You and me always, p.1

You and Me, Always, page 1

 

You and Me, Always
 



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You and Me, Always


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  Copyright © 2016 by Jill Mansell

  Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

  Cover illustration by Lisa Mallett

  Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious and are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  All brand names and product names used in this book are trademarks, registered trademarks, or trade names of their respective holders. Sourcebooks, Inc., is not associated with any product or vendor in this book.

  Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

  (630) 961-3900

  Fax: (630) 961-2168

  www.sourcebooks.com

  Originally published in 2016 in the United Kingdom by Headline Review, an imprint of Headline Book Publishing, a division of Hodder Headline.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Mansell, Jill, author.

  Title: You and me, always / Jill Mansell.

  Description: Naperville, Illinois : Sourcebooks Landmark, [2016]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2015046727 | (softcover : acid-free paper)

  Subjects: | GSAFD: Love stories.

  Classification: LCC PR6063.A395 Y68 2016 | DDC 823/.914--dc23 LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2015046727

  Also by Jill Mansell

  An Offer You Can’t Refuse

  Miranda’s Big Mistake

  Millie’s Fling

  Perfect Timing

  Rumor Has It

  Take a Chance on Me

  Staying at Daisy’s

  To the Moon and Back

  Nadia Knows Best

  A Walk in the Park

  Thinking of You

  Don’t Want to Miss a Thing

  The Unexpected Consequences of Love

  Making Your Mind Up

  Falling for You

  Good at Games

  The One You Really Want

  Contents

  Front Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  An Excerpt from Three Amazing Things About You

  About the Author

  Back Cover

  Chapter 1

  There he was, sitting in the sun outside the Star Inn. Lily slowed and parked the van outside Goldstone House, next to the pub. Dan saw her and waved, and her stomach tightened at the sight of him, as it always did. There was just something about the languid angles of his body, those long legs in black jeans stretched out in front of him, the tilt of his head as he chatted on his phone and laughed at something that had been said.

  The tightening didn’t mean anything, though. Lily knew that. It had evolved as a kind of Pavlovian reaction, a habit that had become ingrained over the years simply because Dan Rafferty was so physically attractive. The good thing was that he knew he was attractive and traded on it shamelessly with all concerned—so the idea of an actual relationship with him was the very last thing anyone in their right mind would want.

  And since she was in her right mind, thankfully she was safe.

  “Lily, Lily.” Dan’s eyes crinkled, and he pushed his dark glasses to the top of his head as she jumped down from the van. “My most favorite girl in the world.”

  See? This was what he was like. “And you’re the most annoying boy.”

  “I’m not a boy. I’m a man.”

  He was twenty-seven, two years older than she was. Technically, he might be a man, but when you’d known each other since childhood, the idea just seemed wrong somehow.

  “You used to put frog spawn in the hood of my sweatshirt,” said Lily. “You’ll always be a boy to me. Where’s your car, anyway?”

  “Over in Chipping Norton.” Dan had texted her earlier asking if she could give him a lift to go pick it up.

  “Why?” As if she couldn’t guess.

  “Best not to ask. The usual, basically. Good wine and bad women. Well, one bad woman taking shameless advantage.” He gestured to the still-full cup of coffee on the table in front of him. “Are you in a big hurry, or can I get you a drink?”

  Lily checked her watch. It was twenty past six. She’d spent the last three hours delivering a marble-topped table and a set of Victorian chimney pots to a customer in Chippenham, but work was now over for the day, and the rest of her evening was free.

  “Go on then. I’ll have a Coke.” She joined him at the table, unsticking the back of her T-shirt from her shoulder blades and flapping the front of it to cool down her rib cage while Dan disappeared inside to order the drink.

  When he returned, she took the glass and said, “Cheers, thanks. Why couldn’t Patsy give you a lift back to your car?”

  “She’s out. Gone on a date. With a mystery man off the Internet.”

  Lily perked up. “Ooh, what’s he like?”

  “No idea.” Dan shrugged. “That’s the whole point of him being a mystery. She didn’t want me to meet him.”

  “Well, after last time with the chap from Chepstow, who could blame her?”

  “Welsh William.” He shrugged. “That wasn’t my fault. He was the one who challenged me to an arm-wrestling match. He was just showing off, trying to prove how str
ong he was.”

  “You could have let him win,” said Lily.

  “Me?” Dan looked horrified. “Why? He was an idiot. Patsy wouldn’t want someone like him anyway.”

  Which was true enough. Ah, well, maybe this new one would be an improvement. Lily swirled the ice cubes in her glass and took a gulp of Coke, then paused as her attention was drawn to a stocky man on a bicycle heading down the street toward them. He was wearing an orange cycling helmet that clashed with his red face and turquoise Lycra leggings. As his legs pumped the pedals, he appeared to be talking to himself.

  By this time Dan had turned and was watching him too. It wasn’t until the man had drawn closer that they realized he wasn’t riding an ordinary bike. It was a tandem. Nor was he having a conversation with himself; he was loudly addressing his cycling companion behind him.

  “…and in September of 2013…or it might have been October, come to think of it… Anyway, that was when I cycled from Ravenglass to South Shields alongside Hadrian’s Wall, and that’s one hundred and seventy-four miles in total, so it’s quite a trek, but the views were phenomenal… Then the following March, I did the Devon coast-to-coast, from Ilfracombe to Plymouth…”

  “Whoops,” Lily murmured as the tandem drew nearer still and they were finally able to see who was on the back of it. Dan sprayed coffee and rocked forward on his seat. Clearly mortified as her companion continued at top volume, poor Patsy saw them watching and made an Oh God face.

  And then she and the cyclist were passing the pub, their legs moving in unison as the pedals turned and the tires made a dry, swishing noise on the hot, dusty pavement. Patsy’s date was still facing forward, talking loudly for her benefit as he informed her of the importance of keeping up a nice, steady rhythm.

  Which made Dan, predictably, crack up with silent laughter. As the tandem moved on, Patsy glanced over at them for a moment, shook her head in despair, and mouthed the words: Help me.

  Oh dear, but it was hard not to laugh. At the junction at the end of the main drag, the traffic light turned red, and the tandem dutifully slowed to a halt. Lily and Dan watched as Patsy put her feet down and turned back to give them a look of mortification and misery, while her date continued his loud monologue.

  “How does she get herself into these situations?” Dan marveled. He gestured to his sister and mimed diving sideways off the bike.

  Up ahead, taking her weight on her feet and raising her bottom from the saddle, Patsy let go of the handlebars. The traffic light changed to amber, then to green. Her companion pressed down on the front pedals and the tandem moved off, leaving Patsy standing in the road behind it. Evidently still entranced by the sound of his own voice, and oblivious to the fact that he’d lost his pedaling partner, the man who’d been her date continued on down the road.

  Dan took a quick photo on his phone before the tandem completely disappeared from view. He grinned at Lily and said, “Ha, brilliant. That’s this year’s Christmas card.”

  * * *

  Patsy stood in the center of the road and watched as Derek energetically cycled off without her. She couldn’t quite believe he hadn’t noticed she’d gone.

  Why did this kind of situation always seem to happen to her? Derek had sounded so nice in his emails. He’d given her no cause whatsoever to suspect he was a secret cycling fanatic with a deep and detailed knowledge of every single bike path in the UK and a passion for sharing all this information with her in a maximum-volume, never-ending monotone.

  If she’d known, the entire relationship could have been nipped in the bud before it even had time to become a bud. Some women might not mind the idea of sailing through life on the back of a tandem, but Patsy definitely wasn’t one of them.

  She sighed and brushed away the loose strands of hair that were sticking to her forehead. And now Dan and Lily were beckoning her toward them, no doubt finding her predicament hilarious. What she should have done, of course, was to tap Derek on the shoulder, politely explain that they might as well give up now, then shake hands, say good-bye, and wish him better luck next time.

  That would have been the normal way, the dignified way to go about it.

  Oh God, poor Derek. She really shouldn’t have done that to him.

  Then again, poor her.

  Chapter 2

  “OK,” Dan said when Patsy reached them. “First things first. Does he know where you live?”

  “No.” She shook her head. “We arranged to meet at the café in the garden center. He was already waiting for me when I got there, so I didn’t know about the bike thing.”

  Dan raised an eyebrow. “You mean the turquoise Lycra leggings didn’t give it away?”

  Patsy made a face at her brother, eight years younger but annoyingly so much more in control of his life than she was of hers. “They were hidden under the table, if you must know. We chatted for ten minutes, and he said something about getting some exercise and exploring the area, but I thought we were going for a walk and that was why he’d said I should wear pants and flat shoes.” Never happier than when she was in four-inch heels, Patsy indicated the pale-pink leather ballet flats on her feet. And to think she’d gone out and bought them especially for their date.

  “But he presumably stood up at some point, which means you saw what he was wearing. And then he took you outside and showed you his tandem. Not a euphemism,” said Dan. “Yet you still went ahead and climbed on it.”

  “You see, this is the difference between us. You just can’t understand,” said Patsy. “If you don’t want to do something, you don’t do it. But when it happens to me…”

  “You were too embarrassed to say no.” Lily leaped to Patsy’s defense.

  “Exactly.”

  “You’re a people pleaser.”

  “I am!” Was that so bad? When you were a hairdresser, it kind of went with the territory. If you didn’t please people, you wouldn’t last long in the job.

  “She didn’t want to hurt his feelings,” Lily told Dan, who was notoriously less concerned with how other people felt.

  “In that case, better leave the next few minutes to me.” With a nod in the direction of the end of the road, Dan said, “He’s on his way back now.”

  Bugger, so he was. Patsy said, “I don’t want to see him!” But if she tried to disappear inside the pub now, Derek would spot her running away from him.

  “Come on, into the van.” Evidently having worked out the angles, Lily pressed Auto Unlock. “He won’t be able to see you from here.”

  Ducking down, heart thumping, Patsy kept out of sight and jumped into the back of the van, pulling the door almost shut behind her with seconds to spare. She heard the squeak of the bike’s brakes and the swish of tires as Derek pulled up less than six feet away. His face wasn’t visible—thankfully—but through the crack in the door, she was able to see Lily and Dan.

  “Hello.” Derek paused to clear his throat. “Um…I was wondering if you’d seen my cycling partner. She was with me when we came past a few minutes ago. Dark hair, pink shirt, jeans…”

  “And you’ve managed to lose her somewhere?” Dan looked amused.

  “Well, yes. Apparently so.”

  “Actually, we did see her,” said Dan. “She ran past us just now at quite a speed, heading in that direction.” He pointed to the right. “She was on her cell phone, calling for a cab to come pick her up.”

  “Oh. Right.”

  “On the bright side,” Dan continued, “at least it means she didn’t fall off the back of your tandem. You don’t have to send out a search party or wonder if she’s lying dead in a ditch.”

  “Hmm.” Her erstwhile date didn’t sound particularly relieved.

  “Oh dear. Is she your wife?”

  “Good God, no. Thank goodness.” Derek snorted.

  Charming. Although under the circumstances, he was allowed to be a bit cross.
<
br />   “I like your leggings.” Changing the subject, Dan asked innocently, “Where did you get them?”

  “These? Ah, well, they’re from a specialty sportswear company. I order them online and—”

  “No! Barbara, over here,” Lily blurted out. Patsy heard the sudden patter of paws, accompanied by a yelp of excitement. “Barbara, don’t do that. Get down…”

  Too late. Patsy made a futile grab at the van’s back door, but there was no handle on the inside. A huge black paw effortlessly hooked the door open and Barbara appeared, barking in joyful recognition and wagging her tail.

  Patsy wanted to die. Once, years ago, she’d been using the bathroom on the train when, without warning, the automatic door had slid open.

  This was worse.

  Derek stared into the van, and she felt her skin prickle with shame. Since Barbara was now attempting to clamber up and join her, Patsy jumped down instead. “I’m sorry,” she said.

  “And so you should be.” He was still astride the front saddle of the tandem, his expression stony. “I thought we were going for a nice twenty-mile ride.”

  Which was an oxymoron if she’d ever heard one. Nevertheless, she looked penitent. “I know. I’m not really a bicycle sort of person.”

  His jaw jutted. “You should have told me.”

  “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

  “Out of interest,” Dan joined in, “why didn’t you warn her you were going to turn up on a tandem?”

  Derek shot him an impatient look. “Because then she would have made some excuse and ducked out. Everyone always does. It’s something you have to experience first, then you fall in love with it. I’m serious.” Sweat dripped from his ruddy forehead as he nodded vigorously, pale eyes alight with fervor. “There’s nothing better in the world than cycling.”

  Personally, Patsy thought a nice gin and tonic beat cycling hands down. She shrugged and said, “Anyway, I’m sorry I ran away.”

  “It’s no great loss.” Derek was dismissive now. “You’re not my type anyway. To be honest, anyone who wears makeup isn’t my cup of tea. It’s not your fault,” he amended. “I should have stipulated that in my ad.”

  Patsy nodded. “It might have been a good idea.” And she should have stipulated that she wasn’t interested in anyone who wore turquoise Lycra leggings. “Well, bye then.”

 
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