Her mum cocked a shapely brow then sighed. ‘We know, Erin. We’re not stupid.’
‘Or naïve,’ her dad added.
Erin stared at them both, feeling like a naughty teenager, wondering what they knew or thought they knew. Warmth crawled across her chest and up her neck then into her cheeks.
‘Erin, love, we know that Leo stayed with you last night.’
‘Oh!’ She grimaced involuntarily and licked her lips nervously. ‘Nothing happened. Nothing at all! It was just that I couldn’t sleep and Leo couldn’t sleep and so we ended up talking all night and… and…’
Her parents glanced at each other and burst out laughing.
‘Erin, you’re an adult and what you do is up to you.’ Her dad took a sip of coffee. ‘But… we still worry about you and do ask that you think carefully about what you’re doing and what you want from this. We don’t want to seem patronising or condescending or anything horrid like that but… just take care, angel.’
‘Yes, Dad,’ she said, nodding.
Nothing had happened. Well, not really. Leo had come to her room and they’d snuggled up in her bed and talked for hours, falling asleep just before dawn. They’d talked about the past, the present and the future, about what they both wanted from life and what they’d lost. It had been a calm, quiet discussion and it was the closest Erin had ever felt to a man. She could trust Leo, she knew she could, and it was so different from how things had been with Billy. And then, she’d fallen asleep with Leo’s strong arms around her, his head on her pillow next to hers and she had slept well until gone eight. When she’d woken, he’d kissed her gently then said he better get up and go back to his room, so no one would know that he’d stayed with her. (It seemed that hadn’t worked out how he’d expected.) It had probably been the most romantic night of her life and apart from a few kisses, nothing else had happened, and yet she felt closer to him than she had done to any man.
‘Erin, we can see that you and Leo like each other. We know that you’ve always liked each other but years ago, you were younger and not ready to be together. Now though, you might well be in a place in your lives when you can see what could happen between you. But… bear in mind that Leo has been through a great deal, as have you. Relationships are complicated and neither of us wants to see you or Leo hurt in any way.’ Her mum smiled. ‘However, having said that, you were very hurt by what happened in Dubai and Billy and Leo are completely different people. Leo is a good man and he cares for you, that much is clear and always has been. So… what you do is up to the two of you but take care of your hearts, angel, won’t you?’
Erin nodded slowly. She knew her mum and dad were speaking out of love and that they meant well. And that was fine, that was good. They loved her and Leo, loved him like a son. Of course they wanted to see him and Erin happy. And if that was together then she suspected they’d be very happy indeed.
‘We’re good, Mum and Dad. Please don’t worry.’
‘We trust you,’ her dad said. ‘Now then… shall I whip up some smoked salmon blinis and scrambled egg for a special Christmas Eve breakfast? I’m sure some of us have worked up an appetite.’
‘That would be great, thanks, Dad.’ Erin paused as she noticed that he was waggling his eyebrows at her. ‘Dad! Behave yourself.’
He chuckled as he slid off his stool and went to the fridge and started getting breakfast things out. ‘I was talking about me and your mum, Erin.’
Erin shook her head. ‘Too much information, Dad!’
He continued chuckling as she made a hasty retreat from the kitchen before their dad told her how sexy he found their mum. There were some things a person didn’t need to know about their parents, even when they were a fully grown adult.
‘The village looks like a postcard,’ Erin said as they tramped through the snow. The air was icy and their breaths came out like puffs of smoke ahead of them then disappeared. Erin and Leo had invited everyone else for a walk but Angelina and Paul had said they were going to take a nap, Zara and Robyn had been settling down to watchIt’s a Wonderful Lifeand Cain had been rolling out pastry in preparation for the beef wellington he was making for supper.
‘It is beautiful,’ Leo agreed. ‘It makes me wonder if perhaps I should think about moving out of London. I love the city but it’s very expensive and I could get more for my money out here plus… well… I’m not getting any younger.’
‘You’re still young.’ Erin laughed.
‘I’m thirty-four so yeah, not exactly old but I can see forty from here and I think I’d like to have a house or a cottage rather than an apartment by the time I hit the big 4-0.’
‘I’d like to have a home of my own too. The house share is all well and good but it’s not mine. I can’t do anything without consulting the others and then there are things that remind me of student life like people helping themselves to my milk or bread so when I get up in the morning I don’t have anything for breakfast. Plus they leave dishes in the sink, which I hate, so I have to wash up because I can’t stand the mess.’
‘That would drive me mad,’ he said. ‘I was glad to leave my student digs behind. Living with a group of lads was not conducive to a life of cleanliness.’
‘I bet!’ Erin shook her head. ‘But coming here… well, it’s lovely and I do think that I’d like to be closer to Mum and Dad. With him being ill earlier in the year, it was terrifying, and I want to be there for them if they need me. Plus, in a lot of ways, I still need them too and I want to make the most of my time with them.’
‘No one knows what’s around the corner. Thank goodness, because we’d all go crazy if we did.’
‘I think we would.’ Erin sighed.
‘Your dad seems well now though. He’ll probably outlive us all.’
‘That wouldn’t surprise me.’