'Back to the bit where you asked me to show you what I used to do at the seaside.'
She was silent for so long that Jake thought she was going to say no. And then she nodded. 'OK.'
He gave their buckets and spades to the nearest family, then ushered Vicky over to the pier. 'This is the longest pleasure pier in the world—it's just over a mile and a quarter long and the water at the end is a mile and a quarter deep. Want to walk to the end or take the railway?'
'Walking's better for you.'
'But the train's more fun.'
'Compromise. Train there, walk back?'
He grinned. Just as he'd hoped, she was beginning to get the idea. This was meant to be fun.
They tried their hand at fishing at the end of the pier, and he bought her a dish of cockles.
'I'm not sure about this,' Vicky said.
'Fish is good for. you. You're a neurologist. You should know what omega-3 oils do for you.'
'From oily fish, such as salmon. These—'
'Are what everyone eats at the seaside.' Jake splashed vinegar over his. 'They're fished locally, about five miles down the road at Leigh. It's an ancient cockle-fishing village.'
'Right...' She stabbed one with a cocktail stick, closed her eyes and put it into her mouth. She chewed once, twice and pulled a face as if she was barely able to swallow the tiny shellfish. 'Um, Jake, please, don't take this the wrong way...'
'You hate them.' He took the dish from her and made short work of it. 'I promise, you'll like the next thing.'
'You will. Southend sells the best ice cream in the world.' He shepherded her over to another kiosk, and bought her an ice cream cone with a chocolate flake.
'I don't think I've ever seen ice cream this white.'
'Trust me,' Jake said.
She gave him a sidelong look. 'After the cockles?'
'Just take a mouthful.' He ate his own with relish—and was delighted to see that Vicky enjoyed hers just as much. Though he decided not to push her into admitting it—he didn't want her to put her barriers up again.
She had the faintest moustache of ice cream. Jake was sorely tempted to lick it off himself, but he kept himself under control—just—and rubbed his thumb lightly over her lips instead. Every single nerve-end in his skin tingled at the touch.
Her eyes widened. 'What was that for?'
He showed her the white coating on his thumb. 'Ice cream.'
Lord, her eyes were beautiful. And they widened even more when he licked the ice cream off his thumb—ice cream that had been touching her mouth only seconds before.
He bought her fish and chips at the other end of the pier; they ate them straight from the wrapper, sitting on the beach. For just a moment the Honourable Vicky Radley looked like any other woman enjoying a day out with her man...
Except he wasn't her man.
Wasn't likely to be.
Neither of them had space in their life for a relationship.
He reminded himself that he was meant to be showing her what he used to do at the seaside, and dragged her into one of the amusement arcades. He won the first two games of air hockey, but she was a fast learner and beat him hollow in the third. They lost on the Camel Derby. Won a potful of pennies on the cake-walk cascade slot machine. And then they came to the soft toy 'grabber' machines.
'Which one do you want me to win for you?' he asked.
Vicky scoffed. 'Come off it. I've been watching other people. Those grappling hooks are meant to drop the toy just before it reaches the escape chute.'
'Which one do you want me to win for you?' Jake repeated.
'The teddy with the "kiss me quick" hat,' she said.
'And you'll call it Fred?'
She looked puzzled. 'Why Fred?'
He rolled his eyes. 'Because everyone needs a ted called Fred.'
'OK. If you win.'
He was almost tempted to suggest a side bet. If he won the teddy, she had to give him a kiss. But that would be unfair. Cheating, even. Besides, he didn't want to kiss her.
He put the money into the slot. Enough for five tries. On the first try, the grabber caught the bear's foot and lifted it a couple of centimetres before dropping it again.
'See? These things are meant to make money,' she said. 'If it was that easy, each go would cost a lot more—to cover the cost of the bear and the overheads and still make a profit.'
Oh, she could gloat. But he'd be having the last laugh. It had been years since he'd done this, but he was pretty sure he hadn't lost the knack.
His second try was just as much a failure. So was his third—and fourth.
'Last go,' Vicky said. 'Talk about hopeless.'
'I'm a brain surgeon. I operate with precision,' Jake said.
'In a theatre, yes.'
Right, that was it. 'If I win this time, you have to give me a kiss,' Jake said.
'Sure.' She was clearly enjoying the moment, expecting him to lose.
Jake hit the button, manoeuvred the grabber so that it caught the bear's middle, and it dropped neatly into the escape hatch.