “You’re going to love it.” He put his arms around her and pulled her back into his chest, tucking her head under his chin. She resisted for only a second before giving in and leaning back against him. They had already been as intimate as any two people could possibly be; there was no point trying to maintain personal space now. She did not intend to allow him to call all the shots in their relationship but there was no denying that she was enjoying feeling…cherished. It was something quite new to her.
“Well, it smells delicious,” she said.
“I’m just trying to impress you with my culinary skills.”
“You’re succeeding, so far - although, as you know, I don’t cook, so it’s easy to impress me.”
“I live to impress you, Miranda,” he said into her ear. “But I was hoping I had impressed you with more than my culinary skills this weekend.” Even though she couldn’t see his face, she knew he was waggling his eyebrows at her suggestively.
“Surely you don’t need me to boost your ego, Max?” She could feel him laughing against her back. “I’m sure plenty of women have told you what a Casanova you are.”
“Ja, of course. Hundreds,” he said airily. “But I’m only interested in your opinion.”
Miranda turned towards him, into his embrace. “Well,” she said, pulling his head down so that she could murmur into his ear, “my opinion is…that I can smell something burning in the kitchen.”
“Das Bauernfrühstück!” He pulled back from her with a squawk of dismay and fled into the kitchen, followed by the sound of her laughter.
After some protest, Max reluctantly agreed that their new relationship should remain a secret for now; Miranda insisted on keeping it completely separate from their work life. He had a strong suspicion that they would not be able to keep it a secret for long – not in the notoriously gossipy community they lived and worked in, not with friends like Christian or Federico who had the instincts of news journalists for scandal, and not with a gimlet-eyed boss like Inés, who missed nothing. But if private was the way Miranda wanted it, he would do his very best to keep it so. Even if it meant having to discipline himself to remember that, when they were in the office, he could not touch her or talk to her about anything that was not work-related.
“I don’t really know why we can’t just tell everyone,” he said in bed that night, kissing the side of her neck in a very distracting way. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“I’m not ready. Besides, you know what they’ll be like.”
“Everyone. Half the people we know have been convinced for months that there’s something going on between us or we ought to be a couple. Inés. Carmen. Christian. Federico. Even your parents. They’ll all be so horribly smug and I told you so!”
“Maybe for a few days. Then they’ll get over it.”
Miranda rolled towards him and fixed him with a reproachful look. “Max. I thought we agreed. We’re not telling them yet.”
He sighed. “Okay, okay. I’ll do my best.” He reached to pull her closer. “Whatever makes you happy.”
Her look softened and she smiled at him. “You make me happy.”
“Good,” he said. “Because I intend to go on doing that for a long time.”
Max thought that Miranda was much better than he was at acting as if nothing had changed. No one in the office seemed to notice anything different. He could see a small change in her though, because he knew her so well. Since the day he had first met her, there had been that slightly defensive look at the back of her eyes, that constant need to guard her emotions, and now that look was gone. Max was going to do everything in his power to make sure it never returned. He was not sure who else might be perceptive enough to notice its disappearance. Inés, probably. Nothing much got past her. Max had once thought that, had she lived in Germany in the Middle Ages, Inés would almost certainly have been burned as a witch.
Miranda knew that she did a good job of acting her normal self at work that week and she thought Max made a heroic effort, too. It helped that they spent very little time in the office during the next few days, having been assigned to help tidy up the loose ends of the Vega robbery case. There were still property searches to be completed, witnesses to be interviewed and evidence to be gathered before the huge case files would be ready for the prosecution service.
There was one awkward moment near the end of the day on Friday. Max was down the corridor getting a coffee refill and Miranda was at her desk, ostensibly reading the records of Archie Donnelly’s money transfers between Ireland and Spain under a false name. Her thoughts had strayed to the weekend ahead, and she did not even realise that she was gazing absently into space until she was startled by hearing Inés’s voice, sharp and very close to her ear. She had not heard Inés come out of her office.
“Sorry! Did you say something, Inés?”
“I did indeed, Detective Blake.” Inés perched on the corner of a nearby cupboard and smiled enigmatically at Miranda. “Your thoughts were far away. I wonder where they were?”
“Um…just going through these money transfers. I wanted to get them finished by the end of the day.”
“Excellent.” Inés was still giving Miranda a look which made her uncomfortable. “And I have a brand new case for you and Detective Winter next week. A gang of teenage girls. Pickpocketing tourists. If you can round them up, there will be a lot of petty crimes in the shopping areas we can close the book on. It should be nice and simple for you after the Vega case.” She put a case file down in front of Miranda. “But please. Don’t worry about it until Monday. I’m sure you have plans for your weekend.”
Miranda definitely did not trust the way Inés was smirking at her. Fortunately – or perhaps not – they were interrupted at that point by the return of Max carrying two mugs of coffee. “Inés.” He nodded to her as he put the mugs on the desk. “Did Miranda tell you we’ve nearly finished recording all those money transfers?”
“She did, Detective Winter. And I was just asking if she had any plans for the weekend. Do you have any plans?”
Max flung himself into his chair and smiled at her with his breeziest manner. “I do. I’m going to a party tonight. My friend Christian – you remember him? It’s his birthday.”
Inés rose from her perch on the cupboard. “Well. Enjoy yourself, Detective.” She paused in the doorway of her office and gave them both a shark-like smile and a nod. “Detectives.”
As the door closed behind her, Max pulled an enquiring face at Miranda and she grimaced in return. But discussing Inés’s behaviour would get them nowhere, and they had work to finish, so they both returned to their computer screens and focused on wrapping up Donnelly’s money transfers before the end of the working day.
Christian was celebrating his birthday with a get-together at Joan’s Bar that evening. Miranda had bought him some aftershave. Christian had a tendency to favour pungent colognes which Miranda thought were more likely to send women fleeing than to attract them. It reminded her of being a teenager in Aberystwyth in the days when the boys at school had sprayed themselves liberally with Lynx and made the school bus reek of it. Therefore she was going to give Christian a bottle of a much classier aftershave in the hope that he would take the hint. Max had bought him a set of Bayern Munich shot glasses from the online club shop to add to the collection of Bayern memorabilia which adorned the place Max usually referred to as “Christian’s crappy flat.”
“I need to go home to get changed,” Miranda said, as they got into the BMW outside police headquarters. “I’ll see you at Joan’s Bar later?”
“You know it.” He dropped her off outside her building, and they shared a goodbye kiss in the BMW before she got out and he left to return to his own apartment to get ready for the evening.
“Did you and Max have a fight?” Carmen asked Miranda quietly, while the cheerful noise of Christian’s party filled the air around them. Miranda was sitting on a stool at the bar talking to Carmen, while Max was part of the slightly raucous, beer-drinking group around Christian.
Miranda looked genuinely surprised. “A fight? No. Why would you think so?”
“Oh – I don’t know. You’ve hardly spoken to each other this evening. And normally you get here together, but you came at different times. I just wondered if he’d done something stupid and you’d had a falling out.”
Miranda smiled into her glass. “No, don’t worry, Carmen. Everything’s fine. I’m probably not talking much because I’m tired. Work’s been ridiculous lately.”
“Well, that’s good. I have to say, usually when you have a fight, Max turns up here in a bad mood and drinks shots of schnapps until he makes it up with you, and he’s not doing that tonight, so I guess everything must be fine.”
Miranda laughed out loud at this. At that moment Christian appeared at her elbow, slightly drunk, very cheerful and loudly demanding birthday kisses. Miranda obliged him with a peck on the cheek, trying not to recoil from the smell of whatever macho body spray he had covered himself with that evening. Carmen leaned across the bar and obliged him with a quick, laughing smooch, which he tried to repeat until her boyfriend David grabbed his collar and encouraged him away, although in a friendly manner.
It was not long until Christian reached the stage of inebriation where he wanted to propose numerous toasts. “Here’s to my favourite bar! May it never close! And to Joan, the wonderful owner!”
“You’re still not getting free drinks,” Joan said dryly, from behind the bar.
“And to my favourite waitress Carmen, the most beautiful waitress in Mallorca!” Carmen waved at him. He slung his arm, the one he was not using to brandish his beer glass, around Max’s shoulders. “And here’s to my best friend Max! I made him what he is today!”
Max laughed and drank, along with most of the other guests in the bar. Christian swung round on his stool and waved his glass in Miranda’s direction. “And here’s to another of the most beautiful women in Mallorca! I’d just like to remind her I’m still available if she is!”
“In your dreams, my friend,” Max said, firmly taking Christian’s glass from his flailing hand and putting it back on the bar before it could spill everywhere. “She’s way out of your league.” But not out of mine, he thought rather smugly, darting a quick glance over to Miranda, who was still talking to Carmen at the other end of the bar. Miranda was facing away from him and did not see his expression but Carmen did, and her eyebrows lifted slightly.
“Why don’t you walk Miranda home, Max?” Carmen suggested an hour later, when the party was winding down and Christian had reached the maudlin stage of drunkenness, telling all his friends how much he loved them. “I think she’s probably had enough of all this for one night.”
“Okay, if she’s ready to go.”
“Honestly, I’ll be fine on my own,” Miranda said, for the benefit of their audience.
“It’s no trouble,” Max insisted, also for the benefit of their audience, but his eyes were laughing at her.
Once they were out of sight of the bar, he reached for her hand and laced his fingers through hers.
“Carmen thought we’d had a fight,” Miranda told him. “We must have been doing too good a job of ignoring each other.”
She heard him laugh as they strolled through the darkened, almost-deserted streets. “All right. Just to show that I’m not fighting with you, I’ll walk you home. Will you let me do that?”
She tucked her arm inside his, pulling him closer to her side. The evening had turned chilly, and he was warm. “Yes. But only if you stay.”
She was standing among the rocks of the cove by the sea. Max was ahead of her, running, pebbles flying out from under his feet. The evening sun was in her eyes. A dark figure stepped out in front of her, holding a gun. He pointed it at Max and fired. Max spun around and fell to the ground, blood spreading across the back of his shirt. She was filled with terrible fear and dread. She was frozen to the spot, screaming his name.
She opened her eyes to total middle-of-the-night blackness. Her heart was pounding, her breaths were coming quickly and she was in a cold sweat. The black night seemed to close in around her. This dream again -
“Miranda? Was ist los?”
Max’s startled voice came out of the darkness, close to her ear. His hand, groping blindly, found her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“I – I –“
He leaned across with a long arm and fumbled for the switch of her bedside lamp. Suddenly the darkness was gone and they were bathed in a pool of yellow light. Miranda blinked, her eyes wide, still trying to orientate herself. She scrambled up into a sitting position. “I’m fine. Just a bad dream. Sorry I woke you.”
He sat up too, and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. “I don’t mind. What was the dream about?”
She was not sure whether to tell him or not. “The shooting.”
“Ah.” His thumb rubbed reassuring circles on her upper arm. “Maybe I should be glad I can’t remember it. Have you had that dream before?”
“A few times.” A lot, actually. But not since she had started sharing her nights with him.
She slid her hand around his back and ran her fingers across his warm skin until she found what she was feeling for – the raised puckered scar of the bullet wound. She stroked it, thinking of those long days in the intensive care unit – the days she usually tried to put out of her mind.
He let her stroke the scar for a few seconds, then reached for her hand and drew it gently up to hold her fingers against his steadily-beating heart. “I’m here, and I’m okay,” he said. “I know what could have happened, but it didn’t.”
“I know,” she said. “But I was just thinking – someone said to me – everything can change in a moment, and we should make the most of what we have while we have it.”
“Absolutely.” He dropped a kiss on her head. “Are you okay now?”
“Yes.” She was. She would be.
“We should probably try to get back to sleep. We can leave the light on, if you like.”
Miranda was touched by this offer. He knew about her issues with dark places, all triggered by her experience of being locked in a dark wardrobe as a small child. But she would not be scared this time, because it was only a dream and he was there, and alive. They were both safe.
“No, it’s fine,” she said, reaching to switch off the lamp. This time the darkness seemed almost cosy as it wrapped itself around them and they wrapped themselves around each other.
I was inspired by Chapter 1 (and not being on the work rota last week but being at home under lockdown) to make Vanillekipferl last week. They were absolutely divine. I can understand why Max likes them so much. I'm sure mine aren't as good as Doro's, though!
Max's brunch dish is a fairly stodgy sort of German omelette which features fried potatoes, onions, leeks, chives, eggs and ham, for anyone who wishes to know.
One more chapter to go. Featuring romantic German poetry *swoon*. And another trip to the hospital *eek*. Miranda's going to be able to keep all this a secret for absolutely aaages though, right? :)
“Are you really all right, Maxi? Do you have any pain still?”
“Mama – honestly – I’m okay.” Max tried to keep holding the phone to his ear with one hand, while trying to button his shirt with the other hand. He was going to be late for work if Doro kept him talking much longer.
“Are you sure you’re eating enough? You need to build up your strength,” his mother’s voice persisted from the other end of the line, back in Munich.
“Yes, I’m eating enough, Mama.”
“And you’re not working too hard? I don’t know if you should be back at work so soon.”
“The doctor said I could go back to work. I’m absolutely fine.” Max finished buttoning his shirt one-handed and took another swig of coffee, before looking round for his shoes.
“Well, don’t over-do things. You don’t want to set back your recovery.”
“I won’t, Mama, don’t worry.” He managed to get his shoes on without dropping the phone.
“And how is Miranda?” Doro asked. “I hope she is not working too hard.”
“Miranda is fine,” he replied, unable to keep the warmth from his voice as he spoke of her. “You know what’s she’s like, she always works hard.”
“Ask her to call me - I’d love to have a chat with her. And don’t forget to tell her, if she ever has any time off and she wants a holiday, we would love to see her here. I feel she needs looking after. She doesn’t have much family of her own.”
“I will give her your message, Mama. I’m sorry, but I have to go to work now. I’ll call you tomorrow. Love you. Say hi to Papa for me. Bye.”
Stuffing his phone into his pocket, Max looked again at his watch before snatching up his jacket, bag and car keys. A minute later he was in his car and setting off towards police headquarters. He had been spending at least five nights a week at Miranda’s apartment recently, but had spent the previous night at his own place after an evening with Christian.
“You’re never around lately,” Christian had complained. “Apart from my party, I’ve hardly seen you for days. I went round on Saturday to see if you wanted to watch the football and you weren’t even home. You can’t be working all the time. Have you got a new girlfriend?”
It was impossible to answer that question truthfully, so Max had agreed to spend the evening with his friend, watching highlights of the recent Bundesliga matches and sharing a few beers. Miranda had seemed quite happy to have an evening to herself for a change, and had said she had plenty of useful tasks to catch up on, but Max hoped that she had missed him a little, or even as much as he had missed her. He knew she needed her thinking space, and he did not want her to feel overwhelmed by their relationship but, if he could, he would like to have spent all his time with her.
Part of him still could not believe that they had finally reached this point. She had actually said that she loved him. And, even though she was resolute in keeping him at arms-length at work, their time together in private made it worth it. She was the most amazing woman he had ever met. Bossy, yes. Prickly – assertive – sometimes, yes. To most people her controlled, professional, defensive exterior was all they ever saw, but he knew her better. Underneath that exterior she had so many insecurities and fears. His scars from the shooting were physical and visible, but her scars from her past were all on the inside. He wanted to be the person to heal those scars, and he would like to have been able to punish the people responsible for them. Had she ever really had the experience of being loved and cared for? He doubted it, having been touched by the way she seemed surprised, even grateful, every time he told or showed her how much he cared about her. He was grateful too, that she had finally lowered her guard enough to let him into her life, not just as a friend or colleague, but as someone she loved. He had already resolved to try to embed himself there so deeply that she would never want to let him go.
As Max had expected, Miranda was already at her desk when he arrived in the office, coffee mug in his hand. There were several other colleagues going in and out of the room at the time, plus Inés’s head was visible through her office door, so when Miranda lifted her head at his entry they merely smiled at each other.
“Morgen.” Max slung his bag and jacket over the back of his chair, put down his coffee mug and walked round the desk to look over Miranda’s shoulder at her computer screen. “Is that more of the CCTV from the shopping centre?”
“Mm.” The Vega case having taken longer than anyone expected to wrap up, they were now only two days into their next investigation – the pickpocketing epidemic in one of the most popular shopping areas of Palma. It seemed to have been going on for a couple of months now and the uniformed police who patrolled the area had had no success in making any arrests. From all reports, an organised gang of teenage girls were responsible for the thefts. Some of the girls had been observed multiple times on the CCTV footage from the shops.
“Funny how these girls all try to look the same,” Max observed, as Miranda scrolled through more stills from the CCTV. It was true that all the girls in the pictures seemed to have very similar clothing, thin faces, hair which had been ruthlessly straightened and eyebrows which seemed to have been drawn on with a Sharpie. “Same hair, same make-up…that’s fashion for you, I guess.”
“Teenage girls will always try to fit in with their peers,” Miranda said.
“Did you?” Max wondered aloud, moving across to his own computer to boot it up.
“Not really. The popular girls thought I was boring because I worked hard at school. But then, I’ve got a career now and most of them are probably working in nail bars back in Aberystwyth.” Miranda shrugged, before looking across the desk and smiling suddenly. “I bet you were Mr. Cool when you were at school, weren’t you, Max?”
“Well, not that cool. Don’t forget I was hanging around with Christian!” They were both still laughing at this remark when Inés emerged from her office.
“How nice that my officers have so much spare time for enjoying themselves,” she said, her arms folded and her tone acid. “I assume your good humour this morning means that you have already solved the pickpocketing case, no?”
Max rose hastily to his feet. “Almost, Inés. We were just going out to make some further enquiries, weren’t we, Miranda?”
“That’s right,” Miranda agreed, also rising from her chair and collecting up a sheaf of printed-out photographs to take with her. “We should be able to report back to you about our progress very soon, Inés.”
“I will look forward to that, Detective Blake.” Inés watched their exit from the office with a sceptical expression.
“Do you recognise any of these girls?” Miranda fanned out some pictures on the counter for the boutique owner to look at. The woman peered closely at the photographs, then shrugged.
“It’s hard to say. I sell clothes and accessories for teenagers. Most of my customers look like that.”
Miranda sighed. She and Max had spent a considerable amount of time interviewing shopkeepers in the area and showing photographs of their suspects to the locals, without much success. It was becoming so frustrating that Miranda almost yearned to be back at her desk going through Archie Donnelly’s dodgy financial transactions. Almost.
It took another hour of trudging around the shopping area making enquiries until Max and Miranda finally had a breakthrough. They took refuge in a coffee shop to rest their feet and regroup, and a middle-aged waitress brought their drinks to their table. As she set Miranda’s cup down in front of her, the woman’s eye fell on the sheaf of photographs which were spread out on the table between the two detectives. “You’ve got a picture of my neighbour’s daughter there,” she said in surprise.
Max looked quickly up at the waitress. “Your neighbour’s daughter?” he asked. “Which picture is it?”
The woman put down Max’s cup and leaned across to point at one of the pictures – a girl with fairer hair than some of the others. “That’s Ana. Ana Muñoz. She lives in the flat upstairs from me. But why do you have a picture of her?”
“Palma police.” Max fished the badge he wore around his neck out of his shirt to show her. “We’re investigating some incidents of pickpocketing in this area. Please, sit down, Señora.”
By the time they had finished talking to the waitress, they had an address for Ana Muñoz. According to her neighbour, she was a difficult teenager who lived with her mother and younger siblings on the top floor of some run-down apartments not far away. She was frequently in trouble for playing truant from school, and her neighbours had often seen her hanging around on the streets, smoking or laughing with a group of other girls.
Neither Max nor Miranda were impressed with the grimy apartment where they found Ana Muñoz’s mother but, even though Ana was not at home, her mother was helpful. She was able to name several of the other girls in the CCTV photos, and complained that if Ana had been led into bad ways it was bound to be the fault of a dark-haired girl named Ramona. “She’s trouble, that one,” Señora Muñoz complained, pointing to the picture of Ramona. “Moved here from Madrid last year. My Ana was a good girl until she took up with her.”
The rest of the day was a busy one. Miranda summoned backup from the uniformed police to help track down and visit those of the other girls who had been identified from the photographs. Because all the suspects were minors, an appropriate adult had to be present when they were interviewed. Most of the girls crumbled when faced with police questioning and admitted to having taken part in the pickpocketing - some of them handing over various stolen goods which had been hidden in their bedrooms. Ana Muñoz, sulky-faced and uncooperative, continued to deny everything, and the ringleader, the girl called Ramona (no one seemed to know her last name) was nowhere to be found. With darkness falling, and the girls who had already been interviewed having been tearfully collected by their parents, Inés called a halt for the day. “You should be able to find this Ramona girl tomorrow,” she told Max and Miranda. “Someone in Palma must know where she lives, or what school she goes to.”
“At least most of the others have confessed everything,” said Max. “And handed over some of the things they took.”
“And told tales on their friends, too,” added Miranda. “I expect the rate of petty crime in the area will go down now.”
“Mm.” Inés nodded. “Of course, you still have to find the ringleader. But – good work so far. Now, I’m going home. All these weeping girls are reminding me too much of my nieces. Teenage girls. Hormones. Stupidity. Drama. Tears.” She shook her head. “I need a drink.”
“With any luck, we should be able to find that other girl and wrap up the case tomorrow,” Miranda said, dabbing moisturiser on to her face in front of the bathroom mirror.
“Can we not talk about work in bed?” Max complained.
“I’m not actually in bed,” Miranda pointed out. “I’m in the bathroom.”
“Near enough. I’ve had enough talk about juvenile delinquents for one day. I need a distraction.”
“Oh really?” Miranda raised an eyebrow as she turned off the bathroom light and walked into the bedroom. “Am I the distraction?”
“Of course.” He pulled back the duvet on her side of the bed and patted the mattress invitingly. “You’ve been working hard today, too. You need to forget about it. Arbeit allein macht nicht glücklich.”
“Meaning?” Miranda sat down on the edge of the bed.
“I think you have a saying in English that means something similar. All work and no play…?”
“Makes Jack a dull boy, yes. All right, no more work discussion tonight.” She got into bed and reached out to the bedside cabinet to set the alarm on her phone. Max moved closer to her, against her back, and started playing with her hair. “What are you doing, Max?”
“Ich möchte dich nur zum Lächeln bringen.”
Miranda had recently discovered that she quite liked Max’s habit of murmuring German endearments in bed. “You know I don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t you?” she said, as she laid her phone down on the cabinet and switched off the lamp.
“Do you want me to translate?” he offered, kissing her shoulder, and she could feel him smiling against her skin.
“No, I know it’s something nice. I don’t need to know exactly what it means. I just like the sound of it.”
“Oh, you find it romantic?”
“I might do.”
“How about some poetry?” he suggested, and murmured, “Ich denke dein, wenn mir der Sonne schimmer, vom Meere strahlt.” He ran a gentle finger down her spine. “Ich denke dein, wenn sich Mondes flimmer, in Quellen malt.”
Miranda rolled over towards him and stroked his face. “I like that one.”
“Of course it is. I’ve always wanted to find a man who could quote Goethe in bed.” She reached out and pulled the duvet tighter around them. “Goethe and Monty Python. What a combination.”
She could feel him shaking with laughter. “If you’re turned on by me speaking German, maybe you should teach me some Welsh,” he suggested.
“I’m not sure you need the encouragement, cariad.”
“Yes, I’ve seen her,” said the barman, looking at the photograph of Ramona – Ramona Gil, aged fifteen, according to the latest information they had obtained from a local school. “She comes in here quite often, with an older guy. There was a bit of an argument last week because I wouldn’t serve her alcohol.”
“Oh, you don’t serve underage drinkers?” Max asked quizzically, looking around the rather seedy bar. He was willing to bet that that was just one of the laws which were sometimes overlooked in here. “That’s good to know.”
“Oh no, officer, we wouldn’t do that.” The barman looked righteous.
“So, do you know where we can find this girl?” Miranda interrupted.
The barman looked regretful. “No. Sorry. Hey, but I know where you can find the guy she hangs around with. He’s Italian, I think. Called Gio. Tall. Long hair. He works on one of the stalls in the little market down that way –“ He jerked a thumb to show them the direction. “The stall that sells junk jewellery, novelty T-shirts, all that crap the kids buy. He might be there now.”
“Thanks!” Max hurried after Miranda, who was already on her way out of the door. They threaded their way through the crowds of busy shoppers towards the little square where a few market stalls were set up. The stall selling cakes and sweets seemed to have the biggest crowd around it, but there were a number of people browsing at the stall festooned with brightly-coloured T-shirts and piled high with sparkly cheap jewellery and accessories. There were two men serving customers behind the stall. One was a middle-aged man with a balding head. The other was a tall, skinny young man with long, rather greasy-looking black hair and sunglasses. Something about the look of him suggested to both detectives’ experienced eyes that he might have a drug habit.
“Are you Gio?” Miranda asked, leaning towards him across the stall. When he nodded, she produced her badge. “Palma police. We’re looking for a girl called Ramona Gil. Apparently you know her?”
At the word police Gio had stepped back in alarm, raising his hands defensively. “I don’t want to get involved with anything! I’m clean now, man! I don’t deal any more!”
Max gave him a very unimpressed look. “We’re not looking for you, we’re just looking for Ramona Gil. Do you know where she is or not?”
“I know her, yeah, but I haven’t seen her for a couple of days.” Miranda noticed the way Gio’s eyes darted from side to side, as though he was looking around for someone while he was talking to them. As Max continued to question him, Miranda looked across the square, in the direction of Gio’s constant glances. On the far side of the square was an alleyway, which was a short cut through to another main shopping street. As Miranda scanned the area, her eye was caught by a figure who emerged from this alleyway, started to head across to the market stalls, then suddenly did an about-turn and hurried away again. She was a slim, dark-haired girl and Miranda recognised her immediately from the CCTV photographs. It looked as though Ramona had been on her way to see Gio and had changed her mind on seeing him talking to Max and Miranda.
“Max! She’s over there!” was all Miranda said, before taking off in pursuit across the square. She dodged in and out of the shoppers to get to the alleyway, where Ramona had disappeared as soon as she realised that Miranda was chasing her. The foul-smelling alleyway was twisting and so narrow that Miranda could have touched both sides at once easily. Ramona was not slow, but Miranda was fit, determined and had more practical footwear for running. She could hear the thudding of Max’s feet as he chased behind her, some way back. As Ramona reached the end of the alleyway, Miranda was only a few metres from her.
The alleyway opened out abruptly into an even busier shopping street, and Ramona was briefly held up by the crowd. She shoved her way between indignant shoppers and Miranda barrelled after her without too much concern for politeness. “Police! Let me through!”
She would have caught Ramona within a few seconds anyway, but at that moment the girl tripped over the leg of a passer-by and fell sprawling on the street. Miranda gave her no chance to get up again, kneeling quickly to push the girl down. Ramona was not going quietly, shouting and swearing as she twisted furiously to try to get out of Miranda’s hold. Miranda held her down with one hand and a knee on the girl’s back as she reached for her handcuffs. The handcuffs caught on her pocket for a second, and while she was distracted Ramona gave one last heave to try to escape. She managed to half-turn towards Miranda and in the same second something silver flashed in the light.
“She’s got a knife, Miranda!” Max’s voice behind her, breathless and hoarse.
Miranda jerked herself away from the blade just in time for it to miss her chest, but there was a sharp jet of pain as the knife sliced down the inside of her forearm. She ignored the blood running down and making her hand slippery as she yanked the knife from the girl’s fingers and threw it away from them. She shoved the teenager hard towards the ground, just as Max flung himself down next to them and grabbed Ramona’s hands behind her back. “Don’t move!” he hissed at the girl as he clicked his own handcuffs on to her wrists. As soon as she was immobile he turned to Miranda, looking in horror at the blood dripping from the gash in her arm on to the ground. “Miranda! Liebchen -”
“I’m okay, I’m okay.” This was not really true, but she thought she would be. Pressure and elevation, she remembered from a first-aid course, as she pressed on the wound with her other hand and tried to slow the bleeding by holding up her arm. It did not seem to hurt that much; perhaps it was adrenalin. “I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks.” She was impressed that she managed to sound calmer than she felt. “The radio’s in my jacket pocket, could you call so I don’t get blood all over it?”
“For sure.” Still looking very shaken, Max used the hand which wasn’t holding Ramona down to pull out the radio and call for backup and an ambulance.
The doctor in the emergency room was just finishing the application of the neat bandage when Max came back into the cubicle with two coffee cups in his hands. Miranda was sitting on the side of the bed, feeling wrung-out with fatigue and glad that she would soon be able to escape from the hospital. They seemed to have been there for hours, although she had actually been treated fairly quickly. By the time the ambulance had left the scene, Mateo, Javier and several uniformed colleagues had arrived to mop up the aftermath of Ramona Gil’s arrest and take the teenager into custody. Whatever specific offences they decided to charge her with, assault on a police officer was a lot more likely than pickpocketing to get her a spell in youth custody.
“There.” The young doctor had completed the dressing. “Now, just remember what I said about keeping it clean, and we’ll make an appointment for you to get it checked by your own doctor in a week’s time – to make sure it hasn’t got infected or anything. We can give you some painkillers to take home, if you like.”
“I don’t think I’ll need those. It throbs a bit now the local anaesthetic’s wearing off, but it’s not too bad.” Miranda carefully pulled her jacket sleeve over the bandaged arm. “Lucky I’m not left-handed.”
Max handed her one of the coffee cups as the doctor left the cubicle. “We can get a cab home when you’ve had this. I put some sugar in it for shock.”
“Thanks.” She smiled at him. “Don’t look so worried, I’m fine, honestly.”
“Hey, I’m allowed to be worried about you if some juvenile delinquent tries to stab you.” He sat down facing her and patted her knee. “But I’m going to take good care of you.”
“Are you?” Having someone who actually cared about you gave you a rather lovely, warm, secure feeling, Miranda discovered.
“Ja, of course.” Putting down his coffee cup on a nearby cupboard, he leaned in towards her and kissed her softly on the lips. Miranda smiled, put her own coffee down and cupped the back of his head with her hand to pull him a little closer for a longer kiss.
Max and Miranda jerked apart and looked, startled, towards the cubicle entrance where Inés was standing, regarding them with a satirical eye. “I came to see how you were doing after your injury, Detective Blake,” she said dryly. “But I see that you’re in good hands.”
“Um – Inés – I should explain –“ Miranda was mortified to find herself blushing at having been caught by their boss.
“Really, that’s not necessary.” Inés was clearly enjoying herself. “You don’t need to tell me that your relationship with Detective Winter has been a little – ah, closer – for, let me see, nearly three weeks, is it?”
“How did you –?”
“I’m not a trained investigator for nothing, Detective Winter. If you don’t want me to know about your personal life, you shouldn’t come to work smelling like Miranda’s shower gel, and she shouldn’t come to work looking so happy.” Inés nodded in satisfaction at their astounded faces. “I don’t have a problem with it as long as it doesn’t affect your work.”
“No. Of course not, Inés,” Miranda stammered.
“And so - how is your arm?”
“Oh.” Miranda managed to regain some self-possession. “It’s not too bad. Eight stitches. They said I might have a scar, but it should heal all right.”
“Good. But don’t even think about coming back to work until Monday. Oh, and –“ Inés was on the point of departing, but turned back to say, “-could you try to stay out of hospital for a while, both of you? Thank you so much.”
It was a Friday evening, several weeks later. The office had been busy in the intervening time, with many more cases to be dealt with, and the fast-healing scar on Miranda’s arm was the only memento of the pickpocketing case.
Max had gone from work to Joan’s Bar to meet Christian, who had invited him for a quick beer and a catch-up. Christian claimed that he had a date with a gorgeous woman later, if that was to be believed, and Max was planning to head over to Miranda’s apartment for dinner. It was her turn to cook, which probably meant they would end up having a takeaway. Max did not mind. He had been looking through her kitchen cupboards yesterday and had noticed that they seemed to be well-stocked with his favourite brands of German crisps and beer. The fact that Miranda now thought of him when she did her grocery shopping had to be a good sign, he thought. Even if she still wasn’t ready for anyone except Inés to know about their relationship.
Sipping his beer contentedly, he made a few responses to Christian’s remarks about the upcoming Bayern vs. Dortmund match in the Bundesliga, but most of his mind was anticipating the evening to come and thinking about plans for his weekend with Miranda. While driving back to the office from an interview earlier, they had talked about possibly going up to the north of the island for lunch on Sunday. They would find somewhere scenic on the coast, where they would not see anyone they knew and could relax. Maybe, while they were wandering round some little harbour, she would even let him hold her hand and kiss her in public –
It was at this moment that Max’s attention was recalled by Christian, who for some reason was nudging Max in the ribs and tapping his finger on the side of his nose in a gesture of secrecy. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody.”
“Tell anybody what?” Max said, taking a gulp of his beer and trying to sound very very casual and unconcerned, despite major forebodings.
“That you finally got it together with everyone’s favourite ice queen. How did you manage to melt her?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Christian.” Max hoped he didn’t look uncomfortable with this line of conversation, but it is very difficult to simulate an unconcerned facial expression in front of someone who has known you since you were ten.
“Ja, of course you don’t, Max.” Christian continued to grin and wink.
Max took another gulp of his beer and, knowing he was going to regret saying this, asked, “So what is it you think you know, exactly?”
Christian sighed the happy sigh of one who is about to deliver a coup-de-grâce. “Well, it could be that I am an even greater detective than the famous Max Winter –“
Max sighed too, but not happily.
“- or it could be that I was driving a client home from the casino last night and my route took me past Miranda’s apartment, where I happened to notice your car parked outside her building. At 3 a.m…” Christian paused for effect.
Max sighed again. Busted. Luckily there was no one else he knew in earshot, and it was Carmen’s night off.
“Of course, it could just be that you lent her your beloved car for the night. Out-of-character, but possible. Or it could be that you had a very important case to discuss and you were so engrossed in your work discussion that you stayed there all night. With the lights off.” Christian was just having fun now.
“Sod off, Christian. And don’t forget, I have a gun, Miranda has a gun, and if you’re not scared of me, you should be scared of her. If you go round telling people-”
Christian leaned away from him, holding his hands up. “Okay, okay, don’t worry. You can trust me. I said, I won’t breathe a word. Why are you so worried about anyone finding out, anyway? We all know you’ve been crazy about each other for months. I think it’s great if you’ve got together. Miranda’s an amazing woman – although what she sees in you –“
Max had no idea what to say in reply to this but he did know, from long experience, that Christian was terrible at keeping secrets. Whatever Miranda wished, their altered relationship was going to become public knowledge sooner rather than later. Max drained his beer glass and stood up.
“I have to go. I’ll see you around, Christian. And –“ he fixed his friend with a steely eye – “if I find out you’ve been spreading stories-“
“Hey, my lips are sealed, Max,” Christian assured him. He was grinning again, though. It was very irritating.
“Christian knows,” Max said, at lunchtime on Sunday when they were seated at an open-air restaurant table overlooking a ridiculously scenic harbour. He hadn’t raised the subject earlier in the weekend because he didn’t want to spoil Miranda’s pleasure, not when she was looking so happy and relaxed in his company. It made him feel warm inside to see her glow like that, and to believe himself to be responsible for it.
“Knows what?” Miranda fished about with her fork in her delicious bowlful of seafood and speared a king prawn. Below them, boats bobbed about on the blue water. Above them, seabirds screeched.
“Knows about you and me. No, no, I didn’t say anything. He was driving a client home on Thursday night at three o’clock in the morning. He went past your apartment and recognised my car parked outside.”
Miranda’s fork had frozen in mid-air at his first words, but now she sighed and laid it down in the bowl. “Oh well. I suppose something like that was bound to happen sooner or later.”
“You don’t mind?” he asked in surprise.
“Not as much as I thought I would. I suppose it’s silly, really. I don’t know how I thought we could keep it quiet for long. And I know you don’t like having to pretend at work. Although you’ve done a pretty good job so far,” she added, being fair. “But Inés knows already, and if Christian knows – well –“
Max reached across the table and took both her hands in his. “Can we tell everyone now? I really want to. And think how happy Mama and Papa are going to be. You know they want you to come and visit Munich. We both have leave owing, even after my sick leave. We could go.”
Miranda squeezed his hands and smiled into his hopeful face. She had come so far already; she might as well surrender completely. “I’d like that,” she said. “And one day I’ll take you to Wales. Dwi’n caru chdi, Max.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Max, “but I like the sound of it.”
Or is it? The Permissions Series was always going to be two stories long, but I've had ideas for a couple of one-shots set in the same universe, and I've been enjoying playing in this universe. So the series may extend. Possibly. Although I'm loving writing a Second World War AU at the moment, so that probably comes next.
A few translations:
Ich möchte dich nur zum Lächeln bringen. = I just want to make you smile.
Dwi’n caru chdi = I love you.
"Ich denke dein" is probably Goethe's most famous love poem by Germany's most famous poet. Max, being incredibly well-read as we know, would definitely know it by heart.
Ich denke dein, wenn mir der Sonne Schimmer
Vom Meere strahlt;
Ich denke dein, wenn sich des Mondes Flimmer
In Quellen malt.
Ich sehe dich, wenn auf dem fernen Wege
Der Staub sich hebt;
In tiefer Nacht, wenn auf dem schmalen Stege
Der Wandrer bebt.
Ich höre dich, wenn dort mit dumpfem Rauschen
Die Welle steigt.
Im stillen Haine geh ich oft zu lauschen,
Wenn alles schweigt.
Ich bin bei dir, du seist auch noch so ferne.
Du bist mir nah!
Die Sonne sinkt, bald leuchten mir die Sterne.
O wärst du da!
I think of you, when the shimmering sun
Gleams from the sea;
I think of you, when the glittering moon
Is mirrored in streams.
I see you, when on the distant path
In deep night, when on the narrow bridge
The traveller trembles.
I hear you where, with muffled roar
The wave rears up.
In the silent wood I often hearken
When all is silent.
I am with you, however far away you be,
You are by my side!
The sun sets, soon the stars will shine for me.
Ah! were you but here!