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I hadn’t expected to be asked to house-sit, but the more I thought about it, the more the idea made sense. Everything in this flat still reminded me of Alex, even though we’d split up over six months ago now. The lease was up at the end of next month, and I’d been wondering whether or not to renew it, prone to nagging doubts that staying here, with all the memories of the times we’d shared together – good and bad – was contributing to my writer’s block. How could my work move on if I couldn’t? Amanda was offering me the perfect excuse to cut the ties that appeared to be holding me back, maybe even get out of London for good.
‘I’d love to,’ I told her.
‘Wonderful, so it’s sorted, then. Thanks, Lily. You’ve really got me out of a fix.’
Lying in bed that night, I couldn’t help wondering whether I’d agreed to Amanda’s surprising proposal too hastily. Cautious by nature, I liked to weigh up any potential situation, making a list of all the points for and against before I came to a decision. I’d done that when I hadn’t been sure whether I was doing the right thing by giving up my job to write full time, and though Alex had never known, I’d done the same thing before moving in with him. How very different would my life be if, in both those cases, the column of cons had stretched further down the list than the pros?
Without meaning to, I found myself thinking back to the day Alex and I had moved into this flat, six years ago. One of the reasons I’d had on the list in favour of taking the plunge was that I’d been almost 30 at the time, that significant birthday looming like a milestone on the road ahead, impossible to ignore. Time to grow up, I’d told myself. Time to take some responsibility for my life. Another, far more important reason was that I couldn’t bear to spend any more time apart from Alex than I had to.
His handsome, familiar face swam into my mind, crowned by unruly dark hair that fell into his soft hazel eyes, and with a slight dusting of stubble on his pointed chin. Impulsive and spontaneous, he’d been the one who’d suggested we take our relationship to the next level by finding a place together. When I’d agreed, he’d literally swept me off my feet in a huge hug, covering my face with kisses.
Almost without meaning to, I pushed back the bedcovers as the memory grew stronger, slipping a hand down to raise the hem of my nightdress up around my waist. Now I saw us on the day we’d moved in. We’d searched long and hard before finding what we considered the perfect home, a sunny garden flat close to Hampstead Heath. Newly refurbished, it boasted a brand-new, king-sized bed, and we hadn’t been able to resist christening it before we’d even unpacked our possessions.
Alex carried me into the bedroom, placing me down on the bed. Only a couple of inches taller than me, he was deceptively strong, holding me in his arms as though I weighed nothing. ‘Can’t wait to make love to you,’ he’d murmured. ‘No distractions, no annoying flatmates. Just you and me, able to do whatever we want …’