He reached in, took the bear and presented it to her. 'Vicky, meet Fred.'
Her smile faded. 'You did it.'
'I told you, I went to the seaside for a fortnight every year. And there's a knack to doing this. Just like theatre. You just need to know how it's done.'
Oh, Lord. She hadn't bargained on that. And she'd been so confident he wouldn't do it—so sure, after she'd watched other people try their luck on the machines and lose—that she'd promised him a kiss.
She never broke her promises.
Which meant she had to kiss him.
His mouth really was beautiful. Tempting. She remembered how he'd wiped the ice cream from her lips and how she'd wanted him to kiss the mixture from her mouth instead. And now was her chance. All she had to do was lean forward and touch her lips to his. See where it took them.
He didn't look as if he was gloating. On the contrary, he looked as if all the breath had been sucked out of his body. Just how she felt. As if every nerve was tingling.
One little kiss.
A kiss that could change her entire life.
Vicky leaned forward, kissed Jake swiftly on the cheek, and ducked away again.
He didn't say a word. He didn't have to: it was written all over his face.
Wrong. Vicky wasn't a coward. She was practical. And this was self-preservation at its most practical. She needed distance between them—otherwise, she'd be tempted to kiss him properly. 'Thank you for the bear,' she said politely.
'Pleasure,' he said, his voice equally formal. 'Time for a doughnut, I think.' He shepherded her over to another kiosk, and bought a bag of hot sugary doughnuts to share.
Vicky—who'd noticed just how dark the oil was when she'd watched the little circles of batter floating on top and puffing out as they'd cooked—really wasn't keen to taste one. But Jake was trying so hard to give her a good day out: how could she rebuff him? Gingerly, she bit into one— and was surprised at how good it tasted.
Maybe it was the sugar rush, but the awkwardness of the kiss-that-should-have-been had dissolved by the time they'd finished the doughnuts.
'Time for some beachcombing,' Jake said decisively.
She followed him onto the sand, and watched as he stooped to pick up some shells.
'I spent hours doing this as a kid,' he told her. 'I was always convinced I'd find a pearl in one of these shells—if I found one with an orange band on the end it meant there might be a pearl in it.' He grinned. 'It was years before I worked out they were cockleshells, not oyster shells, so I'd never find a pearl. But I still collected them for the garden.'
He nodded. 'We always came home from the seaside with a huge bucketful of shells, and I'd spend ages arranging them on the edge of the flower-beds in our garden at home. You know, like the nursery rhyme.'
Something else Vicky had never done as a child. They'd had enormous gardens at Weston, but Preece, the head gardener, had shooed her away if she or her brothers had gone anywhere near his beloved flower-beds. They'd all been told off for climbing the trees, too. And for playing hide-and-seek in the ancient yew hedges that made up the maze—it had been fun, wandering around the twisted branches and roots and pretending they were in the belly of a whale or a dinosaur, but Preece hadn't seen it that way. He'd just seen holes in his precious hedges and had gone straight to their father. Shortly afterwards, the maze had become out of bounds.
The more Vicky thought about her privileged childhood, the more she thought it had been a prison. Something that normal children were lucky to have escaped. Yes, Jake had lost his parents at a young age, and his mother's career had meant his parents had spent a lot of time away from him—but he'd grown up in a family where he'd been loved, allowed to explore and allowed to get his hands dirty.
On impulse, she slipped one of the shells into the pocket of her jeans. She'd keep one. Just one. To remind her of today, the day she'd discovered what her childhood should have been like.
'There used to be an amazing fair here when I was a kid,' Jake said. 'I can remember this ride where you were all strapped to the inside of a drum, and when you were spinning at top speed the floor went down—but you were spinning so fast, you were stuck to the side of the walls and you stayed there until the end of the ride when the floor came up again.'
Funfairs. Something else she'd never done. Some of the wistfulness must have shown on her face, because he said softly, 'It's all changed here now—the rides are for kids, and anyways that kind of ride would breach all kinds of safety regulations nowadays.'
She nodded. 'Did you go to the funfair a lot?'
'Not as much as I would've liked to.' He shrugged. 'Nan saved all year for our holiday, and I saved the money from my
paper round, but we didn't have much to spare.'