Lucy knows the importance of boundaries. As a massage therapist, she keeps her work and her personal life completely separate. But when a handsome widower shows up on her table and sparks an instant attraction, Lucy is shameless. Breaking her rule, she crosses the line, triggering a series of thrilling mysteries.
Paula isn’t so sure about her best friend’s perfect man… or the story of his wife’s death. To uncover the truth, the former detective infiltrates his social circle. When she examines a scandalous lodger, a jealous brother, and a protective mother-in-law, everyone seems to have a hidden motive for murder…
Lucy is torn between her old friend and her dark new love. Will she follow her head or her heart? And can Paula discover the true killer before her friend makes a fateful mistake?
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It’s amazing what people tell you when they’re naked. I’ve heard all sorts of things. I love learning the nitty-gritty of other people’s lives while getting paid to do good. My clients trust me with their innermost secrets, things they don’t disclose to another living being, and all without a second thought.
I often consider why, concluding it must be linked to removing our physical clothing. Somehow we then also remove the intangible barriers to our souls.
I’m wrenched from my musings by the phone which hardly rings before I’ve answered it.
“Are you working today as it’s Good Friday?” His voice is deep.
“What type of massage would you like?” I check whether he’s after a genuine massage, or if he’s confused me with a whore. It happens more than you’d think.
His reply is pleasing. “Deep tissue. I’ve overdone it.”
And with that, Giles Harrington makes his first appointment.
It’s Friday April 1st, a date of note in my personal history book, and a day of cloudless skies in Shefford. It’s one of those perfect times where nothing can go wrong.
Half an hour after hanging up the phone, I’ve washed paint from my visible flesh and changed out of splattered clothing. I’ve freed my shoulder length blonde hair from its practical ponytail and I’m pressing a cautious finger to the kitchen walls. They’re already starting to dry; the hour’s break is well timed. In truth, I’m thankful for the call, moving a fridge freezer to paint behind it at five foot nothing is no mean feat.
His knock comes right on time. This was the moment I first met him. Not the first time I laid eyes on him, but that didn’t become clear until later.
“This front door has seen better days.” He pokes at the warped plastic coating, which if I’m fair, has seen better days.
“Well thanks for the advice,” I laugh. I like this guy and his straight forward approach.
“Safety first and all that!”
“You’re not a window and door salesman are you?”
“Ha-ha, no! In fact, I’ll have you know, I run a specialist workshop solving issues that blow up cars.”
“Better than double glazing then.” I’m still smiling, and he’s still picking at chestnut colored plastic.
“Seriously; you need a new door. This isn’t secure.” He continues his labored examination of further issues that may jeopardize my safety.
I’ve never been greeted in such a way, but I welcome the space to defog my mind. You know when you see someone who is stunning and you get that thump in your chest? The sort that renders you unable to catch your breath?
Well, waiting on the other side of the rather shaky entrance to my home, is a six foot, dark-haired, sparkly eyed, perfectly honed rugby player. The epitome of classic good looks. He has stretched out his strong arm, ready for a formal introduction.
“Hi, I’m Lucy, pleased to meet you.” I try to curb the goofy grin spreading from ear to ear.
“Excellent.” I’m drawn to his quirky, laid-back nature.
“The treatment rooms are over there.” I gesture to the other side of the drive, behind where he’s parked his black 4×4. “We’ll walk over together.”
Once inside, he casually sits in one of the animal print chairs in the reception. People often hover, unsure of their next move. It’s strange, but it happens almost every time I meet a new client. That and leaving the external door open behind them. I also find this unusual, although after his inspection of my front door, it’s no big surprise when he clicks it firmly shut. I already understand that he is different.
“Confident; people usually wait for an invitation before they sit.” I need to jibe at him, perhaps to cover my instant attraction.
“I figured the chairs were there for a reason.” He strokes the glitter wallpaper and throws me a wink as he fiddles in his jacket pocket producing his completed consultation form. What a pleasant surprise for a male who booked an appointment on such short notice to have completed the health and lifestyle questionnaire I’ve emailed over. I’m disappointed at its lack detail, no health issues and he’s left the family and dependent section blank.
“So, why do you want a massage today? Relaxation, or do you need me to deal with a specific problem?”
“Okay, well, like I said, I run this workshop solving issues with car parts, so I stand and bend often to scrutinize minutiae. And of course, I lift all manner of heavy parts.” Interesting choice of words. He’s obviously educated. Posh even. “Last week was busy, head gaskets all over the place and even a huge rear axle to shift. So today, with time on my hands, I decided to take some positive action.”
“Okay.” That’s simple enough. “Anywhere in particular you’re experiencing pain?” I expect him to specify his lower back.
“Shoulders!” He shocks me. It’s unusual for someone with the life stresses he’s described which normally affects a person’s lower back. I can work with shoulders, but my interest is piqued. So, without further ado, I show him into the small therapy room clicking the oak door behind me.
“Ready,” he hollers a few moments later.
I walk into an appealing view I at once commit to memory. His toned torso is hardly covered by the soft black towel he’s draped below his waist exposing the rise of his glutes. His lean legs poke out from the bottom. He is still wearing his socks. Guess a girl can’t have everything.
I pass by his legs to stand next to his back and finger walk up his spine to check it’s as impeccably aligned as I expect. His skin shimmers, the low light mingling with the oil as I stroke it into his surprisingly soft skin. His toned muscles ripple as he stretches his arm to scratch his nose.
“Have you always done this?” he asks.
“No, I used to work in digital marketing for a multinational corporation.”
“Wow, that sounds impressive. Why’d you quit?”
I explain how being on twenty-four-hour call, seven days a week, for someone else’s success was wasting my best years. People often struggle with the logic of me leaving a career where I was at the top of my game to rub backs from a section of my home I’ve converted to a studio, but Giles agrees this was the best move for me. I’m finding him deliciously refreshing. Then he asks the question all my clients want answering.
“Bet you must get some gruesome clients?”
I needle a knot.
“I screen a lot of potential weirdos on the phone when they first inquire, so they don’t even get an appointment. Some of the calls are an eye-opener, you wouldn’t believe the things I’m asked!” The knot releases and my elbow slips in the oil. He’s unaware. “I’ve learned the code now so I can shut them down before they start, but even when I make a mistake, it’s only an hour until they leave. Then I mark them in my phone and ignore their future calls.” He’s laid face down so he misses my wink. I give him a quick dig so he understands he could still end up on my blacklist.
“What do you get asked?”
“Oh, just the variety of sex-related questions that you wouldn’t need answers to if you’re after a genuine massage.”
A laugh bursts free from his throat; it’s, a I’m-not-sure-what-to-say laugh. “So how do you miss those who do manage to make an appointment?”
“Oh, they tend to be the smelly ones, that’s difficult to tell from the phone. They are at least safe to be around.”
“You don’t think about the safety element.”
“Yeah that’s why many therapists only take women clients, but there is a massive male market if you can figure out who is genuine.”
He falls quiet for a second. “I don’t meet many new people in my job.”
“That’s a shame. You seem like such a people person.” I test a question phrased as a comment to try to learn more.
“Oh, I’m a game of two halves. I love people, but I love my own space too.”
“I reckon everyone is like that if they’re honest.”
Unwinding in each other’s company, we slip into a comfortable silence.
Shoulders being the primary area of concern, I warm them like clay prior to molding.
“So why are your shoulders in such bad shape?” I ask after a while.
“Well you stand and lift a lot of heavy machinery, I’d have thought you’d be getting lower back pain?”
“Oh, I get that too,” he surprises me again with another laugh. “But the shoulders are worse at the moment.”
He’s still not answering my question. “So what do you do that affects your shoulders?”
“I work out a lot. Mostly cross-fit and weights.”
I can see that, I think. “What gym do you go to?”
“There’s a nice one down the road from where I live, has the tennis courts, pool and all that. I don’t swim much, but that’s what attracted me there.”
“I was the same when I joined my gym, lured in by the swimming pool. Then I realized it’s a bathing area for the young and old, clean and not so clean, and some very hairy versions of the not so clean.”
“Exactly. The swimming didn’t last long then?” He’s right, it didn’t.
“No. Do you play tennis there?” I ask because I failed with aplomb, even after an embarrassing number of lessons. I’ll chat while still trying to ascertain whether his shoulders are tight from stress, or some other physical activity. It makes a difference to how I should treat him.
“No, not really.”
I’m not making much headway here. We slip into another easy silence as I work through the bubble wrap of overworked and over-tight muscles. I’m content, waiting to take his lead on whether he wants peace or prefers to chat through the pain inflicted from elbows digging deep.
“Where is that accent from?” Now I’m sure we’re in for a chatty session. I have a slight inflection that people can still detect and inquiring about it is a common way to reignite a lulled conversation.
“Yorkshire, near Leeds, but I’ve been down south for years,” I roll out my standard response. “I had to make a conscious effort when I first arrived to curb my flat vowels; no one could understand me. Tends to make life difficult!”
“Yeah I can imagine. But it’s nice; I like it.” For the umpteenth time in a few minutes, he makes me feel great.
“You have an interesting accent yourself.”
“Yeah, I’m from Zimbabwe, but like you I’ve been here for years.”
“What brought you over here?”
And so he drifts into the response he must dole out to his most often asked question. The response which tracks his mother bringing him and his brother over when they were young to protect them from a country raging with danger. A story clearly too complicated for a comprehensive first telling and therefore requiring little more than the brief overview he’s provided.
“So, what are you planning for the bank holiday weekend? Are you working the whole time? It was a pleasant surprise being able to book an appointment today.”
I explain how I arrange my work diary around my social life. If there’s something entertaining happening, then I’m unavailable for clients. But when I’m not up to much, even if it’s a bank holiday, I’ll take a booking. I love having freedom to live how I choose.
“I’m excited about Sunday. We’re off to Whitemore Village Fete. I do love a good hog roast.” I say.
“Who’s we, you and your fella?” Ah, he’s interested. How exciting! Exciting because he’s hot, and it’s nice being liked by someone you consider a ten out of ten, but it’s not something I’ll act on. I can’t mix business and pleasure. This is my livelihood, and I must maintain professionalism. Otherwise, there’s no backup plan to fund my bills. There’s plenty of non-paying romance options out there without alienating myself from a client if it doesn’t work out.
The clock ticks, signaling the end of his hour. “You’re all set. How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been hit by a bus,” he moans, which means I’ve done my job.
We book in his next session and with that I tell myself to dismiss all thoughts of Giles Harrington. I have other plans for this weekend.