She was obviously as ill at ease as he was. Tonight, Jake thought, he'd go home before coffee. Give her space.
Then she produced strawberries dipped in white chocolate, and all his good intentions went out of the window.
'You are a woman well above all lesser mortals,' Jake said after the first taste. 'And white chocolate, since it doesn't contain catechins or any cocoa solids whatsoever, is incredibly bad for you. It shouldn't even be classified as chocolate. So I think I should eat all of them to save you the health risks.' He snaffled the crystal bowl and set it in place of the white porcelain dish she'd given him.
Vicky looked at him in outrage. 'You can't do that! You're supposed to share. And I made loads'
He tipped his head on one side. 'If you want to share, you'll have to come here.'
In answer, he ate another strawberry. 'Mmm. Perfection. Sweet, juicy strawberries.' Strawberries he'd like to plaster to her skin and lick off.
He moved his chair back slightly. 'We've barely managed to talk tonight. We're both...I dunno. Ill at ease. Scared. Thinking there's a huge distance between us.' There was—in the shape of her enormous dining table—and this was the only way he could think of to bridge it. 'So let's make it easier on both of us. Come and sit with me.' He opened his arms to her.
She blinked. 'You want me to sit on your lap?'
'Yes. And I'll feed you your fair share of these.' He ate another strawberry. 'On the other hand, you could stay there and watch me scoff these all by myself.'
As he'd hoped, she walked round to his side of the table. She stood by his chair, as if not sure what to do next, so he made the decision for her. He pulled her onto his lap and swivelled her round so she had to put one arm round his neck for balance.
'That's better.' He kissed her bare shoulder. Lord, her skin was soft. Sweet. 'I've missed holding you. And you're the Honourable Victoria tonight. Aloof and very, very aristocratic'
She looked away. 'I told you I was rubbish at this relationship thing.'
He pulled her closer. 'That makes two of us, then. Because I haven't a clue what I'm doing. I'm spouting rubbish. I think my brain cells have fried.'
'That's anatomically impossible.'
He laughed. His beautiful, clever lover. So precise. So gorgeous. Unable to resist, he kissed her shoulder again. 'I can't think straight. All I know is I want to be with you. Close to you.' He hummed the Carpenters song at her.
'Oh, that's corny.'
He laughed. 'I know. But it made you smile, so it achieved its point.' He selected a strawberry and drew it along her lower lip. He allowed her to take a bite, then deliberately ate the other half.
'Hang on—that was mine!'
'Ours,' he corrected. 'And this is bliss. Just what I needed after today.'
He nodded. 'I had to give a diagnosis today. Multiple sclerosis.'
'Yep. Classic presentation—male, early thirties, had had pins and needles for a while. He's a computer programmer, so he assumed it was repetitive strain injury and he just needed to adjust his working position and do a few hand and wrist exercises. But then he started training for a marathon and he noticed the pins and needles had spread—and they were worse when he'd been training. His legs were weak, even though he'd been working on his muscles.' Jake sighed. 'Then he admitted he'd had a few vision problems. They'd stopped so he assumed it was just because he'd spent too long working at a screen.'
'But it was actually a previous MS episode,' Vicky said.
Jake nodded. 'The MRI scan showed lesions.' He ate another strawberry, to take the bad taste from his mouth. 'He and his wife were just about to start trying for a baby.'
'That's sad,' Vicky said.
Jake nodded. 'He didn't take the news well. He said he wanted a divorce—he doesn't want to be a burden to his wife, and he wants her to have the family she's dreamed about.'
'That's how I'd be,' Vicky said immediately. 'I'd want to give the one I loved a chance to find happiness with someone else, instead of dragging him down so he was my full-time carer.'
Jake shook his head. 'That's not what a relationship's about. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. You know as well as I do that MS means remissions as well as relapses.'
'But gradually the remissions become incomplete and disability sets in. With every episode, he'll need more and more help. Eventually, he'll need full-time care. It'd be very hard on his wife, looking after a baby and looking after him. She'd be under a hell of a strain. All that responsibility and no help.' Vicky raised an eyebrow. 'Plus, if motor symptoms—like weakness in the leg—come at an early stage, the prognosis is poor. If the GP suggested MS to him when he was referred here, and he's a computer whiz, you can bet he looked it up on the Internet and worked it all out for himself.'