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Banished to the back of beyond, in the middle of a long, hot summer, Gem and Dan Parker find their marriage filling up with secrets. As they work to reopen the Green Man pub, tensions and unacknowledged desires come between them. From their first night, when Gem sees someone watching them make love from the edge of the woods, her fantasies of having two men at once start to grow and consume her. As the temperature rises, she becomes fixated by her imaginings of an impossible, gorgeous, ...
Banished to the back of beyond, in the middle of a long, hot summer, Gem and Dan Parker find their marriage filling up with secrets. As they work to reopen the Green Man pub, tensions and unacknowledged desires come between them. From their first night, when Gem sees someone watching them make love from the edge of the woods, her fantasies of having two men at once start to grow and consume her. As the temperature rises, she becomes fixated by her imaginings of an impossible, gorgeous, otherworldly man in the forest. A man who could make her dreams come true – and maybe save her marriage.
‘Well, I guess this is it.’ With relief, Gemma Parker lowered the box she carried from her aching arms, down to the sun baked earth that surrounded the Green Man pub. Stretching her hands up over her head, she gazed around her as she wiggled to unknot her spine after four hours in the car. Across the bridge, just behind the pub building, verdant green forest stretched all the way to the horizon. But on this side of the riverbank all Gem could see were dead petunias, browning grass, and dusty banks down to the trickle of water that ran under the rickety wood of the bridge. That, and the tired, brick building of the pub itself, windows obscured by sun bleached wooden boards. ‘Home sweet home. Apparently.’
Lowering her arms to her sides, she squinted up at the pub sign, swinging from its metal brackets in the sunshine. It wasn’t a design she’d seen before; a man’s face, handsome and tan, but with leaves and vines surrounding his head, making up his hair, curling around his cheeks and under his chin. The Green Man himself, she supposed.
The sun pounded down against her back, freakishly hot even for July inEngland. Gem tugged at her sleeveless white blouse where it stuck to her skin, and ran a hand over the sweat-damp hair at the nape of her neck. Her skin felt sticky, overheated, as if it were too tight for her body. Her thighs, bare under her skirt, caught against each other whenever they touched, dragging skin against skin. Gem’s tongue peeked out to moisten her lips; the air hung heavy, muggy. As if it were waiting for a storm. And her whole body seemed to have caught the feeling.
At least the pub might be cool inside. And their first delivery was due that afternoon. They could get set up, get the fridges to temperature, then crack open an icy bottle of beer this evening to wash away the day. Maybe christen the bar the way they always did, the first night in a new pub.
Her husband, Dan, leant a suitcase up against one of the picnic tables on the river bank and scowled. ‘God, what a dump. They seriously want us to turn this place round?’
‘That’s what Mark said.’ Gem bit the inside of her cheek as she recalled the conversation. The culmination of six months spent deflecting Mark Fisher’s advances, and it had resulted in them being sent to the back of beyond, to run the least profitable pub ever in the Fisher Breweries chain. At least Dan hadn’t heard the things Mark had said to her. If he had, they wouldn’t have jobs at all, she was sure of that. Her husband had a temper, when it mattered.
‘Who do they expect us to sell beer to, out here? Bambi and his friends!’ Dan made a disgusted noise, and turned back towards the car. Leaning against the picnic table, Gem watched him make his way down the hill to the tiny car park, his shoulders wide and wonderful under his T-shirt, his worn jeans clinging to the curve of his arse. No doubt about it, her husband was a gorgeous man.
A gorgeous man with a jealous streak a mile wide.
She shook her head, as Dan reached into the boot for another box. She’d known who he was when she married him, and she’d taken it on willingly. After all, why would she want another man when she had Dan? So what did it matter if he frightened away any guy who tried to talk to her?
Only, Dan’s usual methods hadn’t worked with Mark Fisher. He was their boss, for a start, and not the sort of man to be scared off by a warning look and Dan’s arm around her waist. He sincerely believed he could steal Gem away from her husband, for as long as he was likely to want her. He was wrong, of course, and Gem had told him so a thousand times.
He just hadn’t listened.
Which was how Gem had found herself backed into the corner of the basement of their old pub, The Golden Eagle, with Mark reaching for the buttons of her blouse.
In retrospect, she probably hadn’t needed to knee him in the groin and bash him over the head with the cocktail shaker serendipitously placed on the shelf beside her. One or the other would have sufficed.
But it sure had felt good.
Right up until the phone call announcing their move from the popular, trendy, city centre Golden Eagle to the rural, derelictGreenMan.And Dan’s angry confusion about why.
‘Fisher Breweries’ Managers of the Year three years running, and they stick us here,’ Dan said, bringing up the last of their luggage. ‘I don’t know what Mark Fisher’s thinking.’
But Gemma did. And she knew she could never, never tell her husband.
Because somewhere, deep inside, a very small part of her was afraid he wouldn’t believe her. Working behind the bar, flirting was part of the job, however much Dan didn’t like it. And he’d always been suspicious of the way she’d smiled at Mark, been pleasant to him – before he started his campaign of seduction. She’d tried explaining that it was just good business sense – if a few smiles for the boss kept their pub in favour with the brewery, what did it hurt? But Dan had never seen it that way.
What if he didn’t see it her way now? What if he thought she’d led Mark on?
Gem bit her lip. It was ridiculous. Dan trusted her, and loved her. He’d believe her, of course he would.
She just wasn’t quite ready to put that to the test yet.