Chapter Two

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The Van Cat, which it turned out was actually the Vingt-Quatre so nothing to do with goods transportation or felines, was a short walk from the school on the bustling High Street of the market town that was home to St. George's. Heeding Em's warning about the difficulty of finding a parking space in the vicinity, Connie dumped her briefcase and suit jacket in Marjorie, her aged Fiesta, and suggested they go on foot. Outside, it was a beautiful day and Connie enjoyed the warm, late summer sun on her bare arms as they sauntered, chatting easily, along the lime-tree lined avenue that led from the school towards the town centre. The perfect spheres of the lime tree seeds that were starting to drop onto the path, crunched under the soles of their shoes as they walked and a light breeze was pleasantly refreshing after a day stuck indoors.

From behind a tall, wire fence that ran along one side of the avenue, Connie heard shouts and the rhythmic thump of a ball on tarmac.

"Ooh!" squeaked Em, "I'd forgotten about this. We'll need to make a brief detour," she grinned, looping one arm through Connie's and steering her across the street.

"Where are we going?" asked Connie, letting herself be marched towards what looked like an impromptu basketball game.

"It's the annual 'friendly' between the staff and the sixth form basketball team," explained Em. "If we're lucky, they'll have made the staff play 'skins'; they normally do. Ooh yes!" she said, smiling broadly and taking a seat on a bench at the side of the court.

"Skins?" asked Connie.

"Shirts off," said Em. "Look."

Half of the players were, indeed, bare-chested. She recognized Tom who, for a facially hirsute man, was surprisingly smooth-skinned elsewhere and also didn't have the beer belly Connie had imagined he might. In fact, she was beginning to understand his luck with the opposite sex. He was, of course, wearing old rugby shorts to play in.

"He's not bad with his kit off, eh?" said Em, nudging Connie suggestively.

"Not bad at all," laughed Connie, nudging her back.

"But I wouldn't go there, if I were you," said Em, her tone suddenly serious. "He really is a dreadful tart."

"I wasn't planning on it," said Connie, truthfully, wondering if Em's advice was entirely altruistic. She certainly didn't seem to be paying the other players much attention.

Connie could see that the sixth form were totally dominating the match.

"Do the boys always win?" she asked.

"Always," laughed Em. "They literally run rings around the staff. Without wanting to be mean to Tom, we've only got one decent player." She pointed to a tall, athletic figure at the far end of the court. He was moving nimbly round the court, getting in the boys' faces and forcing errors. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Without him, the staff team might as well have not turned up. He was wearing a pair of loose-fitting, low-slung, grey jersey shorts and well-used trainers. Connie found herself admiring the powerful, long legs and enjoying the play of the clearly defined muscles in his broad shoulders and toned back as he dribbled the ball past two of the sixth form team and jumped to successfully slam dunk it through the hoop. He turned to walk back to the centre of the court, high-fiving his teammates, and Connie's eyes were drawn to his torso. His abdominals formed a tight set of ridges that tapered in a perfect 'V' into the waistband of his shorts, a slight fuzz of hair just visible at his navel. Aware she was staring, Connie looked up and found herself looking straight into the angry scowl of Matt Turner. His eyes locked briefly with hers before he turned his back and spoke to Tom, saying something that caused Tom to laugh out loud.

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