Welcome to Cupid's Alley

‘Your landlord did what?’

‘Doubled my rent,’ Maggie groaned, shifting round as much as her seat belt would allow. ‘Then he had the cheek to say he’s doing it as a favour because what he really wants is to triple it!’

Jason gave a sympathetic grimace. ‘Sorry, mate. I’d offer you the sofa at ours, but –‘

She cut him off. Jason was a newlywed and lived in a tiny one bedroom where his wife worked from home. She wouldn’t impose in that way. No. There was only one thing to do. Find somewhere else to live. And fast.

The ambulance radio crackled to life with a call out for a suspected broken hip. Maggie and Jason shared a look. They were close. Maggie grabbed the radio and asked for a repeat of the address.

23 Love Lane.

Maggie snorted as she flicked on the blue lights. ‘That sounds like somewhere you and Jenny should’ve moved.’

‘Sounds like somewhere you should move.’ Jason shot back.

She snorted again. ‘What for? To remind me of everything I don’t have?’

Jason rolled his eyes. ‘I never took you for a glass half empty kind of woman, Mags.’

‘Normally I’m not,’ she grumbled. In your face reminders about a lack of boyfriend and imminent homelessness had a way of draining what was left in the glass. She pointed towards the road. ‘Onwards, James. Let’s get this woman to hospital.’

‘Helloooooo! Mrs Goodwood? Kay?’ Maggie called through the flap a third time and heard nothing but the muted woof of a dog.

Maggie and Jason shared confused shrugs. ‘Ring dispatch. Find out what’s happening.’

While Jason called, Maggie looked around her. She wasn’t exactly sure how, but Cupid’s Alley seemed to have an edge on all the streets around it. Maybe it was the golden end-of-day sunlight bathing everything in a warm glow, but…hmm. There was something extra about it. The houses stood a bit prouder, the trees a bit leafier. The multi-coloured front doors appeared inviting in a way many of their call-outs didn’t. It was the kind of street she could only dream of living on unless, by some miraculous turn of events, someone was renting a garret room for tuppence.

‘Mags.’ Jason pointed next door. ‘You’re going to have to get in through there.

‘What? Why?’

‘She’s fallen on her patio. Can’t get to the front door. Luckily had her phone in her pocket. Neighbour’s name is Dylan. Patient says she saw him come in from work a couple of hours ago.’

Maggie eyed the house next door. Victorian brick façade. Sky blue door. Window boxes sporting a smattering of daffodils closing up after a day’s worth of preening in the wintry sunlight. Not a single light on to indicate anyone was home.

‘Why do I have to do it?’

Jason gave her a good-natured grin. ‘I think we can agree you’re the kinder, gentler looking one of the two of us.’

She gave him an appraising side eye. ‘I dunno. The grizzly bear affect worked for you and Jen.’

Jason turned her round and pointed her towards number twenty-five. ‘Go. I’ll get the gurney ready.’

When knocking on the door didn’t work, she starting ringing the bell. Again and again. Finally she heard footsteps. When the door was yanked open with an unwelcoming ‘What is it?’ she found herself face to face with a grumpy faced sex-god in nothing more than a pair of pyjama bottoms. He was a picture postcard version of a sexy nerd. When she managed to drag her eyes away from his tremendous specimen of a six-pack, she took in the dark tousled hair, cheeks creased with pillow lines and bright blue eyes sparking with something that definitely wasn’t mutual attraction. He was putting on a pair of horn-rimmed specs that somehow made him even yummier. When their eyes connected something passed between them that felt like shared electricity. As if they already knew one another but were seeing the other clearly for the first time. And yet…he was a stranger.

She quickly explained the situation. ‘I need to climb over your fence.’

His expression instantly morphed into concern and, more importantly, action. ‘There’s a gate. I’ll grab a shirt and help.’

‘You’re good as you are,’ she said, cheeks turning crimson as she quickly qualified, ‘I mean – umm – you don’t need to worry about helping.’

‘I’m a doctor,’ he said. They shared a quick handshake that all but lit her up inside. ‘Dylan White, just off night shift.’ He pointed to his pyjama bottoms then dipped his head to catch her gaze, his soft smile making it clear he’d caught her checking him out and didn’t mind. ‘Kay was widowed a couple of years back and we kind of adopted each other. I think she’d like it if I was her ride-along.’

 ‘Cool,’ Maggie squeaked, already a bit too aware of what being in an enclosed space with him would do to her nervous system.

He led the way through the house. ‘Sorry for the Mr Grumpy act. Thirty-six hour shifts in the A&E sometime zap my usual charm.’ The smile he shot her definitely wasn’t one fit for a granny. Warm enough to melt her heart into a molten pile of swoon.

Was he flirting with her?

‘Right then,’ he held open a door to his patio, ‘Here we are.’

Ten minutes later, they were all in Mrs Goodwood’s garden. Despite her obvious pain as they stabilized her hip, splinted her and administered some critical pain medication, Kay seemed delighted with the hustle bustle of activity.

‘It’s ever so lovely to have people round,’ she beamed, eyes pinging between Maggie and Dylan as they wheeled her into the ambulance. ‘That’s why I got Trinket, of course --’  Her smile froze then faded. ‘Trinket! What’s going to happen to my dog?’

‘I’ll feed her and take her for a walk when I get back.’ Dylan assured for.

Kay tutted. ‘That’ll do for today, but what if I have to stay in hospital?’

Maggie winced as she tucked the heat blanket round the elderly woman’s shoulders. ‘I reckon you’re definitely going to have to stay at least a couple of days, if not several. Is there anyone you can call on?’

Kay’s expression shadowed. ‘No. It’s just me on my lonesome. Dylan here obviously does what he can, but he’s always ever so busy at the hospital.’

Maggie caught Dylan’s lips thin. Weird. Normally being applauded for helping people elicited a smile.

‘Of course,’ Kay continued, taking Maggie’s hand in hers, ‘You’d understand Dylan’s working hours more than most. Not like that ex-girlfriend of his.’

Again, Maggie looked across to Dylan who, despite solidly landing in the alpha male department in the looks front, blushed. ‘We don’t need to go into that, Kay.’

‘That girl never had her head screwed on straight as far as I could see,’ Kay said conspiratorially to Maggie as if the lowered voice meant Dylan couldn’t hear. ‘Big strong, handsome doctor and she runs off with a trust fund playboy. She’ll find herself single and without a bed of her own before long. Mark my words.’

Maggie grimaced. ‘Well…there are lots of reasons a person could be homeless.’

Kay, merrily chatty now the pain killers had properly kicked in, asked, ‘That’s not your situation is it?’

Maggie avoided Dylan’s eyes as she explained her landlord’s doubling down on the rent.

‘Oh, well, that won’t do it all,’ Kay said. ‘Would you like to stay at mine and  look after Trinket in lieu of rent.’

Maggie’s eyes shot to Dylan’s. Surely this was just the pain killers talking.

Maybe not. Something in him seemed to have lightened. As if having her next door would be a good thing. ‘I’ve been trying to get her to take in a lodger for months. She’s point blank refused until now. You must have that ‘something special’ she said she’s been waiting for.’ Again their eyes met and this time she was sure he was telling her something.

Yes. Do it.

‘Do it for Trinket,’ Kay implored. ‘It could be months before I can bring her out on walkies again.’

 ‘Trinket would like that,’ Dylan said in a way that suggested Dylan would also like it. ‘Are you much of a walker?’

Maggie, still a bit shell-shocked nodded. ‘I like walking.’

‘I could show you where Kay takes her. If,’ he quickly added, ‘…you’re going to accept her offer.’

Jason called from the front of the ambulance. ‘You’d be a bloody idiot to say no, Mags!’

She shot him a look. Shouldn’t they be finding out a bit more about Kay and what she might be like to live with?

As if reading her mind Dylan said, ‘If you asked around everyone in the block, you’d find out Kay has actually adopted us all. She’s the cake baking, cat feeding, plant watering neighbour of everyone’s dreams.’

‘So…I’d be helping the resident Mrs Doubtfire?’

He squared up the comparison with a gorgeous scrunchy thinking face. ‘Minus the revelation about her being an ex – absolutely.’ A bit more cautiously he asked, ‘You’re single?’

Hopefully not for long she thought as Kay once again leapt into chatter mode and insisted she and Dylan eat the cottage pie she’d been on the brink of popping into the oven.

She looked across at Dylan and gave him a she’s hard to say no to look.

He grinned back and gave a happy resigned shrug. ‘I never could say no to her cottage pie.’

Despite the platonic nature of the comment, Maggie’s brain translated it into something more along the lines of I’d like to see you in your pyjamas, too.

She grinned. Whether it happened or not didn’t matter. A free room. A gorgeous new neighbour. It looked like Love Lane lived up to its name after all!