In The Flesh Chapter 1

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"You're early." Breathing heavily, Annie stood in the door she had opened only a crack.

I wasn't early, but I wasn't stupid either. Her hair was mussed, her robe was carelessly wrapped around her and the flushed glow in her cheeks was unmistakable.

"Shall I come back in an hour? Two?"

She threw a quick glance over her shoulder, and from inside I caught the strong scent of jasmine, Annie's favourite flower. "Thanks, Susan. You're a dear."

"Okay, you lucky cow, but when I come back, I'll expect details." I barely managed a kissed on her cheek before the door slammed in my face.

Neither of us was famous for our successful love lives. Mine was basically non-existent, but Annie was notorious for her bad choices – usually married or narcissistic twats with a wide range of addictions. Annie hadn't mentioned that she was seeing anyone, but I knew she had a lot on her mind with her heavy load at the estate agency and the renovation of what she was now affectionately calling Chapel House.

"It happens all the time," Annie had told me when I went with her to view the place before she bought it. "No one's religious any more so small churches are deconsecrated when they're no longer in use, and they're sold as boutiques, office buildings, houses and even pubs. But this one is about to become my home." She had chatted away enthusiastically about the lounge that would be where the altar was, and how the whole nave would be open-plan living at its best, kitchen with an Aga, study in what had been the small choir loft, and the perfect en suite that she'd always dreamed of. What good was money if you couldn't spend it?

After what I felt was an appropriate time at a nearby Starbuck's, I returned with a nice bottle of chardonnay and my best tell me all about him smile. I knocked, then knocked again. I was just beginning to think she was having such an orgy that she had forgotten about me when the door opened and she squinted out into the fading evening light.

"Susan?"

She was still in her robe, but the glow was gone, and there were circles under her eyes. She forced a smile. "I must have fallen asleep." Her anemic embrace alerted me to sharp angles and jutting bones that had been cushioned by shapely curves when I saw her three months ago.

"Honey, you're thin. Must be too much shagging and not enough chocolate. I can't wait to see what you've done with the ..." She flipped on the switch behind her, and I could see, in the harsh light of a bare bulb, that for all practical purposes, she had done nothing with the place.

She looked around and colour rose to her face. "I've been busy."

"Things wild at work?"

"I've taken some time off," came the curt reply.

In spite of all her big plans, Chapel House was still a church, complete with dusty pews and an altar covered in plastic drop cloths.

"I see the previous owner hasn't moved out yet."

She ignored my comment. "I'll show you around."

"No need. You've shown me around before. Just find some glasses and fill me in on all your news." I followed her down a narrow hallway into more recent addition to the building, added on to a small lady chapel no longer in use, which became a a small kitchen and a couple of rooms for classes and meetings, now all divided off by hanging drop cloths, just as they had been when she'd shown me the place before she bought it.

"You can sleep there." On the floor behind one petition was a mattress with a duvet thrown over it. There was a dusty wardrobe in one corner and a backless chair for a make-shift night table. "Bathroom's down the hall." She gave a listless nod in the direction.

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