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Angels and Coffee

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“Again?”


Owen sounds dubious, and that is quite frankly valid.


“Uh, yeah, I could go a brew.”


“You can always go a brew, you’re Jamie Taylor. You don’t have blood in your veins, you have Earl Grey, or possibly English Breakfast.” Owen adjusts his glasses. “But you said the one we got here was like drinking dogs piss mixed with an OAP’s douche water.”


Jamie sighs. “Yeah. Maybe I’ll get coffee.”


She drags him by the elbow inside, because as wing men go, Owen is well above average, and also because she’s here now and she’s not leaving.


The coffee house is small, eclectic. It’s housed in an old church that’s been decommissioned, but they’ve kept the ambiance nicely. They’ve done that whole art school thing where local painters have pieces for sale on the walls. Some are nice landscapes. Others are abstracts that Jamie reckons are trying a bit too hard, but then, she’s no art critic. Wouldn’t know a bloody Van Gogh if she tripped over it.


It’s not the art that Jamie’s here for anyway. Well, one could argue that she’s a damn work of art, but Jamie would not say that out loud.


“Aaah,” says Owen. “There’s the rub.” He’s looking straight ahead, at the girl behind the long counter that lines the back of the old church, where the altar would have been.


Appropriate, Jamie thinks, for the angel that’s standing under the still soaring ceiling.


To sleep – perchance to dream of you – thinks Jamie


“Piss off,” is what she says to Owen instead.


“I’ll get us a table shall I? Get me a latte. I don’t want to drink… well, pensioner run-off.”


Jamie takes a deep breath, steadying her pulse and strides forward. Because the world hated her, there was already another customer there. Some balding middle aged git, in a tweed jacket and patched elbows. Jamie mentally names him ‘Bernard.’


“And… and and… your Colombian. Would you say that was more or less robust than the Ecuadorian?”

Jamie watches him adjust his glasses and then looks past him at the angel. She’s doing her best to maintain composure, but Jamie can see that this conversation is doing nothing pleasant for her.


“Sir, I really… I just make the coffee. If you wait for twenty minutes my boss will be back and I’m sure she can help you out.”


“Yes… yes, but I have to go soon and I want just the right balance of flavour you realise. Just the right balance. Perhaps … no… you really should offer some fresh ground beans to allow the scent to be assessed. I think I think… hmm.”

He’s staring up at the array of bags behind the counter, coffee beans. Jamie catches the angel’s eye, and then for the first time, her name badge.


Dani.


So the angel has a name.


The angel is giving her a wry grin and rolling her eyes discreetly at Bernard, and Jamie grins back.


“Perhaps.. no no… I mean I could consider the Brazilian but it’s always so bold. Oh the Madagascan has vanilla notes I see here…”


Bernard has now picked up a laminated card that is propped up in a holder on the counter. From over his shoulder Jamie can see that it’s coffee tasting notes. Honestly Jamie didn’t know that coffee had tasting notes, only that the bitter drink really helped at 5 am when she had to water plants in freezing darkness and galoshes.


“Sir, perhaps if you look over the list, maybe you’ll find what you want? And maybe I could serve a few other customers while you decide?” Dani’s voice is firm, directorial. Jamie swoons a little.


“Yes yes… yes…” Bernard shuffles sideways, pulling out a handkerchief and mopping his brow.


As Jamie steps forward to the counter, still entranced in the bright blue eyes of her angel, she takes a sideways glance at the git. “Want me to?” She draws her thumb across her neck.


“God, would you? Please?”


Jamie laughs, and stares. God, how did someone so beautiful exist. In London of all places. And when did Jamie find herself completely smitten by an American who couldn’t make tea? This week apparently.


“So uh. Before or after?”


Jamie swallows. “Sorry?” Her brain goes all sorts of places.


“Do you want coffee before or after you commit Felony Murder on my behalf.”


“Well. Probably before if I’m honest. Might give me some fortitude.” She grins. “Also it’s just murder here, we don’t do fancy terms for it I think.”


“Dang. Didn’t know you were a lawyer.” She looks Jamie up and down, and that makes Jamie do the same. Ripped black jeans, tight Blondie t-shirt, large mud smear on the cuff of the jeans, work boots.


“Only in my spare time. Gets in the way of gardening.”


“Well Lawyer Gardener, what can I get for you? You know, for fortitude.”


“Uh, two lattes. Cheers.”


“Right. Shall I just put Lawyer Gardener on them? Don’t want to get the title wrong, I understand they’re super important over here. Esquire and the like.”


“Jamie. It’s shorter than Lawyer Gardener. Definitely no Esquire. Only own what’s on my back, me.”


The angel has asked for her name and Jamie thinks it might be a Hallelujah. Probably not, but this conversation has gone better than her wildest dreams ever anticipated.


She sidles off to the edge, where the pick up area is, and watches as Dani makes the coffee. Watches as her angel tries to hide the fact that she’s given herself a slight burn off the milk steamer. She wants to lean out and grab it, run it under cold water, tend to her, but instead just grips the counter.


Two coffees slide over, both a size over what she’s paid for. One of them says Jamie and the other says Jamie’s Friend. Jamie spins hers around and finds a neat little drawing of a knife on the other side.


“For fortitude,” the angel says. “Have a great day.” And then the next customer draws her away.


Jamie wanders back to her seat opposite Owen and dumps herself into a chair.


“I’m in love.”


“Apparently,” Owen grab his coffee, his eyes twinkling through his glasses. “And after a truly terrible tea no less.”


“Shut up she’s an angel.”


“She’s American.”


“Well noticed.”


“And when can I expect a wedding invite?”


Jamie gives him that look. “Yeah, cos an angel like that’s gonna run off with a piece like me.”


“She’d be lucky to have you.” Owen’s moustache wiggles slightly and she remembers why she loves him so much. Because he actually fucking means that and while it’s insane and completely ridiculous, Jamie loves him for being so delusional.


She lifts her cup to her lips at the same time Owen does, taking a long draw of her coffee and… stops. She watches as Owen very gently swallows and looks her in the eye.


“Wow.”


“Yeah.”


“This is the worst coffee I have ever had,” Owen says. “And I’ve worked in a lot of cheap restaurants. I’ve had Nescafe.”


“It is,” Jamie says carefully as she puts the cup down. “Possibly worse than the tea.”


“Agreed.”


Owen sighs. “So we’re coming back tomorrow.”


Jamie looks back at the counter, where her angel is now laughing at another customer and looking radiant.


“Yep. We’re coming back tomorrow.”


*****************************


“Jamie I can’t do this any more.”


“Owen please. Please don’t make me go on my own. It’ll be so obvious if I go on my own, if you’re with me it just looks like our daily coffee date.” Jamie is not used to begging or pleading, but in this case she’s willing to do whatever she can.


“Well for one thing, the fact that I’m constantly with you is probably going to confuse the situation a bit.” Owen winks at her.


“Owen Sharma, just because every other girl is crazy about you does not mean that you have a chance mate. As the Aussies say, Buckley's or none.”


“Calm your farm my dear friend, I’m just saying that if you go alone you might seem more available.”


Jamie sighs. If she’s being honest, she has no idea what she’s doing. She just knows that she wakes up every morning and thinks about going to a little coffee shop down a side street in the East End. She thinks about it while she weeds and thinks about it while she prunes, while she waters and while she re-pots and fertilizes and while she fucking showers the muck off her at the end of the day. It’s what she thinks about as she drifts off to sleep, a set of blue eyes and golden hair floating into her dreams.


“Owen please. If you just come with me today, I swear to god I’ll go alone tomorrow.”


“Tomorrow is Saturday.”


“Monday then.”


“Why do you want me to die?”


Now it’s Jamie’s turn to look perplexed. “I don’t want you to die. What are you on about?”


“The coffee. It’s so bad. It’s so bad I got a tea again on Tuesday and that was, actually, worse. I think she’s trying to kill us. Your future wife is definitely trying to kill us.”


Jamie pinches the bridge of her nose. “OK, OK. What if we go and we get, I don’t know, hot chocolate. It’s bloody hard to mess up cocoa.”


“She’s talented. I wouldn’t put any bets on it.”


“They have sandwiches.”


“Did she make them?” Owen raises an eyebrow.


“You’ve eaten mine and survived.”


“You make a good point.”


“Please?”


“OK.” She knew he’d cave. “But Monday you’re going alone OK. And you’re going to ask her out.”


Jamie gives a snort. “Yeah, not bloody likely mate.”


“It’s been two weeks. Two weeks of the worst coffee of my life. If you don’t ask her out, I will.”


Jamie just ignores him. Owen Sharma has shown interest in exactly zero people since she’s known him. They spend a hell of a lot of their spare time together, she thinks she’d know.


“Come on,” she tugs on his sleeve. “I’ll buy you a sandwich.”


*********************


Dani likes floral prints and bold colours. Her outfits work on her, although on Jamie they’d look absurd. That she likes flowers is good, thinks Jamie, because so does she.


“Gardener Jamie,” the greeting is said with warmth and, if Jamie didn’t know better, a little bit of happy excitement.


“Barista Dani.”


“Uh… no, I’m afraid.” Dani looks sheepish. “I am customer service Dani now I’m afraid.” She looks across to the coffee machine and it’s then that Jamie sees the other woman, a short brunette who is busily making coffee.


“Oh, oh no. Does that mean you won’t be here any more?” Jamie feels her heart about to pound out of her chest, thumping. This is a disaster. This is an absolute nightmare. Jamie would drink all the appalling coffee in the world if it meant she got to spend ten minutes of her day with an angel.


“No. Hannah’s keeping me on. It’s got busy enough now for one of us to do orders and sales and someone else to make coffee.” She looks at Jamie with an inscrutable expression, and then leans across the counter. She’s so close to Jamie now that Jamie can smell her light, spicy perfume and see that those blue eyes have these tiny golden specks in them. “Was it… was the coffee that bad?”


Jamie bites her lip. Right now, all she wants to do is close the small gap between them and see if those soft lips are as warm as she thinks they are. She also really, really, really doesn’t want to lie to Dani.

“It wasn’t too bad. I mean. I’m sure it could have been worse.” It’s not a lie. It was slightly better than drinking cat piss.


Dani winces. “And the tea?”


“Could use work, but you’re American.”


Dani leans back over the counter and chews the inside of her cheek. “Damn.”


Jamie shrugs. “Sorry.”


Dani sighs. She does seem mostly unharmed by the news however. “Well, I can take your order anyway.”


“Um, two ham and cheese sandwiches and,” she looks sideways at the new barista. She’s wearing a t-shirt that proudly proclaims her love of the sex pistols. Probably English. “Two brews thanks.”


Dani smiles. “Ah ha! I know that one. Tea. What kind. I did not realise there were so many types of tea.”


“English Breakfast will do.”


“But it’s lunch.” God. She’s adorable.


Jamie gives her a half smile, leaning across the counter conspiratorially and not because she wants one last chance to be this close to her angel. “It’s really an all day drink, but we don’t tell just anyone that.” She taps the side of her nose.


She picks up the teas and when Dani isn’t looking, takes a surreptitious sip of her own.


Good tea.


On her way back to the table she spots Owen staring off into the corner. She sits down, slides him his sandwich and tea, and then eventually resorts to waving her hand in front of his face to get his attention.


“Oi.”


“Sorry.” He looks at her, briefly. “Thanks.”


Jamie has to turn around to the corner, because his attention has gone straight back there. On a short step ladder is a woman. Jamie can’t see her age from the half side, mostly back angle that she’s got. All she can see is a simple burgundy skirt and jacket combo, long legs, and a shaven head.


“You right?”


Owen coughs, and takes a sip of his tea. “Oh, that’s an improvement.”


“New barista.” That’s enough to get Owen to flip around and look at the counter. “S’alright, she’s just the order sales clerk now. You will survive coming here now.” Jamie does not point out that this means she’s off the hook for asking the angel out.


He turns back, and she watches his eyes flick to the corner. It amuses her as she bites into her sandwich, which is also delightfully edible.


“Jamie.”


“Mmm.” Mustard, there’s a hint of mustard on here and it’s good. She wonders if Dani made the sandwich.


“Let’s have lunch here on Monday.”


“Righty-oh.”


*****************************


Dani is not there on Monday. Jamie did not reckon on the clenching sadness that this would bring to her day. She was in trouble. She was in so much trouble.


Jamie liked her solitude. She liked her little flat, even if it was about a pub and she was woken at two am by drunks outside on a fairly regular basis. She liked her life and how she’d built it out of almost nothing. She had Owen now, fucking luck of the draw that had been. She liked her life how it was. Boring.


Her weekends were usually filled with books and sleeping in and going for a pint and annoying Owen and just, stuff. They were now filled with a desperate longing for the work week so that she could spend her half an hour spending money on a sandwich and coffee instead of bringing her own. They were spent so she could have a ten minute conversation with a woman who, for all she knew, was a serial killer from the Midwest escaping her fate at the hands of dedicated Marshalls.


OK that was unlikely, but still. What did she know about Dani except that she was kind – she’d seen her help too many pensioners count out their money. She’d witnessed, herself, Dani deliberately giving back too much change when watching someone try and make a hot drink out of small coins.


She’s funny and she makes Jamie laugh. She’s beautiful. She’s a fucking angel. Far too good for the likes of Jamie Taylor, poster child for reform that she was. So Jamie would take what she could get, ten minutes in heaven for a weekend of longing. She’s been fucking moping goddammit.


She is in so much trouble.


Glancing sideways at Owen, who is stuttering his way through their order, she reckons she might not be the only one. Art hanging lady is serving them today. She wears a name badge “Hannah”, which Jamie recognises as Dani’s boss. Jamie remembers everything Dani has said. Owen has ordered their lunch. They should be collecting drinks and sandwiches shortly. Instead, Jamie is attempting to be a supportive wing-woman by hovering at his elbow, while Owen expounds upon the value of a good red velvet cupcake.


“Much better than a muffin.”


Jamie tries not to choke on her own saliva, and goes a bit red with the effort. She knows she isn’t the smoothest flirt, especially not with Dani, but Jesus she hopes she’s better than this.


“Much harder to come by though,” says Hannah. It seems, from the look on her face, that she’s not above leaving several openings for Owen to fill in the conversation anyway. She’s fingering her necklace, which Jamie knows is universal female symbolism for interest.


Enough random women in bars have given her that sign.


No angels though.


She’s musing upon her own bad luck when she realises that Owen has finished his conversation. Or at least that there’s more customers for Hannah to serve. She also realises that if he wasn’t of Indian heritage he’d be as red as a bloody house brick. She manages to snag the attention of the short, punk wannabe brunette when she delivers the teas across the counter.


“Dani got a day off?”


The brunette looks at her, bored out of her mind. “Yeah, job interview I think. Should be back tomorrow.”


Jamie feels her heart plummet into her boots.


Well Fuck.


*************************


“You have to ask her out.”


“Owen, I can’t.”


“Well, you absolutely can. And you must. You’re out of time.”


Jamie knows it. She knows it and she hates it. Jamie Taylor doesn’t do crushes. She doesn’t do infatuation and she hasn’t asked a girl out since she was a teenager. Even then, it was far more checking if the girl you’ve been cruising, who has been cruising you, wants to get heavy on a mattress in the back room of the random flat you’ve found yourself in this week. Not so much, a date.


A date.


How do you even ask an angel out on a date?


Jamie has no idea and she’s out of time.


“Well. I guess. I think. Perhaps… maybe I could.. I...”


“Good god Taylor get a grip.”


She’s not fucking Bernard, so she does just that. “OK. OK. Grip obtained.”


“Right, so we’ll go there tomorrow and you’ll ask her out and it’ll be fine.”


Jamie snorts. “Yep, and when she turns out to be straighter than a ruler, you can drag my sorry ass to the pub after your honey says yes to you.”


“She’s not going to say no,” Owen stops stirring his bowl and waves a red batter covered wooden spoon at her. “And I have no honey. There is no honey. I’m not asking anyone out. I am merely making baked goods.”


Jamie snorts again, drinking a slug of beer. “She’s been giving you eyes mate. I’ve been getting American smiles and politeness.”


Owen sighs. “We’re pathetic.”


“Yep.”


“Like seriously pathetic.”


“Yep.”


Owen spoons the mixture into cupcake tins, and dumps the bowl in the sink. “At least we have each other.”


“Still not gonna shag you Sharma.”


“Still don’t want you to Taylor.”


She grins. “So we’re pathetic and have no chance right.”


“Right.”


“So why did you just make a batch of red velvet cupcakes.”


Owen looks at her. Really looks at her. And she sees it, behind his eyes, behind his glasses, as he leans down on the counter.


“Have you ever met someone and thought, gosh, we’ve met before. Somewhere, somehow, in another life maybe, or another world, we were something to each other.”


A blond, smiling angel fills Jamie’s mind. “Nope.”


“Well I believe in fate. Kismet. I believe in love and soulmates and finding someone to walk hand in hand down the Champs-Élysées with.”


“Paris hey, that’s some plans.” Jamie drinks. “Sounds like some nice things to believe in.”


She isn’t sure she’s ever had plans that big. Jamie gave up hoping for big things a long time ago.


Owen looks at her again, with that soft, understanding look that has a tendency to strip away Jamie’s carefully constructed defenses. “And I believe, very, very strongly, that you deserve all of that too.”


Jamie drinks. She drinks some more. Owen believes it. Jamie doesn’t. Jamie wants to believe it. She wants to believe she can waltz into a cafe, and conjure up some kick ass flirting and talk an angelic American ex-barista into going on a date with her.


Until she finds out about Jamie’s past. Until she finds the scars. Until she leaves again.


“New life Jamie. You built a new life. You get to enjoy it you know.”


Owen clinks his beer against Jamie’s.


Maybe he’s right.


She hangs around long enough to eat a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing and as she’s licking the dregs off her fingers, she thinks that if he delivers these to Hannah tomorrow he’s in with more than just a maybe.


If only she had the same.


******************************


She meets Owen outside the cafe, and stops, each of them flanking the door. She looks in his hands, a box, knowing exactly what’s in it.


He looks at her hands, and raises a quizzical eyebrow.


“Shoot your shot right?” She shrugs. It’ll work or it won’t.


He holds open the door. “After you.”


Right. Right. She could do this. She could.


The shop is not busy. There’s a few people at tables, no one at the counter, but Jamie’s eyes narrow straight in on Dani. She wills her palms not to get sweaty, after all this, and gently hides one of her hands behind her back.


She doesn’t know where Owen is, because the rest of her view is fuzzy and all she can see is the counter as she walks towards it.


“Oh lord am I glad to see you,” says Dani and Jamie thinks she might just about faint on the spot.


“Really?”


“Of course, always.”


Jamie looks at the faint blush that coats her cheeks, and gives her a crooked grin. “Well I was here yesterday but, uh, Punky over there said you had a job interview.”


“Simone?”


“That’s her name? Simone?” Jamie laughs. “She doesn’t look like a Simone.”


“Do I look like a Danielle.”


“You look like an angel.”


There is a long, long drawn out moment as Jamie realises that that particular thought had not just stayed in her mind and had, in fact, come out of her mouth. And the way that Dani is looking at her makes Jamie think that maybe, just this once, Owen Sharma may be right. Maybe they have been flirting this whole time and not just Jamie. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a maybe for her.


“Did you get it?”


Dani looks confused. Fair enough, this conversation is bumping around like a pinball. “Sorry?”


“The job. Did you get it?”


“Oh. Yes. I did. Finish up here on Friday.”


“Congratulations.” Jamie thinks she may throw up. “Convinced someone you can make tea?”


Dani gives her a look. “Nope, back to teaching. I got a full time tutoring job for two kids.”


“Teacher huh, yeah I can see that. You’ve got a whole Mary Poppins thing going on.”


Dani gives her a stern look. “I assume that’s a good thing.”


“You’ve not seen the movie?”

“I’ve seen the movie. Everyone’s seen the movie. I just, it’s a good thing right?” She’s asking for Jamie’s reassurance and Jamie feels faint again.


Jamie has no problem with being hot for teacher, none whatsoever.


“So, uh, if you’re leaving,” Jamie takes a deep breath. “I was thinking, maybe, kinda… perhaps.”


“You looking to buy coffee beans there, because I still don’t know anything about them.”


Dani remembers. This beautiful, gorgeous creature remembers a conversation that she had with Jamie and Bernard approximately a month ago.


Jamie brings up the small vase in her left hand. In it, is a small white flower. “I thought you might like this, brighten up your day.”


Dani picks up the vase with both hands, and looks at the flower with a reverence that Jamie has only seen on her own face when it comes to plants.


“Jamie it’s beautiful.”


She shrugs, scratches her ear.


“What is it?”


“It’s a Moon flower. It’s closed now but I picked it this morning, so, should open tonight. You’ll have to keep it safe though, because it’ll only open once.”


“Oh.” Dani smiles. “This. This is so nice. Only once?”


“Yeah, sorry bout that. Kind of a short lived present now I come to think about it.”


“Sounds rare,” Dani smiles at her. “Thank you.”


She looks at her, that smile, that beautiful face, and finds that right now, the words are so wedged in her throat that she’s afraid if she speaks, she’ll order a fucking tea.


“Jamie.”


“Mmm.”


“Will you have dinner with me?”


God those eyes are so beautiful, Jamie thinks, and right now, she’s completely lost in them. Not so lost that she didn’t just hear what Dani said. “Yes. Anytime. Yes.”


It’s embarrassing how eager she sounds, but she can’t bring herself to care. An American Angel called Dani with cornflower blue eyes and hair like spun gold just asked her to dinner.


“Dani dear, I’m just taking Mr Sharma into the office to talk, looks like he might be supplying us with baked goods.” Dani and Jamie watch as Owen trails behind Hannah, throwing Jamie his most hopeful and frightened look as he passes.


“I think she likes him.”


“I think he likes her back.”


“Excuse me or are you going to order because I’ve been here for five minutes.”


Both of them turn to look at the middle aged, sour faced lady waiting behind Jamie. Jamie thinks she might kill her. She turns back to Dani who looks slightly abashed but is still holding her flower and bud vase. “Can I come by at close?”


“Six,” Dani confirms.


Jamie grins at her. “Six then.” And as she walks away. “Blimey, who knew.”


*************************


They settle on a small Indian restaurant around the corner, and Jamie looks up after three hours to find that two things have happened.


Firstly, the waiters are hovering nearby hoping that they’ll leave.


Second: she’s head over heels in love.


It’s not a passing crush any more, she’s completely gone on Dani Clayton. Dani has a last name now. Dani has a backstory, of small town Iowa and a fiance left broken hearted on the other side of the Atlantic. Dani is strong and courageous and funny and smart and Jamie thinks that as long as it means she has to leave Dani, she’s not leaving the bloody restaurant. Bugger the waiters.


“I think they want us to pay,” Dani says ruefully.


“It is how restaurants work, generally.” She pulls out her wallet and waves over the waiter. Then she waves off Dani. “Nope, on me.”


“But I asked you. And you brought me a flower.” Said flower is now sitting next to them, and Jamie is happy to see that it’s slowly opening.


“Yep, and,” Jamie clears her throat. “Maybe… maybe you get the next one?” She’d like to think that it came out suave, possibly even seductive, but actually she heard the squeak at the end of the sentence just like Dani did.


“I think I’d like that,” Dani says, as they stand up, putting on coats. “Maybe it could be soon?”


Jamie grins, and walks her out into the cold. She can’t help herself, and reaches down to grab one of Dani’s hands, lacing their fingers together as she does.


“Live near here?”


“Yeah, not too far.” Dani looks around. “You?”


Jamie gives her a sheepish look. “Other side of London.”


“You… you come here every day for coffee!”


Jamie grins. “I do work kind of near here. Kind of. And I don’t really come for the coffee. I come to see you.”


Dani looks at her then, with eyes shining like the stars and Jamie isn’t sure she’s seen anything more beautiful.


“Look-”


She’s cut off by Dani’s hands, warm and soft, cupping her cheeks, and Dani’s lips covering her own.


They are soft. They are so soft and they taste so good and Dani is kissing her and it may be the greatest thing that has ever happened to Jamie Taylor. She wraps her arms around Dani’s waist, pulling her in, begging her with touches and sighs not to stop.


Eventually Dani does pull away, as does Jamie, both reluctantly. They have to, before the kiss can morph into something inappropriate for a public street.


“I don’t want tonight to end,” Jamie wonders if this penchant for just saying what she’s thinking without filter is going to persist.


“Me either.” Dani swings her hands. “Walk you to the station.”


They do, and Jamie keeps their fingers tangled.


Maybe it’s all going to work out.


Maybe.


************************


By Saturday, morning, Jamie isn’t so sure.


Second dates, she decides, are a lot harder than the first. She hadn’t had time to worry about the first one, it had been so fast between asking and going. Now she’s staring at her closet at ten on a Saturday morning wondering if she should go with a nice shirt or even a skirt, nope, not a skirt. Casual, keep it casual.


She pulls out her favourite button up.


Daytime dates confuse Jamie. She’s never had one before. Normally dates are a prelude to bedroom activity, not that Jamie has really been on many dates. This time, it’s different. She just wants to be near Dani, be in her aura. She wants to stare at her and laugh at her, and smile and listen to her talk and all of the things that actually matter.


Does she want to kiss her again. Hell yes.


Has her brain skittered to thoughts of what the soft skin on Dani’s back just above her belt line would feel like under her fingertips. Yes. Yes it has.


She wants to be wrapped up in her, tasting her, wants to know what her sweat tastes like. But she feels oddly calm about getting there. She almost thinks that if they never get there, that would be OK. too, as long as she keeps getting to dance in Dani’s orbit.


She grabs her best jeans and shucks them on.


Right, lunchtime date.


She meets Dani at Hyde Park. Its cliche, she knows it, but Dani isn’t from England, let alone London. Dani is holding a picnic basket. It’s adorable.


“Afternoon.” Jamie is proud she can sound so nonchalant when her heart is beating out of her chest.


“Hi,” Dani replies shyly. She reaches in and Jamie catches her, kissing her lightly on the cheek. God, she still smells like heaven.


“So, I’m going out on a big limb here, but … ice skating?”


Dani gives her a look, the one that says she recognises it as a really bad joke but she can’t help smiling anyway.


“Indulge me. I’ve always wanted to a picnic in Hyde Park. Even if it is a bit chilly.”


“Sounds perfect.” The autumn air is crisp, but the sun is shining. Jamie offers her elbow to Dani. “Shall we m’lady.”


It’s nice sitting in the park. Jamie bites into an apple, sitting cross legged and struggling to take her eyes of Dani who is reclining back on her elbows. If it’s even possible, she looks better in sunlight.


“This is amazing. I can’t imagine growing up here. So busy. So different to where I’m from.”


Jamie makes a short laugh. “Yep, me too.”


“You’re not from London?”


“Ha! With this accent?” She looks at Dani. “S’a bit like asking a Texan if they’re from New York I reckon. Or the other way round.”


“Oh. Oops.”


Jamie shrugs. “Close enough. I’m from up North.”


“You always think of England as being all rolling hills and country manors, hedges and fox hunting.”


“Ha! Yeah, no where I’m from it’s coal dust and chimneys. More Dickens than Enid Blyton.” She takes another bite of her apple. “Maybe a little bit Watership Down.”


“That book made me cry so hard.”


“Yeah?” Jamie smiles. “Me too.”


“What’s your family like?”


It’s a normal question. It’s a question she knew would be coming at some point in time. They’d spent an evening talking about Dani, and Dani’s life. Quid Pro Quo.


She takes a deep breath, plunks her apple core down and dusts off her hands.


“OK. That’s a bit of a story.” She looks at Dani who indicates with a look that she’s willing to listen. Jamie swallows. “So. Here goes.”


And she tells her, tells her everything. She tells her about her parents, and her brothers. She tells her about the names and the fights. She tells her about the saucepan and the burn, the foster families, the dark. She tells her about coming to London. She leaves scanty detail here, her cheeks burning as her brain quickly fills in some of the truth. All sorts of trouble. She talks about being sent down, the bare bones – another darkness she doesn’t really touch. She talks about gardening, and therapy, and finding a way out of the black murk.


She talks about the new scheme developed by some well meaning public servant somewhere. Random people adopting recently released felons. She talks about the down on his luck cook who was doing it because he reckoned he could see the good in anyone. She talks about how Owen saved her.


She tells the whole story while looking at Dani, because if she breaks eye contact then she’s not sure she can return to it. She wants to see the disgust, or the revulsion, the second it’s there, before there’s a chance for good-will to shutter over the top of it.


Just some grubby ex-felon gardener thinking she has a chance with an American angel.


Eventually she has to break eye contact, because she’s blinking back tears, and she doesn’t know how to keep them from brimming over if she keeps looking at Dani. Dani with her earnest expression of hope, and care, and love and understanding, but not a single shred of negativity.


“So, yeah. Not told many people that.” Jamie wipes her cheek. The tears had escaped anyway. “Not really anyone actually.”


She only sees Dani when she’s shuffled over and is kneeling in front of her, has taken Jamie’s hands in her own.


“Thank you. For telling me.”


Jamie sighs. “People are hard huh. So much work. Bit exhausting really.”


Dani smiles. “I dunno, I kind of like you.”


“I kind of like you too.”


They keep it light then, but Dani doesn’t take her hand away. By the end of the picnic, there’s an unspoken accord that neither of them wants to move apart yet.


They end up back at Jamie’s flat. Jamie has offered Dani a drink at her pub, the little grimy pub just below her house. When they get there, Jamie really doesn’t think she feels like going in. Looking at Dani, she thinks she’s not alone, so she invites her up, no expectations.


“Not much really, but it’s home,” she says, closing the door behind them.


It’s small, one bedroom, filled with more plants than should rightly be alive in a London flat. Even Jamie struggles to keep some of them going.


“It’s very you.” Dani turns in a circle, looking around. “Yep, very you.”


“Hoping that’s a good thing.”


Dani grins. “Definitely a good thing.” She runs a finger along the old bookcase piled with many second hand tomes, classics and paperbacks jumbled in.


“Can I offer you a drink? I have … indifferent beer and tap water. Possibly milk.” Jamie sniffs the bottle. “Nope, not the milk.”


Dani sits on her couch. “Well with those on offer I think I’ll take the beer.”


Jamie comes and sits next to her, handing over a bottle. “Cheers.”


“Cheers.”


It’s different, having Dani here in her space, in her home. She looks good here, like she belongs here, and Jamie is nervous. She hasn’t ever brought someone back to her sanctuary.


“You’re thinking.”


“Am I?” She looks at Dani, who is looking at her with that piercing gaze again. The one that only Owen has been able to master up to now. It occurs to Jamie that if the two of them ever ganged up on her she’d truly be in trouble.


Possibly good trouble but trouble nevertheless.


“Yep. Can see the cogs turning from here.”


“I was thinking… I was thinking how nice it is to have you here.” Honesty had it’s place. Jamie didn’t like lying.


Dani shifts herself over on the couch, putting her beer down on the small coffee table in front of it. She reaches out and takes Jamie’s beer, putting it down too. With gentle ease, she laces her fingers together.


“Can I tell you something?”


“Anything.”


“The first time I saw you, when you walked into the cafe, I couldn’t take my eyes off of you. I used to wait every day for you to come in. Best ten minutes of my day.”


Jamie smiles, lopsided and affectionate. “Wasn’t just me then?”


“No.”


“Wasn’t very subtle about it either was I?” She sounds almost rueful.


“Uh, no. You’re a bit of a flirt.”


Jamie has the sense to blush. “Well, I’m not going to apologise. Got the girl didn’t I.”


Strange thing to say, she knows, after two dates, but she’s looking at Dani and she thinks she’s right. For the moment anyway. Right here, and right now, as Dani is reaching a hand up to cup her cheek. Dani, who is pulling her in, for a kiss that is soft, and sweet and slow.


Jamie finds her bearings, gently brings her fingers into Dani’s hair, deepening the kiss. She dips her tongue into Dani’s mouth, hears the breathy whimper it causes. She can’t help herself, gently dipping them backwards.


God, Dani feels so good under her, just like she knew she would. She props herself up, runs a finger down an alabaster cheek, tips her under the chin.


“OK?”


“Yeah. Yeah I’m good.”


Soft. Dani is so soft, and Jamie thinks she could sink in forever. She keeps her kisses light, her touch light, just reveling in the fact that Dani is here, in her arms. She keeps the urgency at bay, and instead reaches for the calm, the warmth. They kiss, long, gentle learning kisses that make Jamie’s head swim. She doesn’t know if it’s been minutes or hours. She doesn’t care.


And it all goes slightly out the window when Dani pulls her t-shirt from her jeans, slides her hand up Jamie’s back and then gently scores her nails all the way back down again.


Jamie gasps. Whimpers. Her hips jerk.


And then it’s on. Her t-shirt is lifted over her head, thrown away. Dani’s skirt, rucked up, Jamie’s fingerprints on her skin, mouth on her neck, hot heated kisses and tiny bites.


Dani is merging into her, legs tangled, pushing against her thigh.


Fuck, Jamie is on fire. She unbuttons Dani’s blouse with shaky fingers, tracing the line of a lacy blue bra with her fingertip before kissing the swell of each breast and then diving back in to those swollen, kiss stung lips. She feels like she’s drowning and never wants to surface. She wants her mouth everywhere, wants to taste everything Dani has. She can hear breathy moans as Jamie runs her tongue from a delicate collarbone to an earlobe, before taking it into her mouth and sucking gently.


“Oh fuck.”


She made Dani Clayton swear and my god, is Jamie proud. Even prouder when she grabs a hold of all of the self control she owns and straight arms herself up, panting.


“Dani…”


Dani is looking at her, so fucking beautiful. Shirtless on Jamie’s couch, cheeks flushed, lips swollen, a tongue darting out to wet them.Her hips pressed so close into Jamie’s jeans, soft white skin contrasting with the dark blue.Jamie’s brain offers the option of sliding down and kissing that butter soft skin on her hip and she almost short circuits.


Dani’s hands are on her biceps, gentle, fingers flexing.


“We… wow, this uh…” Jamie swallows. She’s usually more articulate, but Dani has a way of stealing her words from her very mouth. “Fast. This is fast.”


Dani retreats a bit then, running a hand through her hair. “Yeah. I guess. Sorry, I just… you can really kiss.”


Jamie laughs gently and pulls them both back to sitting. “Don’t get me wrong here. I’d love to … I mean you’re so beautiful and I really want…” Those words again, out the window she reckons.

Dani looks at her, really looks at her.


Silence hangs between them.


“Um. Is now an OK time to ask a question?”


“Of course.” She tangles her fingers with Dani’s and squeezes comfortingly.


“Why are there rules?”


Jamie furrows her brow. “Huh?”


“Why, uh. Why is it too fast? Are there rules? I mean…” Dani trails a finger along Jamie’s shoulder. “I really, really want you take me to your bedroom and I think you want that too. Is there a reason we can’t?”


Jamie thinks she may have died. Her breathing is shallow, and she’s trembling. “Don’t want to mess it up I guess. Don’t want you to think this is all I’m after because, I really, really like you.”


Dani grins. “Yeah, the month of flirting kind of suggested that.” She shuffles closer to Jamie, cupping her cheek with one hand. “Listen, I really, really like you too. And I’m pretty sure that if we, two consenting adults, do what I think we both want to do, I’m not going to like you any less. Pretty much the opposite.”


Jamie lets out the breath she didn’t even know she was holding. “Are you sure?”


Dani nods. “Yeah. Never been surer actually.”


Under hear breath, Jamie whispers, “thank fuck.”


Jamie stands up, hold out her hand. Dani follows her to the bedroom, and Jamie stands in front of her. It’s a strange feeling this one she has now, where she doesn’t want any barriers. Dani is the first person to see her, really see her in a long time. Possibly ever. She’s definitely the first person that Jamie doesn’t want to hide from.


She pulls them back in, kissing her like they have all day, all year to keep doing so. She lets her fingers trace along skin, and then, because she doesn’t want anything between them, she takes off her own bra first. Makes herself vulnerable before asking Dani to do the same.


Dani, watching her, does not hesitate in the slightest and shucks her own.


Jamie Taylor has liked women for a very long time. She’s always had an appreciation for the female form, and has indulged her tastes when she could. Never before has a pair of breasts threatened to bring her to her knees.


She’s fairly sure she’s let out a slight squeak before coming forward to bring their bodies together.


It’s almost cliched from there. She lays Dani down, strips them both naked. She melds them, spends time exploring as much skin as she can. She learns her way around Dani, the noises she makes. She finds out how much she likes it when Jamie bites her just under her ear. She finds out that those perfect breasts are also delightfully sensitive and it’s an easy way to get Dani’s hips swinging.


She learns that the good girl school teacher has the ability to weaken her with a single curse, muttered on the heels of Jamie’s name while she dips her fingers into wet heat that leaves Jamie’s head spinning.


She learns that Dani likes one finger but likes two better. She learns that Dani is capable of two orgasms, one in quick succession, and from the look on Dani’s face, this is news to Dani too. She learns that Dani tastes like home and Jamie might have a new addiction.


She also learns that Dani is attentive, and determined and not scared of anything, making Jamie scream her orgasm into the night air while Dani’s head is dipping rhythmically between her thighs. Jamie has to pull her away before her body collapses, and they tangle themselves on the messed up sheets.


She learns that she wants Dani here in the morning. She wants to wake up tangled with her. She whispers the last one, as they lay, fingers moving gently, moonlight filtered through the curtains.


“Stay?”


Dani burrows in closer. “Mmm. I don’t have clothes though.”


“I have some you can borrow. We’re close enough in size.” The idea of Dani in her clothes does unexpected things to Jamie.


“Then I’ll stay.” She sounds drowsy, so warm and sleepy in Jamie’s arms. So Jamie kisses her head and lets herself drift off to sleep. Her last thought is that she’s never felt this peaceful before, ever. She likes it.


**************************


“Hey, hey, stop rocking about in there munchkin, you’ll hurt yourself.”


Jamie can’t help but give a wry smile to Dani talking to the damn cat. It’s true, Patrick won’t stay still in his carrier, and also won’t stop plaintively crying. He’s technically their cat, but he’s so devoted to Dani that if Jamie didn’t feel the same way, she’d probably be jealous.


“Maybe he’ll be better inside.”


“Should we have dropped him at Owen’s place instead?” Dani bites her lip with worry.


“No, I think he’s staying at Hannah’s this week. Said he wants help babysitting.”


Even Dani has to laugh at that. Patrick isn’t exactly a lot of work, except possibly keeping him off your lap. Jamie, usually a dog person, had been caught snuggling the damn cat more than once and no longer keeps up the pretense of merely tolerating him. She can’t really lie to Dani anyway, gets seen through every time.


“You have the tickets?”


“Yep.” Jamie pats her inside coat pocket. “Passports too. You know this. Stop worrying.”


Dani sighs. “Sorry. It’s just. Leaving my baby behind, you know, travel, I don’t travel well.”


Jamie opens the door to the cafe and ushers Dani in before leaning in to kiss her cheek. “It’s gonna be fine baby, just fine.”


“Well hello intrepid adventurers. What are you doing pussy footing around in here?”


“Dear god Owen, are they getting worse?” Jamie exclaims. “That was terrible mate.”


He grins. “Give me my nephew.” Dani hands over the cat-box and the bag with his food in it.


“Need me to call you a cab?”


“Nope, got one ordered for -” Jamie checks her watch. “- twenty minutes from now.”


“What time does the plane leave?”


“Five hours.”


Owen just looks at her, and since Dani is still cooing to Patrick in his box, she angles her head towards her and makes a face that says “yep, oh well.”


Better early than late and if it makes Dani feel more secure, it’s not much of a price to pay to be at the airport early. She knows Dani is anxious.


They take Patrick back to the office where his mewling stops slightly as the carrier is put on the desk. Dani hives off to go talk to Hannah behind the counter.


“You nervous?” Owen puts an understanding hand on her shoulder.


“Me? Naah, I’m good.”


“Meeting the family. It’s a big deal.”


It is a big deal. Jamie has never been taken home to meet the family before, would not have thought herself worthy of it. She’s nervous, but she can handle it. Hell, she survived prison, this should be a walk in the park. She hopes.


“Yep. But I’m a terribly charming person, so it’ll be fine.” She grins at Owen. “Besides, I made sure we have enough money for a hotel if it all turns to shit.”


Owen throws his arm around her shoulders. “It won’t go to shit. Just don’t drink the tea.”


Oh gods. The tea. She gives him a look of burgeoning horror. He laughs at her.


“Or the coffee,” she whispers.


“I mean it could just be Dani.”


“She’s gotten better. I’ve been giving lessons.”


“Drinkable?”


“Ehhhh, that’s a debatable term…” She leans back. Dani has a million talents and Jamie couldn’t love her more if she tried. Turns out, hot drinks, not one of them.


She lets her mind linger on the box that’s nestled in the centre of her backpack. She can feel it pulsing at her from here. Weekends and weekends of overtime for Henry Wingrave had paid for this trip, and Dani doesn’t know it also paid for the little box. Once Dani had picked up the nanny job for the lawyer, Jamie had been snatched up as the gardener for his London home and, occasionally, sprucing up the gardens at the strange Manor they owned in the country.


Jamie preferred it back in London in their little flat, but Dani did seem to love the countryside.


Dani comes back in, cheeks flushed but smiling. “Cab’s here.”


“Excellent.” Jamie proffers her hand. “Ready?”


Dani takes it. “Yeah. Yeah, very ready.”


Jamie no longer thinks that maybe it’ll be OK. She thinks it’s now a definitely. She follows her angel out.



Fin