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Professional partners, end of story...?

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Arriving back at her home, Miranda took a deep breath, opened the front door and nervously looked inside. She couldn’t see Max. She quietly walked through the living area to the kitchen; it was empty, and so was the bathroom. No sign of him downstairs. She hung her jacket up and began to ascend the stairs apprehensively.

Maybe he’d left and sending her on a walk had just been a way of getting rid of her while he escaped. That must be it, she resigned herself: she’d started to disclose how she felt about him and he’d run, terrified or repelled. He didn’t feel the same and she’d made a complete fool of herself. Why did she have to say anything?! Her life in Mallorca had been pretty good and now Max wouldn’t want to work with her, or be friends with her... Would she have to ask for a transfer? Gah, what a mess! She shouldn’t have even invited him over tonight. She should’ve waited to see him at work next week, but she had been too eager to spend time with him after a fortnight apart.

She reached the top of the stairs and caught a slight movement out of the side of her eye, to the left, over near the balcony. She looked up tentatively. There he was. Max hadn’t fled.

He was wearing his black evening suit, she realised, a jolt of electricity running through her core. She remembered seeing him dressed up like this when they were investigating the prostitute robbing rich men with a stun gun. He’d taken ages getting ready for the sting at the casino, but when at last he’d come out in his suit she’d been shocked by how good he looked and how much she wanted to be with him. She’d helped him put a wedding ring on as part of his cover, feeling so self-conscious holding his hand. She blushed thinking about it. And then he’d had to wear his suit that time after their cycle round the nature reserve, when he’d fallen in mud, and the only way she could think of to conceal her feelings then had been to make a cutting remark about bringing a posh frock next time. He’d strutted about Port de Pollença knowing he looked good, and she’d loved it, despite what her face had said - well, couldn’t let his ego get any bigger, could she?

She realised she’d been silently staring at him standing at the entrance to the balcony, framed by the golden glow of the sunset. “Max... I...” What could she say? She had no idea what was going to happen here.

“¿Señorita?” Max offered her his arm and stepped towards her. It seemed his attire might be having the intended effect, he mused. She didn’t seem to be in a huff with him any more, at least. That was a start.

She smiled cautiously and walked towards him, taking his extended arm and wondering what he was up to. She caught a glimpse of the sign that was hanging above her as she went through the doorway to the balcony. ‘Bienvenidos a Cazador’, she read. She’d been so stunned seeing him standing looking so smart underneath it that she hadn’t noticed it at first.

‘Welcome to Cazador’: did it mean what she thought it did? They’d never talked about what had happened when Inés had made them stay overnight there to solve a murder case, apart from the clumsy conversation in his car as he dropped her back at her old apartment, when they’d both pretended they’d merely been talking about him stamping on her foot. She flushed at the memory of the paso doble they’d danced in the street outside their hotel in the interior town. She’d wanted to kiss him so much then. Perhaps it would have happened if they hadn’t been bashed into by another couple. The look in his eyes had seemed so intense, so full of ardour, but he was still with Carmen back then... No, she had probably read too much into that night and into what was going on here, she decided: he’s just recreating a nice evening with a close colleague, trying to soften the blow when he breaks my heart any minute now.

He hadn’t been wearing his suit in Cazador though, so what did wearing it now mean? Had he had another wardrobe emergency or could it possibly be to impress her? Was it that obvious that she liked him in it? If so, she must be more transparent than she’d thought. How humiliating... although, if he was going out of his way to make himself attractive to her, that was a good sign, wasn’t it?

Max led her across the balcony towards the table and pulled out her chair for her. She sat, taking in the flickering candles he’d lit all around and the wine and food he’d laid out on the table. He had clearly made a huge effort to construct a romantic setting, so surely he couldn’t be planning to just reject her? She was still too scared and flustered to truly hope for anything from him though, so instead steeled herself for imminent disappointment and enduring embarrassment.

“Glass of Rioja for my favourite lady?” he asked, holding the bottle up and raising a quizzical eyebrow. He’d called her that before, but this was the first time he’d said it since he’d become single. It felt bolder addressing her that way now.

She gave a small nod, too tense to say anything right now. He poured her a glass and she took a small gulp.

“Mmmm, that’s nice. Glad I listened to at least one of your oenological talks!” She let out a nervous chuckle.

He gave her an appreciative smile and took a swig from his own glass. No time for swirling or sniffing the bouquet tonight: he needed a little liquid courage. From her awkwardness he realised how vulnerable she was feeling, having had no response from him to her revelation still. Better get on with it, he thought, even if it does turn out I’ve got it all wrong; we can’t have this uncertainty and confusion at work next week.

He put his wine down on the table and sat opposite her. They picked at the tapas he’d set out. “So, tell me, what was your opinion on bullfighting again, Miranda?” he asked playfully, before crunching on a breadstick.

She looked slightly confused, but answered forcefully, “it’s just cruel, Max! Those poor animals are let out into the arena with absolutely no idea what’s going on and then minutes later they’re savagely killed, all for some light entertainment and macho showing off. It’s completely barbaric!”

Her Aberystwyth accent had intensified as she had become more impassioned. Max loved that she sounded more Welsh the angrier and more indignant she got. It usually served as a good barometer for how mad she was at him.

“Ok, so I put you down in the ‘against’ column then,” he grinned cheekily at her. He reached down to his side and from its hiding place next to the table leg he retrieved the beautiful crimson rose he’d managed to find on his dash to the shops earlier. He held it out across the table to her. “¿Una rosa? ¿Una rosa para la mujer preciosa?”

Their eyes met as she took the proffered flower. Well, she hadn’t been rejected and humiliated so far, she reflected, and now he was giving her a red rose. And, if she’d translated him correctly, he’d just described her as beautiful...

He broke the eye contact as he reached into his pocket for his phone. This is going well so far, he thought, I only hope what I’m about to do isn’t misjudged. He pressed play on the song he’d set up earlier. His heart pounded as the music started.

¡Señoras y señores, el paso doble en el balcón!” he announced loudly, suddenly standing up again. He came round the table, holding out his hand to her and stamping his foot dramatically. She smiled shyly, her nose wrinkling. She took his hand as he led her towards the part of the balcony he’d set aside for their dance floor. No need to drag her like last time, Max thought. She wants to dance with me.

“I promise not to stamp on your foot tonight. And there are no lampposts up here, so you’re safe from my Gene Kelly impressions too,” he reassured her, pulse racing with excitement.

He took her hand in his and delicately put his other hand on her waist, as she tentatively placed hers on his shoulder, too nervous to look up at him yet. He counted them in and they began to dance to the song from all those months ago at the fiesta in Cazador.

He leaned his head forward and whispered into her ear. “The paso doble... it’s drama, it’s bravery, it’s passion... and this time there is nobody here to crash into us.” She looked up at him as she caught his meaning and he winked, sending a thrill right through her.

Oh wow, she thought, I think he’s going to kiss me. It’s really happening. After all this time. This is much more dramatic than the evening I’d been expecting!

They danced for a while longer, getting closer and closer, but too shy to look at each other now or to take anything further. The sun had set already, the first stars visible as the sky faded from red and gold to an inky blue. Bats had begun to chase nocturnal insects attracted by the streetlights, and the tempting aromas of garlic and olive oil wafted through the air as the surrounding restaurants began to serve their clientele; Max was glad of the tapas he’d bought.

After a couple of minutes Max found himself standing still and staring down at Miranda dancing in front of him, in wonder and longing, just as he had in the street all those months ago. A few seconds later she became aware that he was no longer moving. She lifted her head and they gazed at each other bravely. Slowly, still looking intently into each other’s eyes, they moved their faces together until they were only centimetres apart. They paused, briefly seeking reassurance from one another. Max decided to take the initiative and met Miranda’s lips with a tender kiss. She reciprocated gently, but more than willingly. They were both too afraid of scaring the other off and ruining their relationship to start with anything other than softness. They pulled apart gradually, hearts thumping, breathing fast and shallow. Their eyes searched each other’s for answers. Were they really doing this now, and where would it lead them? Silently, they agreed that this was what they both wanted, consequences be damned.

Miranda put her hands around Max’s neck as he moved both his around her waist and pulled her body close against his. They kissed again, more eagerly, passionately and for much longer than before, as they began to caress each other. They had waited so long for this and all their pent-up emotions spilled out into their embrace, his hands moving over her back and hips and hers running up his neck into his wavy hair and then down across his shoulders and chest.

Eventually they separated again and Max held her hands up and entwined their fingers. They grinned at each other, eyes shining with joy.

“So... I guess we should talk... a bit...?” he ventured.

“Mmm... yes...” she replied. “You first this time.”

He smiled. “Ok... well, I - obviously - have feelings for you, and... you do for me?” he asked, still unsure of exactly what this all meant to her. She nodded, wanting to hear more.

“Ok. Good,” he said delightedly. “Well, I’ve felt like this for a long time. Definitely when we danced in the real Cazador, but probably long before that. If I’m honest, probably even on our first case, back when we were chasing down bad guys on the golf course and crashing funerals with you in your sexy little black dress. Oof... if you ever felt like wearing that again, or that tight green jumpsuit, I would not be complaining.”

Miranda’s cheeks coloured at him saying she’d looked sexy. She took a deep breath, unused to emotional discussions, but ready to try for him. “The same for me: I properly started to realise how I felt about you when we danced, but it had been building ever since we were at Niall Taylor’s fake wake and his daughter told me it was obvious that you were proud of me. Then I saw your terrible dancing on the pool terrace, but for some reason it didn’t put me off, it just made me like you more”. Her nose wrinkled as she teased him. He looked amused at her critique of his moves. “When I woke up after we slept outside at Rancho del Rey and your arm was around me, Max, I was thrilled. I put my hand on yours while you slept and it felt so right.”

Her admission of wanting him for so long too filled him with joy, and he bent to give her a quick kiss. “So... what is this then? I know intimacy can scare you, so I don’t want to push you-”

“No, it’s ok... I can do this,” she interrupted. “I think... I think I’m in love with you.” These last words tumbled out in a rush of trepidation. She looked into his eyes nervously as she finished, even now still scared of rejection.

His expression didn’t change for a few seconds as he took this in. Suddenly he broke into a huge grin. “Miranda, I’m in love with you too. I love you. You’re my compañera, my favourite lady, my Miranda.”

She returned his smile and they kissed again, desire consuming them. Everything was right in their world tonight. She let go of all the regret and fear she’d felt since starting them down this path earlier that evening.

A while later, by wordless assent, they moved inside to her bedroom. The sun was well below the horizon now and the crepuscular wind had picked up a little, blowing out the tea lights one by one.

He stopped her as they stood by her bed and took her hands in his again. “Are you sure this is what you want? You want me to stay?” he asked, looking tenderly into her eyes, full of concern for her feelings and respect for her boundaries.

“Yes,” she replied firmly, squeezing his hands in affirmation. She recalled the conversation when Carmen had told her a major reason she had stayed with Max was the sex. No pressure then!

“Well, ok,” he beamed, “but I haven’t even got a toothbrush here!”

“Ah... actually, you have.” She looked embarrassed. “I kept your ridiculous flamenco dancer one from our bathroom in Cazador... you know, just in case you ever needed it...”

“Miranda Blake! Who knew you were so sentimental!” He kissed the top of her forehead. “Thank you, Schatz.”