Chapter 1: Tuesday 11 February
“Max, come on! We need to get back while we still can,” Miranda hissed urgently. He’d been far too chatty conducting these interviews today and she was impatient to get things wrapped up and head back to the office.
“Ok, ok, we’re nearly done here,” he replied, not worried at all. “Besides, the forecast said it was just going to be a light dusting of snow and not until later today. We’ll be back in Palma by then.”
“You may not having been facing the window all morning, but I was. It’s snowing already and it’s a lot more than a light dusting! Get a move on!” she insisted.
“Jeez, chillax! We’re in mediterranean Mallorca, not wintry Wales. It’ll be fine,” he assured her while fumbling unhurriedly in his pocket for the car key.
“Didn’t know you were a meteorologist, Max. The forecast is now predicting a blizzard, and the temperatures are going to stay low for days, so it won’t just melt straight away, not up here in the mountains. And Mallorca isn’t exactly overrun with snow ploughs. We need to get back now,” she demanded.
Max jangled his keys in the air at her and led the way to the car, large white flakes settling in his wavy brown hair as he went. Miranda followed him stiffly, annoyance conveyed in every move. She had raised her concerns about the weather before they had set off, but Inés had told her that it would give them an incentive to get on with the case quickly - a lifelong Palma resident, she’d rarely been affected by snow herself and she dismissed the warnings as sensationalism.
Despite Miranda’s protestations they had set off as instructed to investigate a series of break-ins and thefts at museums to the north and west of Palma, this one in the former home of the poet and author Robert Graves, just outside the village of Deià in the Serra de Tramuntana. Nothing much had been taken in this instance, but it still warranted thorough investigation - it could be only a matter of time before the thieves stepped up their efforts. If they set their sights on Palma’s museums and galleries they would find plenty of value there.
“So... this is really getting deep now. I think we’re going to have to turn back...” Max confessed sheepishly, stopping the car and turning to look at his compañera.
“What the hell, Max?! I told you to hurry up!” she exploded. She thumped the dashboard in frustration.
“Ok, so you were right again, I accept it. But now we need to move on - well, back, actually - and figure out what we’re going to do, yes?” he conceded, trying to calm his passenger down.
“We’re going to be stuck in Deià for who knows how long! Great, just great.” Miranda folded her arms huffily.
“From the look of the sky and the lack of gritting, we are going to be here until the morning, sure,” he admitted, trying to be optimistic in the face of her irritation and negativity. Privately he reckoned it would be a couple of days minimum before they’d be able to leave the mountains, but he thought it best not to say so yet.
“Ugh. Just get us safely back into the village. We’ll have to find somewhere to stay. We haven’t got any food or clothes either.” She sounded exasperated at the situation and at Max’s part in creating in.
“We passed a supermarket and a clothing shop, so we won’t go naked and hungry. The hotels will probably be either closed for the season or booked up for Valentine’s Day, but maybe one of the shopkeepers will have a suggestion. I have some spare clothes in the boot, so why don’t you go and get what you need while I go to the supermarket and try and find us somewhere to stay?” he suggested cautiously.
She nodded grudgingly in agreement and he carefully turned the car round to return to the centre of the small village, going slowly over the fresh white carpet covering the road.
“You can call Inés and explain too,” she told him as he parked outside the shops.
“Thanks,” he said sarcastically, not looking forward to that conversation one bit.
“You are in luck: I have a holiday home in the village that’s empty at the moment. Just a small place, but if there are only two of you it will be ok. You are welcome to stay there until the roads are cleared.”
“Thank you, thank you so much,” Max enthused as he stood at the counter of the small supermarket. “That is fantastic news, Señora...?”
“Clara, please,” the shopkeeper insisted warmly. She was a short, dark-haired woman in her fifties with a friendly demeanour and kind eyes. She was pleased to be able to help the stranded policeman, community spirit being important up in the more remote hill villages. “And you’re Max and your partner is...?” Clara asked.
“Miranda. She’s just next door trying to get some clothes,” he informed her.
“Max and Miranda. Ok, well all I ask is that you leave some money to cover the electricity and that you put the bedding and towels on to wash the day you leave,” she said smiling.
“You don’t want any rent? Are you sure? That’s too much.” Max was taken aback by her generosity.
“No, it is my gift to a couple of strangers in their hour of need. It’s good for the place to not be cold and empty anyway. Don’t forget you’ll need to get some more logs for the fire as well as your food. Now, I will go and get the keys.” She headed to the far end of the shop and disappeared through a door marked for staff only.
Max browsed the aisles while she was gone and picked up a few things for dinner and breakfast, plus some toiletries. He hoped that they’d be able to get going in the morning, but made sure to check out what else was in the shop in case their stay was extended, as seemed fairly likely. He grabbed some chocolate, crisps and wine, deciding that since it was partly his laidback attitude that had got them stuck here, he’d do his best to make it a positive experience for Miranda. He’d rather not be trapped with a grumpy compañera if he could help it.
“How did you manage to get us a place to stay that quickly and for pretty much nothing?” Miranda was impressed, but too annoyed still to want him to see how much.
“What can I say? It’s my magnetic charm and rugged good looks,” Max replied with feigned arrogance. “Some people have just got it, you know.”
He unlocked the door to the small stone cottage, its shutters painted in the typical dark green common all over the island. He let Miranda enter and then followed behind her, carrying the bags of food and his clothing and setting them down on the terracotta floor. He straightened up and looked around, appraising their temporary home. The walls were painted white and the ceiling was low, with dark wooden beams only a few centimetres above Max’s head. The living room had a large stone fireplace, a small sofa and coffee table, and a well-stocked bookcase. Leading off the living room he could see a compact kitchen-diner with a table and chairs for two, a tiled bathroom, and the one bedroom.
“This is cosy!” he said cheerfully.
“Yeah, there’s only one bed,” Miranda replied flatly, returning from inspecting the other rooms.
“Ah. Ok, I will be a gentleman and take the sofa,” he offered.
“The two-seater sofa? It’s only just big enough for us to both sit on at the same time; there’s no way you can lie down on it.”
“So, you want me to take the floor?” he suggested, eyeing the cold tiles apprehensively.
She sighed with frustration. “No, I’m not making you do that. You’ll freeze. We’ll just have to share for a night or two, I suppose.”
“Great. Hope you don’t steal the covers - too chilly for that tonight,” he grinned. “And no snoring please.”
Miranda rolled her eyes. She was in no mood for joking around.
While Max lit the fire in the living room, Miranda inspected the bookcase: a few Sherlock Holmes stories, some Agatha Christies, travel guides to the island in various languages, a couple of mallorquín cookbooks, a compilation of ‘I, Claudius’ and ‘Claudius the God’ by Robert Graves, a few other titles she recognised like ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’, ‘Atonement’, ‘One Day’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’, some airport romance novels, and a selection of fiction in Spanish and German. Max definitely wouldn’t be short of reading material anyway.
She sat heavily on the sofa, crossed her legs and drummed her fingers loudly against her thigh. Max stood up, having got the fire going. He turned to her with a confused expression.
“Why are you so stressed?” he asked with concern.
“Because we’re stuck here, we have no idea how long for, and we should be at work!” she spat at him.
“Will you just relax please?” he said calmly. “We’ve got a free holiday out of this. It’ll probably never happen again, so I’m going to enjoy it. You should too.”
“We’ve got case notes to write up, files to work on-” she argued.
“Which we will do for a couple of hours in the morning and then we are free to do we want,” he interrupted, holding a hand up to stop her.
“Work is what I want,” she insisted.
“Oh, come on. Lighten up! Once we’ve got what we need to do out of the way tomorrow, let me help you relax a bit. We can have some fun while we’re here. You know, you’ve been here in Mallorca all by yourself for almost two years now: let me look after you for a change. It will be nice for you to not have to be completely self-sufficient for a little while. You can be too responsible and independent, you know.” He smiled encouragingly.
“Disagree. But we don’t have enough work with us to occupy more than a half a day, so I suppose we’ll have to fill the time somehow,” she agreed reluctantly. “Not that I need looking after!”
“That’s the spirit. You’re going to have a great time, I’ll make sure of it. All I ask is that you keep an open mind, give things a try, ok?” he pleaded, wagging a finger at her.
“Ok... but nothing weird. No appalling German music or spicy spreadable sausages,” she said with a shudder.
“You’re so uncultured,” he teased, before dodging a book she’d just launched at his head.
The cottage had been empty for a few weeks, since the last booking for the New Year and Three Kings, Clara had told Max. Like many Spanish holiday homes, the heating wasn’t really designed for a particularly cold winter. They had turned on all the electric heaters and the fire had been going for hours, but still there was a chill in the air.
After a simple dinner prepared by Max and then some time quietly reading on the sofa, they decided to go to bed. Even wearing most of their clothes still, the temperature of the sheets and pillows came as a shock as they got in.
“Woah, your feet! They are like ice blocks,” Max exclaimed.
“Well, don’t touch them then! Stick to your side,” she told him crossly.
“It was an accident!” he protested. “Look, I’m freezing and so are you. I can feel you shivering from here.”
“So? I’ll get warm eventually. I can cope,” she assured him tersely.
“Well, I can’t. I’m coming over,” he announced.
“Max!” She was starting to regret not making him sleep on the floor now. Personal space was something she valued and invasions of it were rarely welcome.
“Stop protesting. This is an arrangement of mutual benefit. Turn over please,” he requested.
“What?” Miranda tensed up, uncomfortable with the direction of this conversation.
“Turn over, I’ll lie behind you and you can just pretend I’m a giant hot water bottle on your back, ok? We’ll never get to sleep shaking from the cold,” he reasoned.
“I don’t think Carmen would be too happy about what you’re suggesting,” she said reprovingly.
“Umm... well, just let me worry about that. Can I come over before I turn into an ice sculpture please?” he whined. He wondered why he still hadn’t felt able to tell her he and Carmen had split up well over a month ago; what did that mean?
Miranda considered his proposal: she was frozen and with the heating already doing all it could, sharing body heat was the only way to improve the situation. She sighed in resignation.
“Alright, fine, you can come over. I’m tired and cold enough not to argue any more,” she conceded warily. “Just... not too close, ok?”
Max grinned and shifted over, pressing himself lightly against her back and wrapping his arm around her.
“Is the arm necessary?” she snapped.
“How else is your front half going to get warm? There’s nowhere else for it to go anyway,” he explained. “Wouldn’t be confortable.”
She sighed and reached a hand out of their cocoon to turn off the lamp.
“Good night, Max.”
Yes, it is, he thought, smiling to himself in the darkness.
Chapter 2: Wednesday 12 February
“Morning,” Max said softly. He’d slept well and was delighted to have woken cuddling his usually somewhat standoffish partner.
“Morning,” Miranda replied, feeling more than a little awkward. She hadn’t woken up in bed with anyone for a long time and it was suddenly all a bit too much, too intimate. Max had spooned her once before, when they had slept outside at Rancho del Rey, but that was different: he’d joined her after she was already asleep and she’d managed to gently extract herself from his hold without waking him. She still wasn’t sure he’d even been aware of how he’d arranged himself then.
“Oof, still a bit cold even with the heaters on all night,” he said, stretching his legs out from their position curled up against hers.
“Warm enough that you can move your arm now though,” she hinted. She needed him to move away; better not to get a taste of something she couldn’t have. Carmen’s opinion on this intimacy still played on her mind too.
“Oh. Sorry,” Max said guiltily as he removed his arm and slid away a little. “I’ll go and shower, and then I’ll make us some breakfast.”
“Sounds like a good service,” she replied, subtly rearranging the covers to make a slight barrier between them.
“I told you, while we are here I’m going to look after you. I know how to show a lady a good time,” he winked playfully, standing up now and pulling a blanket around his shoulders. He shivered and hurried out of the room.
“You nearly done?” Max asked hopefully. It was late morning and he’d finished his outstanding work already... well, the urgent stuff anyway.
Miranda glanced up from her laptop. “Will be in about twenty minutes.”
“Great, then we are free to enjoy ourselves.” He clapped his hands together gleefully. “We should go and get more food in - I didn’t want to get too much yesterday. Clara might have an update on the roads. Not looking hopeful for today though.” It had been snowing again while they had eaten their breakfast, so they hadn’t tried to leave the village yet.
“Ok, we can go when I’ve finished this. I’ll cook tonight,” she volunteered.
“You sure? I’m happy to,” he offered. He enjoyed cooking and it was something of a hobby for him, but he knew the same couldn’t be said for Miranda. Still, he appreciated the gesture.
“Yes, must be my turn.” She began to run through meal ideas in her head. She realised she wanted to impress him, but her repertoire wasn’t exactly extensive.
“Nothing weird,” he joked. She stuck her tongue out at him before returning to her case file.
“Bon día, Clara,” Max greeted their magnanimous landlady as he and Miranda entered the mini-supermarket.
“Ahhh, Max, bon día! And you must be Miranda. Is the house ok for you?” Clara beamed.
“It’s great, thanks. Just getting it heated up still, but it’ll be nice and cosy soon. Any news on the roads?” Max responded.
“Yes, they’re concentrating on the main routes to the bigger towns at the moment. It’ll be a couple of days before they get here at least,” Clara informed them.
“Oh, so you have a little longer on Max’s mountain relaxation retreat, Miranda,” Max joked to his partner, earning a grimace in reply.
“Hopefully it won’t stay as long as the Big Snow back in 1956 though,” Clara said. “That was in February too. A few years before I was born, of course, but all the old people in the village used to talk about it. You couldn’t mention it was cold out without getting ‘oh, you should’ve felt what it was like in 1956, you youngsters, you’re all too soft these days...’” She wagged a finger mockingly.
“How to get young people to roll their eyes at you in one easy step,” Miranda sympathised.
“Exactly. It won’t be as bad as then anyway: there are not that many people in the village right now, and we had a big delivery a few hours before the snow started, so there should be more than enough food to go round if we are all sensible,” Clara reassured them. “So don’t worry, and just have a nice few days together, yes?”
That’s the plan, Max thought. Let’s see where that leads us...
“Hey, Miranda, think fast!” Max shouted as he launched a snowball at her back.
She spun around and it hit her in the stomach.
“What the hell, Max!” she cried, holding her arms up in annoyance.
He shrugged. “You’d better get me back then.”
“We’re too old for snowball fights,” she chided.
“Never! Come on, you’d better start your attack because I’ve got two ready here. Not that you can win; I’m the master,” he boasted, puffing his chest out.
“I think ‘the master’ might need to be a little less confident and a little more observant,” she told him as she aimed a snowball at his chest, catching him off guard.
“Oh ho, shots fired! I’m going to get you!” he declared, running towards her as she fled laughing, their shopping temporarily abandoned on the pavement.
Max unpacked their retrieved purchases in the kitchen and held up a paper bag. “I bought something for you to try for lunch as part of my quest to show you mallorquín food isn’t inedible, or from a horror film, as I believe you once put it.”
“Go on”, she said sceptically.
“I got us cocarrois. They’re traditionally an Easter thing, but you get them other times now and they adapt the ingredients if necessary,” he explained as he unwrapped them.
“Look like Cornish pasties,” she remarked, not sounding particularly enthusiastic.
“Yes, I thought I’d start with something that is at least a little bit familiar to you,” he ventured optimistically.
“Fine. What’s in them?” she asked, eyeing them warily.
“Vegetables. So they are healthy too!” he grinned.
“If you ignore all the pastry maybe,” she tutted.
“Give them a chance, ok? You are putting your trust in me while we are on our little holiday, yes?” he reminded her.
She raised an eyebrow at him and accepted the plate he held out to her. She had to give it to him, he was really trying to make the enforced isolation bearable.
“Admit it: you loved it,” Max demanded impishly.
“It was ok. I’d probably eat one again, I suppose,” she offered casually.
“Woah, save some enthusiasm for the next meal, will you?” he quipped sarcastically. “You’ll definitely like my plan for the afternoon though: quiet reading by the fire with some thick hot chocolate.”
“Actually, that does sound good. Usually I don’t read as much as I’d like because I feel guilty that I should be researching a case instead,” she admitted.
“Well, you have a whole afternoon to read whatever you want... umm, from that bookcase anyway. Have you read ‘One Day’?” he asked.
“No, but I’ve seen that orange cover everywhere. Seems popular.”
“It’s good, give it a try,” he recommended.
She smiled and went to retrieve the novel from its shelf. She crossed the floor back to the sofa on her tiptoes.
“Tiled floors make sense in the summer, but when it’s winter... brrrrr. I can hardly feel my toes,” she told him as she positioned herself next to him.
“Then put your feet up here,” he offered, patting his thighs.
“Err, no, it’s ok.” She wasn’t comfortable with that. She didn’t think Carmen would be thrilled either.
“I was going to offer you one of my famous foot rubs,” he said, pouting.
“No, thanks,” she declined, trying to make a start on her novel.
“Come on: all five star reviews so far. Please? I think you’ll really enjoy it.” He gave her a puppy dog look.
He looked so eager to please her she didn’t have the heart to keep refusing. He lifted her ankles as she gingerly swung her legs up on to his lap. He gently removed her socks and rubbed his hands together to warm them up.
“No touching between my toes though. Can’t stand it. Makes me kick whoever is responsible,” she warned.
“I prefer not to be booted in the face, so you’ve got it. Now sit back and relax,” he said as he began massaging her feet skilfully.
She grimaced. Easy for him to say. She usually found people touching her the opposite of relaxing. A spa day was her idea of torture. Even getting a haircut set her on edge. This so far though was... surprisingly not awful.
Max wandered into the kitchen, where Miranda was busy chopping onions and garlic.
“What’s my little chef cooking me tonight then?” he enquired.
“A British classic: spag bol,” she told him, trying to hold back the watering in her eyes that the onion had set off.
“Scab bowl? Now that’s horror film food,” he replied.
“No, spag bol,” she giggled. “Spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, an Italian person would say it’s not authentic, but it’s tasty, I think.” She found herself keenly seeking his approval.
“Ok, I trust you to show me only the very best of British food. Many wouldn’t, but Max Winter is fearless.” He stuck out his chest and put his hands on his hips, adopting an exaggerated heroic pose.
“Of course. You bravely tried and even liked cheese and crisp sandwiches, after all,” she teased.
“This is pretty good. Compliments to the chef. You don’t mix the sauce in with the pasta though?” Max queried as he raised a second forkful to his mouth.
“Nope, we plonk it all on top in the middle. Are you criticising my culture again?” she queried, pretending to be offended.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied, before returning happily to his spaghetti.
“Look what I found in the cupboard,” Max said, as he approached Miranda, holding a box aloft. “1,000 pieces - should occupy us for a while.”
He emptied the box onto the table and they began picking through the pieces. The picture on the box showed the image they were aiming for to be a landscape scene of the harbour and cathedral in Palma, a view they were both very familiar with.
“Max, what the hell? You have to start with the edges!” Miranda scolded as she realised what he was up to beside her.
“Pfft, doesn’t matter: these pieces fit, so what’s the problem?” he said, not stopping working on a section that was definitely going to end up being somewhere in the middle of the puzzle.
“You have to have a system!” she insisted, exasperated.
“Miranda, it’s just a jigsaw left in a cupboard in a holiday home. It’s probably not even got all the pieces,” he told her as he concentrated on a patch of sky.
“I thought you said you were going to make me less stressed!” she squealed, throwing up her hands.
“Ok, try this then: close your eyes. We’re lying on a beach. It’s very peaceful. All our cases are wrapped up. The jigsaw is finished. You’re wearing factor 50 sun cream. Everything is calm. All you can hear is the sea. Shhhhhh... shhhhh...” he whispered.
“Idiot,” she said giggling.
They carried on with the puzzle, Miranda starting with the edges, Max working on whatever part caught his interest. They’d agreed that since their differing approaches at work made them a good team, maybe it would do the same for their jigsaw assembly. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have plenty of time to get it finished anyway.
Miranda spotted a piece she needed and reached across for it at the same time as Max moved his hand on the table. She ended up with her hand on his. They both looked up and caught each other’s eyes for a second, then looked away, Miranda retracting her hand. Flustered, she tucked her hair behind her ears and tried to act like nothing had happened, but in her nervousness she knocked a few pieces off the table. They both bent to retrieve them from the floor. As they lifted their heads up having picked up the errant pieces, they found themselves face to face, only a few centimetres apart. Their eyes locked again. Miranda’s face flushed slightly and she quickly glanced down at Max’s lips, then flicked back to his eyes. Max pictured himself kissing her, but she pulled away before he could decide whether to act. She returned to her former position, looking intently at the corner she’d been working on.
Max smiled to himself. He hadn’t remembered fitting jigsaw puzzles together being this fraught. There had been other signs that she found him attractive over the many months they’d known each other though, hadn’t there? He’d just not thought about it while he was with Carmen. Now he’d finally allowed himself to realise how strong his feelings were for his compañera, he was desperate to know if they were fully reciprocated. If it seemed like they were, maybe he’d find the courage to act on them. He needed to be more certain before he’d take that risk though.
Max shivered as he slid into the bed next to Miranda. The warmth of the fire hadn’t yet managed to reach the bedroom and there was only so much the little electric heater could do.
“Still pretty chilly in here,” he said pointedly.
“Yes, you can come over.” The cold trumped any concerns she had about getting too close to him tonight. She tried to put how Carmen might view their sleeping arrangements to the back of her mind once more.
Max shuffled across and put his arm around her. He let out a contented sigh. “That’s better.”
Chapter 3: Thursday 13 February
Miranda woke to find Max lying close behind her again, enveloping her with his embrace, their legs intertwined. She still wasn’t sure how to handle this, but she wasn’t feeling quite as ill at ease and conflicted about it as she had been yesterday. She realised that it made her feel safe. Cared for.
She lingered, enjoying the comforting feeling as he slept tucked in against her. Getting showered and dressed could wait a few more minutes.
Buttering toast at the kitchen counter, Miranda heard footsteps slapping on the tiles behind her. She turned round to see Max wearing a towel round his waist and nothing more, still damp from the shower.
“Morning. Forgot my clothes in the dryer,” he said, pointing at it.
Miranda realised she was staring at his naked torso. She nodded, feeling her face colour. She turned back to the half-made breakfast as he bent to retrieve his clothes, telling herself she mustn’t look again.
He picked up a shirt and some underwear and began to head back to the bathroom. She silently turned to catch a glimpse of his retreating back.
Oh god, what is wrong with me, she thought. He’s taken, plus getting excited about seeing his bare chest isn’t exactly the height of professionalism! Did he notice? So embarrassing. Get a bloody grip, Miranda!
Back in the bathroom, Max smiled to himself in the mirror as he put product in his hair. She’d totally been checking him out. What a nice ego boost to start the day off with. Wonder if I’ll get a turn to ‘accidentally’ gawp at her half naked, he thought mischievously.
“Can you get the t-shirt I was wearing yesterday, please?” Max shot over his shoulder as he crouched on the snowy ground of the cottage’s little courtyard.
“I’m sorry, you want me to rifle through your dirty laundry pile?!” Miranda wrinkled her nose in distaste at his request. She didn’t see what this had to do with their current occupation, an activity she was surprised to find herself enjoying, despite the unwelcoming ambient temperature.
”No, the t-shirt is on top. All you have to do is pick it up,” he told her with a hint of condescension in his tone.
”Why do you need it anyway? Hardly traditional,” she queried, hands on hips.
“You’ll see”, he said mysteriously as he stepped back to admire the snowman he’d persuaded her to build with him.
When she returned she found he had given their creation some extra features: he had put small dark stones round the eyes to simulate eyeliner, another black pebble had been placed at the side of the head as an earring, a chocolate wrapper was sticking out of a pocket he had sculpted in the snowman’s side, and some bits of twig were pressed into the head for hair and stubble.
“Thanks!” he said as he took the black t-shirt and draped it over the snowman’s body. “Guess who?” he asked with pride.
“Too easy - it’s just like him,” she replied.
“Everyone’s favourite metalhead forensics guy. I’m going to call him Snowberto. Get a photo of me with him, will you? I think the real Roberto will appreciate my work here.” He grinned as he posed for a picture.
“I’m not so sure about that,” she said doubtfully as she opened her phone’s camera app, “but Luisa might.”
“Shall we do Inés next?” he suggested.
“You haven’t got the wardrobe,” she replied drily.
The rest of the day passed in easy companionship as they kept themselves cosy in their borrowed home. After lunch they managed to finish off the jigsaw they had started the day before.
Max sat back to admire the scene they’d completed, a vista of the old town and part of the harbour as seen from the bay. “We’ve had some good times there, haven’t we?” he reminisced.
“There was the picnic we had in Parc de la Mar after we solved the poisoned sobrasada case,” she reminded him.
”Cheese and crisp sandwiches. I enjoyed that,” he told her fondly.
”Somewhere on the left there is the Opera House where that viola player took you down a peg after your little nessun dorma solo,” she grinned.
“Yeah, she was a bit mean. Remember on our first case I drove you around near the cathedral and you thought I was a terrible driver?”
”I fully expected there to be an accident,” she answered. “The driving style here is definitely... different to the British one.”
”Didn’t put you off though,” he remarked. “Err, the island, I mean. I’m really glad you stayed.” He smiled warmly.
“Me too. This is home now,” she agreed, returning his happy expression. “With you... err, and Carmen, Inés, Christian... everyone.”
Max looked up from the travel guide he was reading.
”I was thinking, since you don’t have a car there’s probably still a lot of the island you haven’t seen, you know, apart from for work, and that doesn’t count. Would you maybe like to do some day trips together when the weather is better?” he proposed.
”What do you have in mind?” she asked, putting her novel down.
”Your choice,” he said as he passed her a guidebook.
”Well, I don’t want to dictate to you and Carmen what we all do with our time off,” she replied considerately. She also didn’t want it come across as her trying to muscle in on their relationship, eager though she was to spend more time with him.
”Oh, no, I meant just you and me,” he corrected her, hurriedly adding, “Carmen will be busy at the weekends, you know with the bar and her art.” He cursed himself internally - that was a perfect opportunity to let her know that he was no longer off limits, yet still he withheld the information. Why wasn’t he telling her?
”Oh, I see. Well, if Carmen doesn’t mind, I’d like to do that. I do need to explore a bit more.”
”Great! There’s loads to see and do: Alcúdia old town, Valldemossa, great seafood restaurants along the coast, boat trips, hiking in the mountains, ooh, and bodega visits, which will be a lot more fun if we’re not on duty. We could check out some fiestas too. Why don’t you make a list? You are itching to make this organised fun, I bet.”
”You know me too well,” she concurred. Better than anyone has, she mused.
Night began to draw in and, prompted by the urgency of his growling stomach, Max suggested they make dinner a team effort tonight. They amiably prepared a meal together of chicken and vegetables with a creamy white wine and thyme sauce. Miranda hadn’t really cooked with anyone before and she was enjoying picking up some tips from her more culinarily-experienced compañero. Max equally liked being able to share some of his knowledge with her.
Sitting back in his dining chair once their tasty concoction had been devoured, Max let out a sigh and beamed at Miranda. “Good job, partner!”
“Same to you, chef,” she replied. She narrowed her eyes and frowned. “You’ve got some on your cheek though. Just there.” She indicated the position on her own face, but he struggled to locate the stray sauce.
“Hold still,” she instructed. “I’ll get it.”
She reached out and laid her palm against his cheek, brushing off the smudge with her thumb. Their eyes met and her hand remained where it was, both their heart rates increasing rapidly. Max began to raise his arm to touch her wrist, but the sound of a knife clattering in the sink broke the spell and she rapidly recoiled. She got up hurriedly and crossed to the kitchen area to make a start on the washing up.
Max sank in his chair, his cheek still tingling where her hand had been. He wanted to make a move, but he was conscious of how easily she might be scared off. He should probably explain about Carmen first too... Would she be encouraged by him finally being single, he wondered, or would the news make her more nervous around him?
Kitchen tidied, they moved to the living room. Max shared that he’d found a few games in the same cupboard as the jigsaw and went off to get them. He returned a minute later holding up two boxes.
“Tonight you have a choice of activities: Scrabble or Twister?” he proffered with a flourish.
“You can’t play Twister with two people: it’d just be you spinning and then watching me contort myself on the floor,” she chided.
“Sounds great, let’s get started,” he replied wickedly.
Miranda raised an eyebrow in displeasure. “Very funny, Max.”
“What makes you think I was joking?” He tried to keep a straight face.
She shot him a dark glare.
“Ooookaaaaay, Scrabble it is then” he said, raising his arms in surrender.
“Yessss, I win!” Miranda declared with glee.
”Ja, but next time we play in German. Then we see how you good you are, Ms ultra-super-competitive,” he teased.
“Make it castellano and we have a rematch,” she told him, looking less triumphant since he’d pointed out her linguistic advantage.
”You’re on,” he agreed. “But not tonight. Get your coat on; we’re going outside for a bit.”
”What, now?” she asked in surprise.
“Yeah. It’s a clear night: we’re going stargazing.”
They dressed in their outdoor gear and went out to the courtyard. On the table Max had earlier put a bottle of cava and two glasses, all of which was well chilled by now.
“I don’t know much about the stars. I can only really point out Orion’s Belt and the Plough,” Miranda remarked.
“Same, but I got cava so we’re doing our astronomy in style at least,” he admitted. “Plus, I have an app.” He grinned as he held up his smartphone.
They drank their fizz as they stood close together, using Max’s phone to identify various star systems above them, their breath mingling and making clouds in the crisp night air. They managed to name a few constellations and some of the brighter stars.
Eventually the cold got to Miranda and she shivered, then stifled a yawn.
”I think I need to take you to bed,” Max declared. “Umm, you know what I mean.”
I wish I did, his partner thought.
Chapter 4: Friday 14 February
Miranda was first to wake again. She discovered she was being spooned for a third morning, but this time she felt no awkwardness at all. She’d quickly grown accustomed to his nightly embrace and the feeling of security and belonging it brought her. She wondered if she’d miss it when they returned to their separate homes, whenever that might be.
She tentatively put her hand over his and lightly rested it there. Only while he was asleep did she feel brave enough to do this. After a few peaceful minutes like this, Max stirred and she slipped out of his hold, turning over to face him.
“Morning” he greeted her, screwing up his eyes as he stretched.
“Morning,” she responded cheerfully, wondering what he had in mind for today. She’d genuinely enjoyed their unscheduled holiday so far.
“It’s Friday today, isn’t it? Valentine’s Day,” he pointed out. “Had you got plans back in Palma?”
“No.” She wasn’t particularly keen to talk about her nonexistent love life with him, a man who was practically engaged. A man who would never be hers.
“You can’t be short of offers. That archaeologist would definitely kill to swap places with me right now, for a start. So would Rico - shame he got transferred,” he grinned.
“I suppose I’m picky, waiting for the right person,” she said cagily. “Never saw the point in Valentine’s Day though: too commercialised and I’ve never actually been with anyone at the time for it to matter.”
“That’s a shame,” he sympathised. “Anyway, you know it’s meant to be for single people to ask someone to be their valentine. Couples have just taken it over.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely more a coupley thing now. I’m sure you had something nice arranged with Carmen. She’ll be missing you.” Miranda felt a sinking jealousy in her stomach at the thought of Max planning a romantic time with someone else.
There was a brief, tense silence. He’d better explain now. Can’t avoid it forever, he thought.
“Umm, I didn’t tell you at the time, but... we split up,” he said quietly, avoiding her gaze during this confession.
“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. When did it happen?” Not that sorry though, a little voice at the back of her mind piped up.
“Few weeks ago now. Things had been fizzling out for a while so we both knew it was coming, we’d just been putting it off,” he explained a little reluctantly.
“Are you ok?” she touched his shoulder for a fleeting moment. “Why didn’t you say anything?” She was a little upset he hadn’t felt able to share what was going on with him. It was good news for her though, wasn’t it, Max finally being single for the first time since they’d met?
“I’m fine, really. Surprisingly fine. I have moments where I feel a bit down, but it was the right decision for both of us,” he reassured her, with only a slight tinge of sadness to his voice. “And I don’t know why I kept it to myself: I suppose I just didn’t really want to talk about it, and we have been so busy with work lately anyway that we haven’t been to Joan’s bar together, so it never came up.”
But really it was because I needed time to figure things out, he realised. I had to understand how I truly felt and to see if it was at all reciprocated before I risked changing things between us. I’m not normally cautious, he reflected, but this would be a huge gamble: whatever her response, things between us would never be the same if I told her. There have been some hints that it’s not all one-way this week though, haven’t there? Enough to take a chance?
Miranda meanwhile was wondering whether he’d meant he didn’t want to talk about the break-up with anyone, or just her. “You should have told me; I could have tried to cheer you up,” she berated him, her eyes giving away how much she cared.
“Just carrying on like normal helped though... You know, I think I am going to plan us an extra nice day together today to stop us moping about all sad and lonely. Well, me anyway. You’re stoic.” Max had quickly rallied after his brief spell of introspection and was back to his usual enthusiastic self.
“If it helps you distract yourself, go ahead. First Valentine’s being single for a few years must be hard,” she said sympathetically.
Maybe not as hard as I thought it would be, he told himself. Thanks to you.
“Great, we’ll have a singles’ day together,” he agreed. He suddenly sat up and burst into song, waving his arms about theatrically: “I like that you’re lonely, lonely like meeee, I could be lonely with youuuu.”
Miranda laughed at his musical antics as he got up and grabbed some clothes, before heading for the bathroom.
Max turned on the shower, waited a few seconds for the water to get warm, and then stepped in. As the hot streams ran through his dark curls and down his face he closed his eyes and thought about what the day might have in store. He had a few ideas for things they could do together, dishes he could cook her. Being Valentine’s Day it seemed like the perfect day to make his move and finally tell her how he felt: if not today, then when? He decided not to say anything until after dinner though. He’d wine and dine her, get her in a good mood and then if she rejected him, at least it would be nearly the end of the day and they could just go to sleep. Possibly not cuddled up again though...
While Miranda waited for her turn in the bathroom she stayed in their bed and went over the conversation they’d just had. So, he’s single, she thought. Interesting. Puts a new light on the last few days, all the things he’s done for me, all the glances and touches: have we been on one long first date? And now he wants to plan a special Valentine’s Day for us. Is that how he thinks of me - someone he wants to date? He’s so warm and open anyway, I can’t be sure how he feels about me. Should I say something? No, too risky. I can’t. I promised myself I wouldn’t leave myself open to humiliation again. But I do want him; maybe I could just try being a bit more warm and open myself, bring down the barriers. Then it’s up to him to make the first move, if that’s what he wants. And if he’s not over Carmen yet, or worse, he doesn’t see me like that, I’ve not embarrassed myself, I’ve just got closer to my friend and colleague.
“Honey, I’m home!” Max called out loudly as he stepped through the front door carrying two bags of shopping.
“Very funny. Did you get everything you needed at Clara’s?” she enquired from her position on the sofa, looking up at him over a copy of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ she’d been making rapid progress with.
“Ja. Tonight we feast!” he confirmed. “I thought we could go for a walk in a while. Clara lent me her son’s walking boots and a pair of hers she’s only worn once for you.”
“Her son’s a size 14 too?” Clompy boots would be a bit of a change from the usual expensive designer loafers hand-stitched in Madrid, she thought.
“I know, what are the chances? Must be my lucky week. So, are you up for a little excursion?” he asked.
“Sure, be good to get some fresh air,” she agreed. “But let me finish this chapter first. It’s getting good.”
Max and Miranda wandered through the quiet village, exploring the winding lanes and talking about coming back once the weather had improved and everywhere had opened for the season. At a mirador looking out over the terraces towards the coast they sat down on a section of low wall, conveniently already brushed free of snow by some earlier walker.
“Stunning!” Max said in wonder as they gazed out across the snowy rooftops of the village and the white-blanketed hills, the forbidding peaks and crags of the Serra de Tramuntana behind them.
Max shuffled along the wall until his side was almost touching Miranda’s. He lifted his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders, pulling her close to him. She stiffened slightly, unsure of what was happening.
“What are you doing?” she questioned warily.
“Keeping you warm. And you’re welcome.” He showed no sign of letting her go.
Miranda had to admit to herself that she was quite cold and that his gesture was sweet. They were both dressed for winter of course, but a Spanish winter, not this Northern European interloper that had caught the island unprepared, meaning his tactile behaviour was welcome this time, on reflection. No barriers, she reminded herself: open up to him and don’t be so uptight. She surrendered and laid her head against his chest, hearing his heart beat loudly in her ear. It sounded quite fast to her. That seems like a good sign, she thought.
Above her, Max’s face betrayed his pure joy. Miranda cuddling up to him - and out in public - was a huge step forward. He wasn’t certain, but he didn’t think she’d make such a gesture if all she wanted from him was friendship. He felt a little more optimistic about his plan.
As they read by the fire again after their walk, Miranda found it hard to keep her eyes on the page she was meant to be looking at, a chapter appropriately entitled ‘A problem with eyes’. Unable to concentrate, she kept stealing furtive glances at Max. She couldn’t focus on the text at all, reading over the same sentence again and again, it never going in. Her mind drifted off to thinking about the events of the past few days. She’d really been having a good time on their imposed mini-break. They’d settled into living together quickly and she was surprised by just how easy and comfortable it all was. They’d only been trapped in domesticity for a few days, yet it was normal now. Going back to her apartment and living alone once more would take some adjustment. She realised it was a change she was not looking forward to.
Her reflection was interrupted by Max asking her a question. He’d had to repeat it to get through to her.
“I said, shall we stream a film?” he tried again, attempting to catch her eye to break through her reverie.
“Oh, sorry. Ok, yes. What did you have in mind? No horror,” she ordered.
“No way - we see enough of the dark side of humanity at work. Since it is Valentine’s Day, I thought something that gives us some hope. Plus it’s got good songs. ‘Dirty Dancing‘?” he suggested.
“What’s that? Sounds a bit... rude.” Her nose wrinkled in distaste.
“You’re not telling me you’ve never seen ‘Dirty Dancing’?! It’s a classic!” Max was always taken aback by the gaping holes in her knowledge of popular culture.
“Sorry, no. No tv at my parents’, remember?” she shrugged.
“Then this afternoon your cultural education continues,” he informed her. “I think you’re going to appreciate this one. They dance almost as well as us.”
There was a pause as they both cast their minds back to the paso doble in the street in Cazador, when they’d nearly kissed.
“Errr, ok, stick it on then,” she agreed, wondering if he’d noticed her skin flush. “But I can’t promise to like it.”
“If you don’t then I’m going to doubt your taste in just about everything,” he teased, getting the stream ready to play.
As the film began, Max shuffled closer to Miranda, making sure it seemed like he was just trying to get comfortable. She didn’t move away, like she once would have. Ok, it was a small sofa so she couldn’t have gone far, but still... that was promising, wasn’t it? Should he put his arm round her? No, too much.
Next to him, Miranda was also considering their position. He’s sitting very close now... and I didn’t edge away, she congratulated herself. Should I snuggle in a bit maybe? No, too much.
Just relax and watch the film, they both told themselves.
“Ah-ha! I knew it!” Max exclaimed as Miranda entered the kitchen-diner.
“Knew what?” she asked, puzzled.
“That you loved the film. You were just humming ‘(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life’.” He grinned, thrilled that she’d enjoyed the film he’d chosen.
“Yeah, it was alright,” she replied casually.
“Alright?” He raised an expectant eyebrow at her.
“Ok, I enjoyed it,” she admitted. “Good choice.”
“That’s better. I’ll take that. Now, gin-tonic aperitif? I just made them. I got us some olives and nuts to nibble on too, while the main course is cooking.” He gestured at the glasses and bowls he’d set out on the small dining table.
“Great, thanks.” She perched on a chair and picked up her drink. “So what are we having?”
“Tonight, the menu is arroz brut followed by greixonera de brossat.”
“What and what now?” she asked, trying to hide her suspicion.
“Nothing scary, don’t worry. I wouldn’t do that to you. It’s rice with things in: pork, sausages - not sobrasada, some mushrooms, that kind of thing. Then a sort of cheesecake. I got the recipes from the mallorquín cookbooks,” he explained.
“Sounds like a lot of work. Thank you,” she told him appreciatively.
“Nothing’s too much for my favourite lady. Call it my Valentine’s Day gift to you,” he said.
“Oh, that reminds me: I got you something when I was at the shop the other day,” she told him as she got up from the table.
She opened a kitchen cupboard, pulled out a bottle and presented him with it, smiling shyly.
“Bodega Negra! You remembered!” He was delighted.
“Sorry it’s only one of their cheaper ones...” she said regretfully.
“Never apologise for buying me something from Bodega Negra. Thank you, my sweet,” he leaned forward and gave her a peck on the cheek. She gasped quietly.
An awkward pause hung in the air as they thought about what he had just said and done. They both decided to act like nothing had happened.
“Right, well, I’ll get this opened to breathe while you carry on with the dinner, yeah?” Miranda suggested, keen to busy herself with something that meant she didn’t have to look at him right now.
“Yes, boss” he replied, now intently studying a recipe book.
“Miranda?” Max called out.
“Yes?”, she answered, appearing in the kitchen doorway.
“Can you just watch nothing burns or anything while I go to the toilet please?” he begged.
“Sure,” she agreed, crossing the kitchen to stand near the stove top as he left the room rapidly.
He’d put some music on since she’d last been in the kitchen. She quite liked the song that was playing, but couldn’t remember the title so she went over to his phone to check what it was. She noticed the playlist was called ‘M’. M for Max?
She looked at the first few tracks: Michael Patrick Kelly - Beautiful Madness, lovelytheband - Broken, Labrinth - Beneath Your Beautiful, Wolf Alice - Don’t Delete the Kisses, Fever Fever - Hypnotised, Eric Carmen - Hungry Eyes. One of them was the song he’d sung her that morning about being lonely together and she was pretty sure another was from the film they’d just watched. She recognised the rest as songs he’d played her recently. She tried to remember some of their lyrics. There was quite a lot about wanting to get together with someone, being caught in their spell or wanting them to let you in. When he’d put these songs on before she hadn’t thought anything of it, but given his revelation this morning...
She heard the toilet flush so she quickly replaced his phone and moved away from it as he returned to the kitchen to relieve her of her responsibility.
She glanced at him as he re-entered the room. He’d changed into a smart French navy shirt while he was gone, she realised. He looked good in it. Really handsome. She caught a new scent from him as he approached: he must have put some sort of aftershave or perfume on. He smelled fresh and citrusy. Quite a lot of effort for a night in with a friend, she mused.
”You keep a lot of clothes in your car,” she remarked.
“Oh, the shirt? Umm, I bought it from the place next to Clara’s this morning,” he admitted, aiming for nonchalance and not quite achieving it.
”Oh. Well, you look... it’s... it’s a nice shirt,” she told him self-consciously, before turning her back to him and going to help herself to some of the olives he’d put on the table.
Max smiled indulgently: that was almost a compliment.
He sang along to the chorus playing as Miranda faced him again. “Would you let meee / see beneath your beautiful, would you let meee / see beneath your perfect.” He caught her eye as he finished the lyric, then after a charged second swiftly returned to checking on the food. Miranda’s stomach flipped at the look he had given her and the meaning of the lines he had just sung.
That seemed... significant, she thought. Maybe M stands for Miranda? A playlist about wanting to be with me?
Miranda picked up the bag of clothes she’d bought on Tuesday and sat on the bed. She pulled a red bundle out and contemplated it. Would it be too much, she wondered. She hadn’t bought it with this week in mind; it was just something she’d liked so she’d treated herself, thinking that there might be a special occasion it would be suitable for at some point. Be brave and put it on, she pushed herself. He’d already dressed up, so it wouldn’t be so strange for her to join him.
“It’s ready!” Max announced from the dining area.
Miranda entered the room to find he’d lit dozens of tealights and arranged them on the table and all along the worktops and shelves. The whole room was bathed in their flickering glow.
Max felt his pulse quicken as he took her in: she was wearing a figure-hugging red dress that showed off every curve of her toned body. He gulped. “You look... amazing,” he breathed.
“Thanks,” she said quietly, looking down at the floor. She was never comfortable with accepting praise, though she was pleased he liked the way she looked tonight.
“Umm, I’d have got flowers, but, you know, winter, plus no deliveries, obviously,” he apologised, unusually nervous.
Miranda looked up sharply. “Max, you’ve spent the whole time we’ve been here doing nice things for me. You don’t need to apologise! I just feel bad I haven’t done the same for you.”
“Well, if I shouldn’t be sorry, you shouldn’t feel guilty: I’ve loved this week with you.”
They smiled at each other and sat down at the table, knees almost touching in the small space. Max poured the wine she’d given him earlier.
“To snowstorms and the surprises they bring,” he toasted, glass raised.
“Snowstorms and surprises,” she joined in, looking wistfully at him as he drank.
They chatted about nothing much whilst they ate their arroz brut, just happy to be in the other’s company. Miranda was really enjoying this ‘rice with things’ and she told herself to try more mallorquín food. Maybe Max would help guide her.
Max put his fork down as he finished the last of his portion. He looked across at Miranda, who was intent on her plate, still dealing with the remaining few bites. She’s so lovely, he thought, and she’s really tried these last few days.
“I can’t believe you’ve never had a date for Valentine’s Day before,” he blurted out, shaking his head.
She looked up, not sure where this was going. He said ‘before’, she pondered, was that a mistake or are we on a date tonight?
“There’s only been one other person I’ve wanted to have a Valentine’s date with,” she told him cautiously as she toyed with her fork.
One other person, he thought. That’s... revealing. She does want this to be a date then.
“It didn’t work out?” he probed gently.
She paused to consider whether she wanted to tell him. She hadn’t spoken about this with anyone. Come on, let him in if you want him, she urged herself.
“It never really happened. We worked together and he was in a relationship,” she sighed. “We did kiss once at a Christmas party, but he told me it was a drunken mistake. He got transferred not long after. With a bit of distance between us, I realised how embarrassing and pathetic I’d been around him. All our colleagues must have been laughing at me. I cringe thinking about it now.”
“And this is why you can be a bit... ‘closed’ now?” he asked softly, his blue eyes full of sympathy.
“Well, I was always a private person, never one to wear my heart on my sleeve. It was only for him I put myself out there and I just humiliated myself,” she frowned. “I decided then that I needed to protect myself. If I ever liked someone again and he wasn’t single, I wouldn’t let my feelings be obvious like that. And if he ever became single, he’d have to make the first move.”
Their eyes locked again. Max felt the blood pound in his ears. He swallowed hard. Should he say something now? He went to open his mouth, but she broke the eye contact and quickly stood up.
“I’ll wash up if you get the dessert ready?” she proposed. Her hands were a little unsteady as she began to clear the table.
“Deal,” he agreed, wondering if he’d missed his chance.
They carried their wine and slices of cheesecake into the living room and settled themselves on the cosy sofa, the fire roaring and crackling in front of them, casting a warm light over their contented faces.
They tucked into their desserts eagerly, the only sounds their appreciative noises, the chink of cutlery on plates, and the occasional pop from the flames.
Max took their empty dishes to the kitchen, then came back and sat next to Miranda with a satisfied sigh, pleased overall with how the evening was going.
“Well, thanks for a lovely Valentine’s Day and well done again on the delicious meal,” Miranda said, raising her wine glass and chinking it against his. “Sorry you had to spend it with me though,” she continued self-deprecatingly, staring into her glass.
“You’re welcome, but why are you sorry?” he asked, puzzled at her very British apology.
“There must be other people you’d rather have spent Valentine’s Day with,” she explained awkwardly.
“No, actually,” he replied firmly.
“Oh. Really?” Her heart was beating faster now.
“There is no one I’d rather have been with today. No one,” he confirmed, looking sincere.
“Oh. Oh, right.” She felt her face began to colour as she realised what he might be trying to say: he could just mean that he enjoyed her company platonically, but she suspected that he was saying he wanted to be more than friends.
“It’s been a perfect Valentine’s Day so far. I hope that you have had a good day?” He seemed genuinely concerned about her happiness.
“Yes! Yes, it’s been lovely. Thank you.” She smiled shyly.
“It’s not over yet,” he replied, his heart racing.
“Oh?” What else is he planning, she wondered as she sipped the last of her tinto.
There was a long pause while he considered how to carry on, or if he even should. She said she wouldn’t make the first move, he thought, so maybe I’ll just go for it now. What was it she said sometimes, ‘no guts, no glory’?
“I want to talk about us”. He caught her eye and then looked away quickly to the flickering fire. He wasn’t sure he should’ve said that.
“Us?” Her chest tightened and she felt her stomach lurch. She couldn’t look at him either.
Max took their drained glasses and carefully put them on the table. He turned back to Miranda, his blue eyes deeply serious. He put his hand gently on her knee and took a deep breath.
“Miranda, I have enjoyed this time alone with you so much, and I think... maybe you have too? And you’re my best friend... And... well, I think you’re wonderful and beautiful and-“
Miranda suddenly leaned forward and kissed him with an eagerness that surprised them both. She pulled her head back and bit her lip, wondering if she’d done something she shouldn’t have.
“Wow...” Max whispered, his eyes wide. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”
“Sorry, I-“ she began.
“Did I say I didn’t want it to carry on happening?” he interrupted with a tender smile.
He touched a hand to her cheek before softly placing his lips on hers. She responded passionately, putting her arms around his neck as he moved his hands to her waist and then round to her back, pulling her closer.
After a few minutes she pushed him back against the sofa and confidently straddled his lap, feeling more exhilarated than she had been in a long time. From the swelling pressing against her it was clear Max was excited too.
Chapter 5: Saturday 15 February
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.”