She hadn’t spent the last two decades working in a Seaman’s Mission without learning a good deal about the differences between the classes. Hattie was never blinded by missionary zeal. She had never deluded herself that the working classes were more noble, generous or courageous than other classes. Nor did she view them as pitiful inferiors in need of guidance and care. Hattie quite simply viewed her ‘customers’ at the mission as men who needed help for one reason or another. This approach had allowed her to see them more clearly than many of her more religiously motivated colleagues. Among other things, Hattie had noted very early on – and when she was still of an age to be embarrassed by it – that working-class men had a much more direct, uninhibited and straightforward approach to sex. Sex was something they liked and something they believed women wanted, and they seemed to resent anything that stood in the way of their getting as much of it as they wished.
Last night as she lay awake in bed, Hattie had managed to remember any number of unsavoury and lurid stories that had made her question the wisdom of coming here tonight. She had asked herself a hundred times what she was getting herself into. She had made sincere efforts to talk herself out of coming. She had told herself she might be accosted, pressured, harassed – even subjected to force. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t picture Rhys doing anything to her that she didn’t want.
And that was something else that kept her awake last night: The realisation that she very much wanted Rhys to kiss her, to take her in his arms, to ---? Did she want him to make love to her? How could she know, never having made love to anyone? The farthest she had gone with Mike was holding hands and chaste kisses until that goodbye kiss. Suddenly Mike had pulled her into his arms, crushed her to him, and kissed her with a wild passion that had left her breathless and a little scared. She had blocked out the memory of that kiss for a long time, even denying to herself that it had ever happened.
Now she was here. For some reason that she couldn’t possibly explain, she thought she might just want Rhys to make love to her. She certainly wanted him to kiss her and hold her.
She stepped inside the familiar cottage announced in alarm. “Rhys! Something’s burning!”
“The spam!” Rhys had forgotten to turn off the gas when he went to open the door. Smoke was seeping out of the kitchen in thin wisps. Rhys plunged into the kitchen and grabbed the pan to take it off the heat. The pan had a metal handle. He burned his hand, and with a loud “bloody hell!” he let the pan drop to the floor. The blackened spam jumped from the pan onto the floor, and the grease splattered all over Rhys’ best trousers. He swore again furiously, forgetting Marie’s presence altogether.
Hattie took in the scene rapidly. The turnips were in a pot of furiously boiling water that had almost boiled away, and the potatoes were only half-peeled and not even on the heat yet. The spam was burnt to a crisp. “Rhys,” she said calmly when his cursing had diminished enough for her to make herself heard. “I think I'd better take over here. Why don’t you nip down to The Anchor Bleu and see if they have a spare tin of spam or two?” Hattie was already turning off the heat under the turnips.
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