Don’t forget to read parts 1, 2 & 3 first, you can find them here:
Over the next half hour, Fern witnessed panicked moments interspersed with nervous looks and some questionable driving. She cuddled Ripper’s furry body as she pressed tightly against her. Please don’t let anything awful happen to her.
“We’re nearly there. Is she okay?” Ollie asked shakily. “I can’t lose her. She is a menace, but she’s mine.”
The coughing had stopped, and apart from the odd whine when she squeezed her too hard, Ripper seemed to be enjoying herself.
“Are you okay, girl?” Ripper licked Fern’s cheek and wriggled out of her hold to stare at the cars flashing past them. “I don’t know dogs that well, but I think she might be okay.”
Ripper did a little bark as if in agreement.
“Come on, come on,” Ollie said to the red traffic light that was holding them back. His relentless tapping against the steering wheel echoed round the car. When they got to their destination Fern realised why Ollie’s frenzied drive might have been about more than Ripper.
“My ex-wife is a vet,” he’d said with a drooping head as they’d knocked on the door.
What he’d failed to mention was that she was a beautiful, Nordic-looking woman with hair that seemed to shine brighter than the sun and a figure that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a model.
The mood inside Jana’s house had started sour and never recovered.
“You shouldn’t have given her chicken from your dinner without checking for bones first. What were you thinking?” Jana shouted at him when he had taken the blame for the chicken incident. While Ripper had seemed delighted to be in the car, she was now scrabbling away from Ollie’s ex-wife.
“I wasn’t thinking anything, it was a mistake,” he’d replied, his voice quiet as he struggled to face up to Jana. He’d shrunk in her presence.
His ex-wife snorted in derision as a reply.
“Is she going to be okay?” Guilt rippled Fern’s stomach. She should have checked the chicken. She’d been too busy trying to work out if Ollie was like the guys who had broken her heart in the past and convincing herself she wasn’t good enough for him anyway. Why did she let the apps get to her like this? It was time to stop the online dating and remember she was a great person, not what the months spent being ghosted and feeling used had brought her.
There was another emotion when looking at Jana. There was no sugar-coating it. I’m jealous as hell. Her near kiss with Ollie the week before and then the flirting that evening at dinner had been more than she’d felt with any guy in a long time. I felt special. He’d been interested in what she had to say as well as who she was. But looking at Jana, she realised she paled into comparison. Was it worth putting up a fight?
“Who are you, exactly? Don’t tell me he’s dating you? I’m surprised anyone has wanted to date him since me, and well you don’t seem to be his type.” Fern bit back a response. The only thing that mattered right now was Ripper.
“If you want to know, Jana, Fern is my next-door neighbour. She’s lovely, caring, funny and beautiful, exactly my type these days,” he replied, emphasising the word ‘these’. “And there is nothing wrong with me. We’d be lucky to date each other. Not that this is any of your business. Now tell me if Ripper will be okay.”
“Who suddenly grew a pair of balls?” Jana replied with a sneer on her face. “I think I prefer this version of you to the one I was married to. I probably wouldn’t have needed to screw around if you’d been like this. You thought you could make me happy by caring about me? I needed a man, not a nursemaid.”
Anger bubbled in Fern’s throat. No wonder Ollie was nervous when trying to ask her out if this was what he was used to from Jana. “For God’s sake, what is wrong with you? Ollie is kind and generous. The little I know about him shows me he is someone who deserves respect and love. Any woman would be lucky to date him, and you passed up something amazing. Are you dating this guy?” Fern pointed at the man in tennis whites watching smugly from the doorway. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I recognise him from Tinder. He was memorable because he offered to let me play with his balls while he spanked me with his racket. Which was gross by the way.”
“But-” Jana attempted to interject.
“But nothing. Ollie puts every guy I’ve dated or met online to shame, and I would be lucky to go on a date with him. However, we are not here to discuss this we’re here for Ripper. So tell me, before you start bitching and moaning while secretly regretting your mistakes, is Ripper okay?”
Fern and Ollie stood back at the car outside his house. The pavement still radiated some warmth from the day. Dusk was falling. The setting sun caused a pink glow to hit Ollie’s face. It was the first time she’d seen a flush that wasn’t due to his blushes.
There hadn’t been a chicken bone in Ripper’s throat. Jana suspected a bit of cardboard might have got caught, which Ripper had either dislodged on the journey or swallowed. Ripper’s cardboard fetish was well documented. At worst she might have a poorly tummy, but based on the way she bounced to the car as Jana and Ollie had said their stoic goodbyes, she seemed like she’d recovered quickly.
“Did you mean the things you said about me?” Ollie had asked, standing close enough to touch.
“Did you mean the things you said about me?” she replied with a cheeky side smile. A warm breeze touched the back of her legs before catching the hem of her dress. Fern held it tight.
Ollie was different. It was like a weight had lifted from him. Years of being browbeaten and made to feel not good enough must have taken their toll, and already she could see a broad, yet flirtatious, smile on his face, no longer accompanied by a furrowed brow or a nervous mumble.
“Every word,” he whispered as he leant closer.
She released a shaky breath. Tingles ran the length of her spine. Ollie liked her, and he was a good guy. His ex-wife had thrown it at him as if it was an insult. Jana and Ollie weren’t compatible, and that was okay. He still deserved a chance at love. I need to be dating him and not swiping for my next mistake.
“I’m sorry about the drama with Ripper,” she replied. “I shall make sure I check any food I give to her in the future. I’ll try and get my gate fixed as well. I can’t imagine the sort of things he’d find in my garden; it’s a right mess.”
Casually he brushed the hair out of her eyes as if they were having a flirtatious conversation and not one about fixing gates. “Your garden does need work. It’s the ugliest in the street,” he replied truthfully as one of his hands threaded through hers. Her belly fluttered, and she breathed in the cedar scent.
“Hold on. How do you know my garden is ugly? I didn’t think you could see it from your windows. I didn’t think anyone could.” Oh god, what if he had seen her in her red bikini? A secret smile touched her lips at the idea.
“Well, if I stand in my shower on my tiptoes and look in the mirror, then the reflection shows me your garden.” His casual gait and relaxed smile suggested innocence, but the way his lips brushed her ear made her tremble. “But I wouldn’t do that.” From some random the guy that might have sounded creepy, but not Ollie. It’s not like she could talk, she’d tried to sneak a look at him exercising in his garden more times than she was willing to admit.
The noise of Ripper attacking the seats in the car gave her temporary respite from the delicious ache inside her belly.
“That’s my cue. I think it’s time for her walk. You know if you ever need help with your garden you only have to ask. It will make a nice change from stretching outside my house to get to speak to you.” Oh god, we’ve been trying to bump into each other all this time. His voice dropped like he was sharing a secret. “But you have to promise me one thing.”
“Depends on what it is.” She spoke with a flirty breathlessness. That sound had been absent for a long time. My confidence is back too.
“That while Ripper and I are pretending, we’re working hard you have to wear that red bikini of yours. The hope of seeing that again kept me going through these cold winter months.”
As she gasped, his lips covered hers. She scrunched her toes, and even her tummy muscles tightened with expectation. His tongue eased open her mouth and caressed hers slowly. Ollie was tentative, but his nervousness was understandable. It’s what first kisses were all about. She wrapped her hands around his neck and kissed him with the passion that had hidden beneath her worries. He held her gently, not kneading her bottom and pushing things too quickly, but testing how she felt about what was happening and making her an equal partner.
Slowly, with much reluctance, she pulled away and found a beaming Ollie in front of her.
“I was trying to ask you out earlier; I don’t know how obvious that was. I even bought you a brownie from the bakery in case this evening went badly. I know tonight wasn’t- ”
“A date? Even with a choking dog and meeting your ex-wife, it was the best date I’ve had in ages. Thank you,” she interjected before lowering her eyes. I found a genuine guy on my doorstep, and he fancies me back. She forced herself not to dance with excitement. “Maybe we can chat about our next date while we walk Ripper? I’ll even let you share the brownie when we get home.”
Ollie’s smile got impossibly bigger as they strolled down the road, hand in hand, with Ripper by their side.