Being together was easy, as if they’d known each other all their lives. The trouble was, they had. He’d even worn cologne, given her a bouquet of snowdrops and complimented her outfit. He chose a romantic little trattoria away from their usual haunts and ordered red wine. Despite everything, it just didn’t feel like a date.
They finished their meal, he paid the bill and desperation set in. Tanya had to see him as something more than just Gabriel, that awkward schoolboy with scabby knees she met in primary school. He still hadn’t found a way as he started the Land Rover to drive her home.
“Thank you for that gorgeous meal. The calories I’ve consumed this week! Yesterday, Marianne was already planning her new diet during Christmas dinner. Talk about a killjoy.”
“Your sister is always on a diet.”
“I know! Not that it makes any difference. We both take after our mum. It’s genetic. Short and round, neither of us will never be anything else than cuddly.”
The opportunity swooped out of the night like an owl. Gabriel cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t describe you as cuddly. I think you’re perfect.”
She twisted to look at him, her expression suspicious, but said nothing. The Land Rover crunched along snowy lanes, moonlight sparkling off white hedgerows as they neared her village.
He took a deep breath. “I mean it, Tanya. You’re beautiful. Not to mention funny, smart, a great mum and a free spirit. For me, tonight was not just dinner with an old mate. I’d like us to be more than friends.”
She didn’t reply at first. “Listen, Gabe, I’ve learned to be careful about my personal relationships. I can’t introduce men to Luke’s life only for them to disappear again. That’s why I can’t do casual flings.”
Gabriel parked on the pavement outside Tanya’s little terraced house. He switched off the engine and faced her. “I can’t do casual flings either. Mainly because I’ve been in love with the same person since I was eleven years old.” He reached out a hand to touch her face.
She softened, pressing her cheek into his palm. He drew her towards him and kissed her, his head spinning as if he had stood up too fast. Her lips, soft and warm, parted slightly and he could taste tiramisu. She broke the kiss and took his face in her hands.
“Let’s take things slowly. Don’t get carried away with fantasies of a happy ending.”
He gazed into her eyes, his heart overflowing. “I’d be content with a happy beginning.”
A smile broke over her face and she kissed him, her thumbs stroking his jawline.
“On Sunday, Luke is staying over with Dad and Beatrice. Come round for dinner.” She unclipped her seatbelt and opened the door. “I should warn you, never fall in love with a free spirit.” She jumped out, blew him a kiss and began unlocking her front door.
He watched till she was inside and whispered to himself, “Twenty years too late for that.”