A Snowy Ball (When Skies Have Fallen #1.5)

At the sound of the front door opening, Arty abandoned both his daydreaming and darning and swiftly rose, switching off the TV on his way out of the room. He stopped in the doorway to watch Jim, bent double just inside the front door and fighting to get out of his boots. "Hello."

Jim glanced up and offered Arty a weary smile. "Hey."

"You're early."

"Yeah. We had to stop work. Too damn cold." Jim straightened and began unbuttoning his coat, or tried. He was making very slow progress. "What's the weatherman have to say?"

"More to come, I'm afraid. Here, let me." Arty moved in and took over, hoping only he was conscious of his racing heart. The way Jim was watching him at close quarters, it was impossible to say, and Jim had asked more than once if there was something Arty wasn't telling him. Thank goodness he only had to keep the secret for one more day. He'd never done well at hiding things from Jim. "No wonder you're struggling. Your hands are freezing."

"Care to warm 'em for me?" Grinning mischievously, Jim sneaked one hand under Arty's pullover. Arty gasped in shock, instinctively trapping Jim's hand with his elbow and keeping it there while he unfastened the rest of the buttons.

"There," he said sternly, taking a step back and rubbing at the palm-sized cold spot Jim had left on his side. "Do you want to eat first or go for your bath?"

"Bath, I think. Warm up a little. Hey!" Jim called; Arty was already moving towards the bathroom. "I can deal with it myself. You go rest."

Arty laughed. "That's what I've been doing all day, love." That wasn't strictly true; he'd baked, prepared dinner, finished the ironing and most of the sewing, but it was all very sedentary and for no reason beyond those being the more pressing of the household tasks. In spite of Arty being registered disabled, of the two of them, he was in better physical shape, and it was telling on the eve of Jim's retirement.

Jim should have retired two months ago, when he'd turned sixty-five, but who was going to enforce it when he was his own boss? He'd only relented now because his knees had had it; Charlie's back was in much the same state but he had a few years to go yet. Their doctor was trying to bump Jim up the waiting list - Arty could only hope he didn't succeed in the next fortnight.

For all of that, and ignoring Jim's pained expression, Arty took his word for it that he could run his own bath. "I'll turn the oven down and make some tea."

"Great." As they passed each other, Jim reached for Arty again, but he dodged out of the way, laughing at Jim's disappointed scowl. Excellent as the heating was in Dalton Place, he found it difficult enough to stay warm without Jim's icy hands to contend with.

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