On Friday evening, Ben invited Sadie to dinner at his place with Jilly. Sadie took flowers and a bottle of wine, and chatted happily with Jilly about Cornwall. 'It's lovely here. Things were a bit tough in London, and it's good to have a break from it all,' she said. 'I'm tempted to start sketching again, but I have no idea where to buy art stuff.'
'I've just gone back to doing art, so I have a spare pad and pencils you can have,' Jilly offered.
'Thank you—that's really kind,' Sadie said. She smiled. 'I'd love to see your drawings.'
Jilly beamed, and showed them to her.
Ben felt his heart constrict as he watched them: his mother, finally reaching out to someone else, and Sadie, being incredibly sweet. And it was a genuine sweetness, he knew; Sadie was kind and giving.
Maybe the challenges of his home life might not turn out to be such an issue after all.
At the end of the evening, he saw Sadie to her car. 'Thanks for being so kind to Mum.'
'I wasn't being kind. I like her,' Sadie said. 'And I appreciated the help she gave me with technique earlier this evening. I was thinking, maybe she could consider teaching workshops or private lessons.'
'Something to fill her time and help manage her moods? That's a good idea,' Ben said. 'She liked you, too.' Which was a huge weight off his mind.
'Good.' She kissed him. 'Thank you for dinner. You're an amazing cook. And it's nice to have someone cook for me for a change.'
'Didn't Brad—' He stopped himself. 'Sorry. That was intrusive.'
'It's OK. Brad liked entertaining, but his contribution to the evening was conversation and opening bottles of wine,' Sadie said.
'Not even helping you clear up?'
She shrugged. 'It was what it was.'
Utter selfishness on Brad's part. And Ben felt guilty. 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up tough memories.'
'I know, and it's fine.' She kissed him. 'I'll see you tomorrow.'
'I'll pick you up at seven,' Ben said. 'Have a good shift.'
It was a while since Sadie had been to a gig, but she loved the tiny venue Ben took her to Saturday evening. The band was good, playing the kind of indie guitar music she adored; the show was sold out, and it was so crowded that Ben ended up standing behind her with his arms wrapped round her.
The combination of the atmosphere and the closeness of the man she was falling in love with made her heart beat faster, and when he took her home and kissed her goodnight on the balcony, she placed her palm against his cheek. 'Ben. Stay.'
There was a slash of colour across his cheekbones. 'If I stay…' His voice was full of longing.
'I have condoms,' she said, 'if that's what's holding you back.'
He groaned. 'I want to make love with you, Sadie. But are you sure?'
'Very sure,' she said, and kissed him.
Ben kissed her back, swept her off her feet and carried her to her bed.
Afterwards, they sat on the balcony, looking out at the stars. Although Sadie was tempted to ask him to stay for the whole night, she knew it wasn't fair because he needed to be there for Jilly. 'You need to go,' she said softly. 'But we have a whole summer ahead of us.'
A whole summer that had just turned magical, full of sunshine and roses and butterflies. When they weren't working, they went exploring. They wandered through ancient landscapes, hand in hand across the moors and beaches with surf thundering onto the shore; they kissed in arbours filled with sweet-scented roses. Sometimes Jilly came with them, and Sadie was careful to keep things light and as if she and Ben were just friends. Sometimes they went on team nights out and snatched kisses when their colleagues weren't looking.
And then late one evening Ben insisted that they went to the beach for a walk. The moon hung as a crescent in the sky, and the stars seemed brighter than normal. Sadie thought it was incredibly romantic, strolling across the sand with the waves swishing quietly beside them.
'Midsummer and moonlight,' she said.
'You forgot the other "m",' he said.
'You'll see, in a moment. Just look out at the sky, towards the sea,' he said, standing with his arms wrapped round her.
Then she saw something out of the corner of her eye. A tiny streak of silver, then another—a flash that was gone again almost in the blink of an eye.
'Meteors,' she said, realising what his final 'm' was.
'The Perseids,' he explained.
'This is stunning. I don't think I've ever seen anything like this in London.' London, where she could only see the brightest stars; out here, in the wild beauty of Cornwall, she was seeing so much more.
Best of all, she was sharing the moment with Ben. That made the spectacular meteor shower just perfect.
And Sadie was starting to wonder whether maybe, just maybe, this could be more than just a summer fling. Whether she could maybe stay in Cornwall—with Ben.
She liked him. The sweet, kind man who'd been her friend as a student; the man who had time for everyone except himself. If she was honest with herself, she more than liked him: he made her heart beat faster whenever he touched her, and he made the air round her feel as if it shimmered with passion. And if she was really, really, honest with herself, she'd known she was in love with him for a while.
But was it the same for him?
Even if he felt the same way about her, she knew he'd been hurt in the past; after his ex had walked out on him, no doubt he'd find it hard to trust.
She had issues, too. She'd lost the baby, and if she got pregnant again she was at a higher risk of having another placental abruption. It was the one thing that held her back from declaring herself; what if it was too big a barrier for Ben, the way it had been for Brad?
She decided it was best to say nothing and just enjoy the summer as it was—and try to keep her heart intact.
The more time Ben spent with Sadie, the more he liked her. She was kind and clear-sighted. Their patients and colleagues adored her. And with her by his side, his days felt full of sunshine instead of struggle.
He more than liked her, he realised. He'd fallen in love with her.
She was only here for the summer. And she'd already gone though so much—losing the baby, and then Brad walking out and leaving her to deal with their loss while he made a new life with someone else. Asking her to stay here with him would be unfair. Especially as he'd always need to support his mum emotionally. Lisa hadn't been able to deal with that pressure, and it had taught him that it was too much to ask of any partner.
Even though he wanted to ask her to stay here in Cornwall with him, he knew it wouldn't be fair to her. So he decided he'd let himself enjoy the summer with her, but he'd try to keep his heart locked away.
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