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the sweetest taboo

Chapter Text

The morning the letter arrived in the mail, Dani thought she was going to be sick. How misleading the envelope had appeared, sealed with pink wax and doused in her mother’s perfume. She’d actually smiled when Hannah had handed it her way, her mind filling with sweet ideas of what could have been written inside.

It hadn't been strange for her to receive a letter from her mother for the first time since she'd arrived at Bly Manor. Dani had given her mother the address of her new au pair job so that she would know where to reach her if ever need be. It seemed completely harmless at the time, but now she could see where she’d been foolish for not thinking otherwise.

In the letter, her mother wished her well. Told her that she missed her dearly, and thought of her every day. She said that she was staying busy with her work and spending lots of time with Judy. Even that wasn’t enough to alarm Dani. No, the alarming part came in the last few lines of the letter, stated with such casualness that Dani herself had to wonder if she was overreacting or not.

I will be coming by to visit you at the end of next week. Judy and Edmund will be accompanying me and are delighted to see you again. Until then, take care. Mom.

Dani must have reread those words a thousand times over before she was finally able to process them. She knew her mom was not lying. If she said she was coming, she meant it. No invitation needed. Permission granted or not. Dani bet her mother didn't even consider the possibility that she wasn’t welcome on the property.

Of course, Henry would probably have no problem with her having her mother over. He wouldn’t even mind her having her ex-fiancé and his mother tag along with. Dani had been taking care of his niece and nephew for well over six months now, and the man absolutely adored her. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have the space to accommodate three extra people.

Despite the fact that her mom did actually miss her, Dani knew there was an ulterior motive hidden behind this pathetic ruse. Karen Clayton was never able to get past the fact that her daughter was gay and had called off the wedding to her beloved childhood sweetheart. Dani knew her mom still had a candle lit in hopes of it all being one big mistake and Dani actually going through with the wedding.

But it had not been a mistake. And now they were coming here. Most likely, to break Dani down and convince her to give things another go. Edmund had not moved on. Dani wondered if he ever would. Not until she gave him a reason to, and apparently being gay wasn’t reason enough for him.

“Dani? Are you alright?”

Dani looked up from the letter that was now worn with crinkles at the edges from the sweat on her hands gripping it tight. Hannah was standing at the entrance to her room, a concerned look on her face. Dani wondered how long she’d been there for. Long enough to see her spirit break?

“I’m, uh, I’m okay,” she lied.

Apparently, it wasn’t too convincing, but her lies never were.

“Are you sure? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

Knowing Dani would have to tell her about her mother’s arrival eventually, she decided to just get it off her chest now. No point in beating around the bush. Especially when she was doing such a poor job of concealing her discomfort.

“My mom wrote to me. She said she’s coming to visit next week. I’m not sure for how long just yet,” Dani said, setting the letter down on the dresser in front of her. “She’s bringing her best friend and her son with her.”

“Oh,” Hannah said, smiling politely. “Well, we’d love to meet them. We’ll make them feel right at home.”

“It’s not you guys I’m worried about.” Dani stared at the floorboards beneath her, feeling more worn than them after just one letter. “Her best friend’s son and I were kind of engaged.”

“I see.” Hannah was trying her best to keep the shock from her tone, but Dani picked up on it anyway. “What happened?”

“I sort of… called it off.”

Dani felt her shoulders heave forward and realized she was crying. It hurt to think about and it hurt even worse to say aloud. Edmund had been her best friend. Always. The moment she came out to him and called it off, she saw his heart break in a way that kept her up at night. It wasn’t her fault. She had tried desperately for years to feel something other than friendship for him, but it had been pointless.

Hannah rushed over to her and brought her into a hug. Dani felt better almost instantly and allowed for the other woman to console her, steadying her breathing after a minute or two. When they broke away, Hannah grabbed her by the hand and gave her a sympathetic smile.

“Everyone is downstairs. Owen’s just made lunch. I think we should tell the others what’s going on. They may be able to help you feel better about all this,” Hannah told her.

The smile she gave her held so much hope, Dani almost believed it would all be okay. She followed the other woman down the stairs and into the dining room, taking her seat across from the children. Jamie was already seated in her usual chair at the head of the table, watching the kids with an amused look on her face. Owen had made grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, but Dani didn’t have the appetite for it.

Flora and Miles talked excitedly to her about their morning by the lake. They’d been tossing stones across the water while Jamie supervised from the greenhouse. Jamie was so nice. Always offering to watch the kids to give Dani some time to herself. What Dani really wanted was to spend some time alone with her, but it would never happen. After six months, she had learned to accept that.

“Can we go play now?” Flora asked, once she’d finished the last of her soup.

“Upstairs only for now,” Hannah answered, fixing Dani with a look. “The adults have to talk about something and we don’t need you two wondering off outside on your own.”

“Okay,” Flora replied, jumping out of her seat and racing towards the staircase.

Miles followed after her with a slight roll of his eyes at her eagerness. Dani smiled at him, watching until he was out of sight before directing her attention back to the table. All three of the adults were focused on her, waiting for the implied conversation to begin. She cleared her throat.

“Um, so earlier today, I received a letter from my mom. She’s coming to visit next week and she’s bringing a couple of people with her. One of them being my ex-fiancé whose wedding I called off about a year ago.”

Jamie blew out a low whistle. “I didn’t take you for the runaway bride type, Poppins. I’m very impressed.”

Dani felt her cheeks flush and felt the need to explain herself. “I wasn’t running away. I mean, I tried to love him like that. I really did. Edmund is a great guy and I’ve known him my whole life. It just never… It was never going to work.”

“Why is your mother bringing him along with her?” Owen asked.

“His mom is the third person who’s coming. They’re best friends.” Dani paused before saying this next part, because she knew it would be alarming. “All three of them are still hoping I’ll take Edmund back. I’m worried that’s the only reason they’re visiting. I believe that if I can’t prove to Edmund that I’ve moved on, he’ll never stop trying. And it’s exhausting knowing his future relies on my choices.”

Hannah reached for her hand, offering her more sympathy. “Dani, none of that is your fault. I don’t know this Edmund fellow, but it isn’t fair to put that kind of pressure on anyone.”

“I know it isn’t fair, but it’s the reality of it. If I can’t find a way to convince them that I’ve moved on and I’m seeing someone else, they’ll never let it go. And even worse, they’ll probably try to badger me until I agree to leave with them.”

They were all silent for a minute. Hannah looked worried and Owen looked like the wheels in his head were turning a hundred miles per minute. Dani looked over to Jamie and saw the other girl deep in thought, a frown taking residence upon her soft features. it only made Dani feel worse to see her friends upset.

“Nonsense,” Owen finally said, as all eyes flew over to him. “If seeing you with someone else is what it’ll take to get them to all move on and leave you alone, then that is exactly what they’ll get.”

Hannah furrowed her brows at him. “Owen, what are you-”

“I’ll pretend to be your boyfriend,” he interrupted, leaving no room to question it. “We can say we met here and something developed rather quickly between the two of us. Lots of late nights cooking and such. I may not be as good of an actor as I am a chef, but I can promise to try my best.”

For a moment, Dani felt her eyes water as she realized how much her new friends actually cared for her. The fact that Owen was willing to put on a façade for her sake meant the world to her. Jamie seemed to find relief in the idea as well. And Hannah, who Dani knew had real feelings for the cook, even looked gleeful, willing to set her feelings aside to allow Dani to resolve this issue. There was only one problem with that plan.

“As much as I appreciate the offer, Owen, it’ll never work,” Dani said, wringing her hands as she prepared for the real conversation stopper. “The reason I broke things off with Edmund is because I’m gay. I like girls.”

The room got so quiet, a pin could have been heard dropping. Dani risked a look around the table. Hannah and Owen looked startled, but mostly understanding. Jamie looked more shocked. The gardener was looking at her as though they were strangers. And maybe after learning a piece of information like that about Dani, they were. Dani bit her lip anxiously, hoping this wouldn’t change things between them. Between her and any of them.

“That’s okay,” Hannah assured, speaking slowly. “You and I can-”

She never even finished her sentence. There would have been no point. The good intent was there, but all of them knew that they would never fool anyone with a ploy like that. The relationship between Dani and Hannah was one that resembled that of sisters or best friends. There wasn’t an ounce of attraction between the two, and Hannah was the definition of a heterosexual woman. Even an attempt at it would be laughable and only serve to make things worse.

“Don’t worry about it, you guys,” Dani said, smiling softly at them. “I appreciate you all trying to help. You’ll never know how much it means to me, but this isn’t your problem to solve. My mom is going to have to leave eventually. I can endure it until then.”

“Unless,” Jamie began, just as the breath left Dani’s lungs, “I pretend to be your girlfriend.”

See, now that would be way more believable. Aside from the fact that Jamie gave the appearance of a woman who has relations with other women, Dani also felt an embarrassing amount of attraction towards her. She wouldn’t even need to be pretending, if she were being honest with herself. But opening up that door and seeing what dating Jamie would be like - even if just for show - would surely mess with Dani’s head far beyond repair.

“I could never ask you to do that,” Dani said, attempting to get herself out of it.

“Good thing you aren’t asking, then,” Jamie replied, crossing her arms over her chest in a way that told Dani it had already been decided. “You said they’re coming next week? That should give us just enough time to prepare.”

Dani swallowed thickly. “Prepare?”

“Well, how else do you think we’re going to fool anybody, Poppins? No one’s going to believe we’re a couple if we don’t even know each other’s middle names. Favorite book. Favorite color. Favorite hobby.”

Flowers. Dani knew that Jamie loved flowers and despite it being her job, she gardened even in her free time. That was for sure her favorite hobby. But Jamie had a point. Dani had shared very minimal information about herself with the other girl, if her not even knowing she was gay was any indication. They would definitely need to work on this.

In no more than ten days, they would need to convince the three people in her life who knew her better than anyone else in the world that they were in love or else risk them never moving on from the past. No pressure.

Dani looked over to Owen and Hannah and saw them staring at one another with their eyebrows raised. They seemed to be in silent agreement about something. Dani wondered if they knew this was going to turn into a disaster like she did.

Chapter Text

“What was my favorite movie when I was in high school?” Jamie asked, staring at Dani with squinted eyes and a grin on her face.

The Exorcist,” Dani replied, without even missing a beat. “What was mine?”

Taxi Driver. I still can’t believe that one, cheerleader.”

“I swear, I watched it like every day!” Dani smiled, warmed by the sound of Jamie’s laughter. “And for the last time, I was not a cheerleader!”

“Sure, whatever you say.”

Jamie looked proud of herself for getting the answer right, but Dani was mostly excited about the other girl remembering something about her at all. After several late nights of preparing for her mother’s visit, Dani was starting to think their plan may actually work out after all. Jamie was determined and attentive and never missed an opportunity to learn something new about her. Dani had been forced to admit it to herself that her heart raced every time Jamie would enter a room she was in just to ask her something random about herself.

It was a quiet night. The perfect calm before the storm. The kids had been put to bed hours ago, and it hadn’t been too long after that Owen went home for the night and Hannah disappeared into her bedroom. The older woman was very clear about wanting to give the two of them their privacy. She said it wouldn’t help any to have her in the way of their scheming. Neither her nor Jamie argued with that logic.

Overall, Hannah and Owen seemed to be very supportive of the whole thing. They were stern in their warnings about taking things too far, but their advice came with a wisdom Dani never had in her life. She always appreciated it, and she made sure they knew that.

The kids were a little harder to talk to about it with. Miles thought that pretending was stupid, but promised to go along with it until their guests were gone. Flora was thrilled and seemed more than convinced that they would fall in love by accident, to which Jamie was always quick to shut down, much to Dani's disappointment. Both kids were determined to give their best performances on the matter, however, once Hannah let it slip that Dani’s mom would try to take her away if she didn’t believe her and Jamie were really in love.

It warmed her to know the children cared about her so much. She didn’t want to have to leave them either, and she was willing to do everything in her power to make sure that never happened. For the first time in her whole life, she’d found a home.

“Ask me something harder,” Jamie demanded, pulling her knees up to her chest from where she sat on the adjacent couch in the front-room.

Dani tried not to think about how cute she looked sitting in that position. Truth be told, Dani thought Jamie would look cute sitting in any position. But maybe that wasn’t such an appropriate thing to be thinking about.

“Um, okay…" She asked the first random thing that came to her head. "How old was I when I learned how to ride a bike?”

It was a silly thing to need to have an answer for. Dani wasn’t even sure why they had had a conversation about that in the first place, but she thought maybe it had something to do with the fact that their prepping tended to skew into something much more personal than that. It became a real conversation every single time. It felt like nothing more than two people genuinely wanting to get to know each other. It felt like dating.

“Shit,” Jamie muttered, looking all around the room as though the answer would be posted somewhere along the walls. “Hold on.”

Dani watched curiously as Jamie reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out what appeared to be an index card. Scribbled on both sides of it were words written in illegible handwriting. A scrambled mixture of red and blank ink. Dani sat in silence, awaiting an explanation.

“Aha! You were nine when you learned how to ride a bike. Your dad taught you,” Jamie said, smiling triumphantly.

Dani stared at her. “You wrote that down? What is that? A cheat sheet?”

Jamie stared blankly back at her. “Uh, yes? You don’t have one?”

“No.”

“Well, how else are you going to remember everything? You must have to write at least some things down,” Jamie said.

Dani shook her head. “Nope. I remember everything you tell me.”

“I really doubt that’s true, Poppins,” she said, although she looked very amused by the idea.

“Test me,” Dani challenged, nervously curling her fingers around her knees when she caught the glint in Jamie’s eyes.

“Okay, fine. What year did I break my arm?”

“1972. Summer time.”

“What meal did my mom make me eat every morning?”

“Two pancakes and a slice of toast with cherry jam. Oh! And a glass of orange juice.”

Jamie still didn't look convinced.

“What was the first flower I ever planted?”

“That’s a trick question. The first flower you ever thought that you planted was a sunflower. You later found out that you were actually growing watermelons and your mom had given you the wrong seeds,” Dani answered effortlessly. “You were six.”

Jamie sat in stunned silence, while Dani mentally patted herself on the back. It was true. She had been remembering every single thing Jamie told her about herself. There was nobody on the face of the Earth who Dani found more interesting than Jamie. Getting more insight into her life before Bly Manor was a privilege to her.

“I gotta admit, Poppins, I’m very impressed. I wasn’t expecting you to be having such an easy time retaining all this new information,” Jamie said, setting her index card down. “You know, your mom is coming tomorrow. We should probably get into the more serious stuff now. I wouldn’t want to screw anything up right off the bat.”

Dani bit the inside of her cheek, nervous but knowing that Jamie was right. Dani had purposefully been avoiding talking about anything below the surface of her past. She didn’t like reliving things that had once upset her or somebody else she cared about. There was literally anything else she’d rather be doing. But Jamie had been so patient with her when she’d said she wasn’t ready to get into it. And they had officially run out of time to postpone it any longer.

Her mother had called her the night before to confirm the date of their arrival. She sounded chipper than ever on the phone, but didn’t stay on the line long enough for Dani to even make an attempt at telling her about Jamie. Not that she even would have had the nerve to tell her mother something like that over the phone, but still. She hadn’t been able to sleep peacefully since.

“You’re right.” Dani straightened her back so that it rested perfectly against the couch, hoping that fixing her posture would help her answer the tough stuff. “What do you want to know? I'm putting all my cards on the table.”

Jamie hesitated for a second or two, as though she was still willing to give Dani a chance to back down. And maybe for that reason alone, Dani suddenly felt a lot better about opening up. Jamie made her feel safe.

“Tell me about Edmund. All I know about you two is that you’re childhood pals who almost tied the knot.”

Dani sighed, trying to decide where to even start. “We were friends until we got to high school. That’s when he asked me out. I remember being really excited because I thought that’s what I wanted. I thought maybe dating him would spark an attraction for boys in me that I’d been lacking my whole life. After we graduated from high school, he proposed. I said yes, but it still was never enough.”

“How was the sex?” Jamie asked with a chuckle, clearly trying to lighten the mood.

It had the opposite effect on Dani. She felt her cheeks flush and focused her attention on the coffee table. It wasn’t that reminiscing about her sex life with Edmund was embarrassing for her, although it was nothing she would ever boast about either. It was just that talking about sex with Jamie only made her wonder about what Jamie was like in the bedroom. What Jamie could do to her.

That was just one of many thoughts that had been plaguing Dani recently. Other ones included much tamer things like kissing and holding one another, but they stirred a fire inside of Dani regardless. They would need to discuss where to draw the line when it came to showing affection in front of the guests, but Dani wasn’t about to bring that up on her own. No way.

“Um, it was okay,” Dani finally answered, clearing her throat uncomfortably under the heat of those blue eyes. “I don’t think I ever… Well, it was fine. Edmund was always very understanding with me. Sex wasn’t a big part of our relationship anyway. It was more about the emotional connection we had.”

Jamie looked like she wanted to comment something further, but held back. Instead, she got their conversation back on track. Always strictly business with that one. Dani almost wished she’d said what she was going to say, but that was the part of her that came attached to secret yearnings for the other woman. The part of her she tried to keep buried at all costs.

“How did he react when you told him that you like women?”

Dani fought the shudder that threatened to work its way down her spine as the memory came to her. It was definitely one of those things that ate away at her. A memory that she worried would age her all the way up until she reached her grave. Making the most important person in her life at the time that upset was devastating for her.

“Not good. He called me a few not-so-nice names. Stormed off. I knew that I had really upset him. A part of me has always regretted ever saying anything at all. I sometimes wonder if we’d be happy right now, had I just gone through with it. I know he would.”

“Dani, I promise you, you did the right thing.” Jamie leaned forward, looking Dani right in the eyes and Dani knew she meant every word she was saying. “He deserved to know the truth, and you deserved to live your truth. You would have never been happy living your life as somebody that you’re not. Trust me on that.”

A heavy silence fell between them, one Dani felt clueless on how to break. She knew the gardener was right. Of course she was. Jamie was strong and sensible and was probably the most sound person she knew. Jamie offered her a small smile, and Dani broke eye contact, troubled by the way that Jamie was making her feel with just a few words. It was more acceptingness than anyone had ever shown her.

“Thank you,” she murmured, tucking her own hair behind her ears. “Um, what about you? Should we talk about your past relationships, too? It might come up.”

Dani asked this with as much lightheartedness as she could muster, given the fact that the thought of Jamie discussing her love life was probably one of the last things she ever wanted to hear about. Jamie visibly tensed. She’d been in the same boat as Dani the whole week about sharing information that wasn’t strictly superficial. Dani guessed she probably had a good reason for that.

“There really isn’t much to say about my love life,” Jamie said, smiling despite her obvious discomfort. “I didn’t really get to date all that much. You know, living in a small town and all.”

“Limited options, huh?” Dani smiled at the chuckle Jamie let out.

“Um, I guess you could say that. There weren’t too many lesbians around, as far as I know.”

Although Dani had had her suspicions about Jamie liking women, she had yet to ever have them confirmed by Jamie or anyone else. Now, hearing the words leave the gardener’s lips, Dani was surprised by how startled the news made her feel. Instantly, her own heart started to annoyingly increase in pace. She felt her palms sweat instinctively and pressed them hard against the cushions of the couch. It brought her no comfort.

What were the odds of two lesbians working at the same property? Dani wasn’t sure she’d ever met another lesbian in her entire lifetime. Something about knowing her and Jamie were both bound together by this distinct difference of liking someone of the same sex made her feel instantly closer to the other woman. Almost like fate.

“I didn’t know you were…” Dani found herself saying, trailing off at the last second.

It was tough for her to even call it what it was sometimes. That was a direct result of her own shame.

Jamie smiled softly at her awkwardness. “I’m not exactly one for shouting it from the rooftops, but it isn’t some secret either. Hannah and Owen know already. As well as Henry and the kids.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Dani asked out of pure curiosity.

“I was trying to get a read on you, Poppins. Couldn’t tell if the news would make you hate me or not. I’ve gotten a lot of sour reactions throughout my life. I’ve learned it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Dani felt her heart break for Jamie, as well as for herself. It was a struggle they would both have to face, unfortunately. Not everyone agreed with the way they chose to live their lives. Bad experiences with coming out was exactly what scared Dani into keeping quiet about her own sexuality. Once you got burned, it was hard to go down that road again.

“I’m sure this goes without saying, but I wouldn’t have seen you any differently. You know, even if the two of us weren’t on the same boat,” Dani said. “I still would have thought you were awesome.”

It wasn’t meant to make things more tense than they already were. Dani wouldn’t have said it if she even suspected that it would. But when Jamie let out that long, breathy sigh and stared at her in that special way that made Dani feel like she was really being seen by somebody, she knew that she had messed up.

“Who the hell knew?” Jamie asked, moreso to herself than to Dani.

Dani cleared her throat, making a glaringly obvious attempt to change the subject. If she didn’t get the rest off her chest now, she was worried that she never would. It wasn’t exactly easy for her to be vulnerable, even with Jamie.

“So, I guess the last of the messy bits you should know about have to do with my relationship with my mom. She didn’t take me being gay very well. Obviously.” Dani laughed, but she knew there was nothing funny about the way her own mother had rejected her sexuality. “The night I told her that I was gay, she told me that I had broken her heart for forever. Since then, we have yet to talk about it. She kinda just pretends that the entire conversation never even happened. Every interaction with her consists of her trying to convince me to go back with Edmund.”

“That’s awful, Dani. I can’t believe that.”

Dani shrugged, attempting to mask her pain. “It isn’t so bad. Its gotten a lot better since I came here. Not seeing her all the time makes it easier to pretend she’s accepted me for who I am. I was hoping all the space would get her to let the idea of her heterosexual daughter go, but apparently not.”

“We’re just going to have to do an extra incredible job of convincing her the two of us are in love and that you’re never going back to Edmund,” Jamie replied, grinning almost deviously.

It made Dani’s heart melt a little to see her care so much. “I hope it works.”

“I know it will.”

Maybe it was the fact that the time was nearing midnight and Dani had been up since six in the morning. Maybe it was the glass of wine she’d had at dinner time finally coming into effect. Or maybe it was the way Jamie’s skin glowed in the cozy lighting of the manor’s living space. Whatever it was, Dani found herself toying with the possibility of Jamie being attracted to her outside of their upcoming ruse. It made her stomach tingly in a weightless kind of way, and she found herself spiralling down into the pits of her mind where ideas of her and Jamie falling for one another have existed for months.

“We should probably discuss the affection part of it,” Jamie said, her voice barely above a murmur and husky in a way that made Dani cross one leg over the other. “Your mom probably will be expecting us to hold hands at some point. Hug.” She swallowed. “Kiss.”

Dani nodded, absorbed in a haze of attraction and fantasy that was making it hard to come back down to reality. Jamie seemed to be in the same state, her eyes half-lidded as she looked to be gauging Dani for reactions.

“I’m okay with all of that,” Dani responded, relieved the weight of this idea alone would not fall onto her shoulders, should it end in flames.

“Me too.” Jamie smirked, leaning forward as her eyes danced playfully. “You'll just have to promise you won't fall in love with me, Poppins."

"Oh." Dani felt all the air leave her lungs, uncertain how much of this was actually pretend now. "Uh, I'll- I'll try."

Jamie laughed softly, and it was the most beautiful sound Dani had ever heard. "Will you, now?"

Dani wondered what would have happened if Hannah hadn’t chosen that exact moment to walk in. A part of her thought they may have given the kissing thing a go to see where they ended up. Even then, it may have only been for preparation purposes and nothing more. At least, nothing more for Jamie. Dani, on the other hand...

“Dani, I wasn’t sure if you had gone off to sleep already,” Hannah said, seeming to sense she had intruded on something. She was still wearing her clothes from earlier. “I could see the car pulling up from my room. I think your mother has arrived.”

Dani wasn’t sure she’d ever stood up so fast before. She got a minor head rush but ignored it, feeling the panicky, sickly feeling she’d been having bursts of all week. Her mother wasn’t supposed to be here until tomorrow evening, but leave it to her mom to find a way to make an intrusion even more invasive. She saw from her peripheral Jamie stand up as well, but ignored it, forcing herself to move towards the foyer.

As if on some twisted cue scoured up by fate, there was a strong, recognizable knock on the heavy wooden door of Bly Manor. It was the same knock her mother had used her whole life. One of mischief and delight that had always let Dani know it was her mom on the other side of it. Dani felt each and every step on her way over to the door. On the final one, she drew in the shakiest breath she could manage and swung the door open wide.

“Hi, Mom.”

Chapter Text

It had only been six months since they’d last seen each other, so Dani wasn’t sure why she was so surprised that her mother looked the exact same. She was almost expecting some extravagant difference, whether that be in appearance or behavior, she wasn’t really sure. But Karen Clayton was exactly the same person she’d been when Dani had left her.

“Dani, sweetheart,” her mother cooed, bringing her into a tight embrace.

Dani relented, wrapping her arms upwards around her mother. Despite the familiarity of the embrace, she felt nothing but cold. Edmund and his mother were standing only a couple feet behind, bags in hand. It looked like they brought enough to stay for at least a couple weeks. And that was assuming they wouldn’t be rewearing outfits.

“Well, are you going to invite your guests inside, or what?” Karen asked, already scolding Dani for her manners like she had the bad habit of doing. “Poor Eddie has been through hell trying to get us all out here on such short notice.”

Dani risked a look over at Edmund’s face, uncomfortable by the overtly friendly smile he wore. It was like they were two old friends seeing each other after a bit of time. Dani wished that was all they were. She looked over to Judy, who was beaming at her already. She’d wanted Dani to be her daughter-in-law so badly. That blatant wantonness was still written across her aged face. Dani felt her stomach sour.

“Please, come inside,” Dani found herself saying, moving to the side and clinging onto the sturdy handle of the door as she watched them file in one by one. “Sorry if I seem so surprised. I wasn’t expecting you guys until tomorrow evening.”

Dani knew there was an underlying question in her comment. The question of why they didn’t come when they had said they would. Rude? Maybe so. But she was frustrated already by their ease and comfort in such a foreign environment. This was her world. They had no right making it their own.

“We thought you’d be happy to see us,” her mom said, pulling her leather gloves off. “We were just going to stay in town after catching such a late flight, but I insisted on staying here tonight instead. The streets here are so poorly lit, I can’t even tell you the amount of times that we got turned around. You’d think the driver would have known how to get here, but he was useless. Thank God we had Eddie.”

Right. Eddie. There was that look on his face again. He had his hands politely behind his back now, but Dani could still get a read on him. He wanted to come over to her. Embrace her just as her mother had. Maybe more than that.

“What a lovely place you work at, Dani,” Judy said, coming in between Dani and her mother to pull the au pair flush against her. “It’s so good to see you, honey. Are you eating enough? You look like you’ve lost weight.”

“I’m eating plenty, Mrs. O’Mara,” Dani assured her.

“Call me Judy, please,” the older woman insisted, hurt by the formality Dani had resorted back to with her. “I know its been a while since we last saw each other, but I’ve known you since you were a child.”

Briefly, and as intrusive as their appearance had been, Dani thought of the days leading up to her wedding. The way Judy had taken her by the hand and requested Dani call her by a different name. Call me Mom. It was a long time ago, yet felt like yesterday. At least that request was not being thrust upon her anymore.

“I’m sorry, Judy,” Dani said, but the apology was only half genuine.

She still held some residual resentment towards her almost mother-in-law for the way she’d behaved when Dani had called off the wedding. She’d spoken down to Dani, too caught up in her own pride to acknowledge anyone else’s feelings but Edmund’s. She was also more insistent than her own mother that Dani’s sexuality was a fleeting thing. Her presence didn’t exactly want to make Dani roll out the welcome mat.

“Hello, do you two also work on the property?” Karen asked, addressing the two other women in the manor.

Dani turned around, watching the faux smiles take residence on her friends’ faces. Another intrusive thought came to her. Jamie wasn’t just her friend. Not right now she wasn’t. Dani felt her stomach drop as everything started to become a whole lot more real than it ever had been. Jamie, from the moment her mother had stepped foot onto the property, was now her girlfriend.

How ever would she manage to keep from going insane with that kind of power?

“Yes, I’m Hannah. The housekeeper,” Hannah said, answering first. “We’ve been anticipating your visit, Miss Clayton.”

“Oh, call me Karen.” She turned to Jamie. “And what do you do, sweetie?”

“Jamie will do just fine, ma’am,” she was quick to correct, and Dani wished she could have seen the look on her mom’s face. “I’m the gardener for the property.”

“I know it’s pretty dark outside - even with all the lights on out front - but Jamie has kept the greenery looking beautiful, Mom,” Dani said, smiling warmly at Jamie.

Her mother didn’t look interested. “This house is gorgeous. I can’t believe Dani is working somewhere so respectable.”

It was said with a pointedness that hit Dani right in the gut. Her mother was full of passive aggressive remarks and implications. Dani had trouble seeing them for what they really were sometimes. Which was jealousy. Her mother could not stand that Dani was able to take care of herself without a man’s help, guidance, or input. Her mother had always depended on the help of men, even when Dani’s father left them. There wasn’t a period of over a month that her mother went without a boyfriend, old or new.

“We’re so lucky to have her here with us,” Hannah said, still managing a smile somehow.

“I’ll have to get the tour in the morning. I am exhausted. We all are,” Karen said, looking over to Edmund and Judy who both nodded in agreement. “Dani, would you be a dear and show us to our rooms?”

“Yes, of course.”

Dani moved quickly, the request of her mother wanting to sleep like music to her ears. Anything to get away from her and have some peace. They’d only been there five minutes, and she was already resisting the urge to pull her own hair out.

Dani took her mother’s bag for her, if only to keep from hearing the complaints that would entail had she not. The three of them followed her up the stairs and down into the hallway on the opposite end of where the kids slept. They each had their own room, but Dani was sure they would still find a way to complain about the space at some point or another.

Judy said goodnight quickly and disappeared into her bedroom. Dani’s mother lingered a little outside to tell Dani how thrilled she was to see her again and ask how to turn on the shower in her bathroom. It was like she already felt at home. When Dani finally left her mother’s side, she found Edmund loitering in the hallway outside of his room, an anxious look on his boyish face.

“Hey,” he said, pushing his glasses up onto his nose in the way he always did when he felt awkward.

She froze. “Hi.”

“I wanted to hug you downstairs, but I couldn’t tell if that was appropriate or not,” he told her, with a misplaced chuckle.

Maybe the Dani from six months ago would have assured him that hugging each other was still okay. She would have found any reason to keep Edmund happy without having to be his wife. Now, this Dani, felt much more stern in her own comfortability, and having any physical contact with Edmund was just of no interest to her anymore. She knew it never would be again.

“Things just aren’t like they used to be,” she said, hoping that was enough explanation for him. “I’m a little surprised you wanted to come up here to visit me. I thought maybe you were still a little upset.”

“It was your mother’s idea,” he replied, and that made total sense to her. “Of course, she didn’t have to put up much of a fight to get me to agree.”

He laughed and it was one of those expectant laughters, like he was waiting for her to do the same. She spared a smile, taking pity on him only because he had meant so much to her at one point. It was a shame they had to lose that all because he couldn’t accept that she was not attracted to men. If the day ever came where he was willing to accept it, only then would she be able to mend their broken friendship. She ached for the little boy who had always been by her side, now replaced with a broken man with a stubborn heart.

“Well, I’ll let you get some rest. Goodnight.”

He wiped his hands on his pants, nodding. “Uh, right. Goodnight, Dani.”

She was already nearing the staircases’ descent when she heard his room door click closed. Hannah and Jamie were still standing in the foyer, whispering to one another. Dani didn’t have to ask what it was they were discussing. They both looked up at her as she made her way over to them.

“Well, that was my mom,” Dani said, laughing despite herself.

Hannah chuckled sparingly. “She seems like a sweet lady. I can’t wait to get to know her better in the morning. I think I’ll be heading to bed now, its been quite an eventful night.”

Dani and Jamie watched her walk away, mumbling their goodbyes. When Hannah was good and gone, Dani let out a sigh of relief that she’d been holding in since Hannah had come to tell her someone was out front. Jamie laughed at her exasperation.

“That bad, huh?” she asked, her eyes gleaming in amusement.

Dani shook her head. “She hasn’t even been here an hour and I already want to blow my brains out.”

“Did you tell them?”

Dani felt her humor fade away with the shift in conversation, swallowing thickly. She needed no further clarification as to what the gardener was referring to. Jamie was looking at her expectantly, arms crossed casually across her chest. Dani stared at the buttons on her jacket.

“Um, no. Not yet. They were just so quick to rush off to bed.”

She was making excuses for her fear, but she really didn’t think she would be able to get the words out of her mouth without Jamie’s help.

“Don’t worry about it, Poppins. We’ll tell them in the morning,” Jamie assured her.

Instantly, her mind was eased. Jamie knew exactly what she needed to hear without even needing to be told. Was she that transparent, or was Jamie just that good?

“I should be heading out,” Jamie said, pulling her keys out from deep inside of her jacket pockets. “My bag is still at my place. I’ll bring it with me tomorrow.”

Her bag. Right. Dani had almost forgotten the most nerve-racking part about this whole pretending ordeal. Jamie and her would be staying in the same room. It was something they had both agreed on doing earlier in the week, deciding that it made the most sense. It hadn’t really been a problem for Dani. Until now. Reality was setting in a lot quicker than she was prepared for.

“Oh, um, right,” Dani huffed out.

Jamie gave her an amused expression again. “See you in the morning.”

“See you,” Dani replied.

Dani thought that maybe they should have kissed goodbye. For the practice.

-----

A typical morning for Dani consisted of waking up around 7:00am and getting ready for the day. Miles and Flora weren’t usually up until 8:30am, which gave her plenty of time to herself, as well as plenty of time with Jamie, as of late. This morning, however, Dani slept in until 8:00am on complete accident. She knew it had more than a little to do with the late arrival of her guests.

She rushed out of bed when she saw the time on the clock that rested on her nightstand, washing her face in lieu of taking a shower like she normally did. There just wasn’t any time for it anymore. She dressed out of her pajamas and into something more presentable, rushing downstairs to make sure the kids were still in their rooms and not sitting at the kitchen table already.

The kids weren’t there, but she almost wished they would have been when she saw who was. Her mother stood by the stovetop, hovering over a couple of pans that were steaming with food. The table was set the way her mother used to do it. Owen was already there, looking out of place for the first time in the kitchen ever. Dani couldn’t believe it.

“Oh, sweetheart, you’re up,” Karen said, looking over at Dani with a staged smile. “I was expecting you to be up ages ago. I guess the rules here aren’t as strict as I’d imagined.”

Dani rolled her eyes. “Mom, as much as I appreciate you making breakfast, we already have a chef here. Owen.”

Her mother followed Dani’s finger, looking back at Owen as if just noticing him for the first time. She laughed like there was something funny about her overstepping, which only upset Dani further.

“Oh, it’s quite alright,” Owen began, stopping short when he caught the glare from Dani.

Karen waved her hand dismissively. “What’s the big deal? I’m giving the guy a break, so what? He’s still gonna get paid the same, right?”

Dani resisted the urge to groan, knowing her mother would only consider it to be childish and would be less likely to listen to her anyway. “Mom, the point is that he is cooking for the two kids that live here. They have very specific dietary needs, and Owen is the professional who can provide and abide by those needs.”

“Okay, I’ll never touch a pan again. Will that make you happy?”

“Yes,” Dani said, sounding a little more frustrated than she would have liked.

She turned around at the sound of feet padding towards the kitchen, spotting Miles and Flora making their way to the table. Their hair was still fussed from sleep, but they both looked alert enough. Dani wondered if all the commotion had woken them up and felt bad.

“Hey, guys,” she said, smiling at them. “How’d you sleep?”

“Fine,” Flora answered, furrowing her brows in thought. “Although, I did have quite a strange dream that strangers were swimming in the lake.”

“And who are these beautiful children?” Karen asked, leaving the stove to get a better look at Miles and Flora.

“These are the most incredible kids in the world, Mom. And I get paid to hang out with them,” Dani answered, much more enthusiastic to be discussing them instead of herself.

“Pleasure to meet you, Miss Clayton,” Miles said, extending his hand like the little gentleman he already was.

Karen looked blown away. “The pleasure is all mine, young man.”

“Good morning, Miss Clayton,” Flora said, with her super sweet voice that absolutely no adult could resist being anything but kind to. “Dani tells me you were a movie star.”

After Flora constantly pressuring her for information on her mother, Dani gave her the one bit that wasn’t so bad. Her mom had been casted for a minor role in some b-film before her pregnancy with Dani. The way her mother made it seem, she had been on track to Hollywood. Flora calling her a movie star definitely won the little girl some major points with her mom.

“I’m surprised my daughter said something so nice about me,” Karen said, beaming. “Why, yes, I was in a movie back in my time. Could have gone all the way to the top, but I got pregnant with this one.”

She gestured towards Dani and both kids giggled. Dani just rolled her eyes, used to being blamed for that as well. Hannah slipped into the room unnoticed while the kids had been talking, and now sat at the table next to Owen, engaged in conversation with him. Dani could hear the other two guests making their way into the kitchen as her mother went back to preparing the food. Dani was surprised they were having such an easy time maneuvering through the place. She turned to see Judy grab herself a cup of coffee and take a seat at the table. Edmund didn’t drift as far away.

“Morning, Dani,” he greeted.

His hair was still wet from the shower. She used to love watching him rub his towel through his hair after a shower. Loved the way it would stand up and get all messy. The thought was fleeting.

“Good morning. How’d you sleep?”

“Like a baby.” He smiled at her, shifting his stance. “It’s weird to wake up in the morning and see you again. It makes me think about the way that things used to be.”

What a line for Jamie to walk in on and hear. Dani was relieved by her presence, rescued from the torture that was watching Edmund flail about with his puppy dog eyes, searching for any indication that she wanted him back. Jamie paused near them, eyeing Dani and then turning her attention over to Edmund.

“Morning,” the gardener said.

“Uh, good morning,” he replied, leaving behind an awkward silence as he so very obviously waited for her to walk away.

“Alright, everyone. Breakfast is done. Find your seats, if you haven’t already,” Karen called out, carrying one pan with her as she started placing a heaping portion of scrambled eggs onto each plate.

Edmund gave up and went to take a seat next to his mom, leaving Dani and Jamie to stare at one another. Dani opened her mouth to speak, to say anything really - maybe make a comment on how amazing Jamie looked and that she loved it when the other girl wore those overalls - but her mother’s voice cut through the air once again.

“Dani, why don’t you come take a seat next to Eddie here,” Karen instructed, standing beside her ex who looked hopeful.

“Fancy a seat next to me instead, Poppins?” Jamie asked, making her way over to the opposite side of the table where there were two empty chairs left next to the kids.

Dani was moving towards Jamie before she could even verbally agree. Of course she’d pick the seat next to her super hot pretend girlfriend over the one next to her clingy ex-fiancé. She wasn’t crazy. Not yet, anyway.

Karen frowned at her, but said nothing more about it, taking the seat beside Edmund for herself once she finished serving the rest of the food. Sounds of forks scraping plates filled the room as everyone ate. It was the most salt Dani had consumed at a time since leaving home. Still, her mother’s cooking instilled a bit of nostalgia in her that made her think of Sunday mornings as an adolescent, when the two of them would spend the entire day together. Back when things were still okay between them.

“Dani, after breakfast, I’d love it if you could give us the tour. I mean, this place is just ginormous. I got lost three times just trying to find the kitchen this morning,” her mother said, laughing to herself.

Dani nodded. “Okay, Mom. I’ll make sure to do that.” She twirled her fork around in the air, trying to be casual as possible as she asked, “And exactly how long are you planning on staying for?”

“Do we really need to discuss that now?”

“Well, yeah, I’d like to know.”

Her mother gave her a look, then sighed in defeat. “We haven’t purchased our flights back yet. The date is sort of open-ended. We’re thinking around… two weeks?”

Although Dani was anticipating that amount of time, the confirmation still sent waves of nausea through her. She wasn’t sure how she was going to make it through the end of the day with them there. Her only saviors would be Jamie and the kids, who would hopefully take up the majority of her time.

“Two weeks? Wow, that’s… What about work, Mom?” Dani questioned, thinking back on her mother’s somewhat decent job at the local bank.

Her mother shook her head. “Oh, that place doesn’t need me. I quit before we left, but I know they’d take me back in a heartbeat if I asked nicely enough.”

Dani didn’t find the admission amusing. Her mother’s biggest struggle, aside from depending on other people to get her out of tough situations, was holding onto a job. She must have worked everywhere within a ten mile radius of where they lived. Twice. It was to be expected at this point.

“What about you, Eddie?” Dani asked, calling him by his nickname out of pure habit.

His eyes lit up at being acknowledged by her. “Oh, I had some vacation time saved up. Don’t worry.”

She wasn’t. Judy hadn’t worked a day in her life, so there was no concern there. Dani looked over to Hannah and Owen, trying to get a read on how they were taking this intrusion. They seemed more patient than Dani ever could imagine being. Bless them both.

“We’re all finished eating now,” Flora announced, lifting up her bare plate to prove it.

Dani smiled at the little girl. “Okay, why don’t you and Miles head back upstairs and shower. Get ready for the day,” she said, hoping that would buy her some time to come clean with - or actually just deceive - her mother about the Jamie situation.

The two hurried upstairs, leaving behind a more tensed atmosphere with only the adults left. Hannah cleared her throat uncomfortably and her and Owen stood to start helping clear the table. Karen leaned back into her chair, sipping calmly on her coffee. Dani could feel Jamie looking over at her, awaiting her cue like some guard dog on the prowl.

“So, Mom, there’s actually something I’d like to tell you,” she began, glancing over to Jamie, who visibly perked up in response.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” her mother said, sharing a laugh with Judy from across the table. “Should I stay sitting down for this?”

Dani let out a breath. “Probably, yeah.”

The smile left her mother’s face. “What is it, darling?”

She tried to keep from looking at Edmund, because ultimately seeing her mother’s look of disapproval was a whole lot more appealing to her than seeing his heart shatter again, but she couldn’t help herself. She looked over to him and could see it in his eyes. He knew what was coming, and he was bracing himself.

“I met someone,” Dani revealed, locking eyes with her mother once again. “And it’s pretty serious.”

“You’re kidding,” her mother replied, dead tone.

“No, I’m really not,” Dani said, slowly building more confidence with each passing moment. “Jamie is more than just the gardener here. She’s my… my girlfriend.”

Damn her if saying it out loud didn’t take some effort, but she had done it. Maybe the only thing that brought her relief was the feeling of Jamie’s warm hand landing supportingly over hers, which in turn led to Dani flipping her own hand over and allowing their fingers to intertwine with one another. It was definitely a distraction from the chaos, Dani must admit, but not nearly enough. Her first time holding hands with Jamie, and she couldn’t even truly appreciate the dizzy way it made her feel as waves of warmth ran through her from head to toe.

“Please tell me this is a joke, Danielle,” her mother said, seeming to be working very hard at keeping her voice steady.

Jamie looked over to Dani, and the cocky expression on her face showed she was the most comfortable person at the table right now. “It’s no joke, Miss Clayton. I’m dating your daughter, and loving every minute of it.”

Chapter Text

Dani wasn’t sure who left the table first; it all just happened so fast. If there was a way to do an instant playback, her money would be on her mother. However, Edmund was pretty quick to bolt out of there as well. Judy definitely lingered a moment before racing after her son. How strange for a man of his age to need consoling, but Dani figured she did just break his heart all over again. She should probably cut him some slack.

Alone now with only Jamie, Hannah, and Owen, Dani felt relief at being able to act herself again. Hannah and Owen took their seats at the table once more, sharing looks between one another the way they tended to do. Jamie let go of her hand after a minute, most likely to be sure Dani’s mother was not coming back. At least, that's what Dani told herself as her body ached for the contact again.

“Well, that’s one way to break the news,” Hannah said, sipping from her mug of tea.

“Hey, I’m proud of you for going through with it at all,” Jamie told her, and Dani could actually see the pride in her eyes. “I hope I didn’t make things any worse.”

Dani waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, don’t worry about it. My mom can’t get any more upset than she already is. Besides, I thought it was funny.”

“As did I,” Owen added, slyly bumping fists with Jamie.

“You think she’ll leave any sooner now that she knows?” Jamie asked, giving Dani something to consider that she hadn’t already.

She wouldn’t put it past her mom to want to leave now. When Dani had first come out to her, they didn’t speak for weeks. This time around, she was almost certain she would feel content with her mother’s absence, as opposed to broken. A small part of her maybe even hoped for it.

“I’m not sure. There’s a good chance she won’t ever speak to me again.”

“Give her the day,” Hannah advised. “Just take care of the kids and if she comes down, I’ll give her the tour of the property myself. Hopefully she’ll have calmed down by dinner. Owen’s making his famous chicken katsu.”

Dani gave the other woman a small smile, appreciative of her kindness and reassurance. “Thank you, Hannah.”

“And with that, I should get back to the garden,” Jamie announced, getting to her feet. “I’ll see you lot later. Oh, and Dani? I put my stuff in your room on my way in this morning. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, of course not.”

But Dani could already feel the heat rising to her face as she was once again reminded of her new sleeping arrangements with Jamie. This was either going to be the best idea or the worst. And only time would tell.

-----

It turns out, spending the day with Miles and Flora was exactly what she needed to get her mind away from the guests in the manor. She spent a majority of the afternoon inside, giving them their schooling. The rest, they spent out in the forest, laughing together at one odd thing or another. They had lunch in the garden, with a wonderful view of Jamie for Dani to ogle at, undetected. When it was nearing sundown and Dani knew dinner was soon to be done, she began to usher the kids back in the direction of the house.

“I know we haven’t talked about my mom and her friends yet, but I want you guys to know that if you ever have a problem with them being there, I will send them home in a heartbeat,” Dani said, thinking of those three for the first time in hours.

What she had said was true. Any slight discomfort they brought the kids, and they would be gone within the hour. Dani realized she was more willing to put herself through the emotional turmoil that came with battling them than she ever would be when it came to those two kids. It was her job to look out for them, and nothing was going to ever change that.

“We don’t mind them being here,” Flora said, skipping around. “In fact, I think it’s pretty fun to have other people over.”

“And you, Miles?” Dani asked, knowing the older boy might have a very different perception of them.

He shrugged. “I don’t mind it at all. They seem nice.”

Dani sighed. She wasn’t about to start putting ideas into their heads about the way she viewed each one of their guests individually. Although, she was going to have to give them a slight warning about tonight. After that morning, there was no telling what dinner would look like.

“My mom and I had a little disagreement this morning,” Dani said, wringing her hands together. “They might not be joining us for dinner tonight, but I don’t want you guys to worry about a thing. My mom and I will work it out. We always do.”

“I don’t think we should eat dinner without her,” Miles replied. “It might make her more upset.”

Dani frowned. “I know it isn’t the polite thing to do, but trust me, if she doesn’t want to see me tonight, there is nothing anybody can say or do to convince her otherwise. And you kids need to eat.”

"Is she mad because you like Jamie?" Flora asked, looking too concerned for a child of her age.

Dani sighed. She knew that she probably should have corrected the younger girl. Reminded her that the feelings she had for Jamie were not real, but purely for show. Yet she found herself nodding in agreement, too tired to put in the effort of convincing the kids otherwise.

"Yes, she's mad because I like Jamie."

"That's just silly," Flora replied, shaking her head.

There was no further discussion on that. As they walked into the manor and the kids rushed over to the kitchen sink to wash their hands, Dani was surprised to see all three guests already seated at the table, as well as Hannah and Owen. Jamie must have still been outside, but she was due there any minute now.

Dani stared at her mother, searching for any indication of how she may be feeling. Her mother remained expressionless, eyes casted down onto the table settings. She glanced over to Edmund, who looked a lot more put together than she’d been expecting. In fact, he looked pretty damn fine to her. Judy seemed a little more on edge, almost as though she’d absorbed her son’s pain for him.

“The food looks amazing, Owen,” Hannah said, cutting through the silence.

“Why, thank you,” Owen replied, smiling at the housekeeper.

The guests murmured their appreciation for the meal as well, while the kids found their places at the table. Dani walked over to the sink, dousing her hands with soap and scrubbing them meticulously. She was so distracted by the running bubbles over her skin that she didn’t notice Jamie walk in, nor did she notice the way the gardener closed in on her, stopping only once their hips were nearly touching.

“Evening, Poppins,” Jamie said, offering Dani a comforting smile.

Dani almost jumped, but stopped herself, eased by the low tone of Jamie’s voice. They smiled at each other.

“Hi,” Dani murmured, rinsing the rest of the soap off her hands.

“Your mum’s down for dinner. That’s a good sign.”

Dani glanced over her shoulder at her mom, moving a few steps to the right to let Jamie have her turn at the sink. Her eyes gravitated towards the slender fingers lathering themselves with soap as Jamie scrubbed her hands underneath the hot water.

“She’s probably in denial,” Dani said under her breath, confident nobody at the table could hear them over the sounds of the kids laughing at Owen’s bad puns and the steady running water. “There’s no way she believes me.” Dani licked her lips, glancing up at the gardener’s face. “Believes us.”

“Seeing is believing,” Jamie replied, and they shared a look that could only be described as some form of implied promiscuity on Jamie’s end. “Maybe we need to start our little performance. Show her something she can’t deny.”

Dani swallowed at the implications of her suggestion, resisting the urge to scream yes. Being so close to Jamie had already jump-started her heart the way a jolt of electricity from a pair of paddles would have. Although terrified, she was more than ready. She nodded briskly.

“Um, what do you suggest?”

Jamie smirked, turning off the faucet and wiping her hands on a nearby washcloth. “C’mon.”

Before Dani knew it, her hand was once again interlocked with Jamie’s. The transition had been so smooth, yet she remembered being acutely aware of the instant their skin touched. Then there was warmth, and she decided she never wanted to let go. Hand in hand, they walked over to the table. Dani could feel her ears burning, but bit back the anxiety. The seats they’d sat in for breakfast were the last ones available. Conversation came to a halt once everyone spotted their linked fingers.

“Dani, you look like a tomato,” Flora shouted, giggling behind her hand.

Miles’ laughter followed hers, and then Owen’s and Hannah’s sputters came shortly after. The only people unamused were the guests. Dani winced as she realized this, but Jamie only held on tighter, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. The gardener pulled Dani’s chair out for her and the two of them took their seats.

“You’ll have to give me the recipe for this, Owen,” Judy said, clearing her throat a little.

Owen dipped his head in acknowledgement with a polite smile. “Gladly.”

“It’s fantastic,” Edmund added, taking a long drink from his iced water.

Dani glanced over at him, but he would not meet her eyes. She felt Jamie let go of her hand and panicked, only to realize she was just cutting her meal so that she could eat. Dani followed suit, silently counting the moments until Jamie would reach for her again.

Despite not having much of an appetite, Dani was able to force herself to eat most of her meal. Dinner finished at the usual time, which only passed at its regular pace due to the kids. Nobody could be upset when Flora’s laughter was in the air. Not even Dani’s mother, who refused to look her way the rest of the dinner.

It was only when the plates were cleared and the kids were sentenced to bed that her mother even acknowledged her. Dani was halfway out of the kitchen, hot on the trails of Miles and Flora to see to it they brushed their teeth and changed into their pajamas, when she heard the shrill call of her mother’s voice.

“Dani, could we talk for a moment?”

Dani paused in her tracks, taking a deep breath before turning to face her mother. Hannah was quickly making her way over, giving Dani a reassuring smile.

“Don’t worry. I’ll see to the kids,” she promised, exiting without another word about it.

Owen had already been on his way out of the house and spared one last awkward wave before leaving the kitchen. Jamie came over to Dani’s side, looking at her with a question in those perfect eyes of hers. Dani knew what she was asking.

Do you need me to stay?

“Alone,” her mother said, fixing Jamie with a look.

Dani stared at Jamie, feelings her lips tilt up in the beginnings of a smile despite the current circumstances. “I’ll be fine,” she assured her, taking Jamie’s hand into her own and running her thumb lightly across the ridges of her knuckles.

“I’m a room away if you need me,” Jamie reminded her, taking one last moment for Dani to change her mind before walking away.

Edmund and Judy were getting to their feet as well, which only came as a relief to Dani who could not imagine handling all three of them on her own. Edmund was still refusing to meet her eyes but looked in her direction, muttering a soft goodnight. Judy exited without a word to her.

“Come. Sit down,” Karen instructed, leaning back in her chair.

Although she’d been drinking from a coffee mug all night, Dani had her suspicions that there wasn’t coffee in there. There was liquor all over the house. The likelihood of her mother getting into it on her own accord was high, which meant her mother was going to be mean the way she always was when she drank. Dani didn’t have time to let it frustrate her, though. No, all she cared about was that it was getting her mom to talk to her again.

She took her seat across from her mom.

“I’ve been thinking about what you told us this morning. It’s all I’ve been thinking about, really,” her mother said.

Dani chewed on the inside of her lip. “Yeah?”

Her mother nodded. “I’ve been wondering why you couldn’t have just told me that over the phone. Did you want to embarrass me, or something? Did you want to embarrass Judy? Eddie?”

“Mom, I-”

“Do you know how much that boy loves you? Not a day has gone by without him thinking of you. Judy tells me he does nothing but speak of you. He refuses to move on. Won't even consider it,” her mother said, growing more furious by the second. “God knows why.”

Dani could feel the sting of her words as real as if she’d been slashed with a whip instead. Her eyes watered, but she refused to cry. Not yet. Not in front of her mother. She didn’t deserve the satisfaction.

“It’s not my fault that he won’t move on. I told him that I would never be interested. He knows that,” Dani said, trying to get her mother to see the truth of it all.

“Honey, what you have going on is not real. I know we haven’t always had the best relationship, but there is no need for you to take things to this extreme just to get back at me. Eddie is still willing to work things out if you are. Just walk away from this ludicrous lifestyle now. Before it’s too late.”

Her sadness turned to anger in the blink of an eye. Sure, her and Jamie weren’t actually dating. But her mother knew no better than that. She was completely invalidating her feelings, just like she had done before. Dani was not going to stand for it a second time.

“Mom, I’m sorry if me being this way hurts you. But my attraction towards women is never going to change, and neither will my feelings for Jamie. So you can either respect my relationship with her, or you can leave.”

They stared at one another. It was a stalemate. Maybe her mother wouldn’t be so quick to make a decision tonight. It was one hell of an ultimatum, after all. Dani held her breath as she watched her mother stand up, and slowly, but surely, leave the kitchen. Without even thinking, Dani ran out into the night, soaking in the crisp, cool air as she let out sob after sob.

She paused several feet from the house, replaying the conversation with her mom repeatedly in her head. She thought of everything, from the way her mother had looked at her as though they were strangers, to the way the words had left her mouth laced with venom. It was all so clear to her, the memories fresh enough to be looped around in her head like a movie.

The sound of boots on gravel drove her out of her catatonic-like state, and she looked up to see Jamie cautiously approaching her, a look of concern written across her pretty face. Dani didn’t hesitate to reach out for her, wrapping her arms around Jamie’s broad shoulders as she held her close. All hell really broke loose after that; after Dani felt safe and nurtured in the arms of the woman she was so desperately attracted to. She cried until it had drained her, and there were no tears left to stream down her face, hot in their betrayal.

Jamie never stopped holding her. Never even loosened her grip. The gardener held her as though her life depended on it. All without saying one word. The simple act of Jamie stroking her hair was calming enough for Dani to pull herself together. When she broke free of Jamie’s hold, she wiped furiously at her eyes, attempting to hide the pain behind them.

“I heard every word of it,” Jamie admitted, placing her hands into her back pockets. “I wasn’t trying to listen in on you two. The walls are just really thin.”

Dani wasn’t upset by it. “She’s just being tough on me, like always.”

“You deserve better than that, Dani.”

She doesn’t argue with her on that. Dani loves herself enough to know that Jamie is right. But that woman in there was also her mother, who Dani loves more than she would care to admit. There is no easy way to go about this. Only pain or more pain.

“What do we do?” Jamie asked, and her voice sounded as though she were miles away.

Dani blew out an uneven breath. “Um, I’m not sure. I guess if she decides to leave tomorrow, then there’s nothing we can do.”

“And if she stays?”

Dani looked into Jamie’s eyes. “Then I still have a chance.”

Jamie nodded, understanding. Slowly, a new form of tension started to build, as neither of them chose to look away. It surrounded the two of them until the air was thick with it. Heavy like smoke from a wildfire blazing from right underneath their feet. Dani realized what it was, but it was all too late. One moment she was there, and the next, she was falling, her mind spiralling down into a valley of black as her eyes fluttered closed.

Jamie had leaned forward, pressing her lips flush against Dani’s. Lightly, at first, and then a little rougher once Dani shuddered and pulled the gardener closer to her by the collar of her jacket. Jamie’s mouth was so warm in contrast to the bitter wind, and her lips were as tempting as ever as they built momentum against Dani’s own. Dani opened her mouth and without direction, Jamie slipped her tongue inside, making the au pair clamp her legs together as warmth spread throughout her body. They could have stayed like that forever, but Dani could feel the other woman begin to pull away after only a few moments more of bliss.

She almost clung to her, begged her to stay. Asked her not to stop kissing her. Not for anything in the world. Not even if it was all going to shit and these were the last moments of their lives. Almost.

But Jamie had looked over Dani’s shoulder immediately after breaking apart, and Dani knew without reason that there was something there. She turned around, spotting her mother’s figure walking away from the window facing the two of them. And Dani knew, without a doubt, that she had seen the whole thing. If not all of it, then at least their kiss.

And that brought into question the authenticity of the kiss she’d just shared with Jamie. The kiss that for a few transient moments, had almost fooled Dani into thinking was real. Did the gardener know that her mother had been looking? Had that been why she’d initiated the kiss? The very kiss that had restored faith into Dani and had given her a whole new reason to look forward to the future?

Dani almost laughed to herself, bitter over thinking otherwise. Of course it had been for show. She was crazy for ever thinking it could have been more than that… right?

“Everything is going to be okay,” Jamie said to her, making Dani turn back around to see the glimmer of hope in her eyes.

“Yeah,” she whispered, but her heart wasn’t in it.

Jamie extended her hand. “Let’s get to bed, Poppins. Before we catch something out here in this cold.”

Dani could not have cared less about the frosty weather or catching a cold. At the moment, even her mother’s wrath was on the back burner of her mind. All that consumed her now was the intimate moment that she’d shared with Jamie and the pure wonderment of what the hell she was going to do now that she knew what the perfect kiss felt like.

Chapter Text

She debated asking Jamie about the kiss. Whether it was for show if it had actually meant something to the brunette. For the life of her, Dani could not get a read on how the other girl was feeling. The moment they were back in the house and in Dani’s bedroom, it was like nothing had ever happened. The kiss they’d shared became a thing of the past. Something they may laugh about one day, years from now. Perhaps Dani would never find it funny.

Dani decided against bringing it up on her own, solely out of fear that she would screw everything up and then all of their scheming would have been for nothing. It was just better for everyone’s sake if she let things happen naturally and asked questions later. Preferably, when their guests were long gone on a flight back to the United States.

She sat on the bed, attempting to will herself into getting up and changing into her pajamas. Jamie had already disappeared into the bathroom to brush her teeth and change. After several minutes had passed, Dani still couldn’t bring herself to move. She felt paralyzed by the events from today. There was nothing she wanted more than to sleep it all off and wake up to learn it had all been a dream. And maybe that even included the kiss.

“Anybody home?” Jamie asked, walking into the room and giving Dani an amused smile. “Whatcha thinking about?”

Dani shrugged, slightly embarrassed at having been caught zoning out. “Its been a long day.”

“I know.” Jamie came over and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Things are going to get better, Poppins. You have my word.”

“How could you possibly know a thing like that?”

Jamie smiled. “Because no matter what, at the end of the day, you have me.”

Dani felt the return of the butterflies that always seemed to be needing an escape whenever Jamie was around. She welcomed the nervous feeling, happy to be feeling anything at all that wasn’t sadness or frustration.

“I do?”

The gardener nodded, moving a hand to gently cup the side of Dani’s face. “Always.”

“Good.”

The last word came out in a whisper, but she knew that Jamie had heard her just fine by the small laugh she let out. The moment lasted a few seconds (torturous seconds where Dani anticipated another kiss that would give her the answer she was looking for) before Jamie pulled her hand away, leaving Dani at the edge of the bed as she went to crawl underneath the heavy covers at the head of it.

“Jamie?”

“Yeah?”

Dani paused, biting on her lip as she chose her next words wisely. “We’re okay, right? Things between us… they’re fine?”

“Why wouldn’t they be?”

“Right, I know,” Dani quickly sputtered. “That was a dumb question.”

Jamie sat up in bed, and Dani could feel her eyes on the back of her neck, as she refused to turn around and face the brunette. “Hey, is this about what happened outside? The kiss?”

She nodded. “Maybe.”

“I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable. I know we agreed beforehand that we were both okay with it, but I still should have asked.”

Suddenly, Dani felt bad, reminded of their conversation where she did willingly consent to letting Jamie kiss her during the duration of her mother’s visit. It had only been a couple days ago, but now felt like a lifetime. Turning around, she finally faced Jamie, guilt-struck once she saw the concerned expression on the gardener’s face.

“No, you didn’t do anything wrong. I know we agreed to it, and my mom was watching so it totally makes sense why you did that.”

Dani was testing the waters here. Giving Jamie the opportunity to let her know if she had other intentions behind that kiss. But Jamie only let a small smile grace her lips, nodding her head in confirmation.

“She must be pretty upset about it, but at least now she can’t pretend like we aren’t together.”

"Right, at least there's that."

It wasn’t the response she wanted, but pushing her for more would only be obvious at this point. She would need to wait and see if anything more came of it before bringing up the topic again.

“It’s getting pretty late, maybe we should get some rest now,” Jamie suggested, laying back flat against the mattress.

Dani nodded, disappointed with their conversation, but knowing it had come to an end now. “Yeah, we should.”

“Well, goodnight, Poppins,” Jamie said, turning onto her side and shutting her eyes.

“Goodnight.”

-----

Sharing a bed with Jamie was… uneventful, to say the least. The gardener slept so far on the other end of it that Dani worried all throughout the night she might fall off and hit the floor. Dani guessed she was just being respectful about it. Didn’t want to be crossing any boundaries with them behind closed doors. But Dani also didn’t know how to tell her that she was perfectly okay with the two of them falling asleep wrapped up in one another.

When Dani woke up in the morning, the first thing she noticed was that Jamie was gone. She’d been so exhausted from a restless night of sharing a bed with her fake girlfriend that she completely slept through said fake girlfriend leaving. The alarm Dani had set up the night before to ensure she didn’t accidentally sleep in again is what jolted her out of bed that morning.

Dani showered quickly before rushing downstairs, eager to make sure her mother hadn’t overstepped in the kitchen again. She was immediately calmed by the sight of Owen by the counter, enjoying a cup of coffee with Hannah.

“Good morning,” Dani greeted, giving them a little wave.

It always made her feel somewhat awkward to intrude on a private moment between Owen and Hannah. Those two needed all the alone time they could get with one another. Dani was pretty sure everyone in Bly was waiting with bated breath for those two to finally seal the deal. She always wondered what was taking them so long to fess up to their feelings.

“Morning, Dani,” Owen replied, lifting his mug to her. “Want a cup?”

“Sure.”

She went over to accept the steaming mug Owen handed her way, smiling in thanks. She wandered out of the kitchen and out the front door, deciding to give the two of them some more space before the kids woke up and the house came to life again. She wished they would have warned her Judy was already awake and out front.

“Dani?”

The au pair froze, knowing it was too late to walk back inside now. She’d been spotted. She stepped over to where the older woman stood, nursing her own mug of coffee, it looked like. Dani gave her a tight smile.

“Hi.”

Judy dropped her gaze. “So, last night was a bit awkward, wasn’t it?”

“I’m sorry.”

She shook her head dismissively. “Don’t be. At the end of the day, we can’t help who we love. Someone’s always gonna end up hurt, and it seems like you've been hurting plenty.”

Dani swallowed. Love? Was that how she felt about Jamie? Was that how she should tell them she felt about Jamie? Dani brushed past those thoughts and realized Judy was giving her the response she expected the least from her.

“You’re being surprisingly okay about this,” Dani said. “I was half expecting you to never talk to me again.”

Judy chuckled. “Dani, we’re here for two weeks and I spent the better part of last night trying to keep my son from going to your room and making a fool of himself. Even I know that ship has now sailed. I’m not going to lie and say I’m happy about it, but what can you do?”

“I wish my mom would understand that.”

“Don’t be so hard on her. All she’s ever wanted for you was to find a decent guy who would love you the way nobody ever loved her. Her dream has died. Can you really blame her for not wanting to accept it and let it go?”

Dani hadn’t really thought about it like that before, and somehow having Judy explain it to her made so much sense now. It still didn’t excuse her mother’s behavior, but some perspective was always welcomed.

“She can be upset, but she still has to accept it,” Dani told her, taking a big drink from her mug. “Jamie is a great person. She should try to get to know her while she’s here.”

Judy snorted. “Good luck with that one.”

Dani frowned, but said no more. Out in the distance, she could see Jamie clearing some brush out from the side of the house. Her hair was loosely tied back and she had on those gardening gloves Dani always found to be so sexy. She watched her for a moment, mesmerized and in awe that somebody like Jamie cared about her. That somebody like Jamie had kissed her last night.

The thought made her blush.

“She’s pretty hard working. Smart too, from what I can tell,” Judy commented, following Dani’s gaze.

Dani dipped her head, looking away. “Uh, yeah. She is.”

“Give your mother some time,” Judy said, leaving Dani with those words as she wandered back into the house.

Dani lingered for a moment more, looking back out to find Jamie with her eyes. The gardener was looking her way that time, a big grin on her face. They waved to one another, and then Dani rushed inside before the thought of kissing Jamie again consumed her.

-----

Dani was more than surprised to find all three guests at the table for dinner that night. She figured her mom would be extra pissed after catching her and Jamie kissing last night, but she wore no signs of anger or frustration. Judy eyed Dani as though they’d never even spoken in the morning as Dani entered the kitchen with the kids. Edmund only smiled his trademark puppy dog smile at her.

“Dinner looks amazing as always, Owen,” Dani said, standing near the table as the kids took their seats.

“Mmm, what smells so good?” Jamie asked, gaining the attention of everyone in the room as she walked in, heading straight for Dani. “Hello, beautiful. Haven’t seen you all day.”

Jamie kissed her cheek. It was a soft one, just a breeze of lips ghosting over skin. But Dani felt her entire circulatory system jerk to life as the blood rushed through her. Immediately, she lifted a hand to her cheek, touching the spot Jamie had just been. Her heart was still fluttering at the term of endearment. But Jamie was already taking her seat, seemingly past the moment.

“Oh, my,” Flora gasped, giggling uncontrollably.

Even Miles was chuckling to himself, shaking his head at the two of them. Dani felt her skin heat as she took her seat at the table. With the kids laughing so hard, it was difficult for her to keep the lopsided grin from taking residence on her face.

“Jesus, Dani, do you really need to act like that in front of the kids?” her mother asked, scolding her yet again for her manners.

“We don’t mind at all, Miss Clayton,” Miles assured her, clearly catching the woman by surprise. “We actually think they’re quite cute together.”

Karen shook her head anyway. “You two shouldn’t be seeing things like that. It could mess with your head. You’re both way too young.”

“Oh, relax, Karen,” Jamie said, while serving herself a good portion of Owen’s special potato salad. “We keep most of it private.”

Dani thought her mother was going to choke on her drink that was most definitely wine this time, but she managed to keep that from happening with a few quick coughs. Owen’s eyes were wide, but then again, so were everyone else’s, save for the kids who didn’t understand the implication. Dani blinked several times, unsure of what to even say as her stomach turned sour.

“Anyone care for some broccoli?” Hannah asked, offering the bowl towards the other people at the table.

Karen accepted the broccoli from Hannah, remaining quiet while Owen changed the subject to something lighter. It worked, and soon conversation was flowing again. Dani had her mind on other things, though, and glanced over to Jamie who was smiling at her over the secret they both shared. They laughed to themselves, and suddenly, Dani wasn’t feeling so sick anymore.

So what if her mom was mad? So what if she didn’t know how Jamie actually felt about her? So what if the kiss hadn’t meant anything at all? So what if it had?

Dani decided to stop letting it get to her and just enjoy the moment while she could. She reached her hand over to Jamie’s lap, where the gardener’s spare one rested. Instantly, their hands locked together and Dani found it all a bit easier to breathe.

-----

Later that night, after putting the kids to bed, Dani reluctantly headed over to her bedroom, where she knew Jamie would already be. After holding hands most of the evening, Dani felt a little anxious to be alone with the gardener. Not that Jamie would bring it up, but Dani couldn’t help but overthink every little thing that happened between the two of them. And the handholding was just the tip of the iceberg.

She opened the door to her room, her eyes landing directly on Jamie who was already settled underneath the covers, reading a book. She glanced up when Dani walked in, setting her book down and sitting up straight. Dani closed the door behind her, making her way over to the bed.

“Another day closer to them leaving,” Jamie said, giving Dani a sympathetic smile. “Hanging in there alright?”

She shrugged, taking a seat on the bed facing Jamie. “I’m okay.”

It wasn’t exactly a lie. Dealing with her angry mother and sulking ex was definitely draining, and that was on top of trying to manage the raging feelings she felt for Jamie in every waking moment. But things could always be worse.

There was an unexpected knock at the door that startled the both of them. Dani felt her stomach drop, nervous about who could possibly be behind the door. Even Jamie looked uncomfortable as she plopped back down and tucked her arms back behind her head. It was very obvious she was trying to play it cool, but Dani didn’t have the heart to tell her. She shuffled over to the door, slowly pulling it open.

“Bad time?” Hannah asked, looking curiously at the au pair.

Dani shook her head, smiling in relief as she opened the door the rest of the way to invite the housekeeper inside. Jamie relaxed at the sight of Hannah, sitting back up. Dani closed the door behind her and they both joined Jamie on the bed.

“I just wanted to come check in. See how you two were doing with everything,” Hannah said, looking back and forth between the two of them.

“Well, Edmund still won’t talk to me and every time my mother does talk to me, it’s to scold me for something stupid,” Dani replied. “I did have a surprising conversation with Judy this morning, though. She told me that she’s accepted I’ll never have feelings for her son and told me to give my mom some time to come around.”

“Unexpected, but I’m not going to start complaining,” Jamie said, eyebrows raised. “Although, that woman’s been glaring at me every chance she gets.”

“Well, you do play a convincing girlfriend, Jamie,” Hannah said, chuckling. “Owen and I forget you two are acting sometimes. And even Flora keeps saying it's real.”

Dani cleared her throat. “Um, Jamie’s just really convincing when she needs to be. And the kids don't really get it, but we'll explain things better once the guests have gone.”

“Karen told me she saw you two kissing,” Hannah revealed, eyeing the two of them knowingly. “The woman was practically hysterical when she told me.”

Now it was Jamie’s turn to sputter. “Hey, Dani and I had agreed beforehand that we would kiss to sell it. Trust me, this is all going according to plan still.”

Dani wanted to feel disappointed by Jamie’s view on it all, but had already been expecting it. At this point, it was already decided that their kiss had been done to further their agenda.

“When were you talking to my mom?” Dani asked.

“This morning when you were with the kids. She’s been confiding in me for some reason. Maybe because Judy is often tending to her son, I’m not sure. But she’s really upset by this all, Dani. I don’t know what to tell her.”

“Tell her Dani’s in pain, too. And that no mother should treat their own child the way that she has,” Jamie advised.

Dani smiled softly at the gardener’s protectiveness over her. “I know she’s upset. Maybe Judy’s right. Maybe she just needs some time.”

“As crazy as it may sound now, I think a part of her may really be trying to understand this all,” Hannah told her.

Jamie snickered. “You’re right. It does sound crazy.”

Hannah pressed her lips together, but said no more. She got to her feet, giving them a polite smile and wishing them both a goodnight. Dani felt confused as she thought about what Hannah had said. She knew the older woman would not have said those things if she didn’t truly believe them.

“Don’t worry about any of that right now,” Jamie said, breaking through her thoughts as she extended a hand towards her. “All we can do is take things one day at a time.”

Dani reached for her hand, placing her own on top of it and feeling the warmth run through her like a jolt of electricity. Jamie gave her a curious look, as though she knew Dani had felt something at her touch. The gardener parted her lips to say something, but another knock struck their bedroom door.

“Come in!” Dani called out, assuming it was Hannah, coming back to tell them something else.

She turned around and saw Edmund standing there, his eyes directed straight at their hands that were still resting on one another. Dani pulled her hand back quickly, shooting a glance to Jamie who seemed just as unsure as she felt.

“Sorry, we thought you were somebody else,” Dani apologized, leaving the bed to meet Edmund in the hall.

“I’m sorry. If this is a bad time, I can come back later.”

She shook her head. “No, what’s up?”

He was staring at the ground, but looked up briefly to meet her eyes. “Uh, can we talk? Privately?”

“Um, sure.” As much as Dani didn’t want to agree, she knew this conversation was both much anticipated and much needed. “Jamie, I’ll be to bed soon.”

“I’ll be waiting,” Jamie replied, and it sounded more like a promise than anything else.

Dani shut the door behind them and led Edmund down the stairs and into the kitchen. She turned on the lights, taking a seat at the table and gesturing for him to take the one opposite of her. He obliged, smiling uncomfortably.

“I’d offer to put on a pot of coffee, but I really shouldn’t be up too much longer,” Dani said, thinking an intrusive thought of Jamie lying in bed, waiting for her.

“That’s okay. I just wanted to tell you that I’m not mad,” he said, picking at a chip in the table. “When you broke the news, I was really upset by it, but my mom calmed me down a lot. She told me that we can’t help who we love, and I understand that now. Because I can’t help it that I love you. You and Jamie are lucky to have found love in each other.”

There was that word again. Love. Twice in one day. Dani let her lips dance with the beginnings of a smile despite herself. “Yeah, we are.”

“She seems like a good person.”

“She is.” The au pair eyed him, taken aback by his words. “You know, I really was expecting you to be an asshole about this. Like, forever.”

He laughed, but it sounded lifeless. “I wanted to be. But I realized that it wasn’t fair to you. I don’t have to like it, but I can accept it. I guess it's kinda on me for deciding to drop by and see you out of the blue. You've been telling me to move on for months now, but I never figured you might already have.”

She knew she wasn’t going to get anything better than that out of him so she decided to take it. Having two of the three people there indifferent about her sexuality and relationship with Jamie was better than having all three hate her. And it was really nice to have him take some of the responsibility of it all.

“It seems like only my mom is refusing to accept me,” Dani muttered.

He looked up at that. “Dani, can you really blame her? This isn’t exactly normal.”

“Being with Jamie makes me feel more normal than being with you ever did,” she told him, knowing it was a biting thing to say, but letting it slip out regardless.

He looked stung, but nodded anyway. “I understand that, too. You have to make yourself happy. If your mom comes around, then great. If not, at least you’ll know that you lived a life without regrets. I gave you enough of them as it is.”

He stood up, and she knew the conversation was over. Before he could leave the kitchen, she called out for him.

“I know this may be a lot to ask for, but can you just let my mom know that you’ve accepted everything. Maybe it could help her some to terms with it if she knew you weren't holding onto it all,” Dani said, knowing it was a long shot, but hoping for it anyway.

“Sure, Dani,” he replied softly. “I’ll let her know.”

“Thank you, Eddie.”

She listened to his footsteps as they retreated back up the stairs. She lingered in the kitchen for a few minutes longer, thinking about all that had unraveled since their arrival. With her mom. Judy. Edmund. With Jamie, especially. Her mind was still heavy with thoughts as she made her way back to her room. And when she was finally inside, she collapsed onto the bed and stared up at her ceiling.

“Are we in love?”

She heard Jamie cough. “What?”

“I mean, is that our story? Do we tell them we’re in love when they ask?”

Jamie seemed to understand better now and pulled back the covers slightly to indicate she wanted Dani to get underneath. Wordlessly, Dani obeyed, tucking herself beneath the layers of cotton as she felt Jamie scoot in closer to her.

“Yeah, we’re in love, Poppins,” Jamie murmured, tucking a strand of hair behind Dani’s ear as the au pair fought back a shutter.

Dani closed her eyes, replaying Jamie’s words in her head over and over again. By the end of it, she could almost convince herself that they’d been real.

Chapter Text

A couple of days passed since Dani’s talk with Edmund and Judy. Days that were basically a mirror image of one another, save for the ever-growing feelings she felt for Jamie. There were moments where Jamie looked at her a certain way or gave her that smile she only ever saw every once in a while, and it made Dani feel full to the brim with glee. Holding hands had become something their bodies automatically gravitated towards doing whenever they were in the same room, and the au pair was becoming accustomed to the late night conversations that would take place between them before bed.

Dani still had yet to wake up any closer to Jamie than about three feet apart, but she started to notice the gardener lingering near her for longer and longer before they fell asleep. One of these nights, she was sure to accidentally fall asleep right next to Dani. And then Dani could cling onto her like she thought about doing both asleep and awake. Dani figured there was a good chance of Jamie not even minding the closeness if things did end up happening that way.

That morning, Dani woke up to the blankets on Jamie’s side of the bed bunched up, which let her know the brunette was awake and out of the room already. She sighed, sitting up and eyeing the spot that still held Jamie’s sleeping form. A splash of blue lines on the white cotton of the pillow caught her eye, and she saw that there was a note written in Jamie’s handwriting. Much more legible this time.

Morning, Poppins. Thought it’d be nice if you and the gremlins spent the morning out by the lake. Meet me by the greenhouse if you’re interested.
xoxo, your wonderful girlfriend

Dani reread the note an abnormal amount of times, but each time only increased the length of the grin on her face. Eventually, she jumped out of bed, showering and dressing for the day as briskly as she could manage. Dani had caught on that Judy spent her mornings at the front of the house, drinking her coffee as she stared out into the woods. The au pair knowingly avoided slipping out the front now and stuck to drinking her morning cup of coffee in the foyer while she listened for the sound of Miles and Flora descending the stairs.

By the time the kids were ready to begin their day, every person on the property had enjoyed a nutritious breakfast. Everyone, except for Jamie. Dani had mentioned to the kids that they would be spending the morning by the lake with Jamie while they’d been devouring their multi-grain toast, which led to Owen packing Dani a to-go breakfast for the gardener. There wasn’t much conversation from her mother’s end of the table, but at least they were all talking to each other over there as opposed to the draining silence that had usually occurred.

“Why wasn’t Jamie at breakfast?” Flora asked, kicking a rock as they made their way to the lake.

Dani watched as it fumbled ahead several feet before stopping. “Um, I don’t know yet. But I’m sure she’s hungry.”

“Miss Clayton seems very upset with Jamie,” Miles pointed out, arms crossed formally behind his back. “Maybe that’s why Jamie wasn’t there this morning. Maybe she’s sad about it.”

“Yeah, well, my mom isn’t too happy with me either. But I don’t think it bothers Jamie too much. She has thick skin when it comes to stuff like this.”

“Jamie says nothing can get her down when she knows that she has you,” Flora said, going after that same rock and kicking it even harder the second time around.

Dani froze. “What? When did she say that?”

“Yesterday evening. You were in the foyer with Miles, Hannah, and Owen and she was all alone in the kitchen with me and Mrs. O’Mara,” Flora answered. “Mrs. O’Mara kept asking her all these questions. Like when you two started dating and if she’d known about you and Edmund.”

Dani felt her stomach drop. Both relieved that her and Jamie had been prepared for that sort of thing, and also confused as to why Jamie hadn’t mentioned any of this to her. If Flora wasn’t such a chatterbox, Dani probably would have never known that conversation had even taken place. And if the little girl was as truthful as she seemed, had Jamie actually meant what she’d said about her?

“What else did they talk about?” Dani asked, her curiosity eating away at her as the need for any information regarding Jamie starved her.

“Flora, it’s rude to eavesdrop,” Miles scolded, frowning down at his younger sister.

“Just this one time, I’ll allow it,” Dani quickly said, causing the boy to lift his hands up in defeat.

Flora grinned. “Jamie said that she thinks you’re beautiful and that you make her really nervous.”

“Really?”

Dani felt herself let out a breathy laugh as the butterflies tussled around inside of her stomach again. She knew the grin on her face was dopey, but she didn’t even attempt to retract it. Regardless of whether or not Jamie had meant those things, she had still said them. And there was at least some minor truth to everything, wasn’t there?

“You two really are in love! I knew it!” Flora cheered, bursting out into skips. “I knew it! I knew it!”

As the greenhouse came into sight from only a few yards away, Dani panicked at the idea of Jamie overhearing them. She shushed Flora as quickly as she could, glancing rapidly back and forth between the child and the greenhouse.

“Shh, Flora, Jamie cannot hear you saying things like that,” Dani told her, exhaling in relief when the gardener did not step out to see what the screaming was all about.

“But why not? She loves you, too,” Flora said, her small eyebrows knit together in confusion.

Dani sighed. “Flora, Jamie and I have to pretend to love each other, remember? It’s just like one of the games we play. And if by the time the guests leave and they still believe we’re together, then all of us win.”

“Well, I heard Hannah tell Owen that this is for real, for real,” Flora repeated, with widened eyes and outstretched hands for emphasis.

Dani could have smacked a hand against her own forehead, but resisted. It really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to her that their friends were speculating something more was going on between her and Jamie. Dani guessed that she was probably really obvious about it. And besides, Hannah pried a lot more often than Dani was expecting. It was undeniably interesting, however, to think that they viewed the feelings there as mutual.

“Where are you hiding that you’re hearing all this information at?” Dani asked her.

Flora shrugged. “I guess people forget I’m there because I’m so small.”

Dani knew she couldn’t argue much with that logic. She’d had her own fair share of moments where she'd forgotten the little girl was near. She nearly had daily panic attacks thinking she’d lost her only to realize Flora had been by her side the entire time. Dani made a mental note to talk with Hannah about the thing she’d told Owen. She needed to get to the bottom of that one.

“Can we go play now?” Miles asked, sounding bored as ever.

Dani nodded. “Yes, but stay within sight of the greenhouse and don’t get too close to the water, got it?”

“Got it!” They said in unison, racing off towards the body of water.

Dani watched them go, making sure they stopped far away enough to keep from getting wet before making her way towards the greenhouse. Once she stepped inside, she spotted Jamie over by the basil, focused on watering the herb with a spray bottle. The gardener turned around at the sound of Dani crunching on dried leaves. She smiled instantly and Dani felt her heart skip a beat.

“Hi. Owen sent you some breakfast since you couldn’t make it this morning,” Dani said, handing her the tupperware filled with two boiled eggs and a good amount of hash browns.

Jamie accepted it, examining the contents before putting it off to the side. “Thanks for bringing it by. I don’t have much of an appetite this morning, but maybe I’ll munch on it later.”

“Have you been awake long?”

“Uh, maybe a couple hours. Why?”

Dani looked down, letting out a laugh to hide the seriousness of her next statement. “It’s just… you’re always gone when I wake up. I never know when you leave.”

“I’ve been an early bird my whole life,” Jamie easily explained, but Dani could feel her eyes boring into her with something much more intense. “Would it be better if I stayed in bed with you until you got up?”

She felt the blood rush to her face at the suggestion and glanced up to meet the eyes that were now filled with genuine wonderment. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Well, just say the word and I’ll do anything you want me to, Poppins,” Jamie replied, sending immediate chills down Dani’s spine.

The words were more loaded then they usually were coming from her, and that made Dani nervous. Mostly because that feeling of pure wantonness and desire started flooding the au pair’s senses again until she was sure a swift breeze would topple her over. She opened and closed her mouth several times in hopes of issuing a response, but no words came out. All that was there were Jamie’s idle hands as she finished spraying down the herbs and the heavy silence.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Dani finally choked out, earning an amused smile from Jamie.

“Good.”

Jamie stepped away from the basil and over a few feet to her left, eyeing a patch of ferns that were growing in quite heartily. Dani watched her study the strands, searching for something Dani was sure she wouldn’t have the slightest clue about. She cleared her throat in preparation of changing the subject.

“Thanks for inviting us to spend the morning with you. The kids were really excited about it,” Dani said, nudging her foot against the discarded rope of a hose.

Jamie looked up at her, smiling. “I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to spend some time together. Away from all the chaos, you know?”

“You aren’t sick of me yet?” Dani joked, although hearing anything other than 'no' would surely break her heart.

Jamie slowly shook her head. “Not even the slightest bit.”

“Good, I’m not sick of you either.”

Jamie chuckled. “Glad to hear it. It would really suck if you were.”

Dani wasn’t sure how it happened, but in the moments to follow, she found herself blurting out, “Flora told me Judy was laying into you about us yesterday.”

The gardener paused for the first time since they’d started talking, seemingly caught off guard. “Oh, yeah.”

“Why didn’t you mention it to me?”

Jamie took a few moments before shrugging. “It must have slipped my mind. I don’t remember Flora being around for that.”

“Well, how did it go?” Dani asked, wondering just how honest Jamie was going to be with her about it.

“Uh, it went pretty well. I didn’t even have to look at my cheat sheet.”

She laughed at her own comment, and Dani found herself following suit. It was silly that the gardener had ever thought she’d needed it in the first place, but the intent behind it was still sweet. Dani decided to drop the subject before it made things any more tense than it already had. Jamie clearly didn't want to talk about it.

“I should go check on the kids,” she decided, leaving Jamie in the greenhouse as she wandered outside again.

Flora and Miles were still where she’d left them, tossing stones into the water in hopes of starting a rippling effect. Flora happened to glance back at the greenhouse and spot Dani, waving excitedly to the au pair. Dani waved back. She loved those kids.

-----

Hannah had joined them out by the lake for lunch, bringing with her a basket full of toasted sandwiches and pints of apple juice. The kids were delighted to spend the entire day outside, and it gave the adults some time to chat before Hannah went back to the manor and Jamie returned to tending to the greenhouse plants. Dani decided against bringing up what Flora had overheard, not wanting Jamie to know about any part of that.

Her and Dani didn’t speak much about anything serious throughout the day. Mostly light conversation that was interrupted every so often by the demands of the children who could never get enough of the au pair’s attention. And when dinner time came around, the four of them headed off together.

Dani and Jamie linked hands instinctively, presumably in case one of the guests chose to look out a window or be lingering outside and spot them, they wouldn’t be caught slipping up. They’d come too far for a mistake like that.

The kids still had far too much energy to have spent the day running around, and the two of them raced the rest of the way home, leaving behind the fake couple whose hands swung mindlessly between them. Despite the chill in the air, Dani felt warm. She didn’t even attempt the fight the smile on her face when Jamie thanked her for spending the day with her.

Once inside, they took their seats at the table, making small talk while everyone served themselves portions of the delicious food Owen had prepared. The kids ranted over how much fun they had today, setting the light mood for the evening as the adults smiled at their excitement. Then Edmund cleared his throat, and all eyes went to him.

“So, Dani, I was thinking that it would be nice to call for a car to come up here and maybe we could go into town tomorrow or Sunday. We haven’t seen much of the area and I think it would be nice to get out of the house,” he said, wiping at his mouth with the edge of his napkin.

“Yes, please!” Flora cheered, while Miles grinned and nodded eagerly.

Dani thought about it. Figured it may be an opportunity for her to corner her mother into speaking with her since they still had yet to talk about anything that wasn’t superficial. Besides, she hadn’t been into town herself since accepting the job there. It would be an experience for them all.

“All of us?” she asked, just to be sure.

He smiled. “Yes.”

“Okay,” she agreed, chuckling at the way the children bursted into celebration.

Dani risked a glance at her mom, who was smiling at the children as well, an almost nostalgic look on her face. She looked over to Dani and their eyes locked. Something akin to longing rested there, and Dani considered the possibility yet again that maybe her mother was trying to understand everything somewhere beneath that tough exterior.

“I hope there’s a decent shoe store in town,” Judy said, and Dani broke away from her mother’s stare. “I’ve been wearing the same pair of sandals since we arrived. How embarrassing.”

“I’m on the hunt for a new tie,” Edmund shared.

And as talk went on about the possibilities of what the shops in town had to offer, Dani found herself picking away at her food, lost in thought over the potential opportunity to mend things with her mom that weekend. It seemed too good to be true, so she didn’t want to get her hopes up too high. She felt Jamie gently brush her fingers over her arm and looked over, meeting the gardener's soft gaze.

“You haven’t been to town too often, have you?” Jamie asked.

Dani shook her head. “Only once on the way here. I hardly remember it.”

“It’s nice,” Jamie told her, tapping her fingers on the tabletop. “Maybe we could go into town together once your guests leave. Grab a bite to eat.”

Dani felt her heart skip a beat. It sounded a lot like Jamie was asking her out. On a date. And maybe not even a pretend one. She smiled at the gardener, nodding in agreement.

“I’d like that.”

Jamie smiled back.

It was almost enough to make her want to lean over and kiss her, but Dani knew that wouldn’t be appropriate. Not with everyone sitting there. And especially not in front of her mom if she ever wanted the woman to come around. So she settled for expressing her joy by wearing the biggest grin ever for the rest of dinner. Hannah had caught her eye a few times, and it was to no surprise that the older woman looked like she knew exactly what was going on.

Once dinner was done, Dani’s mom left the kitchen and went over to the foyer, nursing a freshly filled glass of red wine. Judy took off after her with her own alcoholic beverage to match, leaving behind Edmund who, surprisingly, stayed to help clean up. The kids scraped the excess food from the plates into the trash, being the kind helpers Dani knew them to be. Her and Jamie handled the dishes, with Dani washing and Jamie drying. Dani was almost disappointed when she ran out of dishes to wash, meaning she wouldn't have an excuse to feel the brunette's fingers slide against hers in each transaction.

They were just about done in there when Karen came into the kitchen with an expression on her face Dani had seen one too many times. And without even needing to know, Dani guessed that her mother had seen an attractive man. But then, how could she possibly be running into one of those all the way out there?

“Excuse me,” Karen said, her cheeks flushed. “But there is a very handsome man out there here to see you.”

Who specifically, she didn’t say. But everyone stepped out of the kitchen anyway, anxious to see who it was she could possibly be talking about. Her mother was right about there being a man there, and Dani couldn’t make out who he was until he turned around to face them, grinning wide.

“Uncle Henry!” The kids shouted in unison.

They ran to him and he bent down to meet them, squeezing them to his chest as he returned their embrace just as eagerly. Everybody there looked surprised by his presence, including Hannah, who normally always knew exactly what was going on. It wasn’t like Henry to randomly drop by, but he had every right to do so.

Dani felt Jamie come to her side and glanced over to her, taking note of the grim expression on the brunette’s face.

“Shit,” she muttered, making Dani’s stomach sink. “Everything’s about to blow up in our faces.”

Chapter Text

Jamie’s comment went unheard by the rest of the people in the house except for Dani, who began to shuffle her hands together nervously as she contemplated what had been said. If things were going to blow up in their faces, it would have to be because Henry didn’t have the slightest clue about their relationship. He would be the one to debunk their lie, and then her mother would never let her hear the end of it. Of course, none of them had thought to let him on on their scheme. His visits to the manor were more infrequent than not. Dani was becoming convinced she was cursed with bad luck.

“Uncle Henry, what are you doing here?” Flora asked, and when he rose back to his feet, he took her with him in his arms.

“Well, I was planning on coming to visit my two favorite children in the world later this month, but I moved some things around so that I could come by sooner. Besides, I wanted the chance to meet Dani’s lovely mother and her guests.”

He said this with a flashy grin that Dani’s mother definitely accepted. Dani glanced in her mother’s direction, feeling sick for the second time in the span of only a few minutes at the pink flush on her cheeks. No matter what her age, Karen Clayton somehow always found a way to act completely taken by the presence of an attractive man. It was embarrassing.

Judy stepped forward. “We are honored to meet you, Henry. You have such a beautiful niece and nephew.”

“Thank you.” He smiled warmly at her before directing his attention towards the rest of them. “Sorry to drop by unannounced. I didn’t want to tell anyone I was coming if I wasn’t able to step away. As soon as my assistant gave me the green light, I took the car and came here immediately.”

“We’re delighted to have you here, Henry,” Hannah said. "The kids have really missed you."

“Any more surprises?” Jamie asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

He snapped his fingers with his free hand. “Oh! Actually, yes. Do you remember my old employee, Peter Quint? He’s arriving in town with Rebecca tomorrow for a few days and I invited the two of them to come stay with us here. It all just ended up working out that your family is visiting at the same time, Dani.”

Dani thought back on everything she had learned about Peter and Rebecca. Hannah and Jamie had spoken fondly of the old au pair, but seldom had any good things to say about her other half. She knew the two had met and sparks had flown instantly. It wasn’t long after Rebecca was hired did they both decide to leave for the states together. Peter was a valuable employee to Henry, but he was a sucker when it came to love and wished them only the best.

Did she ever think she would be able to meet the infamous Rebecca with the heart of gold? No. For some reason, the thought of it made her even more nervous. Just two more people who would be witness to her mother’s meltdown when her and Jamie were found out.

“Rebecca’s coming?” Flora asked, lighting up like she’d been given the greatest news in the world.

“Yes, and she said to tell you kids she can’t wait to see you,” Henry said, setting her down. “She has lots of stories to catch you all up on.”

“Rebecca,” Jamie repeated, murmuring the name under her breath like it was some secret.

Dani looked at her, wondering what was going through her head. Obviously, she was thinking about something. They were close enough now for Dani to pick up on things like that. She tried to meet Jamie's gaze, but the gardener was too distracted to notice. Dani began to chew on the inside of her cheek.

Henry clasped his hands together in front of him. “Owen, I hope this isn’t too much to ask of you, but I was thinking we could celebrate tomorrow. Maybe have a little party with all the guests here. Do you think you could prepare enough food for us all? If not, I could bring in another person from town, I’m sure.”

“No, I'll be fine,” Owen assured. “I was looking for an excuse to make something with all the chicken we have stored away in the freezer.”

“I’m sure it’ll be delicious,” Henry replied, squatting back down to look at the children. “It’s getting pretty late, kids. How about you two head upstairs and I’ll be up in a bit to tuck you in?”

They didn’t need to be told twice. The two raced up the stairs, and within seconds, the sound of the bathroom door could be heard slamming shut. Dani’s money was on Miles reaching it first. Henry straightened, looking back and forth between Dani and her mother now.

“So, how’s it been getting to see your mother again?” he asked, clearly not picking up on the tension in the room.

Dani felt speechless. “Uh…”

“Its been lovely,” Karen replied, stepping closer to him with a now empty wine glass in hand. “Although my daughter surprised me with her newest relationship, we’ve been working through it.”

“Relationship?” Henry asked, chuckling awkwardly at being kept out of the loop. “What do you mean?”

Karen scoffed. “You mean, you have no idea about her and Jamie?”

His eyes widened. “Jamie?"

Dani cringed, mentally preparing for the world to come crumbling down around her in the moments to come. Jamie tensed up visibly, but remained neutral-faced. Surprisingly - or maybe it wasn’t surprising at all - it was Hannah who stepped forward, ready for damage control.

“Henry, we would have told you about it, but it just never seemed to come up,” Hannah said, shooting them a look that caused both Dani and Jamie to nod eagerly in agreement. “We didn’t want you to think that they weren’t being professional. The two of them are more than capable of balancing their jobs here and their relationship.”

She was good. Dani had to give her that. They hadn’t been the slightest bit prepared for this to happen, but Hannah was equipped with an explanation on damn near instinct. That whole house would fall apart at its seams without her.

Henry still looked shocked, his mouth opening and closing several times before he finally spoke. “I had no clue you two were- Well, with Jamie, I- But Dani- Well, I wish nothing but the best for you two,” he finally managed, shooting them a thumbs up.

Karen looked annoyed. “You mean to say you don’t mind your niece and nephew seeing the two of them dating?”

Henry looked more confused now, if that was even possible. “No. Why would I mind?”

“Jamie and I appreciate you being so cool about this,” Dani said, reaching for the gardener's hand who had yet to really react to any of what was going on. “We promise we really aren’t that affectionate in front of the kids.”

And with that remark, Dani made a mental note to let the kids know not to say anything to Henry about the truth behind her and Jamie's relationship. At least, not until he was back in the city and they could break the news to him while he was far away from her mother and her guests. Henry would probably get a laugh out of the whole thing.

He waved his hand at her comment. “Oh, don’t worry about that. They’re good kids. It’s better they see healthy relationships than unhealthy ones. Love is hard to come by. You don’t want to have any regrets.”

Dani felt like there was something deeper hidden within his words. Maybe a first hand experience he’d had with love. But Henry didn’t elaborate on it any further, and nobody in the room asked him to. Karen looked bothered but bit her tongue.

“I should see to the kids,” Henry said, stopping by to shake Edmund’s hand along the way. “Goodnight, everyone. I’ll see you in the morning.”

The moment he retreated up the stairs, Dani felt herself let go of a breath she had forgotten she’d even been holding. Her mother, Judy, and Edmund all followed Henry up the stairs and to their rooms shortly after, leaving behind the four members of the staff. Even though they were probably in the clear, Dani didn’t let go of Jamie’s hand. She didn't want to.

“Quick thinking,” Dani said, looking at Hannah. “I don’t know what we would have done if you didn’t come up with that.”

“We would have been screwed,” Jamie said. “Luckily for us, Henry isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. We’ll have to be more prepared for when Rebecca is here. She’s more intuitive than both Henry and Peter combined.”

“Rebecca’s coming to stay with us again. I can’t even believe it,” Hannah responded, sounding so pleased. “It’ll be so lovely to see her.”

Owen was quick to hum in agreement, and once again, Dani felt a knot in her stomach over the girl who had been the original au pair. The one Dani had just come to replace. The one who had left a special hole in the hearts of her friends. Including Jamie, who had that wistful look in her eyes again.

“You’re going to love her, Dani,” Owen said, smiling.

Dani weakly returned the smile. “Um, yeah. I’m sure I will.” She made a gesture towards the stairs and let go of Jamie’s hand. “I’m actually pretty tired from spending the day outside with the kids. I think I’ll get some sleep now.”

“Goodnight, Dani,” Hannah replied, and Owen gave her the same goodbye.

Dani made her way to her bedroom, brushing her teeth and changing into her pajamas the first chance she got. When she came back into her room, Jamie was sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for her. The au pair had half expected her to still be downstairs with Hannah and Owen. Jamie patted the spot next to her, watching Dani as she came over and sat down.

“You alright, Poppins?”

Dani tried her best to smile believably. “Me? Yeah, I’m great.”

Jamie didn’t look convinced. “Is this about Henry? I know we were scared for a minute there, but I promise you, he doesn’t suspect a thing. If he thought anything was up, he would have said so. And I'll talk to the kids in the morning about keeping quiet. You know they'll listen to me." She placed a hand on her shoulder. "You have nothing to worry about.”

“I thought you said Rebecca would be harder to fool.”

“She’ll probably just need a bit more convincing than the others, but we could manage that, I think,” Jamie told her, with a cheeky grin on her face. “She might need to see a kiss like the one we showed your mum.”

Like magic, Dani felt her heartbeat pick up in speed. This was the first time since the night it had happened that the two spoke of that kiss. It hadn’t happened again since - hadn’t even come close, really - but now, it seemed like it was a very real possibility. Her palms were sweating and she was finding it more difficult to hold Jamie’s stare with each passing moment.

“Yeah,” Dani whispered, surprised by how strained her own voice sounded.

Jamie’s eyes flashed. “And I’ll be sure to ask next time before I do it.”

Dani shook her head. “Uh, no need to, um-” She cut herself off, gently exhaling before trying again. “You don’t need to ask me, Jamie. You can just kiss me... whenever you want.”

Her attention jumped back and forth between the gardener’s lips and her eyes, stunned by the darkened look that slowly overcame her features. The words were out of her mouth before she could have stopped them, but the gardener's interest was clearly piqued, so Dani refused to take them back. Jamie’s tongue slipped out to wet her lips, and Dani’s body gravitated towards it, almost desperately craving the feeling of that tongue against her own. The missed opportunity from the night of their first kiss flashed through her mind again.

“I know it probably looked really believable the first time,” Jamie started, her voice edging along the lines of shaky, “but just to be sure, maybe we should try a practice kiss.”

Dani couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was as though one of her fantasies were coming to life before her own eyes. A voice in the back of her head nagged her, reminded her that kissing Jamie again would only make it harder for her to walk away from this all once her mom was back home. But Dani ignored the warnings, leaning forward with fluttering eyelids and closing the gap between their mouths.

Jamie let out a small gasp, and Dani figured the other girl must have been expecting some sort of verbal response first. She wrapped her arms around Jamie’s neck, pulling her in closer as Jamie expertly took control of their kiss. She brought her hands up to Dani’s face, cupping her cheeks in them as she tentatively swiped a thumb across the soft skin there. There was a sigh from Dani’s end, and then Jamie’s tongue was pressing its way into her mouth, causing Dani to clamp her legs together on instinct alone.

The arousal was nothing new to Dani. Not when it came to Jamie. It was something she fought off damn near every night before bed, when she opened her eyes and was met with the sight of the gardener, curled up in the white linens and she had to remind herself that this was all pretend. She prayed for the morning Jamie was the first thing she saw. The morning Jamie wasn't already gone.

Kissing Jamie again was even better than it was the first time. It was like they were both a part of something bigger than themselves. Something bigger than anything else. And when they broke away, it was solely because they needed to catch their breath. Dani was sure of it that time.

“You think that’ll convince her?” she found herself asking, voice breathy and unfamiliar to her in the best way.

Jamie leaned her forehead against Dani’s, and the au pair could feel her smirk without needing to open her eyes and see it for herself. “I don’t think there’s a person in this world who wouldn’t be convinced by that kiss.”

“Right.”

They both chuckled softly, refusing to move away from one another. The moment felt warm and safe, and Dani wished she could have lived in it forever. She contemplated leaning in for another kiss, but decided not to push her luck. A moment later, Jamie pulled back, getting to her feet. Her cheeks were still pink.

“I should get ready for bed,” she said, walking backwards towards the door. “Tomorrow’s going to be a long day and we’ll need all the rest we can get.”

Dani nodded. “Okay.”

Jamie walked out, and Dani crawled underneath the covers with three fingers pressed to her lips. She was asleep the moment her head hit the pillow.

-----

For the first time in six months, Dani woke up and found herself with nothing to do. Jamie was out tending to the garden, probably to prove to Henry that she took her job very seriously, even though he already knew that. Hannah and Owen were in the kitchen with one another, hurriedly discussing what they would be preparing for dinner that night, since Hannah had offered to assist the cook. And the kids were being entertained by Henry, who insisted on spending alone time with them.

After breakfast, Dani lingered with her own guests, making small talk with Edmund and Judy who were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Peter and Rebecca. Dani’s mother was at the table with them, but had said very little to her daughter.

“So, what do you know about Rebecca?” Edmund asked her.

Dani shrugged. “Not much. She had this job before I did. Met Peter and the two of them took off together. Apparently she was a sweetheart. The kids sure do love her. They all do, actually.”

“Pretty?” Edmund asked, sipping from his coffee but doing nothing to make his question subtle.

“Uh, I think so. From what I’ve heard.”

Judy set her mug down. “And this Peter fellow, what does he do?”

“I’m not really sure, Judy. Hannah and Jamie didn't care for him so they never thought to stay in touch.”

“Well, I think Henry is such a fine man to invite them both to stay here. And he’s been so kind with having us over as well,” Karen said, causing Dani to roll her eyes. “I wish you’d told me you were working for someone so handsome and kind.”

“What difference would it have made?” Dani asked, frowning. “Would you have come out here sooner? Or gone to his work to meet with him?”

Karen shrugged innocently. “I don’t know, Danielle. Maybe I would have.”

“Mom, I thought you had a boyfriend,” Dani said.

“No, that’s old news. I’m officially on the market.”

Dani resisted the urge to make a comment about how it was probably her fiftieth time reentering the market, instead choosing to sigh and hope for someone else to change the subject. She decided to just be happy her mom had spoken to her at all. That was more conversation than they’d had since she’d arrived.

“I guess we’ll have to postpone the trip into town until after they leave,” Edmund said, sounding more disappointed than Dani would have expected.

“Tonight will be fun,” Dani said, wondering if she was trying to convince herself or him. “If there’s anything we could all use right now, a party is definitely it.”

“That’s for sure,” Judy agreed. “Although, I really do wish I would have been able to find some new shoes.”

-----

At close to 3:00pm, a car could be heard pulling up the driveway. Dani glanced out her window and watched as a very tall man stepped out of the car, making his way around before opening the door for a woman. The woman was beautiful, even from all the way up there, she could tell. Dani knew instantly who they were.

She closed her curtains, making her way downstairs to greet their new guests. Henry had already beaten her to the door by the time she made it, along with the kids who were hopping up and down with excitement as Rebecca and Peter stepped in. The two of them made one of the most attractive couples Dani had ever seen, and she found herself staring. They had a bag each and set them aside, hugging Henry first, and then the kids. Dani watched from the bottom of the steps, letting them have their moment.

“You kids have grown so big,” Rebecca said, eyeing Miles and Flora with a grin on her face. “There’s no way you’re the same children I used to teach.”

Flora giggled. “We are! And we missed you!”

“I’ve missed you guys, too,” she said, and Dani could tell she really meant it.

There was a flurry of movement to Dani’s right, and she watched as Hannah hurried out from the kitchen to greet Rebecca with a warm hug. There was history there, that much was evident. Especially when Hannah chose not to address Peter, who finally caught Dani’s eye and made his way over.

“Hi, you must be Dani,” he said, extending his hand for her to shake. “Henry’s told me lots about you. I really appreciate you being able to help out with the kids on such short notice. Becs and I weren’t planning on falling in love, but you know, those things just happen.”

“I know what you mean,” Dani said, exhaling lightly. “It’s great to finally be able to meet you guys. The kids are always talking about you. Especially Rebecca.”

“Well, she’s definitely had an effect on them. Becs is great with children. And she really misses them, too. When we decided to come back out here to visit, she insisted on seeing the kids. It just so happened to work out that Henry welcomed us to stay here.”

Dani watched the way he looked at Rebecca. There was something undeniable about the way he loved her. It was there for everyone to see. Maybe he loved her a bit too much, but the girl standing in front of Dani looked pretty damn happy.

“I thought I heard a car pull up,” Jamie said, entering the foyer and joining the rest of the bunch.

Dani immediately looked her way, delighted to see the gardener for the first time that day and feeling the gentle heat overcome her cheeks when she remembered the kiss they'd shared the night before. Jamie was beaming, and the moment Rebecca caught sound of her voice, the old au pair noticeably perked up. The two met in a warm embrace, and Dani watched, swallowing thickly as a too familiar feeling started pricking away at her. She considered the possibility of it being jealousy, but it felt too absurd to accept.

“Jamie, it’s really good to see you,” Rebecca said, still holding the other girl close.

It was Jamie who pulled back first. “Same here. I was worried we’d never hear from you again. You don’t write, you don’t call.”

Rebecca laughed, pressing a hand to Jamie’s shoulder good-naturedly. “Oh, don’t be like that. Peter and I were just getting settled in in our new home in the states.”

“Oh, yeah?”

She nodded. “Yeah. We live in New York now. Upstate. A big house with four bedrooms and a pool.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Jamie said.

Rebecca smiled at her. “It is. You’ll have to come visit some time.”

Dani watched their exchange, noting the way they interacted with such comfortability. As far as Dani knew, Rebecca hadn’t worked at Bly for very long. Her impact on the group had been great, which told Dani she was a very special person. However, watching the way Jamie spoke to the old au pair was unlike the way Hannah or the kids were acting.

“They sure seem close,” Dani murmured to herself, not meaning to say it out loud, and flushing when she noticed Peter had heard her.

He leaned in close to her, shifting in clear discomfort. “You know, I was almost too late in getting Rebecca’s heart.”

Dani glanced up at him. “What do you mean?”

“Jamie.” He motioned towards the gardener with the beginnings of a sneer on his face. “She almost beat me to it.”

Chapter Text

Dani took her time showering and picking out her outfit for the day. She’d only brought one nice dress with her and debated on whether or not it was appropriate to wear something she’d consider to be club attire. But then she’d thought about Rebecca and the way everyone was fawning over her beauty - as they had been whenever the old au pair’s name had come up during the months that followed Dani’s employment - and decided to wear it anyway. Mostly to gain the attention of Jamie, who had stayed downstairs to catch up with their new guests while Dani went back to their room.

After Peter’s revelation, Dani had excused herself from the foyer without properly introducing herself to Rebecca. There was just something about finally understanding the look in Jamie’s eyes when Rebecca was mentioned that made her feel instantly sick. And as Dani sat there, reflecting on the edge of her bed, she wondered if anyone even noticed she was gone. She wondered if anyone even cared.

As if on cue, there was a soft knocking on her bedroom door. Dani’s heart momentarily soared, hoping it would be Jamie to assure her that what Peter had said was merely a bad joke on his end. She knew if that were to happen, she wouldn’t even hesitate to kiss the gardener with everything she had. Her elation would be too much through the roof to even attempt to hold back.

“Come in,” she called, too impatient to wait the time it would take to walk over to her door and find out the identity of the person on the other side herself.

The door slowly creaked open, and in walked Hannah, a reserved smile on her face. Dani hoped she didn’t look half as disappointed as she felt as she gestured for the other woman to take the seat next to her. Hannah closed the door behind her, making her way over to the bed where her and Dani then sat together, facing the wall.

“You look gorgeous, Dani,” the housekeeper complimented, and Dani ducked her head.

“Thank you. I was worried the dress might be a bit too much. It’s a little flashy.”

“It looks great. Really.”

Dani smiled at her. “Thank you.”

“I couldn’t help but notice you’re not out there mingling with the rest of us,” Hannah said, her tone more of an invitation to elaborate as opposed to a demand.

“I didn’t think anyone really cared,” she said, surprising herself with her honesty. “I mean, you’re all just so happy to have Rebecca back. I wouldn’t want to get in the way of all that.”

She could feel Hannah looking at her now. “Dani, you’re never in the way. Rebecca has been asking for you. She really wants to meet you.”

Dani snorted. “I’m sure she does.”

Hannah now positioned her body to face Dani as she frowned. “What’s wrong? What aren’t you telling me? You know I can pick up on these things, right? So you might as well let me know what it is before you worry yourself sick about it.”

And there Hannah was, being intuitive and caring just like they all knew her to be. Dani knew if there was one person in that house that she would ever trust herself to confide in, Hannah would be it. And maybe that was why she had allowed herself to be figured out so easily. Maybe a part of her wanted Hannah to catch onto the trail of anguish she’d been reeking of for the past couple hours or so.

“Peter told me that Rebecca and Jamie had something going on between them before him and her became a thing,” she said, playing with the beads of the bracelet she’d put on. “Why didn’t any of you mention anything to me?”

Hannah pursed her lips together, taking a moment before she spoke next. “As far as I know, nothing ever happened between the two of them. Yes, there was some flirting. And I know Jamie took it really hard when she left. But Rebecca had only been working here for a month before her and Peter started dating. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been that serious.”

“Jamie didn’t even look at me when Rebecca showed up,” Dani murmured, feeling the tears begin to prick at her eyes.

“Do you want her to be looking at you?” Hannah asked, and Dani rolled her eyes, wiping away the few tears that had slipped free.

“You know that I do.”

“Yes, I suppose I do,” Hannah agreed, sighing softly. “There’s something between you and Jamie that I’ve been picking up on recently. Actually, I’ve felt like there was something there for a while now, but this past week has only proven what I’ve been thinking to be true. What I see is something very mutual. But you’re both scared of getting hurt. Now, I can’t speak for Jamie, but I’m willing to put everything I own on the line here when I say that that girl really, really likes you.”

Dani sucked in a breath, trying to keep her tears at bay. Although Hannah's words were everything she'd been hoping to hear, something in her would not allow herself to believe them. Something had changed, and Dani didn't feel like herself anymore. Any control she had in the situation was now gone, and she had not the slightest clue as to how to gain it back.

“Everything feels different now that Rebecca is here. I don’t know what to do.”

Hannah placed a hand on her shoulder and the contact immediately comforted her. “Talk to Jamie. Let her know how you’re feeling. She is your girlfriend, after all.”

“Fake girlfriend,” Dani corrected.

“If you say so.”

Hannah stood up, brushing off her own dress. Dani managed to pull herself together, going over to her mirror to double-check for any signs that she’d been in distress. There were none besides the broken look in her eyes. Hannah wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her along with her.

“Now, come downstairs and introduce yourself. Dinner is about to be done and there’s no way we’re eating without you.”

“You don’t think I look ridiculous, do you?” Dani asked, embarrassed to have her insecurities right at the surface.

Hannah shook her head briskly. “Not even a little bit.”

And because of that answer, Dani allowed herself to be led back down the stairs and over to the kitchen, where she could hear the sounds of people mingling coming from within. Her nerves were eating away at her, but she refused to run away. And once her and Hannah entered the kitchen, she almost regretted that decision the moment all eyes landed on her.

“Dani, there you are!” Owen was the first to greet her, approaching her with a spoon filled with red sauce. “Here, tell me if you think this needs more salt.”

Dani reached her pinky in and brought the sauce to her lips, nodding her head in appreciation once the flavors hit her tongue. “No, it’s perfect.”

“Look how beautiful my daughter is,” Karen said, coming over to Dani next and retrieving her from Hannah’s grasp.

It was the first time in months that Dani could remember her mother speaking so highly of her, and it was almost enough for her to forget the way she’d been behaving lately. Dani smiled at her mom, leaning into her touch before the moment was over. But Karen did not let go.

“Dani, you look amazing,” Edmund said, and she allowed herself to look in his direction, her eyes dancing around the room and the people occupying it.

She saw Jamie first, sitting in the spot next to Rebecca whose hands were clasped tightly with Peter’s on the other side of her. The gardener wore a look of surprise, her eyelids blinking slowly as she stared at Dani. Edmund and Judy were sitting together, right next to the seat her mother had been occupying. Henry was next to the kids, who were also staring at Dani, big smiles on their tiny faces. Jamie never took her eyes off of her.

"Dani, you look..." Jamie trailed off. "Wow."

The compliment meant more than anything coming from Jamie, and it was enough for her to stop regretting putting on the dress in the first place. However, Dani realized quickly that she was the only one really dressed up tonight. Aside from Henry and Peter who were in suits, as she'd expected. And Hannah and Rebecca were in the dresses they were wearing earlier. The rest of them were dressed very casually for a party. She felt the tint of pink on her cheeks as she made eye contact with Jamie again, who looked stunning in her loose button-down shirt and men's trousers she always wore.

“I was just telling Peter and Rebecca all about you,” Karen said, bringing Dani back to reality as her mother tugged on her arm to get her to sit down in her chair.

“Oh,” she said, her eyes glancing over to Jamie another time before going back to Peter’s.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Rebecca said, reaching across the table to shake Dani’s hand.

Dani hesitated before extending her own hand to the old au pair, putting on the most believable smile she could muster. “Likewise. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“All good things, I hope.”

Her voice was like honey, and her smile was so sweet and perfect, Dani found herself returning it with minimal effort. Peter looked completely enamored with her, and brought one of her hands to his lips. She brushed it off, slipping him a charmed look before returning her attention to Dani.

“All good things,” Dani confirmed.

Rebecca nodded, pleased. “Your mother was telling me that you and Edmund used to be engaged. It’s so great that the two of you are still so cordial with one another.”

Dani felt her own smile fall, shifting uncomfortably as her mother shot her an excited grin. “Uh, yeah. It didn’t work out, but Eddie is a sweet guy. I’m thankful we were able to move past it.”

Edmund cleared his throat and threw his two cents in there. “Dani and I had a great time together, but we’re both better off without each other. I didn’t realize this until quite recently, actually.”

“But they sure do make a gorgeous couple, don’t they?” Karen asked.

Rebecca eagerly nodded. “Oh, for sure. It’s a shame it didn’t work out, but you never know.”

“Oh, we know,” Dani assured her. “Boy, do we know.”

“Dani doesn’t love Edmund anymore. She loves Jamie,” Flora said, her little voice being heard quite clearly by everyone at the table. “And I think they make an even more beautiful couple.”

Dani immediately looked over to the girl, shocked that she would announce such a thing, while slightly grateful that it was her who'd broken the news to Rebecca so that she wouldn’t have to. Rebecca opened her mouth but it took a second or two before any words came out. She looked about as shocked as Dani’s own mother had when she’d heard the news. Dani had to admit that it felt really good to have it made clear Jamie was with her now, and it was Jamie’s reaction she was most interested in.

The gardener looked taken aback, that was for sure. But there was something else underlying there that made Dani’s heart twist. And when their eyes locked from across the table, Dani could feel her lips tingling from where Jamie’s own lips had kissed her the night before. The hunger in her chest grew and she forced it back down, reminding herself that there was much to figure out this evening. She couldn't allow herself to get carried away with the intensity of what she was feeling for Jamie.

“Flora, are you playing a trick on us?” Rebecca asked, chuckling at Peter who looked a bit confused himself.

Flora shook her head. “No, not at all. They’re in love.”

“Jamie?” Rebecca asked, clearly wanting confirmation from the adult as she continued to laugh it off.

Jamie straightened in her seat, nodding slowly. “Uh, yeah. It’s true. Dani and I are dating.”

Rebecca exhaled audibly but the smile remained on her face. “How long?”

“Four months,” she answered, just like her and Dani had discussed.

"I can't believe it."

“Yes, well, we’re all trying to adjust to the news ourselves,” Karen interjected, drawing her hands together. “Imagine the shock it gave me. I’m Dani’s mother.”

Jamie furrowed her eyebrows at her. “The shock it gave you? How about the shock it gave me to learn that a girl as beautiful as Dani was interested in someone like me? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, if I’m being honest.”

“Well, that makes two of us,” Karen huffed, taking a long drink from her wine glass.

“Owen, how’s that food coming along?” Henry asked, clapping his hands together and rising to his feet as he approached the cook.

“All good to go,” Owen answered, gesturing for Hannah to assist in helping him begin serving his homemade chicken parmigiana.

The room fell silent as dinner was served. The tension in the air was thick and Dani could feel it coming from all ends of the room. She couldn’t bring herself to look in Jamie’s direction again, afraid of what she might see. When the extra chairs were added to the table and everyone was seated, conversation slowly started up again. Mostly from the kids’ end, but it was enough to get the rest of the table going again.

“Well, congratulations to you both,” Rebecca said, raising her glass to Dani before taking a long sip. "You hit the jackpot with this one, Dani."

Dani felt her mouth go dry and instantly craved a drink of her own, knowing it would be okay for her to drink more than she occasionally would tonight since Henry was watching the kids. Before she could even stand to get herself a drink, her mother was pushing a glass in her direction, filled well past the halfway mark with dark, red wine. Karen merely raised her eyebrows to her, as they wordlessly made the exchange. Whatever message her mother was trying to convey to her went over Dani's head as she took a healthy drink.

"No need to tell me, Rebecca," Dani told her, as the other woman gave her a curious look. "I'm aware of how fantastic Jamie is every second that I'm with her. I wouldn't even imagine letting her go. I mean, I'd have to be crazy to."

The table fell silent and Jamie awkwardly cleared her throat as Hannah and Owen exchanged looks with each other. Dani knew not everyone there was caught up to speed, but she was sure it was easy to figure out. Her jealousy had gotten the best of her, but she felt no remorse for her snide comment. Rebecca put on a smile and looked as though she were about to respond, but was stopped by her boyfriend squeezing her hand in his own.

“Dinner is incredible, Owen,” Peter said, which was followed by a series of agreements as everyone showed their appreciation for the cook and were desperate for a change in subject.

By the time dinner was over, half the people at the table were tipsy. The only sober ones were Hannah, Henry, Owen, and the kids. Having a little alcohol in her system helped Dani calm down a bit. And she figured it was safe to assume the drinking was what helped all of them get through that dinner so that they could escape the kitchen and go back into the foyer to mingle.

Jamie stole her away before she had the chance to engage in conversation with anyone else, leading her off into a corner of the room where Dani hoped people would get the hint not to disrupt them. Dani watched Jamie closely, searching for any indication of what she may be thinking. But Jamie was inscrutable.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Dani asked, leaning in closer to Jamie than was necessary given how far away from everyone else they were.

“I think she bought it,” Jamie said, biting her lower lip slightly before checking over her shoulder.

Dani realized what she was saying. “Oh, Rebecca?”

“I mean, having Flora break the news wasn’t exactly a part of the plan, but it worked out. Did you see the look on her face? She was absolutely flabbergasted. And that comment you made about never letting me go? I mean, she really looked floored, didn't she? Dani, this is going to be so much easier than we thought. We have nothing to worry about. It's all smooth sailing from here. I can't even-”

Dani reached for Jamie’s hand, grasping it tightly in her own and forcing the gardener to calm down. Jamie instantly closed her mouth, inhaling dramatically as Dani watched with a smile on her face. Dani wordlessly offered some of her drink to Jamie, who took it without hesitation and gulped down a good portion of the red wine. Her lips were slightly stained after that, and Dani found them to be even more of a distraction than they normally were.

“Thanks,” Jamie said, licking her lips clean of the wine and completely unaware of the yearning in Dani’s chest to kiss her again. “I guess I should grab myself a drink as well.”

“Wait.” Dani held onto Jamie’s hand tightly, demanding her attention once again. “I think we should talk later.”

“Sure.” Jamie looked her over. “Is everything okay?”

It wasn’t, but Dani wasn’t prepared to be vulnerable about anything at that moment. Plus, her concerns over Rebecca were something that really should be discussed in private. Dani was also struggling with the idea of whether or not it was her place to be upset about it at all. At the end of the day, Jamie was not actually her girlfriend. No matter how real it felt sometimes.

“Yeah, I just have some questions about some things,” she vaguely replied, but it seemed good enough of an explanation for Jamie.

“Okay.”

The gardener smiled fondly at her, and Dani felt her heart swoop. She thought about the way Rebecca had looked at her, seemingly in disbelief that Jamie had found somebody else to love. And in that moment, it didn’t matter if it were real or not.

Dani leaned forward, capturing Jamie’s lips in her own. She half expected Jamie to break away, but was pleasantly surprised when she felt the gardener secure one hand around the back of her neck, pulling her into a deeper kiss. A small whimper escaped Dani as Jamie’s tongue pushed past her lips, and she could feel her knees start to wobble. Gripping tightly onto the other woman's elbows, Dani moved her own tongue against Jamie's. Her chest tightened with each second that went by with her forgetting to stop and take a breath. She was convinced she would have collapsed right then and there if Jamie didn’t pull back.

It took her a moment to open her eyes, just as it took Jamie a moment to remove her hand from the nape of Dani’s neck. But when Dani’s eyes finally opened, she was stunned by the look on Jamie’s face. That look was a clear representation of how Dani felt inside. The look of wanting so much more. And she began to wonder again if she were not alone in this.

“That was pretty convincing, Poppins,” Jamie murmured, and her voice was about an octave lower than Dani was used to.

She fought back a shiver and smiled. “Good.”

Truth be told, Dani had no idea if Rebecca had seen that kiss or not.

But she was sure as hell hoping that she had.

Chapter Text

About an hour later, Dani found herself engaged in a conversation with Owen about the red sauce he’d prepared for dinner while Henry busied himself with putting the children to sleep. Peter was entertaining both her mother and Judy, who, if Dani had to assume, were both shamelessly flirting with him. Hannah was talking with Jamie and Rebecca, and Edmund was probably off using the bathroom. He'd always had a weak bladder when he drank.

When Dani was on her third glass of wine and Owen had gone off to speak with Hannah about something - perhaps his undying love for her? - the au pair suddenly found herself face to face with Rebecca. She tried to hide how startled she felt, but she knew the other woman had caught on by the twinge of amusement in her eyes. She was more than aware of Dani's slight discomfort around her, and she very clearly enjoyed it.

“Hey, Dani,” she greeted. “Saw you all by yourself and thought it would be a perfect time for us to get to know each other better.”

Dani reluctantly nodded. “Yeah, sure. That would be great.”

“Jamie tells me you used to be a teacher back in America. What brings you all the way out here?”

“Uh, I came out here once Edmund and I broke up,” she explained, without even thinking twice. Speaking about her past relationship with Edmund just didn’t faze her like it used to. “I just needed a change of scenery, you know? I needed to get away from it all.”

“Oh, I totally get it,” Rebecca assured. “When Peter asked me to move with him to America, I thought he was crazy. I mean, I’d been here my whole life. But once we landed, I knew that he was right. Sometimes, you just have to see what else is out there.”

“Exactly.” Dani smiled.

The old au pair leaned in closer. “And hey, maybe it was all for the best. You met Jamie.”

Dani got the impression like the other woman was fishing for more information on her relationship with Jamie, but regardless, she felt the need to get into it with her. Because that feeling was bubbling to the surface again, and she could say undoubtedly now that it was jealousy. Pure and unadulterated.

“Meeting Jamie was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Dani told her, taking a sip from her glass.

Rebecca nodded. “She’s really something special, isn’t she?”

“She’s the most special person I’ve ever met.”

And speaking of Jamie, where was she? Dani scanned the room for her, but the gardener was nowhere to be found. Henry and Edmund were back, though, conversing with the rest of the room. Dani would have wandered off in search of her pretend other half if Rebecca didn’t pull her back in with her next statement.

“This is a little embarrassing, but I have to ask. Did Jamie tell you about us?”

Dani felt her world tip on its axis. Rebecca referring to her and Jamie as an ‘us’ was more painful to hear than Dani would have thought. It also made whatever Hannah had told her earlier to assure her lose its effect. She struggled to stay level-headed and postponed her response by taking another drink of wine. Rebecca stared at her, patiently awaiting her answer.

“Jamie didn’t tell me anything about it, but Peter mentioned it to me earlier today. I heard that it wasn’t really a big deal,” she answered, hoping the last part would sting enough to get her to back off.

It didn’t.

“Well, I suppose it was a bigger deal to Jamie than it was to me. The poor girl had such a huge crush on me, but Peter was the one I loved. I'm just happy she was able to move on from it all. A part of me had worried she never would.”

Dani frowned, wondering if the girl in front of her knew how foolish she sounded putting Peter above someone like Jamie. Sure, the guy was smooth-talking and good looking as hell. But Jamie had it all. Looks, wit, and a heart of gold.

“I guess everyone’s with who they should be,” Dani finally said.

Rebecca nodded, taking a drink from her own glass. “So tell me, is Jamie still as good of a kisser as I remember her to be? It looked like she was.”

Her suspicions were confirmed then; that Rebecca had seen the kiss. But Dani found no pleasure in that bit of information in the moment. There was a lot Dani could take before she lost her patience with anyone. Her mother used to always tell her she didn’t know where she got her patience from because it definitely didn’t come from her or her dad. But this woman was undoubtedly pushing Dani’s buttons. And she had no idea why.

“I don’t really want to answer that,” Dani said, preparing to walk away if not for the arm Rebecca extended forward to keep her there.

“Oh, come on. There’s nothing wrong with a little girl talk. I won't tell Jamie anything, but I'm sure she'd be flattered if she knew we were talking about her.”

There was a glint in her eyes that made Dani’s blood boil. And hard as she tried, she could now no longer get the image of Jamie’s lips pressed up against Rebecca’s out of her head. Dani glanced to her right, spotting Jamie entering the room with a grin on her face as Hannah said something particularly amusing to her. Jamie had not the slightest clue what was going on on the other side of the room.

Dani wanted to go to her, escape the humility and torment of her conversation with Rebecca before it could get any worse. Dani was no longer able to gauge what the old au pair's angle was with her or Jamie. Her intentions were as masked as her past with Jamie had been before today.

“What are you ladies talking about?”

Dani whipped back around, startled by the sudden appearance of her mother. If there were ever two people Dani wanted to converse with least, it was them. She’d honestly prefer a conversation with Judy and Edmund over this - even one taking place post-engagement.

Rebecca smiled warmly at Dani's mother. “We were just discussing Jamie. Your daughter’s being pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing.”

“Is that so?” Karen asked, taking a sip from her glass. “How odd. She hasn’t been able to quit gushing about her from the moment I arrived.”

Dani rolled her eyes. “I was not gushing.”

“And what’s your relationship with Jamie?” Karen asked, shifting the focus onto Rebecca.

The former au pair smiled deviously. “Jamie and I were once an item. Well, nearly. But then Peter came along and whisked me away. I couldn’t resist that grin of his.”

“I wouldn’t be able to either,” Karen agreed, eyeing the man from across the room. “It’s funny, though. Jamie’s never even mentioned you.”

Rebecca flushed. “So, I’ve been told. And here I thought I was her one that got away.”

“It doesn’t seem likely,” Karen replied, with that phony smile plastered onto her face that Dani had become all too familiar with over the years.

Dani felt her lips part, unsure if she had heard her correctly. There just seemed like no possibility in the world of her mother actually having her back with her relationship. Rebecca seemed to be just as unsure of what was going on, but she pushed through it anyway.

“I think I’m going to see what my boyfriend is up to. It was nice talking to you both,” she said, excusing herself from the conversation and making her way over to where Peter stood.

Dani watched her retreat, noticing the warm way Peter immediately opened his arms to her, delighted to have her back by his side. And she fit perfectly tucked under his arm, joining in on the conversation he was having with Henry. She looked so happy with him. Dani could not wrap her head around why she was being so weird about Jamie. There seemed to be no point in it.

“You gotta be careful around women like that,” Karen advised, downing the rest of her drink. “It was a woman like that who stole your father away from me.”

Dani turned to look at her, confused. “I’m sorry, are you trying to protect my relationship with Jamie?”

Her mother rolled her eyes, and Dani realized she got that bad habit from her. “Don’t be so dramatic. I just don’t want my daughter getting snubbed the way I was. It’s the worst feeling in the world no matter who you're with.”

Dani knew her mom was making more of an effort than she ever had before in her own special way, even if she wasn’t willing to admit it just yet. And yes, they had a long way to go until they were in a place they could both be happy at. But for now, Dani reached for her mom and gave her a tight hug.

“Thank you,” she murmured into her shoulder, pulling away to give her mom a genuine smile.

Karen let the moment last a few more seconds before discomfort got the better of her and she stepped away. “I’m going to get a refill.”

“Okay, mom.”

Dani stood there, letting her last few conversations sink in. She was definitely buzzing from the wine, and she felt a freshly-rooted rage underneath her skin from Rebecca’s snide comments. However, none of that really mattered the moment she felt a hand on the small of her back and Jamie was suddenly by her side. Automatically, Dani sunk into her touch, reveling in the way it made her whole body warm.

“Am I seeing things, or did you just hug your mother?” Jamie asked.

Dani smiled. “She wasn’t being a complete jerk for a change and I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t think anyone saw that.”

Jamie shrugged, but there was a sparkle in her eyes that held Dani’s attention. “I can’t keep my eyes off the most stunning woman in the room.”

“Jamie,” she whispered, shaking her head as heat rushed to her cheeks.

But the gardener didn’t take it back, and Dani knew that she had meant what she said. Her eyes happened to catch onto Rebecca, who was looking their direction before averting her gaze back to her boyfriend as though she'd never been looking. Dani knew she was fuming, but there was no trying to prevent the anger the was bubbling up inside of her. There was so much to be said, and she was tired of beating around the bush.

“You okay?” Jamie asked, lowering her hand away from Dani’s back and eyeing her with concern.

“Come with me,” Dani said, making a beeline for the stairs without waiting to see if Jamie was following.

She didn’t need to look. She knew Jamie would trail after her because she cared. Nobody stopped to ask where she was going, which came as a relief to her despite knowing she would probably get asked later on. Taking the stairs was a lot trickier a few drinks in, but she managed well enough. As she made it to her door and pushed her way inside, she could hear Jamie right at her heels, closing the door shut behind them.

“What are we doing up here, Dani?”

The au pair turned around, coming face to face with the woman who consumed her every waking thought. It hurt, loving Jamie the way that she did. It hurt pretending like Jamie loved her back. And it really fucking hurt that Jamie’s past with Rebecca was being shoved in her face.

“Why wouldn’t you tell me?” Dani asked, her voice wavering more than she was expecting it to.

Jamie swallowed thickly. “Tell you what?”

“About you and Rebecca. That you guys were... into each other.” She didn’t think she could bring herself to say it, but once it was out, she felt instantly better. One less secret hanging over her head. “When we talked about past relationships, you said that you never dated much.”

“Rebecca and I never dated,” Jamie quickly pointed out, although it did nothing to help her case. “I just didn’t see the point in mentioning it. Rebecca left with Peter to a whole other country. I never thought I’d even see her again.”

“You could have told me when we found out she was coming over. I had to find out from Peter, and Rebecca’s been rubbing it in my face every chance she gets.”

“That doesn’t sound like her at all.” Jamie looked shocked, but Dani knew she believed her and that at least brought her some relief. “What has she been saying?”

She fought back the tears that were burning her eyes and studied the ground.

“She told me that you were really into her, and that you took it hard when she left with Peter. She said she thought she was your one that got away.” Dani paused before deciding to throw in the last bit. “She also asked if you were as good of a kisser as she remembered you to be.”

Jamie automatically reached a hand out and lightly held Dani’s wrist. “Look, I don’t know why she would tell you those things. There’s no reason for it. Regardless of whether or not our relationship is real, she should still have more respect for it than that. I don’t have the slightest clue as to what she thinks she’s gaining by trying to hurt you.”

A few tears slipped free and Dani quickly wiped them away with her free hand. “She’s probably still into you and just wants to see me upset.”

“I hope that isn’t true.”

For a moment, a wave of anger washed over Dani, and she tugged her hand back. “Do you still have feelings for her?”

“What?” Jamie shook her head. “No, of course not! Dani, I haven’t thought about her in months. You must know that. It was over between Rebecca and I the moment she chose Peter.”

Dani did know this, and she suddenly felt foolish for implying otherwise as more tears streamed down her cheeks. “You just seemed so happy to have her back.”

Jamie exhaled loudly and pulled Dani flush against her, holding her head against her chest with a hand on her cheek. It felt like the safest place in the world to be, pressed up against Jamie like that. And before Dani could even recognize it, she’d stopped crying. With her other hand, Jamie gently stroked Dani’s hair from the top of her head to where it rested past her shoulder blades.

“Why does this make you so upset?” she inquired.

Dani froze, but Jamie’s hold on her only tightened. “What?”

“Why does it matter if Rebecca is still into me? Why does it matter that I was once interested in her? I could see why you’d be upset about being blindsided by the whole thing, but I’m a bit confused about everything else.”

“Can we just forget about it? I really don’t want to screw anything up.”

Dani pulled away, taking several steps away from Jamie and turning so that her back was facing the gardener. She could hear the sound of Jamie’s boots stepping towards her and anticipated her touch, but it never came. Still, her shoulders refused to relax. The wine she’d been downing since dinner time was slowly wearing off, but she clung onto whatever bit of intoxication was left to give her the courage to continue the conversation.

“What would get screwed up? What does that even mean?”

Dani swallowed past her fears and accepted that this was her moment to come clean about everything she’d been feeling. At this point, there was nothing to lose and everything to gain. Even if Jamie didn’t reciprocate, Dani couldn’t see her going as far as to tell her mom that this whole thing had been an elaborate ruse. Ultimately, burying her true feelings was costing her more than sharing them. And if she were being honest with herself, she just didn't have the energy to keep it a secret any longer.

“Something’s changed for me this week. I don’t know how it happened so quickly, but it did. And I’ve been running from it for a while now, but I just can’t run anymore. It’s more exhausting than just accepting things for myself.”

She turned around to face Jamie, feeling her breath catch at how close Jamie had moved to be next to her. They were almost chest to chest again. When Dani’s eyes traveled up the route to Jamie’s, she felt her breath catch at the intensity in them.

“Dani.”

“I can’t think with you standing so close,” she whispered, but Jamie only moved in closer.

“Say it. Please,” Jamie urged. "I need to know."

Dani stared at Jamie’s collarbone, at the definition of it and the way it made the muscles in her neck look more desirable than ever, fixating on it until her nerves died away enough for her to get the words off her chest. Jamie patiently waited, but Dani could feel the gardener’s eyes on her, pleading for the explanation that relentlessly ate away at Dani. The au pair sucked in a shaky breath.

“Our relationship- Everything that's been happening this week- The touches, the kisses-" Dani paused. "I haven’t been pretending.”

And just like that, the weight of the world was gone, replaced with something else that was much more manageable. And Jamie hadn’t laughed at her yet, or walked away. No, Jamie stood there, quietly breathing to herself and Dani hoped this was the moment that she would let her know the feeling was mutual so that they could both finally stop with the antics.

But after moment after moment passed with no response from Jamie, Dani forced herself to accept that no such reaction was coming. She swallowed down her pride and congratulated herself for being brave enough to finally admit it out loud. No matter what came next, she would be able to face it knowing she had done all that she could.

“We should get back downstairs. People are going to start wondering where we are,” Dani murmured, just loud enough so that she knew Jamie could hear her.

She moved past Jamie and towards the bedroom door, startled when she felt Jamie’s hand wrap around her wrist to keep her from going any further. She turned around, looking back at the gardener with a question in her eyes.

“Dani, I-”

Jamie cut herself off, and Dani could see that she was struggling. With what exactly, she couldn’t be sure. But once again, patience was something the au pair excelled in, and so she made no effort to rush whatever it was Jamie was trying to say. She could feel her heart beating out of her chest and was certain the other woman could feel it as well with the way her fingers held tightly onto the pulse spot on her wrist. And when Dani felt her mouth dry up in anticipation and moved her tongue across her lips to wet them, she could see the resolve in Jamie’s eyes snap.

Then Jamie sighed and muttered, “Ah, fuck it,” before tugging Dani towards her and kissing her like her life depended on it.

Chapter Text

Dani didn’t need verbal confirmation that Jamie was feeling something very similar to what she was. That kiss said it all. As did the one after that, and the one that followed that. Each and every press of Jamie’s lips against her own solidified the idea of their mutual feelings in Dani until she was left completely doubtless.

She could hear her own heart thumping away as the blood pounded in her ears. A warm heat had overtaken her body, one that wasn’t unfamiliar to her as of lately, but definitely a stranger to her prior to her time with Jamie. She recognized it as arousal, and as though she could read her mind and was rewarding her for solving the mystery of it, Jamie sensually pressed her tongue into Dani's mouth.

“Mm,” Dani moaned softly against her lips, sinking into her arms and feeling Jamie wrap herself around her, letting her know that she had her.

When they broke away for more than just a moment, Dani rested her forehead against Jamie’s. Their breath faded into one another’s and Dani found one of her hands cupping the back of Jamie’s neck. She didn’t need to open her eyes to know that Jamie was smirking. The other woman's smug satisfaction was palpable.

“Wasn’t expecting that tonight,” the gardener said, raising a hand to tuck Dani’s hair behind her ear. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“Really?” Dani asked, dipping her head down shyly as she reflected on her own emotions. “I’ve had a crush on you for months. I had hoped it wasn’t too obvious.”

“You mean even before we found out your mum was coming?”

She nodded. “Pretty much since the moment I saw you.”

Admitting that didn’t make her feel embarrassed. She knew that Jamie wouldn’t make fun of her, or hold it against her in any way. And she didn’t. The gardener merely pulled her closer than she already was to her, and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

“You should have told me something sooner, Poppins. We may have never needed to pretend.”

“I didn’t even know if you liked girls or not,” Dani murmured, but Jamie’s words had made her heart start to race all over again.

“I guess your mum coming down here wasn’t such a bad thing after all. We might still be just friends had she stayed in America.”

Dani shook he head at the idea, dismissing it before she got hung up on the possibility of her and Jamie never falling for one another. “This may sound crazy, but I think she’s actually starting to come around. I think they all are, really. Maybe Hannah was right about her.”

Jamie raised her eyebrows, but didn’t question it. “That’s great, Dani. That’s all I wanted for you.”

“I don’t think I’ve thanked you enough for everything you’ve done for me. I’m so lucky to have someone like you in my life, Jamie.”

"I’d do it all over again." Jamie placed another kiss onto her forehead. "Anything for you.”

The party continued on downstairs without them. Dani knew that her mom was probably topping off her sixth glass of Merlot and that Owen was probably in the middle of a recipe-gone-wrong story with Hannah who had heard it ten times before already but still laughed just as hard. She knew that Edmund and Judy were probably still discussing their cancelled trip into town, and that Henry was probably catching up with his two former employees and letting them know how much he’s missed them. But Dani also knew that somewhere in the back of their minds, they were all probably wondering where the hell her and Jamie had gotten off to.

“You think they’re missing us yet?” Jamie asked, and once again, Dani pondered if the gardener were secretly a mind reader or not.

She tangled her fingers into Jamie’s messy hair and shook her head. “I think they’re doing okay.”

“So you don’t want to go downstairs anymore? See what everyone else is up to? Perhaps hear about Owen’s cream cheese frosting recipe?” Jamie teased, and the au pair couldn’t help but grin.

“Not a chance.”

Their lips met again, and this time they skipped the formalities and went right to tongue. Dani’s skin felt like it was on fire as Jamie trailed her fingertips lightly down her arm. That small gesture combined with the way Jamie’s tongue was exploring every inch of her mouth made desire pool low in Dani’s stomach. She clung onto the other woman, desperately pulling her closer. Any space between them was too much.

“What exactly are you trying to get up to tonight, Poppins?” Jamie asked, sucking at Dani’s bottom lip and making her completely melt.

“I don’t know,” Dani replied, although she had a pretty good idea.

There was a fire in her that Jamie had set ablaze long before tonight. And in the time it had taken for them to get to the point they were at now, it had only grown in size. Her entire body felt like it was a million degrees and every touch from Jamie made her crave more and more.

That insatiable feeling returned full force. One that she had experienced several times over the course of her relationship with Edmund and throughout her life, but never had the pleasure of feeling extinguished. Something told her things would be different with Jamie. And that thought alone only made the ache between her thighs deepen.

Jamie was watching her closely now, a look of concentration plastered across her features that made Dani feel as though she were being read like a book. And when Jamie spoke again, she did so with such caution that she had Dani clinging onto each and every syllable.

“How are you feeling?”

Dani pressed her lips together a moment. “I don’t think I could put it into words. It’s beyond anything I could even explain.”

“I don’t mind taking things slow, Dani. I know this is all new to you still. I can be patient.”

She almost laughed. Not because Jamie had said anything funny or strange. But because the idea of taking things slow with Jamie following the weeks and weeks of her unabashedly pining after the irresistible gardener seemed ridiculous. Dani was nervous, yes. Undeniably so. But she knew Jamie would take care of her, and that was enough to assure her that everything would be alright.

Dani pulled Jamie in for another searing kiss, hoping that Jamie would be able to interpret what it was she was thinking from that one kiss alone. And when they finally broke apart, Dani searched the other woman’s eyes and discovered that yes, she did seem to understand exactly what Dani was thinking.

“I want you, Jamie,” Dani said, just to give her some verbal confirmation. “More than I’ve ever wanted anything else. More than I knew a person could even want something.”

Jamie smiled at her. “Well, I guess that just about makes me the luckiest person in the world, doesn’t it?”

Dani kissed her in response, and just the knowledge that kissing Jamie whenever she wanted to was now allowed outside of what had once been a ruse gave her such a rush. When Jamie slipped her tongue past her lips, Dani made a move to remove her own dress. She slipped the thin straps down her shoulders, causing Jamie to pull back and stare at her bare shoulders. The gardener's gaze was noticeably darkening.

“You don’t know what the sight of you in this dress does to me. Why haven’t you worn it until tonight?”

Dani shrugged nonchalantly, but her face was hot with embarrassment from the other woman's praise. “I never really had a reason to. Looking after the kids wasn’t a good enough excuse to dress up.”

“Let me take you out to dinner, then. It’ll give you another chance to wear it.”

“I’d like that.”

Jamie’s lips tugged upwards at one end as her gaze drifted across the expanse of Dani’s shoulders before her slender fingers reached forward to take the sunken straps of her dress and pull them further down her arms. Dani wondered if Jamie could tell that she wasn’t wearing a bra. She assisted Jamie by bringing her arms through the straps, and then turned slightly to the side so that Jamie could locate the zipper on the back and pull that down as well.

Jamie stepped towards her and brought her lips against the smooth skin of Dani’s back, leaving light kisses there while the dress was removed inch by painfully slow inch. When the article of clothing finally hit the ground, Dani didn’t even have time to react before she felt Jamie flush against her backside. Jamie’s fingers were on her shoulders, cupping them at the top before trailing them downwards and leaving goosebumps in their wake. Dani gasped.

“You’re so beautiful,” Jamie murmured into her neck.

And then her hands came around to the front of Dani’s body and she moved them until she was holding Dani’s bare breasts in the palms of her hands. It was gentle but the feeling of Jamie’s skin brushing against her hardened nipples had Dani arching back into her solid frame as she sucked in a sharp breath.

“This okay?”

Dani nodded vigorously and Jamie’s grip on her breasts tightened. She began peppering kisses onto Dani’s neck and shoulders as her fingers worked on sliding along the curves of her breasts tantalizingly slow. And when they focused in on her nipples and gave them a slight tweak, Dani felt a rush of heat between her legs.

“You feel amazing,” Jamie told her, right up against her ear. “I want to feel all of you.”

“Please,” Dani breathed out, no longer feeling modest in only her black lace underwear.

Jamie abandoned her left breast and flattened her palm against Dani’s stomach. She moved her hand down over the grooves of Dani’s body, along her navel and over her jutted hip bone, until her fingertips were grazing the inside of her underwear. Once again, Dani arched into her, pleading with her body for Jamie to finish the rest of the journey and make contact with where she wanted her the most.

There was a moment of hesitation on Jamie’s end, where Dani knew she was giving her the opportunity to back down and postpone this all for another time, before Jamie slipped her hand into Dani’s underwear all the way and grazed over the slick heat that had all been a direct result of Jamie’s teasing. Jamie groaned into Dani’s shoulder, biting down on it for a moment as Dani’s head spun from the pleasure of that one instant.

“I didn’t expect you to be this wet for me,” Jamie said, boldly pressing her fingers along Dani’s folds and coating them with moisture.

There was something so hot about that statement in itself to Dani. That Jamie knew she had gotten Dani that wet. Her and nothing else. She didn't even need to touch her own self to know that she had never been as wet as she currently was in all her life, and then there was something even hotter about that realization for her. Dani grew more aroused with each passing moment and turned around to face Jamie once again, wrapping one hand around the back of her neck and smashing Jamie’s lips onto her own.

Their kiss was messy, fueled on by an attraction so intense, Dani was almost shaking. She moved her hips down against Jamie’s fingers, taking pleasure in the pressure of them against herself. Jamie’s wrist moved weakly against her, and she knew it was because she was still taking her time to explore Dani’s body. But Dani was impatient, and was chasing something she had yet to experience in her time there on Earth.

“Jamie, please,” Dani said, breaking away and breathing heavily against the gardener’s lips as she looked into her eyes. “I need you. Please. Take care of me.”

“O-okay,” Jamie breathed out, sounding slightly overwhelmed in a way that Dani wasn’t expecting, but only heightened her lust.

Jamie pulled away and took her hand out from underneath Dani’s underwear, jutting her head out towards the direction of the bed. Dani nodded in understanding, wordlessly backing out onto the bed and bringing herself backwards onto the linens. Jamie gave her a hungry look as her gaze raked over the excessive amount of bare skin on display for her, zoning in on Dani’s breasts that were aching to be squeezed the way Jamie had been doing moments before.

Jamie stepped forward and placed one knee onto the bed as Dani fell back onto her elbows, the other knee following a moment later before Dani collapsed fully onto the mattress. Jamie dipped down, bringing her lips against the au pair’s and licked into her mouth. Dani moaned into the kiss, wrapping her arms around the back of Jamie’s neck and holding her against her mouth.

When Jamie pulled away, she began placing open-mouthed kisses down Dani’s body, starting from her earlobe and working her way down to her breasts. She paused to take one of Dani’s nipples into her mouth, swirling her tongue around it as Dani’s chest heaved with each ragged breath.

“I can’t believe you’re real,” Jamie murmured, continuing on with her kisses.

When she got to Dani’s hips, Dani squirmed, eager for what was to come. But Jamie held her down, dominating her in a way that Dani had never welcomed as much as she was now. She could feel her own arousal dripping down her own thighs and pushed them together as Jamie kissed her other hip.

Gently, she pried Dani’s legs apart, leaning her head forward to place a warm kiss against Dani through her underwear. The contact was enough to make Dani whine. Jamie looped her fingers around the lace and tugged it downwards, with extra assistance from Dani who impatiently lifted her hips off the bed.

Once completely naked, Dani felt a bit of self consciousness tugging at the back of her mind the way it always did whenever she had sex with Edmund and he stared. But mostly, she felt aroused, and when she caught the look in Jamie’s eye, any doubt she felt towards herself was whisked away and an intense need rushed through her veins.

“Jamie…”

That was all that needed to be said. The gardener leaned forward and pressed her tongue into Dani, causing the au pair to arch off the bed in pleasure. Jamie wrapped an arm around her waist, pinning her to the bed as she licked a line through Dani’s folds, followed by a series of other strokes. Dani thought she’d died and gone to heaven, keening at every brush of Jamie’s tongue against her clit.

Jamie used her spare hand to trace a teasing pattern over Dani’s thigh and down to her center, pressing lightly inside of her before surely discovering that Dani was more than ready to take a finger or two. Dani gasped as she felt Jamie fill her with one finger, bucking her hips down against it in a way that she never had before.

Dani had never felt pleasure like this in her life. She hated being fingered most of the time, and receiving head never made her think she would orgasm. Now, she could feel the steady rise of her pleasure and its build towards its peak, and the intentional curve of Jamie’s fingers strokes made Dani immediately crave another one inside of her.

“Jamie- I can take- two-” Dani hoped she made enough sense to relay what she wanted, but it was all she could do to keep from screaming into the night.

Jamie somehow understood exactly what she was trying to say and slowed down in pace to gently slip another finger inside of her, still giving a few cautious strokes before continuing on with the speed she had been going. Dani thought her eyes might cross and clenched them shut, clutching at the linens in tight fists.

“Oh, god,” she moaned.

Jamie’s tongue began following a more direct pattern, circling around and around her clit in the most excruciatingly pleasurable way imaginable. Each breath that left Dani’s body was ragged, as Jamie consumed every last bit of her energy up. She could feel her orgasm rising up until she was teetering at the top, desperate to crash over her, yet stubbornly not wanting the pleasure to go away.

Jamie didn’t give her a choice. She began thrusting her fingers into her more rapidly, brushing perfectly over the ridged nerves. Her tongue swirled over and over around her clit, giving it just the right amount of attention before her mouth applied an additional suction that sent her head reeling. Dani couldn’t hold it off any longer if she tried.

She cried out as the waves of pleasure washed over her, rippling through every inch of her body as Jamie slowed down in pace. The gardener worked her through her orgasm, pulling away only once Dani’s body fell flat against the mattress again. And then she brought herself back up Dani’s body, placing a soft kiss to her closed eyelids.

Dani opened them warily. “What did you just do to me?”

Jamie chuckled. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had an orgasm before.”

“I’ve-” Dani shook her head. “Not like that. Never anything like that.”

Jamie looked surprised, and maybe even a little bit pleased with herself. “Well, there’s plenty more where that came from, Poppins. Don’t you worry.”

“Good. I don’t think I could go the rest of my life without that ever again. I don’t know how I did it before.”

Jamie smiled at her, kissing her on the forehead before reaching for the sheets and tugging them down for Dani to slip under. Dani was grateful for the invitation and crawled underneath, although she still felt plenty warm from her orgasm. Jamie kicked off her shoes and joined her, wrapping an arm around Dani and pulling her close. It was the first time they had cuddled in all the time they'd spent sleeping in the same bed, and the feeling was glorious.

“Thank you for tonight, Dani. It was everything to me.”

Dani smiled, leaning into her touch. “I’d like to return the favor. I know I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but maybe you could help me figure it out?”

“Definitely,” Jamie promised her. “Some other time, though. I’m exhausted.”

Dani nodded, agreeing. There was no way she could gather the energy to give Jamie the performance she deserved. After the day that she’d had, it was a miracle she was even awake still. She thought about everything that had led her to that moment and laughed. Her life had done a completely 180 in just the matter of a few days.

“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Jamie asked her, and Dani tangled their fingers together.

She lifted one shoulder weakly. “I’m just grateful for you. And I’m happy.”

“I’m happy, too, Poppins,” she murmured, giving her one last kiss on the cheek before settling into bed next to her.

They were both asleep long before the party downstairs came to an end.

Chapter Text

When Dani woke up the following morning, it took her a few moments to realize that Jamie was still holding her in her arms. It appeared neither of them had moved even an inch since they had settled into bed together. Dani noticed she was completely undressed and felt her cheeks flush as she recalled the events from the night before.

Despite the several glasses of wine she had consumed prior to her own confession, everything replayed in her mind very clearly. The way Jamie had pulled her in for that kiss that told her the feelings were mutual. The way Jamie had gently stripped her of her clothing. The way Jamie had made her orgasm stronger than anything she’d ever felt in her life.

Dani shifted in the bed, pushing her thighs together as arousal started to overcome her already. She would have been embarrassed, but the sight of Jamie’s soft, sleeping face reminded her that she would have been crazy not to be turned on by the woman holding her. Especially since for the first time ever, she was allowed to be.

Dani rotated until she was facing Jamie completely, somehow managing to keep the gardener’s arm snaked around her backside. She reached a hand up to cup Jamie’s face and gently stroked her thumb across her cheek, watching the slight furrow in Jamie’s brow before her eyes blinked open. She smiled at Dani.

“Morning,” Dani said, matching her smile.

“Morning, Poppins.” She tightened her hold on Dani now that she was conscious. “How’d you sleep?”

“Best sleep of my life,” Dani replied, honestly. “I love waking up in your arms.”

Jamie raised an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah?”

Dani knew it was a rhetorical question and let her gaze fall onto the button-down shirt Jamie had been wearing from the night before. “You slept in that?”

Jamie looked down as though she’d forgotten what she was wearing and let out a slight chuckle. “Guess so. Must have been too exhausted to change.”

“You don’t still need it on now… do you?”

Jamie glanced back up at her, clearly catching the tone of Dani’s voice and what she was suggesting. Her gaze became heated almost instantly, and she swallowed, staring obviously at Dani’s lips.

“I don’t think so.”

She leaned towards Dani and pressed her lips against the au pair’s, shifting until she was hovering completely over her. The sheets slipped down around them, exposing Dani’s chest to the chill of the room. Jamie didn’t waste a second and stared, seeing for the first time what Dani's bare body looked like in the daylight.

Dani smiled knowingly at her. “Jamie?”

Instead of answering, Jamie dipped down, capturing Dani’s lips in her own once again, but this time, slipping her tongue inside her mouth as well. Dani moaned softly, cupping her hands around the back of Jamie’s neck as she pushed her tongue out to meet the other woman’s.

Without question, Dani knew that she was wet. She could feel the moisture between her thighs as a dull aching formed there, demanding attention of any kind. Jamie settled more purposefully between her thighs and Dani lifted her hips up instinctively, rubbing against her pants. Her breath caught at the jolt of pleasure that shot up her spine.

Jamie reached a hand down beneath the sheets and Dani held her breath, expecting to feel Jamie’s slender fingers slip between her legs as she’d done the night before. Instead, she felt Jamie’s hand settle onto her thigh, pushing her leg up until it was bent at the knee. Her own thigh took residence between Dani’s legs, pressing until Dani bucked her hips up, creating a glorious friction that had her eyes clenching shut.

Jamie kissed her chin. “You are beyond sexy.”

Dani opened her eyes again and saw that the other woman was smirking down at her. She bit her lip and Jamie stared blankly, focusing in on the flesh between her teeth. She reached a thumb up to cautiously remove her bottom lip from the confines of her teeth, before eagerly dipping her head down and thrusting her tongue deep into Dani’s mouth.

The au pair groaned, grinding down faster against Jamie’s thigh, feeding off the pleasure that was building exponentially within her. Her own tongue tangled with Jamie’s slipping in and out of her mouth before Jamie gave her bottom lip a bite that made Dani’s walls clench in an agonizing craving for the gardener's fingers.

“Oh, Jamie,” she sighed, looking deep into the other woman’s eyes. “I want you again. I can’t help myself.”

Jamie’s eyes flashed, but she nodded. “What do you want me to do?”

Before Dani could answer - could beg for Jamie to slip two fingers inside of her (no use in pretending she wasn’t wet enough to handle both right off the bat), could beg for Jamie to crawl down the expanse of her bare body and press her tongue between her thighs - there was a strong knock at the door that disrupted the entirety of the atmosphere they’d created.

Jamie sat up, sharing a look of alarm with Dani before getting out of bed. It occurred for the first time to Dani that there were other people in the world. And that she had a responsibility in that house to care for the two children who lived there. Sure, Henry was probably with them as he had been the morning before. But still, she felt the embarrassment at her lack of professionalism sink in.

“It’s probably just Hannah coming to check on us,” Jamie murmured to her, reaching down to pull the bed sheets back up Dani’s naked body. “I’ll get it, just stay covered.”

“Okay.”

Dani watched warily as Jamie made her way over to the door, hoping it actually was Hannah on the other end of it, yet still anxious for it to be her. Dani knew anybody glimpsing into their room would know exactly what had gone on and what was still going on, and that made her skin prickle with heat. Jamie pulled the door open just as another knock was being pressed against the wood.

“Rebecca.”

Dani sat up a bit then, suddenly thrilled it had been the old au pair at the door and not anyone else. She could just barely see Rebecca’s hands as she rested them out in front of her, secretly hoping the other woman noticed the dress Dani had been wearing the night before splayed out on the floor of the bedroom.

“Jamie, hi,” Rebecca said, surprise evident in her tone. “Um, I was just coming up here to let you know breakfast was done.”

“Oh, thank you. I’m sorry for my appearance. I was expecting Hannah.”

“Karen thought it’d be best I come up here to get you two and Hannah stay downstairs to help serve the food.”

Once again, Dani was perplexed by the actions of her mother, who clearly had her own hidden agenda about sending Rebecca up. Dani didn’t know what was more concerning. That her mother knew Jamie and her had slept together last night, or that her mother was clearly trying to get a rise out of Rebecca for making the young girl bare witness to the aftermath of it herself.

“I see. Well, tell everyone we’ll be down in a few,” Jamie instructed, leaving Rebecca with a polite smile before closing the door. “Guess that spoils our fun, doesn’t it?”

“Raincheck?”

“You read my mind, Poppins.”

Dani got out of bed, going over to her dresser to throw on a fresh pair of underwear and a semi-formal blouse. She pulled on a pair of pants and hurried over to the bathroom to fix her hair and brush her teeth, hoping that splashing cold water on her face was enough to make her look like she’d been awake for longer than twenty minutes.

When she came back, Jamie was already changed into a new outfit - a baggy shirt and a pair of worn jeans. Dani smiled at her, in awe that someone as beautiful as Jamie wanted her back. Jamie slipped past her with an amused smile, heading into the bathroom to brush her own teeth.

They shared a brief kiss at the top of the stairs before heading down to face the madness. Although everyone already expected them to be together, something major had shifted between the two of them last night, and Dani was sure it was obvious. Even to the people who thought this was all for show. Jamie held her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze before they emerged into the kitchen, trying their best to blend in without much attention.

“Finally, we were starting to get worried,” Karen said, and Dani looked her mother’s way, hoping to catch sight of something that would help her better understand what was going on inside of her head.

“The alarm didn’t go off,” Jamie said, pulling out Dani’s seat for her before taking her own right next to the au pair. “Sorry to have kept you all waiting.”

“No need to apologize, Jamie,” Henry said, settled happily between his niece and nephew at the other end of the table. “I think we all slept in a little later than planned. Last night sure was a lot of fun.”

“Sorry again about your wine, Henry,” Judy told him, laughing from behind her napkin. “Karen and I can really knock ‘em back once you get us started.”

Dani snickered, tempted to make a remark about how her mother needed no excuse to drink more than was appropriate on any given night, but didn't, if only because the woman had been strangely having her back lately.

“Thanks for the breakfast, Owen,” Dani said instead, taking a big bite of the spinach omelet on her plate. “It’s delicious.”

Owen lifted his glass of water to her in thanks, but said nothing. And when Dani spared a glance over to him and Hannah, she noticed the two of them were already looking her way, knowing looks on their faces. Hannah’s smile said it all, and Dani blushed before looking away.

“How was the party?” Jamie asked. “Hope we didn’t miss much.”

“Besides my mom and Dani’s mom needing to be carried up the stairs, you didn’t miss too much,” Edmund answered, earning laughs from all around the table.

All except Dani who gave her mom an annoyed look. “Mom, really?”

Karen shrugged, innocently. “What? It was a party! Henry, you didn’t mind having to carry me up to my room, did you?”

Henry looked a little pink in the face but shook his head politely. “No, not at all.”

“Eddie offered to help her up, same as he did me. But your mom refused,” Judy told her, laughing hysterically at the memory.

Dani didn’t have to be present to know exactly how things had gone down last night. Her mother would always refuse the help from someone reasonable when there was an attractive man involved. The only good thing was that Henry would be leaving tomorrow, taking away any ideas her mother might be having with him. Dani made a mental note to apologize to him once he was back in the city.

“Sounds like a lot of fun,” Jamie said, chuckling along with the rest of them.

“It would have been more fun if you’d stayed,” Rebecca chimed in, smiling softly at the gardener.

Jamie squeezed Dani’s thigh from underneath the table, silently reassuring her as Dani refrained from bristling. “I had something important to take care of. Maybe we can all do something again tonight, since you’re all leaving in the morning.”

“I don’t want you to go,” Flora whined, scooting out of her chair and rushing quickly to Rebecca’s side. “I love having you all here. It feels like we’re a family again.”

Dani felt her throat close and looked away from the little girl, upset with herself for feeling as bitterly as she did towards Rebecca. The old au pair had been nothing but good to those kids, and she knew having them back, even if only for a couple days, meant the world to them.

“I’ll come back to visit again,” Rebecca assured her, holding her close. “Hey, how about we spend the day together by the lake the way we used to? Yeah? Miles, what do you say?”

The little boy nodded eagerly and Flora cheered, momentarily cured of her despair. Dani couldn’t help but smile to herself, warmed by the kids’ joy. And then suddenly, she didn’t want Rebecca to go. Knowing it would upset Miles and Flora was enough reason for her to want the old au pair to stay. Even if it came at the cost of her own discomfort.

“Well, if you’re going to be occupying the children, Rebecca, would you mind if I went into town with Peter and Owen to grab some things for dinner tonight?” Henry asked.

“Not at all,” Rebecca replied.

“You’re all welcome to come,” Henry invited.

Judy nearly jumped out of her seat. “I’d be delighted to come. I’m in dire need of a new pair of shoes.”

“Enough about the damn shoes, Judy. I’m about to make you a pair myself,” Karen said, rolling her eyes. “Going into town sounds lovely, Henry.”

“I guess I’ll go as well,” Edmund said.

Dani was not in the mood to go into town and opted to stay home with Hannah, who also didn’t feel like making the drive over. Jamie decided to hang back as well, which Dani couldn’t help but feel slightly responsible for. And although the manor would be emptying out, Dani knew there was much discussion to be had.

-----

As she settled down in the garden with Hannah and Jamie, Dani felt the weight of the housekeeper’s stare on her and knew they needed to stop beating around the bush. Jamie looked more immune to the knowing eyes and was somehow still managing to make light conversation about Judy and Karen’s drunkenness from the night before.

Dani could no longer take it.

“We had sex last night,” she blurted, being met with two pairs of startled eyes.

“Dani,” Jamie warned, her cheeks tinted pink.

Hannah cleared her throat uncomfortably. “Well, thanks for sharing, Dani. Would you like to talk about it?”

Dani was flabbergasted. “I thought you knew! I thought that you could tell something had happened. It’s just that you keep looking at me like you know and-”

“Dani, it’s okay. I’m sorry if you felt pressured at all to tell me. I figured something must have happened since neither of you came back downstairs, but I didn’t know for sure. It was bound to happen at some point. I'm just happy it was sooner rather than later.”

Jamie sat up straight in her chair. “Wait, you knew we were into each other?”

Hannah pressed her lips together before shrugging in a way that suggested the answer to what Jamie was asking her was quite obvious. “Well, yes.”

“Why didn’t you say anything to me? We could have figured this all out sooner.”

The housekeeper clasped her fingers together in front of her. “It wasn’t my place to say anything. You two needed to sort things out on your own terms. You’re both better off for it. I did enough meddling as it is.”

“She’s right,” Dani agreed. “This needed to happen in its own way. I’m just thankful you were interested in me, Jamie. And, Hannah, thank you for reassuring me that I had nothing to worry about with Rebecca. You were right, of course.”

“Oh, so you’ve told Hannah how Rebecca’s been acting, then?” Jamie asked, with a slight sneer on her face.

Hannah furrowed her brows. “No, this is the first I’m hearing about this. How has she been acting?”

“Basically, she’s been giving me a hard time about Jamie. Asking me intrusive questions about our relationship. Making sure I know Jamie was interested in her first.”

“That doesn’t sound like Rebecca,” Hannah murmured, staring off with a look of shock.

“That’s what I said,” Jamie agreed. “But I know Dani’s telling the truth. I even picked up on it a bit this morning during breakfast.”

Hannah shook her head. “I wonder why she feels the need to intimidate you, Dani. Rebecca’s never been anything but kind to us and the children. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well, whatever the reason is, I’ll probably never hear it. She leaves tomorrow. I can’t say I’ll miss her too much. I just hope Miles and Flora don’t take it too hard.”

Off in the distance, the two kids and their old au pair could be seen playing by the lake. Rebecca was holding Flora in her arms, running while Miles chased after them. It was a beautiful day out, and the wind ruffled all of their clothing. Even the blanket they had laid out along the grass was shriveled up, held down only by their water canisters.

Dani felt a pit in her stomach again and shrugged helplessly. “I really wanted her to like me.”

“Dani,” Jamie began, reaching a hand out to rest on her shoulder, “there isn’t one thing not to like about you. She’s going to regret her behavior once she’s left, if she hasn’t already.”

“Would you like me to talk to her?” Hannah asked, also seeming concerned.

Dani shook her head. “No, I’d rather her come to me of her own accord than have it be forced. If she ever actually feels bad, I’ll hear her out.”

They fell silent for some time, watching the kids play out by the lake and keeping a listen for the sound of tires on gravel in case the other guests had returned back from the town. Dani thought then of her mother and the way she’d been acting, remembering how her mother had chosen Hannah as her very own confidant during her stay at the manor. She turned to face the housekeeper.

“Hey, Hannah, has my mom said anything strange to you lately?”

Hannah thought about it a moment. “Strange, how?”

“Anything about Jamie and I?”

“Hm, now that you mention it, yes. Something a bit odd. I can't believe it slipped my mind, now. Last night, after the two of you had gone upstairs, your mum came over to Owen and I. She must have been on her fifth glass of wine by then, she could hardly string a sentence together without going into hysterics. She was rambling on and on about your father and his mistress. She said she knew Jamie would never do to you what he had done to her.”

And just like that, any anger or frustration she had felt towards her mother that trip was swept away as though it had never existed in the first place. Dani felt her eyes burning, moved by what Hannah had revealed to her. It might not seem like much, but it meant everything to Dani. And it didn’t matter that she had been drunk when she’d said it. In that moment, Dani found herself missing her mother’s presence.

She thought back on what Judy had said to her a few mornings ago. About how her mom only wanted Dani to have what she never did. Perhaps her mother had seen for herself that Dani did have something special. Maybe it was starting to matter less to her that that special thing was with a woman.

She felt Jamie’s hand on her own and broke out of her thoughts, looking over to the gardener and sharing a soft smile with her. Jamie’s eyes said it all. Jamie was happy for her.

Dani was happy for herself.

Chapter Text

Once everyone else had returned from their trip into town, those who had stayed behind entered the manor to greet them. Hannah went for Owen, asking details about what was to be prepared for dinner that night. The kids ran to Henry, engulfing him in tight hugs as though he’d been gone for years. Rebecca went to Peter, lavishing his face in kisses.

And in a surprising turn of events, Dani went to her three guests, more than delighted to have them home again. She could tell already that Judy had been successful in her quest for shoes, watching with a grin as the older woman clutched a size six shoebox to her chest. Edmund seemed to have done a little shopping of his own, judging by the two bags he held in his hands. And her mother was wearing a pair of sunglasses in her hair that she definitely hadn’t arrived there with.

“I take it you all had a good time?” Dani asked them.

“I have to hand it to you, Dani. The area isn’t as drab as I thought it was,” Edmund replied, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “The town was so beautiful. I wish we had time to see all of the shops.”

“We would have had more than enough time, if it weren’t for this one,” Karen said, sticking a thumb out towards Judy.

Judy gasped. “Hey, that’s not fair. I think finding the right pair of shoes takes time. I didn’t complain about you spending twenty minutes trying on different pairs of sunglasses, did I?”

“No,” Karen confessed, sighing. “Well, show her the shoes.”

Judy opened the shoebox eagerly, ripping the tissue paper to the side and lowering the box so that Dani could peer inside. They were simple black flats with a small bow at the top, but Judy seemed too overjoyed by her purchase for Dani to judge.

“They’re beautiful, Judy.”

“Thank you, sweetheart,” the older woman said, gushing as she closed the shoebox. “I’m going to put these upstairs with my things before I misplace them. This place is so huge, and with my luck, I’d set them down and never see them again.”

“I’ll go with you,” Edmund said, following behind her. “I have some things to put away as well.”

Dani was left alone with her mother, and for the first time in months, it didn’t scare her. She turned to face the woman who had given her the best and worst days of her life, looking at her with fresh eyes. Her mother glanced at her, cleaning her throat dramatically.

“Henry grabbed some delicious looking steaks from the market,” she said, sticking to a safe topic the way she always did.

Dani nodded, but she wasn’t interested in that. “Sounds great. I’m looking forward to it.” She paused and gestured towards her mother’s sunglasses. “Those are really nice.”

“Oh, these?” Karen pulled them out of her hair and examined them. “Not bad for thirty bucks. I just had to get them.”

“You’ll definitely make use of them back home. There’s a lot more sun there than there is here.”

“You’re right about that.”

A heavy silence fell over them. Dani could tell her mother was itching for a drink. Alcohol was how her mother got through most conversations, especially the more tense ones. However, the au pair was determined to say what she had to say while she was still sober. That way she wouldn’t be able to debate how genuine it was.

“Mom, I want to talk to you about last night,” she said, checking over her shoulder to make sure nobody was within hearing distance.

Karen shifted her stance. “You’re not going to scold me for drinking again, are you? Because it was a party, Danielle. I wasn’t the only one who was drunk.”

“No, I know that.” Dani pressed her lips together as she gathered her thoughts. “I just wanted to say thank you again. You know, for helping me out with Rebecca. You didn’t have to do that, and it really meant a lot to me.”

Karen looked down, crossing her arms over her chest. “I can hardly recall that conversation, but you’re welcome.”

Dani placed a hand on her arm. “Mom, c’mon. I know what you were doing. You even sent her up to our room this morning. You don’t have to pretend you don’t remember.”

“Hannah was needed downstairs. It only made sense,” Karen justified, growing defensive.

Dani wasn’t going to let her get away with the excuses that easily. “Why can’t you just admit it?”

“Admit what?”

“Admit that you were looking out for me and Jamie.”

Karen glanced around, pursing her lips. “Dani, can we talk about this another time? I don’t really want to get into all of this right now. We should be with the rest of the house. I actually wanted to see if Owen needed any help preparing dinner.”

“Fine, but you can’t avoid this forever.”

Maybe Dani should have felt upset or disappointed about not getting the answers she wanted from her mom. Instead, she felt that happiness from before still present within her. There were a hundred awful things her mother could have said when confronted about her feelings towards Jamie, and she had said none. That was as successful as a conversation with her mom could go.

-----

After dinner and once everyone had settled down again, Dani found herself in a conversation with Judy and Hannah. Not the most predictable trio of people, but the conversation was nice, nonetheless. Judy was already tipsy from the wine she’d had during dinner. It seemed her and Dani’s mother were already past their wild night from before and ready for another one.

“It’s a shame they’re leaving tomorrow,” Judy said, referring to Peter, Rebecca, and Henry. “I’m just happy we got to meet them while we were here.”

“Its been an eventful weekend, that’s for sure,” Hannah said.

Dani didn’t want to bring the conversation down any and added, “I’m sure we’ll all be back together in the same room one day.”

“Your mother is really going to miss Henry,” Judy told her, although that went without saying. “You know, its been awhile since she's had someone nice in her life.”

“Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t ever pick the nice guys.” Dani glanced over to where her mother was talking Henry’s ear off, feeling a twinge of sadness for her.

Judy sighed. “We can’t all be as lucky as to find our Jamie in this world, sweetheart. I’m content enough in my marriage, but it’s Eddie who I worry about. I just want him to find someone who’s gonna love him the way that he deserves.”

“She’s out there,” Dani assured her. “I have no doubt he’ll find her soon. Now that he’s over me, that’s really going to help.”

“You would have been perfect for my son,” Judy said, wistfully.

Dani took no offense to it, because for the first time in months, she knew Judy meant no harm by it. She had proven time and time again during her stay at the manor that she was over trying to force the two of them together. Her acceptance had pushed Dani a long way in a short amount of time.

“Enough about our love lives,” Judy began, poking Hannah in the chest, “let’s get into yours.”

“Mine?” Hannah laughed nervously. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, please! You have something going on with that gorgeous cook. We’ve all seen it,” Judy told her, giggling into her wine glass.

Dani tucked her lips into her mouth, trying to keep the laughter from escaping. It went unspoken with her and Hannah that there was something going on with her and Owen. She never liked to push the housekeeper about it because Hannah was wise enough to handle that sort of thing on her own. But a drunk Judy now pressing her on it was far more amusing than it should have been.

“Owen and I are just friends,” Hannah said, cheeks flushed.

Judy shook her head. “I don’t buy it. And if Karen were over here, she’d call bullshit. Dani, go get your mother.”

“No, that’s really not necessary,” Hannah said, tugging Dani towards her by her wrist. “Now I see why you were so anxious about them digging into your romantic life.”

Dani chuckled. “It isn’t fun, is it?”

“I’m gonna go get your mother so that we could get to the bottom of this,” Judy decided, sauntering off before either of them could stop her.

“And I’m going to go into the kitchen to hide. Hopefully she’s tipsy enough to forget this absurd agenda before she realizes I’m gone,” Hannah said, disappearing off into the other room.

Dani watched as they walked off in different directions, but she didn’t mind being left behind. She was still laughing to herself when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning around with a grin still on her face, she felt her stomach drop instantly at the sight of Rebecca. It was the last person she was expecting to come up to her, and her presence wasn’t exactly welcomed.

“Hi,” Rebecca said, her voice giving away some of her anxiety. “Can we talk?”

Dani wanted to say no. But she knew she had to be true to her word and give Rebecca the opportunity to apologize. She just hoped that was what the other woman was standing in front of her to do.

“Sure,” Dani agreed.

Rebecca heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you. I just wanted to say how sorry I am for how I’ve been acting towards you. I’ve been really out of line. There’s no excuse for it, and I would completely understand if you chose not to forgive me for my actions, but I had to at least try to explain myself.”

Dani froze, eyeing the other woman. “What is your problem with me?”

“Honestly? I think I’m a little jealous. Maybe more than a little,” Rebecca admitted, looking away. “This may sound selfish, but a part of me was looking forward to seeing Jamie again this trip because I thought maybe she’d still be interested in me. I thought she may have missed me while I was gone. You know, in a more than friendly way. But I shortly came to realize that that isn’t the case at all.”

“What? Why would you want her to be interested in you? You have a boyfriend.”

Rebecca hesitated. “I know the way it may seem. Things with Peter and I. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love him to death. But sometimes, being with him… It really takes its toll on me. With Jamie, it wasn’t like that. With her, I felt free. And I guess I was hoping to feel a little bit of what I used to with her while I was back at the manor. I don't know if I'll ever experience something like it again.”

Dani didn’t know what to say. There seemed to be more to Rebecca and Peter’s relationship than what meets the eye, and that piqued her interest. Suddenly, Hannah, Jamie, and Owen’s disdain for Henry’s old business partner made more sense. Even though Dani herself had found nothing to dislike about the guy, that didn’t mean there wasn’t more to the picture.

“Then why pick him?” Dani asked her. “Jamie told me what happened. About how you chose to be with him over her. Why do that if you felt better with Jamie?”

Rebecca sighed. “It was more complicated than that. In all my life, I had never seen myself being with a woman. I come from a really proper family. They never would have accepted it. Peter is the perfect man on paper. And he’s good to me.” She paused, seeming to realize something for herself. “Things would have never worked out between Jamie and I. I never would have let it.”

Dani felt a tear slide down her cheek and wiped it off. She hadn’t even realized she’d started crying. She shakily murmured, “I forgive you.”

“You what?”

Dani cleared her throat and said a little clearer, “I forgive you.”

“Although I appreciate it, I don’t understand why. I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I’ve been a monster towards you since the moment I arrived.”

Dani looked her in the eye, and saw for the first time how broken Rebecca looked underneath it all. “Because you remind me a lot of myself. Because I almost chose my own Peter over Jamie.”

Because I could have been you.

Dani didn’t say that last part, but when she thought it, it hit her hard in her chest. Rebecca’s own eyes watered and she looked away. Dani wondered if she may have heard the thought anyway.

“Thank you, Dani,” Rebecca said, wiping her face. “Jamie’s lucky to have you. Treat her better than I did.”

They could have hugged, but neither felt a reason to. The conversation was over and Dani saw no need to linger there. She went off in search of Jamie, interrupting the gardener's conversation with Owen and bringing her into a tight embrace the moment she found her.

“It’s nice to see you, too,” Jamie told her, chuckling as she returned the hug. “What’s going on?”

Dani pulled away, shaking her head. “It’s nothing. I’m just really thankful for you. I never want to take that for granted.”

“I’m thankful for you, too, Dani,” Jamie told her, placing a soft kiss to her cheek.

Owen cleared his throat. “Something happened, didn’t it? Between you two?”

“Hannah will catch you up,” Dani said. “She may still be hiding out in the kitchen right now. You should go and find her.”

“Hiding out?” Owen furrowed his brows. “Why would she be doing that?”

“It’s a long story.”

Owen left for the kitchen, leaving Dani and Jamie alone with one another. Jamie hung one arm loosely around Dani’s neck. It made her feel warm inside.

“So, now I really think my eyes are deceiving me,” Jamie started, pulling back to look at Dani’s face. “I could have sworn I saw you talking to Rebecca a moment ago.”

Dani laughed. “No need to worry about your vision. Rebecca and I were talking.”

“What did she want this time? Do I have to go over there and give her a piece of my mind?” Jamie asked, mostly teasing, though Dani knew that she would if she asked her to.

“No, she actually wanted to apologize.”

“Oh. That’s nice… right?”

Dani nodded. “It was nice. I’m not upset with her anymore. I don’t agree with the way she acted towards me, but I have a better understanding of it now. Talking to her made me all the more sure of my decision to be with you.”

“I’m glad,” Jamie said, smiling. “I want to be with you, too. This is only just the beginning, Poppins.”

“God, I hope so,” Dani whispered, pulling Jamie into a kiss she never wanted to end.

-----

There was a sadness in the air the next morning. The house seemed to know that three guests would be leaving as well and moaned quietly throughout the night. The kids were in tears all throughout breakfast. Even Karen seemed upset, barely saying more than a handful of words unlike her usual talkative self.

When the time came to say goodbye, everyone gathered out in the foyer. Dani kept her distance from them all, knowing it wasn’t her place to get in the way of their heartfelt departure. Judy and Edmund hung back with her. All three watched with heavy hearts.

“Please come visit us soon, Uncle Henry,” Miles said, hugging his uncle tightly and trying to keep his tears under wrap.

Flora was less contained. “Don’t go,” she cried, clinging onto his shirt. “Please, don’t go!”

Henry held onto the children with wet eyes himself. After being witness to it multiple times now, Dani knew it was never easy for him to say goodbye to them. With work as hectic as it was for him, he came as often as he could. He called multiple times a week just to check in on them. Still, parting ways never got easier on the three of them.

“I’ll be back soon,” Henry promised. “You know I always come back.”

“Why can’t you just stay?” Flora asked, still sobbing hard.

Henry frowned. “I have work, sweetie.” He pushed her hair back from her face. “How about this? How about you and Miles spend your summer in the city with me? I’ll still have lots of work to do, but we’ll get to spend more time together.”

That promise is what finally got the little girl to stop crying. Dani smiled to herself as she watched the interaction, not paying any attention to the adults hugging Rebecca on the opposite end of the room.

Rebecca approached the kids once Henry let go of them, dropping to her knees right in front of them. “My two favorite children in the whole world,” she said, stroking the back of their heads. “It was a pleasure seeing you again.”

“Will you come back?” Miles asked.

“I promise,” Rebecca said, smiling at him.

Flora hugged her. “Please don’t forget about us. I know America is lots of fun, but we can still have fun here. Okay?”

Rebecca laughed fondly. “Okay.”

Dani glanced away from them, noticing a conversation taking place between her mother and Henry to the right of her. She knew she shouldn’t have eavesdropped, but she couldn’t help herself. It was her mother and her boss, after all.

“It was great meeting you, Karen,” he said, smiling at her.

Karen set a hand on his shoulder. “If only we could have met sooner.”

“Well, just know that you’re always welcome here. You have a lovely daughter, and I’m thankful to have such an incredible woman looking after my niece and nephew.” He paused, before grinning nervously. “And if you ever do find yourself in England again, give me a call.”

“With the way my daughter’s relationship with your gardener is going, I don’t see myself staying in America for too long. I’m sure I’ll be back here to visit soon enough.” She leaned in to hug him. “And you can count on that call.”

Judy nudged Dani with her elbow, nodding off in the direction of her mom and Henry. “Your mom is pretty smooth when she wants to be.”

“Gross,” Dani said, making a face.

But inside, she felt happy. In more ways than one, Dani was shown that her mother had accepted things with her and Jamie. It was unfortunate that Henry and his guests were leaving so soon, but Dani knew that the house would return back to normal in a day or two. She had a lot to be grateful for. She knew as much.

“Goodbye, everyone,” Henry said, waving a hand at them all as he reached for the front door.

The car was already loaded with their things. Henry would be dropping off the couple at the airport on his way to the office. Peter and Rebecca said their goodbyes to the rest of the group. Rebecca caught Dani’s eye and offered her a small smile. Dani gave her one back and hoped that if they ever did meet again, things would be different and she would get the chance to know the Rebecca that all of Bly had come to know and love.

As the car drove away, the remaining people stood and watched it disappear down the driveway and out of sight. Then Hannah closed the door and a quietness fell over the foyer. It was Karen who spoke first, clapping her hands together to rouse everyone out of their sadness.

“Well,” she began, heaving a sigh, “who needs a drink?”

Chapter Text

Due to the sad turn the day had taken with the departure of Peter, Hannah, and Henry, the adults decided that it would be a good idea to do something special with the kids. Miles and Flora deserved a distraction, and Dani would have taken any excuse to spend more time with the children she’d hardly seen at all that weekend.

After Owen and Jamie helped the kids make ice cream from scratch in the kitchen - as well as let them eat it so early in the day - Dani offered to take them for a stroll around the garden. And since Jamie had some plants and flowers that needed her attention, it was the perfect opportunity for them to still be close to one another.

The kids raced off towards the far end of the yard, while Dani and Jamie took their time walking over. Their hands were linked, and Dani was letting the other woman know just how good of a job she had done cheering up the kids in the kitchen that morning. They were almost back to their normal selves already.

When they reached the children, Jamie placed a sweet kiss to Dani’s cheek before waving goodbye to Miles and Flora and heading into the garden. Dani watched her go, smiling at the women who made her ridiculously happy. Flora grabbed her hand.

“Something’s happened, hasn’t it?” she asked.

Dani stared down at her. “What do you mean?”

“You guys are acting more in love than usual,” she said, sounding exhausted over having to explain herself. “You guys told each other it wasn’t a game anymore, didn’t you?”

“Flora,” Dani started.

The little girl shook her head. “Don’t even try to lie about it because I heard Owen and Hannah talking in the kitchen this morning before Uncle Henry left. They said that you and Jamie had finally come to your senses.”

“Flora, you have got to stop eavesdropping,” Miles said, scolding his younger sister yet again over this bad habit of hers.

Dani nodded in agreement. “Flora, your brother is right. It’s not polite to listen in on other people’s conversations.”

“It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose,” she said, pouting. “They really do forget I’m there, you know.”

The au pair sighed, squatting down so that she was at eye level with the little girl. She placed a hand on her shoulder.

“You’re right, okay? Jamie and I have told each other that it isn’t a game anymore. So no more pretending. This is all just the truth.”

“Yay!”

Flora celebrated loudly, throwing her hands into the air while Miles grinned. He looked just as happy as his younger sister did, despite being better at controlling his excitement. Dani laughed. If there was one person who wanted her and Jamie to get together more than she did, it was Flora.

“We’re both so happy for you, Dani,” Flora said, pulling her into a tight embrace that nearly tackled Dani to the ground.

“I can see that,” Dani replied, chuckling. “Thank you.”

God, how she had missed those kids.

-----

Later on in the evening and after dinner had been eaten, Dani found herself itching for some alone time with Jamie. It wasn’t unusual for her to be touch-starved after how the last couple of days had gone for her, but once the kids were put to bed for the night, she saw no point in delaying the inevitable.

Dani reached for Jamie’s arm, gaining the gardener's attention from where she had been engaged in a conversation with Hannah. The housekeeper paid no mind to the interruption and swiftly joined in on a conversation with Judy and Edmund. Dani’s mom was currently in the cellar, fishing for a new bottle of wine with Owen’s help.

“What’s the matter, Poppins?” Jamie asked, one eyebrow raised in curiosity.

Dani bit her lip. “I, uh, was hoping the two of us could have some alone time. What do you think?”

Jamie’s gaze darkened almost instantly as she slowly nodded her head in agreement. “I think that sounds like a lovely idea. The kids asleep?”

“By now they should be out like a light,” Dani said.

“Think there’s any subtle way of excusing ourselves?”

Dani looked around the table, shrugging her shoulders. “Probably not. I don’t think anyone will mind too much, though. Once my mom comes back with the wine, nobody will even notice we’re gone.”

“You may be right about that,” Jamie said.

It was Dani who stood first, but nobody looked her way. However, when Jamie got to her feet as well, the conversation stopped and they had three pairs of eyes on them. Dani made a lame gesture towards the stairs.

“Um, I’m pretty beat. Today was a long day. I think I’m going to go to bed now,” she said, glancing at Jamie who began to nod profusely. “But you guys have fun, though.”

“I’m pretty tired, too,” Jamie added. “Did lots of gardening today.”

Nobody looked like they were buying it. Before things could get any more awkward than they already were, Dani walked away from the table and out of the kitchen. Jamie was following hot on her heels. They held hands tightly, remaining quiet until they had made it into their room before bursting into laughter.

“Did you see the look on Judy’s face?” Jamie asked, grabbing her side. “She knew exactly what we were sneaking off to do.”

“She’s probably envious of us. God knows when the last time she got laid was,” Dani said, knowing her and Edmund’s dad didn’t exactly have the most sensuous relationship after twenty-five years of marriage.

“I’m just happy your mum was busy for that. I don’t think I could have gotten up if she had still been there.”

Dani gave her an amused look. “You’re not starting to get intimidated by her now, are you? You were so good at keeping your cool around her.”

Jamie ducked her head. “Yeah, well, things changed once she stopped acting like a jerk. If she’s going to be fine about us, I don’t want to be on her bad side. I want her to like me.”

Dani pulled her closer to her by her hands, holding them softly. “That’s really sweet, you know that? I would have understood completely if you didn’t want anything to do with her after how she behaved the first half of her visit.”

Jamie smiled a smile that was just halfway, leaning forward to place a kiss on Dani’s lips. It was soft and sweet and reminded Dani of just how much elation she felt inside every time she was around the gardener. It was almost too good to be true.

“And just for the record, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t like you,” Dani told her, leaning in for another kiss immediately after.

One thing led to another, and then they were suddenly on their bed, stripped of everything but their underwear. Dani had seen Jamie topless since their first time together when Jamie had remained fully clothed. She had the excessive drinking and numerous exhausting conversations that day to thank for that.

Other than a couple goes at second base and some light teasing, Dani hadn’t had the opportunity to give Jamie the same level of pleasure Jamie had so generously given to her. There was a promise in there somewhere about Jamie showing her the ropes to getting women off. How the gardener had become so good at it, Dani didn’t even want to know.

Dani put a hand on Jamie’s arm, stopping her from slipping her fingers into Dani’s underwear. If Jamie even touched her, Dani would lose all of her will power to try and get Jamie off first. She just knew it. Jamie gave her a puzzled look but drew back, clearly not wanting to do anything Dani wasn’t comfortable with.

“Everything okay, Poppins?” she asked.

Dani nodded. “Everything’s great. I just, um-” Dani exhaled in a laugh, trying to shake some of the sudden nerves away. “I was wondering if you could show me. Show me… what you like.”

It seemed to click in Jamie’s mind what she was trying to say because soon the gardener was raising her eyebrows in understanding. “Oh. That would be… Are you sure, Dani?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

Jamie smiled. “Okay.”

She turned over from her side so that she was now flat on her back against the bed. Dani hovered over her, staring down into her favorite eyes. Jamie brought her into a kiss, an eager one that Dani was struggling to keep up with. It wasn’t fair the things that Jamie could do with her tongue.

When their kiss broke, Dani began trailing her lips down Jamie’s body, leaving behind two or more love bites Jamie would easily be able to hide underneath her clothing. As she lingered on Jamie’s breasts, she watched the other woman squirm underneath her. It had become more than apparent Jamie had sensitive nipples, and Dani loved that. It seemed they both did.

As Dani’s lips fell over the soft curve of Jamie’s stomach, her hands worked to pull down the last piece of clothing on Jamie’s body. Dani sat up to admire Jamie’s body in its full exposure. It was her first time seeing another woman completely nude in her whole life. She wanted to brand the memory into her brain so that she would never forget it as long as she lived.

Jamie’s legs pressed together as she smiled shyly up at Dani. Dani looked away to meet the gardener’s gaze, her cheeks a little flushed herself. She hadn’t meant to stare, but Jamie’s body was a work of art. It took a lot of effort to finally draw her eyes away from her.

“You’re perfect,” Dani said, placing a hand on Jamie’s thigh.

The other woman laughed and looked away. “I’m not.”

Dani leaned forward to kiss her. “You are.”

Jamie swallowed thickly as the au pair pulled away. There was nothing more to be said on the matter. Dani continued from where she had left off and lowered herself back down onto the bed. Her hands gently nudged Jamie’s legs apart, opening her wide enough for Dani to see what she was doing. She looked up at the other woman from where she was positioned between her legs.

“So, how should I do this?” Dani asked, trying not to sound as nervous as she felt.

But Jamie’s eyes were glued to the ceiling and that helped a lot. “Um, you can start by teasing me a little. Just kissing… lightly.”

Dani nodded, leaning forward and pressing her lips softly against Jamie’s inner thigh. And when she was done with one, she moved on to the other. Jamie held her breath through most of it, raising her hips off the bed just slightly every time Dani’s lips made contact with her skin. The closer Dani’s lips got to her clit, the more she thought the gardener was going to snap.

“How’s that?” Dani asked after a good while, convinced that she had done so much teasing, Jamie would spontaneously combust if she didn’t supply her some relief.

Jamie sighed. “That was great. Really.”

“What next?”

“Now, you… you can taste me. With your tongue.” Jamie’s hands flattened out against the sheets as she spoke. “Long strokes. Up and down. Okay?”

No verbal response was needed. Dani understood exactly what to do. And as her tongue made that eager first stride along Jamie’s folds, she remembered the feeling of Jamie doing it to her, and how good it had felt. Jamie sucked in a breath. Dani counted the seconds in her head for how long it took for Jamie to release said breath. Almost a full ten.

She picked up the pace as she went along, enjoying the way that Jamie tasted on her tongue. With speed, came a bit of clumsiness, and without meaning to, Dani’s tongue peaked its way inside of Jamie. But when the other woman let out a low moan at the contact, Dani did it again. On purpose.

“Oh, god, that’s-” Jamie’s hips lifted off the bed to give Dani’s tongue more access to her. “That’s good.”

Dani could feel Jamie’s increasing arousal. It coated her tongue in a way that turned her on even further until she was positive her own underwear was soaked through. She reached a hand up to where her mouth was, tempted to slide one finger inside of Jamie. She pulled away, taking note of the way Jamie’s eyes were clenched shut now.

“Jamie, is it okay if I-”

“Yes,” Jamie answered, cutting her off in her breathless voice.

How she had known what Dani was going to ask with her eyes shut, Dani would never know.

The au pair gently pressed her finger inside of Jamie, watching it disappear with a fascination that spurred her on. And when Jamie’s hips bucked down against her hand, Dani knew she was enjoying the feeling. She began to move her finger in and out of her, sliding with ease. Jamie’s fists tightened around the bedsheets.

“Dani?”

The au pair leaned in, ready to do whatever Jamie told her to. “Yeah?”

“Suck on my clit.”

It was a command. And a plea. And everything in the world Dani needed to hear to make sure she would be turned on her whole life. Without hesitance, she wrapped her mouth around Jamie’s clit, brushing her tongue over it in gentle flicks as she sucked in her cheeks. Her finger kept its pace from inside of Jamie. The gardener groaned desperately.

“That feels fucking amazing,” she said, throwing her head back into the pillows.

A rush of pride went through Dani as she continued fucking Jamie exactly as she’d been told. It was funny how arousing getting bossed around was when the orders were coming from Jamie. Dani knew that if it were anyone else, she would have already walked away.

Then Jamie’s hand fell to the back of Dani’s head, and it was all the au pair could do to keep from grinding herself down onto the mattress. There were no words for how turned on she was. She moaned at the action, letting Jamie know that not only was she okay with it, she was into it. Jamie pressed Dani closer to her.

“That’s it,” she breathed, moving her hips to meet Dani’s thrusts. “I’m close, Dani, I’m- fuck, I’m close.”

Then Jamie’s entire body locked, and Dani knew that was it. She could feel the other woman convulsing around her finger. It made her heart race. She supplied a few more gentle strokes of her tongue before pulling away to watch Jamie’s chest heave up and down. She thought for a second that maybe Jamie had been fucked to sleep, until she heard the deepened sound of her voice.

“Take off your underwear,” Jamie said, her head still flat against the pillows as she stared up at the ceiling.

Dani did as she was told, stripping herself of the garment before tossing it aside. She sat back on the bed, awaiting further instruction.

“Come here,” Jamie told her, and Dani began to move up the bed and into a lying down position beside Jamie. The gardener stopped her. “No. Come here.”

And then it became abundantly clear that Jamie wanted Dani’s thighs wrapped around her face, and she was too aroused and curious to argue. Then as she settled over Jamie’s face, anticipating that heavenly moment of relief, she wondered to herself how she had ever gotten so lucky. The last thing she could remember after Jamie buried her tongue between her thighs was her eyes rolling to the back of her head.

-----

Dani woke up with a strange feeling in her chest the next day. It was the feeling of impending doom, and it really weirded her out. Jamie was gone when she woke up, which was already a bad start to her day. Then she went downstairs and saw that her mother, Judy, and Edmund were not at the table. Neither was Jamie. And Owen was missing from his place at the stove.

“Where is everyone?” Dani asked, accepting the steaming mug of coffee from Hannah.

The housekeeper sat down beside her. “Owen asked Jamie to go into town with him. He wouldn’t say why.”

“That’s weird. I wonder why she wouldn’t tell me she was leaving.”

Hannah chuckled. “You sound like you’ve been together for ages. Don’t worry, Jamie sounded the same way. She wanted me to make sure I told you she wouldn’t be gone long.”

Dani felt her cheeks grow warm. “Where’s everyone else?”

“The kids are still asleep. And after the way your guests drank last night, I wouldn’t be surprised if they slept past noon. There seems to be no end to your mother’s fun here.”

“I’m going to owe Henry a new wine cellar by the time she leaves.”

They drank their coffee and when the kids woke up, they ate oatmeal with blueberries. Dani couldn’t risk making something ambitious and screwing it up. She wasn’t exactly the best cook. By the time the kids had finished eating, her mother, Judy, and Edmund still had not come down. Hannah promised to take care of them while Dani went to teach the kids their school lessons for the day.

It was almost dinner time when Owen and Jamie returned. It wasn’t clear what they had gone into town for, but the look on Jamie’s face told Dani she would tell her all about it later. Owen got started on dinner immediately, and once they were all seated at the kitchen table together, the strange feeling in Dani’s chest grew sharper. She could no longer ignore it as successfully as she had been all day.

“So, I heard you guys had fun last night,” Dani said, sharing a look with Edmund.

He laughed. “I’m sure they had fun,” he said, gesturing towards Karen and Judy. “I woke up with a hangover. I don’t think I’ll be drinking for a very long time.”

“You can’t hold your liquor,” Judy told him. “You must get that from your father.”

Everyone at the table seemed amused by the conversation except for Dani’s mom. Karen was refusing to look her daughter’s way, which Dani noticed for the first time had been the case all day. Nothing had happened between the two of them that would lead Dani to believe she had done something wrong, but she could tell when her mother was bothered by something.

“Are you guys done?” Dani asked the kids, noticing their plates were nearly wiped clean.

Flora nodded. “Yes, I’m stuffed.”

“Can Flora and I go upstairs and play for a bit before bed?” Miles asked.

Dani smiled at them. “Of course you can. I’ll be up in an hour to say goodnight.”

With the kids gone, Dani felt more apprehensive about getting to the bottom of what was wrong with her mother. They had been having such a good time together lately, the thought of that being ruined was devastating. She tried not to think the worst, but she couldn’t help herself. Jamie reached for her hand.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she lied, giving Jamie her best attempt at a genuine smile.

Owen and Hannah stood from the table and began to clean the kitchen up. Dani and Jamie stood to do the same, but both were stopped by the sound of Karen’s voice.

“I need to talk to you both,” the older woman said.

The two shared a look before finding their seats again. Owen and Hannah glanced at the table but continued clearing the counters and washing the dishes. Dani looked at her mother, swallowing uncomfortably. Edmund and Judy looked like they had no idea what was going on, and they probably didn’t.

“Is everything okay, Mom?” Dani asked, attempting to keep her voice steady.

“No, Danielle. Not really.” Karen stared down at the table. “This afternoon, I left the house to look for Jamie. Nobody had told me she was in town with Owen yet. I wanted to apologize to her for my behavior in the beginning of my stay here.”

Dani wasn’t following, and from the looks of it, neither was Jamie. It was unusual that her mother would have thought to initiate an apology about anything, let alone one to Jamie. But Dani was warmed by the thought and wondered what could have so clearly changed her mind.

“I went into the greenhouse looking for her,” Karen continued, pausing as the room fell silent in anticipation. “This is what I found right by the entrance. Almost like it had been meant for me to see.”

She reached into her pocket, pulling out a small, wrinkled piece of paper and setting it onto the table. Dani didn’t recognize it. At first. And then she felt Jamie go stiff beside her and watched as her mother began to smooth the wrinkles out of it. Her eyes caught on Jamie’s scribbled handwriting. She could only make out a few lines from the messy scrawls.

Her favorite song is Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys. Her favorite color is orange. Her birthday is April 27th.

Dani’s stomach dropped.

“It didn’t take me long to put the pieces together,” Karen said, breaking the painful silence. “This is a cheat sheet. Notes for Jamie’s performance.”

“Karen, what in the world are you talking about?” Judy asked, looking at her best friend like she had grown a second head.

Karen fixed her with an even look. “Dani and Jamie have been lying to us this entire time. They’ve been pretending to be together just to fool us all. None of it was ever real.”

Chapter Text

Time seemed to move in slow motion, then. And Dani felt more like a bystander than the focal point of the conversation. She did nothing but watch as Judy’s hand reached out for the index card Jamie had used as her very own cheat sheet. Sat quietly as Edmund hung his head in shock and hurt. Bit the inside of her lip when Judy placed the paper back down onto the table and her disapproval mirrored her mother’s.

“Listen, this really isn’t what you think,” Jamie said, forcing Dani to tune back into what was going on.

Jamie’s voice was wavering, and Dani wondered if she was nervous. Perhaps the gardener really had reached a point of caring what Dani’s mother thought. Perhaps she was actually scared to not be welcomed into the family by the only family Dani had left. The only family she had ever known until she'd started working at Bly Manor.

“No more lies,” Karen said, rising to her feet. “I think we’ve had more than enough of those since we arrived here, and I really don’t care to hear any more of them. Tonight will be our last night here. We’ll be gone tomorrow.”

She’d made up her mind for the three of them, but Judy and Edmund did nothing to try and sway her decision. Dani knew she should have stopped her mother from walking away and abandoning their conversation before allowing the chance for explanation. But after so many days of lying straight to her face, she felt weighed down by guilt. Her mother was right to want to leave.

“Your mother has a right to be upset,” Judy said, sounding exhausted, but not nearly as enraged as Dani would have expected from her.

“I know,” Dani murmured, feeling a tear slip down her cheek. “I would be too, if I were her.”

“I’m sorry our visit had to end this way,” the older woman replied, standing up from her chair. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

And when it was just the three of them left at the table, Dani gathered the last of her strength to look Edmund in the eyes. Although he’d been persistent on winning her back for months, he did not deserve the pain he was presumably feeling at the moment. Nobody deserved the humiliation of that.

“I am so sorry,” Dani told him, leaking a few more stray tears. “I would understand if you never wanted to see or hear from me again. What I did is... it's bad.”

He shook his head, dismissing her statement. “Dani, it’s okay. I know how I was. It’s my fault you felt the need to lie about all of this in the first place. If I was more respectful towards you not wanting to be together anymore, none of this would have ever happened. I practically backed you into a corner and you only did what you thought would be the easiest.” He stood, folding his lips in a regretful smile. “I think it’s best we leave tomorrow, as your mom suggested.”

The au pair nodded, watching him walk off towards the staircase where he would go to the room he would sleep in for the last time. She saw from her peripheral Owen and Hannah approaching the table, probably to comfort her. They were good people like that; always wanting to make sure she was alright.

But she was beyond comforting. She didn’t feel worthy of it, nor did she feel like being in the presence of others at the moment. Rising to her feet and pushing away from the table in one swift motion, Dani forced herself out of the kitchen and away from the people who truly did care about what she was feeling. Nobody tried to stop her.

She ran up the stairs and into her room, closing the door behind her. The tears were set free somewhere along the way. Probably the moment her feet hit the first step of the staircase, if she had to pinpoint it. She sobbed uncontrollably, finding her way beneath the covers and wishing to disappear into thin air. Out of all the messes she had been through lately, this one cut the deepest.

When the door opened, she knew it was Jamie. The other woman approached her hesitantly, until Dani got tired of anticipating her closeness and turned over to look her straight in the eyes. Jamie swallowed thickly before joining Dani in the bed. Her presence should have been comforting, but it did very little to settle the anxious grief boiling within Dani.

“This is all my fault,” Jamie began, lifting a hand to touch Dani’s shoulder but thinking better of it and placing it into her lap. “I shouldn’t have left that paper lying around. I thought it would be safe in the greenhouse. Nobody ever goes in there besides me.” She paused. "I didn't even really need it, you know. I should have just thrown it away. I don't know what I was thinking."

“I’m not blaming you,” Dani said, sniffling. “None of this would have happened if it weren’t for me. I signed off on the plan. I made all of you guys go along with it. It’s on me. You were only trying to help me out.”

“Dani.” Jamie sighed. “Why didn’t you tell them that this isn’t just a ruse anymore? Why didn’t you tell them that you and I are actually together?”

“It wouldn’t have mattered,” she said, letting her shoulders slump in defeat. “They have no reason to believe a word I say now. And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t believe me either.”

Silence fell over them, filled in the spaces between them until all that could be heard was the steady rise and fall of Dani’s shaky breaths. The au pair flinched when Jamie finally placed a hand over her own. The gentle touch took her by surprise.

“So, what are we going to do?”

“Nothing.” Dani looked up to meet her eyes. “They want to leave tomorrow, so we let them leave.”

“But-” Jamie began to protest.

Dani stilled her. “Jamie, please. I don’t want this to be any harder than it already is. Just don’t leave me, please. I’m really going to need you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Jamie promised, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close until they were securely wrapped up in one another.

Dani wasn’t sure if things would ever feel okay again. Wasn’t even sure if the three people who had made some of the biggest impacts on her life would ever speak to her again. The only thing she knew for certain was that she had Jamie.

And that was enough for her to fall into a sleep deep enough to forget about her own mother hating her.

-----

In the morning, Dani was more thankful than usual to be whisked away for the day by Flora and Miles. Breakfast was tense with Judy and Edmund at the table, and the questioning from the kids over why Karen was nowhere to be seen didn’t do much to help matters.

Hannah and Owen had looked at her with sympathy in their eyes. She knew there was a lot they wanted to say. Things they didn’t get to the night before when Dani had taken off for the safety and confines of her bedroom. But now was not the time.

Jamie left her alone with the kids because Dani had insisted on it. She didn’t want the kids to catch onto anything unusual more than they already had. It would only make things harder than they needed to be, yet somehow, they seemed to figure out what was happening anyway. She had to learn to stop underestimating their ability to read the room.

“Why were Judy and Edmund being so strange this morning?” Miles asked, leading the conversation despite Flora looking the most concerned.

Dani thought about how best to explain things. “Well, they’re actually leaving today. They decided they couldn’t stay any longer. They’re needed back at home.”

“They’re leaving?” Flora asked, utterly distraught.

“Yeah.” Dani swallowed. “I know you guys got used to having them around, but I’m sure they’ll come back to visit soon. This was only temporary, remember?”

“Why wasn’t your mum at breakfast if she’s leaving?” Miles asked, perceptive, as always.

“Um, my mom and I had a bit of a fight last night,” Dani answered. “She’s mad at me and I don’t think she really wants to see me right now.”

“But she’s leaving today,” Flora responded, sounding confused. “You can’t let her leave angry at you.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that, Flora.” Dani leaned down so that they were at eye level with one another. “Last night, my mom found out Jamie and I were lying to her about being together, and it really hurt her feelings.”

“But you guys are together. Did you tell her that?”

Dani shook her head. “I don’t think she would believe me.”

“Then we’ll tell her. Right, Miles?”

Miles confidently nodded. “Right.”

Dani stared back and forth between the two kids who had made such an impact on her in the short amount of time she’d been working at the manor. She loved them more than she put into words, and felt that same love from them. More than she felt she even deserved.

“You are both amazing kids, you know that? The best I’ve ever known. I’ve already asked more than I should have of you both. And as much as I appreciate you wanting to help me out, I think it’s for the best that we leave things be. They’re going to need some time to cool down and forgive me for lying.”

She expected them to relent, for the conversation to end there and another one to begin. But the silence was deafening as she waited for them to move past the moment. And before Dani knew it, there was the trickling of tears down Flora’s pink cheeks and an uncertain look on Mile’s face.

Dani pulled the little girl close to her chest, wrapping her arms around her back. It only made Flora cry harder as she clung onto Dani’s sweatshirt. She felt her stomach turn, upset by how her own actions had affected the children in front of her. At the rate she was going, she was going to have the entire house upset with her by the end of the night.

“Everything will be okay,” Dani whispered, stroking the back of Flora’s head. “I hate it when you cry.”

Flora pulled away then, wiping at her eyes and nose. “It makes me so sad that you’re fighting with your mum.”

“I know, honey, but this isn't your problem to worry about. My mom and I will get through this one day. We always do.”

The little girl shook her head in defiance. “There isn’t always enough time. What if something happened and you guys never got to fix things?”

“Nothing bad is going to happen,” Dani said, attempting to reassure her without really listening to what she was saying.

Flora cast her eyes down. “That’s what my mom used to say.”

The guilt hit her hard in her gut, leaving behind a pit there that nearly brought Dani to her knees. She pulled Flora tight against her once again, attempting to transfer any good that she could into the little girl to make her feel better. To their right, Miles began sniffling. It must have been hard for him to be reminded of their mother’s death. Dani reached for him and brought him into the hug. Both children latched onto her.

“You’re both too smart for your own good, you know that?” she asked, willing herself not to cry alongside them. “Thank you for helping me realize my mistake. You’re right. I shouldn’t let her leave without trying to fix things. I’ll try to make things better.”

When Flora pulled away again, tears streaked her face, but she looked hopeful. “You will?”

Dani brushed her thumb over her cheek. “Yes, I will.”

“And you’ll try your very best?” Miles inquired, his wet eyes making him look even younger than he was.

Dani squeezed his hand tight. “My absolute, very best. I promise.”

-----

Dani came into the house for lunch, but nobody was at the table except for Hannah, Owen, Jamie, and the kids. Hannah was frowning, and Dani could bet that the housekeeper had exchanged words with her mother. Knowing Hannah, she had probably tried to mend things. And knowing her mother, Karen had probably quieted her before she had the chance.

“Where is everyone?” Dani asked, trying to sound more optimistic than she felt.

Jamie gave her a sad smile. “They’re upstairs. I think they’re packing up.”

Dani swallowed, managing to keep her wavering smile painted onto her lips. “Oh. Would you guys excuse me? I’m going to try to talk to them.”

“Good luck,” Hannah said, genuinely.

“Dani doesn’t need luck,” Flora quickly interjected. “Miss Clayton will understand. She has a good heart, just like Dani does.”

“She’s right,” Jamie agreed, looking at Dani like she was capable of anything in the world. “I’m here for you if you need me.”

“Thank you,” Dani said, giving them all a parting smile before exiting the kitchen and making her way towards the staircase.

Out of all the times she had ascended or descended those stairs with an anxious feeling within her, this was the worst of them all. Somehow, she found the strength to hasten her speed with each step, eager to confront her guests and see what would happen once she had tried her absolute hardest to resolve things.

Their doors were open, and Dani could hear the sounds of suitcases zipping and her mother’s rushed voice. She clearly didn’t want to be there any longer than was necessary, and that did nothing to ease Dani’s nerves.

She approached Judy’s room after noticing her mother's and Edmunds were empty. The three of them were spread out within the room, Judy in the closet, Edmund leaning against the dresser, and her mother sitting on the bed.

All three of them looked in her direction when she knocked her knuckles against the doorframe. Judy and Edmund immediately looked uncomfortable, and maybe even a bit sympathetic. Dani’s mom did not spare her a second glance.

“Hi,” Dani said, looking back and forth between all of them. “Is it okay if I come in?”

“I was just leaving,” Karen said, rising from the bed.

“Actually, Mom,” Dani began, stepping forward without invitation, “I’d like you to be here for this, too. Please.”

“Dani, I already told you I think it’s best that we don’t speak for a while,” she said, denting Dani’s hope for a conversation.

Judy placed a hand on Karen’s arm. “Karen, I think we should hear her out. It’s only right.”

“She’s right,” Edmund agreed. “Dani deserves the chance to explain herself. After intruding on her life for the past week and a half, we owe her at least that.”

“Fine,” Karen conceded. “Let’s hear it.”

It hurt to see her mother so upset with her. If anything, she looked more upset than she did when Dani had told her things with Edmund were through and she was never interested in men. Lying to her mother was never something she intentionally did until now. And it had completely blown up in her face.

“Let me just start by saying how sorry I am. I know I’ll never be able to make it up to you, but for some reason, I felt like pretending to date Jamie was the best way to go about things. None of you were willing to give up hope that I’d return to Eddie. It didn’t matter how many times I said it or how far I had moved away from it all. So when I received the letter in the mail informing me of your visit, I panicked. And please don’t be mad at Jamie. She was only doing what I wanted because she cares about me.”

“I will admit, we were very pushy with you,” Judy said, which was corroborated with a nod from Edmund. “It was hard to take you seriously. We needed to see it to believe it.”

“And that’s all that I wanted from your time here,” Dani told them. “It was never about making you guys look foolish. I just wanted for you to accept that I had moved on from my relationship with Eddie.” Dani swallowed, taking a moment to catch her breath. “As silly as it may sound, the pretending had its own affects on me as well. Jamie and I did actually end up falling for one another.”

Karen shook her head, pushing forward to leave the room. “This is preposterous.”

Dani didn’t try to stop her. She had heard her explanation and that was all Dani had asked of her. Fully willing to accept her mother’s absence and anger as a farewell, she was surprised when Edmund’s voice rang through, coming to her defense.

“Karen, please wait,” he said, stopping her in her tracks. “She’s telling the truth.”

“How could you possibly know that?” Karen demanded, turning around. “How can you believe even a word of what she says?”

“Because she looks at Jamie in a way she never looked at me,” he answered.

Dani felt her heart crumple in her chest, feeling anguish over the boy who had loved her so selflessly for all those years. The same boy who had now embraced the rejection to come to her defense over a new love. And in that moment, she forgave him for everything. And she loved him all the same, for he had shown her he was still her best friend.

“It’s true, Karen,” Judy said, nodding seriously to her best friend. “There’s something between the two of them that is very real. And as much as you may want to ignore it, it’s there. Something tells me it isn’t going anywhere.”

Dani’s eyes watered. She looked over at her mom, the woman who had given her a life more chaotic than most. Her mother had always been a tough one to read when it came to the hard stuff. Dani wondered what was going through her head. It was killing her to not know.

“Mom,” she whispered, willing her to say something.

Karen’s gaze fell as her arms crossed over her chest. “You know, it took a hell of a lot for me to get past things when you first told me about Jamie. I cried about it to your housekeeper friend many mornings. Hell, I even had Judy have a little talk with Jamie one day, just to feel her out. But after every person in this house telling me how wonderful she is and how happy she makes you, I decided that holding a grudge wasn’t going to do anything except make you hate me. Accepting your love for her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

“I know,” Dani said, cautiously stepping forward towards her mother. “I know, Mom.”

“Knowing that you were lying to me hurt. It really did. But maybe what really hurt me the most was knowing my rejection of your sexuality put you in a position where you felt you had no choice but to lie to me.”

At the first sight of her mother’s tears, Dani immediately stepped forward to bring her mom into a hug. She didn’t think she could remember any specific hugs from her mother prior to that one. But that was the one that she would never forget as long as she lived. A weight between them lifted and then shattered completely. They held on tightly to one another, neither willing to let go any time soon.

“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry for how awful I’ve been,” Karen cried, stroking her daughter’s hair the way she had been doing since before Dani could even remember.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’m sorry for lying to you. I promise that next time I’ll be upfront with you about whatever it is.”

“Thank you, Dani. I really appreciate that.”

Dani pressed her cheek into her mother’s shoulder and felt like a child again. “I love you.”

The anger dissipated and the room felt warm again. The quiet should have been awkward, but it wasn’t. Judy went back to packing and Edmund continued to assist her. Dani could feel her mother start to laugh.

“I do have to admit, you sure did have me fooled,” Karen said, with humor in her tone. “And here I thought you hadn’t inherited my acting gene. I could have made it to Hollywood, you know that?”

Dani lovingly rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I know.”

The moments to follow were ones of comfort and reassurance. It lasted until all that remained between the two of them was a closeness Dani had never felt with her mother before, not even as a child. Judy and Edmund gave them their moment. It was much appreciated. When they were finally able to step away from each other without crying, Dani gave her guests a thankful smile.

“I am so happy you two were able to work things out before we left,” Judy said, looking proud of the both of them. “The worst thing in the world is for a mother and her child to be at odds with one another.”

Dani’s smile fell. “Wait, you’re not still planning on leaving today, are you?”

“Well, honey, we have to,” Karen said, sighing. “Eddie got our flights booked and everything. We were planning on leaving in a couple days, anyway. It doesn’t make much of a difference.”

“Yeah, but-” Dani couldn’t believe the next words that were about to come out of her mouth. “I don’t want you to go.”

“We’ve been in your space long enough,” Judy said, placing her last article of clothing in her bag before zipping it up. “Trust me, you’ll be glad to have us gone.”

“The car should be arriving to take us to the airport at any moment,” Edmund told her, giving her a sad smile.

“Help us carry our things down, will you?” her mother asked, heading into her temporary room to grab her stuff.

Dani followed, remaining speechless as her mother placed a suitcase into her hands. She followed them all down the staircase, setting down the bag in the foyer. Hannah, Owen, Jamie, and the kids came out from the kitchen to see what was going on. They seemed to all piece things together pretty effortlessly.

“Leaving already?” Hannah asked, giving Dani a questioning look.

Dani smiled at her so that she knew things had worked out. She smiled at Jamie as well, watching as the gardener seemed to be flooded with relief. Jamie stepped towards her, reaching out for her hand and the two of them linked their fingers together.

“Sadly, the last flight out today was a bit earlier than we would have liked,” Judy answered, completely disregarding the issues that had led to them leaving early in the first place.

Nobody pushed that answer.

“We wish you didn’t have to go so soon,” Flora said, approaching the three departing guests.

“We’ll come back to visit again,” Karen assured her. “It was a pleasure getting to know you kids. Thank you so much for the kindness you’ve shown us. All of you.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Clayton,” Miles said, charming her mother the way his manners always did.

Hannah smiled politely at her. “It was amazing getting to meet the people Dani holds so important to her. I’m sure I’m speaking for all of us when I say that I hope you do come back and visit us again soon.”

“You can count on it,” Edmund replied.

“Jamie,” Karen began, locking eyes with the woman Dani’s hand was still tightly grasping. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for my daughter. Thank you for being there for her when I was not. I’ll be leaving with a peaceful mind knowing that Dani has you in her life.”

“Thank you,” Jamie said, blinking back tears. “That means a lot to me.”

Karen reached for her other hand and gave it a squeeze. “I hope to get to know you better next time.”

“Looking forward to doing the same,” Jamie said.

Dani let go of the gardener’s hand and brought her mom into one last embrace, whispering her thanks so that her mother knew her words and actions were much appreciated. Dani went to hug Judy and Edmund as well, letting them know just how great it had been seeing them. When she let go of her ex-fiancé, he gave her a bittersweet look.

“It’s crazy all that can change in a week and a half,” he said, putting his hands in his pockets. “I came here thinking I’d be able to win you back. I honestly almost bought an extra ticket home, that’s how confident I felt.”

“Wow,” Dani murmured, raising her eyebrows. “What stopped you?”

“My mom thought it would be bad luck,” he answered, and they both shared a laugh. “Little did she know.”

“I didn’t want to see you again. At least, not so soon after the way that things ended. I think I had forgotten how kind you are. You were so quick to accept my feelings for Jamie, and even tell my mom that she should accept them, too. I’ll never forget that, Eddie.”

He pushed his glasses up onto his nose, shrugging like it was no big deal. “You would have done the same for me, had things been different.”

“Yeah,” Dani agreed. “I would have.”

A car honked from outside, and a stillness fell over the room as everyone came to terms with what was about to happen. Edmund opened the front door, and picked up his bag, sparing them a final farewell. Judy did the same, taking her bag with her as she followed her son over to the open trunk. Karen paused with her things in front of her daughter.

“Until next time,” she said, brushing her hand softly over Dani’s cheek. “You take care, my daughter.”

“You do the same,” Dani told her, trying not to cry again. “I mean it.”

Karen laughed, although they both knew it wasn’t a joke. “I’ll try my best.”

Then her mother was gone, and Dani was trying to keep herself together in front of the kids who were already shifting uneasily. Hannah ushered them away and back into the kitchen with Owen, giving Dani a moment alone with Jamie. The other woman came to her side, holding her close.

“To think I didn’t even want them to come here, and now I wish they had never left,” Dani said, wiping at her eyes.

Jamie nodded. “I know. I think they surprised us all.”

“She forgave me, you know? They all did. She just wants me to be happy,” Dani told her, pulling away. “She wants us to be happy.”

“Then we owe it to her to do just that, don’t you think?” Jamie asked, smiling cheekily at her.

“Yeah.”

They kissed then, right there in the foyer. A week and a half ago, it had been the spot they’d stood in when Dani’s mother had arrived, dreading the opening of that wide, wooden door. Their affection for one another had been unknown, then. Now, Dani was sure she could never live without it.

She pulled away, coming to a sudden realization. “Wait, what were you going to tell me last night? About why you went into town?”

Jamie laughed as she remembered. “Oh, man! That’s right! I went into town with Owen because he wanted to buy some earrings and an expensive bottle of wine for Hannah. The bloke’s finally going to ask her out on a date.”

“No way.”

Dani joined in on the elated laughter. It was a long time coming, those two finally acknowledging their feelings for one another. She couldn’t wait for them to finally stop depriving themselves of the best kind of love.

“But you can’t say anything, okay? I think he’s planning on asking her tonight, after dinner.” Jamie leaned in close. “Think we can keep the kids occupied long enough to give them some privacy? I know Owen would really appreciate it.”

Dani smiled. “After all the favors they’ve done for us? It’s the least we could do.”

Looking back on it all later that night, Dani felt as though she had lived through so much more than just a week and a half. Her relationship with Edmund was something she had abandoned and considered over for good. Now, she felt as though she had her best friend back.

Her mother and her had an unspoken disapproval towards one another that had stunted their relationship. Now, she looked forward to hearing from her mother and hoped to see her again some time very soon.

Most importantly, at the start of it all, her and Jamie had practically been strangers. Two gay women, working under the same roof for months, hopelessly attracted to each other, with no reason to ever act upon it. Now, Dani was certain they had something that would last a lifetime.