The sun blazed down on the park as Robin made her way through the crowds towards where Ilsa was waving madly at her. It had been a last-minute invitation to a one-day music festival that Nick and Ilsa attended each year with friends. A couple had dropped out, and Ilsa had texted Robin. Robin was really looking forward to it, and not just because Strike had been offered the other spare ticket. To Nick’s amazement, he’d said yes, telling himself it was time he checked out the festival, and nothing to do with the fact that Robin was going this year.
Robin finally arrived at the little group, lugging her gear. They were arranged on camping chairs around a series of picnic mats where the food and drink were piled. She added her contributions and battled with unfolding her chair. Introductions were made, and she grinned round at everyone, flushing slightly when her gaze alighted on her business partner. He was wearing trousers as always, but she’d rarely seen him in a T-shirt and sunglasses. He always wore shirts to work. He looked gorgeous. Her eyes lingered on his muscular forearms and the dark hair there. Get a grip, she told herself.
Strike was thinking exactly the same at the sight of his partner in a summer dress and flip flops, her hair piled up on her head in a messy bun and a big floppy hat jammed on top. She looked casual and relaxed and unbelievably sexy. When she bent to kiss him on the cheek in greeting, her perfume wafted over him, and he kept his eyes very firmly away from the swell of her breasts in the strappy dress.
The sun shone fiercely and the first band was playing. Ilsa handed Robin a glass of wine from the cool box. Robin glanced at her watch. “Drinking at two o’clock in the afternoon,” she giggled. “This could get messy.”
Ilsa laughed. “Yeah, it usually does,” she said cheerfully. “Be warned, though - it’s miles to the loos, so pace yourself.”
Robin set her chair next to Strike and plonked herself down in it. They made small talk about the bands playing, and she sipped her wine. Then she fished in her rucksack for sun cream. Her pale skin burned easily and the sun was fierce. She spread it liberally over her arms and shoulders, and Strike studiously looked away, trying not to imagine his own hands stroking across her skin, so much skin. He jumped as she tapped his arm.
“Can you do my back?” she asked. “Just like from the back of my neck down. I’ve reached everywhere else.”
Strike felt his eyes widen and was glad of his sunglasses. “Sure,” he said, as casually as he could manage. He took the tube and squeezed out a generous amount. She turned her back to him and he hesitated, gazing at the expanse of creamy, freckled skin in front of him. He took a steadying breath and reached out and touched her, his hand sliding the cream across her back. She felt impossibly smooth and warm beneath his fingers, her skin so delicate. He watched, fascinated, as goosebumps followed his touch. He smoothed the cream across her back above her dress, and slid his hand up, massaging it into her neck, his fingers almost in her hair at her nape. He found his hand trailing back down again, and her skin seemed to tremble under his touch.
She turned back to him, and he pulled his hand away guiltily. “Thanks,” she said, a little unsteadily, reaching for the cream, and he passed the tube to her. “No problem,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound hoarse. He couldn’t read her eyes behind her sunglasses, and hoped she couldn’t read his.
Robin tossed the sun cream back into her rucksack and took a steadying gulp of wine, trying not to think about how those big hands had felt on her skin, the hot-cold feeling that had trailed across her beneath his touch.
Nick arrived with a round of beers from the nearby beer tent. “Robin!” he cried, delighted. “Hi.” He handed out the beers and bent to kiss her cheek. “Glad you could make it.”
The slope of the park formed a natural amphitheatre down towards the stage at the bottom, and big screens either side showed close-ups of the bands playing. For a couple of hours they all just enjoyed the music. Ilsa kept Robin’s glass topped up, and she began to feel a little tipsy.
“Right, food break,” Ilsa said. “Before the evening bands kick off. Come on, Robin - loo then chips.” She fished in her rucksack and produced toilet roll and hand sanitizer, and Robin giggled. “You’re clearly an expert at this,” she said.
“Yeah, been to a lot of these where both these items ran out,” Ilsa said. “Always bring my own now.”
They wandered off to complete their missions, both of which involved much queueing, and returned half an hour later with trays of chips. Nick was nowhere to be seen, and Strike was stretched out on his front on one of the picnic mats, head on his arms, eyes closed. Robin giggled. “He really can sleep anywhere,” she said. She plonked herself in a chair while she ate her chips, and allowed herself to gaze openly at Strike from behind her sunglasses. He was stretched out on his stomach, head resting on his forearms, his face towards her. His T-shirt was pulled tight across his broad shoulders and had risen up his arms. She could see the muscle definition under it, on his arms and across his back, and a warmth she tried to ignore stirred in her groin at the sight. His face was relaxed, his lips soft. Her eyes wandered down his back and over his backside.
A jolt pulled her from her reverie. Ilsa had kicked her chair.
“Stop ogling your boss,” she said, grinning wickedly, and Robin blushed scarlet. “I wasn’t,” she protested, but Ilsa roared with laughter.
“Yeah, you were,” she said. “And why not? He’s a good-looking guy.”
“Shh,” whispered Robin, still scarlet, turning her full attention to her chips. Fortunately at that moment Nick returned with polystyrene trays.
“Oi, Oggy, grub’s up,” he said, giving his friend a shove with his foot. “Found the burger van.”
Strike grunted, rolled over and sat up. Robin concentrated on her chips.
They ate and chatted, and the next band came on. Ilsa went back to the cool box, and winked at Robin. “Officially the evening now,” she said. “Time to hit the hard stuff.”
“Oh, God, what?” Robin groaned.
“Vodka!” Ilsa cried, producing a small bottle and a large bottle of Coke. Nick rolled his eyes fondly. “I’m not carrying you home,” he said, grinning.
“One now, and then it’s time to go dance,” Ilsa said.
“Count me out,” Strike said.
“I might join you when I’m a bit more pissed,” said Nick. “You girls go for it.”
Soon Ilsa was dragging Robin down to the area in front of the stage. “So,” she said on the way. “What’s with you eyeballing Corm?”
Robin flushed again. “I was just looking,” she said, bolder now they were out of earshot of the men and the vodka was warm in her stomach.
Ilsa laughed delightedly. “I knew you fancied him!” she said.
“Oh, stop,” Robin said, giggling. “Nothing will come of it. But it’s not unpleasant to have him around the office,” and she winked slyly, making Ilsa laugh again.
They plunged into the crowd before the stage, and Robin was soon lost in the music, dancing with her friend and singing along.
They danced and danced, and time seemed to stand still for a while, the enjoyment of the moment taking over. Eventually Nick turned up. “There you are!” he cried. “You’ve been gone ages. Came to join you.” Ilsa flung her arms round his neck and kissed him, and he grinned and kissed her back.
They all danced together for a while, and then Robin made her excuses and left them to enjoy some time alone. It was dark now, and she trekked back up through the crowds to their chairs. She found Strike sat on the picnic mat again, a pint next to him, leaning back on his hands with his head tilted back, just listening.
“Hi,” she called, and his head snapped up and he grinned at her. She rummaged in the cool box. “Vodka break,” she said, and he laughed.
“Did Nick find you?”
“Yeah, thought I’d leave the lovebirds to it,” she said, flopping down next to him with her drink. “It’s hot down there,” she added. “And I’m tired.”
“No stamina,” Strike teased, and she gave him a mock glare. “Well, at least I didn’t spend half the afternoon asleep!” she said.
He looked at her sideways. “I wasn’t asleep,” he said softly.
It took Robin a moment to understand his look, what he meant, and then she flushed scarlet again. He grinned at her roguishly, still lounging back with his weight on his hands behind him. She looked back at him, the buzz from the alcohol and the music making her bold enough to hold his gaze despite her heated cheeks.
Stuff it, she thought, and leaned forward and kissed him. She saw the shock in his eyes as she moved in, and had a brief stab of satisfaction that she had bested him when he thought he had the upper hand, and then all thought was gone as their lips met.
His lips were softer than she had expected, and heat swept though her at how gentle he was. Their lips moved together, exploring, and then Robin had a sudden urge to giggle. After all this time, all the quiet evenings in the pub and the hours and hours in the office alone together, she was kissing him in a field full of thousands of strangers. Joy surged through her, and she grabbed Strike’s shoulders, pulling herself up and pushing him down onto the picnic mat, falling down half on top of him, her lips still on his. His arms came up around her at once, and she could feel him grin against her, and then they were laughing and kissing and laughing some more and kissing some more. Then Robin had to break away to breathe, and she rolled off him and lay next to him, gazing up at the stars and catching her breath.
His hand found hers on the mat between them, tangling their fingers together, and they lay next to one another, holding hands and staring up at the sky. Robin was still grinning, and she squeezed his fingers.
“So now what?” Strike asked, and Robin propped herself up on her elbow, facing him. He did the same. She smiled into his eyes. “More kissing?” she said, and he laughed.
“I was thinking slightly more long-term, but that is a good plan,” he said. He took her other hand now, and leaned forward to kiss her again.
When Nick and Ilsa returned, breathless from dancing and laughing, they found Strike and Robin in exactly the same position, facing one another on the mat, holding hands, kissing and talking in low voices. Ilsa gave a shriek of delight that made them both jump, and threw herself down on the mat to kiss them both on the cheek.
“Yay!” she cried. “Nick, we need to celebrate. Get to the prosecco stall!”
Nick winked at Strike, and laughed at Ilsa’s command but headed off good-naturedly to do as he was told. “Still not carrying you home,” he called over his shoulder.