Vanessa’s drunk. Steaming, even. The walls of the room are spinning so she folds herself into the dubious looking armchair that inexplicably lives down in the cellar. When was the last time it was cleaned, she thinks as she sits. There are stains on the tired fabric, but at least it doesn’t smell. She relaxes a little.
She is drunk, but she’s also sad. Finn is dead and Tracy is in bits. She hates funerals and seeing everyone upset. But she’s also so angry, and the force of it surprises her.
Maybe cocktails weren’t the way to go after all. The mixes have gone to her head, and she’s never been one for heavy liquor. The whiskey Charity handed her was pretty basic, and it’s making her head thud.
Charity. The anger rises again, sharp and hot. Her dad deserves to be happy with Megan. Who is a million times better than Charity, thank you very much, and in no way the bottom of the barrel. Megan is beautiful and smart and kind, and Charity is…well she’s not kind.
The room is still spinning even though she’s sitting down. It’s cold in the cellar, and dingy. Her cape doesn’t do much to stave off the chill. The alcohol might though, she reasons, so she drinks another swig and winces.
She’s not liking what’s coming out of her mouth either, anger or not. So maybe Charity is mean and an interferer and likes to have a go and needle people. It’s not an excuse to snap back. She’s better than that, she hopes. But the alcohol has burned through her filters. She finds herself saying things that she wouldn’t sober.
She winds Charity up. It’s like poking a bear but the whiskey takes away her fear. When Charity slides next to her, all smooth and sleek, she can only think that she’ll fight back. She’ll say what she’s always wanted to say, that Charity plays with people and discards them, and that Vanessa can see her for what she really is.
What she doesn’t count on is Charity getting into her personal space and snapping that bloody mask over her face and kissing her.
First her mind goes blank. She’s so surprised that noise fades away.
Then her senses come rushing back and she gasps with the force of the desire she feels low in her belly.
Her lips move without her thinking, and suddenly there is tongue, and teeth and even hands, roaming down Charity’s sides and cupping Charity’s face and drawing her in closer.
“Didn’t think you had it in you, babe,” Charity whispers against her lips when they finally draw breath.
Vanessa didn’t think she did either, but this feels so natural and amazing and Charity is almost on her lap now and the very weight of her makes Vanessa throb.
She wants to say something, anything. A clever repartee. But the words are stuck in her throat and Charity laughs, the low sound raising goosebumps on Vanessa’s arms.
“Don’t worry, you’re in good hands,” Charity says with a smirk that shouldn’t be even half that attractive but somehow is.
When Charity lowers her head again, Vanessa is ready this time. She kisses back with intent. She notices more things. Charity’s clear lip gloss tastes like coconut. Their lips stick slightly as they move against each other. Charity’s hair is soft in her hands, like cordons of silk.
Most thrilling of all, Charity apparently loves giving feedback. She moans as they press closer in the armchair, she gasps when Vanessa risks biting her lower lip.
When Vanessa takes a gamble and shifts them so that Charity straddles her hips, Charity lets out a gravelly chuckle that Vanessa eagerly swallows in their next kiss.
“Well, well. Who would have thought that the little vet was a top, eh?” Charity murmurs in Vanessa’s ear.
Vanessa sputters. Charity’s tone implies that she should be offended, but it’s hard to be when Charity gently sucks her earlobe and grinds against her belly.
The room, so cold a few minutes ago, now seems incredibly warm.
“I actually like a bit of manhan…well, womanhandling,” Charity all but blows into her ear.
It’s really hard to think. Vanessa is lost in the soft skin of Charity’s neck, in the startling green of her eyes.
She has never been this overwhelmed.
It must show in her manner, because Charity’s smile is softer when she next dares to look at her face.
“Hey. Nothing needs to happen, yeah? We’re both drunk. But you’re an amazing snog, so how about we do it a bit more?”
Vanessa nods, transfixed, and can’t help a moan from escaping her lips when they kiss next.
Sod feeling sad and angry. Kissing Charity Dingle might be her new favourite thing.
Vanessa feels like a teenager. Well, like a fun and daring version of the teenager she never was. Teenaged Vanessa was studious and very quiet under the silent disapproval of her mother.
Adult Vanessa however, is running down the stairs to the cellar under her local pub and giggling while Charity Dingle mock chases her.
She opens the door and laughs when Charity catches her and whirls her around in her arms.
“Come here, you,” Charity says as she drags her towards her.
Vanessa comes willingly. She always does when Charity is concerned. Has been for weeks.
Weeks filled with sneaking around and flirty texts. With hot kisses in the dead of night and hastily put on clothes in the morning. Fun weeks.
Vanessa has never known anything like it. It’s like she’s come alive after years in hibernation.
Everything seems brighter, even in the gloom of autumn.
Charity pushes her against the stone wall and starts kissing her neck, pawing at her blazer. Her breathing is wild and uneven. Her hands are insistent as they push the collar of Vanessa’s jacket away.
“Couldn’t believe that stroppy cow, talking to you like that,” Charity pants.
Vanessa moans at the feel of Charity’s hands slipping under her vest top. And there’s the thrill of being reminded that Charity stood up for her. In front of everyone. She banned a paying punter from her pub, for her.
Seeing Charity in her corner, full of righteous indignation, is something Vanessa won’t forget in a hurry.
“Well you certainly made your feelings clear,” Vanessa manages to reply.
She says that mainly to protect herself. She doesn’t want Charity to know how much it pleased her to hear that she was the brave one in facing Veronica. While they do seem to be very compatible in the bedroom, Vanessa is pretty sure an actual relationship would be a disaster.
She doesn’t need feelings to muddle their very satisfactory arrangement.
“But thanks, for before. You know. For giving her what for,” she says, because Charity is beautiful and Vanessa’s treacherous heart likes to see kindness rewarded.
“Hey! That rhymed!” Charity exclaims.
Vanessa flinches a bit. Well then. That’ll teach her to give Charity an inch. She knows it’s a defence mechanism, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
“Oh come on! It did! And you like the knight rescuing a damsel in distress, I get it.”
“What I like is someone who’s in my corner, that’s all,” Vanessa mumbles, embarrassed.
“And I am! I am! Especially in this corner,” Charity murmurs, backing Vanessa further against the wall.
Maybe there’s a point to be made, but Vanessa suddenly doesn’t feel like making it. Charity is all sleek, like a panther on the prowl and Vanessa is weak for the smirk on Charity’s face.
The first taste of Charity’s lips has Vanessa moaning, her hands in Charity’s hair, drawing her in closer. Charity is so good at this. They are so good at this. And Vanessa had never really understood how amazing a simple kiss could be. Kissing Charity is like that first sip of tea in the morning. Like opening her eyes after a good night’s sleep. It’s something that’s so right that sometimes Vanessa wants to laugh at how wrong she’d been, her entire life.
It’s always been women.
And Charity is one hell of woman. That thing she does with her tongue, well…
“Oi! Easy on the top, rocket woman! I’ve got a shift to finish!”
Vanessa flushes, but she can’t help herself. That zip down the middle of Charity’s blouse is too tempting. She nips at Charity’s earlobe, smiles at the gasp she gets, and slips a hand under Charity’s top, right at the top of her breast.
“Ah well who needs a top anyway?” Charity whispers against her lips.
She presses Vanessa against the wall and slots a thigh between Vanessa’s. The pressure sends a bolt deep into Vanessa’s belly.
“Come round tonight. After your shift. Come round,” Vanessa pants.
She can feel Charity’s pulse beating wildly against her palm and she put it there, that crazy rhythm. She did that.
“Yeah. With bells on, babe.”
With an evening visit to look forward to, Vanessa gets bolder and mouths at the skin behind Charity’s ear. It’s soft there, and the smell of Charity’s perfume is stronger. It makes Vanessa’s head spin in the most delightful way.
She’s about to see if she can get away with tracing Charity’s freckles with her tongue when she hears a door slam.
“Oh for crying out loud! There’s a whole pub waiting for you upstairs, you know!”
Paddy is standing in the entrance, beetroot red and mortified.
“Reign it in, you shirker. Ness deserved a break after her lunch with that witch,” Charity snaps, unfazed.
Paddy’s mouth works around words that don’t come out. He turns and walks out. Vanessa ducks her head and walks past Charity, ears red.
She hears Charity laugh as they walk up the stairs and hides her smile in her hair.
Charity tastes of gin and expensive lipstick. The angle is a little off because they are side by side on separate stools, but it doesn’t matter.
They are girlfriends. Vanessa is a woman’s girlfriend. She wants to twirl and shout and dance in the street, but it’s February and Charity has just slipped her tongue in her mouth.
So she played a little dirty by sending Charity texts and photos. She’s not proud. But it worked.
And now she has a girlfriend. She has one Charity Dingle that is willing to commit. The very thought makes her smile in the kiss, and she giggles when Charity smiles too, their teeth knocking against each other.
“Oh you are going to be insufferable about this aren’t you?” Charity whines.
It makes Vanessa laugh even harder. Charity likes to think she was dragged into this relationship screaming and kicking but truth be told she was the one who took every significant step. Vanessa is no fool. She knows Charity and she knows how she thinks.
One push and she’d be gone, like a skittish colt. Vanessa is happy to let her come to her.
Because when Charity does succumb, she goes all in. She might thrash against decades of history and baggage. She might fight happiness and think herself underserving. But Vanessa knows to wait. To be the steadfast pillar in the storm that is Charity’s life.
The reward is Charity’s hands slipping into her hair. The trophy is Charity humming happily into her mouth.
“Want to take this elsewhere?” Charity whispers against her lips.
Priya is snoring softly behind them and it’s killing the mood a little bit.
Coy and seductive, Charity leads her past the bar and down the stairs into the cellar.
“Don’t really fancy tiptoeing upstairs just yet,” Charity whispers as they go past the door to the living room.
Sounds from the TV can be heard, and Vanessa nods. She could do without Chas’ ribbing and Paddy’s stuttered embarrassment right at the minute.
The cellar is cold, but it doesn’t matter. Charity draws her to their armchair in the corner and makes her sit on her lap. The position, her knees bracketing Charity’s thighs, her arms looped around Charity’s neck, makes Vanessa flush.
She’s worn a dress tonight, one she feels confident in, and it leaves her exposed against Charity’s lower belly. The buckle of Charity’s belt bites into the soft flesh of her thigh and she squirms, lip between her teeth.
Underneath her, Charity glows. She has that look on her face that promises all kinds of things. Her eyes are sparkling and so naked with desire that Vanessa’s heart stutters in her chest.
“So, what does being your girlfriend get me, then?” Charity asks.
If her hips weren’t already slowly rocking against her, Vanessa would have taken offence. It’s obvious Charity isn’t asking for perks and favours, however. Well, maybe only the best kind. She smiles and she’s happy to see Charity blush. That doesn’t happen often.
“It gets you all sorts of things,” Vanessa drawls.
For now, it’s better to focus on slightly baser things. Maybe later she’ll tell Charity what she wants. That she wants to build something real and true. That she can see how they could build a family together, the boys and them. How Charity makes her life and her days so much brighter. She thinks Charity is finally ready to listen.
Her fingers trail a path down Charity’s throat, her thumbs on Charity’s cheeks.
“You are so beautiful.”
Charity ducks down but Vanessa doesn’t let her. Finally, with something tangible and real to bind them, she’s allowed to say how she feels.
“So beautiful,” she continues softly.
She kisses Charity and pours everything into it. It’s too early to say more so she opens her mouth and gives Charity the kiss of her life. She drinks in her sighs and sinks her hands into Charity’s hair. Presses herself against Charity’s body, moans when Charity grips her thighs to bring them even closer.
Everything she feels, that blooming ball of light she knows is love, she makes sure Charity knows it.
When they part, panting, the glazed look on Charity’s face tells her she succeeded.
Vanessa can’t be blamed for her actions. Charity is wearing denim shorts, for God’s sake. Miles and miles of toned legs on show. And Vanessa is only a weak woman with a gorgeous fiancée.
While the whole village plays outside, Vanessa lies in wait in the pub. She laughs with her dad and Tracy. She offers Sam a drink. She gossips with Rhona. The whole time she keeps an eye on Charity. The pub is heaving with cowboys and cowgirls, but no one holds a candle to its landlady.
So yes the jean shorts are something to behold. When Vanessa had seen them that morning she’d almost had a heart failure. But it’s also the whole outfit and attitude that goes with it.
It’s the hat and the bandana around Charity’s neck. It’s the exaggerated winks she throws Vanessa’s way every time she sees her. It’s the confidence, the drawl, the sheer swagger.
The rowdy cowgirl routine, the Toots Dingle thing, it’s really working for Vanessa. Unbridled fantasies flash in her mind of her as a sheriff arresting the wily saloon barmaid. Maybe a little rough and tumble against the bar. Vanessa flushes.
“You’re going to drill holes into her at this rate,” Rhona sniggers in her wine.
Vanessa sputters, spills her pint and only saves her glass by the grace of her quick reflexes.
“Smooth, Casanova,” Rhona snorts.
“Oh shut it, it’s not my fault.”
“Oh no? Whose fault is it then?”
“Them shorts!” Vanessa lets out a little too loudly.
She’s lucky the pub is packed and the punters halfway to drunk. No one notices her outburst but Rhona, who elbows her in the middle and jeers.
“Boy are you in deep!”
Charity is laughing behind the bar at something Belle said and she looks so beautiful.
“Yeah,” she replies, unbothered by how dreamy her voice sounds.
Rhona pats her arm and makes her focus. They talk about the practice for a while, trying to determine who should do the spaying and who should do call outs for the rest of week. Right in the middle of flipping a coin for the honour of castrating the young bulls of one of their biggest clients, Vanessa sees an opportunity.
The popular craft lager from up the road has run out and Charity tells Bob to take over while she changes the barrel. She notices Vanessa watching her and winks.
Vanessa stands up in the middle of Rhona’s sentence.
“Ness? What-Oh wow ok. I’ll just stay here then, I-and she’s gone.”
Vanessa waves vaguely behind her as she tracks Charity and sees her disappear into the cellar. She doesn’t hear Rhona mutter “unbelievable” under her breath.
It’s much cooler down there. Charity is bent over the barrel when Vanessa enters the room and she swallows, her eyes trained on Charity’s legs and the sliver of skin revealed between her top and her shorts.
“Finally decided to make a move, then?” Charity says without turning around.
Vanessa doesn’t even need to see her face to know that Charity is smirking smugly. The barrel change takes only seconds, but Charity draws it out. She arches her back slowly, puts her hands on her lower back. Vanessa swears Charity sways from side to side. When she turns, she wets her bottom lip and winks. It’s awfully warm in the cellar all of a sudden.
Vanessa has never been this attracted to anyone in her life. It still manages to surprise her; how much she fancies Charity. Fancies everything about her. Her eyes. Her lips. Those freckles down her cleavage. She can’t stay away from her half the time, and Charity knows it, the cheeky mare.
Vanessa takes a few steps as if in a trance.
Charity’s skin is warm after spending hours in the sun. The moisturising cream that she has on smells exotic and fruity, like a tropical holiday. It conjures up images of Charity in a bikini, lounging on a beach and holding a cocktail. Vanessa vows to make that happen. Maybe they could go away for a week. Or two. Get the kids looked after. Go sun themselves on a beach somewhere.
“Is it the shorts?” Charity asks smugly.
Vanessa doesn’t answer. She presses Charity against the brick wall and kisses her. Her hands go to Charity’s hair and she slips a thigh between Charity’s legs.
After hours of being off kilter by the heat and the shorts and the damn teasing across the bar, everything feels right in Charity’s arms.
“I knew it. It’s the shorts,” Charity laughs when they part only far enough for Vanessa to rest her forehead on Charity’s shoulder.
“Shut up. You knew what you were doing,” Vanessa whines helplessly, her hands slipping to Charity’s hips and her thighs, playing with the frayed hem of the shorts.
“Yeah. I totally did to be fair. You’re easy, babe.”
Vanessa squawks with offense, a little embarrassed and still pretty turned on.
“As long as you’re only easy for me, eh? I’ll wear whatever you want.”
Her voice is rich like honey. Vanessa flushes at the intent behind her words. They kiss again, languidly. Vanessa bites Charity’s lower lip and sucks at it until Charity whines.
“Bob will wonder where I am,” Charity points out in an absent minded way, distracted by Vanessa’s lips on her neck. She even tastes like coconut, Vanessa notes.
Vanessa smiles and presses closer. Judging by how Charity is clutching at her shoulders, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Charity’s head bumps against the wall and she moans when Vanessa licks at her pulse point.
“Buckle up, Toots,” Vanessa whispers with her hands on Charity’s belt buckle.
When they emerge some time later, Charity’s bandana is securely fastened around her neck, and she clears her throat when Bob asks where she’s been.
Rhona takes one look at Vanessa and can’t help but laugh.
“Look at the swagger on this cowgirl!” She hollers with her glass in the air. Maybe she’s had a few drinks in the indistinct amount of time Vanessa spent in the cellar.
Vanessa blushes and thumps her friend’s arm, but Charity gives them free drinks for the rest of the day. So, yeah, it pays to know the prettiest barmaid in the West.
The cellar door barely closes behind them before they are in each other’s arms, kissing like their lives depend on it.
Charity laughs against Vanessa’s lips and it makes Vanessa laugh too, giddy with happiness and feeling a little naughty.
“Stop! We’re going to trip,” Vanessa says when they stumble, laughter bubbling in her throat.
“Well then hold on to something, babe.”
The honeyed quality to Charity’s voice makes Vanessa’s belly flip and flop. She grabs onto Charity’s belt and pulls her even closer. They reach the wall by the barrels and Vanessa uses a bit of upper body strength to press Charity against it.
“That’s more like it,” Charity murmurs in between kisses.
She drives Vanessa crazy. She always does. Not only with her kisses, but with how she acts. When Vanessa thinks back to the autumn, when she didn’t think they could make it, she feels ill.
The things that came out of her mouth were all true. Charity does act selfishly. She carries on as if she’s single sometimes, not including her in her plans, not giving a second thought to how her actions would hurt her or their family. And Vanessa did feel humiliated at being lied to. There’s a part of her that saw herself as her mother, waiting by the phone while her father was off doing god knows what and coming home stinking of booze and pockets full of wads of cash.
She doesn’t want that life. She wants honesty. Charity is a tornado and she doesn’t want to harness her, she just wants to be treated as an equal. She wants Charity to value their life together and the family they have built.
Vanessa can live with insane Dingle drama. She can take the fights and the arguments during their ridiculous courts. She can even bend her morals around the mad schemes. But no more lies.
When she looked into Charity’s teary eyes as she begged Vanessa to come home, she chose to believe. Those few days without Charity, without their family, had been…some of the worst in her life. And she’s been stabbed this year.
Charity is all laughter and light tonight, however. She arches into Vanessa’s hands and playfully nips at Vanessa’s lips. The lost look in her eyes from a few weeks ago is gone and it’s been replaced by desire and love.
Vanessa isn’t naïve enough to think it can always be like this, so she will grab this precious moment with both hands.
The top Charity is wearing is one of Vanessa’s favourite. Red and bold and thin enough to feel the heat of Charity’s skin. She’s careful when she undoes a few buttons. People upstairs are pretty drunk already but she wouldn’t put it past someone to make a comment and embarrass them.
It’s so easy to slip her hands under Charity’s top and feel the smooth planes of her belly. Charity hisses.
“Your hands are cold!” She protests, squirming.
“Well then, warm them up,” Vanessa whispers in Charity’s ear.
“Such a top,” Charity says with a roll of her eyes.
It makes Vanessa snort.
“I know what that means now, you know.”
She places little kisses along Charity’s jaw, her neck, enjoying the gasps she gets in return.
“You know a lot more about everything, babe,” Charity murmurs.
Vanessa smiles at that. Two years with Charity has taught her a lot. Not only about how to make a woman happy in bed, although that has been fun and life changing. But about what having a partner means.
It might not always be roses and kittens (and Vanessa is still working on the last one), but Vanessa would never trade her life with the hurricane that is Charity for anything else.
This is where she belongs.
“How attached are you to this top?” Charity says, her hands under Vanessa’s jumper and slithering under her shirt.
“Not very,” Vanessa gasps when Charity finds skin.
Her jumper ends up on the armchair, and her shirt loses a few buttons. Charity flips them over so that Vanessa’s back thuds against the brick. From her higher vantage point, Charity braces against the wall with one hand, and the other torturously makes its way from Vanessa’s belly to her breasts.
“Look at you. You’re so gorgeous.”
Vanessa flushes. Charity’s eyes are so dark and inviting, drawing her in like a snake charmer. They kiss, Vanessa’s heart beating a fast rhythm in her chest and her arms looped around Charity’s neck.
Just as they make their way to the armchair, something thuds and breaks upstairs. They both look up and sigh and then laugh. Vanessa’s shirt is hanging off her shoulders so she just puts her jumper back on.
“How about I throw out that sorry excuse of a stag and we go home?” Charity offers as they make their way back up.
Home. Vanessa smiles and she laces her fingers with Charity’s for the last few steps.
“I like the sound of that. Take me home, Charity.”