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You And Me, Always

By:Jill Mansell

You And Me, Always
Jill Mansell

       Acknowledgements



A big thank you to Ossie Hickman, who first suggested I should feature a  pilot in this book, and who then answered all my questions on matters  piloty and aeronautical.





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 had  done. 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, the fact that he knew he was attractive,  and traded on it shamelessly with all concerned, meant 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 favourite 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, it just  seemed wrong somehow.

‘You used to put frogspawn in the hood of my anorak,' 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 and 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 tearing  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 ribcage 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 strong 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 might 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 along the main street directly towards 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 realised 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 two thousand and thirteen  …  or it might have been  the 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 breathed 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. Poor Patsy, clearly mortified as her  companion continued at top volume, saw them watching and pulled an Oh  God face.                       
       
           



       

And then they were passing the pub, their legs moving in unison as the  pedals turned and the tyres made a dry swishing noise on the hot, dusty  tarmac. Patsy's date was still facing forwards, 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  high street, the traffic lights turned red and the tandem dutifully  slowed to a halt. They watched as Patsy put her feet down and turned  back to give them a look of mortification and misery, whilst her date  continued his loud monologue.

‘How does she get herself into these situations?' Dan marvelled. 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 lights 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 pedalling 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 sorted.'



Patsy stood in the centre 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 cycleway 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 towards 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 goodbye 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,' said Dan 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  centre. 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 pulled a face at her brother, eight years younger but annoyingly  so much more in control of his own 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 trousers and flat shoes.' Never happier than when she was  in four-inch heels, Patsy indicated the pale pink leather ballet pumps  on her feet; and to think she'd gone out and bought them specially for  today's 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 to  it.'

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