A little later than usual, Miranda woke to find she was completely nude. There was a warmth at her back again. A naked warmth, she noted. Max’s arm was draped across her abdomen as it had been the past few mornings, but this time his thumb was grazing her bare nipple as it moved with each of her breaths. His chest rose and fell gently behind her as she became acutely aware of his erect penis pressing against her buttock while he continued to sleep. She felt an unbidden throbbing at this realisation.
Memories of last night flashed up: sitting so close together on the sofa, him trying to say how he felt, then her kissing him with more passion than she had known she was capable of. Max carrying her to the bed, where they had hurriedly undressed each other, flinging each item of clothing away eagerly. Him cupping her breasts, kissing them and licking and sucking, while she let her hands wander to his groin, holding and caressing as he twitched and grew even harder. One of his hands travelling slowly down her body to give her pulsing clitoris some attention, thumb stroking and circling it as his fingers delicately explored her. Him on top of her, looking into her eyes adoringly as he entered her with a grateful moan and began to thrust, gently at first, not wanting it to be over too soon. Then her astride him, rocking and grinding her hips ever faster while he gazed up at her, his face flushed with pleasure, skilful fingers teasing her excited nipples as she brought them both closer to their ecstatic conclusion. Then finally collapsing on his chest as their shuddering explosions subsided, both breathing hard and smiling. Cuddling drowsily, their sweaty limbs entwined as Max softly stroked her arm, both of them too tired and too blissful to speak...
Oh god, what had they done? It was a disaster. They still had to work together after this. Yes, it had been good - great - at the time, but sober and in the cold light of day, it all now seemed like a huge, horrible mistake. She realised she’d been so caught up in their private bubble, she hadn’t considered the consequences for once. They should never have been anything other than colleagues - it was all too complicated otherwise. What would Inés say if she knew they’d crossed the line like that? It wouldn’t be positive, that was for sure. She worried too that for Max this had been less about her and more about trying to move on from Carmen.
She had to get out of this position before he woke up. She’d never felt more out of her depth. Gently moving his arm off her, she felt a jolt as he unknowingly brushed against her nipples one last time, before she carefully slid out of the bed. She quickly grabbed her bag of clothes and dashed silently to the bathroom, careful not to wake him and let him see her naked... again.
Max woke at the sound of the shower running. He was disappointed to find Miranda’s space in the bed empty. He’d grown accustomed to her petite form nestled into him as he woke each morning and its absence felt wrong, unsettling.
He cheered up as he remembered the events of the night before. It was even better than he’d hoped. He’d told himself at the time that he’d better make it good and make it last. He’d been dreaming about it so long, wondering what it would be like, but sure it would never happen. Until this snowstorm had given him the gift he’d longed for.
Sure, sex had been good with Carmen too, but with Miranda it had the added layer of nearly two years of build up: conversations with deeper meanings, longing glances, coy smiles, fleeting touches, the almost-kiss during that paso doble... The anticipation had made it even more exciting and satisfying when it had finally happened. He pictured her writhing on top of him as they both orgasmed hard. He was pleased he’d managed to hold his own climax back until he could tell by her cry and the way her body tensed that hers had begun. Shame she hadn’t stayed in bed for round two this morning.
He heard the bathroom door open and then what sounded like Miranda making breakfast. He suddenly realised with alarm that maybe her memories of last night were not so fond. Maybe she regretted it. Was that why she hadn’t stayed snuggled up with him this morning? He prayed that wasn’t the case, but a creeping sense of dread told him that there was a chance she was ashamed of what they had done - she might think it was unprofessional. She’d been so enthusiastic though: surely she’d still feel the same way about him now? He supposed he’d better get up and find out, one way or another.
Miranda caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Max was up. His hair was a little wet still from showering and he’d put some underwear and a T-shirt on. At least she didn’t have to be confronted with his naked body right now. That wouldn’t have made the conversation any easier.
“Miranda, about last night-“ he began with trepidation.
He was cut off by a knocking at the door. Miranda opened it to see Clara smiling at her.
“Good morning!” the shopkeeper greeted them brightly. “I just came to say that my brother’s friend is one of the crew clearing the roads today and he says they’ll have the road to Palma done within the hour. You can go home! You’d better hurry though - there’s more snow predicted at lunchtime.”
“Oh. That’s great. Thank you for coming to tell us,” Max replied, struggling to conceal his disappointment that his time alone with Miranda was ending.
“You’re welcome. I hope you had a nice time here, even if it was because you were stuck,” Clara beamed at him, trying not to look at his bare legs.
“We’re very grateful to you for letting us stay here. Thank you again. You’re sure we can’t give you some money though?” Miranda enquired.
“No, no, I haven’t changed my mind. Just drop the keys off at the shop when you leave, ok?” Clara told them, waving away the suggestion of payment.
“Ok, we will be round later this morning when we’ve packed up then. I might walk with you now though and get us some breakfast before we leave, maybe some ensaimadas since it’s the weekend.” He turned to Miranda, “Shall I?”
“Fine. I’ll get packing,” Miranda agreed, secretly relieved to have time away from him to delay the inevitable discussion about their relationship.
“Right, I’ll just finish getting dressed. With you in one minute, Clara!” he called as he dashed into the bedroom.
“What a sweet man you have there. Handsome too,” Clara remarked to Miranda conspiratorially. Max had clearly made quite an impression on her.
“Oh, no. No, we’re not together. We’re just friends and work partners,” Miranda corrected rapidly. If she denied it enough to others she might believe it.
“Oh, my mistake,” Clara apologised. “You just looked so comfortable and happy together when I’ve seen you in the shop or around the village.”
“Oh, well we’ve known each other for a while now,” Miranda explained. Not as well as we got to know each other last night though...
“It’ll be a slow journey back with the roads still a bit icy; we should probably use the time to talk about... us.” Max proposed nervously as he put the key in the ignition.
“Just concentrate on getting us there safely and we can talk when we’re back in Palma,” Miranda ordered. She still wasn’t ready for a heart-to-heart yet. She turned the radio on, precluding any further conversation.
The journey passed uneventfully, Max focusing on the road, Miranda looking out at the snowy mountain scenery, both lost in their thoughts. Max wondered if everything was going to be ok between them, hoping very much that she wanted the same outcome as he did, while beside him Miranda talked herself further into a firm position of forgetting the whole thing and going back to how things were before the snowstorm. Both of them ran through dozens of conversations with an imagined version of the other, never actually communicating a word out loud.
Over an hour after leaving Deià, the car finally pulled up outside Miranda’s place in El Molinar. Max shut the engine off and turned to her.
“So...” he began, with hope in his eyes.
“So, we should put the last few days behind us and get back to normal,” Miranda cut in briskly, glad of her sunglasses allowing her to hide somewhat from his scrutiny.
“Oh, is that really what you think?” His worst case scenario was happening. His stomach sank with disappointment.
“Absolutely. It’s the sensible thing to do.” She tried to avoid looking at him lest it ruin her resolve.
“Oh. I hoped that you might want to, you know, give things a go. You didn’t enjoy last night?” he asked, hurt.
“Of course I enjoyed it. I, we, we both... ‘finished well’, didn’t we? But that’s not the point. It shouldn’t have happened. We need to just... move on from it.” She waved a hand dismissively.
“Well, if that’s what you really want...” he said despondently. This was devastating. “It was just a... a one-time thing to you?”
“No, that wasn’t my intention... but we are colleagues and friends, Max. It can’t be anything more,” she confirmed, looking down at her lap and trying to keep her emotions under control. “It’s for the best.”
“Right. Well. Ok then.” Max drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, collecting himself. “Umm, do you need help with your stuff?” he offered, trying to conceal how much she’d wounded him. He felt utterly miserable, knowing that once Miranda made up her mind there was very little likelihood of it being changed.
“No, there’s not much,” she answered, keen to escape him and hide herself away in her apartment. She got out and shut the car door lightly, just as he’d lectured her to many times.
“I’ll... see you on Monday morning then. Have a good weekend...” Max was eager to leave this conversation too now, given it had gone exactly the way he’d dreaded from her reticent behaviour earlier.
“You too. Goodbye, Max.” Having removed her bag from the back of the car, she opened her front door and slipped in quickly, shutting it firmly behind her, before leaning back heavily against it. She breathed out shakily and a solitary tear ran down each cheek, hot and stinging on her cool skin.
Max drove around for a while, not wanting to go back to his apartment just yet. He needed some time to reflect and he found riding alone in his car with no particular destination or route in mind usually helped. The roads here in Palma were in a much better state than those he’d negotiated earlier that morning, due to a combination of it being the capital and biggest population centre, the lower altitude, and the salty sea air. He cruised along, going over the last few days and replaying all the moments of intimacy and easy companionship. He thought about the passion of the previous night. That was an evening he didn’t want to ever forget, even if Miranda did.
He tried to understand her stance. She might be right, professionally speaking, but on a personal level it felt so wrong to him to try to rewind their relationship - he’d thought they’d had something special. He knew work was important to Miranda, but he’d hoped it wouldn’t stop her from taking a chance at happiness with him. Wasn’t what had grown between them more meaningful than a job? She must not think so. The ache from the loss of something so precious and exciting that had barely begun consumed him.
He turned the BMW towards the city centre and his home in Plaça del Mercadal. It didn’t feel right going back to his apartment without Miranda there with him - living with her had become normal. The loneliness and despair built as he got closer to his street. He put the radio back on to try to cheer himself up, but it was all soppy love songs. Everyone else seemed to still be celebrating Valentine’s Day.
Max steered the car into the plaça and parked up outside his building. He let out a melancholy sigh before listlessly getting out and retrieving his belongings from the boot. He trudged up to his apartment, put the key in the lock and entered without enthusiasm. Bag dumped carelessly on the floor and coat discarded on the sofa, he went to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, tapping his fingertips on the counter with frustration as he waited for the water to heat up. Scheisse, he thought, it’s all gone wrong.
Back in the living room he put his mug down on the sideboard and inspected the bookcase, searching for something to distract him. He wanted to escape into another world for a while, to forget Miranda if he could. His eye caught the framed team photograph taken sometime the previous year that was sitting on one of the shelves. There she was, standing beside him, both of them smiling out from a much simpler past at his current wretched self. He couldn’t even get away from her in his own home.
He looked at the older picture next to last year’s. This one was from well before she had entered his life, a haughty whirlwind of demands and determination. He studied all the faces in the image, a mixture of colleagues who had moved on and those who were still around in some capacity. Then it hit him. Of course! He should’ve remembered earlier. He grabbed his coffee cup, took a few hot gulps, then abandoned it on the table. He dashed out of his apartment, snatching his coat on the way.
Alone at last, Miranda busied herself putting her clothes on to wash and sorting out her post. Some things in the fridge that she had planned to eat over the previous few days needed disposing of so she forced herself to deal with them. A slight chill in the air made her shiver so she turned the heating up, then made herself a cup of tea.
Domestic distractions exhausted, she sat on the sofa and allowed her mind to turn over everything that had occurred since she’d left for work on Tuesday morning. So much had changed in less than a week and emotionally she was in turmoil. She’d spent all morning telling herself she was fine with going back to how things were before the snowstorm and that she wasn’t upset because it was the right thing to do, but she realised that she was lying to herself. She’d been so happy last night and of course she wanted more. She just couldn’t reconcile the problem of entering into a romantic relationship with Max and it not adversely affecting them both professionally. She felt sure Inés would want them to choose either work or love. Love. Interesting. Was it love? Maybe. She didn’t have much experience, but this felt like it could have been the real thing, or at least the beginnings of it. Maybe it was worth the risk...?
No, she thought, relationships are too complicated; they’re not for me. Anyway, I’ve already sent him away. And he agreed with me... I think. Well, he accepted it. It’s too late now. What happened in Deià stays in Deià. Time to put it behind us.
She blinked away the tears brimming in her eyes as she mourned the demise of their incipient romance.
Miranda’s anguish was interrupted by an urgent hammering on the front door. She opened it to find Max standing in front of her, looking flustered.
“What about what I want? Don’t I get a say?” he demanded, crossing the threshold. “I want us to be together. I think you want that too. Be honest with me, please, Miranda, and with yourself.” His light blue eyes pleaded with her.
She tried to remain calm despite the adrenaline surging through her body. She closed her eyes and thought for a second, then opened them and replied quietly. “I... I don’t know, maybe I do want that. But we can’t be together, we just... can’t.”
“Of course we can. Nothing is stopping us, nothing that we can’t deal with together.” He stepped forward and closed the door behind him. “Please just hear me out. I think you had two reasons for sending me away earlier. One is to do with work. Am I right?”
She nodded. “Inés would never allow us to keep working together. I wouldn’t put it past her to send one of us back, maybe both of us even. I’d rather just be friends and still be able to see you every day than be stuck in different countries,” she explained despondently.
“Work might not be the huge problem you think it is though: I remembered when I got home that before you arrived there was another couple in the team. You might not have heard about them - they transferred to the peninsula quite a while ago now: Rosa and Eduardo? Inés was actually fine with them because they kept their personal life out of the office. You wouldn’t know that they were dating - I only figured it out because they had the same leftovers for lunch.” Max took one of Miranda’s hands in his. “I think we could manage to separate our private life from our work too.”
She nodded again, starting to relax a little as he squeezed her hand reassuringly. “You really think she would be ok with it?” She still had her doubts: could he really be right? Had she perhaps been too quick to assume she knew how Inés would react?
“I think Inés is not as mean and scary as she makes out, deep down. And why would she want to split up a dream team crime-fighting duo like us, hey?” he joked gently. “Honestly, I think she’s probably expecting us to get together at some point. You said she told her dodgy old boss that there was a ‘thing’ between us, remember?”
She smiled, revealing her dimples. “Yeah, and she likes to wind me up by calling you my boyfriend sometimes when you’re not there.”
“See, she’s rooting for us!” he chuckled. “And even if you turned out to be correct and she did send us back, I could get a transfer to London, or you could come to Munich if you learned some German. Or we could try somewhere new. Mallorca isn’t the only place we can both work.”
“You’d move to London for me?” she repeated, her eyes wide. She was surprised by the lengths he would go to and the commitment he was willing to make already. He must really like me a lot, she realised.
“Of course I would!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been falling in love with you for nearly two years. You think I would give up so easily now I know that you like me too?” He looked deep into her eyes, trying to communicate how serious and genuine he was.
Miranda was still struggling to process how strongly Max felt about her. For so long, she’d dreamed about him wanting to be with her, but the reality of it was a little daunting; dealing with emotions was hardly her strong suit. She didn’t know what to say. This time yesterday she wasn’t even sure he had any affection for her beyond friendship and now here he was telling her he’d move countries for her. Would she move for him, she pondered. She had already emigrated once, and that had gone well in the end. Because of Max, she realised: he let me into his life and made sure I was ok.
“So, work is not a dealbreaker,” Max continued. “On to the second reason I think you are pushing me away. I think you’re scared, scared of opening up, scared of getting hurt. Am I right again?” Max asked delicately.
She looked down. “I think so,” she whispered. “I won’t be made a fool of again.”
“Oh, my love,” he said softly, “don’t you know you can trust me by now? Aren’t I always looking out for you? I’m not going to hurt you; I love you... Let me in, please?”
She sighed and nodded almost imperceptibly. “I want to,” she told him. “It’s just hard for me.”
“I know. But I won’t rush you; we’ve got time on our side.” He reached out a hand and stroked her cheek lovingly.
As he touched her face, Miranda suddenly remembered that there might be another obstacle in their path. She had to bring it up, had to know. She stepped back from him slightly. “Max, there is a third reason...” she revealed hesitantly. “It’s only been a little while since you broke up with Carmen: are you sure about this? I don’t want to be your rebound fling.” The corners of her mouth pulled down anxiously.
“Miranda, I’ve never been more certain. Sure, it’s only been a few weeks, but I was ready to move on long before that. Obviously I always knew I was attracted to you, right from the start, but I was burying how I really felt. It took the breakup for me to finally be completely truthful with myself. I thought after it I would be miserable, pining over Carmen, but I was you that my mind kept going to. I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I’m all yours, if you’ll have me.” He shrugged expansively. It was cathartic to tell her all that.
“You are?” Miranda’s heart soared; maybe everything was going to work out for them, one way or another.
“All I know is I lasted less than an hour apart from you and I don’t want to wake up without you in my arms ever again.” He paused and took both her hands in his. “So will you be my valentine?” he asked tenderly.
“Yes, I will,” she confirmed softly. This short sentence was enough to bring a huge grin to Max’s face. Miranda returned his ecstatic expression before they kissed eagerly, hearts pounding with elated excitement. Relief and joy coursed through them as they held each other tightly.
After a while Miranda broke away slightly, swallowing her pride and working up to an apology. “I’m... I’m sorry I made a decision about us without talking to you. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“You’re forgiven, but from now on we talk things through and figure them out together, yes? You’re not on your own now; don’t shut me out,” he urged.
She gave a contrite smile before they kissed once more, tenderly at first, then more ardently as their hands began to explore and they pressed their bodies closely together. Max’s hands moved from Miranda’s waist up and across her back, while she gripped his muscular shoulders. He brought one of his hands round to touch her breast, brushing it gently at first, making her gasp into his mouth, then rubbing his thumb over and around her nipple, feeling it harden through her clothing. Her hands travelled down his chest and ran over his stomach until they just reached the tops of his thighs and the edge of his groin, making him shudder with tingling pleasure. He pressed his rapidly hardening bulge against her and slipped his fingers under her top to touch the delicate skin beneath.
He pulled his head back. “Race you to the bedroom?” he grinned cheekily, blue eyes twinkling.
“What do I win if I beat you?” she asked coyly, tracing a finger down his chest.
“Oh”, he winked. “We’re both going to be winners today.”