Miranda sipped a glass of rioja, watching as the team around her celebrated the arrest of a smuggling kingpin. The case had kept them busy for weeks and there was a real sense of giddiness in the air, everyone on the edge of losing control. Except Miranda, of course. She never lost control.
Max had a pint of lager in his hand, in a glass with a handle, and was thumping it on the table in time to the awful German drinking song he was shouting. Miranda edged away from the lager as it slopped out of the tankard but Max flung his arm around her shoulders, pulling her in to join the singalong. She rolled her eyes and swayed along for a moment, until Max became distracted by the arrival of Roberto and she was able to slip away to the bar.
She stood, elbows propped on the countertop, taking a breath. After a moment Carmen came over and Miranda asked for a glass of water. “Getting a bit much, is it?” asked Carmen, nodding towards the noisy table in the corner.
“A bit,” said Miranda, taking a long slug of her water. She looked at the table, her tight-knit team in their high spirits, and wondered why she still felt on the edge of it. She’d never really minded before, happy enough in her unit of one, but recently she’d begun to feel a yearning to be on the inside. She looked at Max, who was grinning like an idiot at Carmen, and pushed whatever feeling that generated back into its box.
Carmen smiled back at Max, before turning again to Miranda. “You know,” she said, “I’ve been thinking. About Max.”
Miranda raised her brows. “Anything in particular?”
“I should say yes,” Carmen said with a grin. “To marry him.”
Miranda’s eyes opened wide and her mouth lifted in a smile. “Congratulations!” she said warmly. “He’s an idiot, but he’s your idiot.”
Carmen laughed and nodded before moving away to serve another customer. Miranda’s smile faded as she stared down at the bar. Max and Carmen. She took a deep breath and pulled her shoulders back. Glanced across at the table where Max was leading the group in a game that seemed to involve repeating his actions and shouting when they got them wrong. They wouldn’t miss her. She picked up her bag and headed out for home.
It’s a beautiful flat, there’s no denying it. She took a glass of wine onto her small terrace and sat at the table, staring out across the sea as the sun made its way below the horizon.
Max had found her this flat. She smiled as she took a sip from her glass. She’d never had someone look out for her before, not the way Max had. She knew it was just Max being Max, his generous nature making him want everyone around him to be as happy as he was, but still it had made her feel warm and secure.
She thought about Carmen, a wry smile now on her face. She actually liked Carmen. It would be a lot easier for her if she didn’t. But Carmen was lovely and strong and open and confident – Miranda’s exact opposite, as it happened - and she deserved to be happy. And Max made her happy.
Miranda took a gulp of wine and pictured herself attending Carmen and Max’s wedding. Standing in a group with Ines and Roberto, toasting the couple, listening to the speeches, dodging the bouquet. Watching the first dance.
She put her wine glass down on the table with a clunk, frowning at it. She pictured herself continuing to work alongside Max after he came back from his honeymoon. Their partnership had been the best of her career. Against all her expectations, they had quickly formed a tight team, anticipating each other’s moves, compensating for each other’s weaknesses. Proper compañeros.
For the first time ever, she’d looked forward to getting into work, to seeing her partner come through the door. For the first time she’d felt her partner was pleased to see her.
Would that continue when Max was married? How much of their success was down to the closeness of their relationship? It didn’t seem likely that Max would be there for her as much after the wedding. And what if he and Carmen had children?
Her stomach tightened. She’d been denying the truth to herself for so long now, but it seemed there was no longer any hiding place.
It was tough, this. Professionally, she’d never been so fulfilled. But the pain of watching Max and Carmen get married might be more than she could bear.
She took a deep breath. Decision made.
The next morning, a Friday, she arrived at the office and found it empty. The celebrations must have carried on deep into the night. Never mind, it gave her the opportunity to look a few things up and firm up a few plans.
One by one the rest of the team slid into the office, most of them looking pale and sweaty and fragile. Ines put her head around the door, in her shades and without her usual make-up, nodding a hello before retreating to her own office and closing the door.
After another half an hour or so, Max wondered in, putting a brave face on it but Miranda could tell he wasn’t on top form. “Good night, was it?”
Max sent her a look. “It was fun. I wish you’d stayed.”
“But then who’d have been here at nine o’clock to put the coffee on?” Her tone was light but inside she was tense. Max, through the fug of his hangover, didn’t seem to notice anything amiss.
“Yeah, it was a good night. Christian persuaded Joan to get the karaoke out. The rest of the bar left soon after, but we had fun.”
“I’m sure you did,” said Miranda drily. “Hasselhoff?”
Miranda rolled her eyes. She thought about Carmen, about Max’s proposal. She preferred to have her fears confirmed than live with uncertainty. “Do you, um. Have anything important to tell me?”
Max looked at her strangely. “No,” he replied. “Should I have?”
“Oh no,” said Miranda, “no, nothing. Nothing that can’t wait. Look, it’s Friday, we just cleared the case, nothing else has come in overnight. I’m going to spend the day sorting out my paperwork. You can pretend to do the same, take it easy.”
Max nodded. “Sure, good idea.” He switched on his computer and started to flick through the files on his desk. Miranda took a deep breath. She wanted to remember this.
By the end of the day, energy levels across the team had reached the nadir. Even Ines packed up early and was quickly followed by several others. Max logged off and smiled over at Miranda. “Long day,” he said, “heading off. I’m going to try to catch a nap before I meet Carmen for dinner.”
“Say hi,” Miranda said. “Just going to finish this last bit of filing, then I’ll head home myself.”
“Got any plans?” asked Max, shrugging into his jacket.
“Just the usual.” Miranda watched as Max gave her a small wave on his way through the door.
The arrival of the weekend was welcome. Miranda spent the time following up some of the emails she’d sent on Friday and investigating other things she’d need for her plan. By Monday morning she was ready.
Monday was quiet. There was still no big case and she’d spent the day researching a fraud investigation for another team. She hadn’t seen much of Max, who was supposed to be helping her but who was never to be relied upon when it came to desk work.
Five o’clock rolled around and Max asked if she fancied a quick drink. “I’ll join you later,” she said. “Need to finish this.”
Nodding, Max packed up and left the office, whistling as he went. Miranda tidied up her files and turned off her PC. She sat for a moment before straightening her shoulders and heading to Ines’s office. Ines welcomed her in and she closed the door behind her.
Miranda took a deep breath and handed over an envelope with Ines’s name on it.
“It’s my letter of resignation.”
Ines slid the letter, unopened, into her drawer and waved at Miranda to sit. Miranda gripped the back of the chair and remained standing. After a pause, Ines said, “This is a sudden decision.”
Miranda gave a tiny shrug. “I decided a few days ago. But really, it’s been coming on for a long time.”
Ines stared hard for a moment. “If this is because of me, I want you to know that I would be delighted if you would stay.”
“It’s not you,” Miranda replied. “I know we’ve had our differences, but I’ve grown to admire you hugely.”
Ines inclined her head in thanks. “So stay.”
“Why not? If it’s not me, what’s the problem?”
Miranda rubbed a finger across an eyelid. “I’m very sorry,” she said. “I know this will be an inconvenience for you. But I’ve made up my mind.”
“Miranda,” said Ines gently. “Would it help if I paired you with a different partner?”
“No,” Miranda said. “That’s not – that wouldn’t help.”
Ines looked closely at Miranda’s face. “Have you told Max of your decision?”
After a pause, Miranda gave a tiny shake of her head. “No.”
“Tell him tomorrow. If you don’t, I will.”
“Okay,” Miranda replied, then said, “goodnight,” and turned and left, Ines watching as she went.
“What happened to you last night?” Unusually, Max was in the office before her the next morning.
“Sorry?” said Miranda, dumping her bag in the corner and hanging her jacket on the back of her chair.
“You said you’d come out. I waited for you.”
Miranda looked at him across their desks. “Yes, sorry, it slipped my mind. I had a few things to sort out at home.”
Max’s lips pulled into a brief frown but it didn’t last long – never did with him. He held out a file which Miranda took. “What’s this?”
“A report of a break in at the marina. I’ll give you five minutes then we can head over.”
“Max, listen,” said Miranda, but Max was rifling through his bag and not paying attention. “Max.”
He looked up, his eyebrows raised. “It’s a pretty straightforward case, I think,” he said. “But we can give you a bit longer to look through the file if you want.” He went back to his rummaging.
“No, it’s not that,” said Miranda, as Max triumphantly pulled out a packet of nuts and tore them open.
“You want one?”
“What? No. Max, will you listen.”
“Hmm? OK, what?”
Miranda looked at him. He was doing as she’d asked and giving her his full attention, which meant she was on the receiving end of his intense gaze. She swallowed and took a deep breath. “I’m leaving.”
Max blinked. “Leaving what? Do you need to go home? Are you not feeling well?”
Miranda felt the frustration building inside her. Why did he always make things so difficult? “No, I don’t need to go home. I’m telling you that I’m leaving here. Leaving Mallorca.”
Max stared at her for a moment, as if waiting for the punchline. Miranda dropped her gaze to her desk. “I’m sorry –“ she said.
“Schwachsinn,” said Max impatiently. “No way.”
Miranda shrugged. “It’s time.” Her heart was racing but her emotional poker face came to her rescue.
Max was still staring at her. “You’re serious,” he breathed, shaking his head. “Wait, did that Palmer woman call you back? You can say no, you did before.”
“No, that’s not it,” said Miranda softly. “This is my choice. I asked for the transfer.”
There was a long period of silence, Max looking at her as if he couldn’t understand what she was saying. “You want to leave.” It wasn’t a question.
“It’s time,” she said again.
“Why? Why now?” Max looked at her searchingly.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Miranda replied, shuffling papers on her desk.
“Oh, you don’t want to talk about it,” said Max. “Well, that’s fine then, let’s just leave it.”
He paused, then asked, “Was it something I did?”
Miranda had to look away from the hurt in his eyes. “Not everything is about you, you know,” she muttered, feeling defensive. Max’s eyebrows lifted.
“Not everything, no, but this definitely affects me.” The hurt seemed to be giving way to anger. “You’re leaving and you won’t even tell me why.”
“I don’t need to share my every emotion with you,” she said.
“It would be nice if you would share any emotion with me,” he snapped back.
“It’s not your business. You’ll be fine without me.”
Max just looked at her. Finally, he pushed back his chair and reached over to pick up the file about the Marina burglary. “If you say so,” he said coldly, getting up and walking out of the door. She heard him call for Jose to join him before the door slammed closed.
Miranda’s shoulders slumped. She’d known it would be difficult, but it had been even harder than she’d imagined. One thing stood out, though. He hadn’t asked her to stay. She picked up her bag and jacket and walked into Ines’s office.
Ines raised an eyebrow at Miranda. “I saw your partner storming off just now. I presume you told him your plan.”
“Yes. Well. Nearly.”
“Must you always talk in riddles, Detective Blake?”
“I told him I was leaving. I didn’t tell him I’m leaving today.”
Ines’s head tilted to the side. “But you’re not leaving today.”
“I’m afraid I am. The terms of my attachment here – it’s only a fortnight’s notice each way. And I’m owed more than that in annual leave.”
Ines blinked. “Miranda. This is a big step. Are you absolutely sure?”
“I have to go, Ines,” hating the helplessness in her voice. “And you know, I’m not really one for a big send off.”
Nodding, Ines said, “That is true enough. But to not even say goodbye?”
“It’s for the best,” Miranda said. “I’ve tidied everything up at this end. I’ve booked a flight for the morning. Please tell Max I’m unwell. Don’t tell anyone I’ve gone until tomorrow afternoon.”
“You’re sure you don’t want to say goodbye to Max? I always hoped the two of you…”
Miranda gave a smile she suspected was a bit watery. “He’s going to marry Carmen,” she said, her voice close to breaking.
“I see.” Ines looked at her. “I do at least understand, now.”
“Please, tell Max… Tell Max… Tell him that I’m sorry. And that he was the best compañero I ever had.”
“I will do that.” Ines approached her as if for a hug and Miranda automatically shrank back. Ines stuck out a hand instead. Miranda shook it, blinking. “Goodbye, Detective Blake. I wish you every success in the Met. They are lucky to have you. Please let me know if you need a reference or if I can be of any help to you at all.”
A small tear fell from Miranda’s eye and she pulled her hand slowly away. “Thank you,” she said in a small voice. “I’ll never forget this. It’s been the most incredible experience.” Her eyes on the floor, she turned and left Miranda’s office, then Palma police station, not intending ever to go back.
It took surprisingly little time to pack up her life in Mallorca. A crate of books and other bits and pieces was on the way back to London on a ship. A few packets of food and a bottle of wine had been given to a neighbour. The flimsiest of her Spanish outfits had gone to a charity shop and everything else she owned was in a suitcase. Not much to show for over a year of her life.
Her flight wasn’t too early so she wasn’t worried about getting to the airport in good time. She locked the door behind her and posted the key back through the letterbox. The little dog scratched at the door, whining, and she bent down to rub behind his ears. “Bye,” she whispered, trying not to think about where he would get his next meal. She briefly wondered whether the dog would be the only thing missing her after she left, before she told herself sternly not to wallow in such self pity.
Arriving at the airport she checked in and handed over her case. Her flight wasn’t due to be called for another hour or so, so she meandered through the shops, keeping her mind determinedly blank.
As she waited at the till of the newsagent she caught sight of a pair of broad shoulders and the side of a wavy head of hair. Her heart stuttered before racing away at speed, but he turned and it was no one. Get a grip, Miranda told herself.
Her flight was called and she went through security to the departure gate. As she was waiting in the queue to board, she her a ping from her phone. She fished it from her pocket and nearly dropped it when she saw it was a text from Max.
“Boss lady says ur still not well,” it said, “but I don’t believe her. Ur never ill. Hope ur not avoiding me. Hope ur back soon, either way.”
Miranda took a deep breath, staring at the screen, until someone behind her coughed pointedly. She looked up to see the queue had disappeared. She stuffed her phone back in her pocket and juggled her boarding card and passport to show the airline crew. After she took her seat, she pulled out her phone and turned if off, then she took out the SIM and put the phone in the bottom of her bag. The SIM went in the bin.
It was drizzling when she landed and the sky remained stubbornly grey for the next few weeks. Miranda had found a place in an Air BnB as a temporary home, located in a modern housing estate not far from her old job. Palmer had been surprisingly pleased to have her back. Miranda had allowed herself a few days to sort herself out and find a more permanent flat but all too soon she found herself back in the Met, working on her own, looking into cases of insurance fraud and thefts from department stores. Her days were busy, if dull, but her evenings stretched in front of her, empty and cold.
She wanted to be able to lose herself in her work. At least when she was working she didn’t have time to think about Max or wonder what was happening back in Palma. She knew it wasn’t helpful to dwell, but whenever she found herself without anything to occupy her she found her mind wondered back to him, unable to let go. When she closed her eyes a film of him would play in her imagination, smiling at her, reaching to give her a hug, holding her as they danced. She would squeeze her eyes tighter, willing the images away, but instead they would be replaced by pictures of Max and Carmen, an invitation to a wedding, a christening, and she would swallow and pick up her laptop as a distraction.
She’d been at the Met for about a month when she could take the faceless investigations no longer. Browsing through the internal vacancies, she spotted one that looked interesting and soon found herself attached to the diplomatic service, her experience in Spain and her new language skills standing her in good stead. The long hours were a bonus and the frequent evening and overnight assignments kept her busy. She could sometimes go hours at a stretch and not think about her former partner.
Another advantage was that she was part of a team. She found she no longer wanted to work alone but she wasn’t ready to take on another partnership. The team was friendly but professional, allowing her to feel marginally less lonely but without risk of having to give too much of herself away.
The weeks turned into months. One of the men on her team had tentatively suggested drinks but she’d said no, implying she was in a relationship without actually lying. She hadn’t even had to think about it. He was a nice enough guy, well-spoken and slightly reserved, on the surface he should be just her type. But he wasn’t what she wanted and her refusal had been automatic.
One night, about nine o’clock, Miranda had cleared away her dinner plate and had picked up a bottle of wine, thinking about pouring herself a glass, when she heard a knock. She was still thinking about the wine, looking at the label as she opened the door.
She smelt him before she saw him. Her brain tried desperately to process the message it was receiving, the very familiar scent of citrus and cedar, as she dragged her eyes up a long torso to the face of Max. She couldn’t speak, and he wasn’t saying anything either.
After a moment, he blinked and nodded at the bottle in her hand. “Are you expecting someone?”
“What? No.” Her heart was tripping at twice the normal speed but she forced her features to remain neutral. “What are you doing here?”
Max was still looking down at her, a familiar intent look in his eyes. “You’re a hard woman to track down, Miranda Blake.”
“And yet here you are.”
“I am a detective.” He reached into his rucksack and pulled out a bottle of his own. “Can I come in?”
Reluctantly Miranda stood back and waved him through. Her thoughts were scrambled and she tried desperately to pull herself together.
Max looked around as he made his way to her small sitting area. “Nice place,” he said, putting the bottle on the coffee table then taking a seat on her sofa.
“Not really,” she said, picking up a corkscrew and glasses before joining him, sitting in the armchair at an angle to the sofa. She passed him the corkscrew and he opened the bottle, pouring them each a glass. “It’s dark, the ceilings are low, it looks out onto an industrial complex on the outskirts of Zone 4.”
Max took a gulp of the wine. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s awful.”
Miranda sipped at her own glass. The red was smooth and fruity. “Nice,” she said, looking at the label. Max just shrugged. She supposed he never really bought cheap plonk.
Max set his glass carefully on the coffee table and sat forward, his body angled towards her, elbows on his thighs, hands dangling between his knees. “I got Ines to send me to London on a case,” he said.
“I see. So this is a work call.” Miranda’s back was straight and her fingers gripped the stem of her wineglass tightly. Typical Max, she thought. This was her flat yet he was the relaxed one. Hardly seemed fair.
“No, the case is finished,” Max said. Miranda glanced at him then looked away. She could cope with the smell of him, just, but looking and smelling at the same time was sensory overload. “I’m officially on leave now. But I had to make some friends in the Met so I could find you.”
“Someone’s off my Christmas card list.”
“Don’t blame them. I can be very persuasive.” He smiled at her, a charming, happy smile, and she wiped a hand across her face.
“Why are you here, Max?”
“I wanted to see you.”
“What about?” Miranda finished her wine in one long swallow and put the glass on the table.
Max stared at her for a moment, then looked briefly at the ground. “After you left,” he said. “After you left, after Ines admitted you weren’t ill but had gone and weren’t coming back, I got really angry. With her, with you. Mainly with you.”
“Of course.” Miranda reached out to refill their glasses.
“Ines paired me up with Ramon.”
Despite herself, Miranda spluttered out a laugh. “Really?” Ramon was slow, shambling and objected to working more than three hours in any given 24. His instincts were as sharp as a balloon. He would have driven Max up the wall.
“Really,” Max nodded. “However bad you’re imagining it, it was 10 times worse.”
“Well. I’m sorry about that.”
“And then there was Carmen.”
Miranda lifted her wineglass to her lips in order to hide her face. “Carmen?” she muttered.
“Not so long after you left, maybe a week, Carmen aske me if I still wanted to get married.”
Miranda’s stomach clenched. She waited, but Max was just looking at the carpet.
“Well?” she asked after she could take the silence no longer.
Max swirled his glass and took another mouthful. “There was too big a gap before I said yes.” Miranda just looked at him. “She said we both obviously had doubts and that she’d always care about me, but as a couple, we should just… stop.”
Miranda’s chest tightened and a wave of heat prickled across her body. She dug her nails into her palms. “I’m very sorry to hear that,” she said. Max gave a small nod.
“So I carried on. Working with Ramon, separating my life from Carmen, I was miserable every day.”
“That does sound difficult.”
“Yeah, but it’s what happened next that’s interesting.”
Max looked at his empty glass. “Mind if I…?” He waved at the bottle.
Max topped up her glass and filled his own, almost to the brim. He then drank most of it in one swallow.
“A few weeks after you left, Ramon broke his ankle, walking down some stairs while tailing a suspect.”
“Injured in the line of duty. How heroic.”
Max laughed, but his face became serious again quickly. “Ines partnered me with Toni.”
“Oh, I remember him. He was a good cop, I think?”
“Yeah, Toni’s great. Quick, instinctive, friendly, funny. Couldn’t ask for more in a partner.” He sent Miranda a look that she couldn’t decipher.
“I was still angry. Not all the time, not with Toni, but this unhappiness, it was growing in me, there all the time.”
“Well,” said Miranda. “You’d been through a difficult time. You’d been with Carmen for over a year.”
“Carmen, yes.” Max’s mouth pulled into a wry smile. “A couple of months later, I was out on my own, walking home after work. I bumped into Carmen and her date, a guy called Seve.”
“I’m sorry,” Miranda said. “That must have been difficult for you.”
Max looked at her. “You might think so. But as it turned out, it wasn’t. She looked happy. He seemed nice. I was pleased for her.”
Miranda nodded, although she remained confused. “I’m glad she’s happy,” she said carefully. “I always liked her.”
“And the weeks carried on, but I was still unhappy. I had a good new partner and I had got over splitting up with Carmen. So.” Max’s gaze caught hers, intense and purposeful. “Why do you think I was unhappy?”
Miranda couldn’t look away. She gave a small shrug. The corners of Max’s mouth pulled down into a gentle smile. “Of course you don’t know,” he said. “Why would you? I only realised for myself after months of wondering.”
Miranda had always thought of herself as intelligent, as being one step ahead in any conversation, but this was leaving her bewildered. Her eyebrows drew together as Max reached into his rucksack and drew out a small box wrapped in a ribbon. “I got you something,” he said, handing it to her.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling at the ribbon and opening the box. Nestled on a bed of velvet were a pair of pearl earrings. “They’re lovely,” she said truthfully but her mind was racing.
“Traditional Mallorcan,” said Max. “I wanted something to remind you of the island. You left so quickly, there couldn’t have been time for souvenir shopping.” Max eyed her closely.
“Yes,” she said, looking down, snapping the box closed. “I… I…” She shrugged and put the box down on the coffee table.
“You left me,” he said. “You left me and you didn’t even say goodbye.”
“I’m sorry.” She stared at her wineglass.
“It was so unlike you, Miranda,” he said. “Such ‘bad manners’. I couldn’t understand it.”
A lump was forming in Miranda’s throat. She did not want to have this conversation.
“I only recently think I figured it out,” he continued. He was leaning in closer again, and she got another hit of his scent and closed her eyes. “When I realised why it was I was still unhappy. I was unhappy, Miranda, because I was missing you.”
Max’s eyes were gentle on hers, staring at her with a mix of longing and hope, and she gulped in a breath.
“And I hoped,” he said softly, his gaze steady, “that you were missing me too. That maybe, you left because of me.”
Miranda couldn’t speak. She watched as he picked up the box with the earrings then stood and held out a hand to her. “Let me put these on you.”
She put her hand in his, breathing in as his fingers closed around hers, the strength of his palm soothing her anxious heart. He pulled gently and she stood, looking up at him and he opened the box and took out the first earring. He put the box back down and gently turned her head so he could reach her ear. Carefully he slipped in the earring and slid on the back. She could hardly breath.
Without looking away he picked up the second earring and turned her face the other way. His fingers brushed against her neck and she caught her breath, heat flooding through her. As he finished securing the earring, he touched a finger under her chin and turned her head back to face him. His hand slid back, fingers splaying into her hair, his other hand at her nape, tilting her head up. “Beautiful,” he breathed, his eyes dipping to her lips and back, his head lowering.
Her eyes slid closed as his lips reached hers. It was a faint brush at first, and she sighed into his mouth, allowing him to slide his tongue against her lips, against her tongue. The shock was delicious and she gasped, reaching her arms around his waist, her hands on his shoulders, pulling him closer. The kiss continued, growing in heat, as hands started exploring, seeking skin beneath clothes.
After a long moment, Max pulled back, laughing shakily. He rested his head on her forehead for a moment, his arms wrapped around her waist. “Wow,” he said, and she smiled back.
“That was… unexpected.”
“Good unexpected?” He actually looked anxious and she touched a finger to his cheek.
“Very good unexpected.”
“Phew.” He pressed a kiss to her lips then took a small step back. “This was not how I planned this.”
Miranda raised an eyebrow. “Dare I ask?”
He took her hand in his. “I was going to ask you out to dinner. I was going to tell you all the things I’d missed about you, like how stubborn you were on a case, and how annoying it was when you were right, and how frustrating it was that you wouldn’t even try the island food –“
“Yeah, probably best that we skipped that bit.”
“But then I was going to beg you to come back.” He took her hand in both of his and held it against his heart. “Please, Miranda. Come back to me.”
She stepped closer, her hand now flat on his chest, sliding over his shoulder and winding into the hair at his nape. “I tried to go,” she said, her eyes on his lips. “But in my heart, I really never left you.” She lifted herself onto tiptoes as she pulled him into her kiss, his arms wrapping her close as their lips joined.
Miranda woke early next morning. She squinted as she realised the sun was beginning to filter through the windows and wondered for a moment why she hadn’t closed the curtains before she went to bed. The mystery was solved as she sensed the weight of an arm across her waist and felt a warm body spooned against her back. Her own body softened, relaxing back against his, her hand covering his at her stomach, a smile beginning to work its way across her face. Not a dream, then.
She heard a change to his breathing. “Morning,” he whispered at her ear, his thumb making small circles at her tummy. Miranda swallowed as she realised she was naked except for her pair of pearl earrings. She turned towards him and Max’s arms wrapped around her, pulling her close.
Max pressed a kiss against her forehead and trailed his lips down her check towards her mouth. She pulled back for a moment, feeling self-conscious. “I just need to…” She slid out of bed, looking around for a robe or at least a shirt, but there was nothing in reach so she took a deep breath and stood up.
“You are so beautiful,” breathed Max. “Come back to bed.”
She spotted her robe on the back of a chair and pulled it on, belting it around her middle. She sent him a smile and said, “Back in a minute.”
She spent a few minutes in the bathroom then went to the kitchen to sort out coffee and toast. She heard the bathroom door click closed as Max came out, coming to stand behind her, nuzzling his lips into the back of her neck.
“Are you naked in my kitchen?”
Max looked himself up and down. “Yes.” She turned and he winced at the look she sent him. “But it’s OK to be naked in your bed, yes?”
She thrust a plate at him with slices of toast on it. “Take that,” she said, picking up two mugs, keeping her eyes determinedly above the neck as he wondered back into the bedroom.
Max put the plate down on the bedside cabinet and sat on the bed, leaning his back against the headboard. He patted the space next to him and she joined him, handing over his coffee and taking a sip from her own.
He looked at her above the rim of his mug. “No regrets?”
The coffee was hot and she put her mug down on the side. “None yet.” He nodded and leaned across her to put his mug next to hers, then slung his arm around her shoulder to pull her closer. She softened into him, his lips near her temple.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, his arm tightening. “I’m sorry it took me so long to understand what was happening.”
Miranda thought for a moment. “It was hard,” she said, “leaving you. But I knew how I felt, and I thought it was hopeless. I knew I wouldn’t be OK with you settling down with Carmen, I wouldn’t have been able to watch that.”
Max nodded. “It was easy, you know, being with Carmen. We had a lot of fun together, I liked her a lot. Still like her. But there was something missing, I don’t even know what.”
“I think maybe you were too alike. Both very open, lively. Extrovert. You and I, we’re very different. I think maybe you need that in a relationship. So that you can balance each other out.”
Max smiled and dropped a kiss on the top of Miranda’s head. “I badgered Ines for weeks to give me your number. She just said that if you wanted to get in touch with me, you knew where I was.”
“She was right. I needed the space, I needed a clean break.”
“She was ferocious. Like a lioness looking after her cub.” He shuddered and Miranda smiled.
“I’m glad I had her on my side.”
Max looked at her seriously. “She’s very fond of you, you know. She keeps asking us, what would Miranda do? And then telling us to do it.”
“That’s good to know.”
There was a pause, then Max said, “I asked around about you, you know. When I got here, with people in the Met who knew you.”
“I’m not sure I want to hear this.” Miranda knew colleagues often found her hard to work with, but that was no problem because she was absolutely fine working on her own.
“Everyone was so nice about you,” Max said.
“Really?” Miranda hadn’t expected that. She smiled and curled closer into Max.
“You’re a good police officer, Miranda. The Met guys were sorry you left, but they’d heard that you were doing well with the diplomats and they were happy for you.”
Miranda traced a finger along Max’s arm. “I think you helped me be a better cop. Using my instincts more. And I’m glad they think it’s going well, I’m enjoying it.”
Max laid his hand on hers. “Miranda, I want us to be together,” he said, turning his head towards her so he could look into her eyes. “Ines would have you back in Palma in a heartbeat. But if you want to stay here, I would move. I’m sure I could find something with your London police.”
Miranda’s brows drew together. “But you love Palma,” she said. “You would move here? For me?”
Max brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. “I would do that and more,” he said. “I’ve been so miserable without you. I’ve realised it doesn’t matter where I am. What matters is that I’m with you.”
Miranda turned and moved so she was straddling his lap, one knee on each side of his hips. “I would love to go back to Palma with you,” she said, as he linked his hands together around her waist. “I’ve never been happier than when I was there. But I don’t want to think about work anymore.” She untied the belt of her robe and slipped it from her shoulders, smiling as Max’s eyes blazed at the sight of her. She bent towards him and met his lips for a kiss that started slow but built quickly, the passion between them no longer denied.
Later on she would send an email to Ines, and later still a resignation letter to the diplomatic service, but that could all wait. For now she wanted nothing more than to be in Max’s arms, letting him love her as she’d loved him for so long.