Kate checks the burner phone while Jo’s in the shower and curses under her breath when she sees the message from Steve.
Call me as soon as you get this. Too much to say in a text.
She looks at the timestamp – 12.32pm, and realises she’s kept him hanging for over four hours. She feels a surge of shame for taking her eye off the ball, for spending the day splashing around like she’s on holiday at Center Parcs instead of in the crosshairs of a major investigation. It was worth it, though, to take Jo’s mind off everything, to see her let loose and laugh, to realise that the Jo she remembered was still in there somewhere - that she wasn’t just a figment of her imagination or a carefully cultivated persona designed to pull the wool over her eyes. Jo may be a mass of endless contradictions - strength and vulnerability, confidence and insecurity, sadness coupled with a wicked sense of humour - but Kate’s starting to think that’s what makes her so bloody captivating. Well, that and the fact that kissing Jo did more for her in the space of ten minutes than Mark’s feckless fumbling managed to achieve in eight years of marriage.
She can’t help but smile when she thinks about how quickly Jo drew level with her as they sprinted up the street, matching her stride for stride until they collapsed against the cottage’s front door, gasping for breath and flushed with exertion, and realised the race was too close to call. Kate briefly considered making a quip about whether a draw meant they should shower together, but then she decided maybe that was too much, too soon, even though Jo was looking at her like she knew exactly what she was thinking and wasn’t entirely opposed to the suggestion.
Instead, they’d both gestured upstairs and said in near-perfect unison, “you go,” until Kate finally relented and claimed the first shower. She’d lathered herself up and, before she even registered what she was doing, her fingers were retracing the path that Jo’s hand had followed earlier, brushing over her nipples, teasing them until they were taut and sensitive and the answering throb in the pit of her stomach became too insistent to ignore. Then her fingers dipped lower, between her thighs, aiming to relieve some of the tension she’d tried and failed to burn off during that run, hoping the noise of the shower would drown out her sporadic gasps. Jo’s kiss had left her whole body wound so tantalisingly tight she knew it wouldn’t take long to push herself over the edge and it definitely wouldn’t be the first time she’d fumbled her way towards ecstasy with a Jo Davidson-inspired highlights reel playing behind her closed eyes, but then she’d realised Jo didn’t have to be a guilty pleasure anymore, that her feelings didn’t have to stay confined to some confused corner of her imagination, and suddenly she was aching for the reality, not the fantasy. She’d switched the shower to its coldest setting and rinsed off her slick fingers because she already knew that Jo, unlike Mark, could bring her more gratification than she could ever give herself.
But she definitely shouldn’t be thinking about that when she’s on the cusp of calling Steve, so she takes a minute to clear her head and remind herself where her focus needs to lie.
The phone is an ancient Nokia 8210, a couple of decades old and every drug dealer’s must-have accessory because without GPS, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, it’s virtually impossible to track or hack, but she still feels anxious when she dials the only number saved to the contact list. Steve picks it up on the second ring.
“Where have you been, mate? I was about to send Brian round to check on you.”
“Sorry, Steve.” Kate suddenly feels horribly guilty, because Steve’s been working himself into the ground while she’s been sitting by a waterfall, sunning herself. “I checked in earlier this morning, but then we went out for a walk and we’ve only just got back. Brian knew where we were, though - I cleared it with him beforehand.”
“That’s a bloody long walk, mate,” Steve observes, and Kate’s grateful that he can’t see the colour that suddenly springs to her cheeks. “You’ll be telling me you’ve taken up knitting next.”
“Just trying to stop ourselves from going stir crazy,” she deflects, even though it makes her feel even worse. “There’s not much else to do around here.”
“As long as you’re safe, mate, that’s the main thing,” Steve reassures her. “How’re you finding it, being cooped up with David…I mean, Jo?”
Kate clears her throat. “We’re managing,” she says noncommittally, because she doesn’t think Steve’s ready to hear that they’ve been sharing a bed and a lot more besides. “Come on, mate, you’re the one that said we don’t have time for pleasantries. What’s going on?”
“Bobby Johnson cracked during questioning this morning,” Steve informs her, and she breathes a sigh of relief.
“Nice one, Steve,” she enthuses, glad that she’s finally going to be able to share some good news with Jo. “What did you manage to get out of him?”
“We thought we’d stand a better chance of getting him to talk if we identified the victim Jo mentioned during her interview, so Chloe went back to look at the MisPer database for April 1996,” Steve explains, and Kate finds herself nodding along, even though he can’t see her. “A guy called Lee Braithwaite was reported missing on 13th April by his girlfriend, who said he was mixed up with a bad crowd and she was worried for his safety. Lee had a couple of priors, nothing major, but there was evidence of connections with organised crime. The investigation never really got off the ground - we suspect because someone at the top wanted it to go away - and Lee was never found.”
“So he looks like our likely victim, then,” Kate muses, wondering what caused Tommy to turn on him.
“Yeah, and Jo gave us enough detail to paint a picture of what happened to him that night, so we were able to imply she’d seen a lot more than Bobby realised,” Steve explains. “We kept pushing him and he eventually confessed to being there when Tommy shot and killed Lee.”
“Did he say why?”
“Apparently, Lee was threatening to expose what was going on at Sands View,” Steve informs her, and it comes as no surprise that Tommy would choose to murder the one member of organised crime with a conscience. “Bobby’s claiming Tommy did all of the dirty work and he was coerced into helping with the clean-up operation. With Tommy out of the picture, we’re going to have a hard time proving otherwise,” Steve concludes regretfully.
“He wasn’t just an innocent bystander, Steve,” Kate points out, trying to keep her anger at bay, “Even if he didn’t pull the trigger himself, he watched it happen and covered it up. It’s still joint enterprise.”
“Which is why we’re charging him with murder, mate, as well as conspiracy to murder. We said it’d look better for him if he gave up the location of Lee’s body and we’ve got forensics over at the burial site now. They’ve found human remains.” Steve hesitates for a minute, and then he adds, “Jo was telling the truth, mate, about all of it.”
“I don’t know why you sound so surprised, Steve. Maybe if you’d sat here listening to her relive it all, you wouldn’t be,” Kate says evenly, and she has to remind herself that Steve doesn’t know Jo like she does, that he’s seen more of the bad than the good. She hopes, one day, they can change that. She closes her eyes for a moment, and then finally works up the courage to ask, “What about the assault?”
“He had plenty of choice words to say about Jo, but he wouldn’t admit to assaulting her, physically or… otherwise,” Steve says regretfully. “I’m sorry, mate.”
“What kind of ‘choice words’ are we talking about?” Kate can’t stop herself from asking, even though she knows it’s not really relevant and Steve’s probably wondering why she cares.
“He said she was “a pious little bitch who deserved everything she got,” but when we pushed him to elaborate, he wouldn’t. I know being related to Tommy Hunter can’t have been easy, but if she wasn’t, I’m not sure Jo would’ve made it out of there alive that night. I don’t think Johnson was just following orders when he ambushed that prison convoy, I think it was personal.”
Kate doesn’t realise how tightly she’s clenching her fists until she feels her nails digging painfully into her palms. She swallows, then, and forces herself to ask,
“Did you cut him a deal? To shed some light on who’s behind all of this?”
“We tried, mate, but he wouldn’t give us anything else. He’s going away for a long time, but we’re no closer to finding out who’s running the show,” Steve admits, and he sounds every bit as frustrated as she feels. “The others who were involved in ambushing Jo’s prison convoy are all lawyered up and they’re not giving us anything to go on, either.”
“Bloody hell, Steve,” she laments, even though a part of her is relieved Bobby Johnson won’t be benefitting from a reduced sentence or witness protection because if anyone deserves to suffer for their sins, it’s him.
“It looks like you might be stuck there for a while, mate,” Steve says, sympathetically.
Kate hears the bathroom door unlock and promptly wishes she’d closed her bedroom door behind her, because the sight of Jo emerging from the steam-filled room wearing nothing but a towel instantly diverts her attention away from the conversation. The towel is tucked securely under Jo’s arms, leaving the barest hint of cleavage visible, and stops mid-way up her toned thighs. Jo’s hair is still damp from the shower and Kate watches as a few errant droplets of water roll off her shoulders, over her clavicle and down her chest. She has to swallow the sudden urge to stride across the landing and chase them away with her mouth and, suddenly, staying here doesn’t feel like a hardship. Not at all.
Jo must feel the weight of her gaze because she pauses on the landing, looking surprised to see Kate with the phone glued to her ear.
“Who’re you talking to?” Jo mouths, and Kate holds a hand over the receiver.
“Steve,” she responds, and Jo nods her understanding, even though her expression is suddenly troubled. Kate finds herself wanting to kiss away the furrow that appears between her eyebrows and wills herself to get a grip.
“Kate? Are you still there?” Steve demands, and Kate’s eyes widen when she realises it must be at least ten seconds since she last spoke.
“Yeah. Sorry, mate, I got a bit distracted for a minute,” she apologises and, this time, she does turn away from Jo, who’s blushing endearingly. “Look, I know it’s not the progress you wanted, but you’re going to give Lee Braithwaite’s family some closure and it sounds like they’ve been waiting for it for a long time. That counts for something, right?”
“Yeah.” Steve doesn’t sound convinced. “I’m just sick of chasing ghosts and never getting any closer to finding the answers.”
“Well, if there’s anything I can do on this end, let me know, yeah?” she asks him, and he sighs.
“I will do, mate. I’d rather you were running point with me here, though.”
“You were the one who told me to leave in the first place!” she reminds him good-naturedly. “But I’m sure the gaffer would be up for a few drinks if you’re at a loose end,” she teases, and Steve laughs.
“I think I’ll wait until you get back, mate.”
They say their goodbyes and then Kate heads across the landing towards Jo’s bedroom. She’s about to knock on the door - the same way she used to tap on Jo’s office door, eager to share the latest developments in the Gail Vella case - and she’s hit by a sudden wave of sadness when she realises they’re never going to have the opportunity to work together again, that the Jo standing behind this door is made up of broken fragments of the woman she used to know and the woman she’s only just starting to discover. The career Jo invested over two decades of her life in - the career that shaped her entire identity, even though she never had the luxury of choosing it - was snatched away from her overnight and Kate wonders, then, what path Jo would have taken if Tommy Hunter hadn’t forced her to join the police.
“Jo, are you decent?” she calls softly, and her lips quirk upwards when Jo retorts,
“It depends on your definition of decent.”
Kate tentatively opens the door and moves to sit on the edge of the bed, trying not to laugh when she sees Jo staring at herself despairingly in the full-length mirror, wearing a pair of oversized jeans that are pooling around her ankles and sliding off her hips.
“So much for slipping into something nicer for dinner. If they didn’t come with a belt, you’d be staring at my arse crack all night,” Jo complains, and Kate catches her eye in the mirror, shooting her a playful grin.
“Well, better yours than Karl’s from IT.”
“Kate!” Jo exclaims indignantly, but she’s laughing, clearly remembering the time they’d turned to regard each other in silent disgust while Karl crawled under Jo’s desk to examine the back of her computer tower, gracing them with the kind of view that makes you want to scrub your eyeballs with bleach.
“What did Steve want?” Jo asks quietly, and she’s serious now, clearly bracing herself for more bad news.
Kate pats the space beside her on the bed. “Why don’t you come and sit down for a minute?”
“Nothing good, then,” Jo says wryly, but Kate can see how anxious she is when she obligingly sinks down next to her, close enough for their knees to brush and for the scent of shampoo and shower gel to wash over her.
“You just helped AC-12 to nail Bobby Johnson on a murder charge, Jo,” she informs her triumphantly, but the relief she was expecting to see from Jo doesn’t materialise. Jo’s jaw clenches at the mere mention of Bobby’s name and Kate can see her anger simmering just below the surface.
“I know it probably feels like it’s too little, too late,” she hastens to add, because she knows justice served 25 years later probably doesn’t feel much like justice at all, “But he’s looking at a life sentence.”
“But how?” Jo asks, clearly confused. “There was no evidence, only my word against his, and I didn’t see enough - I didn’t know enough - ”
Kate considers being selective about the details, but she knows Jo won’t appreciate her shielding her from the specifics of the investigation, so she reiterates everything Steve told her, including Tommy’s motive for killing Lee.
Jo doesn’t say anything, but Kate can see exactly what she’s thinking. It’s written all over the pained, disgusted expression on her face. I should have intervened, I should have helped him - maybe if I did, the police would have found out what was happening and I could have spared those boys years of suffering. Then Jo ducks her head and Kate can’t see her face at all.
“Jo,” she says softly, and she moves to kneel in front of her, laying her hands on Jo’s knees, which are juddering again, just like they did during her interview with Brian. “I want you to take yourself out of the equation and think about how you would treat any other sixteen-year-old girl in your situation - a girl who’d lost her mother to suicide, who’d been forced to live with an evil bastard who put the fear of God into hardened criminals, let alone vulnerable teenaged girls.”
Jo looks at her sharply then, but Kate presses ahead regardless.
“Would you tell that girl she was wrong for trying to run away after hearing those gunshots? That she should have risked her own life to help a victim who was probably already dead; confronted a cold-blooded killer who was capable of anything?”
Jo doesn’t answer, so Kate reaches out to tilt her chin upwards, compelling her to maintain eye contact.
“You’d tell her she did the right thing, that it was the smartest decision she could have made given the circumstances, right?” she asks, and when Jo continues to hesitate, Kate’s tone becomes forceful, more insistent, “Right?” she demands again, and this time Jo nods.
“Good,” Kate says compassionately, “So how about you cut yourself some slack? Because anyone else would have done the same, Jo. I know I would have.” She gets to her feet then, brushing her lips against Jo’s forehead before she sinks back down onto the bed. “You’re not a bad person. You were just trying to survive.”
Jo looks at her, eyes shining like she desperately wants to believe it, lips downturned like she can’t quite bring herself to yet.
“Did Bobby say anything else about that night?” she asks quietly, “About what… about what he did to me?”
Kate shakes her head regretfully. “No. I’m sorry.”
But for some inexplicable reason, Jo doesn’t look angry, she looks relieved.
“I’m going to dry my hair if you want to make a start on dinner?” she asks, putting an abrupt end to the conversation, and Kate obligingly gets to her feet. She knows Jo well enough by now to realise when she’s asking for space and she’s quickly learnt to give it to her, even when it means fighting the compulsion to reach out. She also knows she stands a better chance of making something halfway edible if Jo’s not diverting her attention away from the food.
She heads for the door, but stops when she hears Jo quietly call her name. She turns around and, for the first time since that night at The Hill, the night when Kate immediately knew something was wrong but couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was, it’s Jo who instigates the hug, lacing one arm around her shoulders and the other one around her waist, burying her face in the crook of her neck. Kate makes sure she doesn’t miss the opportunity this time around and cradles her close, but when Jo whispers “thank you” into her ear, like someone caring about her still feels like a foreign concept, Kate’s glad she isn’t just limited to hugging her anymore.
She pulls back a little, silently asking for permission, and when Jo’s eyes settle on her lips, she leans closer, her hand moving from Jo’s shoulder to the nape of her neck. Their lips brush together fleetingly at first - once, twice, three times - but when she tries to sustain the contact, Jo’s hand moves from her waist to her chest, resting over her heart.
“Go and make dinner,” she commands, in the no-nonsense tone that does a lot more for Kate than she’d ever willingly admit, and she grins.
For a moment, she thinks she’s misjudged things, that she’s reminded Jo of everything that’s been taken away from her, but then she sees the glint in Jo’s eyes and the quirk of her lips and she thinks maybe she’s not the only one that enjoyed Jo being in a position of authority.
By some miracle, Kate manages to catch the spaghetti before it turns rubbery and avoid burning the bacon and mushrooms and, when she spoons the carbonara sauce onto their plates, it doesn’t slop off the ladle in a congealed mess. When Jo deftly twirls some spaghetti around her fork, brings it to her mouth and hums her approval, Kate can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.
“Don’t look so worried. I’d definitely eat here again,” Jo announces, and Kate nearly chokes on her mouthful of food, only to find Jo smiling at her from across the table.
“Steve seems like a nice guy,” she observes, conversationally. “You two obviously get along well.”
“Yeah, he’s a good mate,” Kate readily agrees. She’s about to say that she’d trust him with her life, but then thinks better of it.
“Were you ever more than that?” Jo asks, in a tone that’s less jealous girlfriend and more genuinely curious, and Kate screws up her face in horror and nearly drops her fork in the middle of her dinner plate.
“God, no. No,” she emphasises, leaving no room for doubt. “He’s like the brother I never had. And as far as Steve’s concerned, I’m just one of the blokes. I mean, definite best man material - but still just a bloke.”
Jo laughs at that, but then her expression becomes more serious.
“Would it bother him… I mean, if he knew about us?”
“I doubt it. To be honest, I think he already suspects there’s something going on,” Kate admits, and then she gestures around the kitchen with an embarrassed smile, “I think this was his way of telling us to get a room.”
Jo looks amused, but doubtful. “Really?”
“Yeah, I mean, I haven’t said anything to him, not really, but I think he might have caught a clue when I practically steamrollered him outside that interrogation room when he was refusing to let me see you. I don’t usually…” she trails off, trying to find the right words, “Act like that.”
Jo looks like she’s mulling something over, and then she looks at her with a solemn expression. “No, you don’t. You always play everything by the book, Kate, and the last thing I want to do is damage your career. I know I’m not one to harp on about professional conduct after what happened with Farida, but it would’ve been bad enough if I was still your boss, but now I’m a witness and this could ruin everything you’ve worked for.”
Jo retrieves another forkful of food, and it’s like she’s finally realising the magnitude and implications of what they’re doing, as though Kate hasn’t already spent countless sleepless nights trying to decide whether to give in to desire or duty. There was never really any contest, though, and now she finally knows that Jo feels the same way, she can’t go back. She won’t.
“Steve’s shagged more than his fair share of witnesses, Jo, and it never did his career any harm,” she points out bluntly, but then she sees the look on Jo’s face and evaluates how crass that probably sounded, “I just meant in terms of the double standards, not… I mean, this wouldn’t just be a casual thing for me,” she hastens to clarify.
Jo rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling again. “Kate, I fancied you from the moment you waltzed into the bullpen, introduced yourself to everyone as ex-anticorruption and told them to get their pot-shots out of the way because you had work to do. I just always thought you were straight.”
“So did I,” Kate admits sheepishly, even though she feels perversely pleased by Jo’s admission, “Until I met you. And now I… I don’t know.” She pauses for a moment, wondering how much to say, but then she finds herself blurting out, “I just thought it was normal, you know, for sex with blokes to feel…”
“What?” Jo asks curiously.
“I don’t know. Boring. Anticlimactic. I mean it’s well known, isn’t it? Men don’t have a clue how to press the right buttons, so women have to resort to saying they’re knackered, faking headaches and… other stuff.”
“What are you saying?” Jo asks gently, “That Mark never did it for you?”
Kate swallows her embarrassment with a forkful of food.
“He tried but, honestly, no. I know when you’ve been married a while the spark is supposed to fade a bit, but I’m not sure we ever had it in the first place. I was so young when I had Josh. I just wanted to give him stability, you know? I didn’t want him to be that kid with a single Mum who flits back and forth between his broken family every weekend, who spends his holidays feeling like shit because his parents can’t stand to be in the same room as each other, but it got to the point where I just couldn’t go through the motions anymore.”
She doesn’t know why she’s telling Jo this, the things she’s never told anyone else before, not even Steve, but now she’s started, she can’t seem to stop and Jo’s still looking at her warmly, without any judgement.
“I would wake up every morning next to Mark and think, there’s got to be more to life than this. I thought it would at least start to feel comfortable and familiar, but the longer we spent together, the more we started to resent each other. And Mark never understood why the job meant so much to me, but sometimes I think I let the job become the be-all and end-all because I wanted an excuse to get away from him.” She ducks her head, feeling the familiar rush of guilt; of shame. “Does that sound terrible?”
“After the things I’ve done? You’re asking the wrong person,” Jo informs her wryly, but then she gets to her feet, squeezing Kate’s shoulder en route to the fridge. “It doesn’t sound terrible at all,” she assures her, and Kate can tell she means it.
Jo pours them both a glass of wine. She presents one to Kate and then grabs her free hand, leading them through to the living room and leaving their empty plates on the table.
“I know I’m not really in a position to be giving you this advice, but you can’t spend your whole life denying your own needs just to make other people happy, Kate,” she concludes, and when they sink down onto the sofa together, Jo tucks her legs underneath her, knees facing towards Kate.
“It kind of comes with the territory when you’re a Mum, though, doesn’t it?” Kate asks resignedly, “Settling for second best?”
“Well, it shouldn’t,” Jo says vehemently. “Fuck spending your life cooking and cleaning and always being the one to take time off work when the kids are sick.”
“Mark did more than his fair share, to be honest,” Kate admits. “I mean, you’ve just witnessed the extent of my cooking repertoire. I know Josh hates me for it, but I was never good at the whole wife and mother thing.”
“Then here’s to leading the feminist revolution,” Jo declares, and she clinks their wine glasses together with a playful smile. Then her expression softens and she brushes her fingers over Kate’s hand with a tenderness Kate doesn’t really feel like she deserves right now. “I promise you, though, Kate - Josh doesn’t hate you.”
And even though Jo has never met Josh, never even laid eyes on him, somehow the words mean a lot to her.
They lapse into silence for a moment, before Kate’s sudden onset of verbal diarrhoea takes hold again.
“I always thought there was something wrong with me, for not wanting the things that other women want. I wouldn’t be without Josh now, and I’d never, ever, tell him this, but he was an accident,” she confesses quietly, and Jo nods her understanding. “Mark got home late from the pub one night wanting a drunken fumble and he was too shitfaced to put the bloody condom on properly. I wasn’t on the pill, it always wreaked havoc with my hormones, so there I was at 22, just starting out in the force, and the next thing I know I’m pregnant and standing at the altar in a pouffy white wedding dress that I hated with a passion, wondering how the hell I got there. I wasn’t one of those girls that fantasised about her wedding day and raising a family, Jo, I just wanted season tickets for Nottingham Forest.”
Jo looks empathetic, but she’s also pursing her lips like she’s trying desperately hard not to laugh, and Kate suddenly realises why. “I sound like a raging lesbian, don’t I?” she asks in despair, and Jo finally bursts into fits of giggles and it’s so heart-warming to hear her laugh, Kate doesn’t even care that it’s at her expense.
“Kate, it doesn’t matter,” Jo assures her, “You could tell me you were half-martian and I’d still fancy the pants off you.”
“Honestly, Jo, I don’t know whether I’m gay, or bi, or whether it’s just a you thing, but that kiss knocked my bloody socks off and I wanted it to happen. I’ve wanted it for months,” she confesses, cheeks flushing, “And I’m not going to sit here agonising over it because it’s the first time in a long time that something just feels right, you know?” Then she sees the stunned expression on Jo’s face and her stomach suddenly plummets to the floor. “I mean for me, I don’t - ”
“Kate, stop,” Jo says gently, and she shuffles closer, snuggling into her shoulder. “It’s just nice to hear you describe it that way when all I heard growing up was how wrong it was, that’s all.”
It feels like every time Jo shares a scrap from her past, Kate’s heart breaks a little bit more, but now she doesn’t know what to say, whether to encourage her to elaborate or to consign this moment to the pile of things left unsaid, content in the knowledge that it’s slowly getting smaller. Eventually, she just opts for one word. “Tommy?”
“Among others,” Jo confirms bitterly.
Kate waits for a moment, wondering whether she should change the subject, but then Jo says,
“He bought me a TV for Christmas, to put in my bedroom. He said it would be good company for me when he was out “running errands” late at night. I was flicking through the channels and ‘The Hunger’ was on. You know, that old vampire film with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon?”
“And David Bowie?” Kate clarifies, and Jo nods. “I vaguely remember it, yeah.”
“Well, it took sixteen-year-old me all of five seconds to decide that Catherine Deneuve was the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on…present company excluded, of course,” Jo hastens to add, but Kate doesn’t care if she’s not top of the list, she’s just relieved that Jo’s still smiling.
“And there’s this scene, where Susan Sarandon spills something down her top and she’s dabbing at her chest with a wet cloth, and Catherine Deneuve is just watching her with this look in her eyes. And I could feel the energy crackling between them and, at first, it gave me this jittery feeling, you know, like I was picking up on something that I shouldn’t be picking up on, that maybe there was something wrong with my brain because I was seeing - feeling - something that wasn’t meant to be there.”
Kate can empathise with that, because it’s exactly how she felt when she somehow ended up holding hands with Jo in the middle of the station corridor; when she hugged her goodbye after their night at Frederico’s and realised her whole body was thrumming.
“And then the next thing I know, Susan Sarandon’s stripping off and then one thing leads to another and I’d never seen two women together in that way before, never even entertained it as a possibility, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away, even though it still felt like I was watching something I shouldn’t be seeing.” Jo’s cheeks are flushed, and she glances at Kate shyly. “I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me, but I knew it felt good. My heart was going like the clappers, my stomach started doing flip-flops. I’m pretty sure I was hypnotised by their boobs.”
Kate can’t help but laugh at that, even though, truth be told, she’s getting a little hot under the collar listening to Jo relive her sexual awakening.
“They clearly called it ‘The Hunger’ for a reason,” she deadpans, and Jo nearly spits out her sip of wine, but then her expression clouds over.
“I was so engrossed; I didn’t even hear Tommy come home until he was barging through my bedroom door. I tried to change the channel but my hands were sweating so much the remote slipped out of my hand.”
Kate mentally steels herself for what she’s about to hear, silently praying that it’s not going to be as bad as she thinks, and she instinctively moves closer, even though she knows she can’t protect Jo from her past.
“He must have seen something on my face because he just said, “So this is the filth you’re watching when I’m not around?” And then he picked up the TV and threw it across my room, made me crawl around on my hands and knees picking up the shards of the screen while he called me every homophobic slur under the sun.” Jo sounds disgusted; angry, but at least she’s not upset. “He told me I wouldn’t be getting any more gifts from him, that I didn’t deserve them. And I sat on the floor thinking, this man has a thing for little kids and he thinks I’m the pervert.”
“Oh, Jo…” Kate feels like she wants to throw up her dinner, but Jo’s composure doesn’t falter, even as she leans into Kate’s embrace.
“It could have been worse. He could have sent me to conversion therapy,” she jokes half-heartedly, wrapping her arm around Kate’s waist. “And when I got to Melton, half of the female recruits were gay and some of them weren’t very discreet about it, so I soon realised it wasn’t the end of the world.” She shoots Kate a smile. “Tommy would turn in his grave if he knew he actually did me a favour by sending me to the one place in the West Midlands where I could get laid.”
They both laugh then, and Kate gives her a playful nudge.
“And did you?” she teases lightly.
“Of course I bloody did!” Jo exclaims indignantly, taking a swig of her wine, “I just always had to keep it a secret; do everything in my power to stop him from finding out.”
“I spent five months trying to fend off the advances of a woman called Al,” Kate confesses, and she laughs as she remembers the other woman’s relentless charm offensive, “She was harmless enough, but she followed me around everywhere, kept trying to get me to go out for a drink with her. She looked like she’d stepped straight off the set of Prisoner Cell Block H, swore like a sailor, and always had a fag in her mouth.”
“Sounds like you missed out on a golden opportunity there,” Jo teases, eyes crinkling at the corners.
“Well, if she’d looked like you, I might have reconsidered,” Kate confesses, and then she suddenly imagines what their lives could have been like, if they’d met at Police College, before Mark; before Jo got in over her head.
“Might?” Jo asks, feigning outrage, and Kate grins.
Jo hesitates for a moment, and then she shifts in Kate’s arms, tilting her head upwards until their eyes lock.
“I wanted to tell you that night, when you asked me about Farida, but I knew if I admitted to being in a relationship with her, it would’ve been tantamount to admitting to everything else too. I’m so used to keeping that part of myself hidden away, and it’s not because I’m ashamed – ” Her face contorts into a pained grimace, “At least, not anymore - but it’s the only part of me the OCG couldn’t control, the only part they couldn’t beat out of me. Sometimes it feels like the only part of the real me that’s left.”
Kate absorbs that for a minute, and then she reaches for Jo’s hand.
“I knew anyway,” she informs her softly, and Jo regards her with surprise. “Come on, Jo, you told me “that’s not me” and then you buggered off to the loo for so long I thought you weren’t coming back.”
“I may have been having a minor meltdown,” Jo admits, with a self-deprecating laugh. “I thought I’d blown any chance I had with you but I knew I had to, to keep you safe, to stop them from using you as leverage.” She swallows, then, and when she looks at Kate, her eyes are troubled, but sincere. “You have no idea how hard it was, to lie to you, to keep you at a distance, when all I wanted to do was...”
“I know.” It isn’t hard for Kate to fill in the blanks, because she’s spent the last six months doing it herself.
They look at each other then, and it feels like they’re finally on the same page, that all those months of lies and longing have somehow brought them here, to a place where they don’t have to pretend anymore. And now the moment finally seems right and Kate’s fingers are trembling slightly when she reaches out to smooth Jo’s hair away from her face and caress her cheek, and Jo turns her head slightly, kissing the palm of her hand. When their lips eventually meet, it doesn’t take long for their languid exploration to give way to heated, open-mouthed abandon, and there’s something almost desperate about Jo’s kiss this time, like she wants to drown out the bad memories with good ones, like Kate is the key to forgetting the things she doesn’t want to remember.
Jo reclaims her lips every time they momentarily retreat, loath to lose the connection, until Kate’s gasping into her mouth and her senses are completely overwhelmed by Jo’s tantalising touch; Jo’s intoxicating taste. She was never fond of the sensation of Mark’s tongue ploughing into her mouth with all the finesse of a bulldozer - never really knew what she was supposed to do while he was aimlessly swirling it around - but Jo’s engaging her in an effortless game of give and take, discovering erogenous zones she didn’t even know she had and, even though it’s intense, there’s a softness, a tenderness there that makes something inside of her ache. And Kate realises their kiss by the waterfall - the kiss that made her question everything she thought she knew about herself - wasn’t just some kind of fluke fuelled by sunshine, a picture-perfect setting and the giddiness they’d felt after their impromptu water fight. She knows because when Jo sucks lightly on her tongue, with the practised ease of someone who clearly knows exactly what she’s doing, it’s like someone’s lit a match and ignited every nerve ending in her body.
She sighs against Jo’s mouth and finally allows herself to think, OK, maybe I am a lesbian.
She lets Jo’s hands roam freely this time, over her thighs, over her hips, under her T-shirt, until she finds herself wedged against the cushions with Jo straddling her lap and she can’t stop herself from surging forwards, from grasping Jo’s hips until they’re pressed flush against each other. Then she can feel Jo’s damp heat through her sweatpants, Jo’s taut nipples bumping against her own, and she can’t stifle a moan anymore.
And then she realises that Jo’s taken control and she’s close to losing it, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this, she was supposed to be the one making Jo feel good, so her hands move from Jo’s thighs to her ass, and her lips start a downward trajectory, brushing over Jo’s neck and her collarbone until she finally works up the nerve to tongue Jo’s nipple through the fabric of her T-shirt, suddenly discovering the merits of their thin cotton bras. There’s a brief moment of panic when she wonders if she should have asked for permission first, but Jo throws her head back, bites her bottom lip and makes a guttural noise that’s so obscene, Kate feels an answering rush of arousal between her own thighs. She carries on doing what she’s doing, swirling and flicking her tongue until Jo’s hands are fisting in her hair, until Jo’s only straddling one of her thighs and grinding against it.
“Jesus Christ, Jo,” Kate hisses, because they’re still fully clothed and she’s already aching for release. Jo finally pulls back, eyes molten with heat, and Kate drinks in the sight of her swollen lips, flushed cheeks and the rapid rise and fall of her chest. She gets a glimpse of what Jo looks like when the walls come down, when she’s lost in the moment, and suddenly all she wants to do is see Jo come undone, to see all of the pain buried deep in the recesses of her eyes give way to nothing but pleasure.
“Bedroom,” Jo demands and, much to Kate’s delight, the bossiness is back again. Kate actually groans at the loss of contact when Jo clambers off her lap, but when Jo grabs her hand, pulls her to her feet and practically frogmarches her towards the stairs, she doesn’t need telling twice.
The dishes can wait all week if they have to.