He crowded close behind, reaching an arm each side of her to unlock and open the door and hustle her inside.
Two furry faces poked themselves around the wall at the far end of the hall, Calypso called to them, then fell back against Herne as Holly and Ivy bounded forward for an enthusiastic greeting.
She praised and petted both of them, as Herne closed the door and somehow managed to get all four of them into the living area without tripping and without removing his arm from around Calypso’s waist.
As the dogs settled, she turned towards him.
He said. “We should see about lunch.” And stepped away from her, retreating behind the large kitchen island at one end of the room.
Calypso blinked. She was so sure he’d been about to kiss her again.
She followed him into the kitchen area. “How can I help?”
Lunch was strange, swinging between moments of delight and uncertainty. Something was going on and Calypso had no idea what.
As they washed up, Herne said. “Are you good for a walk and tutorial session? We’ve got a gap in the rain and it is the reason you came down.”
Calypso looked to the world outside. That last rainstorm during the drive to Wildwood, she mustn’t think of it as ‘home’, seemed to have satisfied the sky gods for the moment. While it wasn’t clear, the clouds were high, ascending now they’d lost the weight of the rain they’d held.
She gasped, then stared at Herne, mortified. “I forgot my camera.”
He snorted into laughter.
She shook her head. “I wasn’t able to go back to the flat last night and of course I don’t carry it with me at work. I’m sorry.”
Herne shrugged. “I’ll be using my phone anyway, and I know you have yours…”
That helped her relax a little. “Of course. That’s a good idea. Just nothing really off the beaten track. My boots are supposedly waterproof, but they’re still more city than country.”
“No exploring these grounds then, I don’t think a beaten track exists, beyond the driveway.”
They agreed on a pretty ‘family walk’ that would take them to the next village over from Little Melting. Middle Melting was slightly larger than its neighbour and boasted a supermarket, as well as two pubs and a picturesque high street.
She made her way to the front hall and donned boots and jacket, then passed Herne in the doorway as he returned to deposit her bag.
She looked for his shirt and pullover from the morning. “What are you going to do with your cow-mucky clothes?”
He grimaced. “They’re past saving I’m afraid. Straight into the outside bin.”
She waited as he closed and locked the front door behind them. “Do you have to throw clothes away very often?”
He shrugged. “It seems to go through phases. It’s probably the universe’s way of telling me I need to update my wardrobe.”
He looped the dogs’ leads around his neck and took her hand. “Speaking of wardrobe, how’s that fancy dress of yours going.”
She said. “I have no idea. And I’ve not even thought about it to be honest. I would expect Arachne’s making up the real version of it now, and I’ll be summoned for final fittings at some point.”
“This fashion world of yours is a strange one.”
Calypso hurried her reply. “It’s not my world, not at all. I don’t even work in it any more. It’s shipping this week and then a place that supports start-up businesses after that.”
He gave her a sideways look. “You have people choosing outfits for you, right down to underwear, and you don’t find that in any way strange or uncomfortable?”
“I found it a relief yesterday, when I couldn’t go back to Jason and Herc’s before coming down here.”
She told him. “They were having some sort of row, Narcissus says it’s nothing to worry about, but they said it was best if I stayed with him, rather than going back there, last night. So I didn’t have any clothes with me.”
“So your friends took care of it.”
She eyed him, worried at the strange undertone. “Z Corp has storage rooms on nearly every floor of the office with clothes in them and people like Adonis and Narcissus have allowances that get them clothes for free up to a certain value. Other businesses have similar things based around their products.”
He linked his hand with hers, twining their fingers together. “And you were in no position to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
He grinned wickedly. “Although you not having clothes for the weekend? That could have been fun.”
The blush from earlier flared up. The red lace thing was worse than no clothes.
She was pulled from her internal cringe by questions on lighting and focus, and several photos later, they emerged at the top of the high street and persuaded the dogs onto their leads.
They were passing the smaller of the two pubs when a voice called from behind them. “Hunter.”
Herne stopped and turned. “Cernunnos.”
As the other man approached, Herne said to Calypso. “This is my business partner, Cernunnos. We were at university together.”
He reached them and favoured Calypso with a short nod, then said to Herne. “Hear you had fun and games with Janey Grey this morning.”
Herne rolled his eyes and went into detail.
As they spoke, Calypso studied the man who’d talked Herne into moving to this area. Built like a rugby forward, he seemed to hum with a sort of wild energy and his eyes wanted to bore holes into the world, rather than simply look at it. His most striking feature though, was his hair. It was the deep brown-black of forest soil, slashed on either side by a curving streak of gold. She could almost fancy them horns, curling back from his temples and tapering into the thick waves at the back of his head.
Cernunnos turned his dark laser gaze on her. “Like what you see?”
Calypso deliberately shifted her own focus to Herne before replying. “Very much.”
Herne smirked as his friend muttered something incomprehensible about ‘quarry’ and ‘chase’ before stalking off.
They continued their walk, looping around the village and returning to the path they had used before. Every smile, every touch, every exchange on picture composition and light was now charged with a delicious anticipation. Calypso had heard of being drunk on atmosphere and never quite believed it. Now, though, she was drunk on Herne and it was a giddy, fizzy, wonderful feeling.
The skies opened again as they neared Wildwood and they raced each other to the door. This time the dogs joined in, and won easily.
When they got inside, Herne lit the fire as she made tea, then they curled up together on the sofa, dogs at their feet and simply were.
There was conversation and quick, light kisses, rarely on her lips. He seemed to be teasing her, pulling her forward as he moved back, barely-there touches and butterfly-wing brushes of his lips. It was heady, and disorienting, and Calypso wondered what would happen when the time came for bed.
She was jolted from her haze by a thump at the wall of windows. Herne looked over his shoulder. “Looks like Owlbert’s awake and has realised you’re here.”
She followed his glance and bit her lip on a laugh at the affronted look the owl was giving her through the glass. “I don’t think he approves.”
“He’s just jealous you’d rather be in here with me, than out there with him.”
“I do need to go out and say hello though.”
Herne huffed. “Thrown over for a bird. Wait till Cernunnos hears that one.”
Calypso paused in her quest for boots and jacket. “What do you mean? And why did he call you ‘Hunter’?”
“Nothing really, he just has some dumb ideas about me and women, and for some reason my uni mates have always called me by my surname.”
Calypso frowned at the first part of the answer, but let it go when Herne handed her the leather gauntlet he used when Owlbert was being sociable.
She stared at him. He grinned. “I need to get back in the silly bird’s good books somehow.”
Herne was opening the door onto the covered terrace. “I’ll talk you through it, he’s not as heavy as he looks and he’ll be on his best behaviour with you.”
She followed him outside, awkwardly drawing on the overlarge glove and pulling it up her forearm.
The bird watched them both, as Calypso drew close enough to present her leather-clad arm. He looked down at it, then back up at her face. Then, stepped across, onto her wrist.
Herne was right, Owlbert wasn’t as heavy as she thought. Of course she nearly unsettled him by bracing for the weight that didn’t come. Her jerk earned her a warning screech but when she remained statue still, he finally greeted her with his usual, throat-puffing hoot and she smiled.
He allowed her to stroke the soft feathers of his chest, and scratch beneath his wickedly-curved beak, then straightened and shook out his feathers.
Herne said. “Brace your arm, he’s about to take off.”
The warning came just in time. Her arm only dipped a little as Owlbert launched into the evening sky.
Herne watched him disappear over the trees that gave Wildwood its name. “That’s him for the night then. We may as well start on dinner.”
He seemed preoccupied again as they moved around the kitchen, preparing and eating dinner together as if they’d been doing it for years. Finally, as they finished the washing up, Calypso stepped in front of him and gave him the severest stare she could muster.
“Something’s bothering you, and that’s bothering me. What’s wrong?”
Herne flushed, and looked at the tea towel in his hands. His ears were red and Calypso didn’t know whether to be worried or utterly charmed.
“I checked the bedrooms when I dropped the animals over here this morning and, um, Mr Greene only made up one of the spare rooms.”
Calypso fought a giggle and made a mental note to do something nice for Mr Greene. She moved in closer, and slid her hands up his chest, to hold his shoulders as she screwed up her courage and kissed him, properly. “Good. I get cold.”
Herne’s eyes heated, and he returned the kiss with interest. “Did I mention I need an early night tonight?”
She stretched against him. “Busy day tomorrow?”
His reply was lost in the hideous recollection of the scarlet lace. Maybe a second bedroom would have been a good idea.