It was such an unprecedented thought that it threw him completely. Leaving his car parked in the lane, he made his way to the river. It was bitterly cold down there but he didn’t notice the chill. Having a home of his own had been all tied up with the plans he and Claire had made for their future together. He had never considered the idea since she had died but there was no point denying how tempting it was and the realisation made him feel overwhelmed with guilt, as though he was betraying Claire by even considering it.
Closing his eyes, he tried to conjure up Claire’s image but it just wouldn’t come. Her face was hazy, her features too indistinct to see her clearly. Slowly but surely, Claire was slipping away from him and it was painful to know that he was incapable of keeping her safe in his heart where she deserved to be. He had planned to spend his life with her, so what kind of a man must he be if he had allowed her memory to fade?
Unbidden, another image began to form in his mind’s eye and Sean felt his breath catch when he recognised the familiar features: those deep green eyes; the long black lashes; that tumble of red-gold curls...
He opened his eyes and stared across the river in despair. He might not be able to recall Claire’s face but he had no difficulty at all conjuring up Molly’s.
* * *
Molly had been planning to go into town to do some much-needed food shopping. However, on a sudden whim, she decided to take the less direct route along by the river. It was a beautiful day, even if it was bitterly cold, and the fresh air would do her good after three days of working nights. She walked to the top of the path and came to a sudden halt when she spotted Sean standing on the riverbank. He was staring across the river and there was an expression of such intense pain on his face that her heart seemed to scrunch up inside her. Even though she knew it wasn’t any of her business what was troubling him, she simply couldn’t walk on by and leave him like this.
‘Hello, Sean,’ she said softly as she made her way towards him. He glanced round and she could see the effort it cost him to pull himself together.
‘Hello, Molly. What are you doing here? Out for a walk?’
‘Hmm. I needed to get some shopping so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and get some fresh air at the same time.’ She pushed her hands deep into her pockets, afraid that she would do something really stupid like touching him. Maybe he was hurting but there was no reason to think that he would welcome her concern.
‘So what brings you here?’ she asked brightly, not wanting to dwell on that thought. ‘Are you out for a walk as well?’
‘No, actually, I was viewing a house that I’m hoping to rent.’ He turned and pointed back up the path. ‘It’s just up there, Lilac Cottage—the last cottage in the row.’
‘You don’t mean Mrs Bradshaw’s cottage!’ she exclaimed and he grimaced.
‘Yes. I had a feeling that you wouldn’t be too pleased if you found out I was living so close to you. Not to worry. I shall tell the letting agents that I’ve changed my mind.’ He turned to walk back up the path but Molly shook her head.
‘There’s no reason why you should do that. I really don’t care where you live, Sean. Plus I know for a fact that Mrs Bradshaw has been very worried about finding someone suitable to rent the cottage while she’s away.’ She gave a careless little shrug, determined not to let him know how disturbing she found the idea of him living so close to her. It wasn’t only in work that she would have to take steps to avoid him, it seemed. ‘If you think the cottage is right for you then you should take it.’
‘Are you sure?’ he asked and her skin prickled when she heard the doubt in his voice. It was obvious that he didn’t think she could cope with them living in such close proximity and she needed to squash that idea right away.
‘Of course I’m sure! It’s you who’s making such a big deal of it, not me.’ Molly deliberately shifted the conversation along a different path, not wanting to have to keep on reassuring him when, in truth, she felt so ambivalent about the idea. ‘Why are you so eager to move in the first place? I wouldn’t have thought it was worth it when you’re only going to be in Dalverston for such a short time.’
‘You’re right, and normally I wouldn’t dream of swapping and changing. However, it was a last-minute decision to accept this job and the only accommodation I could find was a room in a B&B close to the bypass.’ He shrugged. ‘It’s all right but I’m starting to get cabin fever from staring at the same four walls all the time. At least I’ll have a bit more space in the cottage.’