“Brian,” she said.
Brian locked his eyes to hers, which absorbed so much of his effort that he couldn’t think of anything to say.
“What are you doing home?” asked Diana. “I thought you were at work.”
“I am. I was. I mean… I left early today. Finished a report, sent it to my boss and, um, you’re not really interested in a report on quarterly sales of printer ink, are you?”
Diana looked down, breaking their eye contact. “I’m sorry. You weren’t to know. I guess I haven’t got used to not living on my own and I shouldn’t be using shared space for… this.”
Diana waved a hand that pulled Brian’s gaze down the length of her body with an irresistible force, collapsing three weeks of resolute failure to notice how attractive his landlady was. It was going to take Brian three months of reminding himself why it was a bad idea to fancy his landlady to make up the lost ground.
“I really am sorry. I’ll go and put something on.”
Diana walked toward the door Brian was standing in front of without trying to cover herself. She was more contrite about being caught posing in the living room than bothered about Brian seeing her naked.
He scuttled sideways to avoid her having to brush past him.
A clatter of paws on floorboards announced that Diana’s Alsatian, Herne, had woken up and was galloping down the hallway. He must have been mortified at having slept through Brian coming into the house because he delivered his tail-wagging, tongue-lolling welcome with twice his usual enthusiasm.
“He’s really taken to you,” Diana said over her shoulder.
Which made it impossible for Brian not to watch her mounting the first step toward her bedroom.
Brian let out his breath and put a hand on Herne’s head. “She’s not making this easy, is she?”
Herne jumped up so his paws reached Brian’s rib cage. Brian held him under his doggy armpits for a moment, placing them almost nose to nose. “What was all that about anyway?”
Brian let Herne slide to the floor. He noticed Diana’s tablet propped up so the webcam faced where she’d been standing. The last image she’d taken pouted at him from the screen.
“Definitely not easy.” Brian crossed the room to it and closed the webcam app. “There’s only so much full frontal a man can take.”
Herne nuzzled his leg.
A bank statement had appeared on the screen. Diana must have had it open before she opened the webcam. Brian’s gaze went straight to the figure of £5,876 in bold red type.
“Ouch.” Brian stroked Herne’s back. “That’s not good. No wonder she took on a lodger.”
The two apps told the story of Diana’s anxiety over her finances driving her to try taking nude pictures to sell. “Not good at all.”
“What are you doing?”
Brian spun around to see Diana in a bathrobe, glaring at him. It occurred to him that they were each standing exactly where the other had stood when he’d walked in on her.
“Are you looking at my bank statement? That’s private.”
“I didn’t mean -”
“Are you snooping on my tablet? What kind of pervert are you?”
Herne picked up on the change of mood and bounded across the room to stand beside Diana.
“How dare you invade my personal… to think I was about to apologise to you!”
Brian tried to adopt a placatory tone. “You’ve already apologised.”
Which weren’t the placatory words he was groping for.
He opened his mouth to try again but a growl from Herne cut him off.
“Get out,” said Diana.
Herne stalked toward Brian, ears back and teeth bared.
“Good boy,” said Diana.
Brain sidestepped to put his back to the wall. He sidled toward the door, keeping his eyes on Herne. Herne growled again, making Brian very aware that Herne’s very sharp teeth were level with his crotch.
Brian made it to the living room door and bolted down the hallway to the front door.
“Go on, Herne, get him,” said Diana.
Brian already had his hand on the latch when he heard Herne clattering across the floorboards toward him. He yanked the door open, shot through and slammed it shut. Herne thudded into it behind him.
“And don’t come back,” Diana shouted through the letterbox. “Pervert!”