Up on the second floor, I let myself cautiously into the flat.
It was completely dark. All the doors were closed, and the entrance hall had no windows.
“Judah?” I called. I was certain he wasn’t home, but it wasn’t impossible that he’d let a mate crash there, and I didn’t want to give anyone a middle-of-the-night heart attack. I knew, all too well, what that felt like. “Jude, it’s just me, Lo.”
But there was no answer. The flat was silent—completely and utterly silent. I opened the door to the left of me, the door to the eat-in kitchen, and tiptoed inside. I didn’t switch on the light. I just peeled off my wet clothes—coat, pajamas, and all—and dumped them in the sink.
Then I walked, naked, through to the bedroom, where Judah’s wide double bed lay empty in a shaft of moonlight, the gray sheets tumbled as if he’d just that moment got up. I crawled on my hands and knees into the middle of the bed, feeling the lived-in softness of the sheets, and smelling the scent of him, of sweat and aftershave and just—him.
I shut my eyes.
One. Two. . . .
Sleep crashed over me, claiming me like a wave.
I woke to the sound of a woman screaming, and the feeling of someone on top of me, holding me down, someone grappling with my hands even as I fought.
A hand grabbed at my wrist, the grip far stronger than mine. Blind, mad with panic, I groped in the pitch black with my free hand, searching for something, anything, to use as a weapon, and my hand closed over the bedside lamp.
The man’s hand was over my mouth now, smothering me, the weight of him choking me, and with all my strength, I lifted up the heavy lamp and brought it crashing down.
There was a shout of pain, and through the fog of terror I heard a voice, the words slurred and broken.
“Lo, it’s me. It’s me for Christ’s sake, stop!”
My hands were shaking so much that when I tried to find the light, all I did was knock something over.
From beside me I could hear Judah, gasping, alongside a bubbling sound that terrified me. Where the hell was the lamp? Then I realized—the lamp was gone. I’d smashed it into Judah’s face.
I stumbled out of bed, my legs shaking, and found the switch by the door, and the room was instantly flooded with the unforgivingly bright glare of a dozen halogen spots, each illuminating every detail of the horror show in front of me.
Judah was crouched on the bed, holding his face, with blood soaking his beard and his chest.
“Oh my God, Jude!” I scrambled across to him, my hands still trembling, and began to grab tissues from the box by the bed. He pressed them to his face. “Oh God, what happened? Who was screaming?”
“You!” he groaned. The paper was already sodden and red.
“What?” I was still flooded with adrenaline. I looked confusedly around the room for the woman and the attacker. “What do you mean?”
“I came home,” he said painfully, his Brooklyn accent blurred through the paper. “You started screaming, half-asleep. So I tried to wake you up and—this.”
“Oh, fuck.” I put my hands to my mouth. “I’m so sorry.”
That screaming—it had been so real. Was it really just me?
He took his hands cautiously away from his mouth. There was something in the wad of scarlet paper, something small and white. It was only when I looked at his face that I realized—one of his teeth was missing.
He looked at me, blood still dripping slowly from his mouth and his nose.
“What a welcome home,” was all he said.
“I’m sorry.” I felt tears prick at the back of my throat but I refused to cry in front of the taxi driver. Instead, I swallowed against the hard ache. “Judah?”
Judah said nothing; he just looked out of the window at the gray dawn that was starting to break over London. It had taken two hours at UCH accident and emergency, and then all they’d done was stitch Judah’s lip and refer him to an emergency dentist who shoved the tooth back in place and told him, more or less, to cross his fingers. Apparently the tooth might be saved if it reimplanted. If not, it would be either a bridge or a dental implant. He shut his eyes wearily, and I felt my gut twist with remorse.
“I’m sorry,” I said again, more desperately this time. “I don’t know what else to say.”
“No, I’m sorry,” he said wearily. The word came out as shorry, like a drunken Sean Connery impression, the local anesthetic in his lip making it hard to talk.
“You? What are you sorry for?”
“I don’t know. Fucking up. Not being there for you.”
“The burglar, you mean?”
“That. But any time, really. I wish I wasn’t away so much.”
I leaned across and he put his arm around me. I rested my head on his shoulder and listened to the slow, steady thud of his heart, reassuringly unhurried in comparison to my own panicky drumming pulse. Beneath his jacket he was wearing a blood-spattered T-shirt, the fabric soft and worn beneath my cheek. When I breathed in, a long, shaky breath, it smelled of his sweat, and I felt my pulse slow in time with his.
“You couldn’t have done anything,” I said into his chest. He shook his head.
“I still should have been there.”
It was growing light as we paid off the taxi driver and climbed wearily up the two flights of stairs to his flat, and when I looked at my watch I saw that it was nearly six. Shit. I had to be on a train to Hull in a few hours.
Inside, Judah stripped off his clothes and we fell into bed, skin against skin. He pulled me against him, inhaling the scent of my hair as he closed his eyes. I was so tired I could hardly think straight, but instead of lying back and letting sleep claim me, I found myself climbing on top of him, kissing his throat, his belly, the dark stripe of hair that arrowed to his groin.
“Lo . . .” He groaned, and he tried to pull me up towards him, to kiss me, but I shook my head.
“Don’t, your mouth. Just lie back.”
He let his head fall back, his throat arching in the pale strip of dawn that penetrated the curtains.
It was eight days since I’d last seen him. Now it would be another week until I saw him again. If we didn’t do this now . . .
Afterwards, I lay in his arms, waiting for my breathing and heart to steady, and I felt his cheek against mine crinkle in a smile.