I struggled to choose a cover image for this month’s volume of Two-Hundred Steps Home. It’s indicative of the month I think, as the October installments have been written more in survival than planning mode.
For other months there has been a theme – September’s was depression, August was about freedom and escape. Or there has been a clear identity of place – Dorset, the Peak District and so on.
In the end I chose this picture because it seems to represent Claire’s realisation that she’s content in her own company. In contrast to those around her who need their support network – Ruth with Sky and now the church, Kim with Jeff and her mother, Josh and Fiona, Michael’s desire for a family and children.
Claire used to see work as her support network when she lived in Manchester but now she has come to realise work no longer defines her. She wasn’t happy being a tourist sheep; she’d much rather hike up a mountain and have the birds for company.
It doesn’t bode well for her and Conor – with his self-confessed need to be surrounded by the “steaming heap of humanity”. Maybe theirs will be a flash-in-the-pan coming together, or maybe they’ll find a middle ground and carve out a happy ever after. I don’t know: they haven’t told me how it ends yet. He’s a rather charming chap, though, yes? I like him.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
“Should you be driving? It’s pretty late and the road up to the hostel isn’t for the fainthearted. You can always kip on my floor.” Conor turned to face Claire as they reached her car but she couldn’t read his expression in the dark.
“Are you calling me fainthearted?” She pursed her lips into a pout that would make Sky proud, ignoring the last part of his suggestion.
“I wouldn’t dare.”
Claire raised her eyebrows at her boss, challenging his remark.
“Seriously.” He nodded emphatically. “You scare the bejesus out of me; you have since the day you walked into my interview like you owned the room and everything in it.”
“Now I know you’re winding me up. You and your bunch of suits sat there like the bloomin’ Inquisition. My knees shook so hard I thought I was going to crumple in a heap on the floor.”
“That would have been worth seeing.” Conor grinned and leaned back against Claire’s car. His shirt stood open at the neck and his hair looked dark beneath the hotel lights. Claire jingled her keys hoping he’d take the hint, but his pose suggested he had no intention of moving anytime soon.
“Do you regret taking the job?” he asked suddenly, making her jump. “I know you hated your old boss but this isn’t exactly your thing, is it? No glamorous board meetings or FTSE 100 clients here: just a bunch of boring old men in a sleepy backwater. I get the impression you’d rather not have come back from New Zealand.”
Claire wrapped her arms around herself and swallowed down irritation at her boss’s drunken loquaciousness. “I was more than ready to come home – even if I hadn’t run out of money. I’m not good at being a tourist sheep following the pack.”
Conor frowned at her words and she hurried on. “This is different: I see what you’re trying to achieve and I understand your passion.” She swept her arms wide to encompass the town and area. “This is a beautiful part of the world. I feel comfortable here.”
Inhaling the tangy salt air, Claire thought carefully before continuing. Conor might be drunk but that didn’t stop him being her boss.
“Yes, I can’t lie: part of me wanted to go back to having a regular job with a decent car and my own apartment. I miss having a bath! But this part of the assignment won’t last forever. I can settle down somewhere in a few weeks, when I’m done.” She imagined being stuck in the Dorset town Conor loved so much and shivered.
Conor pushed himself away from the car and came to a standstill in front of her. A heady wave of aftershave washed over her, making her legs tremble. He stood so close she had to stare up at him to avoid fixing her eyes on the top of his chest, peeping out from behind his shirt.
“I can’t wait,” he murmured, gazing intently into her face. His arms twitched forwards, then dropped loosely at his sides.
Claire contracted her brows in mute question and he added, “I can’t wait until you’re settled close by. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.”
His voice crept in her ears and trickled beneath her skin, leaving behind a trail of heat. The only thing that existed on the whole planet was his body, inches away from hers. His eyes shone wide and vulnerable in the darkness, showing no trace of the brash ladies’ man.
In painful slow motion he lowered his face towards her and she could almost taste the heavy red wine on his breath.
“I’m drunk,” he said, as if in explanation, “but that’s only obscuring my good sense, not my feelings. I’ve wanted to do this since you swung your hips into my interview and blew my life apart.”
The air caught in Claire’s lungs and her ears felt muffled, as if a blanket had dropped over her. In the back of her brain a voice screamed, but the sound of Conor’s rapid, shallow, breathing drowned it out.
After a tantalising pause their lips met, and the world exploded.