When her car died on Dacre Street, less than five minutes after the end of a long shift in the middle of the pouring rain, it was the less-than-sparkling finish to a less-than-sparkling day. Barbara’s friends in the Met’s motor pool arrived as quickly as they could to tow her Vauxhall away, but she was soaked to the skin already — and there was still a long ride back to Chalk Farm via tube and bus, capped with a walk at the other end.
Standing under the small overhang provided by the bike shop on the corner, Barbara considered her options. She could splurge for a taxi — assuming she could find one in this weather — but the fare from the Yard to North London would take a bite out of her budget for the week. The idea was tempting despite that, but her frugal self balked and she dug her hands into the pocket of her coat as she tried to come up with some reason for the indulgence.
Without thinking, her hand closed around her keys. She’d shoved the ring in her pocket after removing the car key so Harry could work on it when he got the chance, and the feel of the ridges against her fingers offered another option.
“You gave me a key to your flat,” Lynley had said when he’d handed it to her. “It’s only right I should give you a key to my place.”
“Yeah, but yours is a posh townhouse with live-in servants. Not like I’m going to show up there unannounced,” she’d argued.
“Only one servant — and he knows you’re welcome.” He’d wrapped his hand around hers, closing it over the small piece of metal. “Please, Barbara. I want you to have it. For one thing, what if you’re at the end of a shift and you’re too tired to make it all the way back to your place? Mine is closer and I’d rather you’d stay there than make that trek.”
She’d been about to refuse when he smiled at her in that slightly hesitant, almost shy way he could when he was broaching something he wasn’t certain would be welcome. “Besides, it’d make me happy to think you were comfortable in my home. Maybe even leave something more than a toothbrush there.”
That had been six weeks after they’d taken the leap into the crazy idea they could be more than simply partners at work. Barbara had put his key on her ring because it made him happy, but at four months, while she had managed to leave several changes of clothes at his place, she’d never taken advantage of the key. One reason was because they were almost constantly together and if one of them did end up on rota when the other wasn’t, they’d arrange to meet up when shift was done.
The other reason was that she wasn’t comfortable with the idea of walking into the beautiful Georgian townhouse on Eaton Terrace, the Asherton arms discreetly displayed next to the door, without knowing Lynley would be around. He wanted her there, but she still felt like an interloper in his world, inadequate and untutored — and that was the reason more than half their time together had been spent at her poky little flat.
But the night was cold and wet and Barbara could feel the chill begin to seep into her bones. It was at least thirty minutes home by taxi, and almost an hour by bus, with her doomed to end up even wetter than she already was. If Lynley hadn’t been away overnight on a course, there’d be no hesitation; she’d phone him and he’d either be on his way or told her to grab a cab and he’d have something warm waiting for her.
He’d given her the key because that’s what people did when they were in a relationship and serious about one another. If she called him, she knew exactly what he’d say, that his home was hers — and she knew those weren’t just empty words. For years she’d nursed her prejudices, held them close to her heart, a focal point for anger born of other sources she couldn’t bring herself to openly aim at. Lynley had been one such focal point since she’d first heard of him, the Oxford golden boy, the earl who’d deigned to work like others, destined, many said, for the highest ranks within the Met on a fast track, the promotions up the ladder easy for him.
Amazing how different the reality was. He’d smashed her prejudices one by one, and even now, as she plunged back into the rain and headed for Victoria Street in search of a taxi, he smashed another without even being present.
Fifteen minutes, later, she dashed up the three steps to 18 Eaton Terrace and put the key in the lock. The door opened easily and she stepped inside, painfully aware how much water she was shedding. "Hello," she called out. "Anyone here? It's Barbara Havers."
She'd stripped out of her coat when Denton appeared, his apron telling her she’d disturbed him in the kitchen. "You're drenched to the bones, Miss Havers. What happened?"
"My car broke down just as I left the parking garage. I had it towed, but," she took a deep breath, "I couldn't face the trip home by bus and Tommy gave me a key and —"
She felt utterly and totally ridiculous explaining herself, but Denton smiled. "Lord Asherton would have insisted you stay here. Get yourself into something dry and I'll make you some dinner. It won't be fancy, but I can promise that it'll be warm."
Barbara didn't need any further encouragement, heading up to Lynley's bedroom on the first floor and that wonderful shower with the multiple directional heads. Here was luxury indeed, and when she emerged from the almost blistering heat, the world seemed much better.
As Denton had said, dinner wasn't fancy, but the steaming bowl of broth he served up on a tray as she settled on the couch in front of Lynley's large flat screen television seemed heaven sent. "Just relax," he instructed, "and don't worry about the dishes when you're done. I'll pick them up later — and don't say you don't want to be trouble. You're not, trust me."
Curling up for an evening of television in her robe was nothing new, but there was something decadent about sinking into the sinfully comfy cushions of the couch in Lynley's den and catching up on Eastenders via the Red Button. Warmed by the soup and finally relaxed, Barbara only made it through one episode before her eyelids began to droop. Turning off the television, she automatically reached for the tray to take it back to the kitchen, but stopped. Denton had said he'd see to it and for once she was glad to leave the job to someone else.
Upstairs, she dropped her robe across the foot of the bed and crawled under the sheets that had already been turned down for her. Thank goodness she wasn't due in for regular duty come morning, only on-call; that meant she stood a chance of getting a good night's sleep. Even if the call did come, at least she was closer to the Yard and it wouldn't take long to get there.
Down comforter, feather pillows, sheets of some incredibly high thread count, all of which she knew had been purchased without much thought to the cost. It was such a different world than what she was used to, and if she'd been more awake, she'd either have some caustic comment about people who spent such money — and worry if her hair was still too damp from the shower to rest on Lynley's fancy pillows.
But her mind was too tired for any of that and all she thought as her eyes closed was that she wished Lynley was there with her.
Barbara was half-awake the next morning when she felt the bed dip with the weight of another body. Letting her eyes open, she found Lynley, fully dressed, stretched out on top of the covers, watching her with a smile. "Good morning."
"Morning," she managed as she leveraged herself so she was propped up on her side. "Sorry about this, but my car broke down and it was raining and —"
"Barbara, it's fine," he said, cutting off the flow of words. "I knew you were here; Denton texted me last night."
"He did?" She should have realized he would; after all, wasn't one of the reasons Lynley had someone live in was so intruders and damp detective sergeants didn't take advantage of his absence?
"He did, and I almost drove home last night. But it was late and it was raining and I figured that if you'd actually broken down and used the key, you needed your rest."
Lynley reached out to stroke her hair — and promptly caught his finger in a tangle. Extracting it gently, he said, "I'm glad you did. I've been hoping you would."
In that moment, she saw how much her choice, born of nothing more than exhaustion, frustration, and just not being able to fight anymore against the haven he offered even if she didn't feel as if she deserved it, meant to him. Handing her a key had been as significant a gesture as her decision to give him access to her home had been to her. And just as watching him be comfortable in her tiny flat made her happy and believe they just might have a chance together, he wanted her to be comfortable here in his space even if he wasn't present.
Swallowing her pride and finding it a much smaller mouthful than she'd expected, Barbara said, "Maybe we could spend a little more time here rather than trekking all the way out to my place. It is closer to work — but I'd probably need to get an overnight parking permit. Can't keep leaving my car in the Met garage."
The happiness on his face was all the answer she needed.