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Authors: Alison Carpenter

Cold (23 page)

BOOK: Cold
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Jo was slicing the turkey, placing slices on each of their plates. "He is," she agreed. "This is a gift to us both from Mother."

Rocky merely nodded, still sniffling slightly and obviously unable to take everything in.

Jo paused in her serving to remove the damp towel from the blonde's shoulders. "Don't want your shoulder seizing up."

"Thanks," said Rocky, her voice a husky whisper. "How long will you stay?" she asked Edna, who was digging in to her Christmas dinner with great gusto.

"Jo has asked me to stay a while, and I have agreed," she managed between mouthfuls.

Rocky looked up at her lover, who was just sitting after filling her plate. "When did you do all this?"

"You sleep a lot."

"Not that much."

Jo shrugged. "A few mornings ago, I slipped out of bed, went down to Whitechapel, and managed to find Edna." She looked across at the old woman. "She didn't take much convincing."

"I can't believe you did all that when I was asleep." Rocky was shaking her head, pouring gravy in huge quantities across every part of her meal.

Jo shrugged. "Are you happy?" she asked, popping a sprout in her mouth and grimacing at the taste.

Rocky looked from her friend to her lover. "Stupid question," she said. "I'm spending Christmas with the two people I love the most. How could I not be happy?"

Edna looked across at the blonde. She never thought she'd hear Rocky speak of love. But she could see the evidence of it on the girl's face, and she decided it suited her.

Jo poured wine into each of the three glasses. "Let's make a toast," she said.

Rocky stood quickly, picking up her glass. "I want to," she said quietly.

"To Jo," she said, raising her glass. "The woman who saved me. The woman I love. I owe you my life, and I will repay you every moment of every day."

"To Jo," Edna raised her glass, clinking hers against Rocky's and waiting for a speechless Jo to join in.

"Every moment of every day," Rocky repeated, and sat again, reaching across the table for her lover's hand.

Part 18

"Please."

The voice was little more than a whimper, and Jo looked to her left at the sleeping blonde slumped in the passenger seat of her car.

"Sshhh." She reached across and took Rocky's hand, which was resting on the large road atlas of Great Britain held precariously on her lap. "It's okay. You're safe here," she whispered.

She held Rocky's hand as the young woman calmed and then, realising she had slipped back into a more peaceful sleep, tried to pull her hand away.

The blonde was having none of it, however, and Jo decided that she could manage for a while one-handed.

They had decided to drive to Cornwall the easy way. Straight along the M4 to Bristol, then down to Cornwall on the M5. It was monotonous and not terribly scenic, but Jo didn't want to make the journey any longer by getting lost. Rocky had offered to navigate, and pulled the map out soon after leaving London. She was asleep within an hour however, and, though Jo missed her chatter, she was happy to let her sleep.

Jo had managed to talk Edna into looking after her house while they were away. They'd had a wonderful two days over Christmas, but the only way the old woman would stay longer was if she thought she was doing Jo a favour by watching the house. In truth, the house had an adequate alarm system, but they both so much wanted Edna to have some time without having to worry about where she would sleep or where the next meal was coming from.

Jo glanced down at her sleeping companion. She frowned at the obvious exhaustion Rocky was feeling, due partly to the newfound aspect of their relationship, and partly to the dreams that woke her frequently during the night.

Jo sighed deeply, holding on to the limp hand a little tighter. She'd promised the blonde that she would help her through her nightmares, but was she herself contributing to them? The dreams had intensified since their relationship became physical, and Jo wondered if the intimacy had awakened memories that Rocky had taken years to bury. She also worried that the blonde would decide staying with her wasn't worth the pain of the once buried feelings.

She glanced up at one of the huge signs. 'The West' was all it said.

And what would Cornwall hold for them both?

Rocky had been quiet as they packed some belongings into the boot of the Merc. Edna looked on, casting worried glances at Rocky as she belted herself into the passenger seat. She leaned in as the girl lowered the window.

"You have plenty of food in the fridge," said Rocky, feeling the car dip as Jo got behind the steering wheel.

"Don't worry about me," the old woman said quietly.

Rocky reached for the thin hand resting on the lowered window. "I'm a little scared."

"I know you are. But you have some powerful help only an arm's length away. Remember that."

The blonde head nodded. "I know."

Edna leaned into the car, giving Rocky a peck on the cheek, then she took a couple of steps back. "Now go on, you two. Call me to let me know you got there safely."

Jo leaned across Rocky, smiling up at Edna. "We will. You go back in the warm."

The old woman rolled her eyes, and turned back into the house, shutting the door against the cold wind.

Suddenly, Jo felt as if someone had walked over her grave. She looked to her left at the sleeping woman, and then to her right at a car overtaking hers. It was a black Shogun; in the passenger seat a young blonde woman was talking animatedly to the driver, also a woman. The taller driver was laughing at whatever it was the blonde was saying.

She travelled behind the four-wheel drive vehicle for a short while, watching the two interact. Then the near side indicators flashed, and the car peeled away along the exit ramp. She glanced at the sign; it was the exit for Bath.

Jo carried on along the main motorway. She glanced to her left at the Shogun, which was slowing, just as the driver looked at her. The dark-haired driver nodded once at her, and then the car was out of sight.

Suddenly Rocky jumped beside her, and the atlas fell from her lap. "Ugghhh," was all she managed as she sat up and looked groggily around her.

"Hi, welcome back." Jo chuckled at the confused look on the blonde's face.

"Where are we?" she asked, reaching down to retrieve the map from the floor, but not relinquishing Jo's hand. She looked out of the window, trying to spot a signpost.

"Just gone past the exit for Bath. I think we get off at 20."

"Okay." Rocky's voice was very small and she looked down at the map, her finger plotting a route for them once they got off the motorway. "We could go all along the north coast road."

"That sounds nice."

Rocky nodded, her finger finding the village of Tintagel. "It is, it's beautiful. Of course, this time of year you won't be able to see much, not like on a clear summer day."

"You miss it don't you?" asked Jo.

Rocky nodded, not looking up from the map.

"Hey," said Jo, taking her hand again. "Everything's going to be fine."

Rocky nodded again, and turned slightly in her seat so that she could face Jo.

Jo glanced at her, noticing her eyes drooping closed again. "Tired?"

"A little." Rocky dropped the map on the floor, and used both hands to grasp Jo's.

"Go back to sleep for a while then. I'll wake you if I need directions." When she heard no answer she looked down to find the blonde already asleep, still holding on to her hand with both of hers.

 

So it was some time later, that the monotonous motorway changed to roads with hedgerows either side. And it was this view that Rocky woke to. She looked around, and then up to Jo, who was chuckling at her.

"I don't know how you slept so long scrunched up like that."

Rocky twisted around so she was sitting straight in the seat, rolling her stiff shoulders. "Painfully," was all she said, and spotted a sign for Minehead.

"I got off the motorway at Bridgwater."

Rocky was scrubbing her face and scratching her head frantically.

"Let's stop for a while, stretch our legs," said Jo, and spied a layby up ahead with a refreshments trailer in it.

Rocky just about leapt out of the car as it ground to a halt, walking briskly towards the trailer. She was reading the small menu on the blackboard next to the serving hatch. She felt a warm presence at her back, and leaned back into Jo's taller frame.

"You hungry?" the low voice enquired, Jo's warm breath hot in the blonde's ear. Two hands came to rest on Rocky's hips, and the blonde could feel the heat from them even through the denim of her jeans.

Rocky couldn't hide the shiver that ran through her body, and cast helpless eyes at the large woman who had appeared at the hatch to take their order.

"A hot dog and a cup of tea, please," Rocky squeaked. She heard a chuckle behind her and felt Jo's body shift, causing her to stumble back a couple of steps before she felt strong hands on her shoulders holding her in place.

"Me too," she heard Jo say.

"Onion?" asked the woman, as she cut through two rolls in preparation.

Jo leaned forward again, the blonde in front of her apparently struck dumb. "Onion?" she breathed into Rocky's ear.

The blonde head shook, and Jo looked up at the woman. "One with, one without, please."

"Tea for you?" the woman asked, wondering exactly what was going on in front of her.

"Please," Jo said. "We'll just be over there." She nodded at a break in the hedgerow, which gave a view across the fields. She guided Rocky across, her hands still on the smaller woman's shoulders.

Rocky allowed herself to be guided to the gap in the high hedge, oblivious to the fine drizzle that was falling. "God, Jo," she whispered as they went behind the trailer.

"Mmm?" Jo snaked her arms around Rocky's waist pulling her closer.

"You make me feel...."

"What?" she rested her chin on the blonde's shoulder.

Words failed her. "So much, I feel so much."

"Is that good?"

"Oh yeah." She covered the hands circling her waist with her own and leaned back, enjoying the moment.

"Hot dogs!!" The woman bellowed, startling both of them, and they disentangled themselves from each other and made their way back to collect their food.

So it was another two hours until they arrived at the windswept and very damp village of Tintagel, known most famously for the ruined castle built on an outcrop of the dramatic North Cornish coastland. Over the years erosion had eaten away at the rock and a bridge had to be built to enable visitors to visit the ruins. It was reached by a precarious path down the cliff face, which was difficult under normal circumstances and would be impossible in the weather conditions that Rocky and Jo encountered.

But it was the legend of King Arthur that drew sightseers to brave the windswept path. Geoffrey of Monmouth first wrote of Tintagel as the birthplace of King Arthur, and from there the legend grew, the small village prospering from the steady stream of visitors that wanted a brief taste of mythical history.

And it was here that Rocky grew up.

The snow they had left behind in the east had turned to rain in the west, and the wind blew in off the coast making it feel almost as cold as London.

Jo pulled their cases out of the boot of the Merc, looking up at the pleasant little hotel she had booked them into. Rocky had walked away to look at the view from the cliff edge, which ran parallel to the hotel's drive.

An elderly man came out of the hotel, pulling an overcoat on as he came. "Miss Sutherland?" he asked.

Jo hadn't used her full title when booking.

"Good..." she looked at her watch, "... afternoon," she said, putting the bags on the ground and slamming the boot closed. She reached out a hand, which the man took, shaking it vigorously.

"Good for ducks maybe." He bent and picked up the bags. "I'll take these in, and we'll be sure to put the kettle on. I expect you could both do with a hot drink."

Jo smiled at the man. "Thanks, we'll be in in a minute."

Jo walked up behind Rocky, who was shivering in the cold wind, which held rain and probably spray from the sea far below.

This time she didn't touch Rocky, just let her have this moment of contemplation.

"I always loved the sea when it was like this." She looked down at the rocks below, watching as they disappeared beneath the waves before the sea receded to gather itself again and repeat the process.

Jo stood alongside the blonde, and Rocky took her hand. "You can just see the tip of the outcrop that the castle ruins stand on from here." She pointed along the coast to her left, pulling Jo around slightly so that she could follow her directions.

"I see it," said Jo, squeezing the small hand in her own. "Come on, let's go inside."

Rocky nodded, and allowed herself to be pulled along into the hotel.

The elderly man who had met Jo was taking their luggage up the small flight of stairs. It was a small hotel, of about 12 rooms, and they appeared to be the only guests.

The hotel register was pushed towards Jo as she approached the reception desk. "Good afternoon, Miss Sutherland. Was your trip uneventful?" The woman was rather splendid, with a mass of pearls about her neck.

"Yes it was, thank you. With the Christmas holiday being over the weekend, I think a lot of people are still on holiday." She signed the register and handed a credit card to the woman, who processed it and took a key down from some small shelves behind the desk. "I've put you in number three, which is a double room." She looked across at Rocky who was leafing through the tourist leaflets. "We have twin rooms if you'd prefer."

Jo produced her most engaging smile. "I'm sure the double will be fine. We'll be staying two nights at least. Would there be a problem if we wanted to stay longer?"

"Not at all. As you can see, we are not overbooked." The woman looked at the entry in the register, and handed Jo the key. "My husband has taken your cases up." She gestured towards the stairs. "Top of the stairs, first door on the left."

Jo and Rocky ascended the stairs, but turned when the woman called out to them. "Will you be requiring lunch?"

BOOK: Cold
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