That week, the house is cleaned from top to bottom, the floors hoovered and the shelves dusted, kitchen floor swept and mopped and all the DVDs put back in their cases. She’d taken Fred to the park yesterday, done a bit of shopping, gone for a coffee and hot chocolate with him and Tom after football. It’s an odd sort of mania, but Ellie can’t make herself sit still, because then she’ll look at her phone and see how many messages there aren’t from Hardy.
“You alright, Mum?” Tom asks when he finds her pulling all the towels and bedlinen out from the airing cupboard to be sorted out. She gives him an absent-minded ‘mmhmm’ and he crouches down beside her. “Do I need to punch someone?”
Ellie laughs. She laughs and laughs and she has to stop because it’s going to become crying any second and she won’t do that, not in front of Tom. She takes in a big breath, keeps taking it in until her lungs ache. “I’m ok, darling, just trying to get this house sorted out a bit.”
“That’s why I’m asking.”
Ellie sees his point, gives up on the sorting idea and just crams it all back in the cupboard. “Let’s order a takeaway and watch an old Dr. Who.”
She and Hardy slip back into work without a hitch. They’ve always managed to do that. It’s quite impressive, but also somehow deeply annoying. There are a few moments of awkwardness when they first get into Hardy’s car to go out on some enquiries. It feels uncomfortable, it feels like he’s going to accidentally touch her when he changes gear, it feels like they’re going to have to talk stuck so close. But then he stalls the car at the station car park barrier and she laughs at him and they’re back to normal again, with her chuckling and him grumbling.
“Do you remember what happiness feels like?”
Hardy looks at her, long and hard. He has his sad eyes again. “Sometimes.”
“How do you find it again? Like sometimes there are little snippets and I think ‘ooh, happy’ and then it’s gone again, like I’ve chased it off by noticing it. Maybe you get to the stage where you don’t register each one, and then they blend in and just become… you being happy. You think?”
“Shut up and drink your stupid poncy coffee, Miller.”
Ellie rolls her eyes and rocks the cup, watching the bubbles sway to and fro on top.
“I paid nearly four pounds for that bloody monstrosity,” he mumbles.
She grins, feels that familiar warmth in her chest. Pats his hand. “That’s what made me happy.”
It’s the middle of the night when Ellie starts to doze off. It’s one of those times she only notices because she loses track of the BBC4 documentary about British Castles and starts learning things about cereal and owls that are definitely not included in the original narrative. She shakes herself out of a semi-dream and stretches, long and satisfying, the rushing in her ears deafening.
Hardy is at the other end of the sofa, looking barely more awake than she is.
“I’ve got to go to bed. Or sleep anyway. Are you staying?” She yawns, and only just manages not to miss the shock that sweeps across his face before he hides it carefully behind a frown and sniff. It makes her snort. She hadn’t meant it like that, which he seems to realise when she shuffles down to lie slightly more horizontally.
Ah, the ever faithful ‘Hardy Nah’. He makes no move to leave though. Ellie adjusts the throw pillow under her head and extends her legs across his lap. The sudden chill on her feet is cruel and she wriggles them fruitlessly, trying to tuck them under something. Bed seems so far away, and it’ll be cold upstairs - the heating went off a while back. Maybe she could just doze here a little while. She flaps a hand around for a blanket, but there’s no joy.
“Cold,” she whines.
“Where’s the… fluffy thing?”
“I don’t knoooow,” Ellie cries mournfully. A few seconds later it’s over her though. Most of their life seems to be covering each other with blankets on sofas. It makes her smile.
Ellie wakes up a bit uncomfortable, chilly around the edges, with a dead arm and someone snoring in her ear. It’s lovely. There is no moment of who, what, where? She can feel the bones of a skinny elbow over her waist and smell the scrumptious stale sweetness of faint sweat and old cologne. No doubt who it is. She snuggles back into the warmth of him and lets herself drift off again. Holds onto his arm and nuzzles her head up against his prickly chin. Hardy shifts to press a sleepy kiss to the top of her head.
This, this is far closer than they’ve ever been. This is more than a stroke of hair or a kiss on a cheek. This is sleeping together, in the literal sense, both under the covers this time. This is vulnerability and intimacy and, good god, the man smells delicious. Ellie breathes him in deep. Her backside fits perfectly in the cradle of his hips, her shoulders in the cradle of his chest, her whole self in the cradle of him.
It’s a few minutes nicely spent imagining how they got in this position. Perhaps he dozed off sitting up, naturally sank down beside her. Or he could have made the decision consciously, watched her sleep, levered himself gently down behind her, snuggled up close and held her.
She doesn’t remember falling asleep again, but the next time she opens her eyes all she can see is the back of Fred’s head where he’s planted himself on the floor in front of them and put the TV on. Justin’s House is on, quietly, bless him, and he’s helping himself to the packet of biscuits Ellie left out on the table. It’s a nice chilled out sort of morning, nobody is running late yet, and Ellie has no desire to move. She’s pretending she doesn’t need the toilet. She’s pretending the man behind her being behind her like this is not a big deal.
Hardy makes a contended sort of rumbling noise in her ear, slips his arm under her head and nuzzles sleepily at the back of her neck.
“Mum, did you wash my kit socks?” Tom crashes chaotically into the living room, half dressed in his football kit and shoving toast into his mouth. Lowers his voice to a comically loud whisper. “Oh, sorry!”
Ellie wriggles as Hardy grumbles grumpily and shoves his face further into her nape. It’s scratchy. “I put them in the basket for you to put away. The one you never put away. Stick the kettle on, darling.”
It’s her voice that finally wakes Hardy properly and she feels the moment he places exactly where he is and what’s going on around him. She feels it because he is suddenly like a board behind her, tense and still, his lax angles becoming sharp and pointed. He’s going to ruin it now, make it awkward and painful. Ellie sighs and forces herself to sit up, runs a hand through Fred’s dark curls. She’s not hanging around for it.
It’s too much of an effort to not look back to him as she leaves the room. Her glance finds him soft and sleep crumpled, his hair a total disaster, his eyes half-closed. His pale blue shirt is untucked, buttons skewed to the side of his chest. He’s frowning at the back of Fred’s head.
Ellie adores him. How unfair.
It’s not until she’s in the bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror that she lets herself think about it properly. Are they… a thing? It’s a long time since she’s been a thing, she’s not sure how it works. He could do so much better than her though, he’s handsome and clever and really out of her league. What is she even thinking?
It would be far too easy to have a mini breakdown in the loo, so she brushes her teeth instead, tries to remember those moments where she doesn’t feel guilty and out of control, where life almost makes sense, where she isn’t a failure. She spits the foam into the sink and watches it rinse down.
She’s still in her pyjamas and cardigan when Hardy leaves, her curls askew and a mug of coffee in her hand. She sees him to the door and he looks at her while he shrugs his coat on, flicks his collar straight. He’s searching for some sort of clue, she thinks, a pointer on how to act. Eventually he settles on sliding his arms around her shoulders and pulling her in to his chest. Her own arms lock around his slender waist. The hug goes on a bit too long for a simple goodbye. He smells of coffee and sleep and she wants him, she wants all of him. He rests his chin on top of her head for a beat or two before he releases her.
They don’t say anything, but he looks back at her when he reaches the gate.
It feels like one step forwards and two back. While the closeness between them doesn’t disappear, there is an odd stiffness about it. Like Hardy has become used to physical contact between them, but can’t stop himself hesitating when he initiates it. Thankfully, Ellie truly is thankful, he doesn’t stop. He doesn’t shy away from her hand on his back, he doesn’t restrain himself from placing a hand on her shoulder as he leans over her at her desk to see the monitor. He still offers his cheek for a peck of a kiss when he drops her home sometimes after work. But there is a split second of thought each time.
Ellie hates that moment.
“Thank you, darling,” she chirps, wondering when exactly she’d started calling him darling. God they really are an old married couple, aren’t they?
Hardy leans a little towards her, his cheek open and inviting. Ellie’s hand finds his thigh, taking her weight while she reaches over to kiss him goodbye, a little peck on the cheek, a little sneaky inhale of his scent, just to keep her going. Except somehow she takes a bit too long on the sneaky inhale and he turns towards her, enquiringly, curiously, seeing what the hold up is. Her lips land on his.
They both freeze. It’s not the first contact between their mouths, but it’s the first time he makes that sound, a surprised little moan, somehow gravelly in his throat and light and whining at the same time. Then it’s over and Ellie can’t quite look him in the eye. Their second kiss and she still can’t look at him.
“Right,” she says brightly, “I’ll see you Monday, if not before.” And gets out of the car, not bothering to tangle herself up in her handbag, because she’ll be inside in a moment. She doesn’t look back.
Somehow, mercifully, her shaking hands do not drop the keys, and she gets inside, switches the lights on and closes the door without mishap. Then she collapses back to lean on the door, lets the wood hold her up while she falls apart a little. Oh god, oh christ, what is she doing, why is she doing it? She’s going to ruin it all. Hardy is going to tell her no, he’s going to be all shy and awkward and say he’s flattered, but not here for this. She’s not for him, she’s not enough or she’s too much or she’s something wrong. And it’s going to break her heart.
Ellie nearly screams at the knock on the door behind her, has to take a few deep breaths before whipping it open. It’s Hardy, of course it is. Here to talk, here to break it to her as gently as he can, but break her to rough, jagged pieces all the same.
There’s a moment of silence, not awkward, just heavy. And Ellie steels herself for what’s coming to her, opens her mouth to apologise, tell him not to worry, she’ll stop, she’ll sort herself out. But instead what comes to her is him , stepping into the porch, reaching for her. His mouth is on hers a second later, a hot crash of lips, a ragged breath, a scratch of beard on her cheek. She steadies herself, grabbing hold of his suit jacket, the fabric stiff and crisp in her hand.
He pulls back before it’s a proper snog, and she can feel him looking at her. His hand brushes hair from her forehead, tucks it behind her ear. Ellie’s eyes open slowly, already knowing what she’ll see. Hardy is serious, silent. He leans in again, slowly, giving her every chance to stop him. She does not.
His lips are damp and the way they press plumply into hers is delicious, sending goosebumps skittering down her arms. Ellie feels a thump in her chest at the connection; it sinks down through her belly. He comes back for another sweep, mouth slightly parted, closing gently over her bottom lip, a light caressing grip. Oh he’s so soft; all sharp angles and harsh anger, but so soft with her. His hand shifts to her neck, tips her up to him, pulls her into him. Ellie’s hands glide of their own accord, up over his firm shoulders, linking behind his head.
It’s like magic, this kiss, that same shiver of amazement you get from watching something amazing and impossible happen right in front of you. Anticipation and adrenaline and thrill and it’s all wound up and tangled so wonderfully that Ellie can’t quite catch her breath.
Alec Hardy is kissing her. Tall, dark, mysterious, knobend Alec Hardy. Bane of her life, her saviour, her best friend and sometimes enemy Alec Hardy. Scottish madman, Alec Hardy, with the worst temper and the best laugh and she bloody loves him. She loves him.
“Miller,” he mumbles, kisses at her mouth, her chin, her jaw, her neck. It’s so good. “Ellie. This is such a bad idea.”
“Yep.” She agrees. Bad idea, dreadful, could ruin everything. But somehow it’s also the best idea they’ve ever had. “We’ll stop. Just one more minute please.”
Hardy chuckles into the curve of her neck, tickles her with his breath and makes her clutch at him. He trails the sharp point of his nose up to her ear, nudges at the lobe, scratches purposefully at her skin with his stubbley beard until she moans and Hardy takes advantage of her open mouth to kiss her again.
It deepens on both of their sides, Hardy tipping his head to adjust the angle and Ellie leaning up into him. His hand flies to her back to support her, and she gives him a grateful graze of teeth in response, taking pleasure in the indecent moan that follows, practically feeling it in her bones. He kisses like a demon: furious lips, a swipe of tongue hot against the underside of her top lip, sneaking into her mouth. She’s wanted this for such a long time, she realises, quite a lot longer than she should have. His hair is wild silk and she digs her fingers into the heat of the roots and tugs.
Good move, she muses, as she is shoved fully inside the house, her back pushed against the wall. Hardy has desperate hands at her hips and he’s gasping in breath. Ellie pulls again, smiles into his mouth at the growling noise he makes. The door is carelessly kicked shut behind them.
They don’t stop in a minute. Instead, she wrestles his coat off, and lets it drop to the floor with a scoosh and a thump. Her own orange monstrosity follows it, his hands capable and eager. Her suit jacket joins the heap and then he pulls her in again, his flat chest to her heaving breasts, his thin lips on her fuller pair and his hands at the base of her back, rucking up her blouse to find her skin. She’s trying to lead him to the stairs without separating the two of them, or tripping over the outerwear on the floor, conscious of the kids, of getting caught or traumatising one of them. The things she wants to do to this man, with this man, are not things she ever wants her boys to see.
“Miller.” He pants a little and it is far too sexy for her to be able to deal with. How dare he? “This is not stopping.”
“Good spotting there,” she teases, steps onto the first riser, levels herself with him. “Come upstairs with me, Hardy.”
He looks at her, hard. The deep brown of his eyes focussed on her entirely, somehow seeing right inside, it feels like. Not quite the same probing gaze he turns on suspects, it’s too gentle, but it sees just as much, if not more. He shrugs, as if he doesn’t care, as if he isn’t quaking about this as much as she is. Ellie doesn’t believe it for a second. She sniffs a laugh at his, “Aye, yeh’lright.”
She takes him by the hand and he lets her lead him up the stairs. She pauses on the way to look in on Fred, who is dead to the world, Hardy patient behind her. Tom’s door is closed and she can hear muffled music and keyboard tapping from within.
It should be awkward, when they get to the top floor. Ellie sort of expects it to grind to a halt, for him to go back to being stiff and grumpy and hesitant about everything. Except it isn’t and he doesn’t. He steps up to her on the landing, yanks her back to him and gets right back to it. It’s like he’s been starving for her, and now he’s had a taste he can’t stop. Which, to be fair, is exactly how she feels about him. She can’t stop smiling against, into, his mouth.
Happy, happy, happy, she thinks.
Ellie had always thought he was a right skinny fuck, skinny and grouchy. But actually, he’s just lean. When she finally gets all his shirt buttons undone, she can see and feel him - solid and muscular, nice planes of chest, gentle curve of rib, concave swerve below, beautiful dashes of shadow above his hips. Dark hair is smattered and silked across his chest, slowing at the bottom of the rainbow-arc ridge of his ribcage, thinning into a trail down to his navel, widening a little again as it dips below the waistband of his trousers. It’s an absolute pleasure to look at him, drink him in. She wants to touch all of him, and she starts with her palms on his torso, feels the life thumping beneath his ribcage, carefully not poking at the bump in his chest or the line of tissue hiding alongside his clavicle, though they both know she wants to.
“Your shoulders should be illegal,” Ellie tells him, holding onto them as he lowers her to the mattress. It makes him laugh, huff into the side of her neck. Then she wraps a leg around his hips and grinds them together and he’s biting down, full-on teeth into the skin of her neck. She lets out a little squeal, and moans low and long.
She can feel his cock against her, hard and promising. He’s hard, for her. It’s a bloody lovely feeling. Even more lovely as he gives another couple of good rolls and rubs and lets her feel his rhythm, the natural kick of his hips.
She’s never really done sex like this, rushed unclothing and biting desperation. Even early on in her other relationships, sex was a thing of concentration: shaved legs and nice underwear, getting completely naked and under the duvet. But right now, she’s still got her shoes on when Hardy gets a hand inside her trousers and shoves his face into her cleavage. She doesn’t bother trying to get her bra off, just finishes unbuttoning, yanks the lace cups down under her breasts and greedily guides his mouth to a nipple with a clenched fist in his hair.
He loves it, her command and demand. Seals his lips and sucks, tongue flicking until she’s writhing under him and then he grazes with his teeth, tugs gently, just as his fingers finally conquer the barriers of her trousers and cotton knickers and find the wet heat of her waiting for him. They both make a noise, a heavy grunt of satisfaction as he slips down her swollen slit. She wants his clothes off, wants hers off, but instead she’s trapped there, quite happily actually, while he finds the right position for his fingertips to access her clit, slides one down either side and back up, making her toes curl and her body arch up into him.
He wriggles over to lie across one of her legs. “Fuck, you’re so wet, Ellie. For me?”
Oh he would be great at this, wouldn’t he? Bloody awkward bugger. Ellie whines as he grazes her clit just right , skims down the centre of her, sinking deep between her labia so he can push one gorgeous long and agile finger inside her. He nips at her earlobe, breath hot and perfect against her ear.
“Yeah,” she manages on a staggered breath out. Another finger makes it’s slick way inside her and Ellie cries out at the artful undulation they make inside. Oh god, she needs this so bad.
“I’ve got no condoms, love,” Hardy says, sounding far too sensible and reasonable, considering he’s completely disabled her ability to breathe properly. “We can just do this, if you like. Maybe you‘d let me go down on you?”
Oh shit, oh Christ, he’s going to kill her. Is this man even real?
“There’s some in the bathroom,” she manages to grit out. They’re not Ellie’s, she bought them for Tom, hoped if she just shoved them in the cupboard on his shelf, next to his razor that he’d get the idea. He’d been brave and mentioned them the day after, looking somehow embarrassed and amused at the same time. She doesn’t want to think about Tom now, though, so she doesn’t explain all that to Hardy. “Give me a minute, just a minute, I’ll get them, hang on.”
“Aye in a minute,” he agrees, but also disagrees, “ I’ll go in a minute.”
Then Hardy is fucking her with his fingers; a curved slide in, a crook of fingertips, a long draw out and Ellie has never been so turned on in her life, she can feel the roots of an orgasm starting to build already, those little juddery shocks radiating through her pelvis. She’s aware she’s letting him know quite how brilliantly he’s doing, with the little exclamations on her exhalations and the way her fingers are digging into his arm, like she’ll rip it off if he dares to stop what he’s doing. Then his fingers pull out and he finds her clitoris again, sets up an addictive pace that builds the heat almost immediately.
“Get them, Alec, get them now .” She pushes at his arm, pleased when he halts all movement instantly. "Cupboard over the sink.”
Ellie watches him strip off his shirt as he goes, admires the solid lines of his back and the way the black of his trousers slash dark against the pale skin of him.
Ellie has wrestled off her boots when he gets back, her socks gone with them. Hardy is ripping into the cellophane wrapping around the box with his sharp teeth, but gets distracted trying to mirror her, toeing off his shoes, falling over in his attempt to remove a sock and tear into the packaging at the same time. He lands sideways on the bed, pretends to frown at her giggling at him, but then somehow manages both his tasks, kicking socks across the room and ripping the box open carelessly.
Her laughter is happy, not cruel, and she knows he doesn’t really mind; he never really minds. In fact sometimes she thinks he only frowns at her because it makes her laugh harder. It doesn’t stop even as she pulls him over her, tugging at his belt, freeing strap from buckle and having a cheeky grope while she’s down there. He feels big, he feels bloody solid.
“Get yurr goddamn trousers off, Miller,” he grumbles, rolling his eyes, but also rolling his hips to push himself harder into her palm.
Ellie does as she’s told, but only manages to get them halfway down and off one leg because then she stops to watch him shove his own trousers and boxers down his thighs and his cock is out, in the open, looking awfully fucking delicious. Thick and uncut and Ellie wants to sit on it, take it inside her and ride his bony hips until he can’t breathe. He’s rolling a condom on, his bottom lip caught between his teeth and his eyes heavy half closed.
“Oh God, get that in me now,” Ellie says, accidentally out loud. She’d blush at his hard bark of laughter, but her blood is busy elsewhere, nurturing the electric tingles between her legs. Then he’s between her legs too, his mouth on hers while he guides his surprisingly fat erection to press up against her, rubs it up and down once or twice teasingly, until she bites at his mouth in frustration. Then, finally, he dips the head just inside her and sinks home.
“Yessss,” Ellie hisses, “Please, Alec.” Her voice breaks on his name.
The way he snarls at hearing her makes her skin tingle; she’s going to come, she’s chasing it already, her hips rocking up to meet him in an unmistakable rhythm and he’s not even all the way in yet. She lets her voice bounce off each pant she lets out, pulls his body down against her, so he has to slip his arm under her back, hook his hand over her shoulder from beneath. She feels cradled and cared for, like it’s a hug just as much as it’s a fuck. And then he pulls out a little, testing the slickness of his movement, before plunging right back in as far as he can.
Shit, he is big, he is solid, she can feel her body adjusting around him, but it’s a happy adjusting. It’s a fully eager sort of stretch and clench and she practically keens, scratching her nails down his back and making him squirm. Then he starts moving, pushing into her carefully but gaining speed and strength the more she urges him on. She’s never been loud before, but this feels so joyful and so damn good.
“Jesus, woman, the neighbours are going to call the police,” he grumbles, breathlessly, but then a few moments later when she’s quieted, he rears back and frowns crossly at her. “Don’t stop, why are you stopping?”
Ellie laughs at his belligerence. She loves this fierce creature so much. “Ssssh, stop whining.”
It doesn’t last too long. In fact, it’s only a handful of minutes. And it’s furious, chaotic fucking the whole way through. When he gets a hand down between them, he gets her off pretty much instantly. She’s a screamer, apparently, when she comes for Hardy. And he’s a biter. He sinks his teeth into her shoulder, taking hold of skin and flesh and grunting into it. Ellie loves it. That twinge of pain fires her pleasure, the glow of satisfaction knowing that Hardy is losing his control, his mind, losing himself in her.
She’s going to have bruises from his hips, as well as his teeth, she can’t help thinking smugly, as he shifts angle, fighting the clothes they are still wearing to bend his leg up against her backside for better leverage as he smacks his pelvis into her again and again. He’s glorious, bloody fucking gorgeous, all sweat and straining muscles and gritted teeth as he rises up above her on his arms. She pulls her leg up, grins breathlessly as he palms her thigh and bends it higher, opens her wider, tips her hips back.
Ellie is calling out again, head tipped back into the rucked up duvet. She could actually orgasm again, with just a little more, just a little. But then he’s coming, his cock swelling inside her and his rhythm stuttering. Ellie opens her eyes quickly to catch him, meets his desperate gaze, his wide eyes. He mouths her name, shoves in deep one, two, three times before staying there and letting his hips jolt his movements and his voice rumble deep in his chest.
Oh he is spectacular .