A Change of Plan

Mike and Mark stood outside the lift in the little hallway as soon as they heard it coming, and when the doors opened to reveal Danny and Diana, holding hands, there was a bit of a cheer, before both of them took turns to hug Diana.

“We’ve been sitting here with our fingers crossed for ages, and you’re back.” said Mike. “What happens now?”

Danny took a deep breath. “Change of plan.  Diana and I will be going to her house for a while. She’s not making me take the train though. We have to ask Ted if he can drive us home. The three of you can take time off and I’ll keep you updated.  I’ll need a credit card and some cash, and I’ll take some of the stuff you got yesterday, Mark. I’ll go and sort out what I need.”

He went into the bedroom and left the door open; Mike hugged Diana again and shook his head.

“I don’t know what’s gone on with you two, but you seem to have averted a crisis.  I’ll put my number in your mobile if you like, and although I’m taking time off, I’m only ever a call away if you need anything.  Don’t worry about Debbie; Mark seems to have that situation in hand.”

“Yes.” she said. “That was the thing that changed my mind about leaving.  Danny was more worried about Debbie than himself.”

“You know that this is a big step for him, don’t you?  I guess we’re all a bit to blame for running around after him; the monster was created long ago and we inherited him, but underneath he really is a lovely man who has spent most of his working life being pilloried and insulted by the media.  Do you want me to carry on with your house sale?”

“Is that still a possibility? I suppose it would be easier to arrange if I’m – if we’re in the house?”

“Spend some time with Danny there.  If you decide to come back to the Cotswold house after a day or so of him having to stand on his own two feet with only you to support him, you’ll have a much better idea of what he needs from a PA – and a partner.”

“That sounds as if you won’t be having much of a holiday.”

“I’ll be home with my husband, and unlike previous holidays, I won’t be worrying about the latest mess that Danny’s got himself into. I trust you, Diana.  Danny hasn’t got anything on his calendar for the next week at the moment, but things will be ramping up soon, and we’ll all have plenty of work on our hands.”

“Will it be okay then if Ted takes us home?”

“I don’t think I’d be able to stop him, although your neighbours might object to the size of your transport.  Go in and help Danny choose what to take – and Diana?”

“Yes?”

“You may not need the swimsuits right now, but take some of your new things with you.  Ted can take everything else back with him to the house.  Jenny will be extremely pleased to have him to herself for a while.”

“Is she nice? Jenny?”

“You like Ted, don’t you?”

“Oh yes, he’s lovely, so kind.”

“Then you’ll get on well with Jenny too.  She and Ted are both happy to be back in the UK, and have settled into their cottage.  If Danny is serious about both of you coming to live there, they will be over the moon. Go and get packed and leave all the boring bits to me and Mark.”

Danny was sitting on the bed, looking through his packages, studiously avoiding any of Diana’s bags. He looked up at her, his face shadowed with that tiredness that she’d seen before, and that made her want to hold him tight, and take the pain away. She pulled him close, leaning down to kiss his head.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’m sorry for being such an arrogant fool and driving you away. I really thought I’d lost you then.”

“Well, you haven’t. Let’s just sort through these bags and see what we want to take with us now, and what we want sending on to the other house. There’s a bag of silliness for Mark to give to Debbie as well. Do you want to see what I’ve bought?”

“If you want to show me?”

“I do.  We’ll leave the swimsuits in the bag for now though. You won’t need your dinner jacket at mine either.  Casual dress only.”

“Or undress?”

“Most definitely.  I put clean sheets on the bed before I left. I always do.  It’s nice coming back from somewhere to a freshly made bed. Unless you can work your charms on my unsociable cat, it will just be the two of us.”

“I’ll have you all to myself?”

“I’d like to introduce you to Jane – and the cat.  Let’s sort through this stuff and get packed; being away is making me feel homesick now.”

“It hasn’t all been bad, has it?” Danny asked, trying to choose which of his new polo shirts to pack.

“No, and you know it hasn’t,” she replied.   “I just need to come back down to earth a bit, and Mike seems to think that it will do you the world of good too.”

“Oh, does he?  I suppose I’ll have to get used to you lot ganging up on me.”

“You could sack us all?” Diana took out one of the dresses she had bought, and held it up against her.  Danny grinned, and pulled her down on the bed next to him.

“One last thing, Danny. If John turns up at the house, you are not to lay a finger on him.  Promise?”

“Can I tell him to go away?”

“Provided that you avoid using foul language.  There is no need to stoop to his level.”

“You strike a hard bargain.”

“I sincerely hope so!”

She bounced off the bed and continued sorting out the bags she was taking home and those that were going on to Danny’s house. Very reluctantly, Danny started packing his own bags.  This was the sort of thing that Mark – or his PA – did for him, but he felt that this was one time when he needed to do his own packing. 

Diana took note of this, and smiled, trying not to look too smug.

Leaving Danny to his packing, she went downstairs to her room and finished tidying up and packing everything away.  This time Danny’s boxers and Ben’s tee-shirt were placed in the top of her overnight bag, wrapped up in her nightshirt.  She smiled as she placed his toothbrush alongside hers in her washbag; this was going to be a test of their relationship, but she felt safer than she had when she had stormed out of the suite earlier on.

She called Jane first; not wanting her to be thrown by the sight of the Bentley drawing up outside her house. 

“Good job I got in extra milk and bread for you yesterday. How exciting!  Do you want anything else?”

“A little favour.  Can you move anything alcoholic out of my house and into yours?  You can drink it as well if you like.  Danny has had a problem with alcohol in the past.  I’m asking him to put his high life on hold for a while, and the last thing I want is for him to fall off the wagon while he’s here.”

“I’ll put it out of sight in mine.  What about you though?  If you need a glass of something to fortify you, you can always nip next door. “

“Oh Jane, that makes him sound like a monster.  He isn’t at all.  He is the sweetest man I’ve ever met, and I’m hoping that this works out – for both of us.”

“You know where I am if you need me.”

“I will introduce you once we’ve unpacked.  Thank you so much.”

Helen’s call was just an update, and to let her know that she and Danny would organise a visit once they’d moved to the Cotswold house.  Helen was pleased, and almost as excited as Jane.

The texts to Ben and Caroline were short and sweet.  They would always be welcome in their family home, but not this week because their mother and Danny wanted a few days of peace and quiet. 

They replied.  Exclamation marks from Ben, and kisses from Caroline.

Checking that she hadn’t forgotten anything, and taking a last rather nostalgic look at her hotel room, she picked up her bags and closed the door.  She had a feeling that Danny might have taken advantage of her absence to get Mark to help with his packing, but that’s what he was paying him for after all.

Contemplating

“Do I get a fashion show then? I especially want to see you in a swimsuit.” said Danny, throwing himself down on the bed. Diana very slowly unloaded the bags and placed them in two distinct piles.  She opened the bedroom door and pushed the luggage trolley outside, before shutting the door again and leaning against it.

Had Danny been looking at her face rather than the shopping, he would have realised that all was not well with her.

“I am not, and never will be, a model, an actress, nor a prostitute,” she said very calmly. “I value my freedom more than anything else because it’s taken me a long time to achieve. This morning I have lost a job that I love, been plastered all over the papers, given my ex-husband more ammunition to fire at me, and now, you expect me to parade up and down this bedroom like a tart.  You can keep the clothes for someone else, Danny. I am going back to my room to finish packing, then I’ll pay my hotel bill and get a taxi to the station.  I’m going home.  To my home.  It may not be much compared to yours but at least it’s mine until the children are old enough to look after themselves. Then I shall buy a little flat somewhere, and live out an ordinary life.  Thank you for an extraordinary weekend, Danny.”

She couldn’t look at him, knowing that if she did, his face would show the anguish her words had caused.  She opened the door and walked into the main room.  Mike and Mark were sat at the table, poring over the papers.  She stopped, briefly.

 “Thank you both for your kindness and pass on my thanks to Ted.  I can’t take any more and I was foolish enough to think that I could. I’m going downstairs to finish packing my things, and then I’ll settle up my hotel bill and go home.”

Diana got into the lift, desperate to stem the tears that she was holding back until she was in the safety of her hotel room. Then she threw herself down on the bed and sobbed, still able to smell the scent of Danny on the pillows, her mind and body remembering every moment they had spent in the room together.

Mike stood in the doorway of Danny’s bedroom.  Danny was still lying on the bed, speechless and seemingly unable to move.

“Get after her you bloody fool!” Mike shouted. “I don’t know what you said or did, but it must have been insulting and inconsiderate to have had that effect on her.  If you let her go now Danny, she will never come back!”

Danny shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “It was a joke!   Nothing more than that! Oh God, what have I done?”

“Get downstairs now!  You’ll spend the rest of your life being miserable, even more miserable than you’ve been since Lisa died. You have a chance at happiness, don’t throw it away!”

Getting to his feel slowly, Danny grabbed Mike’s arm. “What can I say to her?  How can I make it better?”

“I can’t tell you what to do on this one, mate.  If you think she’s worth it then prove it.  Take the key card and hope to hell she’s too upset to have put the chain across the door.”

Mike handed him the card and watched as Danny ran to the lift, shoeless, but showing as much speed as he ever did on a sports field. Mark looked up from the papers, and showed his crossed fingers. Mike picked up his mobile and called down to reception, making sure that Diana’s bill had been incorporated into Danny’s.  Then he crossed his own fingers hoping that their relationship was salvageable.

Knocking on the door gently, Danny called her name, knowing somehow that using the key card might be seen as just another symbol of his power over her.   

“Please, Diana?  Can we just talk first? If you really want to go home and have time to think, that’s fine but I can’t bear the thought of you making that journey alone.  Just for once you’re making me think of someone other than myself.  Please let me in?”

He waited, his heart beating so fast and loud, that he thought it would explode.  The door opened a crack, and Diana went back to sitting in one of the armchairs; her face pale and resolute, a bundle of tissues clasped in her hand.  Danny came in and closed the door very quietly behind him.  Something, way at the back of his mind, told him not to touch her, just to sit in the armchair next to hers, and be patient, patient and quiet.

At length she spoke, in a voice so sad that he had to hold himself back from taking her in his arms. “I don’t think that I can ever be your kept woman, Danny. I know that the PA side of it is just a lure to keep me, but why can’t you see that there’s nothing in the world that can make me into something that I’m not? I can’t make up for the loss of your wife, nor step into Debbie’s tiny stilettos.  There’s so much that I’ve loved about this weekend, but there are things that don’t sit well with me, and I can’t change them.”

“The last thing in the world I want is for you to be unhappy, my love,” he said.  “You’re right.  Money can’t buy everything; I’ve had too much of it for too long to be able to remember what counting the pennies is like.  Forget the big house, the new clothes, and all the publicity.  This weekend, the time I’ve spent with you has made me remember that, and learn more about myself.  If you really want to go home, let me come too? I want to look at your world, and see if we can’t find some compromise.  I want to be with you, and I don’t care where we are as long as we’re together. Please, Diana?”

Once again, he crouched down by her chair, still afraid to touch her however much he wanted to make contact. He closed his eyes and although he’d never been particularly religious, at that moment he came very close to praying.

“It’s a small three-bedroomed semi, in a fairly suburban area,” she said very quietly. “We had the kitchen done a couple of years ago, but the rest of the house is pretty much the same as it was twenty-two years ago when we moved in.  Old carpets and well-worn furniture. No swimming pool, gym or jacuzzi, and the grounds consist of a driveway, a small front garden, and a larger bit of grass at the back with a patio and a barbecue.  Could you, would you cope with that?”

“For you. Yes. For as long as you want.  Do you have a car at home?”

Diana giggled.  It was a weak giggle, but a giggle nevertheless.  “I do, but it’s not a patch on the Bentley. It’s a little old red Focus, but it gets me around.  Are you serious Danny?”

He sat down on the floor and leaned his head against her knees. “If it means that you and I are together, I’ll go anywhere and do anything that you ask. I wasn’t born into money, and though my memories of the time when things were tight aren’t good, I will do anything to prove that this isn’t just a flash in the pan. Please take me home with you, Diana?”

She stroked his head, and smiled as the tension went from his shoulders.

“Get up Danny, your knees won’t like being in that position for long.  Let’s sit down on the sofa, like we did that first night.  I have to admit, I didn’t expect you to come downstairs, let alone agree to come home with me.”

He put his arms around her, happy to feel her head resting against his shoulder; just sitting together on the sofa, like he and Lisa used to in the days before he became infamous, and the money started rolling in. He kissed the top of Diana’s head, and breathed in the scent of her hair. It made him feel safe again.

“Do you feel up to coming back upstairs, and telling them that you’ve forgiven me and that we need to make arrangements about going home – to your home?” he asked.

“I don’t suppose going back on the train is an option – considering all the publicity.  It’s a shame that the Bentley is so big, parking is going to be a bit of a problem in our road.  What will Mike, Mark and Ted do?”

“I’d given Mike a week off once we’d settled in at the big house, but he can go home now if we’re going to yours.  Ted will be very happy to be going back to Jenny, and Mark can have some time off too if he wants.  They’ve all earned it.  As far as I know, the police have finished with us for now.  There’s Debbie to consider too, though.”

Reaching up to turn his face to hers, she kissed him on the lips.  Not an affectionate peck, but a proper kiss that made him feel that he’d broken down another barrier between them. “Don’t worry too much about Debbie for the time being,” she said.  “I had a talk with Mark when we were out shopping this morning.  He’s been feeling very guilty about not looking out for her that night.  They’ve been texting each other and although it’s a friendship, I think he’d be very happy going to visit her in the meantime.”

“Let’s pack up today.  Mike will be fine about sorting out the hotel.  If Ted takes us back to yours, he can return here for Mike and Mark.  There’s something else I need to confess.”

“More?  Go on.”

“I don’t drive anymore.  That’s one of the many reasons why I have Ted.  I lost my licence due to drink driving years ago, and I haven’t applied for another one.”

“Hah! So, I get to be your chauffeur as well!”

“If I didn’t think you’d get all offended, I’d give you a pay rise.  I must make sure I get my cards from Mike so that we’ve got some money to live on.  Will I have to go shopping for food?”

“Poor boy!” she said, kissing him again. “If you are coming home with me, I will do my best to make sure that you don’t have to do anything that makes you unhappy or uncomfortable.”

“I like this,” he said. “I like just sitting here, the two of us. This is why I like this room so much.  I suppose we ought to go back upstairs and put them out of their misery.”

“I’d imagine that they are anticipating a good outcome; otherwise, you’d have been up there ranting and raving, and I’d be downstairs ordering a taxi to the station.”

“Come on then.  Let’s get things sorted out.  You strike a hard bargain, but by God you’re worth it!”

Shopping

Mike tapped gently on the bedroom door, loathe to disturb the happy couple but aware that Ted was waiting downstairs, and Mark needed to finalise Danny’s shopping requirements.  Diana moved Danny’s sleeping head slightly, and did up a couple of buttons on her shirt.

“Come in,” she called quietly, but it was sufficient to rouse Danny from what had been a short, but very sweet sleep.  Mike poked his head around the door and raised his eyebrows.

“It’s good to see that you’ve remembered how to sleep again Danny, but Mark and Ted are champing at the bit to go, and I’ve got some paperwork that I need you to look over.”

Pausing only to give Diana a quick kiss, Danny sat up and blinked. “I didn’t fall asleep in the middle of a conversation, did I?” he asked Diana.

“No.  You’d finished talking and you looked so peaceful, I didn’t have the heart to wake you.  I knew Mike would remind us eventually, and he did.”

Grabbing her hand and pulling them both up from the bed, Danny headed for the door.  Mark was sitting at the table with a notepad and pen in hand.  Danny reeled off his needs, most of which had already been written down by Mark.  Looking over his shoulder, Danny laughed at the predicted list.

“There’s no limit to Diana’s shopping; she buys whatever she needs, Mark.  I think I know her well enough by now to say that she won’t keep you hanging around for a long time, nor will she spend my entire fortune on anything that isn’t comfortable to wear, ugly to look at, and non-huggable.” 

Diana and Mark looked at each other and laughed; before picking up her handbag, she gave Danny a very long and loving embrace, touched by the fact that he was reluctant to let her go.

“We won’t be long; you’re right,” she said. “When you’re used to buying clothes on a tight budget, you don’t get easily distracted. The budget will be dictated by my boredom threshold too.”

“I’ll miss you.” he whispered burying his face in her hair. “I might have to nip downstairs and sniff your shampoo.”

“Thank you for reminding me; I only bought enough for the weekend. Keep busy and we’ll be back soon.”

He stood and watched them go; Mike put his arm around Danny’s shoulders and steered him back to the table, where a pile of legal paperwork was waiting for them.    

“She’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.  If this thing is going to last between the two of you, then I think you need to appreciate what a culture shock all this is for her.  Cast your mind back to before you became a marketable commodity if you can; you’ve led a very extraordinary life for so long now.  I think Diana is a very special person, and she may well be just what you need, but you’re going to have to accept that not everyone wants to live in the lap of luxury.”

“I know, I know.  Lisa spent years trying to get me to understand that money can’t buy everything.  God knows, we both appreciate that, don’t we? I’d have given away every penny to have had more time with her.”

“Now it’s time to look at what you want from life.  I’ve got the paperwork for the LA house; we have a buyer but are you absolutely certain that you want to get rid of it?”

“Too many memories, and if we’re talking about making life more ordinary, I don’t think Diana would take to that kind of lifestyle.  It would take her too far away from her children and friends for a start. If we need to anywhere other than London or the Cotswolds, we’ll just have to go to a hotel or rent a cottage or something.”

“I’ve spoken to Jenny this morning about getting the house ready for tomorrow.  It seems that Ted has given Diana a glowing reference already; she was very pleased to find that no drastic refurnishing would be necessary, apart from making things a bit more homely.”

“Would you think me daft if I said that I’m counting my blessings today, mate?”

“Don’t go and get all slushy on me, Dan.  I take it you won’t mind me taking a few days off to go home and see my other half once you’ve settled in the house.”

“I can do a bit of shouting and swearing if you like, but hey, I feel mellow and I’m looking forward to seeing what Diana makes of the house, and how she shapes up as my PA while you’re in London.”

“I’ve drawn up a loose job description, and a few things she can get her teeth into.  Mark’s happy to go back with you, and as he’s taken a shine to Diana as well, he’ll offer his help if she needs it.  That could all change if she turns into the shopper from Hell, however!”

Nothing could have been further from the truth; Ted sat outside a café, taking the opportunity to have a well-earned cup of coffee, and keeping a weather eye on the Bentley.  Mark had dashed off to complete Danny’s shopping, and arranged to meet up with Diana in her favourite chain store so that he could pay the bill.  He winked at her, and reminded her that next time she went clothes shopping it would be with her own company credit card.  It was yet another notion that terrified her, but every time such a thought crept in, she thought of Danny; the gentle kisses, the all-enveloping hugs, and the wonder of having someone who actually made love to her, wanted to spend time with her, and didn’t find her boring nor frigid.

Buying some special presents for Debbie was fun, and she did it first, using Caroline’s favourites as a guideline.  Finding everything else she needed wasn’t too arduous, a couple of nice blouses and dresses, and she paid special attention to acquiring a couple of swimsuits that combined a flattering shape with a decent covering. Having only bought a limited supply of toiletries with her, she stocked up and bought some nice scarves and necklaces as well.  Her timing was immaculate; having stowed Danny’s shopping in the car, Mark found her and paid for her purchases with a flourish of the card.  To Diana, the number of her bags looked hugely extravagant, until Ted opened the boot and compared them to the bags and boxes belonging to Danny that were already there.

“As you can see,” said Mark. “Danny likes to be prepared for any eventualities. I’ve got a feeling that meeting you has caught him on the hop a bit, but as far as I’m concerned, Diana, you are an extremely efficient shopper, and very welcome.”

“I’ll second that!” said Ted, doffing an imaginary cap.  He only wore the chauffeur’s livery on special occasions. 

Diana blushed.  She really wasn’t used to all the positive male attention that she’d received in the past three days. She sat in the back of the Bentley on her own; Mark got travel sickness, and was always happier in the front.  Diana didn’t mind sitting alone; she was still rather stunned by all that had happened, and couldn’t deny the butterflies that were flitting around in her stomach at the prospect of being reunited with Danny. The thought of the money that had been spent that morning was rather scary, but Mark seemed to take it all in his stride. She took a moment instead to think of Caroline and Ben, and what they might be doing, but John crept back into her thoughts like an ugly, poisonous snake.  She still hadn’t looked at his messages nor listened to his voicemails.  She decided to trust Danny on this.

Having read their way through the paperwork, Mike was busy on his laptop while Danny was on the floor doing press ups. He got to his feet when Mark, Diana and an extremely loaded luggage trolley came up in the lift.

“You were quick! Did you get everything you needed, Diana?”

“Yes, and Mark got everything you needed as well, and I am very proud to say that my pile of shopping is smaller than yours.  Have you put the world to rights while we were away?”

“You would be surprised at what we can achieve when we put our minds to it.  Your ex really is a git, isn’t he?”

“What has he done now?” Diana looked aghast.

“Nothing important,” said Mike dismissively.  “He’s been trying to sell his story to the tabloids but most of the press would rather stick to our side of things.  He’s not really newsworthy, whereas the extremely generous donation that Danny has made to your hospice trust is going down very well, and has generated a number of prospective TV appearances for the ‘bad boy done good’.”

Seeing the look of horror on Diana’s face, Danny took her in his arms.

“Most of the press will check out stuff like your ex’s rubbish with Mike first.” he said.  “The stories John has been peddling have no substance, are more than a little racist, and the last thing anyone needs is a costly lawsuit for printing his blatant lies.  There may be a few local rags who’ll run a toned-down version of his story in the lesser pages, but no one will be that interested in the long term. Mike is used to mitigating bad news about me; on this occasion I’m actually the good guy for a change!” “I’m sorry.” she said quietly. Once again John had done something to suck all the pleasure out of life. Danny shook his head. “Nothing to be sorry about.  You’ve done nothing wrong, and now you and I are going to take this shopping into the bedroom, and explore it all.”

Gross Misconduct

Just as Diana was about to make her way upstairs for breakfast, her mobile rang and glancing at the number she saw that it was the manager of the hospice where she worked.  That was a little puzzling, as she wasn’t due back at work until the middle of the week.  She took the call anyway.

“Hello Diana, I take it that you’ve seen the news today?”

Her tone of voice was not happy.

“Um, no I haven’t yet,” said Diana. “I just got out of the shower.  Is there a problem?”

“Well, your face is plastered all over the tabloids, together with your new ‘partner’, as I think they are calling him. This is not exactly good publicity for the company you know. Flaunting your love life for everyone to see.  You should know better at your age.”

“I spent most of the day on Saturday publicising the company, not to mention the fact that Danny is one of the company’s major sponsors.”

Diana could feel her hackles rising and she wasn’t sure if it was the comments about Danny or the ageist remarks about herself.

“Yes, well. I’ve had couple of calls and emails this morning, complaining about your behaviour and asking for your resignation.  Some of the board members consider that you have brought the company into disrepute.  We won’t be asking for your notice under the circumstances. I’m sure that you don’t want to give us any further bad publicity. You need to be thinking of the people who need our support rather than your love life.  I’ll put this in writing anyway.  Where do you want me to send the letter?”

“You can put it in an email, then I can forward it to – to my legal representative.”

Diana put the mobile down and took a step back from it. 

What to do now? 

Sit down and cry? 

Throw something?

Ask Danny to come downstairs?  

She decided to square up her shoulders, and join the others for breakfast.  She might cry at some point anyway, she didn’t really feel like throwing anything, and it would be better to let everyone know her situation before she signed a contract.

If they still wanted her to, that is.  

She put on as brave a face as possible, especially when Danny jumped to his feet as soon as she walked out of the lift.

He wasn’t easily fooled however and took both of her hands in his.

“Have you been looking at your ex’s texts?”

“No,” Diana took a deep breath. “I’ve just been sacked.  For bringing the company into disrepute.”

“Who called you?” said Mike, picking up his mobile.

“My manager – ex-manager.  Says she’s had complaints about my behaviour.”

“Sit down and eat some breakfast with Danny,” said Mike.  “I need to make a few calls.”

He went back into his bedroom and closed the door. 

Danny grinned.

“There was a time when I’d have been on the phone bawling people out about this, but Mike is SO much better at it than me.” said Danny.  “Cold as ice when he needs to be. Fruit juice? Coffee? Toast? Or just me? That’s better. I saw a little smile then.  When you’ve finished your breakfast, we’ll get the contract out and go through it again until you’re happy.  Can I look at your ex’s texts if I promise not to swear too much?”

Diana handed him her mobile and drank some juice. Mark buttered some toast for her and offered a choice of strawberry jam, marmalade or Marmite.  Another simple, but friendly gesture that made her smile a bit more and eased some of the shock.  Danny found John’s texts highly amusing and beckoned Mark over to read some of them, others he found less amusing, and provoked in him the desire to grab John by the neck and give him a good thumping.  He put the mobile face down on the table, and moved his chair closer to Diana’s.  

“What a prat.”

“That’s mild for you.” said Mark pouring a mug of coffee for Diana.

“Are they that bad?” she asked, feeling the dark pall of disappointment descending even further.

“Seen worse.  I get the impression that he doesn’t think that his ex-wife should dare to – how does he put it? Ah yes, ‘seek attention by jumping into bed with a black third-rate ex-sportsman and has-been TV presenter’.  Not that I care about his opinion, but I would guess that I probably make more in a month from my repeats than he does in a year. What does the racist sexist git do for a living anyway?”

“Insurance – he sells it – I think.”  Diana stifled a giggle.   “I don’t know for sure, as he was always very secretive about it – and about how much he earned.  That’s why I went back to nursing once the children were older. I needed some money to buy clothes for the three of us, and other things that they needed.  John was always pleading poverty whenever I asked for money.”

“Not any more.  Mark is quite looking forward to helping you bend our credit card.  Make sure she gets a couple of swimsuits as well, mate.”

“Swimsuits?” Diana asked.

“Indoor heated pool with jacuzzi.  Isn’t that a form of relaxation? There’s the gym too.  You don’t get a six-pack from watching sport on the TV.  I gave myself this weekend off and thanks to you I’ve rediscovered another form of exercise that’s far more enjoyable.”

Diana blushed but couldn’t help smiling as well.

Mike came back out the bedroom laughing.

“Oh dear.  Your manager has somewhat overstepped the mark, and is getting a good telling off for it.  I’ve spoken to your CEO.  He’s rather pleased about the publicity, says that it’s all very positive about you Diana, and the compassionate way you supported Debbie.  Says he’s very proud to have you on the staff, and far from being sacked, as of now, you are on a year’s sabbatical to free you up to work with us.  He hopes that you’ll be able to drum up some more funds and increase awareness about hospice care.  I do think we ought to show Diana what all the fuss is about though, Mark?”

Mark picked up the sheaf of papers that he’d hidden under the table.  As Mike had said, the photos weren’t that bad, although Diana could easily pick fault with any and all of them.  Her smile was a constant now, and Danny, holding her very protectively, looked equally happy and not in the slightest bit like thumping anyone.

“We make rather a handsome couple, don’t we?” said Danny, shuffling through and picking out what he thought were the best pictures.  The articles were a bit over the top, and as for the Florence Nightingale comparisons, Diana raised her eyebrows, and wondered how anyone could think that she had caused any damage to the hospice. 

“I’m afraid that it isn’t your behaviour as such, it’s your association with bad boy Danny.” said Mike, moving the newspapers and handing her the contract to look at instead.

Danny put on a suitably penitent expression.  Unable to resist, she put her arms around his neck, kissed him swiftly, and picked up the pen Mike was offering her.

“Here goes!”

There were three copies to sign; Mike and Danny countersigned and witnessed.  There was no going back now.

“Welcome to Team Bad Boy! I’ll go and have a look at my clothes, and see what Mark needs to stock me up with.  I don’t want to offend housekeeping here with your son’s tee-shirt Diana, though Jenny won’t be bothered by it at all when we get back.  She and Ted have been with me almost as long as Mike. Talking of which, Ted says let him know when you and Mark are ready to go shopping.”

Pushing the now empty toast plate away from her, Diana looked imploringly at Danny, who stood up, grabbed her hand and took her into the bedroom.  They sat down on the bed together and Danny took her hands in his.

“Come on. Spill the beans.”

“All I can smell is the smoke of my boats being burned.  I can cope with most things, but I need to know that I’m making the right decisions for you – as well as me.”

“Come and lay down next to me.  No overtures, I just think that we both need to hold onto each other for a little while.  All the time you were downstairs having a shower, I was missing you.  I will miss you this morning while you are out shopping, but Mike has some business that will keep me out of trouble.  I am so used to seeing pictures in the papers of me snarling and shouting at people. This morning, I am all smiles, and I have a lovely lady on my arm who is worth her weight in gold – and I do not mean that in a derogatory sense! It’s about time I grew up.  If Lisa hadn’t become ill when she did, I might have been able to make that change years ago, but I was too angry and too screwed up to think about anything but her. She encouraged me to go and see a shrink, but the effect was short-lived.  I’d be fine for half an hour, but going home and seeing her wasting away made me feel like I was useless.  Lisa fought so bravely, and I tried to be strong for her, and for myself but it was no good, and I’ve been beating myself up about it ever since.  I was dragged very reluctantly to this book-signing and fundraising weekend, and I was miserable. Then you smiled at me, and it was like putting down a heavy weight. I want you to work as my PA so that you can get to know what an awkward sod I am, then if someday soon I get down on one knee to you, I’ll know that you’ve made that choice of your own free will.”

It wasn’t an easy speech to make and Diana understood this.  Danny laying his soul bare, pushed her own fears out of the way, as some of his pent-up grief spilled over again.  Not the body-wracking sobbing of their first night together, but silent tears that she kissed away. She grabbed another handful of tissues, mindful that her red shirt marked very easily.

“I have another solution.” said Danny, and undid some of the shirt buttons so that his face could rest against one of her breasts and his hand could cup the other.  “Buy any clothes that you want, buy clothes that undo easily, buy what you feel happy and comfortable in, but whatever you do…”

“I know – don’t forget the swimsuits.”

The Cotswold House

The journey home was quieter, with everyone feeling full, but content, and for Diana, sitting the back of the Bentley, with Danny’s arm around her, it felt like she had reached the epitome of happiness.  They stopped off at reception for Mike to order the early paper editions, but on this occasion, Danny decided he could wait until breakfast to see what the media thought of him. He got out of the lift with Diana on the first floor, and left Mark and Mike to go on up to the suite.

Some of Diana’s clothes had already been laundered, and she tucked them away discreetly in her suitcase. Being alone with Danny again was blissful; just being able to kiss and hold each other without worrying about camera flashes and any other intrusions.  Mutual consumption of garlic bread led to scrupulous dental hygiene, but use of the bathroom was shared without any fuss or embarrassment.  Danny announced that there was no point in putting any night clothes on if they were only going to take them off again. They’d also come to a mutual agreement on whether condoms were needed.  No possibility of a pregnancy since Diana had had her tubes tied after Caroline was born, the combination of her chastity and Danny’s regular insurance medicals took the last barrier away. Making love with Danny seemed to get more intense every time, and his very obvious appreciation made Diana feel more confident and assertive, a notion that certainly went down well with Danny.

Mindful of Danny’s cold shoulders, Diana passed him Ben’s tee-shirt, but decided that the warmth that was having Danny curled around her was sufficient, so her nightshirt stayed under the pillow. Just a little step toward losing her inhibitions but one that Danny seemed to understand. She still didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but nothing else seemed to matter after being told what a wonderful woman she was, and that the whole world would know by the morning.  Diana thought that was something of an overstatement on Danny’s part, but saw no point in arguing. As they drifted off to sleep together, her hopes were of some peace and quiet tonight.

Sometime during the night Diana turned over, and as a consequence the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes, was Danny’s face, relaxed and seemingly carefree as he slept.  She kissed him softly, and moved closer. 

He opened his eyes, and put an arm around her waist. “What time is it?”

“Just after eight.  Did you sleep well?”

“So well that I am now dying to go for a pee.  Promise that you’ll still be here when I get back?”

“Always.”

Diana smiled as Danny leaped out of bed and headed for the bathroom.  Coming back just as swiftly, he threw off the tee-shirt and jumped back into bed, enveloping Diana in a bear hug that took her breath away.

“Did you really mean that?” said Danny, running his hands down her spine and making her shiver with delight. “Did you really mean always?”

“Yes.  The more time I spend with you – and with the rest of the team of course – the less I feel like going back home. What happens now though, Danny? We can’t stay in this hotel forever.”

“We’ll be leaving tomorrow.  All of us – and that includes you whether you sign the contract or not.”

“Oh goodness, I forgot all about signing up.  Can I do it this morning?”

“It would make Mike feel more secure.  We have a choice of where we go next.  I have the apartment in London, and the new house in the Cotswolds.  There’s the estate in LA but that’s in the process of being sold.  You need to meet the rest of my team as well.”

“There’s more?”

“We keep permanent staff at both places in the UK.  Ted’s wife Jenny is the housekeeper at the Cotswold house, so he’d kind of like it if we headed back there first. We have a gardener, a cook who will come in for big dinners, and a guy who tells me off for not keeping in shape. Says he’s a personal trainer.”

“What kind of a house is it?”

“It’s big.  Whitish. It’s got a gym, and an indoor heated swimming pool, and more rooms than I can remember. I haven’t really looked around it much. I sold our previous house in the UK when we moved to LA, and I bought this one when I decided to come back home.  Jenny keeps it ready for us.  She and Ted have one of the cottages in the grounds.”

“ONE of the cottages in the grounds! I feel panic rising again!”

“I have an extremely good cure for panic.  Have you turned your phone on yet?”

“No.”

“Me neither.  Let’s just stay incognito for a bit longer? I like the way that you make love to me now that you aren’t so shy.”

“I never wanted to be as close to John as I do with you.  Is that him or me do you think?

“It’s us – he doesn’t even enter into the equation.”

When they finally turned their mobiles on, the buzzing of unread texts was overwhelming.  Danny scanned through his, and called Mike first.

“It’s me! Yes, we are both awake, and hungry.  Shall we all have breakfast upstairs?  Don’t tell me what the papers are saying.  I’ll see for myself.  Yes, I’ll tell her.  What sleeping tablets?  I slept like a baby – well, maybe not a baby exactly.  I know – too much information. See you in a bit.”

Danny leaned back on the pillows and put his arms around Diana who was anxiously scrolling through her texts.

“Put the phone down, my angel,” he said.  “Mike says to tell you that all the photos with you in are very flattering.  No one has written anything nasty about you, on the contrary, you are being portrayed as a modern-day Florence Nightingale who is going to turn this extremely bad boy around.  Mike is ordering breakfast for us all upstairs, and he also says that the rest of your clean laundry is hanging up outside our room so that you have something else to wear today.  What have you got on your phone?”

“Nice complimentary texts from Jane and Ben.  Caroline is in hoots but very proud, and Helen thinks the pictures are flattering as well.  There are twelve texts from John, and each one is worse than the last.  He doesn’t appear to have taken notice of the warning I gave him about the police either, as there are another six voice mails that I don’t want to listen to.”

“I’ll look at them when we get upstairs.  How do you feel about going clothes shopping with Mark this morning?”

“With Mark?”

“Yes.  As well as being Mike’s second in command, he does my personal shopping and has a very bendy company credit card. I thought maybe you could pick up some more clothes for yourself, and get some nice girly stuff for Debbie. Ted will take you both to the shopping centre, and I will stay here with Mike, watch some more sport on the TV, and do some sit-ups and other stuff I need to do to keep my abs intact, and my personal trainer happy. You have to sign the contract first though.”

“Danny!  I have clothes at home.  Nothing special; I bought my best ones to wear here, but …”

“I have a feeling that your house might be out of bounds for a few days at least.  Mike has put the wheels in motion about buying it, and if the grumpy old git is a pain, we’ll take out an injunction against him.  Will Jane and the cat be alright if he turns up?”

“John has never been violent to me.” said Diana, still defensive and unable to be dishonest.  “He prefers to make threats and tell lies.  Jane hates him with a vengeance and will have even less of a problem about phoning the police if he turns up now that the story is out about me – and you?”

“About us my love.  I’ll throw some clothes on and bring your laundry in from outside.  You have a shower, and I’ll go and get one upstairs to save time. The suite has two bathrooms.  Did I tell you that already? Do not look at anything from your ex until you are with me and Mike. Promise?”

“Can I ask you something?” It was another thing that Diana had thought of during dinner, but had been distracted.  “Is there a Mrs Mike or Mrs Mark tucked away somewhere as well?”

“Mark is still young, free and single but frequently seen escorting young ladies to nightclubs when we are in town.  There is a Mr Mike.  He lives in London and runs a small publishing company.  He and Mike have a flat over the business.  I take it that you have no problem about that?”

“Of course not.  I’m just glad that Mike has someone special; he carries a heavy load for you, doesn’t he?”

“Yes.  Especially over the past two years.  Last night I got a good night’s sleep without having to resort to sleeping tablets.  That’s another reason for keeping you close, my love.  I’ve had enough of relying on medication to keep me sane.”

“We can look at that a bit later if you want.  There are much better methods of getting relaxed than taking tablets.”

“And you have shown me some rather wonderful methods of relaxation already…”

“Danny! I was talking about meditation and mindfulness – actually.”

In the Public Eye

Mike confirmed that Diana’s room and the penthouse suite were booked until Tuesday. Housekeeping came up to collect Diana’s laundry and assured her that it would all be done by the morning, so she would have clean clothes to wear.  Looking through her suitcase, Diana rapidly realised that neither of the velvet dresses would do for day wear, and the summer dress wouldn’t fare well in the current rainy weather.  That left her with what she was wearing, and the red shirt and black trousers she’d worn for the train journey.  Mindful of Danny’s words, she refreshed her lipstick, brushed out her hair and rummaged in her suitcase for a long, soft scarf in shades of blue to put round her neck. 

A glance in the mirror confirmed that she would do.

Having despatched her clothes to the laundry in the basement, Diana wandered back up to the suite where Danny was lounging on the sofa and watching a sports programme.  Mike was busy on the phone, and Mark was doing something that vaguely resembled ‘tidying up’.  Ted had disappeared to wherever it was that he routinely disappeared to.

Danny looked up as she entered the room and grinned.

“Hello Beautiful!  The table’s booked and the press have been tipped off. There may be others waiting downstairs when we go out though. Have you sorted the laundry? Mark’s having a rummage around to see if there’s anything we need doing too.  Come and sit down with me.  We don’t have to watch sport.”

Diana laughed and sat down on the sofa, very happy to feel Danny’s arm around her, and his nose buried in her hair.

“Why does your hair always smell so good?  You can say what you like, none of the skinny models who’ve thrown themselves at me in the past, could look as lovely in jeans and a sweater. Is that Chanel No. 5 I can smell as well?”

“Yes, it was a Christmas treat from my friend Helen.  John didn’t like perfume; he said that it made him sneeze.  It didn’t seem to affect him when he was off with other women though.” Diana said a little sadly.

“To hell with John!  You are a free woman now and embarking on a new life with me – with us – still nervous?”

“Slightly less.  Helen is extremely excited for me and the cat is asleep on Jane’s lap again.  She says she doesn’t want any money for looking after the house, but she’ll accept some for feeding the cat. He’s got very picky about what he eats recently. She very reluctantly gave me her bank details.”

“Pass them over to Mike.  How much does it cost to feed a cat Mike?  Be generous? I suppose I ought to put my shoes and socks on.  Did I tell you how much I hate socks?”

“I may have read about it somewhere…”

“What else have you read about me?  My temper tantrums? My alcoholism? How difficult I am to work with?”

“All of those things and more, but I prefer to make my own mind up about people. The first time I met you, I felt your sadness, fancied you like mad, and I wanted more than anything to get to know you.” Diana whispered in Danny’s ear. 

“And now you know me better?” he whispered back.

“The thought of a future with you, however short it may be, makes me feel happy. My life before wasn’t bad, especially once the divorce came through, but, oh Danny, you’ve opened up a door, and I really want to walk through it.”

He pulled her close and kissed her, sliding his warm hands under her jumper.  If it hadn’t been for Mike’s discreet cough, they would both have forgotten that they weren’t alone.

“Come on lovebirds. Get your shoes and socks on, Danny.  Ted’s just texted; he’s waiting downstairs, and we already have some happy snappers waiting in the car park.”

The very thought made Diana cringe.  Busy putting his shoes on, Danny didn’t notice but Mike did. He leaned over the back of the sofa and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I’ve sent out a press release identifying you as Danny’s partner, and as the person who comforted the young woman after she had been attacked,” said Mike. “We haven’t released Debbie’s details, but I’ve managed to track down her sister, and she’s coming down to visit her today. All you need to do is put up with Danny hugging and kissing you in public because he wants to, and for the cameras, and telling everyone how wonderful you are. Keep that smile on your face, and leave the taking to Danny.  They’ll try to get a rise out of you, but bear in mind how much you mean to Danny – and that the rest of us think you are rather special too. Okay?”

Nodding, because it was much safer than actually speaking, Diana looked up at Danny, who was now fully shod and holding his hands out to her.  She took them and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet and into his arms again.

“Now you see why Mike is such a good manager. He knows me well, and he’s already made a very accurate assessment of you.  Stop worrying, try to relax and look forward to a decent meal. You can drink wine if you want to, but I’m on fizzy water and fruit juice.”

“I’ll join you. I think I may need to keep my wits about me, and although I like the odd drink, too many shifts in A&E have shown me the damage that alcohol can do.  Are we both eating garlic bread?”

“You bet!  I love garlic bread! I promise to brush my teeth though.”

“Me too. I remember stuff, it’s another part of the training.  You have a thing about dental hygiene. And you hate wearing socks.”

“Diana, you are definitely my Wonder Woman.  Come on team, let’s face the music!”

Danny led the way into the lift, holding Diana’s hand very tightly. Reception was empty apart from Ted, who gestured to the car park, which was full of cars and the press retinue.  Mike opened the door and stood to one side as Danny and Diana came through to a barrage of flashes, and intrusive fluffy microphone booms.

“Hey Danny, any comments about the alleged rape and burglary?  We’ve got the press release but is there anything else that’s new?”

“Not really mate.  The young lady is in a safe place and we’ve seen to it that she’s being well looked after.  We can’t give any details of her whereabouts of course. The police are looking for the little scrote who is ‘alleged’ to have done this.  As far as we know, he’s still in the country so if you spot him…last seen wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap, but you can’t miss that chin of his.  Dimple in the chin, devil within as my old Nan used to say. Hurry up and take your snaps, we’re all starving and the restaurant is booked for seven-fifteen.”

“Anything that your lady friend wants to contribute? Nurse Davenport, is it?”

Danny looked at Diana and smiled.  She squeezed his hand and smiled back as the flashes went off again. “My name is Diana. Diana Davenport. Yes, I am a nurse by profession and I have been here this weekend trying to raise awareness and funds for hospice care.  Danny and I met, and discovered that we had a great deal in common.  It’s early days for us, so I’d appreciate it if you could cut out the innuendos, and concentrate on helping the police to find the deeply unpleasant person who abused a young girl, and who is currently on the run. I’m starving too, so if you don’t mind, can you let us get in the car and go out for dinner, please?”

Ted gently ushered the team through to the Bentley; Danny, Mark and Mike were still smiling at the way Diana had dealt with the reporter, a young man renowned for his snidey comments. Sitting in the back between Mike and Danny, she felt calmer and relieved that the pressure was off temporarily.

“There will be a few more members of the press at the restaurant.” said Mike, checking his tablet. “Good advertising for the owner, and a reminder that we are all human beings and like to sit down and enjoy a meal together. I have a feeling that you’ll be able to deal without my advice in future.”

“Don’t bank on it, Mike,” said Diana. “I need all the help I can get.  I don’t have a problem dealing with belligerent A&E attendees, but this is a whole new world for me.  Make sure you tell me if I’m out of line?”

“He’s been doing that for me for years, my love,” said Danny.  “You’ll be much easier to mind than me. Ted’s dropping us off outside the restaurant.  He’ll join us when he’s parked the car up round the back.”

As advised, there was a small cluster of reporters and a solitary photographer waiting outside the restaurant.  Danny and Diana smiled for the camera, including a snap or two with the owner, who ushered them into a side room set up specially for Danny’s group, and with a couple of tables and chairs set aside for the media.  The questioners were kinder, less intrusive than before, and much of the information required could be supplied by Danny and Mike. Diana focussed on the menu, and was taken by surprise by a rather direct question.

“Are you going back to nursing, Diana? Are we to see you as Danny’s new PA or his partner?  This is a pretty big change, isn’t it?”

Danny squeezed her hand, not quite knowing whether she wanted to answer the question or not.  She squeezed back and smiled.

“I haven’t spoken to my employer yet.  That will come tomorrow.  I’ve been talking to Danny and Mike about the future, and I’ve sounded out my close friends and family.  They think it’s time that I learned to live a little, and the PA contract that has been drawn up for me will certainly ensure that.   As for being Danny’s partner; that’s early days too, but we are definitely enjoying each other’s company and getting to know more about each other.  My son is binge-watching Danny’s programmes and my daughter has been Googling like mad.  I have their blessing, and that’s important to me.”

“What about your ex-husband?  We understand that you’re only recently divorced.  Is Danny the cause?”

“You’ve been doing your research but missed out on one very important detail. I met Danny three days after my divorce was finalised.  For the past two years I have had to share my home with an estranged, unpleasant, and very grumpy man who never gave a thought for me during our marriage.  You can imagine what a wonderful sense of freedom this weekend has given me, and though Danny and I have only been together for a couple of days, he is, and always will be a much nicer, kinder and more thoughtful man than my ex-husband. I am expecting some kind of a backlash from my ex, but he’s spent twenty-odd years making me miserable.  He can’t hurt me anymore.”

At this point Danny intervened, and put his arm around Diana, pulling her close.

“That will do now.  We need to order some food.  Even before she had a contract, Diana proved to all of us what an asset she is, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s the first woman that’s made me feel happy since my wife Lisa died.  Diana is a real woman, not some skinny model or actress out to hang onto my coat tails. We’ve both had a bad time over the past two years, and now we intend enjoy life again.  Thank you for your time. It’s much appreciated, but if you print any crap about us, you will be sorry.”

The last comment was made in a joking fashion, but those who had been writing about Danny for some years knew that it wasn’t a good idea to cross him. They said their goodbyes, and the meal began in earnest, with the promised garlic bread.

Apart from the first night of the fundraising weekend, Diana couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed so much, or enjoyed a meal with a group of other people. Meals out with friends at home were always overshadowed by the knowledge that John had slept with most of the women, and was receiving suspicious looks from their husbands.  She was often invited out for meals associated with work, but John refused to go with her, and as they were organised for couples, or single women looking for new partners, Diana felt uncomfortably out on a limb. Sitting next to Danny, who was eating one-handed so that he could keep the arm around her waist; listening to tales of his misbehaviour, and the scrapes that Mike, Mark and Ted had got him out of in the past, she began to feel like she belonged.  As a real person, not just a deserted wife who was pitied and whispered about, or a hard-working nurse who gave up most of her time to care for others.

The evening passed happily. The food was much better than the hotel fodder, and the high point of dinner was zabaglione whipped up over a gas burner at the table.  On the rare occasions that John had taken Diana to an Italian restaurant, he had always refused to have this particular pudding because it was too expensive, and it was usually only cooked for two people at a time. Danny grinned as he and Diana shared their romantic dessert, accompanied by cat calls from the others.

Catching Up

There was much discussion up in the suite about where the evening meal should be; Ted solved the problem by nipping down to the staff quarters (where he preferred to stay), and getting a straw poll from those who preferred to eat out rather than in.  He came back with three restaurant suggestions, one of which was immediately discounted because of Diana’s dislike of lemongrass. The final choice was between a curry house or an Italian restaurant.  Pizza and pasta triumphed. Ted volunteered to drive everyone in the Bentley; Mike and Mark played scissors, paper, rock for the front seat and Mark won.  Danny promised not to make Mike feel like a gooseberry in the back of the car, and Diana decided to sit in the middle so that she could pick Mike’s brains as well as hold Danny’s hand.

Before any of that could happen, Diana had texts and phone calls to make, and it wasn’t going to be easy.  Mike had shown her the revised contract, and to be fair, there were plenty of get out clauses if anything went wrong between Danny and herself.  Danny took her into what should have been his bedroom and pulled her down onto the bed beside him.

“May as well get some use out of the bed,” he said.  “Rest here and read through the contract, and if there’s anything that worries you, just yell and I’ll come running.  Do you want to make your phone calls from here as well? I’ll see to it that you aren’t disturbed, but again, let me know if anything upsets you.  More than anything my love, I want this to work.”

He put his arms around her and held her very tight. It was the confirmation that she needed that this wasn’t just one of Danny’s mad spontaneous ideas. It was becoming a reality.

“What happens tomorrow, Danny?” she asked.

“That’s what Mike and I are going to talk about.  We need to look at my schedule before we can make any plans.  We’ll work around things and come up with some solutions, but whatever happens, you and I will be together. Remember, if you need me, just call.”

He kissed her with a tenderness that had no hidden agenda, and left the room.  Diana looked around her, this bedroom was far more spacious but rather over-decorated compared to the one she had been staying in.  She preferred her room, and smiled at its very happy memories.  And so, it seemed, did Danny. She sat down on the bed and had another quick look through the contract before texting Caroline, Ben and Jane to see if they were free for a chat.  She didn’t text Helen; she knew that she would be home, a car accident six years ago had left her in a wheelchair, and getting out of the house required massive advance planning. While Diana had done her best to be there and provide support after the accident, John and Helen had never got on, and it was only once she had separated from him that Diana felt able to rekindle her friendship with Helen properly.

“Hello you.  Are you back home from your fundraiser yet?” asked Helen.

“Not yet.  How are you?”

“I’m okay.  A bit bored so your phone call has brightened up my day.  What have you been up to?”

Starting with the mutual smiles on Friday evening, Diana told Helen everything, and as each new revelation was revealed, Helen’s responses grew more ecstatic. “Wow!  Is Danny Boy really as difficult as he’s made out to be? And to think that I bought you a vibrator!  You certainly won’t need it now!”

“He is lovely, Helen. Kind, sweet, and very funny.  I’ve seen a little of the celebrity stuff but his team are very good at handling him.  Gosh, that includes me as well now.  We’re all going out to dinner tonight to get to know each other better, but Mike, Danny’s manager says that there are other staff dotted around the country in different places as well.”

“What kind of places?”

“I don’t know the details but there’s a big house near you in the Cotswolds, and an apartment in London apparently.  The house in LA is in the process of being sold because Danny doesn’t want to live in the US any more.  I’ve got a contract to sign in order to be his PA, and Mike is in the process of buying our house and putting it into a trust for Ben and Caroline so that John can’t touch it.  It will also be my bolthole if things go wrong.”

“Do you think that they will?  It’s very early days to be making such drastic decisions.”

“I have to admit Helen, that no one has ever made me feel the way that Danny does.  I don’t just mean the making love side of it either.  He says that he is falling for me, and I feel the same.  Am I just being a silly middle-aged woman?”

“No.  You are a wonderful woman who has spent your life pandering to John’s whims and protecting your children from his nastiness.  If ever a woman deserved something wonderful to happen, it’s you!  Have you told the kids yet?”

“You first.  You’ve given me the courage to explain it to them.  They’ve both texted back so I’ll call them now.  I’ll keep you posted about where I am. Fingers crossed.”

Diana called Ben first.  His initial reaction was to go online, look at Danny’s profile and check out some of his programmes.  He was pleased that his graphic designs had been appreciated, and that his Dad wasn’t going to get his greedy mitts on their house.  He gave his blessing.

Caroline laughed to find that her well-behaved mother was having an affair with an infamous person. “Dad is going to absolutely die when he finds out.  Are you going to tell him?  Can I watch?”

“There’s a strong possibility that I may be on the front pages as Danny’s mystery woman in the morning.  The police have sanctioned media publicity once Debbie’s been moved to a safe place, but we know that Simon is still in the country. I had my best dress on in the pictures, but I’m rapidly running out of clean clothes.  Do hotels still have laundries?”

“Mum, you are an absolute innocent at times.  Yes, they do have laundries so get off the phone and get your clothes sorted out.  I shall watch the news with interest and bask in the glowing reflection of your new found fame.  Ben and I love you heaps, and it’s brilliant that something special is happening for you after all that you’ve put up with.  I’m pleased about Dad being bought out of the house particularly. Have fun!”

Jane was rather shell-shocked at Diana’s news but very pleased that there was no way that John would ever be living next door.  The cat was asleep on her lap again.

Diana got off the bed and stuck her head around the door. “I’ve spoken to them all, and they are amazed but very supportive.  Ben’s going to binge-watch your programmes, Danny.  Lovely phone calls, but I have even more questions now.  Caroline says I should send my clothes down to the hotel laundry before I run out, but I didn’t exactly pack much in the first place.”

Quick as a flash, Danny was up and pulling her down next him on the sofa, assuring her that they had a better idea of what was happening now in the short term.

“We can get your laundry done as a priority, you go down to our room and bag it up, and it will be ready by the morning.  The hospital phoned to say that Debbie has been safely sent off to the new hospital, and not a moment too soon, as a young man in dark glasses and a baseball cap turned up pretending to be her boyfriend.  She’d already left but the receptionist kept him talking on the pretence of checking if Debbie was awake, and in the meantime, they called the police.  He got suspicious though, and legged it before the police arrived. DI Willis has given the go-ahead for some publicity now, and Mike is contacting some of our friendly journos and paparazzi to meet us at the restaurant, ask a few questions and take a few photos. Sounds like fun, eh?”

Danny grinned.

Diana frowned. “What am I going to wear?”

“We are all going as we are – casual dress.  You can put on some lippy and let your hair down, but otherwise, you will do us proud.  Won’t she lads?”

The response was a rousing cheer that made Diana laugh and forget her worries.  Dinner tonight was sorted, and tomorrow would take care of itself – once she’d sorted out her laundry.

Visiting Debbie

Still feeling rather unreal, Diana went back to her room on the way downstairs to pick up her handbag. The team building event in the main conference room had just finished and people were filing out into reception to pay their bar bills, collect their luggage, and find a space in one of the minibuses heading back to the station.  Diana caught sight of Alice and waved at her; she came over and formal introductions were made. 

“You aren’t coming back on the train then?” asked Alice.

“No.” said Danny. “Diana and I are going to visit the member of my staff who was attacked last night.  She’s in hospital.”

“Oh. We heard that there was an incident, but we were all advised not to ask questions because the police were involved,” said Alice.  “It was nice to meet you both anyway, and I hope the young woman feels better soon. Bye.”

Diana noticed that Alice was headed back towards the man from Scotland that she had spent most of the weekend with.  Diana still couldn’t remember his name.  Danny grabbed her hand, and walked out to the car park where Ted was waiting next to the Bentley and holding the passenger door open.  Mike had obviously sent a swift message saying that they were on the way.  Sitting next to Danny in the back seat brought back those butterflies that she’d felt last time she had been in the Bentley.  This time, after fastening her seat belt for her, Danny followed it up by taking her face in his hands and kissing her; it was different type of kiss, not an affectionate peck, nor a precursor to making love, but a kiss that made her feel that above all, he was very happy to be with her.  The barriers between her old life and this new one, were very gradually tumbling down.

“I know you haven’t signed the contract yet,” said Danny. “But I have a job for you when we get to the hospital.  If Debbie is fit to be moved, I would definitely like her to go to a private hospital with security as soon as possible – just in case Simon turns up.  I think that was your idea anyway? Given your experience, it might be easier for you to do the arranging, and get Debbie’s consent in as gentle a way as possible. I’d like her to be moved within reasonable distance of the house in the Cotswolds.  Could you do that?”

Diana nodded.  This was more familiar ground; she often had to arrange for patients to be moved from hospitals to the hospice, and knew that it was an area that had to be dealt with compassionately and with discretion.  Mike had given Danny a list of private hospitals that fit the bill, and Diana scanned it thoroughly before picking out two that might be appropriate.

“I’d like to talk to the staff who’ve been looking after her first, just to find out what kind of treatment she needs, and what they think of these two hospitals.  Things often look good on paper but may have incidents that they want to keep hidden.  Mike mentioned finding a job for Debbie somewhere, you’ will stick to that promise, won’t you?”

“Of course, we will.  You take the lead on this, and we’ll do what you recommend.  Even if you are being my PA, I can still kiss you, can’t I?”

“As much, and as often as you want to.  You really are the best kisser I’ve ever met.  Will we have to be discreet in public though?”

“I’ve never been known for my discretion, and once the news gets out about the rape and the burglary, we may find ourselves very much in the public eye.  DI Willis has insisted on a media blackout until tomorrow in order to give them more chance to catch Simon before he can get out of the country. You’ll probably want to talk to your children once you’ve signed on the dotted line.  What do you think John will say when he looks in the paper and sees pictures of you and me at the charity auction?”

“He’ll die!”  Diana giggled. “Well, not literally but the thought of his dowdy, boring frump of an ex-wife on the arm of a famous sportsman and celebrity will definitely take the wind out of his sails.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall!”

Danny looked down at the floor, and his grip on her hand loosened. “Is that what I am?” he said a little sadly.

“No!” she replied, bringing his hand to her lips this time. “That’s who you were on Friday night when Alice described you to me.  Then you turned around and you smiled.  From that moment on, you became a real person, someone I wanted to meet properly, someone who gave me butterflies, noticed that I’d missed out on lunch during the fundraising event, and who has made me understand what making love is all about.  Oh! Can Ted hear all this?  Am I being indiscreet?”

“You never need to worry about his discretion,” said Danny, hugging her.  “There’s a screen between the front seats and the back, with an intercom. Do you really mean what you said then?  All of it?”

“Would I be sitting here beside you and considering embarking on a new career as your PA if I didn’t mean it? Perhaps we really are falling for each other? I hope so, Danny.”

He took that as a cue for another kiss that took her breath away and set the butterflies zooming around again. The car pulled into the hospital car park; Ted stopped by the entrance, coughed discreetly, and opened the passenger doors.

“Parking is a bit tight round here.  I’ll drop you off at reception and park up somewhere else for the time being.”

“Good idea. I’ll text you before we leave.” said Danny, taking Diana by the hand, and walking into the hospital with the confidence of one who knows that he will be instantly recognised.

He was.

“Good afternoon, Mr Vincent.  Pleased to meet you.” said the receptionist.

“Danny, please. I don’t do formal.” he said, “We’ve come to see Debbie, this is Diana, my partner.  She’s a nurse and will be having a chat about Debbie’s future care.” 

“Oh yes, we’ve been monitoring visitors since she was brought in but …”

“I know.” said Diana.  “You aren’t here to provide security.  I want to talk to Debbie about getting her moved to a private hospital so that no one else is inconvenienced or put at risk.”

A nurse came down to take them to Debbie’s room.  Just as Mike had promised, it was full of flowers and cuddly toys, with Debbie looking very small in the large hospital bed.  She had two black eyes, and her neck bore the imprints of Simon’s large hands. When she saw Diana and Danny, she managed a little smile, which increased when Diana very gently put her arms around her and kissed her on the cheek.  Danny came round the other side of the bed, took up one of Debbie’s scratched and battered hands and kissed it.

“You came.” Debbie said. “Both of you. Thank you.”

“No need for thanks, sweetheart.  You’re one of the family now, and we’ll make sure that you’re being well looked after.  The trouble is, this hospital doesn’t have enough security to keep you safe, and I’m afraid Simon is still on the run.  If you agree to it, we’d like to get you moved to a place where you’ll have time and space to recover without any worries.  Once you feel up to it, we’ll find you a job where you don’t have to run around at the beck and call of some grumpy and unreasonable boss.”

That raised another glimmer of a smile.  “Who’s going to be your PA though, Danny?  Will Mike have to start interviewing again?”

“You’re looking at her.” said Diana, pulling a face.  “My first job is to get things sorted out for you.  Are you okay if I go and talk to the staff?  Danny will stay with you till I come back.”

Debbie nodded, and if Danny had any doubts, they were dispelled as she squeezed his hand.  “I like Diana. She’s so kind.  Excuse me asking but are you two – you know – are you together now?”

“Very much so,” he nodded and grinned. “Not only is Diana kind, she’s no pushover either.  I think I’ll have to behave myself in future, but I have the feeling that I’m going to enjoy it. She’ll take some of the weight off Mike’s back anyway. One thing that you need to remember though Deb, is that there’s no time limit on us looking after you.  The private hospital we’ve got in mind is close to my house in the Cotswolds so we can come and visit you more often once we leave the hotel. I think it will be easier in there, they have spas and indoor swimming pools.  The food is much better as well.”

“I heard that!” said the nurse who came back into the room with Diana.  “We’ve made some arrangements and I think you’ll be physically well enough to move this afternoon.  You’ll go by ambulance, and yes, the place you are going to has all of those things, and in addition, you will be much safer. I suppose I’d better start getting your things together. I’m afraid you’ll have to travel in a hospital gown but Diana has arranged for the hospital to get you some nice clothes to wear.”

Danny kissed Debbie on the cheek, managing to miss her black eye, Diana gave her another of those motherly hugs and whispered, “Things will be okay darling, I’ll see to that.  I’ve given my mobile number to the staff, and if you need anything, or if you just want to talk, text me?”

“I will.  I just wish I hadn’t been so nasty to you.”

“Debbie, I have a daughter just a bit younger than you, and she has been very mean to me at times, but I still love her and I always will.  We’ll come and see you once you’ve settled in.”

They waved good bye at the door and Danny, not content with just holding hands, put his arm around Diana’s shoulders and hugged her, while trying to send a text to Ted.  He must have parked some distance away, as there was no sign of the Bentley outside.  Diana thought she saw a familiar face out in the car park though, and tugged at Danny’s arm.

“It’s Simon! Over there behind those trees!” she whispered.

“Little bastard!”

Diana held onto Danny’s arm, and prevented him from running after Simon. 

“No!  Call the police and let them know that we’ve seen him.  Debbie is safe for now, and we know that he’s still in the country at least.  I’ll go back in and warn the staff that we’ve seen him in the grounds.  You phone Mike and get him to contact the DI direct.  And Danny…”

“Yes?”

“Stay here.  Stay safe please?”

“Yes, Boss!”

After Diana had been back to speak to the nurse on reception, Ted arrived and drove them very slowly around the car park to see if Simon was still there.

“He’d have to be pretty stupid to hang about if he’s seen the Bentley,” said Danny.  “Bloody good job Ted keeps the keys with him, or the miserable little toad might have pinched our car as well. Oh, text from Mike – do we want to eat in tonight or go out?  We have a choice of the hotel restaurant, eating in the suite, going out as a group, or going out just the two of us?  Your choice, Diana?”

“It would be nice to go out as a group,” she said, smiling at the thought.  “The hotel food is okay but… and I get you all to myself at night anyway – barring any more excitement. I hate the smell and taste of lemongrass though, so I’d rather not eat in a Thai restaurant if possible.”

“Good choice.  A bit of team bonding.  I take it that you have decided to join our team then?”

“I need to let Caroline and Ben know, and Jane and Helen.”

“We won’t be going out until seven-ish; plenty of time to let everyone know.  Not telling John?”

“He can find out the hard way.  You know he’ll try and bump up the price of the house once he knows who you are.”

“We’ll get Mike to liaise with your solicitor. Mike can be very sneaky about these things. Do you realise that I haven’t actually kissed you since we left the hospital, and we’re nearly back at the hotel now?” 

Contracted

It sounded very good to Diana, and by the time they had dressed, tidied up the bed, and Danny had grabbed her for another kiss in the lift, the penthouse now contained an extensive lunch buffet.  With some level of self-control, neither Mike nor Mark had begun to fill their plates.   Danny poked his head around the hallway door, grinned and said, “Tuck in lads, but make sure you leave some for me and Diana.”

They needed no further invitation; always a true gentleman, Mike obtained a plate and paper napkin, and handed them to Diana with a rather shy smile.

“Can we talk after lunch?” he asked quietly.  “Danny looks very happy, so I think we have quite a lot to discuss.  Don’t look so worried, Diana.  If Danny is happy, we’re all happy.”

“Are you talking about me again Mike?” said Danny as he poured two glasses of fruit juice, filled up his plate, and sat down at the table pulling out the chair next to him for Diana. Although her appetite had been sorely affected on other occasions, the comfortable atmosphere in the room encouraged her to tuck in, and even tap Danny’s hand when he tried to pinch a sandwich from her plate.  He laughed in response and planted a very audible kiss on her cheek. Mike was right, Danny looked very happy.

 Once the team had finished eating, Mike handed Danny a sheaf of papers to look at, and beckoned Diana to come over and sit with him by the patio window that looked out onto the rain-soaked grounds of the hotel.

“I’ve just given Danny a copy of the standard employee contract,” said Mike.  “I’m expecting it to come back with numerous crossings out, and scribbled notes, because you are a far from standard employee. While he’s scribbling, there are a couple of other things that I need to let you know about.  Are you okay with that?  I know that this is a bit sudden, but that’s Danny.  He makes his mind up quickly, and we are all used to reacting to his ideas – and usually refining them.”

“And are you okay with this idea, Mike?” Diana asked.

“I doubt if he’s mentioned it,” said Mike quietly. “But Danny’s wife Lisa is – was my sister.  She introduced me to Danny after I’d finished studying for a business degree at university. That was fifteen years ago, and between us, we supported and guided Danny through the difficult times and helped him to become a success in the US. Lisa became ill; she went through chemo and various treatments for cancer.  Danny was doing a lot of television work in LA at the time, so we were both there for her but it took its toll on us.  I suppose we are more like family than most managers and their clients. I’ve been trying to get Danny back on track since Lisa died, but his heart hasn’t been in it.  We had work to finish up in LA, but had to rent another place to live because their house held too many memories for him. Everything personal was removed and most of it was shipped to the new house in the Cotswolds but we’ve only stayed there for a couple of days in all.  This is the first really big event Danny’s attended and I was dreading it. It was quite a struggle getting the book written and published; we had to get a ghost writer in because some of it was too painful for him to talk about. I remember it all though so I could fill in most of the gaps. If you haven’t had the chance to read the book yet, don’t rush, it would be better to get to know the Danny of today, rather than the bad boy that he used to be. For the first time in ages, Diana, I’ve seen him laughing, cracking jokes and making decisions rather than just shrugging his shoulders and flicking through the sports channels on TV.  You’ve made the difference, and the Danny that we love, admire, and who annoys the hell out of us all has come back.  I know that it won’t be easy working for, and being in a personal relationship with him, but if you are willing to adapt, it can be done.  What do you think?”

Diana had put her hand over Mike’s when he began to talk about Lisa.  A simple gesture, but the way in which he responded, with a smile and a reciprocal squeeze, was the sealing of their friendship.  She took in a deep breath and smiled back at him.

“To be honest, I don’t have a great deal to lose now. My children are away, I have some friends at home, but my husband has been spreading stories that paint him as the victim in the divorce, added to which, he’s had affairs with most of the women.  The others just see me as a deserted wife, and pity me.  My neighbour Jane, and my oldest friend Helen, are the only people that I trust nowadays. My main worry is that this is a very physical thing between me and Danny at the moment.  What happens if – well – that wears off, or if someone more attractive and younger comes along?”

Mike squeezed her hand again, and shook his head. “Danny was always faithful to Lisa, no matter how glamorous the temptations were.  When she died, he went off the rails a bit, and a great deal of my time was spent disentangling him from clingy females who saw him as a good catch.  He can’t keep his hands off you, that’s true, but we’re talking about him hugging and kissing you as well, not just sex.  These are all signs of real affection as far as I know, rather than just rampant lust.  No need to go into the rampant lust bit – we’ll keep that between the two of you, I guess you both have some lost time to make up for.  He sees something in you that makes him feel real again.  Don’t underestimate what you are doing for him – and for the rest of us as well.  If you become Danny’s PA, I can take a break from trawling through rubbish CVs, worse than mindless interviews, and apologising for Danny’s grumpiness.  When Debbie’s better, we can find her a job where she can have time to recover, but only when she feels up to it.  She’s a part of the team and we’ll pay for anything that she needs.”

“That’s something else I feel bad about.” said Diana.  “Danny didn’t really lose his voice, and I lied about the viral infection.  If I hadn’t done that, Danny would have done the auction and Simon might not have been given the opportunity to hurt Debbie and steal the auction goods.”

“Did you really think anyone believed you?” Mike roared with laughter. “I had Simon lined up as a standby anyway; we know that Danny hated these auctions, and you gave him a way of backing out gracefully.  Simon is a chancer, and I’m sure that he had Debbie sussed out as a weak link from the start.  He would have made a beeline for her at some stage anyway. You looked after her last night, and advised us on what we should be doing.  Whatever talents Danny has spotted in you – and I’m sure that you have many – your ability to deal with that situation showed how well you could take on the role of Danny’s PA. Keep him happy, keep him busy and if in doubt, talk to me.  You can ask me about anything; and before you even entertain the thought, you are not replacing Lisa in Danny’s life nor mine. You both have the ability to empathise and understand people, but physically you are totally different, and you are in a far better position to support Danny when he really needs it.  One of Lisa’s greatest regrets was that they couldn’t have children. Danny isn’t particularly paternal; his own childhood was a mess but he knew how much having a family meant to Lisa.   She went for tests eventually, and that’s when they found out how ill she was.  You have children, don’t you?”

“Two, although they aren’t exactly children now.  Ben is almost twenty, and studying graphic art and design, Caroline has just turned eighteen and is doing a combined degree in English literature and history.  Neither of them approved of their father’s behaviour; I’m not sure they’ll approve of mine now.”

“You need to be kinder to yourself, Diana and trust that Danny sees something in you that makes him feel safe and happy.  Did you ever read Winnie the Pooh with your children?”

“I know what you’re about to say Mike,” said Diana, smiling at the memory.  “Yes, Danny is definitely Tigger! But Tigger was extremely lovable even if he was a pain at times!” She and Mike laughed together as yet another aspect of Danny’s personality was revealed.

“Yes, there are times when he behaves like a stroppy adolescent, but as we saw with poor Debbie, you have a wealth of experience in that area!” said Mike, lowering his voice. “Danny hates getting dressed up and tends to wander around with as little on as possible if he can get away with it.  It took Lisa and me years to get him to be more civilised; I try not to nag about shoes and socks too much but you’ll have noticed that he often needs some prompting. He’s coming over with your contract. I have another one here that I’ve amended – let’s see how well they match up?”

Danny pulled up a chair next to Diana and handed the contract to Mike, who held it in one hand, and his own version in the other. He laughed, and showed them both to Diana; with the main exception that Mike’s handwriting was more legible than Danny’s, they looked identical. Diana took Mike’s copy and examined it more closely.  Danny shuffled his chair closer and leaned over her shoulder, putting his hand on her knee and squeezing it gently.

“Clothes allowance!” exclaimed Diana, “I’ve never had one of those before.  Nurses’ uniforms are part of the package, and everything else comes out of my wages.  I know I’m not exactly a fashion plate but is there anything wrong with my clothes, Danny?”

“You are as gorgeous in them, as you are out of them, my love, and if you look more closely, you’ll see that both Mike and I have crossed that bit through, and replaced it with a company credit card so that you can buy what you want whenever you need it. That way if we have any events to go to, and a new outfit is required, you can just go out and get it.  My only rider is that I don’t have to go with you – I hate shopping, especially clothes shopping.”

Diana was still looking shell-shocked; Mike and Danny exchanged meaningful looks, and Mike got up from his seat. “I’ll consolidate these two and put together another document for you to read Diana.  Do you feel up to visiting Debbie now?  Ted’s been on standby since lunch.”

“Who is Ted?” asked Diana, looking around the suite and not seeing anyone that she didn’t know. “Ted is our chauffeur.” said Danny.  “You met him on Saturday when we came back from the fundraising do.  Sometimes he drives the Bentley, but he also drives the minibus when we need it.  He prefers the Bentley, and so do I.  We can talk some more on the way?”

What Happens Next?

Danny sat on the sofa and pulled Diana down next to him.

“A detective turned up and wanted to ask a load of questions.  I should have sent Mark down to get you, but it all got very complicated and we ended up talking about my sport and TV programmes instead.  Then I realised that my watch was still on your bedside table and I’d been gone ages. I’m so sorry!” 

“It’s okay now you’re back,” said Diana “But there’s something that’s been puzzling me. Why was the jewellery in Debbie’s safe rather than upstairs with you and the others in the penthouse?”

“Most of the stuff I bought was in our safe, but in a misguided attempt to make Debbie feel important, we asked her to keep some of the jewellery and smaller stuff in her own room safe.  Mike and I thought giving her a bit of responsibility would help her to feel a part of the team. Not one of our best decisions. Come back upstairs with me, Diana? Please?”

“Of course, I will,” she smiled as a sense of relief put everything back into perspective again.   “I just got into a bad place texting Caroline and John, and talking to my next-door neighbour Jane.  It pushed last night out of my mind, and all I could think about was going home and hiding under the duvet.  I’m sorry.  I should have trusted you.  I’m not very good with trust at the moment.”

“All that matters is that I got back here in time.  Do you still want to go home now?”

Diana shook her head and relaxed as his arms tightened around her.

“Caroline’s on her way back to Uni, Jane has the legal stuff in case John turns up again – and I’ve told him what she’s prepared to do.  Even the cat is managing very well without me.  Jane said that he was asleep on her lap. He never sleeps on mine.  So, it seems that I don’t have much to go back to at the moment.  Do you still want me to stay, Danny?”

‘More than anything that I’ve wanted for a long time,” he said, holding her even closer. “Leave things here and come upstairs with me.  I think you’ll like Detective Inspector Willis.  We’re on first name terms now; he’s called Sam and he was very impressed with your quick-thinking last night. He was less impressed when I told him about the texts and voicemail you’d received from your ex, but that’s a different matter.”

Danny stood up and pulled Diana to her feet; he picked her up and whirled her around, laughing as she struggled to get down.

“You’ll put your shoulders out, or your knees will collapse!” she cried.

“If it means that you’ll be my personal nurse, it would be worth it!”

They were still laughing when they arrived up in the penthouse, but did their best to look more serious as the lift doors opened.  Danny introduced Diana to Sam, and after kissing her hand, he went off to make more phone calls and talk with Mike.  The DI was pleasant and courteous; he asked her a number of questions about Debbie and her appearance after the attack, and any impressions she’d had of Simon.  Once he’d got all the answers he needed, he asked about John’s communications of the night before.  Diana handed him her mobile, and scanning through the texts, he frowned. A frown that deepened when he heard the voicemails. He said that he understood that Diana didn’t want to take any action about them at the moment, but impressed upon her the importance of not deleting them, just in case. 

Danny reappeared and shook hands with Sam before Mark showed him the way back downstairs; there were several hotel staff that he still had to interview.

“I’ve just checked, and our room downstairs is being refreshed, and will be ready for us to go back and put our feet up shortly,” said Danny.  “What do you want to do now Diana?”

“Are you sure that you’d rather be in my little room than up here?”

“Most definitely yes.  Mike and Mark will stay up here.  You and I still have to talk about what happens tomorrow, that comes later when we’re back downstairs and on our own.”

“I assume you’ll let me know what you decide?” said Mike, wryly.

Diana blushed, realising that she was the cause of this uncertainty.  Danny shot a look at Mike and narrowed his eyes, but before he had a chance to comment; Diana asked, “Will we be able to see Debbie today?  We both promised.”

Sensing an opportunity to ease the tension, Mike assured Diana that Debbie was now in a private room with her own nurse, a huge flower and cuddly toy collection had been despatched, and that they could visit after lunch. 

Diana had something else on her mind as well.

“Is there any news on Simon?  If he hasn’t fled the country, is Debbie still at risk from him?”

“Little scrote!” said Danny.  “Nip downstairs Mark and mention that to Sam. I wouldn’t put anything past Simon.  If the police don’t put someone in to look after Debbie, we could get some private security, couldn’t we, Diana?”

“With my nursing hat on, I’d say that you need to tread more carefully with an NHS hospital,” she replied.  “It may need Debbie to be moved to a private hospital where they’re used to providing privacy and security for famous people. Do we know how serious her injuries are?”

“Largely scratches from where she fought him off,” said Mike, looking at his notes. “Luckily, she’d passed out by the time he actually raped her, so she has extensive bruising from the attack but no internal injuries. It’s the psychological and emotional effects that are the worst bits though?”

“Yes.  It’s not something that you can just shrug off once the external damage has healed.” said Diana sadly. “Last night she was more distressed about mine and Danny’s reactions than what had actually happened to her.  She needs as much reassurance as possible; but being Danny’s PA may not be a reality for a while to come. An attack like this takes a long time to work through.  Once she’s well, she needs to be doing something where she can develop confidence and build up her self-esteem without being too stressed. You’ll give her the time she needs, won’t you, Danny?  Does she have a supportive family?” 

“She has a sister who lives locally but her parents are abroad.  Do you want me to look into the other situation, Danny?” asked Mike with a groan.  “Advertise for a new PA?”

With a thoughtful look on his face, Danny shook his head. 

“There’s definitely no rush at the moment.  I need to have a think about things.  Come on Diana.  Our room should be ready by now, and as before Mike, leave us in peace for a while please? We’ve things to sort out.”

“Yes, Boss!” said Mike, grinning this time.

Diana blushed as Danny grabbed her hand, and pulled her towards the lift.  He managed to restrain himself until they were safely back in her room, but put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door handle, and double locked the door.  The sight of her nightshirt folded up neatly on the freshly made bed, next to his boxers and Ben’s tee-shirt prompted Danny to pull Diana into one of those embraces that could only have one outcome. She reached for her nightshirt in order to cover her modesty, but her inhibitions of the morning were rapidly overcome by Danny’s desire to remove every shred of clothing and make love in the daylight this time.

She resisted initially.

“Danny!  I’ve got stretchmarks and wrinkles…and other physical aspects that are best kept in the dark.”

“And I, my love, have a number of hideous sports-related operation scars all over my body.  You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.  Wrinkles are nothing to be ashamed of either; they’re the lines of our lives, and yours show what a lovely person you are.  The curtains are drawn, the door is locked.  There’s just you and me, and plenty of opportunity to explore and enjoy each other.”

Resistance was definitely useless; surrender turned out to be far more pleasurable, especially when Danny held up a new silver foil packet tucked discretely under Diana’s travelling alarm clock.

Lying in Danny’s arms afterwards, and feeling the warmth of his skin against hers, Diana couldn’t remember feeling so relaxed, and as if nothing else in the world mattered. 

“Penny for them?” asked Danny, kissing her forehead.

“I feel happy.  More than that, I feel content, and that’s not a feeling that I’ve had for a very long time. Is this real Danny?”

“It is for me.”

Her hand was curled protectively on his chest and he picked it up and kissed the palm.  “Not exactly ebony and ivory, are we?  More like cappuccino and cream. I am the product of an arrogant white English man who gave me his big blue eyes, and beautiful black Nigerian woman from whom I inherited my stubbornness and wilful ways.  A marriage that turned out to be made in Hell, and a life that could have ended very badly if sport hadn’t found me before crime did. Does it bother you? My skin colour?”

“Does mine bother you?” Diana replied, very gently kissing the scar on his chest. “I don’t deny that it’s something that influences some people, but they usually have a host of other issues as well.  Your skin is a beautiful colour and I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that you are just as wonderful underneath it.”

“Don’t go home, Diana. Stay with me?” he said, his hands stroking her hair as he kissed her face with those butterfly kisses that made her shiver.

“For a night, for a week maybe, even for a month?” she asked. “How long would it take before the gilt wears off this middle-aged gingerbread, and I slink back home, only to have John laugh at my foolishness?”

“For ever.”

Turning her face up to his, he kissed her very gently. “Come and be my PA as well as my lover, and if you fall in love with me, we can run off and get married.”

“Don’t joke, Danny.  I’m a nurse.  That’s my job. I look after people and support them.”

“Precisely, you have all the credentials and experience already.  You’ve seen what Debbie did. Don’t you think that you could do it better?  You’re intelligent, good at dealing with people, Mike likes you, and I – I want you beside me all the way.  We could get to know each other so much better.”

“You really are serious, aren’t you?”

She traced the shape of his face with her fingers, finding it difficult to believe what was happening between them.

“Serious enough to have talked to Mike about it.”

Diana froze.

“Without asking me first? I already have a job, a home and a cat that doesn’t like me very much.”

“Mike is a very good judge of character and I trust him,” said Danny, desperate to ease her fears. “I know he likes you, and once I knew that he would be happy to work with you, I felt safer about asking if you were interested in spending more time with me.  You’re good at your job, but so many of your talents are wasted, home is full of unhappy memories, and as for the cat…”

“This is all a bit too much for me.” said Diana, sitting up and hugging her knees. “I need to think, and it’s very hard to be rational when I’m in bed with you, and…”

“…and?”

“And making love with you has made me feel liberated and incredible; but it’s like a romantic novel come true.  Something bad has to happen now.”

“It doesn’t have to.  As my PA you would come everywhere with me, protect me from the phonies and the users, keep me level, and be there whenever we need to hold onto other.”

“Plenty to hold onto at least.” she said quietly, thinking of all the ambitious young women, and wondering how she could ever compete with them?  But he had been surrounded with gorgeous girls all weekend, and he chose her.  Danny was very quiet, and for a moment she thought that he’d gone into one of his catnaps. She moved slightly, and felt his arms tightening around her again.

“I’m falling for you, Diana.” he whispered.  “You make me feel that there’s some purpose in what I do again. I’ve just been going through the motions since Lisa became ill.  Yes, you have plenty for me to hold onto.  Your body is voluptuous, it welcomes me and makes me feel far more excited than any of those skinny girls with tiny breasts, sharp hips, and elbows like daggers.  I love every part of you! I particularly love the fact you are so much more relaxed and responsive with me already. Tell me how you feel?”

“Oh Danny!  I feel like I’ve been hit by a bolt of lightning!  A huge and rather wonderful bolt, but something that’s turning my ordinary world upside down nevertheless.  I find it hard to understand what it is that’s set me apart from all the others – and I’m not fishing for compliments here. I suppose that having spent most of my life being ordinary, I’m finding it difficult to accept this change.  How could it all work?”

“I would get Mike to draw you up a contract that means you get paid for being my PA, but with an opt out clause so that you could leave at any time if you were unhappy.  They’d give you a sabbatical from work, wouldn’t they?  You could help me to raise money for good causes, and make more informed decisions about who I sponsor in the future?”

Diana frowned. 

Danny moved up beside her and laid his chin on her shoulder. 

“Next excuse?” he said.

“Where would I live?  What would happen to the house?  What about my children?”

“Slow down.  With regard to where you would live; you would be with me and I have a number of places to live, not to mention access to hotels to stay in like this one.  Do you really want to carry on living in a house that you shared with your horrible husband?  How attached to this house are your children?”

“Last question first; my children grew up there, most of their friends are working or away at Uni, but they tend to get together in the holidays.  It’s their home.  It used to be mine but having John lurking in the back bedroom for the past two years has tainted it.  I’m not sure that I could adapt to drifting from one place to another.  I’m too old for that, Danny.”

“So, you put your house on the market and we snap it up through a third party at over market value in order to mollify your ex.  The house is then put in trust for your children so that they’ll always have somewhere to call their own, and a nest egg if they need money in the future.  God forbid, but if things don’t work out for us, you will have the house to go back to. We could put your friend Jane on some kind of a retainer to ensure that the place is looked after, and you would be able to pop back and visit her – and the cat – when you want to. It would be an investment for your children’s future.  I’ve learned a great deal about these legal things from Mike over the years. As to the drifting around, I’ve been scaling down the travelling since Lisa died; she spent most of the time in LA because of her treatment. The house there has too many memories for me, so it’s rented out at the moment, but Mike thinks he’s found a buyer. I’m staying in this country and trying to resurrect my career.  Hence the awful book. You are still frowning.  Have I overloaded you again, my love?”

Diana nodded, but decided that thinking was better done when curled up in Danny’s arms. It was a decision that definitely met with his approval.  She had to admit that there was logic in everything he said, and that it was about time she made some changes to her life, but these changes were a bit drastic! 

Danny leaned over and picked his watch up from the bedside table, raising an eyebrow. “I’m starving again and it’s nearly twelve-thirty.  How do you feel about getting dressed, coming back upstairs, and having lunch with Mike and Mark?  I’ll get Mark to organise some food in the room so we can all sit round the table and natter.  I think you might feel more comfortable if you have the chance to get to know them better, and discover what kind of a demanding sod I am.  How does that sound?”