He briskly led her across the pavement to the café before she had a chance to reply, opening the café door with a flourish that set the brass bell jingling. Molly took a deep breath as she stepped inside, drinking in the scent of coffee and warm pastries. Her senses seemed to be ridiculously heightened all of a sudden so that the familiar aromas seemed richer and more enticing than ever. Even the colours of the checked tablecloths seemed brighter, the reds and blues and greens dazzling her eyes. It was as though she had stepped out of the gloom into full, glorious daylight and it was the strangest experience.
‘Oh, look. That couple’s leaving. Go and grab their table while I order our coffee.’
Sean gave her a little push towards the newly vacant table and Molly obediently headed in that direction. She sat down, automatically unwinding her scarf and removing her woolly hat. What was going on? Why did she feel this way, as though she had suddenly woken from a deep sleep?
‘Here we go. They’ll fetch our coffee over in a moment. I ordered you a latte. I hope that was OK. It used to be your favourite, if I remember correctly.’
Sean had reappeared with a tray heaped with warm croissants and miniature pots of jam and Molly jumped. She could feel her pulse popping as she watched him unload everything onto the table, croissants and jam, napkins and knives. He was quick and deft, his hands soon setting everything to rights, but that was his way. Whatever Sean did, he did it well. From work to something as mundane as setting a table, he gave it his all. That was why it had been such a pleasure to be with him. Everything appeared more interesting, more vibrant when Sean was around.
Molly took a croissant off the plate and bit into it, savouring its buttery richness. It had been ages since anything had tasted so good, two years in fact. Two long years, during which time she had lived her life in the shadows. Now Sean was back, everything had changed. Now she felt completely and fully alive. And it simply proved just how desperately she needed to break his hold over her.
* * *
Sean smiled as the waitress placed their coffees on the table. He saw the interest in the girl’s eyes as she smiled back at him but he ignored it. At any other time he might have been tempted to follow up on it and ask her out on a date. It was something he had done more times than he could count over the years, but he wasn’t even tempted. Not when he was with Molly. He simply wasn’t interested in other women when he was with her. He never had been.
It was a sobering thought, doubly so when it was the first time he had admitted it. When he and Molly had been seeing one another, he hadn’t looked at another woman. She had filled his thoughts to the exclusion of anyone else. Was that why he had ended their affair so abruptly? he wondered. Because he had realised on some inner level that he was getting far too involved with her? At the time he had told himself that he was doing it for her sake, that he was taking steps to protect her, but had his decision been less altruistic than he had thought? Had he been trying to protect himself as much as her?
It was an unsettling thought and one that Sean knew he was going to have to think about. He couldn’t just brush it under the carpet as he normally would do—that wouldn’t work. He needed to examine his feelings, face up to how he had felt two years ago, and take whatever action was necessary to ensure it didn’t happen again. The problem was that he had put Molly on a bit of a pedestal, painted her in his mind as the ideal woman, and it was time he stopped doing that. Maybe Molly’s plan wasn’t so way off-beam as he had thought. If they resumed their affair, it could help him put things into perspective.
It was something else that Sean knew he needed to think about, but not right now. He helped himself to a croissant, murmuring appreciatively as he bit into it. ‘This is delicious! No wonder the place is packed, although I don’t remember the food being this good when I ate here before.’
‘The café changed hands last year and, apparently, the new owner is French and only uses French milled flour for his croissants and pastries,’ Molly informed him, wiping her buttery fingers on a paper napkin.
‘Really? Well, good for him. It’s obviously paying dividends.’
Sean grinned at her, thinking how pretty she looked that day. She was wearing a pale pink sweater and jeans and she looked so young and so fresh as she sat there, enjoying her breakfast, that it was little wonder that he had always loved being with her. And it was that thought which helped to unleash all sorts of memories he had thought he had buried.