Abi looked at him, her eyes wide.
“Really? You’ll stay?”
Nick smiled as he gave an appreciative nod towards the obvious comfort of Abi’s home.
“Yeah, why not? I’ve roughed it before.”
Abi feigned a scowl.
“Yes, well I’m sorry it’s not the splendour you’re accustomed to. Still, play your cards right and I might even find you some clean bedding.”
“Don’t start spoiling me, Ab, I could get used to it. Right, well, that’s the accommodation sorted – what about the catering?”
Making a face at him, Abi rose.
“I’d better go and see what I’ve got in. Is there anything you particularly don’t like?”
Nick was unambivalent.
“Nah, just can’t stand the stuff. Just the smell of it makes me want to puke.”
“Well, that’s the Lobster Thermidor off the menu.”
She stopped short of the door to her kitchen, turned and went back to sit beside Nick again.
“I was just thinking…”
“Well, you were saying earlier that you were ‘a bit rusty’… I just thought, before I go hunting around out there, we might have time for a little more practice… just for your benefit, of course.”
“Of course.” He glanced at his watch. “Yeah, I think we might have time to squeeze some in.”
They were leaning in to each other, when Abi started at the sudden and persistent ringing of her doorbell.
“Who the hell’s that?” she said, looking in the direction of the noise.
“Well, don’t look at me, I’m not expecting anyone. Just ignore it.”
The ringing continued; Abi made a noise of exasperation.
“I’ll go and get rid of them.”
“You could always threaten them with the fuzz.”
“I’m more likely to threaten them with a heavy object.” She got up and opened the living room door, leaving it open behind her.
Nick heard her footsteps in the short hallway, then the sound of the catch as she opened the main door of the building.
“Oh, sweets, thank God you’re in!” he heard a clearly male voice say. “You’ll never guess what Robert’s done to me.”
“Jen, what the hell? This really isn’t a good time.”
“Don’t I know it, babygirl. It’s an absolutely horrible time.”
Nick rose and went to see what was happening. He got to the living room doorway in time to see a skinny, cross-dressed male, only slightly shorter than himself, pushing past the furious-looking Abi.
“You could have at least rung me,” Abi was saying.
“Well, I would have, precious, but I threw my phone at the bastard. He ducked and it hit – oh.” Abi’s unwelcome visitor stopped short on catching sight of Nick. “Oh, goodness, petal, I had no idea you had company.”
Jenny was unable to take her eyes from the bemused Nick.
“Come in, why don’t you, Jen?” Abi looked at Nick. “Sorry,” she mouthed.
Nick gave her a smile and a wink, then backed into the living room.
Abi entered first, closely followed by her friend.
The three stood for a moment, then Jenny nudged Abi to make the introductions.
Abi blew out air.
“Jenny, this is Detective Sergeant Nick Kellister of the Metropolitan Police – that’s in London, in case you were wondering. Nick, I’d like you to meet my soon to be former best friend, Jenny Traynor.”
Nick gave Jenny a smile which did nothing to ease Abi’s displeasure, then extended his right hand.
Jenny took it with an exaggerated giggle.
“Such a pleasure to meet you,” she threw a sideways glance at Abi, “I’ve heard so little about you.”
Abi scowled; Nick’s smile broadened into a full grin.
“Well, you know what they say – meet one copper, you’ve met ’em all.”
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not –” Jenny began, before Abi cut her short, increasingly angered by her friend going into what Abi called her ‘hyper-feminine mode’.
“So, what was it you wanted again, Jen?”
Jenny turned to her, seemingly oblivious to Abi’s obvious desire for her to leave.
“Oh, that… tell you what, sweets, I could kill for a drink.”
Abi often found herself feeling almost overwhelmed by Jenny’s outgoing nature, but had no intention of giving her friend any encouragement to stay. She was further annoyed by the fact that Nick seemed to have no problem with Jenny being there.
“Sorry, but I’ve nothing in a the moment,” she told her friend. “I’m sure The Bridge is open, though.”
Jenny started to say something, but Nick got in first.
“Well, that sounds like my cue to make myself scarce for a bit. Is there anywhere close by I can pick something up from?”
As much as she felt like screaming in exasperation right then, Abi was able to think quickly enough to respond first. She saw a clear opportunity to persuade Jenny to leave without creating a potentially embarrassing situation in front of Nick; furthermore, she was keen to deny Jenny the chance to make some innuendo from the phrase ‘pick something up’.
“Ah… yes, actually, there’s a place in Delling Road. If you go out to where you’re parked and turn left, it’s less than half a mile along there. It’s right next to the railway bridge, you can’t miss it. It’s probably best to walk, though, I don’t think there’s anywhere to park.”
Nick picked up his jacket.
“Right, then, I’ll leave you ladies to it for a bit. Won’t be long.”
“Will you be alright to find your way back?” Jenny asked with a suggestive look.
“I get paid to find people who don’t want to be found,” he said. “I’m pretty confident I can find a building that hasn’t gone anywhere.”
He shot another wink at Abi, then set off.
Abi waited to hear the front door close, then rounded on her friend.
“What the bloody hell are you playing at, Jen? Were you just offering to go with him?”
Acting as though she had not noticed Abi’s antipathy to her presence, Jenny crossed the room and sat down.
“Oh, don’t be silly, sweets,” she said. “I was just making conversation. My God, he really is the goods, isn’t he? I tell you, girly, I wouldn’t be resisting arrest… although on second thoughts… mmm, maybe a bit of police brutality might not be such a bad thing.” She wriggled in her seat, a suggestive leer forming on her face. “Oooh, officer, show me no mercy!”
What was left of Abi’s patience expired.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Jen! Give it a rest, will you?”
Jenny sat up straight and made a face at her.
“Oh, calm down, angel. You can be such a passionate girl at times, you know.”
Abi shook her head slowly, then sat opposite her friend.
“You’re not going to be like this when he gets back, are you?” Her tone was softer now.
Jenny’s face was a picture of innocence.
“Like what, petal?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about!”
Jenny shrugged and spread her arms.
“I can’t help it if I’m blessed with a friendly nature, can I?” She reached over and placed a reassuring hand on Abi’s knee. “Oh, don’t look so worried, gorgeous – if he’s come all this way to see you, he’s not going to be distracted by some worn-out tranny tart from Smethwick, is he? I mean, who’s going to want a dry old bit of haddock when there’s prime caviare on the menu?”
Abi forced a weak smile.
“He’s here on police business, actually.”
“Here to do the business, more like,” Jenny muttered. “So, why couldn’t he just phone you? Is there some dangerous brute on the loose in our fair city that a weak, defenceless girl should know about?”
Abi shook her head again, rolling her eyes at the same time.
“I thought you were here to cry on my shoulder?” she said. “Anyway, I thought you’d stopped seeing that Robert. What’s happened with him?”
Jenny dismissed her romantic woes with a wave of her hand.
“Oh, never mind him, precious – I can get another one of those anytime. Let’s talk about Inspector Hunky!”
Abi sighed once more. Her friend was clearly not concerned about discussing whatever problems she was having with her on/off boyfriend and was not going to be put off hearing more about Nick.
“Well, for starters, he isn’t Inspector anybody, he’s a Detective Sergeant. He’s twenty-five, single, and…” she paused and looked at the door, as if willing him to walk through it, “and he likes me, Jen – he really likes me!”
Jenny rose from the chair and went over to sit beside Abi on the sofa, drawing her into a hug.
“Well, of course he does, babygirl; he wouldn’t have come all this way if he didn’t.”
Abi frowned slightly, torn between the desire to tell her best friend about Nick kissing her and, knowing what Jenny’s reaction would be, a reluctance to speak of it.
“He really did come here on a police matter, Jen,” she said as they broke the embrace. “But we’ve talked as well… about ourselves, I mean, and… well, there’s a chance that…”
“I’m all ears, sweetie.”
Abi glanced at the door again; by now, she was wishing that she did have a drink to hand.
“Look, don’t jump to conclusions,” she said, looking back at the eager Jenny, “but there’s a possibility that we might start seeing each other.”
Jenny jumped up with an excited shriek.
“I knew it! So, come on, don’t leave a girl in agony – what have you said to each other?”
“It’s you that needs to calm down,” Abi said. “It’s like I told you, it’s just a possibility.” She swept her hair back from her face. “Remember what I told you about his sister the other day? Well, I asked him about that, and the reason he’s so nice to me is nothing to do with that. He’s nice to me because he wants to be, Jen… because he actually likes me.”
Jenny sat back down and took Abi’s hands in hers.
“And why wouldn’t he, girlie? Just keep batting those lovely green eyes at him and he’ll be eating out of your hand in no time!”
Despite herself, Abi laughed.
“I don’t know about that,” she said. “He isn’t exactly the sort of guy you’d pick up in the Bridge, you know.”
Jenny responded by poking her tongue out.
“And just what makes you so sure of that?” she asked. “You’ve barely known him for five minutes.”
“A week and a half, actually,” Abi replied. “Long enough to know.” She paused, wondering whether to tell Jenny about Nick kissing her, before deciding against it. “I know this sounds like a cliché,” she continued, “but I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s not like the men you keep trying to set me up with –”
“Set you up with?” Jenny’s interruption was accompanied by another display of her ‘innocent’ face. “Oh, angel, how could you say such a thing? I mean, I may have introduced you to some prime specimens of male loveliness, but set you up? Really…”
“Oh, stop being silly, you’re as bad as he is!”
Jenny raised a questioning eyebrow.
“He can’t be serious for more than two minutes at a time, either,” Abi explained. “Look, Jen, he’ll be back soon. This is important to me.”
Jenny took her hands once more.
“Darling,” she said, “you know I adore you. I’d never do or say anything to spoil something like this for you – but you can’t blame me for being happy and excited for you, can you?”
Abi smiled and squeezed her friend’s fingers a little.
“Thanks, Jen,” she said, releasing her friend’s hands.
Jenny returned the smile.
“Oh, sweets, I’m not stupid, I know I’m in the way here. When he gets back, just let me stay for one drink, one more good look at him, then I’ll get out of your hair. Is that okay?”
Abi sighed. “Yes, alright.”
“Think of it as my punishment for intruding,” Jenny said.
Abi’s brow creased in puzzlement.
“Punishment? I can’t see how staying for a drink while Nick’s here is much of a punishment.”
“Oh, it is, Abi-woos, it is,” Jenny insisted. “Feasting my love-starved eyes on that hunk of gorgeousness, knowing that I wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell… torture, darling, sheer torture!”
Abi laughed, as much at her friend’s ‘distraught’ expression as her words. If she were honest with herself, as much as she wanted to be alone with Nick again, part of her was enjoying the thought of ‘showing him off’ to her best friend.
“Okay,” she said, “but you’ve brought it entirely upon yourself!”
Jenny squealed and clapped her hands in excitement, like a child being given a surprise gift.
“I’d better get some glasses ready,” Abi said, rising from her seat. She was half way across the room when her doorbell rang. She stopped and turned to the still excited Jenny.
“Better brace yourself, girl; I think your torturer’s here.”