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A Blue Bear

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Pushing through the darkness, the image misted and blurred through the sheets of persistent October rain, and the fever I was surely developing, I saw the bright lights of a lorry heading my way. The rumble of a heavy diesel engine echoed into the night and I felt the slightest vibration on the tarmac beneath my feet. It was the first lorry I had seen in hours. Hours I had spent stumbling along a road leading to who-knew-where, planning to end it all.

My car, or the car I’d stolen yesterday, was in a ditch somewhere behind me, the victim of poor driving skills and terrible concentration given my current condition. I’d been walking ever since, a car rug wrapped around me, but not doing much to prevent me getting soaked through.

I stopped, leaned against the rough trunk of a tree and let my sodden backpack trail on the ground. Turning my face up to the skies I let the rain cool my burning cheeks. I was so cold, wet through and scared to death. The past few weeks had been more than I could take. I had nowhere to go, nobody to go to for help. At this moment in time, with the bitter rain pouring down on me, there was only one way out of the hell I was in. And this lorry was it. It would be quick, I was certain of it. One step into its path. Just one step and the driver wouldn’t have any time to stop. Blissfully unaware of the lethal plans I had for his vehicle, he wouldn’t see me until it was too late, and by that time I………….well, I just wouldn’t care anymore.

My legs shook from both fear and exhaustion as I pushed away from the tree and towards the road. My chest was tight and heavy as I struggled to breathe and my eyes burned as I looked back at the glaring headlights. I was unsteady, almost watching myself as if I was in a dream and not actually doing this. I took another step.

One more. Just one more.

Dizzyness overcame me as in one quick second I reverted to rational thought and tried to step back, bottling out at the last second. Scared of living, but scared of dying. I was scared of everything. I swayed as I turned to see the huge machine bearing down on me, closer than I had expected. Much closer. It started me. A scream started in the back of my throat, but no sound came from me. My heart hammered in my chest, my knees buckled and I was falling.

The noise was like nothing I’d ever heard before or wanted to again. Air horns blared mournfully into the night. Screeching, squealing, all these noises combined in my head as I hit the ground and stayed there, eyes tight shut, the rain beating down on me. I couldn’t cry, couldn’t make a sound.

Then everything was suddenly quiet. A strong smell of diesel and burning rubber hung in the air and clogged my throat. For a few moments I stayed there, my mind no longer even trying to work out what was happening. I didn’t care. I wanted to sleep and never wake up. I heard the sound of a door open and close, then footsteps coming towards me.

“What the fuck! Do you even know…………….fuck! Fuck it! I nearly didn’t……….get the hell up, you stupid……………..”

I was grabbed by the arm and tugged at until the blanket fell away.

“Jesus, get up…..oh, bloody hell!”

The last obscenity, I assumed, was as he saw my swollen stomach. Instead of the tugging, he let go of my arm, gripping me under my arms instead, lifting me to my feet. When I swayed he held me against him, wrapped an arm around me protectively. I began to cry as the baby, seven months inside me, started to kick relentlessly until I felt sick with it. Why, oh why, did it want to kick me like this? Did it really hate me that much?

“Where were you going?” he was shouting in my ear. The rain was still coming down in icy sheets and he put the blanket back over my shoulders. “Can I take you somewhere?” He didn’t sound as if he really wanted to, but then there was no reason he should when I had virtually thrown myself in front of his lorry. It had probably shaken him just as much as me, or more, since he hadn’t been expecting it.

My knees buckled again and he held me tightly. I hadn’t done it after all. Here I was, as big a failure as ever, still alive, with all the same problems, plus one more in the shape of an irate lorry driver. I didn’t say anything. My whole body felt as if it were on fire, despite the cold rain. I craved sleep, nothing else.

“Can you hear me?” he was shouting. “Tell me where you’re going and I’ll take you there.” When I made no sound he swore loudly and picked me up, ungraciously. I was taken to the lorry and half-pushed, half –lifted inside.

“Sit on the bunk!” he ordered. “I don’t have time to mess about, sweetheart, this truck is blocking the road.” He shoved me through to the back of his cab where a bunk was made up with a pillow and a duvet. It looked inviting. He was already in the driving seat, shunting the lorry until it was parked on one side of the road. When an impatient motorist blared a car horn at him he swore loudly and shouted obscenities at the retreating tail lights before turning to look at me.

“Answers,” he said. “I want to know what the hell you thought you were doing. Don’t you know better than to look before you try and cross the road? A five year old would know better. I don’t fancy the chances of that kid when it’s born.” He raked his fingers through soaking wet hair, rubbed his face and shook his head. “Shit! Oh, shit!”

I buried my face in my hands and sat on the edge of the bunk, deeply ashamed at what I had done. He was angry and had every right to be, but all I had accomplished was to make my own situation worse than ever. He shouted at me again and I jumped, wondering if he would hit me, or threaten me. Connor had hit me a few times and I didn’t want more.

“I haven’t got anywhere to go,” I blurted out.

“That helps me a lot, sweetheart.”

He was mocking me. I lifted my head from my hands when he switched on a light inside the cab, and turned what must have been a blotched and tearful face towards him. He was as wet as I was and was shivering. All he’d had on when he came to my rescue was a denim shirt and jeans that hadn’t stayed dry for long in this incessant rain. His hair, straight, dark and too long, was clinging in strands and hanging over his eyes, and those eyes really drew my attention to him. I had never seen such blue eyes. My own were blue, but not like his, they were a deep blue that I imagined would shine when he laughed or smiled. They didn’t shine now. Now he glared at me as if I was something not long crawled out from underneath a rock, and thinking about it made me realise that was probably what I resembled right now.

“So?” he asked as he stripped off his shirt and threw it to the floor at my feet, repeating the procedure with the faded navy tee shirt that had been underneath it. “What is it you suggest I do with you?” He leaned towards me and I shot back as far as I could on the bunk, pressing myself into the wall, but rather than reaching for me, he pulled a holdall from underneath the bunk and took out a clean shirt. He glared at me as he pulled it on, and I wished I had clean, dry clothes. Even the small amount of clothes in my rucksack were soaked through, and I began to cry again as I wished I had taken more care in what I’d packed.

“Jesus,” he said, irritably. “Don’t you ever stop crying? You realise how lucky you are I managed to stop this thing? You’d have been mincemeat on that road. It’s bloody hard to stop at that distance.”

As he said it he looked down at the road in front of his cab and I swear he shivered slightly at the thought of it. I was suddenly remorseful at the thought I had so nearly made him a killer, and yet I felt I had left something unfinished.

“I’m tired,” I said, quietly. I yearned for the darkness of sleep, where my thoughts could settle and stop bombarding my already aching head. I was so drowsy. I hadn’t been in the best of health for weeks, even months, since Connor decided the baby wasn’t his, and that he didn’t want either one of us. The realisation had shocked me into a deep depression and I’d not eaten properly or looked after myself since then. As a result I was tired for much of the time. How was I supposed to know where I wanted to go when I was unable to even think straight? It wouldn’t make a scrap of difference where I went, anywhere was better than the place I’d left behind.

“Tired huh?” He turned back to the steering wheel and sighed. “Ain’t we all! I’ll take you to the hospital in Truro.”

“No!” I snapped the word out quickly because the last place I wanted to be was in a hospital. The impending birth was something I refused to think about until I had to.

“You fell. You should go and get checked out, make sure the kid is okay.”

“Not to a hospital. Please, don’t take me to a hospital.”

Turning back to me and pushing the hair from his face, he leaned against the back of his seat. “Sweetheart, you gotta go somewhere.” He said it in a lazy, patronizing manner that mocked me, and I wished he wouldn’t

“I need to sleep,” I cried. “Please? Just for a little while, let me sleep?” It occurred to me that I was begging to sleep in the bunk of a man I had never met before, and who could be anybody, including a serial killer of the south west. He could murder me as I slept, he might try and rape me – no, that was a stupid thought. Looking like I did at the moment I was probably the last person on earth he would think about raping, even if he was inclined towards such evil ways. And if he tried to murder me in my sleep – well, that was what I wanted, wasn’t it? Hadn’t I just tried very much the same thing myself?

“A motel, then?” he suggested.

I felt my face burn further and looked at the sorry looking rucksack at my feet. It contained my purse with a solitary twenty pound note inside it. I hadn’t even thought to bring my cheque book or bank passbook with me, although they wouldn’t have been much use. Connor, for all his family’s wealth, had cleaned out my bank account just to prove a point. “No money,” I managed to say. “Please? I’m so tired.”

“Fuck!” He reached back into the holdall and dragged out another shirt, this time throwing it at me. “Put that on first, I don’t want you in my bunk with wet clothes on.” He turned back to his steering wheel, and although I didn’t catch most of what he muttered to himself, I gathered that the last thing he needed right now was a pregnant woman using his cab as a bloody hotel, although his version was slightly more profane.

I clasped the shirt, a brushed cotton, heavyweight one, against me. It was soft in my hands and I wanted it on. I wanted to be out of these wet clothes, but that meant I had to undress in front of him and I hesitated.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he said, sarcastically, when he realised why I wasn’t carrying out his bidding, and he snatched a curtain across to separate the front of the cab from the back. “Pregnant girls aren’t my thing.” He started the engine. “Get some sleep if that’s what you want. Truro is still a few hours away and I’m short of driving time. We have to stop somewhere soon.”

“Truro?” I peeped through the curtain. “Isn’t that in Cornwall?”

“Boy, do you know your geography,” he gritted. He turned to see me looking around the curtain. “That’s where I’ve got to drop this load I’m carrying. Got any problems with that?”

I let the curtain fall so he couldn’t look at me in that derisive way of his. “I wasn’t sure which way I was going,” I said, and heard him sigh.

“Why am I not surprised?”

As the lorry juddered into movement, I took off my wet clothes in the darkness behind the curtain and tried to spread them out wherever there was space in an effort to let them dry off a little. His words echoed in my mind. ‘Pregnant girls aren’t my thing’, and I recalled the pain of those words as Connor had had told me exactly the same on hearing I was pregnant. Tears pricked at the back of my eyes and I tried to shut out the thoughts. I wouldn’t be seeing Connor again, and didn’t want to.

The shirt felt soft against my skin and I slipped between the covers of the bunk, relishing the feel. My head sank into the pillow and I made out the faint smell of him in the bed, the smell of a man. Pulling the covers up around my shoulders to shut out the cold, I closed my eyes and the droning of the engine was quick to send me into a dreamless, restless sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

I didn’t feel any better when I reluctantly woke up. My head still ached terribly, my stomach growled loud protests about the lack of food for the last two days, and above all else, I was desperate to use a toilet. The lorry wasn’t moving, although the curtains were still drawn across and it was dark. I didn’t hear the driver and wondered if he had taken the chance to sleep for a while. Having no idea of the time I got awkwardly from the bunk and tried to stretch out some of the aches and pains in my lower back. The baby kicked me as I did so and I glared at my stomach, only barely covered by the borrowed shirt. A prickle of terror went through me as thoughts of the impending birth invaded my mind, and quickly I pushed them out again. I didn’t want a baby, not alone.

I pulled on a pair of damp socks from my rucksack, about the only things to have kept relatively dry in there, and tried to decide which of the two pairs of maternity jeans were the driest. As I dragged one pair on, huffing and puffing in the confines of the cab, I heard the door open and somebody climbing in. Hurriedly trying to get the jeans done up, I was looking for my trainers when he peered through the curtains.

“Finally!” he said. “I tried to wake you earlier.” He sounded almost accusing.

“Sorry,” I said, pulling a face as I slipped my feet into wet trainers. “What time is it?” I swiped hair from my forehead, feeling the heat on my face, the burning heat despite the cold and damp of my clothes. Even though I’d slept so soundly for a couple of hours, I was still tired and longed to be comfortable in the bunk again, or as comfortable as it was going to get in there.

“Almost midnight.” He pulled the cab door shut behind him and flopped into the passenger seat with a huge sigh. “I have to get some sleep myself. This load has to be at the factory by nine in the morning and I don’t want to be late. It’s a damned good contract for me and I’ve no intention of losing it. I’ve already been held up for longer than I wanted to be.”

I nodded, clearly understanding that I was the cause of his being held up, and that he didn’t appreciate it. “Is there a toilet anywhere?” He was at least a bit more civil than he had been earlier, so I thought it a good idea to ask the question. I cringed when he sighed again.

“I’ll take you.”

“I can go on my own,” I protested. I wasn’t sure exactly where we were, but the idea of racing off into some nearby bushes and having him stand over me while I relieved myself, didn’t appeal.

“I’ll take you,” he repeated, and got down to help me from the cab. It was cold outside, freezing cold, but the rain had stopped for a while. The lorry was parked in a long line of others and relief flooded over me as I caught sight of a toilet block about fifty or so metres away and realised he was in a service station. While I was desperate enough to have used the nearest bush, I was also glad of the proper facilities. He walked along the line of lorries with me, his hand on my elbow and pushing me along, his general impression that he wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. He was actually greeted once or twice by drivers returning from the late night café not far from the toilets, but he merely grunted a quick reply and marched me on without stopping.

When we got there he let go of my arm and gave me a gentle push. “I’ll wait here. Don’t be too long.”

“I don’t see why you have to wait,” I protested. After all, I was twenty one years of age and didn’t need a bodyguard to take me to the toilet. “I can find my own way back.”

He put his face close to mine. He hadn’t shaved for a few days and was dirty and dusty from his labours of the day, smelling faintly of oil. There was a forced grin on his face as he gave me a little shake. “Not all of the drivers in here are as nice as me. Get it?”

I got it. I used the toilet quickly, not sure if I was more fearful of him or the thought of the worse drivers, then returned to the lorry with him. He was definitely embarrassed to be seen with me, walking quickly so that I had difficulty keeping up with him, and as we neared his lorry he put a hand on my lower back to push me faster.

“Hey, Jack? I didn’t expect you to be in here tonight.”

We were stopped by a man stepping out suddenly in front of us. It was dark and I couldn’t make out his features, just his teeth as he grinned at my lorry driver.

“I didn’t either. Got held up a couple of times today.” He still had the pressure on my back and he wanted me to move along.

“Everything okay?” the other man asked. He was looking at me as he asked and I knew I was the reason for his question as he dropped his gaze towards my stomach, which stood out even in the darkness. I hated it.

“Everything’s fine, Dan. Will you be home tomorrow?”

“I’d better be. Ginny says she’ll divorce me if I’m not. It’s our wedding anniversary and she has a special meal planned.”

“I’ll see you for a drink one evening, then.” Obviously he wasn’t going to attempt to explain my presence, for he pushed me in the direction of his lorry. The other driver didn’t give up though.

“Thought you’d given up picking up hitch-hikers years ago, Jack. Especially young girls.” He was still grinning, I noticed.

Jack, however, didn’t look pleased. “If I was going to pick up a girl, I wouldn’t choose one this pregnant. She was in some sort of trouble and I said I’d give her a ride as far as Truro, that’s all, so don’t you go telling Ginny any tales about me. She’s on my case enough as it is.”

His reply was met with a laugh and a called goodnight as Dan faded back into the darkness and I was pushed back into Jack’s lorry, feeling more than a little depressed at having been discussed in such a way. Since Connor had refused to have anything to do with me I had hated the way I looked. I felt fat, miserable and unloved with it, and Jack’s reply hadn’t helped. I was close to tears again as I sat on the bunk and wondered what I should do. I supposed I was safe enough for the time being. If he were going to murder me in my sleep he would probably have already done it.

Jack was sitting on the passenger seat unlacing heavy black work boots, throwing them into the foot well, followed by his denim jacket. He yawned and stretched.

“You can have the bunk back now,” I offered, although I didn’t like the idea of trying to sleep in one of the front seats all night. It was his bunk though, and he was tired.

“You have it,” he said. He reached underneath the bunk for a spare blanket and wrapped it around himself. “I’ll be fine just here.”

He didn’t look fine, but I didn’t argue with him. Slipping off my jeans I slid back into the bunk and let my head sink into the pillow. A bolt of panic shot through me as I remembered him saying he was going to take me into Truro and drop me there. What would I do, and where would I go? I didn’t know anybody there, in fact, I’d never even been there before. I began to cry again, unable to help it, but trying not to sniffle in case he should hear me, since I had already annoyed him enough for one night. I needn’t have worried, however, for soon I heard the heavy breathing that accompanies sleep and knew he wouldn’t hear me anyway. I shut my own eyes and tried not to think about the morning, but in fact that was all I did, so when morning came he might as well have had the bunk, since I had been awake all night.

It was just beginning to get light when I heard him groan and stir. I pulled on my jeans as quickly as I could and cursed the fact that I was desperate for the toilet again. When he heard me moving he pulled the curtain aside.

“Sleep okay?” he asked, and I nodded, too frightened to tell him otherwise. He grunted, threw his blanket on the bunk and arched his back, rubbing his fists into it to ease the ache. Then he reached for his boots and dragged them on. “We’ll get breakfast over there,” he said, nodding towards the café. “Only don’t eat slow, we have to be on the road pretty soon.” Not waiting for an answer he opened the door and jumped down. Shivering against the bite of an early morning frost he grabbed his jacket and put that on before helping me down. I was frozen by the time we had walked to the café and regretted not having brought my coat from home.

“I need the toilet again,” I said, hurriedly as I pulled my arm from his grip on my elbow. There was an alluring smell of bacon and sausages cooking and my stomach immediately began to tell me that it hadn’t had anything for two days and was starving. Jack nodded but didn’t speak, just pushed me towards the women’s block and headed for the men’s himself.

When I came out feeling slightly refreshed from the opportunity to wash my hands and face, he was already inside the trucker’s café and beckoned to me as he saw me looking for him. In front of him were two plates piled high with bacon, sausages, eggs and fried bread, along with a mess of everything else usually associated with a cooked breakfast. Any other time I would have turned my nose up at it, not tending to like for greasy meals, preferring to watch the amount of fat I ate, but today I was starving and I slid into the seat opposite him. He pushed a large mug of tea towards me.

“Hope you take sugar,” he said. “because I put some in there.”

“I do,” I said, gratefully, and I did, although I would have said so even if I didn’t. “You must tell me how much I owe you.”

“Forget it. We don’t have much time,” he warned, attacking his own plateful. I started on mine, and oh, I hadn’t realised just how hungry I had been until I had seen this. It wasn’t the best meal in the world, but I couldn’t have cared less and we sat eating in silence.

I made a study of him across the table while I was eating, without making it too obvious, and I had to admit, despite his aggressive attitude, I did like the look of him. His hair was thick and dark, the fringe almost hanging in his eyes most of the time so that he had developed the habit of keep pushing it back, or of flicking his head slightly so that the hair cleared his eyes. I would put him roughly at about thirty years of age, possibly a year or two more, but I was useless at trying to guess ages. His face was dark, but he looked as if he might have the sort of skin that stayed tanned all year round, something I was envious of. At the moment my skin was sallow and very pale, although before getting pregnant I’d been healthy enough. His eyes were what attracted me to him the most though. I had a weakness for a nice looking man with blue eyes and he was certainly that. He had a strong face, appeared to be a capable sort, one that wouldn’t be messed with, and yet there was also a darkness to those eyes that I wondered about. I hadn’t seen him smile but found myself imagining what he looked like when he did. He was almost a head taller than my five foot, seven inch height, and his build tended to be on the wiry side. He was certainly strong enough. I remembered the way he had picked me up from the road yesterday, and his arms holding me upright.

He finished his plateful just before I did, then he sat back with his mug of tea and stared at me until I felt uncomfortable under his gaze. “Tell me what you were doing out on the road last night,” he said. “You scared the crap out of me when you appeared in my lights.

“I was just walking,” I lied. “My car had broken down.”

“How far back?”

“A long way.” I’d been walking since midday yesterday.

“Why didn’t you tell me that? I could have gone back and looked at it for you.”

“It wasn’t my car.”

He looked surprised. “You don’t look much like a car thief.”

“I’m not. It belonged to my ex boyfriend.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You must really hate your ex.”

“It was his favourite car.” I met his gaze. “A Porsche. I never really liked it.” I liked his sudden grin.

“You hated him enough to dump a Porsche in a ditch? Remind me not to get on the wrong side of you, sweetheart.”

“He deserved it,” I snapped. “Anyway, it wasn’t deliberate. I wasn’t feeling well. I lost control, it spun into a ditch.”

“Yeah, I bet. Where were you going?”

“Nowhere. I was just driving.”

“So where is home?”

“A long way away.” I thought briefly of the little Derbyshire village I had left yesterday and never wanted to see again. It was a small place, the sort of place where you couldn’t hide from people and Connor’s family had several businesses there. He’d been rich because his parents were rich and he was the boy who had never grown up properly, so that when word got about that I was pregnant, people believed his denial of the baby being his rather than me. He’d been my boyfriend for more than a year, but I became the village slut overnight and on top of all his other problems my father hadn’t been able to handle it. For three months Connor’s friends followed me everywhere, calling me names, spitting at me in the street and generally making my life a misery. When dad had his breakdown he’d thrown the rucksack at me, told me to fill it with whatever I needed, and then to leave him in peace. He’d frightened me with his ranting and raving, and with the things he had called me, his face bright red as he’d thrown anything he found of mine at me. It wasn’t the dad I had grown up with for the last twenty years. I’d done as he said, gathered things together and gone as quickly as I could. I had taken Connor’s car when I found mine with a brick through the windscreen. “I’ve no wish to go back there,” I said.

“What happens when I drop you in Truro?”

I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak. At the moment I was feeling much better for having a full stomach, and was enjoying the hot, sweet tea.

“Then where did you think you were going to?”

Now I wasn’t sure if he was mocking me or genuinely concerned for me, but I was well aware that all he wanted to do was get rid of me because I was a problem for him. Guilty conscience, I supposed, because he wanted to drop me in a city where I had nowhere to go.

“I’ll find something,” I assured him, wishing I felt as confident as I sounded.

“You’ve got nowhere,” he pointed out. “Where’s the kid’s father?”

“Doesn’t want to know.” Even as I said the words I felt the tears spring up. The humiliation had scarred me deeply and I still couldn’t come to terms with the fact that he had turned his back on me so easily. “My mother went to Australia with her new boyfriend after twenty-five years of marriage, my father is going quietly bonkers because he can’t face life without her, and my grandparents are all dead. I have a sister who went to live in Scotland to get away from the rest of us and a brother I haven’t seen in ten years because he didn’t get along with my father. No, I haven’t got anywhere to go, but there’s bound to be a refuge or something.” I tried to brighten my voice so he wouldn’t feel guilty about it. After all, he wasn’t obliged to take me anywhere and had been good enough to me already. I was surprised when he put down his mug and gave out a long sigh.

“And I thought I had problems,” he said, irritably. “I can’t leave you in Truro.”

“Why not?”

“If you weren’t so bloody pregnant then I probably would, but I can’t. Anyway, Ginny would climb the walls if she found out what I’d done, and she’ll ask questions because Dan will tell her he saw you. That’s the sort of sneaky bastard he is.”

“Who’s Ginny?” I asked, but he didn’t reply. Instead he finished his tea and stood up. I followed him quickly, not wishing to annoy him any further by holding him up.

Out in the lorry park some of the vehicles were already on the move, slowly pulling away, heavy diesel engines pumping thick smoke into the early morning frosty air. Now that it was light I saw Jack’s lorry clearly. Lorries weren’t something I’d ever taken much of an interest in, other than the fact they were usually in my way when I was trying to reach a destination quickly, or they pulled out in front of me on the motorway when I least expected it. This one looked fairly impressive, painted in two tone blue with red and white striping details, and the curtain-sided trailer matched. His name stood out in bold lettering both across the top of the cab, on the doors and down the length of the trailer. Clayton Haulage, I read as we neared it. It gave a mobile telephone number and an address in Yorkshire, which surprised me since I’d got the impression Cornwall was his home. He had a definite slow Cornish accent, so it surprised me that his address was in Yorkshire.

Last night Dan had called him Jack. Jack Clayton. So that was his name. In the state I had been in last night it hadn’t occurred to me to wonder about his name, or even to offer mine. I opened my mouth with the intention of introducing myself, but he opened his cab door and pushed me inside before I had the chance to speak.

I sat in the passenger seat and looked around the cab while he went to check the trailer. He obviously made a point of keeping the cab tidy for there were no muddles anywhere. Not like my car, with sweet wrappers on the floor, CDs slotted anywhere I found a space and the usual array of maps, raincoats and umbrellas muddling the back seat. I saw, with interest, that he had a blue teddy bear fixed to the dashboard and it surprised me. He didn’t seem the type to bother with such things. It wore a little tee shirt with the words ‘Love is forever’ printed on it and I wondered who might have given it to him. Was he married? Probably so, and that was why he was so keen to get rid of me. He was hardly going to roll up outside his home with me in tow.

He climbed in a few minutes later, slammed the door and started the engine. Fiddling around with the controls on the dash, he then glanced at me. “There’ll be some heat in here soon.” Then he was on his way, waving a farewell at the man who had stopped to speak to us last night.

Jack pushed a CD into the player and the cab was instantly filled with a sad country song, Dolly Parton if I wasn’t mistaken. Then he reached across to push a button and flick it onto the next track, a more cheerful one. When he saw me watching he shrugged his shoulders. “Not in the mood for sad stuff. You like country music?”

I nodded, not having listened to that much of it, but I didn’t mind it. I wasn’t a big music fan anyway, just preferring anything with a cheery beat to it. Once I had liked to sing along to the music in my car, but that had been before Connor. Before this bloody pregnancy!

“Good,” Jack said, “because country music is all I got.” He didn’t speak for a long time after that, but concentrated on his driving. Once he reached to straighten the tee shirt on the blue bear and I pretended not to notice. Instead I kept my gaze on the scenery around me, but the further we got into Cornwall the more I was beginning to panic, feeling it rise inside me, taking over my whole body until I felt sick with it and was barely able to breathe. A few tears rolled down my cheeks and I tried to wipe them away before he noticed, not wishing to antagonise him.

After an hour of driving he pulled up outside a factory and shut off the engine. “I have to make a delivery here,” he said. “Stay in the cab!”

I did as I was told. In fact I went one step further and went to sit on the bunk where I wouldn’t even be seen. If Jack had been embarrassed by my presence last night then he would be again.

He backed the trailer up to an unloading bay, then got out and stood talking with a group of men while his trailer was unloaded. I was just able to see him from my seat on the bunk, but I was taken aback by the change in him. He laughed and joked with the men on the dock and once I saw him drop a wink to a pretty girl who came to collect his paperwork, openly flirting with him. He was so different when he laughed. If I had thought he was nice-looking before, then he was more than ever now. A pang of jealousy hit me and I was surprised by it. As if I was ever going to see him wink at me that way!

I leaned against the pillow and closed my eyes for a while. Would I ever mean anything to anyone again? I thought I had loved Connor with all of my heart, that nothing would tear us apart, and he had told me he felt the same way. I had believed him. Pregnancy was a mistake – we hadn’t planned it and a course of anti-biotics had wiped out the effectiveness of the pill I was taking. It had happened and I had been devastated at first, until I convinced myself that Connor loved me enough to stand by me. I had honestly believed he would eventually marry me. We had even gone as far as talking about setting wedding dates, just hadn’t got around to doing it, but in the end I had been horribly wrong. As soon as I told him about the baby he became cold and distant. I’d given him time, thinking that he just needed to get used to the idea as I’d had to do, and that he would prepare himself for it, but it hadn’t worked that way. Instead of giving me support just at the time I needed it and my own family were breaking up around me, Connor had announced he was no longer in love with me and already had another girlfriend. Looking back on it now I should have known that he’d probably been two-timing me all along, but I’d been blind to it all. I’d ended up alone.

Jack interrupted my thoughts when he climbed back in and started the engine. “All done,” he called back to me. “We’ve got about another hour and a half to go.”

“To go to where?” I asked, crawling back to the passenger seat. Dolly Parton came over the speakers again.

“My place. Ginny can sort you out.”

Sort me out? I blinked back more tears at the idea I needed sorting out. He could have sorted my life out by just not stopping the truck in time. “You can let me out here,” I said, trying to muster up the confidence I needed. “I wouldn’t want to be any more of a burden than I already am.”

“It’s not much of a place,” he continued, apparently not having heard me. “I’ve only been there for a month.”

“Look, I don’t want to cause any trouble between you and your wife,” I blurted.

Jack grunted. “You’ll hardly do that. I live on my own.”

“Oh?” I looked across at him and any pleasantness he had extended towards me appeared to have gone. Now his face was dark, moody, his jaw line set hard. He concentrated on his driving and didn’t offer to say anything else. Neither did he stop the lorry to let me out. I leaned back in my seat, too tired to argue with him. I had nowhere else to go.

It was getting on for midday when we stopped again. We had just passed through a small village called Pengarlden and he had told me this was his home. I had looked with some interest across a large, open village green on which several boys played football despite the heavy, drizzling rain. A public house was glaringly obvious at the end of a long row of terraced houses, looming large above them. It had a large car park in front of it, but I doubted it ever saw enough customers to fill that many car parking spaces. It was called the Happy Man, but didn’t have a very cheerful facade. More like it needed a new coat of paint. Another row of terraced houses formed an L shape with the first, lining another side of the green, and behind that were several more rows. I saw a small school, a newsagent that served all needs from post office to greengrocer, and in the distance was a tower belonging to the village church. It looked like a nice place, an open sort of place. Here and there were dotted larger, more modern houses, and it wasn’t so far removed from the Derbyshire village I had left behind. I wondered if the people here were any more understanding that those I had grown up with, and who I thought I could trust instead of them turning their backs on me. At the end of the day the people there had needed their jobs, and Connor’s family owned most of the business in the area. It was easier for them to forget about me than it was about their jobs. It still hurt me a great deal.

Jack had driven on past the village for a mile or so, then turned off into a lane, and I held my breath in case anything came the other way, as the lorry took up all the road. Then he turned into a driveway, which, I assumed from the uprooted hedge and wooden gates lying flat on the ground, had been widened to allow the truck and trailer through. From the entrance was a gravelled driveway leading through a large expanse of grounds and eventually to a cottage. Jack backed the trailer onto what had once been a lawn, and judging by a pile of uprooted trees and bushes off to one side, they too had given way for the truck to be parked. He turned off the engine. For a moment we both sat in silence and looked at the cottage.

I felt decidedly uncomfortable, not at all sure I should have let him bring me here. He seemed okay, a bit bad tempered here and there, but he did seem as if he wanted to help me, but I still didn’t know much about him, and even if he wasn’t the serial killer of the south-west, he might still have evil intentions. But I was desperate and I needed somewhere. This seemed my most likely option of gaining a bed for the night. The next night after that might be a lot harder, but it did buy me some time.

“It looks like crap at the moment.” Jack surveyed the garden and the cottage nestled into the overgrown garden, the rueful look on his face telling me there was a lot of work yet to be done and he didn’t exactly appreciate the thought of it. “It was left to me by an aunt. I’ll probably sell it, or turn it into a haulage business.”

“A haulage business?” I repeated in amazement. “Why?” I could only stare at the cottage and wonder why on earth he would want to convert it into anything other than what it already was – a home. It was big for a cottage, probably built to somebody’s specifications, and I thought it was beautiful. Run down, unloved for a long time, but with a coat of white paint and a good deal of attention in the garden, it would be beautiful again. I wanted to hold my breath as I looked at it, imagining the rambling roses in summertime, and the overgrown borders in various shades of colour when everything came into bloom. Conifers surrounding the cottage on either side had grown to double its height and needed cutting back, and even though it was October there were some winter pansies dotted here and there, having survived the frost and the rain. “It’s wonderful.”

“Wonderful?” He said it mockingly. “You’d have to have been living in a pig sty for the last ten years to appreciate this place. It’s a dump.”

“Only because it hasn’t been looked after,” I protested, not letting on that the home I had left hadn’t been much more than a pig sty since mum had gone. “It must have been lovely when it was cared for and the gardens were looked after properly.”

“Yeah.” He sat back in his seat and I watched his gaze roll over the property. “When Bryn was alive she looked after it, until she got old anyway. I don’t think she ever loved the place much, but she tended to it, looked after the gardens.”

“I doubt she’d have wanted it turned into a haulage yard then,” I said, not thinking about what I was saying. He turned to glare at me.

“Well, that’s not something you need to worry about,” he gritted. “It’s my place, my decision.” He opened the door and jumped down, then came to help me out of the cab. I gripped my rucksack tightly, folding my arms across my chest as the chill hit me after the warmth of the lorry. “Don’t expect too much when we get inside – I’m no bloody housekeeper and there hasn’t been time to do anything with the place.”

He caught hold of my elbow again, pushing me towards the cottage door, which was built back into a porch that jutted out from the building and finished off with an apex roof covered with the same interfering ivy that seemed to be invading the rest of the cottage. As we approached I couldn’t help but scream as a figure rose suddenly from the tiled floor of the porch. Jack snatched me back against him, obviously taken by surprise himself.

It wasn’t more than a few seconds before the figure took flight, but he appeared to be a tramp. A large round face was almost hidden by the brim of a stupidly large floppy hat. He wore a trenchcoat over layers of ill-fitting clothing, given him a short, dumpy appearance. His feet were in boots that had seen better days and were probably four sizes too large for him, but it didn’t stop him from sprinting to a wall a few metres away, and vaulting over it into the field beyond.

Jack let loose with a string of oaths that made me jump. “Jonus!” he spat.

He bent to grab several large stones from the gravel drive, then to my surprise he hurled one of them directly at the fleeing man. I started to shout at him, but he was completely ignoring me as he gave chase and threw another one that hit Jonus on the arm. I shivered as Jonus let out a long, shrill cry, but it didn’t stop him. Jack went as far as the wall, shouting and cursing as he threw two more stones, then he came back to me, a thunderous look on his face.

“Who was he?” I ventured to ask, wondering if Jack was prone to bad attitude and the quick loss of temper.

“Just Jonus, a tramp. Bryn used to let him inside the house and give him coffee and feed him. When she died he sort of stuck around, and now he won’t get the message that I don’t want him here.”

“Is he really that bad that you need to throw stones at him?” I asked, but was met with a shove towards the front door.

“It’s none of your concern anyway. I don’t want him here, I don’t like him and he doesn’t like me.” Jack inserted a key into the lock and pushed the door open for me to enter.

I stopped as he tried to guide me through the door, suddenly wondering if this was the right thing to do. “I’m not sure I should be here,” I said, hesitating.

“You wanna tell me where the bloody hell else you’re going then?” he asked, irritably.

“I mean…….I appreciate it, I really do………but I don’t know why you’re doing it. I tried to…….well, tried to……………” I felt the tears rush to my eyes, burning hot and wet.

In return Jack raised his eyes briefly to the heavens, sighed heavily. “Christ sake! Get the fuck inside. You’re gushing. I can’t stand women that gush. I can talk to Ginny soon, get her to come over and help you out. She’ll know what to do because she’s good at that sort of thing. Me? I’m crap at it. Better at causing trouble than fixing it.”

He gave me another shove with a gruffness I hadn’t expected, and I entered the cottage hoping Ginny, whoever she was, was easier to get along with than this truck driver.

It was clear from the moment I stepped through the door that he wasn’t a housekeeper, and he most certainly hadn’t done anything to the place. The whole house felt cold and damp and I shivered as we stood in the dark hallway. From there I saw three doors leading from it and the staircase wound a curve upstairs. Pictures of flowers adorned the walls, lined with dust and cobwebs.

“I’ll get some coffee on,” he said, and disappeared through the last door. I started to follow him, but curiosity took over and I pushed open the first door on my right hand side and stepped into what must once have been a lovely dining room. An oak table, thick with dust, together with four matching chairs was still set for a meal by the French doors, candlesticks linked by cobwebs, and along one wall were three glass-fronted cabinets full of ornaments, something like my mother had kept all her prized trinkets in, away from small fingers. The carpet was so dusty it was difficult to make out the colour, and once again the walls held pictures of flowers and gardens. Bryn, whoever she was, had obviously loved her garden. Dirty cobwebs hung from the ceiling, and the room had a musty, unused smell about it.

Taking the second door I found it to be a sitting room, full of comfortable furniture, just as dusty as the last room. Armchairs, faded from sunlight and age, were arranged around an open fireplace, by the side of which were stacked several piles of wood ready for burning. A television was the only modern item of furniture I could see, the rest looking as if it had been there since the turn of the century.

I found Jack in the kitchen setting the kettle to boil. He must have heard me coming, for he didn’t look around, just said, “I’ve only got instant coffee.”

“That’s okay,” I said. To be honest anything wet and warm would do for now. The cold cottage wasn’t very welcoming, not as much as a hot cup of coffee was. I didn’t dare to tell him I preferred tea. I liked the look of the kitchen though, even if it was as dusty and as little used as the rest of the cottage. Jack obviously didn’t do much cooking for himself. A large wooden table was in the centre of the room with eight wooden chairs around it. One of the chairs had been used because the table top had been wiped almost clean just in that one place, so I guessed that was where he sat when he was here. The rest of the kitchen looked fairly new and not like I had expected it to be after seeing the other two rooms. Instead it had all new worktops and cupboards fitted around a washing machine, tumble drier and a cooker. The sink was of a modern design too, even if it couldn’t be seen through the dirt.

I couldn’t help but smile. He had been right about himself, he certainly wasn’t domesticated. I wandered to the window and looked out over the garden, surprised to see Jonus again, standing by the wall. He was watching us through the window and for a moment I thought of telling Jack, then decided not to. While I didn’t like the man who seemed to enjoy watching us, I wasn’t sure I liked the way Jack had treated him either.

“I’ll get a fire going in a minute,” Jack continued, opening a cupboard containing a jar of coffee, bag of sugar and four coffee mugs. Lifting down two of the mugs he then fumbled around in the sink, eventually locating and rinsing a teaspoon. “Ginny hasn’t been in, so there isn’t any milk. Do you mind black coffee?”

“As long as it isn’t strong,” I said, just grateful of anything warm. I shivered, and he noticed.

“Bryn never did get around to putting in central heating. She liked her coal fires. It’ll warm up in a few minutes.”

“You said Bryn was your aunt?” I enquired. In the windowsill I looked down into a box of cleaning utensils. Gels, liquids, creams, polishes and dusters, rags and floor mops, it was all in there, but untouched.

I turned to watch him finish the coffee and he nodded his head in answer to my question. Not looked after by anyone, I judged, by the way his jeans were so old and faded, and almost threadbare on the knees. He didn’t wash them often either, as there were oil streaks down both sides. His shirt was halfway unbuttoned over a white tee shirt and over both he wore the denim jacket that was in the same sorry state of repair as the jeans. Turning to see me watching him, he pushed the hair from his eyes and sighed.

“I’ll call Ginny, tell her to come over. Not that she’ll want telling if she saw me drive past the village green. Nothing much gets past Ginny.” He pushed past me to go and make up the fire and I picked up both coffee cups to follow him into the sitting room.

“Who is Ginny?” I asked, setting the cups down on a little coffee table and lowering my bulky frame into one of the armchairs. I was so tired, with so many aches and pains, that I didn’t care about how much dust was in there, it was just good to be somewhere comfortable.

“My sister.”

“You don’t live in Yorkshire, then?”

“What?” He threw a log onto the fire and swung round to glare at me.

“The address on the cab of the lorry says Yorkshire,” I pointed out, vaguely aware that I’d said the wrong thing again. His jaw set into a hard line and he shook his head.

“Not any more.”

“Well pardon me, I was just trying to make polite conversation,” I said, tiredly, half-expecting him to unleash a torrent of abuse. Instead he turned back to the fire and continued making it up. I decided silence was the better option and let myself relax in the chair, desperately wanting to close my eyes and sleep. He obviously thought Ginny was going to help me out of this mess I was in, but as far as I was concerned the only way out was to turn the clock back eight months, and that simply wasn’t going to happen. Whether I liked it or not, this baby was going to be born in a couple of months and the idea terrified me.

As Jack got the fire going, and the flames licked their way upwards, the room gradually warmed up and I started to doze as the warmth worked its way through me. I was twenty-one years old, much too young to cope with bringing up a child, I thought. A year ago I would have described myself as far too sensible to get pregnant at my age, especially outside of marriage, and I still firmly believed Connor loved me. Just as I was sinking into a pleasant, restful sleep I was brought crashing back to reality as the front door slammed and Jack let loose with a stream of obscenities that should have made me blush and find a place to hide. Instead I forced myself from the chair and went to peer carefully around the door.

Jack was in the hallway ripping a piece of paper into shreds. He threw the pieces to the floor and kicked angrily at them before snatching at the front door and wrenching it open. “You show yourself around here again, Jonus, and I’ll kick you so hard you won’t know what hit you,” he bellowed. Then the door was slammed shut again and he stormed into the sitting room and threw himself into the other armchair to stare into the flames of the fire.

I eased myself into my chair and said nothing. His face was like thunder, his hands clenched tightly into fists and I didn’t think he would appreciate any comment from me right now. Snatching at a remote control he turned on the television and flicked through the channels, and when he found nothing to interest him he threw the remote to the floor.

“Would you like me to make more coffee?” I ventured, after a suitably long silence.

He turned to look at me as if he had forgotten I was there. Then he nodded. “You might as well do something useful, since you’re here.”

Immediately deflated, I slunk away to the kitchen to make him his coffee. I gave thought to getting my bag and starting to walk back to the village we had passed, but the baby was kicking unmercifully and my back ached. I was in no fit state to walk anywhere today.

Jack frightened me. He reminded me of my father in his uncontrollable rage, throwing all my possessions at me. Connor had been prone to losing his temper and had lashed out at me from time to time, but his anger had never been like Jack’s. Jack was dark, thunderous, dangerous. I should never have allowed him to bring me this far, putting myself at his mercy when I didn’t even know where I was.

Silently I wished that he would remember to call his sister, and then at least somebody else knew where I was. Once more I wanted to put my head in my hands and cry until I could cry no more, because of my situation, because Connor didn’t want me, because of this baby.

Through the window I watched Jack go to his lorry and sit in his cab to use the mobile phone, and I hoped he was calling her, whatever she was like. I was becoming more and more wary of Jack Clayton.

He didn’t come back after making his call, but stayed outside with the lorry, checking it over. I didn’t bother to call him for his coffee either, but drank my own in the silence of the kitchen. He stayed where he was until I heard a car pull up on the gravel outside, then I returned to the window to see who it was. From the way he greeted her I assumed that this was Ginny stepping from a blue Ford, and I studied her with interest. She didn’t look much like Jack, not that I could see the colour of her eyes or anything, but her hair was much lighter in colour and she wasn’t as tall. I liked the look of her immediately. She was laughing and joking with her brother as she greeted him with a hug and some playful punches to his stomach, and her shoulder length hair was shining as it swung about her head in a manner I could only envy. My own hair was the same length, but was badly in need of a wash and some attention. I hadn’t bothered with it just as I hadn’t bothered with myself of late.

From their long conversation I guessed he was telling her about me, for she looked towards the cottage as if she might see me looking back at her. I dodged back behind the curtain, then returned to the sitting room and the comforting warmth of the fire. They came in not long after that, Jack going to the kitchen and Ginny coming into the sitting room with me. She held all the pieces of paper that Jack had ripped up, and was trying to get an idea of what had been written on them.

“Hello,” she said, a friendly smile on her face, and I warmed to her instantly. “I’m Ginny, Jack’s sister. He’s just told me where he found you. Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m fine,” I muttered, wondering just what she thought of me, falling in front of a lorry like I had. She was probably thinking what a state I was in, unwashed, dirty and miserable. She had blue eyes, I noticed, but not like his. Hers were friendly, caring eyes.

“Were you hurt when you fell in the road? Jack was concerned that he might have just touched you with the lorry. He’s a bit shaken up about it.”

Shaken up? He didn’t seem all that shaken up to me, but the guilty conscience returned and I slumped back in my chair. “I’m not hurt. He didn’t touch me, I think I just sort of passed out.”

“You seem absolutely exhausted. What’s your name? I asked Jack, but he obviously hasn’t taken the time and trouble to find out. I’m not surprised – he isn’t the most sociable of sorts.”

I smiled feebly. During the time we had been together he hadn’t offered his name, nor had I offered mine. “Lana Collier,” I answered, and she smiled as she sank into the chair opposite me. “It’s an awful thing I’ve done to him,” I blurted out, suddenly unable to live with the horrible, wrenching feeling of so nearly making him a killer. “I know he would rather not have me here, and really I don’t want to be here either, but I don’t know where else to go.” And then I was crying of course, unable to hold back the flood of tears I had been desperately trying to control all day. It made me feel very silly, but I couldn’t stop, even when I became aware that Jack stood in the doorway and Ginny was holding me hand and comforting me. “I didn’t fall in front of the lorry,” I heard myself saying. “I was going to step out deliberately. I wanted everything to end, don’t you see? I don’t have anywhere to go, I don’t know anyone who would help me, and this damn baby won’t go away and I wanted it all to end. I thought I had left it late enough and he wouldn’t have the time to stop, but then my legs wouldn’t move and I passed out anyway and he did stop.” I knew I was waffling on a bit, but as I almost spat the last three words and I saw him straighten up, look at me, then at Ginny, I couldn’t describe the look on his face just at that moment. Anguish, terror perhaps, at the idea he had so nearly helped me to commit suicide. Not only me, but my baby too.

“I told you,” he said to Ginny, “she should be in the bloody hospital.”

“I don’t want to go there,” I wailed. “I hate hospitals.”

Ginny patted my hand. “We won’t take you there,” she said, soothingly. “Anyway, you won’t get Jack anywhere near a hospital, not if you want him to stay on his feet. He passes out every time.”

I watched him shift uncomfortably before he turned to leave. “You’re just being stupid,” he called back over his shoulder.

Ginny laughed. “He has a real phobia when it comes to hospitals. He broke his arm when he was eight and they had to almost tie him down before they could put it in plaster. Now he won’t even set foot in a hospital if he can help it. I’m a nurse. Only part time at the hospital in Truro. Let me have a look at you, see that you’re all right.”

“No, I’m fine,” I said again. “Really, I am. Just tired.”

“And your baby? How many weeks gone are you?”

“Thirty-two and it kicks like fury.” I tried to remember the last time I had gone to the clinic for a check up and how many weeks I had been then, but the figures kept rolling round in my head and not making sense. It had been a while since I had tried to calculate the weeks I had left, but eight seemed about right.

“Well how about if I make some enquiries for you? There must be somewhere a young girl like you can go and have her baby. There are special places, with people there to help and advise you, Lana. When the baby is born they will help you get started, finding a flat, or a job, or childcare.”

“I don’t want the baby.” I said it with such venom that Ginny sat back in her chair, shock etched on her face. “That’s why I tried to kill us both. I don’t want it and I never did.”

“Okay, okay,” she said, gently. Jack was in the room again with another armful of firewood that he stacked carefully alongside the fire. “Lana, would you like to come and stay with me tonight?”

“She can’t,” Jack cut in, gruffly.

“Why not?”

“Because I saw Dan last night and he said it’s your wedding anniversary and he’s doing his damndest to get home for some meal you’re dragging him to.”

Ginny laughed again. “Good God, Jack, you make it sound like torture.”

“Making him dress up? Take him out to some fancy restaurant? That is torture, sis.”

“Maybe for you, but Dan happens to like taking me out to eat in some fancy restaurant.”

“Each to their own. Whatever, she’ll be fine here tonight.”

He wasn’t about to let me ruin Ginny and Dan’s anniversary, not that I wanted to. I had caused enough disruption for one day. “I don’t want to be a nuisance,” I said, tiredly. “If I could sleep here tonight I’ll go to Truro tomorrow.”

“When was the last time you ate?” Ginny asked.

“Jack bought me breakfast.”

“At some greasy spoon café, knowing him. His diet is horrendous. Anyway, I’ll cook something for both of you. As usual Jack has nothing left in the kitchen, so as usual I’ve done his grocery shopping for him. I’ll go and put it away. You stay there.”

“I can do it,” Jack said. “I’m not helpless.”

But Ginny had got to her feet, put one hand on either side of his face and planted a kiss on his chin. “Yes, you are,” she said, “but I love you for it. Go and get the shopping bags from the boot of my car.”

Looking slightly sheepish he went to do as he was told. I had watched the little byplay with interest, seeing the mutual respect between brother and sister, the way they cared about each other was plain to see. I hadn’t been close to either my brother or my sister.

Ginny came to put a hand on my shoulder. “You stay there for a while,” she said. “You need plenty of rest and some good food inside you. Take no notice of Jack when he behaves like a bear with a sore head, he’s got a few troubles of his own at the moment.” She picked up the pieces of paper and I saw the worry lines reappear on her forehead. “Did you see who brought this note?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I was asleep. I heard Jack slam the door and I think he shouted out the name Jonus.”

“Jonus again!” Ginny sounded frustrated by the mention of that name, then she obviously felt the need to issue me with a warning, for she leaned forward and spoke quietly. “If Jonus comes back, don’t be frightened of him. He’s harmless enough and he’s just being used to deliver all of these silly notes. When Bryn was alive she used to let him in because she was so desperate for company, but Jack doesn’t want him here.”

“I gathered that,” I said. “He was throwing stones at him.”

Ginny shook her head. “I wish Jonus would just take no for an answer. Anyway, don’t be worried by him, like I said, he’s harmless.”

I nodded and she left to go and put the shopping away. Sinking lower into the chair I closed my eyes and tried to sleep again, not in the least bit worried by whoever Jonus was.

I was woken later when Jack brought me something to eat. “Ginny just left,” he said, handing me a tray with a plate of food on it. “She said to eat this and she’ll come by in the morning.”

I ate everything on the plate. Jack stayed in the kitchen to eat his meal, then he came to sit in the other armchair. He appeared to have calmed down somewhat, although I thought he was still on edge, still nervous about something.

“I’ll get a mattress from upstairs,” he said. “You can put it on the floor in here and it’ll be a hell of a lot warmer in here for you.”

“Thank you.”

“Will you be all right on your own for a bit? I need to go out.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“I arranged to meet someone, just for an hour.”

“I’ll be fine, really,” I assured him. “All I want to do is sleep.” At the moment the idea of a mattress in front of the fire seemed like heaven.

“Okay.”

I wondered who he was going to meet, and if it was female company he wanted. He might not be married, but he was a good looking man and I doubted he had any trouble in finding girlfriends. Anyway, it was none of my business what he wanted to do, and so I waited for him to bring the mattress down, followed by a duvet and a pillow, then he was gone and I was left to my own devices.

I made myself a cup of tea, preferring that to coffee, and I put the telly on, but nothing interested me enough to watch. After a while I decided to have a wash but there was no hot water and I had to make do with splashing cold over my face. In my rush to leave home I hadn’t even considered taking toiletries with me and I very much regretted not having packed properly. How I longed for a decent wash, or better still, a bath full of lovely soapy bubbles.

I went upstairs out of curiosity and boredom and had a good look around, but it was in much the sorry state as downstairs. The cottage had four bedrooms, three had been shut up and not used for many years judging by the peeling paint and wallpaper that drooped miserably from damp walls. The beds were stripped down to mattresses, the carpets had seen better days and the furniture was mostly heavy pine wardrobes and chests of drawers. I assumed that Jack used the only room with a bed already made up.

I was intrigued as I wandered about the cottage. It was like taking a step back in time to the nineteen fifties. Nothing had been changed in years. In the room that Jack used I crossed to the window, trying to imagine what the view was like when it was light, or when it was summertime and the garden was full of flowers.

As I started to move away a flicker of light caught my eye and I returned to the window to see what it was. It was quite a distance from the house, but I guessed it had to be somebody with a torch, judging by the way the light moved around. I frowned, trying to think what had been there when I sat looking at the cottage from the cab of the lorry, certain it was nothing more than an empty field. As I watched the light came closer and I made sure I was standing well behind the curtain in case anybody should see me. Holding my breath I watched until it came right up to the wall surrounding the cottage grounds and then I could see the man behind it. Not clearly because it was dark, but I knew it was a man – no, two men. Another followed the one with the torch as they climbed the wall and together they made their way across the garden and stopped in front of the lorry.

Hardly daring to breath for fear they might turn around and see me watching them, I wondered what I should do. I didn’t recall seeing a telephone in the cottage and Jack had gone to the cab to use a mobile phone when he had to call Ginny, so I wasn’t able to call anyone. I wouldn’t have any idea where he had gone anyway, and although Dan and Ginny lived in the village I wouldn’t know where.

The men stayed by the lorry for not more than ten minutes, but they were doing something to it that I couldn’t quite make out. Once they had finished they made their way back to the wall and disappeared back into the field behind it and I watched the torch light fade into the darkness. Whatever they had come for it didn’t appear to be good. I stood at the window and looked down at the lorry.

It was then I noticed Jonus standing by the wall. He was watching the men leave, just as I had done, but then he turned and went to look at the lorry before jumping about and clapping his hands like an over-excited child might do. As he walked away he suddenly stopped directly in front of the cottage and it appeared he looked right at me. I dodged behind the curtain, my heart beating wildly, and I waited for a while until he moved slowly away. He went to sit on the wall for a while and I stayed where I was. Despite Ginny having told me he was harmless, there was something about him that frightened me. I couldn’t pin point what it was, I hadn’t even seen him up close or talked to him, but it was a sort of feeling that he hated me. As if he didn’t need to speak to me, but could worry me just by one look.

When he finally left I let out my breath in one long hiss and went downstairs. It was almost ten o’clock and suddenly I wished Jack would come home. The incident with Jonus and the two men had left me feeling nervous and I hoped they didn’t intend to return. Making sure all the doors were locked and windows shut, I settled down in front of the telly and tried to concentrate on what programmes were on, but since it was almost the end of October and Halloween was coming up, everything seemed to be horror movies. Already jumpy enough, I nearly shot out of my skin when Jack’s key turned in the lock and the front door opened.

It was just past eleven. I went to meet him, and from the smell of beer on his breath he must have had quite a few pints. It had relaxed him though, for he smiled when he saw me, completely unexpected.

“Have you been all right?” he asked. “I didn’t intend being this late, but met up with a guy that could get me a contract with a local company needing drivers. I only came down to Cornwall just over a month ago and I need to get hold of a contract or two. We got talking a bit, you know how it goes.”

He was being so nice that I hardly wanted to break the news to him lest he return to his foul temper of earlier, but it had to be done. I couldn’t let him drive off in that lorry before he was aware that something had been done to it. And so I quickly told him.

I was right. His expression darkened immediately and he opened the front door, striding out into the darkness with purpose. I followed him, although it was freezing cold and I didn’t have a coat, but I had to see what had been done. Jack fetched a powerful torch from the cab of the lorry and turned the beam to the front of his vehicle, almost immediately letting loose with a string of curses that sent shivers down me.

“Did you see them?” he snapped, turning on me suddenly, and as the beam of light hit me I stepped back and almost fell over.

“Only enough to see that they were men,” I explained. “I couldn’t see faces. Jonus was watching them too, he might be able to tell you who they were.” I was able to see from the torchlight that graffiti had been sprayed across the front and down the sides of the cab. I made out some particularly disgusting four letter words, the message clearly telling Jack to get out and leave Cornwall for good.

“Jonus?” He spat the name at me. “Jonus would swallow his own tongue before he told me who they were. He’ll be sitting somewhere laughing about this now, damning me to the fires of hell. Then again, he might………”

Without finishing his sentence, Jack left me and sprinted to the wall. I followed him at a much more sedate pace, wishing I had a heavy coat like he did. I could have gone indoors and left him to it, but I was interested in what he intended to do.

It took me a lot longer to climb the wall that Jack had leapt across in one bound, but I plodded over the field following the distant beam of his torch, wondering where he was going. Eventually I made out the shape of an old barn, a bit run down, but looming large and scary in the darkness. Jack already had the door open and was shining the torch inside.

“Jonus?” he yelled, with such fury that I stopped before I reached the barn in case he turned his temper on me. “Jonus?”

He slammed the door shut, not having found what he was looking for. He kicked violently at the wooden door and split a wooden panel. Calling Jonus all the names under the sun, I was quite glad that the old tramp wasn’t there, for he might well have been ripped to shreds right now.

I tracked silently behind Jack, back to the wall where to my surprise he actually stopped and helped me to climb over. “You shouldn’t be doing this,” he said, flatly before taking my arm and virtually dragging me back inside the cottage.

I wasn’t sorry to be in front of the fire again. He stood with me for a while, shivering like I was, then he went to peer through the curtains.

“Are you sure you didn’t see anything?” he asked.

“Honestly, all I saw were two men. I didn’t even make out what they were doing. I didn’t want to open the door…….”

“I wouldn’t have expected you to,” he said, harshly. “Damn it, that mess had better clean off. If I see Jonathan tomorrow………” He didn’t finish his sentence again, and I didn’t ask him who Jonathan was either. Whoever he was, I felt sorry for him when Jack caught up with him.

“Would you like me to make you a drink?” I asked, trying to be pleasant.

He turned around to stare at me for a while, then shook his head. “You should get some sleep now.” He pointed at the mattress on the floor. “You lie down. I’m going to sleep in the chair in case they come back.”

Getting the distinct impression that it wouldn’t bode well for any trespassers should they decide to come back, I did as he said and lowered myself, not without difficulty, to the mattress. It had been on my mind to thank him for what he had done for me today. Even if he hadn’t been overly pleasant with it I was grateful of having somewhere to stay, and of being out of that awful cold rain. Leaving home in such a rush hadn’t been the best idea I’d ever had, but I hadn’t been in the right frame of mind for useful thought process. I thought it best not to bother him with such niceties, especially if I wasn’t able to stop myself from bursting into tears again, since he’d probably had enough of me doing that as it was.

I had been going to remove my clothes and sleep in the borrowed shirt I hadn’t yet given him back, but when he didn’t offer to leave the room I decided against it and left it all on. Sliding gratefully under the covers I closed my eyes. I heard him sink into the chair with a grunt, then I slept, heavily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

I didn’t wake until I heard him moving, and by then it was light. He was lacing up his work boots and had a heavy lumberjack shirt over the rest of his clothing. I sat up and rubbed at my eyes, cursing my full bladder once more.

“Did they come back?” I asked, presuming they hadn’t, since I would have heard the commotion if they had.

He shook his head. “I’m going out to get some of that stuff off the lorry. I’m trying to build a reputation around here, not destroy it.”

“Should you be working today?” I asked.

“I had a short run to do for the warehouse I dropped off at yesterday. I called Dan and he’s doing it for me, but it probably means I’ll have Ginny breathing fire down my neck for making him work on his day off.”

I took coffee out to him half an hour later. The morning was cold and frosty, but it was bright and a relief to be over the awful dark rain that had persisted for much of the week. He took the coffee gratefully and set the mug down on the cab step.

“Is it coming off?” I asked as he went back to work with something that smelled like white spirit. He had a rag soaked with it, and that he was making headway but it was going to be a long process. The men hadn’t been there for long, but had done their dirty deed quickly. Red spray paint was also on the sides of the cab and the big, chromed wheel trims. It was ugly work and made me wonder why anyone would hate him enough to do it.

“It’ll take me some time. I’ll move it on up nearer the cottage tonight, maybe rig up a light or something. Are you sure you don’t remember anything? Maybe you would recognise them if you saw them again?” He sounded hopeful, but I had to shake my head.

“They were in dark clothing and had woolly hats on. Why would anyone want to do this to you?”

“I’ve got a few enemies. In any case, I can probably work out for myself who’s responsible, even if they didn’t do the deed.”

“But Jonus could tell you. He saw them up close.”

“Jonus wouldn’t tell me if my shirt was on fire. He’s sick, keeps spouting all that hellfire and damnation stuff, like some manic preacher, and he really believes in it. He says the devil is inside me. He just doesn’t want to understand he’s not wanted here.” Jack spoke vehemently and rubbed harder at the spray paint, glancing quickly in my direction. “You should go inside before you get sick again.”

“I’d like to help you.”

He stopped rubbing for a moment, turned to me and shaded his eyes from the low, watery sun. “Why?”

“I’m not completely helpless. It might make it up to you for helping me.”

He didn’t answer me right away, but looked at me strangely, as if he wasn’t sure what to do, but then he shrugged, opened the cab door and reached for the lumberjack shirt he had taken off when he warmed up. “Put that on. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s a pregnant girl getting sick on me.”

I took the shirt, shyly pulling it on, acutely aware that I was still wearing the last one he had given me. Then he handed me a rag soaked with white spirit and I set to work on anything I could reach, glad of the opportunity to forget my own worries for a while. In fact, it was nice to be out in the weak sunshine, clearing my mind. I knew he watched me for a few minutes, but I didn’t look at him. He was surprised, I suppose, that I wanted to help him.

“Did you think about where to go next?” he asked, about an hour later.

“Ginny said she would make some enquiries,” I said. “There are some places where people like me can go and have their babies.” I didn’t like the sound of it at all. ‘People like me’. It wasn’t all my fault that I was pregnant and in this mess.

“Yeah, well, if Ginny said she would, then she will. She’s good at that sort of thing.”

“I’m not a tramp, you know,” I said, suddenly, and he stopped working. “This pregnancy was an accident because the pill didn’t work. I thought I was in love with Connor, and he was with me. I thought my dad might support me and help me, but they all turned their backs. I’m just normal, or I was.” I felt silly afterwards, pouring out my misery on him like that. He didn’t say anything, just returned to his task and we were quiet for a few minutes before he spoke.

“What did you do before?” he asked. “Like, in a job?”

“Book keeping.” I had worked for a company that Connor’s father owned ever since leaving school, and that was where I had met Connor. While Conner had been full of himself, he was damned good looking and I had been the envy of all the office girls when he set his sights on me. It felt strange now, thinking about him and not feeling anything for him at all. Why had I been so infatuated with a man who had probably been seeing other girls while he was supposedly in love with me? I wasn’t gullible, or hadn’t thought of myself as being, but I had let him walk all over me and done nothing. I’d never really been the outgoing type and wasn’t the sort to flaunt myself as some of the other girls had, but I wasn’t too bad looking, even if I did say so myself. Not beautiful by any means, not pretty either, but nice looking in an ordinary sort of way, I suppose. I had a fairly flattering figure, or had done before this pregnancy. “I kept books for a company Connor’s father owned.”

“No kidding?”

I looked up at him, wondering why he had said that. “Pardon?”

“So you could do the books for any small business?”

“I suppose so.”

“Like say – someone like me, then?” He had stopped working and was staring down at me, on my knees and polishing away at one of the wheel trims. His face was flushed, he was breathing heavily from the exertion of his job, and just for a moment the darkness had gone from those blue eyes. From his expression he seemed to be considering something as he watched me, but I had no idea what.

“Yes,” I said, slowly, not sure of what was coming next.

“What if those books were in one hell of a mess to begin with?”

“I could probably sort them out.” I had been good at my job and enjoyed it. In fact, mathematics had always been my top subject at school.

He appeared thoughtful, then threw down his rag and went once more to his cab, this time bringing out a box he found underneath the bunk I had slept on. Carrying it to me, he shoved it under my nose. “Like that?” he asked.

I put my hand in the box and pushed around a few of the many papers in there. Invoices, delivery notes, receipts, handwritten reminders, and a large, hardbacked book, which on opening I found the last entry to have been eight months ago, and had been very erratic before then. “Good God,” I said.

“I’ve got the tax man on my back, and if Ginny finds out I’ve let it get to this again, she’ll tear me apart and feed me to old man Pearson’s Rotweilers. She threatened to before, so I had a go, but I’m no bloody accountant.”

“I’m not surprised, and no, you’re no accountant.” I took the box from him and stared at it, dubiously.

“We could make it a deal – you sort that lot out and you can stay here as long as it takes, or until Ginny finds you somewhere.”

He surprised me with that statement, but at the same time it was like he offered me a small lifeline to cling to for a while. I took out the book again and studied it, noting there hadn’t been any proper accounting in it for nearly two years. “Who did it for you before?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter – she can’t any more.” He spoke sharply. “Can you do it, or not?”

“Yes. Yes, I can.” At least, I hoped I could. It was going to be the challenge of my career, I saw that straight off, but if it meant a roof over my head for a while then I jumped at the chance. “It won’t be in a hurry though.”

He left the box with me and picked up his rag again. “That’s okay, as long as it gets done. And don’t let Ginny know.”

I shook my head, smiling inwardly at the idea of him being so wary of his own little sister. “I’m sure she wouldn’t be that nasty to you,” I said, light-heartedly. “I thought she was really nice.”

“Angel on the outside, devil on the inside. I tried to warn Dan when he wanted to marry her, but he didn’t listen and then he went and bought a Volvo truck just because she likes them.” He sounded disgusted, but I looked up to see a smile on his face.

“Well I like this one,” I said. “It was far and away the best one in that lorry park.”

He stepped back to get a better overall view of the cab. The ugly red paint had almost gone and I’m sure I noticed a swell of pride as he looked it over. “Best I could afford,” he said. “Or the most finance I could get, depends which way you look at it. Four series Scania, best there is, in my book.”

It didn’t mean a lot to me. One lorry looked much the same as another, but I tried to show enough interest to keep him talking for a while. “Doesn’t Dan think so?”

“Nope. Dan and me grew up together. His parents still live in one of them terraced houses near the pub. We went everywhere together, fought over the same girls, got into a lot of scrapes, but when it came to anything with an engine, Dan never showed a scrap of sense.” He was still smiling and I got the impression there was a lot of friendly rivalry between him and Dan.

“Did you live in the village?” I asked. He was acting almost human this morning, just when I had expected him to be the complete opposite, and I liked him for it. I was glad of his company – I doubt he felt the same way about mine – but it had been a long time since I had been able to talk to anyone about a subject that didn’t concern me and my problems in the slightest.

He shook his head then and I was disappointed to see the smile go from his face. “My family live in a big house about two miles outside the village. A bigger house than we ever needed, and that’s where I lived until I was eleven, when I came here to live with Bryn.”

“You lived here? I asked. “You must have been so lucky. This is a wonderful cottage.”

He frowned. “I wouldn’t call myself lucky. I got away from here when I was twenty and both me and Dan got our heavy goods licences a couple of years later. After that we both moved about a bit, getting work wherever we could. I got work for a warehouse in Yorkshire and he came here to be near Ginny.”

“Didn’t it work out in Yorkshire?” Suddenly I sensed I was on uneasy ground. He polished furiously at a speck of paint that refused to budge.

“Not after a while.”

There was something in the way he said those last words that made me keep quiet. Whatever it was that had made him leave Yorkshire he didn’t want to talk about it to me. I stood up and stretched. My back was aching terribly from all the bending and kneeling it was doing, and the baby was kicking again. “I think I had better leave it there,” I said, picking up the box of paperwork. “I’ll go and have a look at this lot. Do you have a calculator?”

“I can get one.”

“Oh!” I looked, with some trepidation, at the piles of documents in the box, and the idea of no calculator. “Are you sure everything is in here?”

“Yeah. I might be useless with a pen in my hand, but I’m red hot when it comes to putting it all in that box.” He was smiling at me again, then he dropped his gaze to the box, almost apologetically. “You don’t need to start anything until I get hold of a calculator.”

“But it will take time……….”

“Fine with me. You put up with me and I’ll put up with you. I won’t be here for the next couple of days anyway.”

I started to walk away, not sure how to take what he had just said. Was I that bad he felt the need to just ‘put up with me’`. Then, as I thought of my appearance, and the bath I had longed for, I turned around. “I wondered……..”

“What?”

“If I might …. ask a favour?”

“You’re treading on thin ground, sweetheart.”

God, just when I thought he was getting better he was being so patronising again. I hated the way he said that word. “I need a bath,” I said, bluntly.

Much to my annoyance he looked me up and down, then nodded his head. “Yeah.”

“Yeah I need a bath, or yeah, I can have a bath?” I asked, indignantly.

“Both. There’s a switch in the kitchen, by the washing machine. Put it on and the water will heat up.”

I didn’t bother to thank him, but marched away to the kitchen where I dumped the box on the table, found the switch and flicked it on, then sat down to cry into my hands. I knew I wasn’t much to look at right now, and my hair was in the worst state it had ever been in, but did he have to be so tactless? It wasn’t as if he was much to look at himself. I contented myself with that thought until Ginny walked in on me and I tried to appear unruffled.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, immediately. “Is it the baby? Are you hurting somewhere?”

“Only my pride,” I sniffed.

“Oh dear! Has Jack been doing his very best in chat up lines again? Time for a cup of tea and a gossip then.” She went to put the kettle on, then drew out a paper bag from the carrier she had brought in. “Look, sticky buns, the best thing to go with a cup of tea when you’re a bit down in the dumps. Come on, tell me what happened!” She put them on the clean part of the kitchen table, which is when she saw the box Jack hadn’t wanted her to see. “Oh, good Lord, don’t tell me Jack is doing his own accounts again?” She rifled through the box and sighed. “Look at the state of this lot! He told me he was doing it properly. I should have known he was lying. Jack loves to drive lorries and he’s good at what he does, but put a pen in his hand and this is what you end up with.”

“It’s for me to do,” I explained. “Only I’m not supposed to let you know that I’m doing it. We made a deal – I stay here while I sort out myself and this paperwork.”

“You’ll be here a long time then. It probably hasn’t been done properly since Karen…..” She opened the book and looked at it. “Nope, not since Karen last did it.”

“Was Karen his accountant?”

“His wife. She died two years ago, he doesn’t talk about it, don’t let on that I told you and never mention her name in front of him, yeah? Right, let’s get stuck into these cakes, Lana.”

We did, and while we did I told her what Jack had said to upset me. She shook her head sympathetically and sipped at her tea. “What you have to remember is that Jack doesn’t have a clue. He’s your typical lorry driver, if it doesn’t involve an engine he doesn’t know how to talk about it. Dan’s not like it, thank goodness.”

“Of course,” I said, smiling. I liked Ginny for her down-to-earth attitude and personality.

“Don’t let him bully you into anything,” Ginny warned. “Are you sure you want to be going through all this paperwork? Ugh, I wouldn’t want to.”

“It’s what I used to do. I don’t mind, not really, and it’ll take my mind off all my problems. At least I’ll have somewhere to stay for a few days, and it will take me that long at the very least.” I was surprised when Ginny sighed and went to the window to watch her brother working on the Scania.

“What’s he doing out there, anyway?” she asked. “It was Dan’s day off and we were going into Falmouth.”

“Somebody put red paint all over his lorry last night,” I told her. “He couldn’t have driven it like it was. It was such foul words on there, and warning him to get out of here.” Ginny had covered her mouth with her hand as she continued to watch him and her expression had changed to one of pity.

“Poor Jack,” she said, softly. “I wish I knew who was doing this to him.” She turned suddenly to face me. “Lana, you’ve come right smack in the middle of a volatile situation. Jack shouldn’t have asked you to stay here.”

“Tell me why not.” I followed her to the window. Jack had finished with the lorry and was throwing the rags into a cardboard box. “I saw the men last night but it was too dark and I didn’t see their faces. Jack had gone to meet somebody and I was too frightened to show myself. Who is Jonus? I know you told me not to worry about him, but if Jack had got hold of him last night I think he would have committed murder.”

Ginny shook her head. “Jonus is a little pawn in someone else’s big game. Jack’s been receiving threats ever since he came back here a month or so ago. The letters are sometimes delivered by Jonus and are nasty, threatening him with all sorts, and then every so often something like this happens.”

“And nobody can find out who is responsible?” I asked. “He mentioned another name – Jonathan.”

“Our brother. Older than Jack by ten years and they hate the sight of each other. They always have done, and that’s why Jack is so quick to believe that Jonathan is behind all of this, but Dan and I aren’t so sure. Jonathan can be spiteful, but whether or not he has the guts to do something like this is something else. I don’t believe it’s him, but Jack won’t have it any other way.”

She fell silent as Jack came into the cottage, then called to him to come into the kitchen where she made him sit down and eat a sandwich she prepared. He looked at me a couple of times and I tried to turn my head so he didn’t see my blotched, red face. I didn’t want him to know he’d made my cry.

“Did it all come off?” Ginny asked him, and he nodded.

“Do you know where Jonathan is today?”

“Working with dad as far as I know, but Jack…..”

“Don’t say it,” Jack warned. “I’ll just talk to him, that’s all.”

“But it won’t be all, and you know it. You’ll lose your temper with him and things will get worse than ever. Anyway, I still don’t think this is Jonathan’s doing.”

“You’re too nice to him, and always were.” He bit into his sandwich and chewed on it thoughtfully.

Ginny smiled across the table at me. “And Jack would slit his throat rather than look at him. Anyway, changing the subject, Dan said to ask if you’ll be in the pub later because he’ll meet you at around eight if you are. I said he could have two pints and then he has to come home because you’re a bad influence on him.”

Jack was grinning, I noticed. It seemed that he couldn’t stay moody for long when he was around Ginny. “I’ll meet him,” he said, “for two pints, as long as he pays for them. I have to be on the road tomorrow, so I’ll keep my bad influence for next time.”

“How long are you away?”

“Back on Saturday.”

Saturday? What was today? For a moment I couldn’t even think what day it was. Wednesday, that was it. So he was going to be away for all the time I would be here alone! Oh, well, I had plenty to do in the form of his accounts, but it was the nights that worried me. What if those men were to come back with other intentions?

“I’m taking the car into Truro,” Jack said, suddenly. “I’ll be gone for a couple of hours.”

“Jack don’t go and do anything silly,” Ginny pleaded.

“I never said I was going to find Jonathan. There’s parts I want for the lorry.”

Ginny folded her arms and shook her head. “Don’t feed me all that rubbish. I know where you’re going.”

Jack looked at me. “Will you be all right?” To all intents and purposes he hadn’t heard Ginny’s last words.

I nodded. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just rest.” I was tired again, always tired. He grunted an agreement and then pushed up out of his chair and was gone.

Ginny shrugged her shoulders. “He’ll end up in trouble if he goes there looking for a fight.”

“Goes where?” I asked.

“Dad owns a nightclub in Truro. He and Jonathan are probably there today and Jack will be thinking what happened to the lorry is their doing.”

“Surely he can’t come to any harm asking questions?”

“You don’t know dad or my brother, and for that matter, Jack won’t stop at just asking questions. Listen, Jack isn’t easy to get along with. I’ll carry on making enquiries about finding you somewhere to go, and I’ll keep in touch while he’s away. Are you sure you want to stay here? You can always come and stay with Dan and me.”

“I’m fine here,” I assured her, shyly. I was trouble enough already, without coming between a man and his wife. “I’d like it if you kept in touch.” I genuinely hoped she would, for I enjoyed her company and three days was a long time otherwise. I’ve lots to do with Jack’s accounts now anyway. I can at least sort everything into date order until he gets me a calculator.”

When she left I spent the rest of the afternoon on the mattress, not sleeping unfortunately, but merely dozing, so that when Jack returned I got up with a headache instead of being refreshed. Jack didn’t say much about where he had been, but I guessed he had seen his brother at some point during the afternoon because of the grim look on his face. He was quiet and I left him alone for fear of his temper. He didn’t do much for the remainder of the day, just sat in the chair in grim contemplation. I would have loved to know just what he was thinking.

I opened my rucksack and sorted through what little clothing I had, wishing once more that I had brought more stuff with me. Jack must have noticed the discontent on my face though, for he shuffled in the chair, then leaned forward to speak to me.

“There’s a washing machine and tumble drier if you want to use it,” he offered. “No good asking me how, I haven’t got a bloody clue. Ginny usually manages to find my washing for me. There’s stuff in the cupboard, powder and that, under the sink.”

I looked up at him, gratefully. “Are you sure?”

He shrugged. “Might as well use it, being as it’s there. More like a computer than a washing machine. Ginny bought it for Bryn when her old one broke.”

I sorted my few clothes and decided, since Jack was in a generous mood, to wash them all while I had a bath, then tumble dry them and put them on again. Suddenly cheered by the idea of a bath and clean clothes, I struggled to get up from the mattress, not easy with the weight of my stomach. Seeing my difficulty, Jack came to help me, taking my hand and pulling me to my feet.

“I’ve got something for you,” he said, gruffly.

I followed him into the kitchen, curiosity aroused, and there on the table was a mobile phone. He picked it up and handed it to me. “It’s not new. I got a new one for the lorry, so this is the old one.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Thought you had better have a phone in case you need to call the police while I’m gone. I don’t want anyone snooping round with me not being here.”

I took the phone, sensing that he was more concerned with anyone snooping around than he was for my safety, but I did admit it was better to have it than not.

“No numbers on it yet,” he continued. “I’ll do it for you later. Oh, and that bag is for you.”

Stunned by his generosity, I reached for the carrier bag he pointed to, curious to know what he had got for me. It was full of toiletries, everything he thought I might need, and at the bottom was a big, yellow fluffy towel. I saw toothpaste and toothbrush, soap and flannel, deodorant and bubble bath, along with shampoo and conditioner for my hair. I tried hard to blink back the tears that formed. “I don’t know what to say……”

“Ginny thought I ought to, since I landed you with my accounts. Anyway, you didn’t seem to have much with you.”

“I don’t have any money to pay you back……”

“You don’t have to.” He shrugged his shoulders and appeared embarrassed. “I probably haven’t got the right stuff, and I know what you women are like when it comes to having a bath.”

“It’ll be fine,” I assured him. “Thank you. I’m going to have a bath now, and I’ll set the washing machine going while I’m soaking. Do you have anything to be washed?”

His face flushed and he shook his head. “Nope.”

I held back my smile, for the clothes he stood in looked as if they had needed washing a week ago, never mind now. I wasn’t going to argue with him though. I was looking forward to that bath.

“It’s six o’clock,” Jack called after me. “I’ll stay here until you’ve finished, in case you need anything, then I’m going to meet Dan at eight.”

I lay in a bath full of bubbles half an hour later, wallowing luxuriously. I’d had to scrub the dirt out of the bath first, but then I had managed to wash and condition my hair before running the bath. Now I studied my lump of a stomach in disgust. It rose like a whale out of the water and I put my hand on it when the baby began kicking again. Despite my fears I began to thing about what I was going to do when I left here. I knew Ginny was right, I had to find somewhere to prepare for the birth of my baby instead of putting it off and hoping it would go away. For once I had to face facts, this baby was going nowhere just yet, it was going to be born one way or another and I had its future in my hands.

All of a sudden it seemed such a huge responsibility, even if I did let it go for adoption. I had no money to my name, so adoption was the only clear answer for me, I accepted that, but there, in the back of my mind was the wish that things could have turned out differently and I had been married and looking forward to the birth of my baby with a man that I loved. Thoughtfully I rubbed a hand over my stomach and for the first time I wondered if it was a boy or a girl, and whether it would look like Connor or me. I certainly wouldn’t worry if it followed Connor for his good looks, although I hoped it wouldn’t inherit any of his inconsiderate nature or false charm. But then, I didn’t have to worry about it if it was adopted, and hopefully some kind, caring adoptive parents would steer this child towards its adult life teaching it all the right things. Connor was badly spoilt by his parents, neither of which had actually liked me because I wasn’t from a wealthy family. By the time word got out around our village that mum had run off to Australia with another man, and dad was slowly cracking up, they were even more decided against me.

Connor had been my first serious boyfriend and I had been flattered by his attentions, but now it all seemed such a long way off and I firmly believed that he would have made a lousy father anyway. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine myself happily married and content, with a baby to care for and the arms of a loving husband around me. Only as I languished in the hot water it was Jack’s arms I imagined around me, and Jack’s lovely blue eyes I imagined gazing back into mine.

Catching control of my thoughts before they went too far, I opened my eyes and stared up at the cracked ceiling. In the end it didn’t matter what I imagined. I was single, pregnant, and homeless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Jack was asleep in the armchair when I went downstairs to check on the washing machine, wrapped only in the big towel he had bought me. I threw my wet clothes into the tumble drier and wondered what to do while they dried. I would have liked to sit by the fire and keep warm, but Jack was there and I wasn’t sure who would be more embarrassed at me sitting there in just a towel.

I made myself a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table for a while, but soon I felt cold and longed for the warmth of the other room. In the end I decided to hell with it and I took my tea with me to sit in the other armchair. With a bit of luck he would just stay asleep, although I suddenly realised the time was a quarter to eight and he was supposed to meet Dan at eight. I prodded him gently and he opened his eyes.

“You were supposed to meet Dan,” I whispered. “It’s quarter to.”

“Bloody hell!” he said, jumping from the chair, not even noticing my lack of attire. Grabbing his jacket he left the room in a hurry and didn’t even give a second glance in my direction, I was relieved to see. Smiling, I returned to my place by the fire and switched on the television, flicking through the channels to find something to watch until my clothes were dry. In actual fact I become engrossed in a film and didn’t go to the tumble drier for another hour and a half, but before I could pull out my clothes and put them on I heard a noise outside.

I held my breath and stood quite still. It was probably a cat, or a fox, but after the disturbance last night I didn’t want to take any chances, especially dressed only in a towel.

Hearing a crunch of gravel on the drive outside I wondered if Jack had returned early, but even so my heart was pounding and I was scared. There was a noise at the front door and then I heard voices, neither of which sounded like Jack. I fled upstairs as the door was pushed open, and ran around trying to find somewhere to hide. Finally I went into the bathroom, climbed into the bath and stood behind the shower curtain hanging alongside it. Fearing the loud beating of my heart would give me away if they came upstairs, I tried to calm myself by taking some deep breaths, and then strained my ears trying to catch what was being said.

It sounded like two men and I wondered if they were the same two as last night. I heard them talking, but was certain neither was Jack, but they had used a door key to let themselves in. I began to shiver in the cold bathroom. It didn’t help that I was standing barefoot in the cold bath, but there had been nowhere else to hide. If they should discover me in here, I was going to be very red-faced.

Soon I heard the creaking of the stairs and said a silent prayer that neither would need to use the bathroom. They were still talking fairly loudly and must have been certain that Jack wasn’t there, since they made no effort to be quiet. As far as I could tell they were looking for something, but hadn’t yet found it.

“Bryn might not have kept it here,” one of them said.

“It has to be here,” the other hissed. “Where the hell else would she have put it?” This voice was much harsher than the first, almost gruff. They were going into each room in turn. I made a big effort to keep still and not to shake from the cold, then listened again. One of them coughed a lot and I could smell cigarettes.

“For God’s sake, find something,” the gruff voice said. “I don’t want him finding out. I don’t even know why he bothered coming back here. I thought I’d seen the back of him for good.”

“We all did. He’s a decent enough bloke though. What can he do if he finds out anyway? Not much.”

“He’d want to kill me, that’s certain.”

“Come off it, he isn’t that sort, and anyway, he wouldn’t get away with murder.” At this, there was a harsh laugh, one that sent a different kind of shiver down me.

“It was got away with before, wasn’t it?”

The second voice was quick to come back with a reply. “That was nothing to do with me, and I don’t want any part in it. All I know is that he went abroad. If you know anything different, keep it to yourself.”

Then the owner of the gruff voice laughed again. “Trouble is, if he finds all this stuff Bryn is supposed to have hidden in here, there’s going to be some very unhappy people around. Me and you included.”

Oh, my God, I thought, putting one hand on the cold, tiled wall to steady myself. What was this I had stumbled into? Now they were talking of murder being committed.

“You know Jack,” the gruff voice continued. “He’d commit murder, moody son-of-a-bitch that he is. I still reckon it was him that killed that wife of his.”

“Now you’re being crazy.”

There was a period when they stopped talking and were sorting through cupboards and drawers in search of whatever it was they needed to find. I wished they would hurry up and leave because I was nothing more than a block of ice standing behind the shower curtain. I thought wistfully of the phone Jack had given me earlier, still lying on the kitchen table, but it was another fifteen minutes before they went downstairs and another half an hour before they gave up and left the house. I couldn’t hear anything they were saying once they went downstairs, but I gathered from the angry voices that they hadn’t found anything.

As soon as they shut the front door I climbed stiffly from the bath and tried to hurry to Jack’s bedroom window in the hope I might catch a glimpse of them. I would have liked to have a description for Jack, but it wasn’t to be. All I saw were two figures dressed in dark clothing and heading down the drive towards the gate. They might well have been the same men as before, but there was no way of knowing. What I did know was Jonus stood watching them.

I hurried to the tumble drier and dragged out my clothes, pulling them on gratefully before switching on the kettle and dashing to stand in front of the fire. I was so cold by this time that it really did feel as if my teeth were chattering, and my hands were so numb they were useless. I looked at the time on an old brass carriage clock on the mantelpiece above the fireplace – almost ten-thirty – and wondered if I should try and ring Jack. Deciding it might be the best option, I went to the kitchen to fetch it, but realised he hadn’t yet programmed any numbers into it for me. Recalling that he had fallen asleep and rushed out before he had thought about it again, I threw the phone back on the table and took a cup of tea back to the fireside to wait for him to come home.

He came back barely fifteen minutes later and knew something was wrong as soon as he walked in, probably deduced from the way I was shivering in front of the fire, and that my face was a deathly shade of pale.

“What is it?” he snapped.

“You didn’t leave me any numbers to call,” I blurted.

“They came back? What happened? Did they touch the truck again?” He started to turn back towards the front door, but I stopped him.

“No…..no, I don’t think so……”

“Then what?” he shouted. “Damn it, girl, get in front of that fire. You’re freezing. What the hell have you been doing?”

“Don’t shout at me,” I yelled back, tears rolling down my face. “It’s not my fault.”

“What isn’t? Dammit, don’t start crying again! Why didn’t you put any more wood on the fire, it’s damned near died down again.”

“I’m sorry…..”

“Sorry?” He rounded on me once more. “Sorry? You’re always bloody sorry, sweetheart.”

It was at that point that I snapped. It was the very way he spoke those words, the coldness in them, the complete disregard for me and my safety, that sent a wave of anger right through me. I picked up several lumps of firewood and threw a couple on the fire, sending little showers of sparks everywhere. “Don’t keep calling me sweetheart like that. It’s horrible, the way you say it.”

He stamped on a couple of sparks that landed on the carpet and snatched the last piece of wood from my hand. “What is this?” he yelled. “Another go at killing yourself, only slower this time?”

“That’s it!” I said. “That is it! Tomorrow you can take me into Truro and drop me off at the first opportunity. I’m not standing here listening to your ranting and raving for one minute longer. Do your own accounts!”

“You don’t need to go anywhere. And stop crying!”

“Yes, I do.” I stood with my hands on my hips and glared at him, meeting those dark eyes without as much as a twitch. I’d show him! “I need to get away from you! All this talk of murder, and hiding things, and people creeping into your house in the middle of the night, and weird men watching from the bushes. You’re not sane!”

“I’m not sane? I wasn’t the one who threw myself in front of a lorry, sweetheart. And since I managed to miss killing you there and then, I’m not guilty of any murder, so I don’t know where you got that idea from. And the weirdo in the garden is only Jonus – he’s a freak, but he’ll move if you throw something at him.”

“See?” I screamed back at him. “All you want to do is hurt him, and you put me down all the time, and I know I fell in front of your lorry, but I’m sorry about it and you don’t need to be so mean all the time. All I want is for somebody to be nice to me for a change.”

“I didn’t mean…..”

“Yes, you did! You’re bad tempered and ….and…” I wanted to cry because I couldn’t think of anything else to call him. “If you asked me properly what happened then I’d tell you. Instead of that you had to come in here shouting at me.” My voice must have built to a suitably hysterical level, for he backed off slightly and I was surprised when he raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“God save me from pregnant women!” he growled. “Okay, I quit. I’ll get some coffee and you can tell me what happened.”

“Tea!” I said, defiantly. “I prefer tea.”

He stopped in the doorway and turned around slowly, so that I held my breath and waited for another onslaught. That last little bit of defiance might just have been a step too far, and not a good idea. Instead, he folded his arms across his chest and sighed. “Milk and sugar?” he asked, contritely.

“Two sugars,” I said, pushing my luck even further.

And then he smiled. “Would madam like a biscuit with that?” He chuckled at his own joke and the tension was gone.

“No thank you.”

He grinned, self-consciously. “Can we start over?” he asked.

“Only if you’re prepared to listen to me,” I continued, bad-temperedly. “I’ve had enough fights to last me a lifetime, thank you very much, and I could do without some miserable sod of a lorry driver shouting at me for something that wasn’t my doing.” When I finished I sank into a chair and put my head in my hands to cover my tears. I was so confused. I thought he would be eager to hear the news that his home had been broken into, and instead of that he had lashed out completely unnecessarily at me. I realised that he’d probably had harsh words with his brother earlier and he hadn’t been in the best frame of mind when he went out, but there was no need to have a go at me. And then, just when I was at breaking point emotionally, he had turned and grinned at me and thrown me off balance. When he smiled it changed him, and when he had grinned at me in such a boyish fashion something had taken place inside my heart that I couldn’t describe, apart from it was almost painful.

His mood soon darkened again, but at least he listened to all of the story without interrupting me. He thumped his closed fists on the arms of the chair before getting up and putting more wood on the fire.

“You said they had keys for the front door?” he asked.

“Yes, they definitely unlocked the front door.” I watched him prod the fire while he thought it over.

“And the voices? You could recognise them again?”

“Maybe,” I said, doubtfully. “One of them was quite gruff sounding, but I don’t know about the other one.”

“That’s all they said about the murder thing?” he asked. “Just that murder had been committed?”

“Yes. Has there been a murder here?” I snuggled further into the armchair after an anxious glance around the room, the shivers of apprehension mixing with those of the cold.

“Not that I know of.” Jack moved to the window and pulled the curtain back to peer into the darkness. “I could murder Jonus though.”

I thought of the one who had been sure Jack wasn’t the sort to commit murder and hoped he had been right.

“I don’t think you should stay here,” he said, finally. “Maybe you had better stay with Ginny.”

“I’d rather not,” I protested. “I like Ginny, but I don’t want to come between her and Dan. They don’t have much time to spend together as it is.” He was obviously worried about leaving me though, and he fell silent, considering the situation. Eventually he went to collect the phone and programmed numbers into it.

“I’ve put the cab phone on there, as well as Ginny’s. Albert Dunn’s number is on there, too. You won’t know him he’s the local cabbie, and if you’re in any trouble he’d soon come and help you out. I’ll make arrangements with Ginny tomorrow and tell her to get a locksmith to change all the locks on the place. At least we won’t get any more late night callers inside the house.”

This was quite nice, I thought, as we lazed in the chairs in front of the fire. Jack was actually talking to me as he would another human being for a change, and I liked it. More to the point I was beginning to like him very much, but I pushed that idea to the back of my head.

“Look,” Jack said, pushing the hair from his eyes and looking down at his hands. “I’m sorry about earlier. There was some fuss with Jonathan, then an argument in the pub tonight that got me a bit wound up. I’ll try not to do it again.”

“I’ll make a start on those accounts tomorrow,” I said. “I won’t be very quick with them, though.”

“That’s okay,” he said, easily. “It’s taken me more than two years to get them that way, so I wouldn’t expect you to sort them out in one day.”

“I’ll work out a system for you, then you can learn to do it properly, for yourself.”

He grinned again. “There you go, confusing me already. A system? That’s what I’ve been missing all this time?”

I laughed. “Easy when you know how. You’ll just have to sit down and pay attention when I show you.”

“Yes, miss.” He gave me a mock salute and a quick grin. “I’m for bed because I’ve got an early start in the morning. I’ll try not to wake you when I leave.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

He was true to his word and was gone by the time I woke up at almost nine o’clock. The truth was that I only woke then because I heard the front door opening and sat up quickly, fearing another visit from the two men. My heart was pounding in my chest as I tried to get up from the mattress, but I needn’t have worried. It was Ginny.

“Sorry,” she apologised. “I thought you would have been up already. I’ve had a call from Jack this morning and he’s asked me to keep an eye on you.”

I sighed. “I’m fine, really. I don’t need fussing over.”

“He’s worried because of what happened last night. Oh, and by the way, there should be someone here to change the locks today. Quick, eh?”

“Good,” I agreed. At least I would be safe in my bed tonight, although I doubted I would be doing much sleeping. I was already looking forward to Jack’s return, even if it meant I was doing myself out of a place to stay.

“And,” Ginny continued, “You have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow morning, just a check up for now. You really ought to be having regular check ups at this point in your pregnancy, for the baby’s sake if not yours.”

I agreed for argument sake, but I was still reluctant to go. Everything had been fine up until my fifth month, but now the doubts were in my head and I didn’t want to confront them. I hadn’t eaten properly or looked after myself and I was worried I had caused problems for my baby. I wasn’t certain of my dates either. I had told Ginny I was thirty-two weeks, but in reality I was probably thirty-four. Just lately the weeks had slipped by so fast they seemed to have escaped me altogether.

“Right!” Ginny rubbed her hands together. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” I watched her jump to her feet. “Why?”

“Fine enough for a bit of spring cleaning? You don’t have to do much, just chat to me while I do it, if you like. Only Jack is away until Saturday, Dan comes back tomorrow evening, and while the cats are away, the mice will do the housework. I thought we might clean up that disgusting kitchen while Jack can’t argue.”

“Okay.” I jumped at the idea, all thoughts of Jack’s accounts disappearing from my head. “It does need doing.”

“Badly. And Jack will never let me,” Ginny complained. “So I think I might do it anyway. All I needed was a bit of female company and moral support. Oh, and don’t expect Jack to be grateful for it because he doesn’t know how to be.”

Ginny waited in the kitchen while I got myself washed and dressed, then we giggled ourselves into two pairs of overalls she had stolen from Dan’s lorry. She buttoned hers up the front easily, but when it came to mine I barely got the overalls over my vast amount of stomach, and we were in fits of laughter. Eventually we managed to find some rope to tie around them and hold them in place.

I watched Ginny open a tin of paint, noting the determination to do the job properly, and that meant a coat of paint on the murky tan-coloured walls.

“Sunshine yellow,” she said, proudly displaying the tin. “Actually I think Jack hates yellow, but I paid for it, so he’ll have to live with it.” And we set to work with a brush each, Ginny doing anything that required the ladder she had found from the garage, and me taking care of anything I was able to reach without straining myself. By the time dinnertime came we were talking as if we had known each other for years.

Ginny was thirty years old, three years younger than Jack, and she had been the baby of the family. As a kid she had tagged along everywhere with Jack and Dan, she said, and because she was the baby she had always come out of their many scrapes smelling of roses, while Jack had caught his father’s wrath every time. She admitted to having been, and probably still was, her father’s favourite, while Jack was the black sheep.

“He came to live with Bryn when he was eleven,” she said, “and I missed him like mad. Mum had died just before that, and that’s why Bryn took Jack I suppose, because dad couldn’t cope with all of us. Bryn was wonderful and she loved Jack to pieces, but I don’t think he repaid her kindness much. I spent a lot of time here then, just to be around Jack, but when he got to fifteen or so he stopped wanting me round him then.” She laughed quietly. “He and Dan were dating girls and I used to follow them everywhere. Jack got so fed up with me……”

“A bit uncool,” I said, “meeting a girl with a little sister tagging along.”

“I know. I stopped it after a while, and a few years later I fancied Dan like mad and started to follow them everywhere again.”

“Something must have turned out right. You two seem perfect for each other.”

“I’d always had a soft spot for Dan, but I don’t think he looked at me in that way until I was almost twenty,” she giggled. “And then I started dating other boys and he got jealous. We’ve been married for six years now.”

I envied her, to have a man who loved her properly and who she loved so much. Would it be like that for me one day? At the moment I doubted it. I’d had my fair share of offers from boys in my home village, but once I met Connor I burned my bridges behind me. He had been twenty-five when I was nineteen and he had made all the boys of my age seem just that – boys!

The locksmith interrupted us during the afternoon, but I was relieved to see all the locks changed. Ginny took care of his bill, then wrote a note to leave for Jack. “We always do it this way,” she explained. “I pay for everything and he just gives me his wages each week. No, not really – he just has a never-ending account with me.”

“Does he ever do anything for himself?” I asked. “You seem to take care of everything for him.”

Ginny stopped painting and sat on the top step of the ladder, nodding her head slowly. “Jack’s had it tough for the last two years, Lana. One of these days he’ll get it together again, he’s coming back slowly. He’s a really nice man to know, but at the moment he carries around a lot of anger and pain. And there are the threats, of course, they play on his mind, even if he does pretend to ignore them.

“Has he told the police?”

“He won’t.” Ginny started to paint again. “We had better get on with this or else we won’t be finished by the time he gets back. He’ll be bad-tempered enough when he sees what we’ve done, without having to come home to it half-finished.”

“What happened to his wife?” I asked, sensing I might be on unsteady ground, but Ginny had been so nice and hadn’t worried about telling me anything else about Jack, so I ventured the question, but she shook her head.

“He was married to Karen. She lived in Yorkshire and he moved up there to live. He was absolutely besotted with her, and she was a lovely woman – taught little kids. She died in a car accident two years ago and he’s never got over it. I’d rather you didn’t say anything about it to him, though. He hates to talk about her, even to me. It’s a shame, because I’m sure it would help him to talk about it, but he was never one to get things out in the open. Bottles it all in, does Jack.”

“You really love him, don’t you?” I asked, and she smiled.

“I think the world of Jack, Lana. I want my brother back to the way he used to be, and if I have to bully and nag him to do it, then that’s what I’ll do.”

We didn’t stop until almost seven o’clock, by which time most of the work had been done. The walls were now a bright shade of yellow, over which Ginny had plans to stencil designs. The curtains had been washed while we worked, then went back up after some tumble drying, looking far brighter than they had before. I thought Ginny had matched the colour of the paint exactly to the blue and yellow curtains.

When Ginny had finished with the painting I had scrubbed out each of the cupboards in turn, then washed down the front of each one. Spiders had been eliminated one by one with a good deal of squealing and screaming, since neither of us were particularly fond of them, and their webs had been dealt with accordingly. Then the floor had been scrubbed and swept until it almost shone.

“It’s a different kitchen,” Ginny said, standing in the doorway to gain full effect of her work. “I don’t think it ever looked this good to begin with.”

She was proud of her work and I didn’t blame her. I had helped her out wherever I could, but it was Ginny who had done the hard work, shifting and moving furniture as we painted. Still, I had to agree, the kitchen looked like something from a magazine picture.

“What’s next?” I asked, and she grinned, wickedly.

“The entire house, Lana, that’s my plan. Each room, one by one, every time he goes away for any reasonable length of time. Will you help me?”

“I won’t be here that long,” I said, reluctantly. “And I should have been doing Jack’s accounts today really.”

“Leave them for tomorrow,” Ginny suggested. “It’ll buy you longer in the house. Listen, I have to go, but I’ll pick you up first thing in the morning for that doctor appointment, okay?”

I nodded, then helped her to carry her decorating materials back to her car. It was beginning to get very cold indeed as I waved goodbye to her, so I went hurriedly back inside and quickly locked all the doors with the new keys. I did a complete tour of the cottage, including the upstairs rooms, checking all windows to make sure they were closed.

I was slightly bemused by the presence of Jonus in the garden again. He stood by the wall looking at what appeared to be directly at me, although I was sure he couldn’t see me behind the curtain. Feeling uneasy, I watched until he turned and climbed the wall, walking slowly back across the field towards the barn. I stood at the window and watched for another fifteen minutes, but he didn’t return and I saw no other movements.

Feeling rather tired from the day’s activities, I went to make myself a sandwich and a cup of tea, thinking that I would look over some of Jack’s paperwork for a while. It occurred to me that I had landed myself in a rather awkward situation. I had no idea why anyone would want to threaten Jack like they were, apart from the fact that he did seem to have a knack for upsetting people with his bad attitude. Jonus gave me the creeps and I didn’t like the idea of him being out there watching me, but I still had to wonder why he wanted to bother Jack so much. Unless it was as Jack said, and he was resenting the fact he was no longer wanted at the cottage. It seemed to me that there were more than a few skeletons in the closets around here, and Jack was bearing the brunt of everyone’s anger.

I carried my sandwich and cup of tea into the living room, where I made up the fire to keep the room warm. Then I fetched Jack’s box and sat down to sort it into date order. I didn’t want to go to bed, fearing another late night intruder, even though the locks were changed, so I did my best to convince myself I wasn’t tired.

I was surprised when the mobile phone rang a little while later. It made me jump and it was a moment or two before I remembered what it was, but I snatched it up and answered it to Jack.

It surprised me to find how comforted I was just to hear his voice, although he didn’t have much to say, just asked me if everything was all right and if the locks were changed yet. I assured him that all was fine, that I was going through his paperwork, but said nothing about the newly decorated kitchen because Ginny wanted to keep it a secret until he came home.

When he rang off I returned to my task, but soon my eyes were heavy and I desperately wanted to sleep. Rather uncomfortable in the chair, and having held out as long as I could before my eyes began to close of their own accord, I went to lie on the mattress hoping that nothing would happen. Since I didn’t open my eyes until eight o’clock the following morning, I assumed that it hadn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

Ginny kept her word and drove me to her doctor that morning, and I had very mixed feelings about the visit. I had to register with him, which meant giving details of my last doctor so he could ask for my notes to be forwarded to him, and I gave Jack’s address as my present one in the hope he wouldn’t mind. In any case, by the time he found out I would be long gone.

It was a relief to hear the baby’s heartbeat and to be told it was just fine and growing normally, but the news that I was far further forward into the pregnancy than I had thought, was devastating. I was quiet as Ginny drove me back to Jack’s cottage, but thankfully Ginny seemed immersed in her own thoughts and didn’t ask me too many questions once she was assured the baby was fine. I didn’t say anything about the due date. I had finally been forced to think about the impending birth and the horrors that came with it. In just a few short weeks I was to have this baby, like it or not, and I had to think seriously about where I wanted to be. Although I didn’t want to discuss it with Ginny right at this moment, I was hoping she might stick with me and help me through the last few weeks since I didn’t have anyone else to ask. If I thought about going into labour alone, in a place where I didn’t know anyone, it just got me worked up into a state where I felt hardly able to breathe.

Ginny didn’t stay for long once we got back to the cottage, just a quick cup of tea and she went home to wait for Dan. Since there were so many questions regarding the baby bouncing around in my mind, I decided to make a start with Jack’s accounts in an effort to push them all to the back of my head and forget them for a while.

In fact, I became so engrossed in the accounts that I didn’t realise how the time passed, and when a knock sounded on the front door I almost jumped out of my skin. Outside it was dark, and I hadn’t pulled the curtains together, so whoever stood at the door had probably seen me sitting at the kitchen table pouring over the books, so I was not going to get away with not answering the door. I stood up and tried to calm shaking nerves as I went into the hallway and looked at the door. I pulled in a deep breath as another knock hammered the door.

“I know you’re in there. Answer the door please.”

I pulled back the chain that the locksmith had fitted as well as new locks, and opened the door just a little. I peered through the crack and saw a man, tall and clad in a dark suit looking back at me, disdainfully.

“Jack isn’t here at the moment,” I said, nervously. “He’ll be back soon, I expect. Can you call back later?” I hoped that might be enough to discourage him, but he persisted.

“I have a message for him. Let me in.”

“I don’t really know Jack all that well,” I said. “It would be far better for you to return when he comes home.”

“Then who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“I…..I’m his accountant,” I said, in a rush of breath. “I’m not likely to be here much longer myself. I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in. I don’t know who you are.”

“What’s your name?” He sounded suspicious and I wondered how well he knew Jack.

“Lana Collier.”

“You look very young to be an accountant.” He pushed at the door suddenly, and not expecting it, I was unable to stop him getting one foot into the space he created. I stepped back hurriedly as he pushed again at the door, certain he was going to attack me, or at the least push me to the floor. Instead he just stepped inside the door and looked at me, his disdainful gaze dropping to my stomach.

“Dear God,” he said. “Jack has gone and got another trollop pregnant.”

I didn’t like him. Straight away I didn’t like him, and certainly didn’t care for the way he was talking about me. “I am certainly no trollop,” I snapped.

“I wasn’t aware he was keeping somebody else here,” the man continued. “Although I can’t say that I’m surprised, he was never a careful sort.”

“This is not Jack’s baby,” I insisted, although why I felt the need to give out that information to this self-important man, I didn’t know. He had a stupid smile on his face, the sort of smile you felt you wanted to wipe off with a good smack across it. He was quite tall and imposing in his dark pinstriped suit, obviously a very expensive suit judging by the cut of it, and he had a handkerchief neatly folded into his breast pocket. A plain red tie was over a crisp white shirt and he brushed at invisible specks of dust on his sleeve as he spoke, almost as if he thought he was picking up something nasty just by being in the house. His eyes were a pale, watery blue, his skin sallow, probably from spending too much time inside an office, and his hair was greased back from his forehead, a look I didn’t particularly like. His lips were thin, almost snarling.

“What’s your message?” I asked, wondering if he would leave if I promised to pass on his message.

“I’d like to know who you are before I tell you that,” he said, haughtily. “I’ve certainly not seen you around before. How do I know you aren’t a thief trying to take what belongs to my brother?” Not that he has anything worth stealing, I don’t suppose.”

Jack’s brother? What was it Ginny had called him? Jonathan, that was it. So this was Jack’s older brother, and I knew immediately why Jack didn’t like him. They couldn’t be more different, not only in looks but personality too, and while Jack wasn’t easy to get along with, I much preferred him to Jonathan.

“Look,” I said, thinking it best to be straight with him since he was Jack’s brother and probably entitled to come and visit whenever it suited him. “I’m just staying for a couple of days. What was your message? I can pass it on to Jack as soon as he gets home.”

“And why are you staying here? Are you a relative of that wife of his?”

“Uh, yes,” I answered, not wanting to deal with any awkward question. “I came to visit for a while, that’s all.” I wished he would leave, but he didn’t appear to want to. Instead he walked slowly past me into the kitchen and stared all around it.

“Somebody has been busy,” he said, sarcastically. “I suppose this was Ginny’s doing, since Jack seems to be used to living in a pit. She always did follow him around like a sick puppy.”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said, hastily. He was worrying me because I wanted to ask him to leave and couldn’t for fear of him turning nasty. His eyes were cold as he looked towards me standing at the table, by the accounts book. Then he walked over to pull the book around, laughing at the mess it was in. “Typical of Jack,” he said. “He was never one for book work of any kind. It’s a wonder he can read at all considering the amount of time Bryn let him take off school.”

“What was the message?” I asked again.

“What?”

“The message you want me to pass on to Jack. He’ll be back in the morning.” Suddenly I was wishing he was here now.

“Oh that! I want him to meet me sometime. Perhaps he could call me as soon as he returns from wherever he has gone. Tell him it’s in his own interest to set a time where we can talk.”

“I’ll tell him” I moved towards the door thinking that now he had passed along his message he would leave, but still he didn’t make a move towards the door. Instead he came much closer to me, so close that I could smell the garlic on his breath and I held my own because I didn’t like the stench. He was smiling, but his eyes were still cold and he was obviously enjoying my discomfort.

“I want to know who you are, Lana Collier,” he said. “I want to know why you are here. Jonus told me Jack was keeping female company, but not that you were pregnant.”

I felt my face flush red and anger swept through me at his words. How dare he suggest such a thing! “I told you that I was only staying for a couple of days and that I am not living with Jack, nor is he keeping female company, as you put it.”

“Okay,” he said, nonchalantly, pulling out a chair and sitting himself down. He was still smiling and he knew he was frightening me. “If you were related to that wife of his you’ll know the answers to some questions I have concerning that marriage.”

“Why should that be any business of yours?” I countered, although when his features hardened and his eyes turned to icy blue I thought I might have pushed my luck a bit far. I didn’t know this man, he could become violent for all I knew. The less I had to say for myself the better off I would be.

“What are his plans for this place? I’ve heard on the grapevine that he has financial troubles. Is that right?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said, coldly. “It’s none of my business either.” It was interesting though. Perhaps it accounted for the fact that he was so bad tempered all the time if he was in financial difficulty. I hadn’t got that far into his books to know what sort of a state he was in.

“But it would become your business, surely, if you are his accountant.” He pulled the book slowly towards him again.

Wondering how I was going to avoid his questions, I looked up as a car pulled to a sudden halt outside the window. I couldn’t see who got out of it because the headlights shone directly into the kitchen, but Jonathan obviously had an idea who it was, because he shot out of the chair and threw a look of contempt towards the window. I moved to the other side of the room, not sure what was going on as a man bolted through the kitchen door at what seemed like ninety miles an hour, stopping in front of Jonathan.

“Did he hurt you?”

I took it that the question was directed at me. This was the man I had seen in the lorry park the night Jack had picked me up off the road, the man Ginny had described as an easy going sort, never losing his temper. He didn’t appear to be in control of his temper right now.

I shook my head, quickly. “No, he didn’t hurt me, but I asked him to leave and he won’t go.”

“Out!” Dan pointed at the door. “You know that Jack doesn’t want you here, especially since he’s not even here.”

“And you know that he probably didn’t want me to find out about the trollop he’s keeping here,” Jonathan replied, frostily. “I can only wonder what Bryn would make of all this.”

“Bryn would have shaken his hand and congratulated him,” Dan shot back. “If she thought that was what he was doing, but as it is, Lana is only staying for a few days.”

“I told him I was going home soon,” I added.

“Jonathan is going home now,” Dan said. “Goodbye, Jonathan. Don’t come back unless Jack invites you, and that’ll be when hell freezes. There are a lot of things me and Jack haven’t forgotten yet.”

I wanted to smile at the change in Jonathan. No longer did he look so imposing, but slunk past me and made his way to the front door without another word. Dan watched him go, then went to the open door and waited there until Jonathan’s car disappeared into the lane beyond the gates. Then he visibly relaxed and turned back to me with a grin on his face.

“You okay?”

“Fine, but I’m glad you came in when you did. How did you know he was here?”

“I was in the pub for a quick pint, happened to be looking out of the window when he drove by and noticed him come in this direction. Jack doesn’t like him to be here, so don’t open the door to him next time.”

“I’m glad you came,” I repeated, suddenly weary.

“Come and sit down,” he said, taking my arm and leading me into the warmth of the living room. He put more wood on the fire to build it up, then made us both a cup of tea and sat with me while he drank his. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?” he asked, and I knew Ginny was right about him being so considerate. Dan James was a good man and Ginny was a very lucky woman. This was the first time I had seen him properly, since it had been dark last time and difficult to make out his features, but he looked to be about the same height as Jack, and had hair almost as dark. Where Jack’s was on the wild side and uncut, Dan’s was neatly trimmed and he was clean-shaven. His eyes were a deep brown, caring eyes. I always thought you could tell a lot about a person just by looking into their eyes, and I knew Dan was kind. He wore blue jeans, a blue shirt and a heavy anorak over it.

“I’ll be fine, really.” That was all I seemed to say lately, convincing others I was really fine, when inside I felt the worst I had ever felt in my life. “Jack will be home tomorrow.”

“For one night, maybe two, then he’ll be on the road again.”

“Oh!” I hadn’t thought of that.

“Can’t keep Jack in one place for long, or else he’ll suffocate. It’s all that aggression in him. If he stays still for too long he has to think about his life, and he doesn’t want to do that. He needs to be on the road at the moment because that’s what he loves doing. He didn’t used to be like it, but personally I think he never really got over Karen’s death and it eats away at him all of the time.”

“Was he married for long?” I asked.

“Two years, and he knew her for a couple of years before that. She’s the reason he went to Yorkshire, and I suppose she’s the reason he came back here when she died. He blames himself for her death and can’t stand to be in the place where it happened.”

“Why does he blame himself?”

“She died in a car crash. He’d been going to go with her that day, but the company he was working for asked him to do an extra run and he didn’t get home on time. Karen went out by herself and never came back.”

“That’s really sad.” Poor Jack, I was thinking. With all those troubles on his mind it was no wonder he was so difficult.

Dan leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him. He ran fingers through his hair, then looked directly at me. “I need to ask you a question, a personal one.”

“Okay,” I said, uneasily.

“Your baby – is it his? I mean, he hasn’t said anything, but he can be a dark horse when he wants to be. If he got you into trouble and……..”

“It’s not his baby,” I said. “I only met him the other night.”

“Then it’s true, that you tried to throw yourself under his wheels?”

It was another direct question and one that really put me on the spot. In the end I decided honesty was the better policy. “I was thinking about it.” I confessed. “In the end I passed out and fell into the road.” As he frowned at me I tried to defend my actions. “I didn’t know what else to do. I’ve nowhere to go, no money, and I don’t want to cause more problems for him, but I just don’t know what else to do.”

Dan nodded slowly. “Jack only came back about a month ago. I didn’t actually think he ever would because he never had good relationships with his family, except for Ginny and possibly Bryn. Bryn died around the same time as Karen and left him this place in her will. It took me a year to track him down, and when I did he was virtually living in the truck, but he had stayed up in Yorkshire. He’d walked out of the house they’d bought together and never gone back. Once I gave him the news about Bryn and the cottage, he vowed never to come back, but then he suddenly turned up here out of the blue. He has to work a lot, whenever he can, just to keep the bills paid. I don’t know why he came back, he walked out on a bloody good contract up in Yorkshire, but what I do know is I’m glad to have him back, and so is Ginny.” Dan paused for a moment, then continued.

“Jack’s a mate, a really good one. He’s had some hard times and doesn’t need any more.”

“You’re talking about me now.”

Dan shifted, uncomfortably. “Let’s just say that I know Jack better than anybody, and there’s no way he would have stopped to pick up a hitch hiker, pregnant or otherwise. It’s had me worried ever since Ginny said he brought you back here.”

I didn’t meet Dan’s eyes, feeling that he was disapproving of me and would have no wish to associate with me further. “I’ve nowhere to go. It was despicable, what I did, and I really regret having done it, but at the time it just seemed to be the only way out.” I felt the tears run down my cheeks again, but to my surprise Dan didn’t say anything, just took my hand and patted it.

“Seems to me that you need some looking after, just like Jack. I didn’t mean to upset you, I just care a lot about him.”

“I won’t hurt him, I couldn’t.”

“Good.” Dan smiled. “Ginny’s pretty keen to see that you get the help you need, to maybe it will all work out for the best.” He stood up and drained his cup. “I’d better be on my way before Ginny starts phoning around after me.” He grinned again. “You two hit it off well.”

I nodded. “I like Ginny, and I really appreciate the help.”

He put a hand on my shoulder as he went by. “I wish you the best of luck, Lana. Make sure you lock all the doors when I go, and put that chain across. Oh, and keep that phone by your side.”

“I will.”

When Dan had gone I did as he said, locked all the doors and returned to my books, but I was unable to concentrate on them further. My mind was on Jack and what I had learned about him tonight, and if I was to admit it only to myself, I was really looking forward to his return.

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Jack was back on Saturday afternoon and despite my wishing for his return, I soon began to think otherwise. He was quiet, unresponsive when I asked him about his trip, and when I told him of Jonathan’s visit he threw his latest lot of paperwork on the coffee table in the sitting room and disappeared upstairs for a while. I followed him cautiously about half an hour later to tell him I had already heated enough water for a bath if he wanted one. He was sitting on his bed, head in hands, with a letter on the duvet at his side, and so I stopped at the door, reluctant to go in. I turned to leave, but he had already seen me and called me back.

“What did you want?” he asked, but not harshly or anything. He looked tired, worn out.

“To tell you there’s enough water for a bath if you want it.”

“Do I look as if I need one?” he snapped, taking me completely by surprise.

My first response was to tell him, yes, he did look as if he needed one. He hadn’t bothered to shave all the time he had been away, so he now had the beginnings of a beard rather than stubble, and his hair could have used a wash, cut and comb. His clothes were dirty, which I might have expected in his line of work, but the least he cold do was change them once he got home. I held my tongue though. It wasn’t my business to tell him so and I didn’t want to get into any lengthy arguments with him. “Well, it’s there if you want it,” was all I said.

He stood up, slowly, stretched and rubbed at his lower back. As I watched he caught sight of his own reflection in a mirror on the wall above a chest of drawers and it stopped him in his tracks, as if that was the first time he had seen himself in months. Ruefully he turned back to me.

“I do need a bath, don’t I?”

“You need a shave as well.” Well, it had to be said. He did.

Rubbing at his beard, thoughtfully, he sighed. “I read somewhere that a lot of women think beards are sexy.”

“Not yours, not from where I’m standing,” I declared. “When was the last time you had your hair cut?”

He stared at me for a while, sort of half smiled. “What is this, kick a man while he’s down?”

“Just saying it as I see it,” I said. “You look a mess.”

“And so did you when I picked you up off that road.”

That one hurt! Maybe I had gone too far, but there was a limit to my own patience and he had insulted me enough. I backed out of the room.

“No answer to that?” he called after me.

“It doesn’t matter what I think. I’ll be gone soon and you can do as you please. I don’t care if you wash or shave and I don’t care what you think about me.” But I did. I cared what he thought about me, stupid though it was. I started to walk away but he came to the bedroom door and stopped me.

“Can I trust you?” he asked, changing the tone completely and surprising me yet again. I wouldn’t have thought he’d trust me, not after what I had done to him.

“I’m doing your accounts, aren’t I?”

He nodded, went back to the bed and picked up the letter to bring it to me. “I’ll go and have that bath,” he said. “Can you read that and tell me what you think when I come down?”

I took the letter to the kitchen with me. Jack hadn’t been in here since his return, having parked the lorry then sat in the living room to drink the coffee I had fetched for him, then he had gone directly upstairs. I was keen to see what he thought of it, for all Ginny’s comments I doubted he could really be that bad. Surely he would appreciate the fact that we had done it for him, and the kitchen did look so much brighter.

The letter was from Yorkshire, from a couple that signed themselves off as Joanna and Richard Fowler, and after reading the letter for the first time I realised they were the parents of his dead wife, therefore, his in-laws. It was rather a nicely worded letter and I took them to be a nice couple, who, after the tragedy of losing their daughter had taken pity on their son-in-law when he had landed himself in a lot of trouble and had decided to help him. It told him that the house belonging to Karen and himself had finally been sold, and after everything had been sorted out it had left Jack with a debt of twenty thousand pounds. They, as a couple, had paid it for him, leaving him owing them the money, which they clearly stated they were in no immediate hurry for, but would obviously need it for their own future.

I put the letter down and pulled his accounts back to me as I sat at the table. While he had been doing fairly well running as an owner-operator of his lorry, he wasn’t doing nearly well enough to consider another loan of twenty thousand pounds, especially since he already had heavy finance on the lorry itself.

He came down an hour later and I found it difficult not to draw a sharp breath. He had shaved, so this was the first time I had seen him clean shaven, and his hair, while still wet, was combed tidily. He was wearing clean jeans and a blue shirt, undone over a white tee shirt, trainers on his feet. I made a conscious effort to pull myself together before he realised how I was staring at him, but I couldn’t help it. Those eyes were so blue, and I had never seen a man that took my breath away like this. He looked absolutely perfect to me.

“Better?” he asked, holding out his arms and turning around. “I’ll get a haircut next time I’m in Truro, if madam doesn’t mind?”

“Much better, and I don’t mind.”

“Thanks.” He smiled at me. “And thanks for getting the water hot. I feel better for it.” He looked past me at the walls, as if he had suddenly realised they had changed, and his smile disappeared. “Who did this?”

“Mostly Ginny, with my help. That’s why I’m a bit behind with your accounts.”

He pulled out a chair and sat down at the table. “I’ll need to have words with that sister of mine.”

“Don’t you like it?” I asked, thinking that perhaps Ginny was right and he wasn’t going to appreciate our hard work and effort. “It looks so much brighter and it’s defiantly cleaner.”

His face showed no expression at all as he studied the room. He looked at the floor, now scrubbed so clean it was a different colour, then at the walls. “Who decided on yellow?”

“Ginny did.”

“She might have asked me first.”

My heart sank as I realised he didn’t like it. “But it’s so cheerful, and it will be like summertime all year through, don’t you think?” He still didn’t smile. “What colour would you have chosen?” I asked.

“Blue.”

“Blue is so cold,” I cried. “This is so much nicer than a cold colour, and you really need something warm and cheery in a room this size.” I shut up then. This was hardly my kitchen, so it didn’t matter what I thought. “Oh, well,” I said, eventually, “if you want to paint it blue, then you’ll have to do it yourself, and since Ginny said you’ll never get around to it, then it will stay yellow.”

He laughed, suddenly. “Ginny said that?”

“She did.”

“Ginny says too much.”

“She knows you too well,” I retorted.

He laughed again. “Very true. Do you want to come down to the pub tonight?”

“What?”

“You don’t have to. Ginny and Dan will be there and I said I’d meet them, so if you want to come, I’ll take you.”

“Oh!” For a moment I didn’t know what to say. “Why?”

“Why not? You had Jonathan to contend with, you’ve taken care of this place, even if the kitchen is yellow, so the least I can do is buy you a drink.”

I glanced down at myself, in maternity jeans and an old sweater over the top of the shirt I still hadn’t given him back. “But I look such a state!”

“You look okay to me.”

“Do I? Do I really?” I was fishing for compliments and he didn’t deserve to be put on the spot, but I had felt so dowdy for so long that I relished the idea of a compliment, especially if it came from Jack.

“Yeah,” was all he said as he took up the letter again. “Did you read this?”

I sat down at the table, spirits dampened by his less-than-enthusiastic reply. I could have been standing there wrapped in an old curtain and he wouldn’t have said anything different. “Yes, I read the letter.”

“What do you think?”

“I think you don’t stand a hope in hell’s chance of paying them back in the not-to-distant future.” I was blunt and he looked at me over the top of the letter.

“Then what do you think I should do?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Yeah.”

“Sell this place, it’s about all you can do. Okay, my turn. Now you tell me what I should do.” I was bitter and sounded it. He had a nerve, asking me to deal with his problems when mine were just as big and a lot more pressing.

“Get your baby adopted, find a job,” he said, flatly. “Hell, neither of us will have a place to live then.” He put down the letter and sighed hard. “Do you drive?”

“Yes.”

“Good, we’ll take my car to the pub. I want to get so drunk that I don’t have to think about any of this for a while. You can drive me home.”

“Good, that will keep my head nice and clear so I can think about my problems all night,” I shot back at him, but rather than glare at me as I thought he might, he merely grinned.

“You’re pregnant, you’re not allowed to drink.”

That was it, my bitterness left me and I laughed. God, he looked so nice that I would have given anything to have his arms around me, holding me for a while. “But that means you have to be seen in public with me. Are you sure you want that?”

His eyes darkened slightly and his forehead creased into a frown. “What makes you think I don’t want to be seen with you?”

“Oh, come off it, you know you don’t want to.”

“I don’t mean to be like that.”

“So you’ll buy me a coke and let me sit at the same table all evening?”

“The plan is to get Dan to buy the drinks, but yeah, you can sit at the same table.” He was still grinning infuriatingly at me. “What have we got to eat? I’m starving.”

I didn’t do much, just beans on toast, but he ate it all and didn’t grumble. He brought a car from the garage on the driveway, nothing much to speak of, just a ten year old Volkswagen that had seen better days. He obviously thought more of the lorry than he did his car. He parked it right outside the door of the pub in the village, handing me the keys as we walked inside.

“Just make sure I get home,” he said, before pushing me through the doors.

To say I was the centre of attraction was understating it a little. As we stepped inside it went quiet and I felt a flush come to my cheeks as we appeared to be stared at from every corner of the room. When I heard my name called, I was relieved to see Dan and Ginny sitting at a window table, and gratefully I went to join them, glad of the chance to sit down. Jack went directly to the bar and didn’t appear to have noticed the stir we caused on entry.

“I didn’t expect to see you,” Ginny was saying, although it was plain to see from the look on her face that she was pleased I was there. Dan greeted me cheerfully too.

“I feel like I’m on show,” I whispered.

“Only until the next attraction comes along,” Dan joked. “They’ll forget all about you when the pink circus elephant walks through and juggles beer mats.”

“Very funny,” I said, and Ginny punched him playfully.

The pub was fairly typical of the type we had by us when I lived at home. A country pub, where the locals came to drink and gossip, and where newcomers struggled to fit in. The walls were decorated with dusty photographs of the village as it had been in olden times, and the pub seemed to have stood here since the beginning of time. There was just one room that later on would fill with cigarette smoke until it made your eyes burn, and the bar ran nearly the length of it. One end of the room was dominated by the large open fireplace, in which a fire now burned, keeping the room cosy and warm. The floor had been carpeted, although it was probably laid directly onto stone judging by the lumps in it, and how hard it felt underneath my feet. Curtains hung at each window, discoloured by time and nicotine, and the tables and chairs were old-fashioned wooden ones, darkened and pitted.

Quite a few people had come in for the evening, but apart from ourselves they were mostly sitting around in couples, or alone with a solitary pint in front of them. As I took all this in I was drawn to one man sitting alone in a darkened corner, and who was staring at me in a way I didn’t like, as if he hated me, or was repulsed by me. I didn’t stare back, but when Jack returned to take his place at the table and block the man’s line of vision, I was relieved.

“Did Jonathan come back?” Dan asked.

I shook my head. “I’m glad you came over last night, Dan. He was beginning to worry me.” I saw Jack’s face darken at the mention of Jonathan’s name as he put a coke in front of me. He face was set, his mouth in a grim line and I wanted to get off the subject of his brother. “Ginny, I think Jack likes the kitchen.”

“I didn’t say that,” he protested.

“He didn’t say he didn’t like it.”

“I said it should have been blue.”

“It’s staying yellow,” Ginny insisted.

“So Lana said.”

“I liked it,” Dan added.

“You would! You agree with everything Ginny says because she’s your wife and you’re frightened of her. That’s why you ended up with such a bloody wreck of a lorry.”

“She’s your sister, Clayton, and you’re just as scared of her as I am.”

Ginny looked across at me, her face a picture of mock horror. “Will you listen to these two? Anyone would think I was a wicked old witch.”

“Don’t say it, Jack,” Dan warned. “She is my wife and I have to listen to her. You just have to put up with her decorating your house, and I don’t know why you bother to argue over it when it saves you the trouble of having to do it yourself.”

They continued like that for a while and I laughed at them. They were all so much at ease with each other that I felt like an outsider, even though they didn’t treat me as one. Jack was drinking quickly, obviously living up to his intention of blotting out his own troubles, but I saw Ginny frown a couple of times, as if she didn’t approve of what he was doing.

“Jack?” A short, stocky, middle-aged man stood just behind Jack and put one hand on his shoulder. “How are you for work? My Coral needs that car of hers serviced and I wondered if you could do it.”

“Yeah.” Jack nodded his head. “Can’t give you an exact time.”

“No rush. The longer she’s without it, the better I keep tabs on her.” He laughed at his own joke. I had seen him behind the bar when I came in and guessed that he would most probably be the landlord, since his chubby face had a permanently red complexion, probably due to continuous drinking.

“Yeah, I can see how you’d need to do that,” Jack said, draining the beer in his glass. “Can I have another, Tony?”

“Coral, fetch Jack another drink,” Tony bellowed, and I glanced around him to the young girl at the bar. She looked about twenty-three, but my guess would put her at about eighteen or nineteen. Her hair was dyed blonde and was piled up on top of her head with little wisps trailing everywhere. She was heavily made up, but was pretty enough she could have done without half of it. She tottered over to our table on ridiculously high heels that made her as tall as Jack and tower over Tony. Her skirt was so short that it barely covered her backside and the tee shirt she had on was tight enough to reveal a cleavage worth boasting about. Before my pregnancy I had a figure I never had to worry about, I ate what I wanted and didn’t put on weight and got away with as little exercise as possible. Seeing Coral’s figure put me into an envious frame of mind and I wondered if mine would ever be the same once I’d had the baby.

“Jack’s going to do your car for you, love,” Tony said. “You might have to wait a bit, though.”

“Oh, Jack!” Coral pouted, leaning over Jack’s shoulder to put his drink in front of him and I noticed how she pushed her ample bosom towards him in such a way that he had little choice but see it. She also made sure her body brushed up against his, making Tony’s face redden further. “Can’t you do it tomorrow for me?”

Jack took up his drink. “Bring it out tomorrow and I’ll see what I can do, but I won’t be able to get parts until Monday.” He looked her up and down, taking in the short skirt and I felt a sudden pang of jealousy at the way he looked at her. “Damn, that’s the tightest skirt I ever saw, Coral.”

“Do you like it?” Coral did a twirl in front of him, tugging the skirt down as she saw Tony’s expression. Sensing she had better change the subject she turned to me. “Hello, I’m Coral Porter.”

“Lana,” I said.

“You a friend of Ginny’s then”

“Yes, but I’m staying at Jack’s for a few days.”

“Are you.” She was instantly frosty towards me and pouted at Jack again. I smiled at the way he ignored her.

“This is my daughter,” Tony informed me. “I’m Tony Porter, landlord of this establishment.” He shook my hand and welcomed me to the village. “Come in again.”

“She’s not staying that long,” Jack said, unpleasantly. He was drinking this pint as quickly as the last, and his mood wasn’t improving. Tony and Coral left us to go back to serving other customers, although I was still entertained for a while by Coral’s attempts to get Jack’s attention.

Albert Dunn, the cab driver whose number Jack had given me, joined us later, although it was Dan who introduced him to me, since Jack didn’t bother. I liked Albert straight away, although he barely stopped talking long enough to get a word in edgeways. He had very tanned, leathery skin and piercing blue eyes, but his face appeared to have shrunk back into the mane of grey, wavy hair he had sprouting off in all directions from beneath a flat, cloth cap. He had to be nearing sixty, I decided, and he had lived in Pengarlden all of his life. He’d known Jack, Ginny and Dan since they were babies. Ruby, his wife of many years, had been the local midwife and had seen most of the babies of the village into the world during her working years.

“Bit of a lad, he was,” Albert told me, nodding his head towards Jack, who wasn’t appreciating the attention. “Both of them, really, but Jack was the worst. Little sod, he was. Never in school when he was supposed to be, but then, half that was Bryn’s fault for not pushing him there.” He winked at me. “I think she liked to have him around her when she was lonely.”

“Thanks, Albert,” Jack said.

“There was a few around here that would have liked to take a belt to him,” Albert continued happily, taking no hint from Jack. “But nobody would have done.”

“Why not?” I asked, intrigued by this journey into Jack’s past.

“His father did enough of that.” There was silence for a while, and Jack stared moodily into his beer glass.

I was drawn once more to the horrible man in the corner of the room, who had now risen shakily from his chair and was lurching towards the bar. His clothes were old and dirty, his shoes were held together by pieces of string rather than laces, and the sweater he wore underneath a scruffy jacket was full of holes. His face was covered by a dirty grey stubble and he had the red-rimmed eyes and bloated face of an alcoholic.

“I would have taken a bloody belt to him,” he said, gruffly. “If I could have got hold of him. Little bastard deserved it, too.”

“You weren’t quick enough then, Tom, and you’re even slower now.” Jack didn’t look up from his glass, didn’t laugh or smile as he said those words and they were said with belligerence. I watched his face as he said them, his lips almost in a snarl, his fist clenched tightly by the side of the glass. Tom started to cough, struggling to catch his breath through an awful choking fit, and it was then that Jack turned around to watch him. “Go for it, Tom,” he said. “You’ll cough yourself into an early grave one of these days, and I’ll come dance on it for you.”

My gaze turned to Dan as he put down his own beer, and he was sitting on the edge of his chair watching Jack carefully. My heart began to beat faster as the tension in the room built, and I’m sure everyone felt it as much as I did. The old man recovered from his coughing fit and raised a bloated face to Jack as he pointed a gnarled finger towards him.

“You should have died at birth, boy. Put down like a puppy that ain’t wanted.”

I almost choked on my coke and put the glass down hurriedly. The old man’s voice, the way he said those last words, reminded me of the voices I had heard in the cottage the other night. I wasn’t sure, but I would definitely put him down as a contender for the title, and I would tell Jack later, when his mood had improved slightly. If I were to come out with that sort of information now, there was no telling what he might do to the old man. Jack had returned to his beer, taking no notice of Tom as the old man hovered behind him, and tipped the remains of his drink into his mouth. I counted it as his sixth. Ginny was pleading with him to leave Tom be, and Dan made a comment about it being time to go home.

“I want another drink,” Jack said.

I saw the door open slightly and somebody push their way in through the small gap in the watching crowd to come and stand near our table, recognising Jonus, although this was the first time I had seen him up close. He was very short, not much more than five foot in height, and the old trench coat was unbuttoned at the front to reveal layers of clothing so thick it made him look twice as big round as he actually was. He removed the floppy hat, better to see with, and as I watched, intrigued by his appearance, for a few seconds his eyes met mine. I had never seen eyes like his. They weren’t blue, nor were they brown, but some weird sort of colour in between, and they were deep. His face was chubby and round, giving the impression of childishness and his face was either very clean shaven or he actually didn’t grow any facial hair. He would have been as old as Albert or Tom I thought, but the eyes held something I wasn’t able to fathom. They made me shiver, and I looked away.

“No more drinks, Jack,” Dan said. Like me he had seen the newcomer and got straight to his feet as if he expected more trouble. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”

“That’s it, go on home,” Tom gloated, “And take your whore with you.”

Dan was in front of me before it had registered with my brain that it was me he was referring to. I felt my face flush bright red as every face seemed to turn to me, but as I tried to get to my feet Dan made sure I stayed where I was. He stood between Tom and me, at Jack’s side.

“That wasn’t called for, Tom. Lana is just a friend and you owe her an apology.”

“It’s all right,” I heard myself mumble, “I’ll go back to the cottage.”

But Tom hadn’t finished and he pointed at my stomach. “Another bastard baby to be born into that damned cottage.” He spluttered and coughed again, but it was the newcomer that I was watching. He was jumping up and down in excitement, and his eyes were shining brightly.

“Spawn of the devil,” he lamented. His voice was high-pitched, like a child’s, and at the first word Jack had put down his glass and spun around to look at him.

“Jonus!” he said. “I want to talk to you.”

“Leave it, Jack,” Dan warned.

But Jack already had hold of one of the old man’s sleeves and Jonus was crying high pitched wails. “Have you been inside that cottage lately? Is it you that knows where the key is?” He shook the old man violently until Dan pulled him away. Then Jonus retreated to the bar and the safety of the crowd.

“Devil’s spawn,” he taunted. “Devil’s spawn, Devil’s spawn.”

Ginny came to put her arm around my shoulder. “Take no notice of him,” she said, but it was hard not to and I wanted to burst into tears again.

Jack tried to get to Jonus, but Dan was hanging on to his arm. “Shut it, Jonus,” he contented himself with shouting, but it resulted in hysterical laughter from the old tramp. It sent shivers right through me.

“You’re the Devil, and she’s carrying the Devil’s spawn,” Jonus shrieked, then he glared at me.

I did burst into tears this time. The whole room suddenly became very still and quiet. Tony and Coral stood behind the bar, not sure what to make of the proceedings, but Coral sent me a look that said exactly what she was thinking – that my baby was Jack’s. I wanted to shout out that it wasn’t, but I was already embarrassed enough and Jack was absolutely furious. He struggled to loosen Dan’s grip on his jacket.

Tom started laughing and coughing alternately. “See?” he choked, “Jonus might be a brick short of a load, but he knows what you’re like, and he sees what goes on out at that cottage.”

“Outside,” Dan said, taking my elbow while he still had hold of Jack, and he propelled me towards the door. He was on edge and wanted us all out of the way, but Jack was having none of it. Albert had moved to the next table and sat watching quietly, although I thought I saw a hint of concern on his weathered face that might have been for Jack.

Jack had ripped himself from Dan’s grasp and gone to hold his fist under Jonus’s nose, pushing him up against the bar and making him squeal like a pig. I thought him repulsive, yet there was something about him that frightened me. As if he knew something none of us did, something that was going to happen. “You stay away from my cottage,” Jack was warning. “No more notes pinned to my door.”

“Leave him alone,” Tom spluttered. “He’s not all there, you shouldn’t be scaring him like that.”

“I’ll do more than scare him if he shows his face at my cottage again.” Jack growled.

“That’s all you was ever good for,” Tom shouted. “Fisticuffs.”

Dan jumped forward to try and stop Jack but he was too late. Jack had taken Tom by the lapels of his jacket, spun him around and pushed him back across the room to land on top of the table we had been sitting at. The table splintered under his weight and he fell, crashing to the floor and grunting as he landed in a pile of broken wood. The glasses on the table shattered around him and the two chairs fell over. He lay still, obviously too winded even to cough and Tony shot out from behind the bar to stand in front of Jack.

“Out!” he ordered. “For God’s sake, Dan, get him out of here and take him home. He came in here looking for trouble, you should have known that.”

“I’m going,” Jack said, “now I’ve put the drunkard right where he should be.”

“Shut up, Jack!” Dan warned again. “Are you coming home?”

Jack spun on his heel as Jonus began to chant about Devil’s spawn again, his hand raised ready to strike, but Tony was there first.

“Jonus, get out! You’ve been told to stay out of here.”

Jonus didn’t move, just smiled wickedly at Jack. I was willing Dan to pull Jack away before he landed himself in more serious trouble, but finally Jack came to stand by me.

“Wicked blood,” Jonus shrieked when he realised he was safely out of Jack’s range. “You come from wicked blood. Sins of the Devil.”

When Jack tried once more to go back, Dan was quicker and soon had him by the collar, dragging him out through the door and throwing him straight outside into the cold night air. I looked at Tony, who stood over his smashed table shaking his head and muttering curses, then at Tom, who was glaring back at me.

“He’s a troublemaker, and always will be,” he spat at me.

“Come on,” Ginny whispered, and we followed the men out to the car park, where they were arguing with each other. Jack was furious and fully intent on going back in and giving Tom hell, but Dan was having none of it. Jack had had enough to drink to make himself belligerent, but I failed to see why Tom had picked on him in the first place. I actually felt sorry for Jack. In the end Ginny went to stand between them and screamed at them both to stop. They did, Dan standing back and Jack breathing heavily as he looked into the face of his younger sister.

I pulled the car keys from my pocket and unlocked the door. “I’ll drive him home,” I said.

Dan shook his head. “I’m not leaving you with him like this, not in the mood he’s in. Damn that Tom Coleman, and damn Jack for rising to his bait.” He snatched the keys from my hand as I dangled them in front of him. “You go with Ginny, she’ll follow me.”

I did as I was told, sensing that Dan was in no mood for argument either, and as I climbed into the front seat of Ginny’s car I saw that she was quietly crying.

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling the need to apologise, although it hadn’t really been my fault. “I shouldn’t have come.”

“It’s not your fault,” she sniffed. “I just wish Jack would learn not to let them get to him that way. He’s so angry most of the time.”

“Why does Tom hate him so much?”

“I don’t know,” Ginny sighed. “I don’t suppose Jack does either. They’ve been at loggerheads for years and Jack was always hell bent on bothering Tom when he was a boy. Tom despises him. Do you know, Lana, when I was about five or six years old and I was with Jack in the village one day, Tom stopped us in the street and called Jack a bastard to his face. Neither of us knew why he did it, up until then we hardly knew Tom at all, but after that he did it every time he saw Jack, and that’s when Jack began to retaliate. Dad used to hit him so hard to make him stop bothering Tom, but he never would, even when he went to live with Bryn she couldn’t make him stop. It was only once he got a bit older and girls and cars got more interesting that he slowed down, but it still rears up from time to time. Jack will be horrible tonight.”

I said goodbye to her at the end of the drive and walked slowly to the cottage while Dan made sure Jack went inside. “Leave him to it,” was all he said to me. “Best thing to do is leave him alone and let him sleep it off.” Then he went to join Ginny and I was left to follow Jack inside.

I heeded Dan’s advice and left Jack to his own devices. He didn’t want to talk anyway, just made himself some coffee and took it upstairs to his room. I didn’t bother with a drink, but got fully dressed into my bed because it was so cold. I couldn’t sleep though, and lay there restlessly, my thoughts on the arguments that had taken place in the pub.

If I closed my eyes then all I could see were the eyes of Jonus as he shouted the Devil’s spawn thing at me, and it frightened me so much that I didn’t dare close my eyes. Did he really believe that the baby I was carrying belonged to Jack? Is that what everybody had thought?

Later, hearing noises from upstairs, and intrigued enough to make my way cautiously up to Jack’s room, I went to see what was causing them. It soon became apparent that Jack was talking in his sleep, and as he hadn’t bothered to close the door I saw him tossing and turning in his bed.

“Jack?” I whispered, but he must have still been asleep because he didn’t stop. I went quietly to the foot of the bed, my heart pounding at the thought he might wake up and see me. He wouldn’t appreciate me walking into his room in the middle of the night, I was sure.

“Karen,” I heard him moan, and he rolled over onto his side. I ventured nearer. He was crying and moaning in his sleep while he called Karen’s name with such a pitiful voice that it cut straight to my heart. How he must have loved her to be calling her that way. I reached out a hand, wanting to push the damp hair back from his sweating forehead, but I didn’t touch him. He looked so forlorn, so anguished at the loss of his wife that I could easily have cried with him. He had pushed away the covers as he tossed and turned, and I took hold of the duvet with the intention of putting it back over him. He wore only a pair of blue boxer shorts and for a moment I was mesmerised at the sight of his almost naked body. He needed to put on some weight, I thought. Not that he was particularly thin, but gaining a few extra pounds would only serve to enhance what essentially was a good figure. As he moaned again I quickly put the duvet over him, and unable to stop myself I bent to push the damp hair back from his face.

“It’s okay,” I soothed, something like I might have done with a crying child, and I felt rather silly doing it, but it seemed like the right thing to do. He lay quietly again and stopped talking so I withdrew my hand and backed away quickly before he should open his eyes and see me. He didn’t wake though, and I watched him for a while as he slept. He needed looking after, I decided, and from tomorrow morning I would begin doing just that. Jack Clayton was a little boy lost, and all he needed was a guiding hand back in the right direction.

As I climbed back into my bed it occurred to me that I wasn’t exactly the right person to guide him anywhere. After all, didn’t I also need guiding in the right direction, wherever that was? I lay still for a while, listening in case he cried out again, but it all stayed quiet and eventually I slept. When I did I dreamed that Jack’s arms were around me and he was kissing me passionately as Tom Coleman and Jonus shouted insults at us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

I cautiously took coffee to his room the next morning. He woke as I tapped gently on the door, rolling over in the bed and looking at me from under a duvet that was creased and crumpled from a night restlessly spent. His dark hair stuck out in all directions and I wanted to brush it down flat with my hand, but didn’t dare.

“I brought you coffee,” I said, lifting the cup so that he could see it, then placing it on a small table next to his bed.

Pushing the duvet back from his face he dragged himself to a sitting position and leaned his head back against the wall, letting out a low groan. I saw his sheets and pillows were damp with his sweat and that it still glistened on his forehead. He didn’t look as if he had slept very well. Shivering at the early morning chill, he reached for his tee shirt and pulled it on.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, pushing fingers through his hair in an effort to straighten it.

“You were dreaming last night,” I said.

He looked up at me, those blue eyes cold, wondering what I was going to say next, no doubt. “Sorry if I woke you,” he said, sarcastically.

“You didn’t. I was awake anyway. I was worried about you.”

“Worried?” His forehead creased into a frown. “Why?”

I was a bit put out at that. “I didn’t want to be,” I snapped. “I just was.” And then I turned and stamped out of the room. If that was the way he wanted it to be, then so be it. I had tried my best to be reasonable and I knew I was only here because he didn’t have anywhere else to send me, but it wouldn’t do him any harm to speak to me in a civil manner once in a while. I stormed downstairs and sat in front of his accounts again, thinking that it would serve him right if I didn’t do any more, but a deal was a deal and I needed somewhere to stay. Soon I put my head in my hands and sat like that for a long time. In my mind I saw Jack’s face as Tom had told him he should have been put down at birth, and I had seen the pain in those eyes, the hurt and the suffering Tom caused him. That look was implanted in my mind, a picture that wouldn’t go away, and I couldn’t let go.

I picked up my pen and tried to concentrate on the work to hand, but he came down soon after and stood watching me. I pretended not to notice him.

“Sorry,” he said, eventually, then waited for my reply. He didn’t get one. “I’ve got a bad headache,” he said once he realised I wasn’t about to answer him. “I’m sorry I spoke to you like that.”

“Would you like a headache pill?” I gritted.

“In a minute.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” I said, bitterly. “I’ll be gone as soon as I can. I didn’t mean to interfere in your affairs and it won’t happen again.”

He sat down opposite me. I glanced up quickly, but he was holding his hands to his head and grimacing. I pretended to concentrate on the figures in front of me, rather than him. He had obviously washed and shaved because he looked good again, his hair was combed and he had a clean set of clothes on.

“Ginny hasn’t found anything yet?” he asked.

“Not yet, but it won’t be long, I promise you.”

“Only – I don’t mind.”

This time I looked up at him. “Don’t mind what?”

“If you need a couple of extra days.”

“Oh?” I hadn’t expected him to come out with that statement and it took the wind out of my sails for a moment.

“And this kitchen,” he continued, “does look better, even if I hate yellow.”

“It looks bloody fantastic,” I said. “Not just better.”

He sort of smiled. “It looks bloody fantastic then. Very yellow, but fantastic, and I owe you one for helping Ginny do it.”

“No, you don’t. I’d call it somewhere near getting even,” I said. “I still owe you for my life, remember.”

He nodded slowly, leaned forward on the table and rested on his arms. “Tell me something? Did you really intend taking your life that night? I mean….I wondered about it afterwards, whether you did mean it, or whether you were just angry with me and that’s why you said it.”

“I did mean it.” It seemed an awful thing to admit to. “I don’t remember what came over me, but I saw the headlights of your lorry coming towards me and there wasn’t a lot of time to think about it. I was going to step out in front of you once it was too late for you to stop, but instead of that I tried to bottle it, and ended up passing out, and you stopped anyway.”

“Can I ask why?”

I shrugged, slightly embarrassed by his questioning, although he was very serious. His earlier hostility had gone and he was genuinely concerned for me as he spoke. I put down my pen. “You must know how it feels,” I said, slowly, watching his face, testing the water. “When everything gets too much and you don’t know where to turn any more.” He was nodding, so I carried on. “Add being pregnant to the list, depressed, homeless, and bang, you don’t need it.” I tried to laugh but it stuck in my throat and stayed there.

Jack leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “What would you do if you were able to keep the kid? What I mean is, if you had a home and the father wanted it, would you keep it?”

“Yes.” Yes, I knew I would keep it, but I had denied myself admitting it ever since Connor had accused me of sleeping with somebody else. “But I haven’t anyone to help me, and nowhere to live, and this baby will be adopted.”

“When it gets born you might change your mind.”

“I won’t. I can’t. Please, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You’re scared?” he asked. “Of the birth, or looking after it?”

“Both. I’m more scared than I’ve ever been in my life. Now please, let’s leave it.”

“You really can’t go home then?”

I shook my head, vehemently. “There’s nothing to go back for.”

“Don’t you miss your family?”

I did miss them, but for what they had been, not what they had become. Dad was no more than a shell right now and he had made it very plain he didn’t want me living with him, now more than ever since I told him I was pregnant. I’d known that was how he would be, he had his own problems trying to cope without my mother and he was not in any position to help me, even if he wanted to. And my mother, she’d packed her bags and left me with just a note to tell me why. It hadn’t been easy for me to accept that the mum I thought myself so close to had dumped me so easily. I suppose I was twenty at the time and she thought I was old enough to make my own way in the world. Of course, I hadn’t been pregnant at the time. I had a contact number for her in Australia, but doubted I would ever use it, not the way I felt about her at the moment. “I miss the way we used to be,” I said, “but things changed. I don’t want to go home.”

“Can’t argue with you there,” he said. “I never missed my family at all, only Ginny. It must take some guts, just walking out on your own. Can’t be easy for a girl like you.”

“It’s not easy.” I was treading on new ground now. It was the first time he had spoken to me this open and honestly.

“Did the father not want to help?”

I fiddled with the pen, not sure how much I wanted to tell him. While he was sincere at the moment, he could just as quickly turn sarcastic again and throw all my confessions back in my face. “He had a very rich father,” I said. “Who owned nearly every business in the village and around it. My family scraped by, and I wasn’t good enough. The baby was a mistake, and my second mistake was thinking Connor would stand by me.”

“That’s reason enough to leave?”

“Connor had a lot of friends, as you’d expect from a rich boy. They branded me a slut and I was hounded constantly until I left.” At this I started to cry. “They spat at me in the street and smashed my car windows. I was sacked from my job and couldn’t leave the house without one of them following me. They said he wasn’t the father and I was just trying to get money from him, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t!” I hid my face in my hands. “Connor was the first…..there was never anyone else.”

“Where’s your mother?”

“In Australia with her new boyfriend.” I wiped at my tears with the back of my hand and tried not to sound too bitter. “I have a number to contact her, but what’s the point? She can’t do anything from there, and she’d worry about me if she knew. She deserves her new life. Dad was never very nice to her.”

“I take it she doesn’t know about he baby?”

I shook my head. “I don’t want her to have to worry about me when she can’t get here very easily.” Pushing my hair back from my face I tried to regain some of my composure. It had been a difficult conclusion to come to, not getting in touch with my mother. When I discovered I was pregnant the first thing I thought of was to talk to her, picking up the telephone quite a few times, even dialling the number on one occasion before putting the receiver down. She hadn’t been happy for many years but had stuck out her marriage until her children were grown and had their own lives to lead, and she considered her duty done. It wasn’t fair of me to go pulling her back just when she had finally found happiness in her own life and didn’t need me complicating matters.

The gentle tapping on the window pane told me it was starting to rain again, and suddenly everything seemed so bleak. I reached for my pen and made another attempt to look at the figures in the book before me through the blur of tears.

“I’ve got a run to do tomorrow,” Jack said, suddenly. “Just a short one, but it takes me along a coast road and it’s a nice trip. You should come with me.”

“Me?” I looked up in surprise.

“Yeah. We can be back about five o’clock. It might cheer you up a bit, and by the looks of it, you could do with it.”

“Okay,” I said, nonchalantly, trying to stop my heart from beating faster. “If you really don’t mind.”

“I don’t, if you don’t try throwing yourself in front of any more lorries, and for God’s sake don’t go and give birth in my cab. Believe me, I’m more scared of that than you are, so keep a lid on it for tomorrow, okay?”

He was grinning, I was glad to see, so I smiled back. “I’ll do my best. Do you want any breakfast?” If he was going to be pleasant then I could be too.

He pulled a face and put a hand to his head. “Don’t think so.”

“You did overdo it on the alcohol,” I said, lightly. “It’s no wonder you feel bad.” I watched him get up to make himself a cup of coffee.

“Sorry if you got upset last night,” he said, his back turned to me. “I lost it with Tom Coleman, shouldn’t have done, but the bloke gets to me every time. I’ll probably be in for a grilling from Ginny when she catches me still for long enough.” He looked out of the window as we heard a car pull up outside. “Coral,” he said. “I won’t be long.”

I stayed at the table and tried to go back to his books, but found myself more interested in Coral and Tony than Jack’s accounts, so I went to the window and watched.

Jack had opened the car door for Coral and I couldn’t help but smile as she launched herself from the passenger seat, tripped on her high heels and fell straight into his arms. Jack was quick to steady her and take his hands away, but the look of disapproval on Tony’s face was very obvious and once more I felt that pang of jealousy. Not of Coral particularly, because she was no more than a silly young girl trying hard to gain the attentions of an older man who refused to be swayed by her short skirts and tight tops, but I would have liked to be held by those arms for a while. I wanted to know what it felt like to have them wrapped around me, to hold me to him even if it was only for a few seconds. Then I realised how stupid I was. Wasn’t I just a few years older than Coral myself, and hoping for just the same thing she was? A silly girl falling for the attractions of an older man?

“Yoohoo,” I heard Coral shout, and realised that she had seen me at the window. I put on a false smile and went outside.

“Hello, Coral,” I greeted. “Are you all right? I thought I saw you trip.” I saw Jack look at me quickly as I said it.

“Oh, Jack saved me,” she giggled. “Silly me!”

“Can’t be helped,” I laughed, falsely. “Would you like a cup of coffee while you’re waiting?”

“Oooh, lovely,” Coral said. “Shall we, dad?”

Tony, having been put on the spot, just nodded and I led Coral inside while Tony discussed the car with Jack. I’m not sure exactly why I did it, because Coral wasn’t the sort of person I might have picked for a friend, but I supposed it was from lack of company and conversation. I would happily have talked to the devil himself had he shown me any interest.

Coral wandered around the kitchen oohing and aaahing and exclaiming how much better it look than the last time she had seen it.

“When was that?” I asked.

“Oh, gosh, when Bryn was alive,” she said, chirpily. “Dad organised a bit of a birthday party for her at the Happy Man when she turned seventy, but she’d had a bit of a fall and couldn’t get there, so we brought the party here for her. I think most people felt sorry for her because she didn’t get out much, and it was before Jack came home and her own family didn’t bother. Good party it was, considering how everybody was so old and everything. Trouble is, all she really wanted was to have Jack home again.”

“And he didn’t come?”

“No, Jack never came back. Dad says he left here when he was my age and nobody except Bryn ever really expected him to come back. It broke her heart, poor old love, or that’s what dad says.”

“So,” I said, very much interested in what Coral had to say. “Jack only came back when Bryn left him the cottage?”

“Yes. Bit of a shock to everyone, it was. Dad went white when he saw Jack walk into that bar for the first time. He hadn’t turned up for the funeral and dad reckoned we’d all seen the last of him. I can’t remember him then, of course.” She giggled again and I cringed. “Don’t you think he’s so handsome, though?” She wrapped her arms around her body and sighed. “Oooh, I could fall for a man like that, couldn’t you, Lana?”

You already have, was my first thought, but I nodded when she looked at me expecting an answer. “He’s a bit moody,” I said.

“Yes, but they all pick on him a bit. ‘Course, he’s only been back for a bit more than a month, but I’ve seen how they all pick on him, especially Tom and that family of his. Bit of a fuss last night, wasn’t it? Jonus shouldn’t have come in at all, mind, because dad doesn’t let him.”

“Why do they pick on him?”

“Oh, I dunno. Mind you, Jack isn’t very polite to Tom, either. Always a clash when they get in the pub together, so don’t you go and worry over what happened last night.”

“Why would his own family pick on him?” I persisted, but Coral just shrugged her shoulders.

“Dad says he was an unwanted baby in the first place, and that’s why he ended up living with his aunt. Makes me feel sorry for him, that does, thinking of him being an unwanted baby. Doesn’t it make you want to mother him? It does me. After all, you wouldn’t want to see that baby of yours being unwanted, would you? Can’t understand why a mother wouldn’t want her own baby, me.”

I handed Coral her coffee and beckoned to Tony and Jack to come and fetch theirs. Coral was making me feel very uncomfortable, but I couldn’t help thinking that I deserved to be. I was the mother of this baby after all, and wasn’t I the one who didn’t want to keep it?

“There can be reasons for not wanting to keep a baby,” I said, hastily.

“Maybe, although I can’t understand them. Where’s the father of your baby then? Waiting at home for you, I’ll bet. Aaaah!”

I didn’t answer that one and thankfully she didn’t look for an answer either. Tony and Jack came in and took up their coffee cups and immediately the air was filled with tension. Jack’s attitude obviously hadn’t improved.

“Are you going to fix Coral’s car?” I asked, brightly, trying to relieve the tension a little and wishing I hadn’t bothered with the coffee after all. Coral had noticed it too, for she caught on to my intention.

“Oh, I hate to be without a car, don’t you, Lana?”

Jack nodded. “I’ll get it done as soon as I can. I’ll drop it back to the pub when I’ve finished.”

“Lovely,” she beamed, then turned to me. “Pop in and see us soon, Lana. Have a cup of coffee with me and dad for a change, eh?”

“Anytime,” Tony nodded, and I was glad to see he didn’t appear to have any misgivings regarding me. “It’ll be nice for Coral to have someone to talk to.”

I smiled politely, but knew I would avoid going there for coffee if I could. Coral might be very bright and breezy and full of life, but she definitely wasn’t on my planet. “Thank you, Tony,” I said, “but I won’t be here for very much longer.”

“Not going to settle down here, then?” Tony asked.

“Dad!” Coral elbowed her father in the ribs. “Lana has a husband to go home to.”

“No, no husband,” I said.

“Aaaah!” Coral whispered, and her gaze went from my stomach to Jack. “Not married then?”

“No boyfriend either.”

“Oh!” Coral appeared horrified. “Nobody to get back to then.”

“No,” Tony said, “but we’ve got a pub to get back to. Come on, girl.” He put down his cup and shepherded Coral outside. “A good, brisk walk home will do us both good.”

Jack and I watched them go, me with a silly grin on my face as Coral tottered down the gravel driveway on her high heels. I couldn’t begin to imagine what sort of state her feet would be in at the end of their good, brisk walk home, and I said as much to Jack. He laughed.

“Crazy girl,” he said.

“She likes you, though.”

“I know she does.”

I couldn’t help the next question. “Do you like her?”

He laughed again. “She’s nice, but she’s just a kid, eighteen years old, even if she does look twenty five. I might seem desperate, but I’m no cradle snatcher either, and you can just see Tony coming after me with a shotgun if I tried anything with his precious daughter.”

I laughed at his joke, but my spirits sank. Would he be thinking that way about me? I hoped not! I considered myself a lot more mature than Coral, but there was still only three years difference between us in our ages. Although getting pregnant and having the future of a baby in my hands had tended to make me grow up suddenly, I had always been a steady, reliable sort with a sensible head on my shoulders. At the beginning of this year I had been engaged with nothing but marriage plans on my mind, and certainly no idea that the year 2000 would be approached with no wedding and an unwanted baby in my life. Some Millennium it was going to be, I thought, miserably.

“What are you going to do today?” I asked Jack, hoping that he was going to be around for some of it. I felt so much safer with him there.

He nodded towards the car. “I’ll make a start on that, but it’s Sunday and I can’t get the parts I need. Tomorrow I have that short local run to do, so I’ll get what I need on the way home. The rest of the week I’ll be away most of the time.” He glanced at me and must have noted the disappointment on my face. “Ginny said she’ll keep an eye on you. Dan’s coming with me because they need two drivers for this haul. I’m sort of looking forward to it, just like old times with me and Dan on the road together.”

As I returned to the kitchen he came after me and grabbed my arm to stop me. “Would you sooner stop with Ginny? She doesn’t mind having you there.”

I shook my head. “I’ll be finished with your accounts by the middle of the week, so I might be gone by the time you get back.”

“Oh!” He was still holding my arm and he looked at me as if the thought of me going before he got home hadn’t occurred to him. There was confusion on his face that I wondered about, because I had thought he’d be pleased at the idea of me leaving. He let go of my arm suddenly.

“Where will you go?” he asked.

“Ginny’s confident she can get me into a place about a hundred miles or so away. She told me last night. We’ll know by tomorrow.”

“I didn’t know.” He said it quietly, more to himself than me. He almost sounded reluctant, as if he hadn’t really considered |I |might actually leave. Then he pulled himself upright, maybe to give the impression he didn’t care anyway, shrugged his shoulders. “Probably for the best. Those places have people that know what they’re doing. You need that.”

He dropped his gaze to my stomach as I winced and put a hand on my bump. The baby was kicking furiously today and even as he watched small lumps appeared here and there against the shirt I still hadn’t given back to him. He started to reach out his hand to touch me, then stopped.

“Is that it kicking?” he asked, looking surprised when I nodded. “I didn’t know they could do that. I mean – that it………………….”

“Here,” I said, taking his hand quickly, before he could pull it right away. I placed it palm down on my stomach and held my own hand over it. “Can you feel it?”

“Jesus,” he said, leaving his hand where I had placed it, looking at me with a tentative smile. “Does that hurt you?”

I shook my head, liking the warmth of his hand on my stomach. “Not really. It sort of gets annoying sometimes, like when I try to sleep.”

He looked directly into my eyes then, those dark blue eyes of his full of doubt. “When something is growing inside of you like this,” he glanced down at his hand, then back at me, “how can you think of giving it away? Don’t you feel something for it, like it’s a part of you that you want to keep?”

He wasn’t being cynical or challenging for a change, but there was a gentleness and thoughtful tone to his voice that I hadn’t heard before. He was asking a question that I had also asked of myself many times, but the answer was the same as ever.

“I can’t bring up a child alone,” I said, and despite my promise to myself to be hard about it, I felt the tears stinging at my eyes again. “It’s as simple as that, and this baby deserves loving parents.”

“And you?”

“It doesn’t matter about me.”

“It does matter.” He said it suddenly as he withdrew his hand, and I was surprised at his concern. “Karen was pregnant when she died.”

“Oh!” He hit me unexpectedly with that statement. I hadn’t known about it, Ginny had never mentioned it and I was at a loss to know what to say for the best. Not only had he lost the wife he loved so much, but a baby too.

“How many months?” I asked.

“Just ten weeks, but we’d planned it, or Karen had.” He grinned suddenly, but there was sadness on his face. “She was desperate for a baby and managed to convince me that I was too. Sometimes I wonder…..seeing you, it makes me think about it. What she would have looked like……like this, like you are.”

“You must miss her terribly,” I consoled.

He nodded. “At the time it felt like somebody had just reached in and ripped out my heart,” he said. “Now it feels like half of it might still be there.”

I wanted to reach out and hold him, just to put my arms around him and comfort him, but didn’t dare to. “I’ve never lost anyone before,” I admitted. “not through death anyway, but people say that time heals everything. You might meet another girl.”

“No.” He was shaking his head. “Not like Karen. There will never be anyone to match up to what I had with Karen.” Then he suddenly turned and left me, and I was crestfallen. I went back to his books with a renewed determination to finish them. The sooner I left the better off I would be.

Later that day I astounded myself by cooking a roast dinner, which actually tasted very good. I had watched my mother cook one many times, but the opportunity to do it myself had never really presented itself. Connor, being a lot richer than I was, had insisted on eating out more often that not. Jack, I was happy to see, ate everything on his plate and declared that was the best he’d eaten in months, but not to tell Ginny because he’d said the same thing to her only a few weeks ago. Once that was finished he even helped me to wash up, and it was pleasant to have him in such a good mood.

We went to bed early because he wanted to be up at the crack of dawn ready to get to the warehouse and pick up the load he had to deliver. I actually looked forward to this trip out. I had been here for a week now, and apart from the trip to the doctor with Ginny and the fateful visit to the Happy Man, I had not left the cottage. I was beginning to feel shut in, and some fresh air was just what I needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

I was right, as it turned out, to think that fresh air was just what I needed to pick my spirits up. Jack had woken me early, he had picked up his load by seven in order to get a good start before morning rush hour traffic began, and by nine thirty we were parked in a lay-by drinking tea and eating bacon rolls for breakfast. Jack was still in a good mood after our conversation yesterday, and I felt much better just doing something different.

“How long have you had your own lorry?” I asked, in between mouthfuls of bacon roll, which was the best I had ever tasted.

“Five or six years. I’ve always driven lorries, but the plan was always to get one of my own. The first wasn’t up to much, the best wreck I could afford, and then when the work was coming in I changed it for something better. I was doing all right, but then Karen saw this one for sale and said I should have it.”

“So you did.”

“I argued with her for a while, but she said that I’d been after one like this for a long time and I should have it. She even pestered a friend of ours to paint it up like this.” He nodded his head towards the little blue bear sitting on the dash. “She bought that the day I got the lorry home and put it right there to remind me that wherever I was, she was always at home waiting for me.” He reached for his tea and sipped at it, partially, I assumed, to hide the crack in his voice as he spoke about Karen. “I think sometimes that I should take it out, because all it does now is remind me of what I don’t have any more.”

“No, you should keep it,” I said, hurriedly. “She wanted you to keep it.”

“You think so?” He looked at me.

“Of course. It’s a reminder of everything you had together.”

He shook his head. “It’s a reminder of some stupid things I did just after she died.”

“Everybody does something stupid at some time in their lives. Look at me! Firstly I was stupid enough to think that Connor wanted me to have this baby, and then I nearly killed both of us under the wheels of a lorry. If anything is stupid, that is.”

Jack drained his cup as he stared at the blue bear. “His loss, huh?”

Now it was my turn to feel the lump in the back of my throat. His loss, my loss, it was all one and the same thing. “It wouldn’t feel so bad if he at least cared a little bit about what he’d done to me,” I said. “He accused me of sleeping around, and I’m not like that. I was never like that.”

“Well,” Jack said, having had time to consider our conversation. “We’re a matching pair when it comes to being stupid.”

We were laughing as he started the engine and I grabbed my polystyrene cup full of tea before it spilled everywhere.

“Tell you what,” he said. “We’ll stop for something to eat on the way home.”

“We just had breakfast!” I protested.

“Yeah, but it’ll be dinnertime by then, and I know this little seaside pub that does some good food. You’ll like it.”

I simply shrugged and let him carry on. It obviously suited him to be on the road because he was different from the Jack Clayton I had come to know at the cottage. He was talkative and considerate towards me, and as we approached the pub he had spoken of I knew I was falling for him in a big way. I tried to tell myself that I was being silly, that nothing could come out of a relationship with Jack, even if he should want such a thing, and I seriously doubted that. He was still deeply in love with his dead wife, and I doubted there was another woman alive that could penetrate the wall he had built up around himself. And yet, each time he touched me, whether to help me from his cab, or his hand on my waist as he guided me through the pub door, it felt so good that I wanted more. He didn’t appear to notice anything though, and it had to stay that way.

He paid for our meal despite my protests, and he was right, the food was very good. He didn’t drink anything more than a coke, declaring that he never did when he was on the road, and I had the same as I declared that I never did when I was pregnant. It was a meal that I didn’t want to end, but all too soon it did, and we were walking back to the Scania ready to go home.

We stood by the cab for a while admiring the view, and this little seaside village was as pretty as he said it was. Even more than the view I liked the feeling of him standing next to me, his arm touching mine as we tried to stand out of the cutting wind.

“It reminds me of a place in Yorkshire that Karen and I used to go to when we had the chance,” Jack said. “I’ve always liked to live by the sea, it sort of gives the impression of space. I like to think I’ve got space around me. Can’t stand it in a crowd.”

Shivering slightly, I agreed with him, never having felt comfortable myself in crowds of people.

He must have felt my shiver because he turned around to look at me. “You’re cold,” he said. “We should be going.”

“Actually, I’d quite like to walk for a while,” I asked. “Could we go down to the beach just for ten minutes?” He nodded and took my elbow to guide me down stone steps to the beach below us. It was a cold wind blowing, but I pulled up the collar of his borrowed anorak and we kept walking. Actually it felt really good, the wind blowing around me served to clear some of the cobwebs in my head, making me feel much more alive and clear thinking.

“Tell me about Karen,” I said. “She sounds nice.”

“She was the best.” The wind blew the hair back from his face as he looked out to the horizon. “It was perfect. We never argued, she didn’t mind the job I do, although back then I tried to be home most nights. She was a reception teacher, little kids of four or five, and she loved it and they loved her. Kids would come up to her in the street, or in the shops, call out to her, that sort of thing, and she’d let them climb in the lorry if I was there. Never ending patience, she had. Not like me.”

I gazed out to sea, jealous of a relationship the like of which I would never have. “She sounds perfect,” I said, not even realising I was saying it out loud. I wasn’t being cynical particularly, and hoped he hadn’t taken it that way.

“She was. There will never be another Karen. She was too good to have been killed like that.”

“How was she killed?”

“Car crash. Not her fault, one of those things, that’s what the police said. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the other driver hit her head on.” He shrugged his shoulders and his eyes were wet. “I always think about the ‘what-ifs’, like what if I’d gone with her that day, or what if I’d refused to take another load out for my company that day. I was supposed to have gone with her that day, it was something we had planned to do together.”

“It wasn’t your fault either,” I reminded him, gently.

“It wasn’t hers either, but she died and took our baby and my heart with her.”

“She wouldn’t have wanted you to be unhappy.”

He shook his head. “No, she wouldn’t.” He wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. “Damned wind.”

I shivered as rain started to fall and he took my arm. “I’m keeping you out in the cold.” He walked me back to the lorry and we stopped for one last look at the sea. “We should be going.”

“I’m fine. I like it here,” I assured him. I laughed, suddenly. “It’s nice, being picked up by a good looking lorry driver for the day.” I hoped he wouldn’t take offence at my feeble joke, and he didn’t. Instead, he grinned.

“In my younger days I was a devil for picking up girls,” he countered. “But this is the first time I’ve picked up a pregnant one.”

“I’m safe then?” I asked.

“That was all a long time ago. Dan and me, we used to have a competition going, see how many girls we could get inside our cabs. It only counted as points if they gave out.” Suddenly his face seemed very close to mine as he reached around me for the door handle. He stared right into my eyes.

“Did many of them do that?” I asked, breathlessly. I would have done, much as I wouldn’t have admitted it to him. This was something else, something I hadn’t experienced before, this feeling of being close to him and my body, pregnant or not, reacting to that fact that his was so close.

“Most.”

“It was you that gave lorry drivers a bad reputation then,” I said, lightly.

He started to smile. “No, I was just living up to what was expected of me.”

“What made you stop?”

“Now I gotta act my age,” he murmured, his body pressing against mine.

“What age would that be?” I whispered. God, my heart was beating so fast that I felt dizzy.

“That depends.” He shrugged and let go of the door handle, placing his hand on my hip. I felt his breath on my face as he came closer still. “What age do you want me to be?”

“Twenty-one,” I asked, “just like me?” And he kissed me! Not just a peck on the cheek, but his lips were on mine and he had a hand on my waist, pulling me even closer to him and kissing me harder. When he stopped and I didn’t want it to end, I reached a hand around the back of his neck to pull him back to me. He was pressing me to the side of his cab as he kissed again, his hands moved slowly up and down my back and it was wonderful. Please, please, I thought, don’t let it end. It was nothing like Connor’s kisses had been. This was much different. A man’s kiss rather than the immature boy Connor had been.

Then he let me go, stepped away and turned his back to me. “Sorry,” he choked. “Sorry, that shouldn’t have happened. We have to go.”

I reached to grab his arm. “It’s okay,” I cried. “It was lovely.”

“It was wrong.” He opened the cab door and swung me around so he could help me up into the cab. “Jesus, I’m a man of thirty ….well, a hell of a lot older than you are. I should have known better.”

“I’m not exactly underage,” I insisted.

“No,” he said, and his next words dampened my spirits beyond belief. “You’re not exactly Karen, either.”

After that he didn’t want to talk much and I was devastated. The kisses had been so absolutely perfect, the moment had been perfect and now he was angry. I couldn’t be sure if he was angry with me because he didn’t like me that much, or with himself for his lack of control. I kept my tears well hidden, not wanting him to see how much his words had stung me, and let him drive home in silence. It was a terrible end to a wonderful day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

The situation didn’t improve when we got back to the cottage. As Jack pulled the lorry to a halt we could both see the large sheet of white paper stuck to the front door, and Jack frowned. He turned off the engine, didn’t bother to come and help me down, but jumped from the cab and ran to tear it from the door. I managed to scramble down by myself and waited until he had finished with it.

“What is it?” I asked, seeing the all too familiar darkness in his eyes, and sensing his anger as his fists clenched and unclenched. He shoved the paper into my hands and allowed me to read what was on it.

‘Dan James was hurt today. Not seriously, but next time he will be. Get out before his blood is on your hands.’

“Oh, my God,” I whispered. “Not Dan. Why would they want to hurt Dan?”

“They?” Jack’s voice was strained. “I don’t know who the bloody hell ‘they’ are.” He spun on his heel and ran back to the lorry to fetch the ‘phone while I stared at the paper in disbelief. Who had it in for Jack so bad that they could contemplate something as dire as this? There was a dark red smear across the page and I wondered if it was blood, just to add a more sinister threat than words might have done. I turned as Jack started to shout down the phone and after just a few words he turned it off and ran to the garage where he kept his car. Wrenching the doors open with such a force I was surprised they didn’t break, he fished in his jacket pocket and produced the keys. Without being asked I followed him and he started the engine without argument.

He drove directly to Dan and Ginny’s terraced house, stopping the car and running in before I even had time to prise myself from the passenger seat. My heart was thumping. Obviously something was dreadfully wrong, but he hadn’t spoken to me all the way here.

It was the first time I had been to Ginny’s house, and was much as I expected it would be, neat and tidy on the outside with a small lawn and carefully tended border of flowers around it. Ginny had opened the front door to Jack, who had already reached the top of the stairs by the time I got to the door. The hallway was nicely decorated in pastel tones, and I saw the living room, cosy and compact, but just as tidy.

My attention was on Ginny though, standing at the bottom of the stairs, her face red and blotched from the crying she had been doing. I went to her side.

“What is it?” I asked. “Jack won’t say anything, and he’s really angry. Is Dan all right?”

“He will be,” she said, tearfully. “He was forced off the road in his lorry today. He’s very lucky, he was thrown across the cab when it went into a ditch.”

“Is he hurt much?”

“A head wound, concussion, bumps and bruises everywhere. The doctor says he’ll be just fine after a week or two. Come upstairs and see him.”

She led the way to their bedroom, where Dan lay in bed, propped up against his pillows. His head was bandaged and I saw the bruises on his bare chest. He was pale, but grinning weakly as I walked into the room. Jack stood at his side, his fists clenched and his face grim. I wondered what he must be feeling, knowing that his friend was in this situation because of him, but Dan didn’t appear to be holding any grudges and I knew he was the sort not to turn his back on a mate. I hadn’t known Dan for long, but it was easy to tell what sort of a man he was.

“Tell me how it happened?” Jack asked.

“Jack, he has a terrible headache,” Ginny protested. “The police have already spoken to him. They’re trying to trace the four wheel drive that forced him off the road, but don’t know if they can.”

“There’s a note pinned to the cottage door,” I told her, sensing that maybe she didn’t know it had been done deliberately. “It’s warning Jack to get out and says that Dan was forced off the road on purpose.”

Ginny covered her mouth with her hands and looked at her husband, who had stopped grinning. He suddenly looked very tired and I realised we shouldn’t be making him talk like this. He needed to rest.

“Say that again?” he asked.

“Just a threatening note,” Jack said. “Blood smeared across it and telling me worse is to come if I don’t leave.”

“But why?” Ginny pleaded. “Who would want that?”

“Think about it.”

“Not dad, no. He wouldn’t do that to Dan.”

“I think he would.”

“He’s not a violent man, and he wouldn’t.” Ginny was openly crying now and went to sit on the edge of the bed.

“No?” Jack’s eyes flashed their anger now. His fist smacked the headboard of the bed as he faced his sister. “He showed enough violence towards me when I was a kid.”

“No, he…..”

“Yes, he did.” Jack was shouting now and Dan tried to move, putting a hand to his head as it obviously caused him pain. “Jesus, will you face the truth for once, Ginny? He hit me more times than I want to remember, and he hit me hard. He never did it in front of you, not in front of his little girl. He loves you all right, but he hates the sight of me.”

Ginny was crying so hard that I felt compelled to go to her and put my arm around her. “Jack, maybe now isn’t the time,” I tried to say, but he slammed his fist down on a chest of drawers.

“Now’s the time all right,” he said, grimly. “Now is definitely the time.” He was out of the room and gone before any of us had the chance to stop him. Ginny collapsed into a chair and I crouched by her side, wondering what I should do.

“What will he do?” I asked. “Should we call your father and warn him?”

Dan shook his head. “Oliver Clayton owns a nightclub in Truro, amongst other things. That’s where he’ll be at the moment. At the very least he has three bouncers on any one shift, so he can handle anything Jack can throw at him for tonight.”

“He might not go there,” Ginny sobbed. “Perhaps he’ll go to the house and when he finds out dad isn’t there, he’ll forget about it.”

“No chance,” Dan said. “You saw the way he was. He’s got a hatred for Oliver Clayton that’ll last until one of them dies.”

“I don’t understand why he accuses dad of such terrible things.” Ginny took a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes.

“Because he’s right.” Dan shifted to lay his head back against the pillows again. “That’s why he says those things, because he’s right. Oliver used to hit him about so badly that he could barely walk sometimes, but it was kept from you. Jack wanted it kept from you.”

Ginny was shaking her head. “I would have known. I lived there too.”

“We were kids, Ginny. God, you would have been four or five years old when Oliver started hitting him about. Bryn found out eventually and that’s why he went to live with her, but I’ve seen it happen. I was scared to death of Oliver, but Jack wasn’t, and would always do something to annoy him, or make him worse. Oliver got hold of me one day, just after I had seen him throw Jack from one end of the room to the other, and he threatened me with the same if I told anyone, so I didn’t. It was just after that he went to live with Bryn and the beatings stopped, unless he got hold of Jack while he was there.”

Ginny pushed herself up from the chair and left the room, still crying. I looked at Dan, who looked back at me with such hopelessness on his face that I was instantly worried.

“What should I do?” I asked.

“Bring me the phone,” Dan instructed, and I went to fetch it. He punched in a number and I wondered just what he intended to do. I hovered in the doorway, not sure whether to go and find Ginny, but I was also intrigued by Dan’s phone call. Not that it was any of my business to begin with.

“Albert?” I heard Dan say. He didn’t wait for an answer but launched straight into an account of what had taken place today. When he finished he put the phone down. “He’s on his way to the nightclub to try and stop Jack,” he told me.

“Will he manage to do it?” I asked, trying to imagine the likes of Albert Dunn stopping Jack from doing what he wanted.

Dan sighed. “Let’s hope Albert does stop him, before Jack loses it completely. If he doesn’t calm down before he gets there, he’s going to land himself in a lot of trouble. The sort of bouncers Oliver employs are there to deal with trouble, and deal with it any way they like. They won’t stop to ask questions first.”

“I’m worried about him,” I said, unable to help myself.

“Me too, and Ginny will be out of her mind with worry, but Jack is Jack and I know him of old. Once he gets an idea in that head of his, there’s little anyone can do to stop him.”

“It was such a lovely day until this happened,” I cried. “I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt you. You’re too nice.”

He laughed quietly at that. “I’ve been best mates with Jack since we could walk and talk,” he said. “I’ve seen the way he was treated and I wish to God that I’d had the nerve to tell my parents about it at the time, but I didn’t. Jack needs somebody to stand by him, and I always will. I never thought I would see him back here, but he did come back and I think that’s his way of telling us he needs us.”

“He has a lot of debts,” I said, wondering if I was betraying Jack in some way. “He owes twenty thousand pounds to Karen’s parents as well as the finance he took up on the lorry. It’s probably not my business to tell you, but after his wife died he got into some financial trouble. Her parents tried to help him.”

Dan whistled slowly. “He’s a dark horse,” he said. “How long has he known that? It was only a couple of weeks ago that we discussed going into business together.”

“Not long, and I think he may have to sell the cottage to put himself straight.” I watched Dan sink back into the pillows and close his eyes. “We can talk about this another time. You need to rest.” He nodded wearily, and I left him to sleep and went to find Ginny.

She was downstairs and had made two cups of tea, one of which she passed to me, telling me to sit down and rest. “That’s all we need is a baby arriving on top of everything else,” she joked, feebly, sinking into an armchair and staring into her mug of tea.

“I should go back,” I said. “There’s a chance Jack might have gone home.”

“He won’t want you there. Oh, Lana, what is he up to? I wish I knew.”

“Dan called Albert,” I said, hopefully. “He’s going after him.”

“That’s it!” She almost spilled her tea as she slammed it down on a little coffee table at her side. “We’ll go after him.”

“Ginny, it’s too late.”

“Suit yourself.” She grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair. “I’m going.”

“Wait!” I called. I was tired and worn out from the long day I’d had, but going with Ginny was preferable to waiting around here for news. I followed her outside and got into the passenger seat of her car, which she started quickly and took off down the road as if she were headed for Daytona.

I couldn’t help thinking this was all so unreal. Not much more than a week ago I had nearly finished up under the wheels of a forty tonne truck, and now here I was chasing the driver of that very truck with an ache in my heart and a terrible dread that something awful was going to happen to him. Deep down I realised, as I stared into the darkness, that the feelings I had for Jack were strong, and that a man I barely knew was reaching in and tugging at my heartstrings. These were feelings I’d never experienced before, not even with Connor, who I believed I had loved. . I wasn’t aware of it coming from my stomach, or my heart, or anywhere else, just a deep-rooted pain that filled the whole of my body with bitter sweet emotion. I wanted to hold Jack and tell him I cared for him, I loved him and I wanted him when nobody else did.

Then, with a feeling of impending doom, I realised that this was all so very one sided. I had been, and still was, a very depressed young girl for the last few months, and while Jack had provided me with the entertainment necessary for me to forget my problems for a while, it was no good fooling myself into thinking he would want anything to do with me.

I said nothing of my feelings to Ginny. We drove in silence until we reached Truro, then she guided the car through the back streets until she pulled up in a small car park next to the Oasis nightclub. A large neon sign announced it for all to see, and as we stepped out of the car we couldn’t miss the heavy disco beat coming from inside the building.

“Have you been here before?” I asked, very aware that we were hardly dressed for nightclubbing, and with my stomach as large as it was, we were going to stand out very easily in a crowd.

“Once, not long after dad bought it and he wanted to show it to me. There’s Jack’s car, and Albert’s. Maybe Albert managed to stop him.”

But the cars were empty, so Ginny pulled me towards the back entrance of the building. We were in the outskirts of the town, almost into a large industrial area, and the nightclub was a large, detached, two storey plain white building. An ugly building, I thought, and in need of tidying up and painting. Bright lights lit the car park, which was full even though it was only coming up to nine o’clock. I heard the heavy thumping of loud music and hoped we didn’t have to go anywhere near it. My head ached badly, I’d never been one for nightclubs or dance music, so crossed my fingers and hoped Jack was found before we had to go anywhere near the dance floor.

Ginny knew the bouncer that opened the back door to us, and didn’t have much trouble convincing him she was just here to see her father, and that I was a friend of hers. He looked me up and down as if I had just crawled out of the woodwork as I self-consciously waited for Ginny to finish talking, then he opened the door to let us through.

“He’s in his office,” he called after us.

“Quickly.” Ginny took my hand and pulled me down a lengthy corridor, at the end of which were several offices. As we approached the first door burst open and Albert appeared, half carrying, half dragging Jack with him. Ginny let out a scream of terror as she witnessed the state her brother was in, and I hung back, wanting to stay out of the melee. I also wanted to rush to Jack, make sure he was okay.

His shirt was ripped open across one shoulder, his lip was split open and blood was trickling from it. One eye looked half closed and a shade of purple. He was trying to tear himself away from Albert, who in all fairness, seemed to have a vice like grip on Jack’s arm. It surprised me that for an old man he seemed to be getting the better of Jack.

“Dad! What have you done?” Ginny was crying again as she tried to grab Jack’s other arm.

I sidled closer to the door and saw Oliver Clayton standing behind an office desk the size of which I wouldn’t think possible. I’d never met him, but he stood next to Jonathan and the resemblance was plain to see. They couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than father and son. It also made me realise how different Jack was to either of them. Ginny showed a slight resemblance, but not Jack. Not in my opinion. At a nod from Oliver, a third man, another bouncer judging from the belly that was almost as big as mine, and the bald head, left the room, pushing past Ginny and myself without a word.

I saw Oliver’s head shoot up, obviously surprised to see his daughter in the room, but to give him his due, he recovered quickly and his face became a mask of innocence. “I’ve done nothing, darling,” he said, calmly. “He came tearing in here like a pit bull terrier – that’s the second time this week – and accused me of trying to kill your husband, for goodness sake. Why he believes I should want to do such a thing is beyond my understanding, but unfortunately for him I had two of my bouncers in here with me and they mistook him for an out of control customer. By the time I realised it was Jack, it was too late to stop them.”

I doubted that very much, but I didn’t open my mouth. Oliver was an imposing figure in his expensive suit, much the same as Jonathan was. He had watery blue eyes just like his son and his hair was grey rather than black, but still greased away from his forehead.

“Come on, lad.” Albert was struggling to hold on to Jack. “Let’s get you home. This isn’t going to do you any good.”

“I’ll kill him.” Jack was mouthing furiously as blood spilled from his lips. “He tried to kill Dan.”

Oliver was shaking his head. “Virginia, sweetheart, why would I want to hurt Dan? Tell me what happened and maybe I can help put things right.”

“You bastard,” Jack shouted. He finally pulled out of Albert’s grip and took hold of Oliver’s jacket, forcing him back against the huge desk in the centre of the office. I held my breath as Oliver tried to push Jack away, and if there was one thing I knew for certain, Oliver Clayton did hate his son. His eyes were cold and hateful as Ginny tried to force her way between them, sobbing quietly.

“But who is doing it, dad?” she asked, and Jack stopped whatever move he had been about to make. “Somebody is doing awful things to Jack and he doesn’t deserve it. Do you know who?”

“I certainly do not,” he declared. “I’ll tell you what, Virginia, you take him home and I’ll call by tomorrow to see if we can’t work something out. There does seem to be a bit of a misunderstanding here.”

“Jack?” Ginny turned to push her brother. “Jack, please come home?”

“I want…..”

“Go home!” she ordered. “We can sort this out tomorrow.” She stopped pushing at him, put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “I’ve left Dan alone,” she said, “ and I shouldn’t have done. Go home, let it go for tonight.”

Slowly, very slowly, I saw the fire die from Jack’s eyes and his fists unclenched as he shoved Oliver away from him. Oliver had a half smile on his face that irritated me, and so I knew it must bother Jack to see it there.

“Do as your sister says,” he said, soothingly. “I’ll drop by as soon as I can.”

“Don’t bother.” Jack spat a mouthful of blood, some of which went over one of his father’s polished shoes and I held my breath again as Oliver’s face turned to stone. He looked down at his shoe, back at his son, but he remained calm.

“I’ll see you soon, as I promised Virginia I would.”

“I don’t want to see you.” Jack turned around and made for the door, pushing away another bouncer as he did so. Ginny followed him, but seeing Albert hanging back, I waited just outside the door for a moment, seeing as nobody knew I was there.

“Oliver?” Albert removed his cap and wrung it between his hands as he hovered in front of Oliver. “We ought to get this business settled.” He sounded nervous, which caused me to wonder why, since Albert hadn’t appeared to be the nervous type when I met him the other night.

“There’s nothing to settle,” Oliver said, firmly, and Jonathan, who had come to stand at his father’s side now the threat from Jack had gone, voiced his agreement. “I don’t know who tried to hurt Dan James, but it wasn’t me.”

Standing to one side of the door so that I could see them, I was inclined to believe Oliver. I made sure I wasn’t in his line of vision, not wanting his rage vented upon me.

“It’s not fair on the boy,” Albert whined. “Bryn did leave him the place of her own choosing, even if we did try and talk her out of it. You know how much she wanted him home.”

At these last words I saw Oliver’s face harden. “What she did with that cottage was madness. It should never have been left to Jack, then we wouldn’t have all this trouble now. I don’t know who it is trying to get him out of there, but all it can do is help me along with my business. Have you found what I want yet?”

“I can’t find anything. I don’t know what Bryn did with it all, but you know what she was like. If she didn’t want us to find it, then we won’t.”

“Oh, no, I don’t believe that. I know Bryn kept anything connected to Jack. She wouldn’t have got rid of it all, so she must have it there somewhere and I want it found. If the truth comes out and the papers get hold of it, it’ll stir things up all over again. We’ve managed to keep Jack from the truth all this time, and if we can see to it that he doesn’t stay around here, the better it will be for all of us. Jordan Ross is dead and I want it staying that way. Dead and gone! Whoever stirred this up tonight is a fool, and I don’t want Jack coming in here looking for me like that again. Take him home before I set the bouncers on him for a second time.”

“Oliver, I’m not sure that me and Ruby like what you’re making us do,” Albert said, still with a whine in his voice. “I’ve always thought Jack was all right.”

“Do it, Albert!” Oliver snapped. “You benefited from Bryn’s generosity when she was alive. She didn’t want the truth coming out either, so do as you are told.”

“If you offered him a decent price for the cottage he’d probably go anyway.” Albert suggested. “He doesn’t hold any sentiment for the place. He’s only home because he lost his wife and didn’t know where else to go.”

“I’m not giving him a single penny for the cottage if I can help it,” Oliver growled. “I want the land it’s on, and Jack can go to hell before I give him any of my money.”

As I left I heard a snigger, probably from Jonathan. Quickly, before Albert came from the room and caught me listening to their conversation, I slunk away, back to the car park and feeling more than a little scared after hearing what had taken place between Albert and Oliver. I supposed I ought to tell Jack about it, but at the moment he was still too angry and wouldn’t have stopped to listen to me. Ginny was still arguing with him, beating a fist on his arm as she tried to get her point across that she didn’t want him to drive.

“Please?” I asked. “Can we go home now?” I badly needed to sit down and I was so tired that I could have sat on the brick wall surrounding the car park and fallen asleep.

“Home?” Jack turned suddenly on me. “You don’t have a home, remember?”

“That isn’t fair, Jack,” Ginny shouted. “You’re in no fit state to drive, you’re too angry.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.” Jack was trying to open the door of his car and Ginny blocked it with her body. I thought she was rather brave, as I wouldn’t have wanted to stand in his way at the moment. He had the keys in his fingers though, and with a sudden act of bravado I snatched them from him, and managed to move quick enough that he couldn’t try and get them back.

“I’ll drive the damned thing back,” I said. “Get in!” With that I slid my cumbersome frame into the driver’s seat and pushed the key into the ignition. I didn’t think for a moment he would actually get in without argument, but was surprised to find that he did, although he glared at me like I was something he had trodden in. Probably he didn’t think it worth the effort to try and drag me back out again, but he stamped his way round to the other side of the car and did as he was told.

“Get a lift with Albert,” I said to Ginny. “It’ll be quicker for you.”

“Are you sure you can handle him?” she asked quietly, causing Jack to snigger loudly as he threw himself into the passenger seat next to me.

“Don’t need bloody well managing,” he grunted.

I just nodded at Ginny and she ran across the car park to get a lift with Albert. I fumbled around looking for reverse gear before having to ask Jack to do it, which he did with a long drawn out sigh. It was a long way home, or seemed it to me. When it began to rain I couldn’t find the wipers either, but Jack reached across and flicked them on for me before I had to ask. It wasn’t a comfortable drive home. We didn’t speak, I didn’t like the car, and all I wanted was to get home. Or not home. Jack had just made that quite clear. It wasn’t my home.

As we stepped inside the cottage and turned on the lights, it became apparent that Jack had suffered more than I thought at the hands of Oliver’s bouncers. His right eye was a variety of colours, almost closed, and his mouth was still full of blood. His lip was split and from the way he held his ribs I guessed he had taken a few punches in that area, too.

“Sit down,” I said, “and I’ll get some warm water to bathe your face.”

“You needn’t bother……”

“Sit down!” I bellowed, suddenly. I frightened myself in the process. “Have you got a first aid box?”

“In the truck.”

I wasn’t going back outside into the freezing cold night air to climb inside a lorry and search for a first aid box, so I rummaged through a drawer Ginny had filled with ‘useful’ bits and came up with a brand new dishcloth still in the wrapping. Finding a small bowl I filled it with warm water and put it on the table, where he sat waiting for me. He appeared to be surprised at the way I had shouted at him, but I didn’t care. It had shut him up for a while and I was in no mood for another argument. The sooner I had this done the sooner I could get to bed, and I was so tired now that I was starting to feel ill.

He sat quietly and allowed me to bathe his eye, then I washed the blood from his face and around his mouth. “You’ll need to rinse your mouth with water,” I told him. “There’s blood everywhere.” It had spilled down his shirt and jacket, lots of it, so that it looked more like a scene from a murder than just a split lip. “That shirt is fit for the bin, but let me have the jacket now. If I don’t put it to soak the blood won’t come out.”

He was much calmer now, standing up and removing the jacket to hand to me, then he peeled off the shirt, too torn to worry about mending, and placed it in the bin.

“I’m going to bed,” he said. “Thanks for doing this.”

“Your stomach,” I gasped, seeing for the first time an enormous bruise and several smaller ones around his ribs. I put my fingers on them and he flinched.

“It’ll mend,” he said, then he was gone.

I ran a sink full of cold water and picked up the jacket to put it in, but feeling something in one of the pockets, I stopped to check what it was. I found his wallet and a couple of delivery notes from a week ago. Putting them on the table I made a mental note to tell him they were no good to anyone if he was going to hide them away in pockets. And then, from the last pocket, I withdrew some photographs. Putting the jacket in the water I went back to the pictures out of sheer curiosity. They were faded and crumpled, obviously he had carried them around with him for a long time, but the pictures were clear enough. Karen, I guessed, and I could see why he held her in such esteem. She wasn’t beautiful, but very pretty, with long dark hair and brown eyes. The second picture was both of them, and in this one Jack was laughing into the camera, his arms around Karen and his face very close to hers. The third was both of them again, this time Karen standing by the side of Jack’s lorry, the one he had now. He was hanging out of the window and pulling silly faces as she looked up at him, and I guessed that was when they had bought the vehicle first.

Suddenly filled with a mixture of envy of the loving relationship they had shared, and regret that it hadn’t worked out for them, I pushed the photos into a tidy pile and left them on the table ready to put back in his pocket when I had washed and dried the jacket. It didn’t seem a fair world that we lived in, and I went to bed feeling a lot less sorry for myself than I usually did, and a lot more sorry for Jack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Jack was away for much of the following week. He didn’t have much to say before he left, and didn’t give me the impression he wanted me gone by the time he came back, so I stayed. The place Ginny had found for me was available in another week’s time, and I would rather stay where I was than be out on the streets again. He called me a couple of times to make sure everything was all right, but I wasn’t sure if he was actually checking up on me, or if he was more worried about what might happen to the cottage or his car.

I saw Ginny several times and was pleased that she didn’t seem to have taken any offence towards me, and we got on as well as we had done. She was a lot quieter, though, and when she turned up on the Wednesday of the week Jack was gone, it was with the intention of starting on another room. At first I had groaned, still feeling tired and with aching muscles, but once we got started Ginny seemed to pick up a little and we were soon laughing and joking as we set to work eliminating yet more spiders. It took us most of the day to get it something like clean, but once the dust had been beaten from the armchairs, the rug had been taken outside and beaten nearly threadbare, and Ginny had vacuumed the room from corner to corner, it really felt much better.

It was mid afternoon when we finished, and were giving thought to sitting down and reflecting on our work with a cup of tea, when Oliver and Jonathan turned up. Ginny had smiled and gone to greet her father with a hug, then did the same to Jonathan as she ushered them all into the kitchen and urged them to sit down at the kitchen table while she made tea. She called me in to sit with them, but I would rather have stayed where I was, out of sight, although I was interested in finding out a little bit more about Oliver Clayton.

I watched the way he was with Ginny and it struck me that he did genuinely care about his daughter. It showed in the way he watched her as she moved around the kitchen, the way his features relaxed a little and he allowed himself to smile when she looked at him. Even Jonathan was showing some regard for his sister, but it hadn’t been like that when they looked at Jack in the nightclub office.

From my position at the table I was able to look out of the kitchen window, and wasn’t surprised to see Jonus standing by the garage, obviously very interested in what was going on inside the cottage. He was standing still and seemed to be looking directly at me, immediately making my skin crawl. I wondered what I should do about him, since Jack was adamant about not wanting him on the property, but I was hardly able to go chasing him out of the garden as Jack did, and with our present company I thought it best to leave Jonus where he was. I didn’t particularly want to meet him face to face either, not after the evening in the Happy Man where he had grinned that ridiculous grin at me. It had disturbed me to the point where I didn’t want to see him up close again.

Despite my trepidation Oliver had greeted me warmly enough and Jonathan nodded his head towards me in recognition, although he probably didn’t think too much of me after Dan had thrown him out of the cottage last week. Annoyingly he kept his gaze on me.

“So,” Oliver said, adjusting his tie and crossing one leg over the other. “Where is Jack?”

“Working,” Ginny said. “He’s away for most of the week.”

Oliver dropped his gaze from Ginny to me. “He’s not looking after you particularly well, is he?”

“He doesn’t need to. I can look after myself and there’s no reason he should.”

“And what will you do when the baby is born? Will you be happy with him traipsing all over the country while you have to stay at home?”

“This isn’t my home,” I said, bluntly. “And this isn’t Jack’s baby.”

“Then where is the father?” Oliver’s eyes were a strange colour when I saw them up close, grey and cold, like granite. Today he was wearing glasses that made his eyes seem bigger and colder still, and he reminded me of a particularly stern maths teacher I’d once had that had frightened me.

“He isn’t with me anymore.”

“Then you’re here to sponge off Jack?”

“Dad!” Ginny said before I could think of a suitable reply. “Lana is staying here while I help her sort something out. As a favour to Jack for letting her stay here she’s doing his accounts for him.”

Oliver took off his glasses, pulled out a cloth and began to clean them, taking great care over his task. “And you, Virginia,” he scolded, “shouldn’t be here as his skivvy.”

“Oh, dad!” Ginny laughed, but it was strained and I realised she was nervous. “I know what you men are like when it comes to housework, and Jack just hasn’t had the time to do anything to this place since he came back. Poor Bryn wasn’t able to do much herself in the last couple of years she was alive. It needs a lot of cleaning, that’s all.”

“This cottage should have been left to you, or to Jonathan.”

“Why do you say that, dad? Jack was the one who lived here with Bryn and she probably felt it was the right thing to do, leaving it to him. Anyway, Dan and I are fine living where we are for now. If this haulage partnership ever comes into being, then we’ll think about moving.”

“What partnership?” Oliver put the cloth away and slipped the glasses back on. He was like a dog on the scent of a juicy morsel now, and he glanced at Jonathan, who shrugged his shoulders.

“Jack and Dan may form a partnership,” Ginny continued happily, obviously please to have what she thought was good news for her father, although from the look that crossed Oliver’s face I doubted that’s how he saw it. “They both want the same thing, a fleet of lorries working for them, and they’ve discussed it a few times. It’s a good idea, and they can make it work. It will also give Jack something to concentrate his energies on since losing Karen.”

“And where does he intend building this company?” Jonathan snapped.

“Here.”

“On this land?”

“Of course. It would be ideal, what with the field behind as well. Jack still has some financial problems to work out though, so it depends if he has to sell the cottage first.”

I wondered if she was letting too much slip, and knew Jack wouldn’t have been nearly as forthcoming had he been here. Earlier we had discussed Jack’s money problems and both agreed that selling the cottage may be his only way out of the situation, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have appreciated his father knowing that.

“What financial problems does he have?” Oliver asked.

“He needs to pay Karen’s parents what he owes them,” Ginny replied, “And with all the finance on the lorry, it seems the only thing to do is sell the cottage.”

Now I knew she was going too far. I know Oliver was her father and she loved and trusted him not to hurt Jack again, but she was wrong. I had seen Oliver’s face when he spoke of Jack at the nightclub. I had heard his exact words, and while I hadn’t thought it best to mention them to Ginny, I wished I had told Jack before he left. There hadn’t been the time, nor had he been in the right frame of mind for sitting and discussing it calmly. Of course Oliver loved his daughter, but Jack was different.

“Jordan Ross built this place,” Oliver said, and a sudden tension seemed to descend upon the room. He was looking at me, but his words were directed at his daughter. “He built it for himself and Bryn, and I hardly think it was in his plans to leave it to Jack, let alone the idea of Jack selling it as soon as it was left to him. Bryn made the wrong choice. Jordan should have done something about it when he was able, instead of letting Bryn decide.

“Why wouldn’t he have wanted Jack to have it?” Ginny handed out cups of tea and sat down herself.

A nerve twitched on Oliver’s face, the only sign that told me he had said too much.

“What is it?” I asked, “that Jack has done?” I surprised myself for actually saying it out loud.

“I beg your pardon?” Oliver’s gaze came to rest on me and it was all I could do to meet it.

“What could he have done that was bad enough for his entire family to hate him so much?” Not so brave this time, my voice gave out as my nerve broke.

“Oh, Lana….” Ginny started to say, but Oliver got to his feet, rested his hands palm down on the table and leaned towards me.

His movement took me by surprise and I shot back in my seat as he came close enough for me to smell the brandy on his breath. “Young lady, I would ask that you keep well and truly out of our business and be on your way as soon as you can. My son is not running a hostel for those who cannot control themselves.” He waited for me to nod my head before standing up straight, brushing imaginary dust off the sleeves of his suit as I had seen Jonathan do a few times. “I wonder,” he continued, looking at Ginny now, “if you have an address for Karen’s parents?” His tone had changed from the freezing cold he had spoken to me in, to the warmth he directed at Ginny, in a split second.

“Yes.” Ginny had seen the letter that had come for Jack, and now I wished I had tucked it away inside the accounts book so that it remained a secret. She looked a little nervous at having witnessed her father speaking to me in such a manner, glancing quickly at me before nodding her head. “There’s a letter here somewhere, I’ll get it for you.”

Watching Ginny rush to the accounts book I had been working on, I tried to catch her eye and warn her it wasn’t a good idea to show anything to her father, but she was intent on doing what she thought was best for her brother and didn’t look at me. She gave the letter to her father, who read it through quickly, then tucked it inside his jacket pocket.

“Leave it with me,” he said. “I’m sure that I can work out very favourable finance for Jack should he insist on paying me back, but meanwhile I can take the immediate worry away. The cottage is a legacy to our family from Bryn and Jordan, and I should hate to see it sold to an outsider. When Jack gets home be sure to tell him we can discuss this at any time suitable, to put his mind at rest.” He kissed Ginny on the cheek and hugged her briefly. “I should be on my way, darling. I shall see you soon.”

As he left, with Jonathan at his side, I could only wonder at Jack’s response when he found out what Ginny had done, and I was certain it wasn’t going to be as favourable as Ginny imagined. As for Ginny, a woman usually so capable and reliable, I thought she was far too trusting of her father.

However, since none of it was actually my business and Ginny had been happy to see her father, I said nothing and went to clear up the cups, still full of the tea Ginny had made. I had no intention of causing any bad feeling between us, and thankfully she left not long after and we didn’t have time to discuss any of it.

I saw Jonus several more times that day and each time he was a little closer to the house, as if he was deliberately trying to alarm me. He was succeeding, and by the fifth time I saw him I was feeling particularly uneasy. As it grew dark I made sure all the windows and doors were locked and drew all the curtains across so I couldn’t see him, even if he was outside. I sat at the kitchen table for most of the evening and eventually finished Jack’s books, but the uneasy feeling stayed with me and I longed for Jack to come home.

He called me later and I was confident enough about my figures to tell him he was now able to keep the taxman happy. He sounded pleased, until he asked if I had seen anything of his family and I told him of the visit by his father and brother. I said nothing about the letter, just that Oliver wanted to see him when he returned. I did tell him about Jonus hovering outside and mentioned that I was worried about him being there, but he told me not to be and that tomorrow I should just tell him to clear off. Jonus was playing silly mind games with me, he said, and I shouldn’t stand for any nonsense. He rang off after promising to be home tomorrow night.

I didn’t see anybody else until he got home. The next day I was uncomfortable in myself and put my aches and pains down to the spring cleaning we did the day before. The time went very slowly and I seemed to doze either in the chair or my bed for most of the day. By the time he walked in that night the pain had been niggling away for almost twenty-four hours, not serious pain, or what I imagined the pain of labour to be, just a nagging ache that wouldn’t go away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

I didn’t tell Jack about it. He came in about ten o’clock on the evening of that Friday and sat down gratefully in front of the television with a cup of coffee and a plate full of sandwiches I made in case he was hungry. He was. In fact, he was starving because he hadn’t wanted to stay out for another night longer than he needed to, but he refused my offer of cooking him a meal because it was late and he didn’t like to sleep on a full stomach. So he ate the sandwiches and brought the coffee back to the kitchen to sit at the table with me. He still had a huge bruise around his eye, but his lip had cleared up and he looked a lot better than he had when he left the morning after his beating. I also noticed that he’d had his hair cut.

“You’ve been cleaning again,” he accused.

“Ginny did most of it.”

“You shouldn’t do it, either of you. I don’t expect it.”

I laughed at him. “Somebody has to do it, and I don’t mind, honestly. It makes me feel like I’m being useful while you’re away.” Actually, it made me sound as if I’d moved in for good, I thought.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” he said, and I was surprised. He’d been thinking about me? Did that mean he wanted me to leave now I had finished his accounts? It was only fair, I supposed, since that was the deal we’d agreed on and I really had outstayed my welcome by now.

“I will be leaving,” I said, hurriedly. “I can move to the place Ginny found for me in a couple of days. They’re expecting me.”

He grinned and hooked his feet up on another chair, ignoring the look of disapproval I shot at him. “Ginny called me last night. She wants me to let you stay here.”

“No.” I shook my head as I spoke that one word. “That’s not fair of her.”

“Ginny never asks, she tells. As it happens, I agree with her.”

I tried not to pull a face as the niggling pain struck me again, but placed a hand over my stomach and made myself more comfortable in the chair. “And what is it you agree with?”

“Do you want to stay here until the baby comes?”

Yes, I did. Yes, I did!

“I can’t do that,” I said.

“You can now. When the baby comes you can think again about what you want to do. If you want the kid adopted you can arrange it from here and then look for work when you feel up to it.”

“You didn’t want me around when the baby comes,” I reminded. “As I recall, you were more scared of the baby coming here than you were of going to hospital.”

“That’s part of the deal,” he said, mysteriously. “See, Ginny promised me that when you went into labour she would get over here so quick that I wouldn’t be left to deal with any of it, and believe me, you really wouldn’t want me dealing with any of it. That way, she can get you to the hospital and I won’t have to see anything gory.”

“That’s good,” I said. “Ginny told me you were a terrible scaredy-cat when it comes to hospitals.”

He raised his hands in the air and grinned again. “I confess.”

“Why,” I asked him, out of interest. “What is it that you’re so afraid of?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know why, just that I’ve always been like it, even as a kid, and the second I step inside the door I’m shaking, sweating, sick and dizzy. Ginny said it’s a phobia and to get over it I should get a job as a hospital porter, but that’s my sister for you.”

Feeling a sharp pain below my stomach, I wanted to double over, but to do that would be to admit to him that I was having problems, and after what he had told me I thought it could wait until morning. It wasn’t labour pain, and by now I was convinced that all I had was trapped wind. The baby hadn’t kicked me all day, but in all honesty I was glad of the rest from it. I’d had a letter come through for me only that morning to attend a scan at Truro hospital on Monday morning, and I could always call Ginny in the morning to get her opinion.

“Anyway,” Jack continued, “what do you want to do?”

“I want to stay, but only if that’s what you really want. You don’t have to listen to Ginny.”

“Yes, I do. She hits me if I don’t.” He grinned quickly, then shrugged. “In any case, I’ve sort of got used to you being here.”

“To having a meal put in front of you now and again,” I added, “and your washing done from time to time.”

“That too. And I owe you something for all the work you put in.”

“We haven’t finished yet. Ginny is making plans for the next room when you go away for long enough.”

He reached down to unlace his work boots. “That sister of mine…”

“She loves you to bits.”

He looked up from his laces. “I love her too, you know. I might not always show it, but I do. Dan and Ginny are the best friends I have in the world, and I’d never want to let them down. They’re important to me. Dan’s always stood by me.”

“I’ve told him about your money worries,” I blurted, suddenly, anxious to get that off my chest. “He was worried sick when you went off to find your father the other night, and he was also a bit put out that you didn’t tell him yourself.”

“Then Ginny will know by now.” He appeared thoughtful as he stared at the table. “Do you think I should sell this place?”

“It would solve your problems.”

He got up to put the kettle on and make fresh coffee. When he’d finished he beckoned me back to the other room and the comfort of the armchairs, for which I was grateful.

“Bryn didn’t like it here. Everybody thinks she did because Jordan, that was her husband, had it designed and built for her, but she didn’t. Bryn confided in me a lot, and even when I was only eleven or twelve she talked to me like I was an adult, and she always wanted to know what I thought. Jordan wasn’t like that, he never listened to anything she had to say.”

“Don’t tell me he hated you too.”

“Hated me? With a vengeance. I remember him one time Dan and me climbed into a car he had, an old Daimler, and when he found us in there he got hold of me and thumped me from one end of the garden to the other. Bryn cried for a long time after that. She stuck plasters on every cut I had, rubbed ointment into every bruise and graze, told everyone I’d fallen off a wall, and told me to stay out of Jordan’s way. I always did after that.”

“How old were you?” I asked, amazed that anyone would do such a thing.

“Seven. He died when I turned eleven, that’s when I came here to live with Bryn. Up until the day he died he would always raise his fist to me if I got too close.”

“But that’s awful,” I said. “You must have been so alone.”

Sliding off his boots and throwing them into the corner of the room, he nodded. “I’ve always felt alone. Always, apart from when I had Karen.”

“I don’t like to think of you being alone.” God, had I really said that out loud?

He looked at me then, through blue eyes so full of confusion that I wanted to go to him, push his hair from his forehead and hug him. I could see the little boy he had just been speaking of, lost and alone, nobody to love him. He didn’t say anything and I forced myself from the chair, thinking that perhaps another coffee might help me sleep and would also serve to remove the embarrassment I had just caused us both. I started to walk past his chair, but he took my hand and stopped me. Standing up, he reached for my other hand and held them both in his.

“I like you a lot, Lana,” he said, huskily. “You’ve been on my mind for most of the haul, ever since that day I kissed you, and Ginny didn’t call me, it was the other way round.”

“You really want me to stay?” God, my heart was hammering so hard I thought he might hear it.

“I like you. I can’t offer you anything more than that, just friendship and somewhere to live for a while in return for a few meals here and there. How about it?”

Thoughts swirled around inside my head and I was as confused as he. He was asking me to stay and be his friend, but nothing more. Did I want that? I wanted more, lots more, but I was hardly in a position to ask for it. Right now I needed friends, and Jack, Dan and Ginny were just that. I needed them and I needed the place to stay. I blinked as tears stung my eyes.

“I want to stay,” I cried. “I need your help, Jack. I’m so frightened that I can’t even think straight anymore, and all I need is somebody to help me though it, that’s all.” That was it, the tears rolled and I pushed my face into his shoulder, sobbing for all I was worth. For a moment he just let me cry, then he put his arms around me and patted my back, gently, until the sobs died away. Then he kissed the top of my head and holding me at arm’s length, he smiled.

“Then we’ve got another deal? You need me and I need you.”

I nodded, so relieved that I could have thrown my arms around his neck and hugged him again. It was a miracle answer to my immediate problems and a weight had been lifted from me. When it came time to my giving birth, Ginny would be with me and I wouldn’t have to be alone. I rubbed the back of my hand over my tear-stained face and sniffed.

“Deal,” I said, and allowed him to lead me to the mattress.

“Get some sleep,” he said, gently. “You look as if you need it.”

I did. I was so tired that I felt I could sleep for a solid month, but as my head touched the pillow the niggling pains began again and I clutched at my stomach. They were getting worse and I decided to give Ginny a call first thing in the morning. Throughout the night, though, they got steadily worse, and by six o’clock the next morning, as I reached the bathroom in extreme pain, I felt a trickle of water run down my thighs. It turned quickly into a river that left a puddle on the bathroom floor, and when it didn’t stop I tried to reach Jack’s room. By now the pain was excruciating, and holding on to the door of his room I struggled to catch my breath before I screamed his name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

To give Jack his due, he was up before I could scream his name for a second time, and into a pair of jeans before the third.

“What?” he was yelling, trying to zip them up. “Not the baby? It’s not due yet.”

I was in too much pain to say anything, so he pushed me over to his bed and sat me on the edge. “Lie down, take it easy,” he said, but his face was pale and his hands were shaking. “I’ll go and call Ginny.” It was a mean way to wake him, I thought for a brief second, then the pain was doubling me over again. There was no way I could lie down on his bed, and I didn’t want to

“Ambulance,” I managed to say as the pain subsided for a moment. “Get an ambulance.”

“But I told Ginny I’d……….”

“Get a bloody ambulance!” I screamed at him.

He didn’t stop to argue with me that time, and soon I heard him thumping downstairs, shouting obscenities as he went. I took some deep breaths and tried to remember a television programme I’d watched recently about women giving birth and the methods of pain control they used, but in the end the pain numbed all my senses and I couldn’t think of anything else but panic. I was so scared that I called Jack’s name, wanting him with me despite his declarations that he was going to have nothing to do with this birth. I wanted someone, anyone.

He was back in minutes. “Ambulance is on the way,” he said, grabbing his shirt and dragging it on. He buttoned it up wrong the first time, swore loudly and did it again. “Stay calm,” he was saying to me while he looked for socks. “Just stay calm, it’ll be okay. Where the hell is Ginny?”

I assumed from that that he had called Ginny and she hadn’t answered the telephone. I started to cry. She was supposed to have come with me.

“What am I going to do?” I wailed, loudly.

Jack came to sit on the edge of the bed with me as he laced up a pair of trainers. “It’ll be fine,” he soothed, but he was still shaking and it didn’t do much to restore my confidence. “Ginny probably didn’t hear the phone. I’ll try again.”

“But I’ll be all alone, and I’m scared.”

“Well, there’s no stopping it now,” he said, unhelpfully. “This time tomorrow it’ll all be over. Think of it that way.”

But I couldn’t think at all. The pain was unbearable and I flung myself into his arms, burying my head in his shoulder and screaming loudly. “Help me,” I pleaded, hysterically. “Help me?” I had never known such pain in my life. It took over my whole body and I wanted to double over in agony. I gouged my fingers into his shoulders as another contraction came, and felt him flinch.

“Take it easy,” he said. “Where the hell is the ambulance?” He snatched his mobile phone from his bedside table and with shaking fingers dialled Ginny’s number again, shaking his head when there was no answer. “She said she’d be here when it happened.”

“Don’t leave me,” I pleaded. “Come with me.”

“I’ll keep calling Ginny………damn!”

“What?” I closed my eyes and had another attempt at breathing deeply through another contraction. I had to do this, I had to try and get it right.

“They’ve gone away for the weekend, to visit Dan’s sister in Newquay. I remember her telling me yesterday.”

I heard the panic rising in his voice now and it didn’t help. “She’s supposed to come with me,” I wailed. “She’s my birth partner. It’s not supposed to come yet.”

“Well it sure as hell is.”

“You come with me? Pleeeease?”

“I can’t ……Jesus, will you let go of my shoulder.”

“I can’t do this…….I can’t.” My mind was racing a hundred miles an hour now. I hadn’t expected it yet, I hadn’t, because I’d kept my head firmly in the sand, learned any breathing techniques, and refused to read a lot of the information Ginny had brought for me.

Jack put his hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye. “You’ll do it, girl. It’ll be fine once you get to the hospital. They know what they’re doing, they’ll give you that pain relief stuff and you probably won’t feel a thing.”

It crossed my mind that he knew little or nothing about having a baby, which was just a little bit less than I did, but the one thing I did know was that pain was a large part of the procedure. “You wouldn’t have left Karen on her own,” I threw at him, suddenly, and I felt him stiffen. “Would you have sent her off in the ambulance, too?” It was unfair, and afterwards I regretted saying it, but I was desperate to have him go with me and didn’t care what I said. Instead of getting angry and walking away, he put his arm around me and told me to calm down.

“It’ll all be over soon,” he tried to say, and I copied his sigh of relief as we heard the ambulance siren outside. Within minutes I was being lifted downstairs and taken to the waiting vehicle.

Jonus was standing by the open doors, watching me, a disconcerting smile on his face, enjoying my pain. “Devil’s baby,” he smirked. “Born to be thrown into the fires of hell, born to suffer, born to die.”

“Who is he?” one of the paramedics asked as they pushed me into the ambulance.

I shook my head, too full of pain to tell him, but I heard Jack shouting at him, telling him to get lost before he got hold of him.

“Jack?” I screamed. “Come with me.”

He wasn’t given a lot of choice in the end. He ran to pull the door shut behind us, then assuming he was the father, the paramedic shoved him inside before he had a chance to argue. He sat, white-faced, on the other side of the ambulance while the paramedic hovered over me, telling me it was all going to be fine, that the birth wasn’t imminent and I had plenty of time to get to hospital. Once there, I gripped his hand tightly and he was forced along with me until we got to the labour wards, and by the time I was safely installed into a bed with any number of monitors attached to me, I wasn’t sure who looked the worst for our ordeal. He went to the bathroom twice to be sick, and he was shaking and sweating profusely.

The whole experience was nothing short of a nightmare. I was completely unprepared for giving birth, I knew nothing of breathing techniques or birthing plans, and so I fumbled my way through it with the support of the nursing staff. There seemed to be no end to the pain, even with the liberal amounts of gas and air I wasn’t coping with it. This was nothing like I had imagined giving birth to be. While I hadn’t expected it to be a joyous experience, since the baby would be adopted, I had at least assumed I would be able to deal with the pain of it. Towards the end I screamed and shouted, digging my nails into Jack’s forearm until he tried to prise them away because I was hurting him so much. I wanted this baby out, and I wasn’t prepared to wait any longer. I’d had enough.

Minutes turned into hours and each time I looked at the clock it said a different hour, and yet time was passing so slowly. Most of the time I was so wracked with pain that clear thinking was impossible. Nurses came and went, faces changed according to shift, and I was so tired I was losing the battle. I didn’t want to fight any more. I had no interest in it, and I wanted to close my eyes and let the pain ease away. Never again would I do this.

And then I heard Jack’s voice through the pain, through the mist in my head, coaxing me, stroking his hand over my face, telling me it was nearly over, that I had to listen to the midwife, I had to do what she wanted and soon the baby would be born. I did as he said. I tried harder, pushed harder, did everything she told me. Sometimes when I opened my eyes I saw the panic in his. He was as unprepared for this as I had been, and was probably in shock. If I grabbed his hand it felt sweaty, but he let me hold on to it, and still he encouraged me.

It was nearly midnight on Saturday when the baby gave in gracefully and made an appearance. By then I was absolutely exhausted and Jack’s face was showing the strain he was under. For a while the whole room seemed to be full of people and we were completely overwhelmed. The baby was whisked away after being shown quickly to me, and soon I heard that newborn cry and looked for Jack. He was no longer standing by my side, but had gone to watch the nurses handling the baby, and when he did look back at me he was smiling. He mouthed the words ‘it’s a boy’ at me, but I was fighting the maternal feelings welling up inside of me and I didn’t want to hear it.

Once the baby was wrapped up they brought him to my side, but I couldn’t look at him. If I took one look at his face I might want to keep him, and that was against everything I had decided.

“Take him away,” I begged of the nurse, and she looked shocked.

“Wouldn’t you like to look at him, love? A beautiful baby boy, ten fingers and ten toes, all there he is, and lovely too.”

“No,” I whispered. “I’m too tired.”

“Oh, we’ll let dad hold him for a while, then.” And to my surprise she gave the baby to Jack, who didn’t protest but glanced at me quickly before looking down into the bundle in his arms. He was awkward, obviously had never held a newborn baby before, and the nurse pointed him to the chair at the side of my bed so that he could hold the baby more comfortably.

“I’ll get you both a nice cup of tea,” she said, briskly. “And then we’ll leave you alone to get used to each other.”

And so it was, with a cup of tea on the table by my bedside, that Jack and I were left alone in the room with the baby, who thankfully was quiet. I still tried not to look at him, but the feelings were still there, urging me on, telling me this was my baby and I needed to hold him to me. I resisted for a while longer while I drank the tea, relishing the taste after the long hours without a drink.

“Lana?” Jack whispered. “Don’t you want to hold him?”

There was something in Jack’s voice that made me turn my head to look at him. He was tired, with two days worth of stubble on his face and with his uncombed hair he looked like something the cat had dragged in, but his eyes were bright as he looked at me.

“I can’t.” I began to cry again and hated myself for doing it when I had promised myself I would be strong about it.

He stood up, came to my bedside and placed the bundle in my arms and I held my baby to my chest. Looking down at that little wrinkled face I saw that he was indeed perfect, but I didn’t want to feel anything. I didn’t want to love him because I had to give him away.

“He should get to know his mother,” Jack said.

I handed my little boy back to him. “I have to think about it,” I said. “I’m too tired to think of anything now.” My eyes were so heavy that I had difficulty keeping them open. My body ached all over and wasn’t helped by the soreness between my legs. A few stitches had been put in, I was told, and it might be uncomfortable for a bit. There was no ‘might’ about it. It was damned uncomfortable.

“You sleep,” Jack said. “I’ll stay a while longer.”

“But it makes you feel ill,” I protested.

He grinned. “I think maybe Ginny was right, only don’t you go telling her. The best cure for a hospital phobia is to be in one for a couple of days watching a baby trying to get born.”

I rested my head against the plump pillows and tried to relax enough to be able to sleep. Just before I closed my eyes I saw Jack return to the chair and sit down with the baby in his arms. He still looked pale, but he had eyes only for my baby. Through a heavy, sleepy haze I was aware of a nurse talking to him about bottle feeding until I was feeling better and up to having a go myself, and opening one eye lazily, I saw her watching over Jack while he fed the baby. Closing my eyes I let myself drift into the darkness of sleep, comfortable in the knowledge that whatever I decided to do, I had the support of friends behind me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

I then spent the worst two days of my life in the hospital. Jack came in for a fleeting visit the first day, but only to tell me he had a run to make that would take him away for a night or two, and since I was being looked after in here, he might as well do it.

I saw his point of view, of course I did, but having woken that morning and forced myself to have a bath and wash my hair ready for his visit, I was sorely disappointed. He brought my toiletries bag and a towel. I had expected him to be keen to see the baby, since he had held and fed him last night, but he wasn’t. He glanced at the cot once, but made no effort to look properly at him, nor did he make any comment. I had gone to great lengths to make sure my hair was clean and shiny, including having to beg and borrow some shampoo, and tried to look my best even if I did feel saggy and worn out. He’d barely looked at me, though, and I had been bitterly disappointed.

He might as well take on work while I was in here, and to be honest I didn’t want to be the cause of him losing money. He could ill afford to keep the lorry standing still for too long, but when he left, barely ten minutes after getting there, I missed him so much that it hurt. So much, in fact, that by the end of the second day all I wanted to do was scream out loud and throw things around the room.

Despite my protests the baby had been left with me, both of us transferred to a private room while I was persuaded that the best thing to do was keep him with me for a while until I was a little more certain of my feelings for him. I had done my best to ignore his cries of hunger, knowing that if I did so for long enough one of the nurses would come and bottle feed him for me. I didn’t have a lot of time for him. The nurses were extremely patient with me, but I was very reluctant to breast feed in case I felt a bond of any sort. By the end of that second day they had persuaded me to bottle feed him, and I did, but as I watched him feed I still had my doubts. There was too much to think about. If I kept him it reduced my chances of finding decent work, or of every finding a good relationship and possibly marriage one day. If I gave him up would I regret it for the rest of my life? Even a happy marriage could be jarred permanently if I couldn’t forget the baby I had given away. And then, in eighteen years time he might just turn up and announce himself. With tears pouring down my face I imagined myself in twenty years time when he knocked on my door and asked why I had given him away. What would I tell him? That I was afraid? That I was scared of the hardship ahead if I kept him?

I had been so scared to have this baby, and even now, when it was all over I was still scared of what was to come. I wondered if Connor ever thought about me, or if he had any thoughts about his baby. Probably not, I thought, miserably. There was no magic formula. This was the biggest decision I was ever to make, and I had to do it alone. I had been assigned to a social worker once it was made clear that I was a single mother with no family to help me, and she was okay, but her questions were never-ending and I didn’t want to answer any of them. How could I when I didn’t know what the answers were? I had no idea what I was going to do tomorrow, let alone in six months time.

Ginny came in to see me several times and I don’t know how I would have coped without her. She didn’t pester me with questions, but seeing the torture I was putting myself through, she stuck to light hearted matters such as the weather, and I was relieved at that.

Strangely enough it was Dan who decided things for me. He came to see me on his own and I was surprised to see him. He had been off work ever since the accident in his lorry and was currently waiting for the repairs on his vehicle to be carried out so he could return to work. He looked much better. There was still a nasty weal on his head, but the stitches were gone and he said the bruises had all disappeared.

“Hope you don’t mind me coming in alone,” he said, making himself comfortable in the chair by my bed. “Ginny doesn’t know I’m here.”

“Of course I don’t mind.” I was dressed, and actually felt a lot better for it, even though I still had to wear maternity stuff because it was all I had. I’d had a long chat with my social worker two hours ago and she had given me a lot of advice on adoption, but it still hadn’t really made up my mind one way or another, just swayed me a little bit more towards giving him up. Now, however, I was up against time. My baby was six days old, I had been allowed to stay for as long as the nurses could keep my bed free, but I had to leave the hospital some time this weekend.

Dan looked into the cot. “He’s beautiful. Jack said he was.”

“Jack did?” At the mention of his name my stomach lurched. I had missed him so much, but dared not say that to Dan. “I thought he was still away.”

“No, he got back yesterday. I met him for a drink last night and he got talking, that’s why I came to see you today.”

“Jack asked you to?” My heart was beating very fast. He had come home yesterday but hadn’t come to see me. That told me a lot. He didn’t want to see me. It was his way of telling me that was it, I’d had the baby and so the deal was finished. Now I had to fend for myself.

“Jack doesn’t know I’ve come here either, and I’d as soon you didn’t say anything.”

“Is he all right?” I asked, breathlessly. “Has he had any more trouble?”

“A couple of letters pinned to the front door, but that’s not why I’m here. It’s something Jack said last night that made me think, and Ginny has told me how confused and upset you are about things, so I asked him outright.”

“What?” Dan was smiling and I was impatient to know what he was driving at.

“He’d had a few pints by then, of course, and that’s when Jack really starts to talk and make sense.”

“Tell me.” I punched at his shoulder.

“He said that you should keep the baby, that you can stay at the cottage. He reckons a baby should know its mother, but he doesn’t want to tell you that because he’s only known you for three weeks and says he shouldn’t interfere if you really want to give the baby up. Boy, you must have made some sort of impression on him, if that’s the way he’s thinking about you, Lana.”

“Jack really said that?” Suddenly there was a spark of hope inside me and I tried not to let it carry me away. I so wanted to believe what Dan was saying, but this was Jack we were talking about, and Jack didn’t get sentimental.

Dan laughed suddenly, then put a hand to his ribs. “Damn, it still hurts when I laugh.”

“Are you all right?”

“Oh, yeah. Think about it, Lana? Jack’s coming in tonight but he probably won’t have the guts to tell you he wants you back at the cottage, so you’ll have to give him a bit of encouragement, okay? Anyway, he’s sweating just thinking about having to come back in here.” Dan laughed again and pressed his hand harder into his ribs. “Damn, I’d have bet my whole life savings that he wouldn’t have stayed with you through that entire birth.”

“Dan, I can’t force him to have me there, especially with a baby.”

Dan grinned and his eyes sparkled. “Believe me, Lana, you won’t be forcing him. He spent an hour telling me all about the birth, then another telling me how to feed a baby, and how great he was. This was not the Jack that I know, but like I said, he’d had a few pints by then, and he turned into a sentimental bastard. He does that sometimes.”

“Are you sure?” I whispered, actually daring to hope.

“He’ll be in later. Give it a try.” Dan stood up and kissed my cheek. “Don’t tell him I’ve been here. Or Ginny. Then again, Ginny always seems to know these things without me telling her anything.” He grinned, winked at me. “Cross your fingers.” And then he kissed my cheek and left before I could ask any more questions.

It gave me the rest of the afternoon to think about what he had said. Later I picked up my baby when he cried and took the bottle from the nurse when she came to feed him. She looked surprised, but didn’t say anything, just left me to it. Later, when she came back I asked her to show me how to wash and change him.

I cried again as I cuddled him. Here he was, already six days old and I hadn’t even given him a name. It wasn’t something I had even considered over the last nine months, so I didn’t have a prepared list like most new mothers did. Looking down into his little face I wanted to tell him that I loved him and that it was all going to work out for us in the end, except I didn’t know when that end would be.

Jack came in around six o’clock. He stood in the doorway for a while and I saw the gleam of sweat on his forehead, the damp hair sticking to it, and the way he rubbed the palms of his hand down the thighs of his jeans. I smiled. Obviously he wasn’t completely over his phobia yet.

“You can come in,” I said, shyly.

He did, coming in to sit on the end of the bed. I had made every effort possible to look the best I could, difficult though that had been, and now I hoped that the six days of anxiety and tears didn’t show too much on my face. I knew it did, I had looked at myself in the mirror and hardly recognised my drawn and pale features, but I had no make up to make myself look any better, so that was it. At least my hair was shining. I was holding my baby and he reached to pull back the covers, better to see the tiny face. Then he looked up at me, his eyes asking the question.

“I don’t want to give him up,” I whispered. “I need more time.”

“Then don’t give him up. You’ve got all the time you need.”

“But I…..”

“Did Dan come to see you today?”

“Uh….” What was I supposed to say to that?

“Hah, I knew it. He thinks he’s being clever, but really he’s just being sneaky.”

“What do you mean?” My heart was thumping wildly as I saw everything going pear-shaped. Jack didn’t want me back, and Dan had read it wrong.

“He thinks I won’t ask you back to the cottage. He got me drunk the other night. I should have known better, especially when he started to pay for every round. He was just trying to get me talking.”

“And?” Say it! Say it! I wanted my heart to stop thumping so much as I willed him to ask me to stay, even if it was only for a while.

“Will you?”

“Do you want me to?” I countered, not wanting to appear too keen. I had to play it carefully and not frighten him off the idea.

He shrugged his shoulders. “The kitchen’s got dust in it, and you forgot to show me the paperwork system. I can’t please the taxman if you don’t show me the right system.”

“Oh.”

“I never did learn anything quick though. Might take me a while.”

“I’m a patient teacher.”

“Just one thing though. Just so we both know………………”

“Friends?” I asked. “Just friends?”

He nodded. “I don’t want you to think……all I want to do is help you out with this baby. I’m not looking for anything else.”

“I know.”

“And it’s okay?”

I nodded, relieved. “It’s okay.”

“Good.” He took the baby from me. “Ginny’s been getting some baby stuff together for you. Dan’s got some cousin or other who has got three kids and doesn’t want more. She’s passed on a lot of things that will come in useful. Better than nothing, eh? Did you give him a name yet?”

I shook my head. “I haven’t thought of one.” I watched Jack as he held my baby and there was a lump in my throat. If only my little boy could have a father that looked at him that way, a father that would do his best for him, and love him. “Have you got any ideas?”

He shook his head. “Not me. Karen had lists and lists of names, but me, I never took much notice.” He handed my baby back to me. “Listen, if I go now I can catch the supermarket open. Is there anything you need, or do you want me to ask Ginny? She’d be better than me at knowing what to get, I suppose.”

I could see he was eager to leave. His hands were shaking as he pushed them into the pockets of his denim jacket, so I nodded. “Ginny came in yesterday. She’s getting most things I need.”

“Okay.” He hovered in the doorway for a moment, then turned to look at me. “Karen had a favourite name,” he said. “Kurtis. ‘Course, we didn’t know if it was a boy or not, but we both liked it.”

I considered it. I liked it well enough. Looking down into the face of my baby, I smiled. “Kurtis,” I said. “Do you suppose Karen would mind?”

He shook his head, started to smile, then turned and left without as much as another word. Inside I felt much more hopeful, and yet there was a butterfly feeling in my stomach. I was still scared. I was about to take this baby out into the big, wide world and I needed to know so much more than I did. With a rising excitement inside me, I pressed the button that would bring one of the nurses to me. I had a lot of questions to ask.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Jack collected me from hospital twenty-four hours later, having put his work on hold for a couple of days so that he could be around to help me should I need it. I had been dumbstruck by his eventual response to my baby, not having expected him to react in such a positive way. Dan’s cousin had come up trumps and produced a cot, moses basket and pram, a well as a small pile of baby clothes. Ginny had dragged a complaining Jack into Truro to return with bottles, sterilizers, powdered milk and nappies, plus anything else I could possibly need until I was properly on top of things again. They made sure I wasn’t left alone for one minute, and with the constant flow of doctors and health visitors, the rest of the week flew by before I knew it.

It wasn’t an easy week. I got more wrong than I did right, ending up in tears several times, but by the following weekend I was beginning to get used to my baby and his needs. He had been born seven pounds and thirteen ounces, a perfect baby with wisps of minky-coloured hair that stuck straight up on top of his head. He was as good as gold, sleeping for several hours at a time and he fed well. Perfect, I supposed, but then I was biased.

Jack stayed his distance through it all, although sometimes I caught him looking in the cot or the pram with a smile on his face. He wanted Kurtis and me to get used to each other without having him around all the time, but I would have been happy to have him around constantly, or to hold Kurtis whenever he wanted to. He didn’t return to work until the Monday after I’d had Kurtis, even though I begged him not to refuse loads on my account because he needed the money so badly, but he seemed happy to be around the cottage and I was happy to have him there.

Ginny spent a lot of time with me at first. Motherhood didn’t come easily to me and initially I was very jealous that Ginny always seemed to know what to do or how to help. Considering she’d never had a child of her own I was amazed at her natural maternal instinct. As for me, I didn’t appear to have an instinct, and so I struggled with most aspects of baby care. I was unsure of myself and there were many times I wanted to walk away from it all and cry myself to sleep, but I persevered with her encouragement. Dan was back to work, his lorry had been repaired and he was happy to return, but I sensed that Ginny was on edge. The baby was her way of keeping her mind off Dan and the threatening letter we had found on our door the night of his crash. There had been a heated debate in the cottage the night before he returned to work. Ginny was worried about the threat being carried out, Dan was of a mind to ignore it and Jack agreed with him. I think I was more on Ginny’s side than anything, but didn’t offer my opinion because in the end the decision was down to Dan, and he wanted to go back to work.

There were more letters. I found a pile of them by accident when I was looking for the sterilizing tablets Jack had put somewhere. They had been shoved in a drawer, and I pulled them out wondering why they were in there. On reading them I felt a chill come over me as I realised they were basically the same as the other one, threatening what was to come if Jack didn’t leave the cottage. They had given him until the New Year, and then the threats were to be carried out. He hadn’t mentioned them to me and I hadn’t seen them being delivered, so I was surprised to find them, but it was the last that bothered me the most. It told him he didn’t deserve to live, and that he was the lowest of the low and the sooner he went, the safer people would sleep at nights. I pushed the notes back in the drawer and didn’t say anything to him, as he’d probably hidden them there to protect Ginny. They did upset me, however, and I was far more protective of Kurtis after seeing them.

I had visits from Albert Dunn and his wife, Ruby, who spent an entire afternoon lecturing me on how to take care of a baby. I listened to her advice knowing she had been a midwife and knew what she was talking about, but I would have been far more interested if she could have told me why I felt so down and depressed all the time. The slightest thing could reduce me to tears and I was sure Jack was beginning to get fed up with me. Coral and Tony brought me gifts for the baby, which was really good of them, but I stood back while Coral ooohed and aahhed over the baby and couldn’t wait for them to leave. Then, when Kurtis was two weeks old we had a visit from Oliver Clayton.

It was six o’clock in the evening and Jack hadn’t been home long. I was about to feed Kurtis, but as he wasn’t crying and seemed perfectly content to snuggle into Jack’s shoulder while he watched television, I wasn’t in a hurry to do so. It had been a long day, Kurtis had cried his way through most of it and an extra half an hour to catch up on other things was a better idea, so I wasn’t amused when a knock sounded at the front door.

Oliver pushed his way past me when I opened it, and I followed him to the living room, rushing to take Kurtis from Jack as his face darkened at the sight of his father.

“You’re not welcome here,” he said, and I went cold at the tone of his voice. He had been so relaxed lately that I had almost forgotten about his bad temper.

“Actually I’ve brought you some good news,” Oliver said, “so it would be a good idea to hear me out instead of jumping to the wrong conclusion.”

“I’m listening.” Jack stood, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his jeans, his very stance indicating that he wasn’t prepared to listen for very long. “You’ve got two minutes.”

“I have a little surprise for you. You no longer owe Karen’s parents anything. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that.” His whole tone of voice suggested he didn’t think that at all, so I took Kurtis to the other end of the room to change his nappy before feeding him.

Jack’s face had reddened. “How did you know about that?” He looked over at me, but I busied myself with the nappy.

“Virginia was concerned about you, and quite frankly, you should have come to me a lot earlier. She showed me the letter you received from her parents and I took it from there.”

“You paid it?”

“You couldn’t, and it’s hardly fair to keep an old couple like that waiting for so much money. Besides, what’s a father for if he can’t help one of his children out from time to time?” Oliver smiled indulgently and pulled a monetary note from his pocket. He came to tuck it into the tightened fist of my baby and I saw that it was a fifty. Jack was there immediately to snatch it away and throw it back. I froze, hoping this wasn’t going to turn into a full scale argument. The mobile phone was on the kitchen table and I gave thought to calling Dan and Ginny should things get out of control. Picking Kurtis up I took him to the kitchen to be out of the way in case it turned nasty, then I hovered at the door, listening to what was being said.

Oliver was keeping his cool, which was more than Jack was doing as he explained the terms of the loan agreement he wanted Jack to sign. From what I gathered he expected the sum of three hundred pounds a week from Jack towards paying off his debts, or Jack could hand over the deeds of the cottage and they would call it even.

The response he got turned the air blue and I was glad Kurtis was not of an age to be picking it up. I heard the tearing of paper, then Oliver saying he had copies at home and it wouldn’t matter. However much Jack didn’t like it, he had to pay his debt and that was that. Moments later I heard the front door close quietly behind Oliver.

Jack was in the living room picking up the torn pieces of paper and throwing them onto the fire. I brought the bottle through and sat in the armchair to feed Kurtis, not sure of what to say and in the end saying nothing at all, since he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to say anything sensible. I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of his bad temper.

I placed a sleeping Kurtis in his cot half an hour later, covering him over and knowing he would sleep for most of the night now. The cot had taken the place of my mattress in the sitting room, which was the warmest room in the house, despite Jack having brought home some small electric heaters to warm the bedrooms at night. Ginny had helped me sort out one of the spare rooms for myself, and at night I took Kurtis up to sleep in the moses basket at my side. It wasn’t ideal, but it was working.

Always having been a tidy-minded person, and one who liked to have some sort of order in her life, I had, over the last few days, tried to develop a routine that would help me get some meaning back in my life. I found an unused laundry basket which I placed on the landing, and from there I sorted out machine loads of washing. After a few days of looking around Jack’s room for his washing, he had caught on to the idea and was putting his own washing in the basket, and so it became on organised affair rather than a search under chairs, beds and cots. I began to wash, dry and iron with a little more enthusiasm. I was happy to make sure Jack always had a cooked meal in front of him when he was home and I kept the house as spotless as was possible. Jack had protested at first, saying that I didn’t need to worry about any of that when I should be worrying about Kurtis and myself, but this was exactly was I needed. I was pleased to be able to do it. Jack became used to having a meal put in front of him and I noticed that he tried harder to be home for the evening rather than spend another night in his cab. It made me feel good to think of him coming home to my baby and me, and that he was keen to do it.

We hadn’t kissed after that day out in the lorry, but there were times we had stopped what we were doing and looked at each other and I knew I wanted to, but was unsure of his response. Sometimes, when something had upset me, he wrapped his arms around me and cuddled me for moral support and I began to live for those moments. I had to accept that I meant nothing more to him than a friend would, but my own feelings went very much deeper, and I was in love with him more than ever.

“Did you know Ginny had spoken to my father?” Jack asked me, when he had calmed down and I placed a cup of coffee in front of him.

I nodded and he sighed heavily.

“Jesus, what did you let her do that for? You knew! You knew I didn’t want him to find out about that debt. I’ve been going over and over it in my mind, trying to work out the best way of paying it off, and now she’s gone and bloody ruined everything.”

“How can she do that?” I asked. “A debt is still a debt no matter who you owe it to. It’s still twenty thousand pounds you can’t pay.”

“And now I owe it to him, he’ll bleed me dry,” Jack growled. “It’s his way of getting the cottage off me, and breaking me in the meantime. I can’t pay him three hundred quid a week, and the interest he’ll charge on that will send me bankrupt. The only other option is to give him the cottage, which is worth a good deal more than the twenty grand.”

“He said he didn’t want the cottage going to an outsider,” I told him, recalling the day Oliver had visited Ginny. “But I thought you said nobody wanted it.”

“He doesn’t want an outsider paying me two hundred grand for it,” Jack said, “but he wouldn’t mind an outsider paying him that amount. He wants the land, Lana. The land is worth more than the cottage.”

“When he came to see Ginny that day, Ginny told him you and Dan intended to build a haulage business on here and he was horrified. He said that Jordan Ross should have had a clause in his will that prevented it ever being left to you. Why would he say that?”

“Why anything? I wish I had all the answers, but I don’t.”

“And the night those two men let themselves in here,” my mind was working overtime now. “They were looking for something they didn’t want you to find. I heard them say it, and I think one of them was Albert or Tom.”

“Albert? Don’t be stupid!” Jack looked thoughtful for a while, then shrugged. “Whatever it was they wanted, it must have been something that belonged to Bryn.”

“But the murder bit,” I insisted, a bit put out that he had dismissed my Albert and Tom theory so easily. “They definitely said about murder being committed, or ‘got away with’, as the man put it.” I shivered at the idea. “It’s creepy, but I still think Tom was in this house that night.”

Jack let out a low chuckle. “Give me a break, Lana! Tom’s too drunk to step outside the pub without falling over. And Albert – I’ve known him since I was a little kid, and he’s a friend. You’ve got it wrong.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’ve got it wrong,” he repeated, putting me firmly in my place. “Albert Dunn is a good sort, and wouldn’t do anything behind my back.”

“Well, whoever it was, they’re still looking for something they don’t want you to find,” I protested. “And I overheard something the night we came to the nightclub looking for you.”

“Overheard what?”

“Oliver talking to Albert, asking him if he found anything in the house that night. I’m still convinced it was Albert and Tom who were looking around your house.”

“Lana, you’re putting two and two together and coming up with five,” he suggested. “There’s no murder been committed around here, not that I ever heard of, and Albert wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.”

“Perhaps nobody ever heard of it because nobody knows yet,” I said, thoughtfully, not willing to drop the subject just yet. I laughed then, trying to make light of it all. “Didn’t you ever know anyone to disappear suddenly, never to be seen again?” I said it in a low, mysterious tone designed to make him laugh and help him relax a little, but he didn’t.

“Jordan Ross disappeared,” he said, and a little thud went through my heart.

“What do you mean, disappeared?”

“Not exactly disappeared, but he was supposed to have died abroad somewhere.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s all right then.”

“What if he didn’t?”

He was serious and I was reminded of a thriller I had watched a couple of nights ago. It hadn’t been particularly horrifying or else I wouldn’t have watched it, and I had thought it really corny, but watched it until the end just to see who had ‘done it’. “For goodness sake, Jack, he died abroad. Died being the operative word.”

“Bryn never went to a funeral, she was persuaded not to. He was meant to have been killed in a major car pile-up and his body was unrecognisable.”

“He still died,” I persisted, but I noticed how pale Jack had suddenly become and the look on his face told me he was delving into this murder plot of mine a lot more deeply than he should be. “Look, I was just joking,” I said, trying to calm him. “Nobody has been murdered, not really.”

But Jack had descended into a little world of his own. Brow furrowed, chewing on his lip as he contemplated something he had stored in the recess of his mind, he didn’t hear me when I said his name. Either that or he was ignoring me, so I sipped at my coffee for a while, letting him work his way through it.

“When I was eight,” he said, and I wasn’t sure if he was actually talking to me or just talking out loud as he tried to put things straight in his head, “Bryn asked my father if I could live with her permanently. I didn’t get on with him, she knew that. She knew he hit me about from time to time and she wanted me to live with her so she didn’t have to worry about me. I wanted to live with her, I really did, but at the same time I hated Jordan. She asked me about living with her and I told her I would if Jordan wasn’t there. I was eight, it was the sort of thing a kid would say.”

“She must have really loved you to want you with her,” I said.

“Yeah, she kept talking about it. Things stayed like they were for a while. I don’t remember how much time went by after that, but I was about to turn nine when Jordan went abroad for a business meeting. He never came back. Supposed to have died in a car crash. I was young, I remember Bryn telling my father the news and I all thought was I didn’t like the guy anyway.”

“A natural reaction,” I said. “You were young.”

“On my ninth birthday the businesses Jordan owned were all signed over to my father. He then brought down a suitcase with all my things in it and told me I was going to live with Bryn.”

I let out a little gasp. “You don’t think Oliver killed Jordan, do you?”

He snapped out of his reverie and looked at me scornfully. “You’ve been watching too many crime programmes. My father wouldn’t kill to gain businesses.”

“Well, good!” I said. “That’s a relief.”

“And if he wanted somebody dead, he’d pay somebody else to do it.,” Jack growled at me.

“I hope you’re joking,” I said.

“Yeah.” He chuckled. “No.”

“Well, it is a bit far-fetched,” I said, flapping one of Kurtis’ bibs at him. He grinned at me, shrugged his shoulders. “Jordan died in a car crash abroad,” he said. “Simple as that.”

“Okay then,” I said, “back to our original problem. Assuming that you don’t want to give the cottage or the land to your father……………….”

“I don’t.”

“Then you either win the lottery or pay him three hundred quid a week.”

He glared at me. “Very helpful.”

“Dig for gold? Bet on a fast horse? Football pools?” I started to laugh as he smiled, and soon he was laughing with me.

 

 

 

“You’re about as much help as Ginny.”

“But you’ll miss me when I’m gone.” I said it as a joke, but suddenly it came to me that this wasn’t forever, and that I needed to leave at some point and stand on my own two feet. Ginny had helped me fill in countless forms for benefits and family allowance that was helping me with living expenses, and there were more forms if I wanted to apply for help renting a small flat for me and Kurtis to live in. It was all coming together nicely, and I was confident enough to know I was able to live by myself and look after Kurtis, eventually to get a job as well, but I hated the idea of leaving this cottage now. I wondered if Jack would still want to get in touch with me, or if Ginny and Dan would visit occasionally. I hoped so. “After all,” I said, as light-heartedly as I could manage. “Who would cook your dinner for you?”

He smiled, but the light had gone from his eyes and he was thoughtful again. “I’m taking the day off tomorrow, mostly because I couldn’t find work. I wondered if you wanted to go into Truro, or Falmouth?”

“Oh, yes!” I jumped a the chance of going out for a while, because as much as I liked to be here, I was still feeling a bit cooped up. “What do you have to get?”

“Well, I thought we might go to the supermarket,” he said, a hint of a smile on his face. “Ginny said it’s about time I learned to take care of my own shopping, and me being a raw recruit, I thought you might help me.”

“Okay.”

“After that, we’ll get you some new clothes.”

“Oh, no, I don’t need……”

“Yes, you do.”

I did, I knew I did. I was still wearing maternity jeans and jumpers I had brought with me, and as I had already lost a good deal of my weight, they were starting to look like something from a jumble sale. “I haven’t the money to spend on things like that,” I protested. “I can make do for now.”

“Believe me,” he said, seriously, leaning towards me. “You need some decent clothes, and I’d like to buy them for you.”

“You? Out of the three hundred you owe Oliver?”

He laughed. “Yeah, why not? I like that idea better. Come with me, I’ll even buy you dinner if you don’t mind McDonald’s.”

With an offer like that, I was hardly in a position to refuse, and so the next morning we packed several bottles and what seemed like endless supplies of things we might need for Kurtis, then loaded the pram and the baby into the car and off we went.

I was happy, very happy, and Jack was too. He put the radio on and whistled away to the songs playing on it while I relaxed and watched the scenery go by. By the time we got there Kurtis was fast asleep, and luckily for us, he stayed that way.

I loved the whole day. Jack bought me two pairs of jeans and a couple of sweatshirts, then I managed to persuade him that he needed new jeans. We laughed and joked as we tried clothes on, he grinned tolerantly as I struggled to get into things, complaining about the remains of my sagging stomach and the weight I was still carrying after being pregnant. We ate burgers for dinner, then I fed and changed Kurtis before we headed to the supermarket and stocked up on the food we needed. Jack wasn’t such the raw recruit that he’d suggested, and he did let slip he’d been grocery shopping with Karen a couple of times when she’d insisted, but even so, it was a good idea for me to be there to supervise. I ended up giving him the pram and taking the trolley from him.

We were both in fairly silly moods by the time we got everything back to the cottage. Kurtis stayed asleep in the carrycot and we left him there while we put the food away in kitchen cupboards. We bumped into each other as we both tried to put away cereal boxes in the same cupboard and he dropped his box to put his arms around me, planting a kiss full on my mouth and shutting me up instantly. While taken by surprise, it still didn’t take me long to put my own arms around his shoulders and hold him to me while I kissed him back.

“I don’t want you to leave here, Lana,” he whispered into my ear.

I wanted to tell him I didn’t want to leave, that I could stay here for as long as he liked, and more than anything that was what I wanted, but something made me hold back. I held on to him tightly, not wishing to let go, and we kissed again. This time his kiss was far more urgent, he pinned me against the sink with his body, I felt his hand tangle into my hair at the back of my head, and more than anything else I felt the needs of my own body as they began to respond. When Kurtis let out a wail fit to wake the dead I was almost glad to hear it. Jack released me, looked over to the carrycot and I swear I saw disappointment on his face.

“I have to feed him,” I said, breathlessly. “He’s gone for nearly five hours as it is.”

“Yeah.” He pushed the hair back from his face and shrugged. “I’ve got some work to do on the truck. I’ll be outside if you want me.” He walked quickly to the door, stopped there and looked back at me, as if he had something else to say, but in the end he just shrugged again and went outside.

I fed Kurtis in the living room, but my thoughts were in turmoil. That last kiss had been more than I bargained for and I wondered how far he would have tried to take it if Kurtis hadn’t cried out when he did. More importantly, how far would I have let it go? While I thought I was falling in love with him, it didn’t mean he was going to feel the same way about me. Until he put Karen behind him there was little hope of us forging a relationship, and I doubt he wanted to put his memories behind him. The blue bear in his cab was testament to that.

So what should I do? I laid a rug out on the floor for Kurtis to lie on while he kicked his legs in the air and gurgled happily. Ginny and I were waiting for appointments to look at flats in Truro once my benefit money was through, but I seriously doubted I was going to afford anything half decent to say the least. It wasn’t easy for a single parent to find a place to live, no matter how independent they wanted to be. If Jack wanted me to stay here it would immediately solve all of my worries, but where did it leave us? Was I able to be around him for a considerable length of time whilst keeping my feelings to myself? Would Jack eventually want more than just kisses without being able to love me?

I played with Kurtis for a while, but my mind was on other things. To stay here was the easy option, but didn’t I need to gain my own independence? Shouldn’t I be preparing myself for the future and eventually giving Kurtis a good standard of living, of love and care, even if we didn’t have a lot of money?

I needed to talk to Jack, but I needed to talk to him when he wasn’t moody and temperamental. If he wanted me to stay, but for more than just cooking and cleaning, then he could forget it. I wasn’t a girl who liked to be used.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

As it was we didn’t get the chance to talk about anything for a long time after that. For a month Jack took on all the work he could get, and that took him away from home for anything up to a week at a time.

He told me I might as well stay at the cottage since he was rarely there anyway, and so I kept it up together for him and was glad to be able to stay. Living with Jack and having Dan and Ginny for company had been good for me. It had helped to ward off the depression I had suffered and still suffered since the birth of my baby. Ginny was wonderful and a constant source of encouragement for me. Baby blues were very common in new mothers, she said, and it would pass eventually. Sometimes I felt it was and there were other times when I cried all day and more and more I found myself thinking about my own mother and wondering if she ever thought about me. She wouldn’t know anything about my baby, of course. We’d always had a good relationship, she was a friend as well as a mum, and while I’d known she wasn’t always happy at home, I’d still had no idea she would take such drastic measures and leave so suddenly. It hadn’t given us the chance to say goodbye properly, and it had made me angry and very bitter at the time. All she had left for me was an address in Australia for the man she had gone to be with, and I had been asked never to show it to my father, so I had memorised it and thrown the evidence away. I had resolved never to contact her anyway, but now I felt differently.

It must have taken a lot of nerve to do what she did, and while I still wished she had spoken to me about it first, I found myself writing letters to her, confiding in her and asking her advice. The letters were pushed into a drawer and never posted, but it made me feel better just having put my feelings down on paper. It was a source of comfort to me when I was on my own a great deal of the time, and struggling to keep myself out of the sinking depression.

When Jack did slow down it was getting close to Christmas and I was feeling very low. I had always strived to have my family around me at this special time of year, but this time it was all very different. I had no money apart from the family allowance coming through for Kurtis, and that all had to be spent on looking after him. I was amazed at just how much it cost to keep a baby in milk and nappies. Jack helped me out an awful lot, but I never asked for his help because it was something I eventually had to learn to manage on my own, but I was grateful for it. Besides that, he was already paying for everything I used, or ate, so I kept up together with his housework, doing what I could to help him out in an effort to pay him back.

I longed for the sight of a Christmas tree, all lit up and standing in the sitting room. It would have cheered me up, and I would have liked Kurtis to see his first Christmas tree, even if he didn’t remember much about it. Jack, however, didn’t acknowledge Christmas at all, but continued to work and seemed oblivious to the festivities and the plans people were making for the end of the year celebrations. We were fast approaching the Millennium and a lot of people in the village were planning the best celebrations the village had ever seen, but Jack had volunteered for nothing.

We were invited to the Happy Man for a Christmas party and Jack went because I pleaded with him to take me, desperate to get out of the house and into some company for a while. Kurtis fell asleep as soon as we got there and stayed contentedly in Tony’s front room while I had a drink or two with Dan and Ginny. It didn’t last long, though. Tom Coleman started off by making a remark about my baby and me, and how it must be Jack’s little bastard, so Jack thumped him to the floor and we were on our way home again. I was disappointed and let the tears fall, but Jack took no notice of me.

As we approached the cottage Jack swore long and hard and left my side. In the dark I had difficulty making out what he had seen, but ran after him with the pram, frightened to be left alone. It was only when I reached the cottage that I saw a note half pinned to the door, and was aware that Jack must have seen whoever it was pinning it there, because he had somebody on the ground near the wall. Over in the barn on the other side of the field I made out lights, and realised we hadn’t been expected to return quite so early and had surprised the culprits.

Jack was shouting loudly, but there was a squealing noise coming from the ground and I ventured closer to see that it was Jonus he had caught in the act, and that he now had him by the neck and was attempting to strangle him.

“Jack!” I screamed. “Jack, you’ll kill him.”

He loosened his hold but didn’t let go. “I should kill him,” he spat. He grabbed Jonus by the coat collar and shook him until he squealed again. “Who made you put those notes on my door?”

“Nobody, nobody,” Jonus shouted. “Not me, not me.”

“I saw you.”

“Not me, not me.”

The shouts were childlike and Jonus was panicking, his breathing heavy. I saw his body writhing and shifting as he tried to make Jack lose his hold.

“Jack, let him go,” I said. “You’re hurting him.” I’m not sure why I was defending Jonus, not after Jack had witnessed him pinning the note on the door, but I was frightened Jack might kill him. In his present mood he had been quite capable of hurting Tom more than he had, and it had taken the combined forces of Tony and Dan to get him out of the pub. “Jonus?” I called. “Will you tell us who made you put the note there, if Jack lets you go?”

“Jonus will,” he shrieked.

“He’ll just run away,” Jack shouted.

“He can’t run that fast,” I cried. “For goodness sake, Jack, you’ll kill him if you go on like this.”

I watched him drag Jonus to his feet, then shove him against the wall, holding him there. “Get the letter,” he called back to me. “I want to see what this one says.”

I did as he asked, and while I was at it I switched on the outside light that Jack had rigged up. Reading the letter quickly, I handed it to him. It called me a whore, amongst other things, and warned me that I was going to die soon if I didn’t tell Jack to leave. I burst into tears immediately, and Jack screwed the note up.

“I’m going to leave,” I cried. “I can’t be here, not like this. What if they hurt my baby?” I leaned over the pram and looked at Kurtis, still sleeping peacefully. I couldn’t put him at risk. When I looked up again Jack was watching me, still holding on to a whimpering Jonus, but he was looking at me in a way that stunned me for a moment, as if he didn’t want me to leave, as if the thought of it was more than he wanted to bear.

Then he turned and heaved Jonus back against the stone wall so that I cringed and Jonus shrieked again. “Tell me who gave you the note,” Jonus,” he roared. “I know you didn’t do it because you can’t write, so who did? Was it my father?”

“Not telling, not telling.” Jonus cried out in pain as Jack shoved him even harder.

“Was it Jonathan?”

“Not telling.”

I stood up straight and took some deep breaths to calm my hammering heart. Frightened that Jack was really going to harm Jonus, I knew I had to try and stop what he was doing. “You have to tell us, Jonus,” I said. “They have no right to threaten us, we’ve done nothing wrong.” I attempted to keep my voice even so he recognised I was there to help him, not hurt him. “Jack, let him go. He might talk to us properly if you’re not threatening him all the time.”

For all my efforts, all I got was a long, gnarled finger pointed at me. “Whore!” Jonus shouted. He spat on the ground in front of me and his eyes picked up the glare of the outside lights, making him look like a demon as he glared at me. He was awful and he repulsed me. Jack slapped him hard across his face with the back of his hand and he screamed into the darkness.

“You listen to me,” Jack said, gripping Jonus by his coat lapels and almost lifting him off his feet. “I don’t want you around here, got that? I don’t want to see you, or hear you, and I don’t want you living out there in that barn. You show your face around here again and I’ll kill you.” Then, with a hefty shove, he pushed Jonus away from him, sending the old man sprawling to the ground.

Rolling over onto his back, Jonus pointed at me again. “Wicked blood. Devil’s spawn, that’s you.” Then he got quickly to his feet, his breathing laboured and ragged. “You’ll burn together in the fires of hell, and that Devil’s child with you.” As Jack lunged towards him he fled across the garden, squealing like a pig. When he was far enough away that he knew Jack was no longer chasing him, he shouted the words again before disappearing into the darkness.

“Damn him!” Jack cursed. “Damn him!”

“Why does he say those things?” I asked, a slightly hysterical note to my voice. He had frightened me and I was shaking, although why he should was beyond me. He was just some silly tramp saying silly words, and yet they seemed to bore into my soul just as his eyes had done.

“I don’t know.” Jack was staring across at the barn. “There’s a light on over there.”

“You said he stays in there sometimes.”

“Yeah, and the stupid fool lights candles in there. I’ve warned him about it before.” He pulled the truck keys from his pocket and went to collect a torch. “I’m going to have to go over there and check. Maybe one day he’ll burn the bloody lot down with him in it.”

I hesitated for a moment, looking at the pram and wondering what I should do as Jack vaulted the wall and started across the field. Not wanting to stay on my own, even for ten minutes, I grabbed Kurtis, bundled him up in all the blankets I had in the pram and cuddled him inside Jack’s borrowed anorak. The night was cold and my breath came in white wisps of cloud as I walked quickly after Jack, soon regretting my decision as the air snapped at my face and numbed my fingers.

Jack was standing just inside the barn when I reached it, and just as he had thought, there were several candles burning on tin trays balanced on a bale of hay. Jack snuffed them out. “Stupid old fool,” he said. “I’ve a mind to set fire to it myself one day and put an end to the problem.”

“Why does he stay in here?” I asked.

“Nobody else will have him near them. He’s evil, Lana. Don’t listen to Ginny when she says he’s harmless, because he isn’t. Don’t let him come near you or the baby.”

“What do you mean, evil?” I shivered, partly from the cold and partly from the warning.

“I can’t explain, except that he was fine with Bryn because she fed him and made sure he was all right. He liked her, but he doesn’t like me.”

“You are nasty to him,” I pointed out. “You nearly killed him.”

“No, I mean years ago. When I was a boy and came here first he would shout and taunt me then. It was as if he was jealous of me taking up Bryn’s time, although she never made him suffer for it. She still did everything for him, just the same.”

I stepped further into the barn to get out of the frosty night. “Oh, wow!” I said, looking directly at a vintage Rolls Royce, which by my un-expert reckoning was somewhere about the nineteen-twenties. “Who does this belong to?”

“It was Jordan’s,” Jack said. “He had a small collection of vintage stuff when he was alive. Bryn sold most of them, but kept this one, and that one over there.” He pointed towards a vintage sports car behind the Rolls. “She let me have that one and Jordan probably turned in his grave. She knew I had a passion for cars, and let me and Dan mess around with it when we were kids. We stripped it down so many times I’ve lost count, but the last time we never did get around to putting it back together. It’s an old MG.”

“A collector’s car?” I asked. I could see that it was in pieces, for engine parts were scattered all around it, and must have stayed there for a good many years if Jack had done that as a boy.”

“Yeah. I had no idea she’d kept them, not until I’d been back here for a few weeks and Jonus left a candle burning in here one night. I don’t know why she didn’t let them go with the rest, but Bryn was a bit soft-hearted about some things.”

“Would it be valuable?” I asked.

Jack pushed the hair back from his eyes as he looked the car over. “I suppose so. I’ve never looked at it in that way before.”

“Does Oliver know it’s here?”

“Probably not. I don’t know if it’s mine on paper though. Bryn just sort of said I could have it.”

“Then sell it.” I walked right up to him. “Sell it before he finds out. For God’s sake, Jack, do you mean these cars have been here all this time and you never thought about selling them?”

“I’d forgotten about them, that’s why.” But he was coming around to my way of thinking, because he walked around the MG and rubbed at the stubble on his chin as he considered the idea. “I’d have to do some work on it.”

“Get Dan to help you.” I was excited for him now. “This will help you pay Oliver off, Jack. Will it fetch much do you think?”

Jack walked back to the Rolls and studied that. “Might do, if we sell this one, too.”

“Can you do that?”

He shrugged. “There was no mention of either of these in the will, if I remember right. This barn was shut up for such a long time that I don’t suppose anyone even thought about it.” He turned back to me with a glint in his eye that said he was going to go for it. He was going to sell the cars and pay off at least some of his debt to Oliver. “Albert will tell me where the best auctions are.”

“Will he tell Oliver?”

“Probably. Maybe I’m better off finding out for myself.” He opened the door of the Rolls Royce and grinned at me. “Would madam like a ride anywhere?”

I giggled as he stood back to allow me inside. I still held Kurtis inside my coat, but he was asleep and tucked inside the blankets, so was plenty warm enough. “Harrods,” I said, “and rob the bank on the way. Don’t spare the horses, James.”

“Anything for madam.” He got into the front seat and pretended to drive. “I wonder where Bryn put the papers for these cars. Jordan was very particular about the history of the cars and he kept files for every one. I haven’t come across them in the house anywhere, and I poked around a bit when I first got here. Have you seen anything?”

I shook my head. Ginny and I had continued with our cleaning of each room in turn and had sorted out a good few bin bags of useless documents, but I didn’t remember anything to do with these cars. “Where would be a good place to look?”

“I don’t know. When Jordan died Bryn got rid of most of his belongings, said she didn’t want things cluttering up the place, so she could have thrown them out, or the papers for these might have got mixed in with the other cars he had.”

I leaned back into the seat, appreciating the comfort of the old Rolls Royce even if it was freezing cold out here. Inside my coat Kurtis was snuggled into his blankets and still fast asleep, and just for a brief moment I almost had a feeling of contentment as I looked down at his little face. He was mine, and I loved him.

Jack had stopped pretending to drive and was leaning forward on the steering wheel. “You said whoever came into the house was looking for something that Bryn could have saved.” He turned to me. “Remember?”

I’d hardly ever forget it, since I’d been so cold and frightened at the time. “They seemed certain that Bryn had something, had saved something that they needed.” I watched him climb back out of the car and followed him, curiously. He took the torch and did a tour of the barn, although there weren’t many places anything could be hidden in, but he climbed up on bales of musty, old hay, and scoured behind piles of garden implements before stopping and shrugging.

“Maybe not,” he said.

“You think she might have hidden something out here?” I asked, my breath coming in wisps of steam.

“It was a thought, that’s all.” Then I watched him as he focused on the Rolls Royce again, and the huge trunk on the back. He strode over to it, pulled it open to reveal another, smaller trunk inside. He pulled it out, not without difficulty, since it was a fairly tight fit, and he put it on the floor, but when he tried to pull the lid open, he found it was locked. He went back to the Rolls trunk to look for a key, but there didn’t seem to be one. “What do you think?” he asked, giving the trunk a quick shake and hearing something rolling around inside.

My curiosity had got the better of me and I was dying to know what was in there, and so was he judging by the annoyance on his face. “Take it back to the cottage,” I said, keen to get back to a nice warm fire. “Is it heavy?”

“Fairly, but I can manage it. Come on, let’s go in, you’ll catch a cold out here.” He handed me the torch. “Can you manage that?”

He closed the barn doors behind us and hoisted the trunk onto his shoulders before setting off across the field. I tripped along behind him, trying to keep the torch trained on the ground just in front of us. “No trip to Harrods after all then,” I joked.

“I’d have made a useless bank robber anyway.”

“Oh, I don’t know, any bank robber as good looking as you would get my vote. If I worked in a bank I’d give you all the money.”

“And I would whisk you away with me so you didn’t get into trouble for doing it,” he declared. “A regular Bonnie and Clyde, that’s what we’d be.”

“Driving off into the sunset in your truck, with our ill-gotten gains and your family in hot pursuit,” I said.

“We’d give them the slip, go somewhere they’d never think to follow us.”

“Where?”

“Lord knows. It would have to be a tiny island in the middle of the ocean for my family never to follow me.” He stopped at the stone wall, lowered the trunk onto it and helped me climb over before he followed suit. Dragging the trunk to the cottage he waited for me to unlock the front door before taking it through to the sitting room. “Damn sight warmer in here,” he sighed, stopping in front of the fire to warm himself.

I tucked Kurtis into his pram and crossed my fingers that he would stay asleep while we opened the trunk, as I was as keen as Jack to see what was inside. Kneeling down with him in front of the fire, I was relieved to feel the heat on me, warming me through.

“Okay, are you ready for this?” Jack asked. “It could be anything from the Crown Jewels to Bryn’s old pile of knitting wool.” He bent to force the box open and even I felt a sense of excitement as he prised the lid off. It didn’t take much doing. The trunk was so old it practically fell apart, and bits fell all over the carpet as the lid came off.

“Well?” I craned my neck to see what was inside, then reached to pull out a plastic bag. “Baby clothes?” I said, in surprise. I pulled them out one by one, a little knitted suit, blue in colour, although it was faded with age, and there were several small romper suits. I held up little bootees, and what was obviously a child’s first pair of shoes. “I wonder who kept all these? They must have been very special to someone to have kept them all this time.”

Jack wasn’t listening. He had pulled out several files and surveyed them with interest. “They are in here,” he said, satisfactorily. “Hey, look at this! Damned if Bryn didn’t get the log book of the MG changed into my name. She never told me that. At least I can sell that one without anyone interfering.” He opened another file and sucked in his breath. “She put the Roller in my name, too. Good old Bryn! I’ll give Dan a call in the morning and see if he’ll give me a hand putting the MG back together sometime soon. It should all be there, but chances of it going straight away are pretty slim. It’s been twenty years since we last messed about with it.”

I fished around inside the box and came out with the deeds to the cottage. “She even made sure these were in your name,” I enthused. He didn’t answer me, and I looked up at him, trying to make him look at the deeds, but he was taking out an envelope, a large one that also held a scrapbook and some loose photos. On the front of the book were the words Jack Philip Thomas Ross in large, bold lettering, and on opening the book we found it to be a photo album. Jack turned a couple of pages to see that they were all of one child, a picture book story of a child’s life, from baby pictures through to teenager. I looked on with interest.

“Who is he?” I asked.

“It’s me.” Jack’s voice was dulled and his hand was shaking as he pointed to a picture of a little boy not much more than four years old. “I’ve seen this one before. It was in a cabinet at home, my father’s home, with one of Ginny and one of Jonathan.”

I studied the picture. It was definitely Jack because those eyes were unmistakable, even at that early age. The little boy was smiling, but not happily so, more like he had been told to do so for the camera. Turning over the page he pointed to another, the same boy a year or two older. “And this one.” He flicked through a few more pages, slammed the book shut and looked again at the name on the front. “This doesn’t make sense. The pictures are all of me.”

“The name on the front doesn’t say Clayton,” I pointed out.

“But my name is Jack Philip.” He opened the front cover to read an inscription in neat handwriting. “March 15th, 1967. My birthday. Jesus” He threw the book down suddenly, as if it had just burned his fingers and I snatched it up, eager to read what it said.

“Born on this day to Bryn Charlotte and Jordan Charles Ross, of Briar Cottage, Pengarlden, Cornwall,” I read. I looked back at him. “Jack?”

His face was ashen, his eyes dull, and he pulled his hand away as I put mine on it. He looked so distraught for a moment that all I wanted to do was put my arms around him and hold him like he was that little boy in the pictures. He pushed away from me and got to his feet, and I thought I saw a single tear trickle down his cheek before he brushed it away.

“Bryn was my mother,” he said, his voice low and strained.

I stood up hurriedly, anxious to say something helpful, but nothing seemed to be appropriate. “You said you loved Bryn more than your own mother,” I said, most unhelpfully.

“But why didn’t Bryn keep me if all this is true?” He crouched down to flip the book open again. “And if my father was really Jordan Ross, why did he hate me so much?” Rummaging around in the trunk he pulled out several baby rattles, more romper suits and a faded black and white photograph of a woman holding a baby. Turning it over he saw his birth date printed in the same neat handwriting, and again the name of Jack Philip Thomas Ross. “I know these pictures are all of me,” he said, “because Oliver has copies of them at home, except for this one. This is Bryn. But why are they here?”

“Because if she was your mother she would have wanted them,” I said, simply.

“She didn’t want me, though.”

“Maybe she couldn’t,” I said, gently. “Things were different back in those days.”

“She was a married woman,” he pointed out. “There was no reason not to have kept me, unless………….”

“Unless what?” I asked.

“Unless Jordan wasn’t the father.” He sucked in his breath as he said it. “He hated me, he couldn’t have been my father, could he?”

“Jack, do you think this is what the men were looking for the night they came into the house? That this is what they didn’t want you to find out?” A weird feeling came over me as I recalled our conversation about Jordan Ross’ disappearance, and how we had joked about his possible murder. I jumped quickly as a gust of wind blew heavy spots of hail and rain directly on to the window pane, making it rattle. Kurtis let out a cry and I went to his pram.

“I need answers,” Jack said, suddenly. “I need to speak to someone who would know the truth………. Ruby Dunn, she was the local midwife wasn’t she? She’s always boasting about how many village babies she brought into the world, so we’ll see what she knows about bringing me into the world. She’ll know, she’s got to.” He snatched his jacket from the back of the chair and was gone before I had a chance to stop him.

I ran after him, reaching the front door as he jumped into his car, but the engine merely turned over and wouldn’t start. When it repeatedly refused to start, he left it and ran to the truck. I shouted after him, but the rain was beating down unmercifully and I didn’t want to get cold and soaking wet, so all I could do was watch as he unhooked the trailer, seemingly oblivious to the heavy rain, and swung himself up into the cab. The engine came to life with a heavy roar, and dirty grey smoke rushed from the exhausts into the night air. When he shoved it into gear he didn’t even look back at me, just drove through the open gateway so fast that I was sure he would crash. My breath caught in my throat as I wondered what to do, but Kurtis suddenly let loose with a screech that catapulted me back to reality and I turned to run back to him.

The main reason for his distress was a dirty nappy, and once changed he calmed down, although he must have picked up on my tension because he wouldn’t be put back in his cot. For an hour I wandered around the cottage trying to get him back to sleep, hoping that Jack would soon come home, but when neither one happened I just worked myself into a panic. For another hour I paced the sitting room with Kurtis crying loudly, conjuring up images of Jack swinging the huge lorry out of the gate, worried sick he was going to cause an accident on the road, or hurt himself in some way.

When Kurtis decided to add to my worries by screaming loudly and refusing to be calmed, I made up my mind to call Dan and Ginny. First though, I would warm up a bottle of milk in the hope that Kurtis was just hungry. I walked through to the kitchen with the intention of getting a bottle from the fridge, and I couldn’t help the scream that emerged when I saw Jonus sitting at the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

He was sitting still, watching me with big, round eyes that seemed to me to hold more than just a childlike pleasure at having got where he wanted to be. They held an obvious intense dislike for me, and the smirk on his lips told me he was enjoying the fact that he’d frightened me to death. My heart pounded hard and Kurtis screamed even louder.

“Go away!” I shouted at Jonus. “How did you get in here?”

“Jonus wants some coffee,” he said, in a voice that was high-pitched and pathetically beseeching. “It’s cold outside.”

I hesitated for a moment. He was making me very nervous, although why he should when I was probably much stronger and fitter should it come to him trying to grab me, I couldn’t say. Jack would go absolutely mad if he caught him in here, but I remembered Ginny’s warning about him being harmless enough, so decided to make him his coffee in the hope he would then take himself out of the house and leave me alone.

“I have to feed my baby,” I said. “I’ll make you coffee, but then you have to go because Jack will be back soon, okay?”

Jonus nodded his head eagerly. “He won’t be back.”

My heart skipped a beat. “What makes you say that?” I found the bottle in the fridge and put the kettle on. Jonus was grinning stupidly at me and I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Gone. He’s gone.”

There was something about the way he said those words that made it sound so final, as if he knew something I didn’t, something bad. My hands shook as I made him his coffee and put it in front of him whilst trying to avoid looking into his eyes.

“Jonus is hungry,” he said. “I like sandwiches.”

“I don’t…..”

“Miss Bryn made me sandwiches.”

“I don’t think Jack would…..”

“Jam sandwiches.”

I noted that his tone of voice suddenly got harder, that his voice was just a little deeper, and he made me shiver. Whatever Jonus was, wherever he had come from, he wasn’t as childlike as he liked people to think. He had a very round face with smooth pale skin that didn’t appear to grow stubble. He still wore the floppy hat, but it was pushed back on his head to reveal wisps of gingery coloured hair, and his eyes were still big and round as he waited expectantly for his sandwiches.

Kurtis was fidgeting in my arms, sensing what was coming as he saw me pop the bottle of milk into a jug of boiling water. He cried impatiently and I saw Jonus wince a few times before he glared at Kurtis. I pulled my baby closer to me.

“If I make you sandwiches then you have to leave,” I said. “You know what Jack will do if he catches you here.”

Jonus grinned widely and I saw that several of his teeth were missing. “He’s gone a long way away. Miss Bryn made me sandwiches every day.”

I gave in and slapped some sandwiches together, throwing them in front of him and watching him eat them greedily while I fed Kurtis. He licked his fingers clean one by one and I cringed when I saw the long, blackened finger nails and dirty hands. It was a good long time since those hands had seen soap and water.

“You must go now,” I said as he slurped the last of his coffee.

“Jonus can sleep by the fire tonight.”

“No!”

“Where it’s warm. Jonus can do that.”

“Jack will be back soon. You had better go.”

But then he grinned at me, a malicious, evil grin. “Dead by now.”

I felt a stab of fear rush through me, disliking the way he had said those words. “Don’t be stupid! I’m going to phone him right now. He’ll come straight home, and there will be trouble when he catches you, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Jonus merely nodded his head, obviously not believing me, so with Kurtis wriggling in my arms I called the number of the phone in Jack’s cab. Anxiously willing him to answer it, I watched Jonus in case he tried to move from the table, but he just sat with that awful grin on his face. The phone kept on ringing.

“Not there,” Jonus said, happily.

“That just means he’s not in the lorry,” I said, hastily. “He probably didn’t hear it ringing.”

“Jonus can sleep by the nice, warm fire tonight,” he repeated. “And Jonus can have another cup of coffee. I like coffee.”

“You have to go,” I said. “No more coffee.”

“No, Jonus doesn’t have to go.” This time his grin had gone, there was a harder look to his face and his lips were curled into a tight line. He was sinister, there was a menacing appearance to him that made me pick up the phone again. “By the fires of hell,” he said in a loud whisper. “He’ll be burning in the fires of hell by now.” His eyes glinted unnaturally.

“I’m going to try calling him again,” I warned, but the look stayed the same. He stood up, went to take a packet of biscuits from a cupboard without having to ask me where I kept them, and he took them through to the living room. There was an awful, rancid smell that hovered in the air after he had gone, making me feel sick. Frantically I tried Jack’s number again, this time leaving a message on it, and then I dialled Ginny’s number.

It was some time before Dan answered the call and I didn’t like having to wake him in the early hours like this, because I obviously worried them sick, but it was all I could think of, not wanting Jonus to stay in the house with me all night. Besides, I hoped that Dan cared enough about Jack to help me try and find him. Dan’s sleepy tone was soon replaced by a much sharper one as I told him briefly what had happened, and he told me to stay put, not to antagonise Jonus, but to make him his coffee and wait until he got there.

I did as he said, taking another coffee into Jonus, who now watched television as he munched his way through the packet of biscuits. Crumbs dropped everywhere as he chewed noisily, but he didn’t notice, being heavily engrossed in an awful horror film. It was an old black and white vampire movie, one I wouldn’t watch because I found them too frightening. I hated anything sinister and always had done, so the blood-curdling screams emanating from the television set were enough to make me shake non-stop, feeling like I was in my very own horror movie. Jonus bounced up and down in the chair like a child unable to contain his excitement. When a blood-splattered, gory scene came on, he laughed hysterically, and I shivered.

I went to sit in the kitchen with Kurtis, waiting for Dan, and I didn’t have to wait long. It was barely fifteen minutes before I heard a car crunch to a halt on the gravel outside, and I ran to open the front door.

“He won’t go,” I said, breathlessly, as Dan came in, followed by Ginny, and I was never so glad to see them both. “And Jack is gone. Jonus keeps saying he isn’t coming back and I don’t know where he is. He won’t answer his phone.” Shivers overcame me as Dan went directly to the living room, and I turned tearfully to Ginny. “He said that Jack has gone a long way and is burning in the fires of hell.”

It seemed to me that Ginny also had to take the time to compose herself as she heard my words, but she came to put an arm around me. “Jonus is always saying those sort of things, just to frighten people. Dan will deal with him first, and then we can see about Jack.” She led me through to the kitchen and took Kurtis from me, something I was instantly glad of. He was getting very heavy as well as restless, and I hadn’t dared to put him down.

We heard Dan in the living room talking to Jonus, and obviously he had the powers of persuasion that I lacked, for Jonus had jumped out of his chair and was now alternately whinging and whining. In less than two minutes Dan had him out through the front door with a warning never to do it again.

“He’s gone,” he said, bringing the empty biscuit packet into the kitchen and depositing it in the bin. “He’s made a bit of a mess in there.”

“I can sort that out,” I said, relieved that the awful man had gone. “Why was he doing that to me? He kept on saying that Bryn made him his sandwiches and coffee, and he said he would go if I did, but he didn’t.” I couldn’t stop the flow of tears, and flopped into one of the chairs, feeling Dan’s hand resting on my shoulder. After feeling so down of late, and the embarrassment of the eviction from the Christmas party, together with Jack disappearing into the night, I was feeling exhausted. “I want to know where Jack is,” I sobbed. “He was so upset.”

“What was Jack upset about?” Ginny asked. “It’s more like him to get angry, not upset.”

I realised then that they knew nothing of the reason for Jack disappearing, and so I went quickly through the events since we had come home from the Happy Man earlier. I told them where we had found the trunk, and that Jack had brought it back to the cottage, and what we had found in it. “He found out that Bryn was his real mother,” I finished, not having told it all as gently as I could have done, for Ginny handed Kurtis back to me and went to stand with Dan, her hand over her mouth.

“No,” she said. “That can’t be right. Our mother was Margaret Clayton. She died when I was young and Jack came to live here because dad couldn’t cope with all three of us. That’s why he was here.”

I shook my head. “It’s written in the book,” I said, feeling sorry for her, and wishing I had told it a little bit better. Her face was a mixture of emotion, anxiety, pain and sadness, and even Dan appeared shocked by the revelation. I took them through to the other room where the contents of the trunk were still scattered over the floor. Handing the book to Ginny I watched her read the inscription on the front before she leaned against Dan and put her head on his shoulder. He put his arm around her shoulder as he read it for himself.

“We have to find him,” Ginny said, dully. “He’ll have taken this really badly.”

“Is there anywhere he might have gone?” I asked. “The last thing he said was about Ruby Dunn, that she would know the truth because she delivered all the babies in the village, but that was a long time ago and I haven’t heard from him.”

Dan took the phone and punched in Albert’s number. “Poor Albert and Ruby if Jack went there in that sort of mood,” he said, but after speaking to Albert for a moment, he put the phone down again. “Jack did go there, but he left about half an hour later. Ruby is very upset and is in bed, but she’s taken it hard, so I don’t know what he said to her. Even Albert isn’t making much sense, but he said Jack was in a real state when he left, and he’s worried sick about he way he was throwing that lorry about. What the hell is he driving the lorry for?”

“His car wouldn’t start. Oh, Dan, where would he have gone?” I saw the look that passed between Dan and Ginny. “What? Tell me?”

“He’d have gone to dad’s,” Ginny said. “Oh, God, Dan, he’ll murder him.”

“I’ll go there now.” Dan pulled up the zip of his anorak. “There are a couple of other places I could try if he isn’t there.”

“I want to go,” I blurted, even before I had thought about Kurtis.

Ginny looked at me strangely then, as if she had perhaps only just realised how much I was in love with Jack. She came to take Kurtis from me, cuddling him to her. “You go,” she said, “and make sure you find my brother for me.” I didn’t miss the way she said the word ‘brother’, like it didn’t matter what had gone on in the past, that she still thought of him in exactly the same way she always had done.

I ran to snatch Jack’s heavy anorak from the peg by the front door and zipped myself into it, running back to plant a kiss on my baby’s head. “Thank you,” I said to her. “Thank you.”

“Tell him to come home and we can talk,” she said, tears forming in her eyes.

About to follow Dan, I stopped suddenly and looked back at her. “He wouldn’t do anything stupid, would he?” I asked, afraid of what Dan and I might find out later.

“I don’t know, but in that frame of mind he’s capable of hurting someone. Just go, Lana. Find him for me.”

I ran to Dan’s car and he drove directly to Oliver Clayton’s house, two miles from the centre of the village, and set just off the main Falmouth road. It was an imposing building, outside lights shining on the red bricks and with a tarmac drive leading up to it. In the dark I couldn’t see what sort of garden it had, or if it had one at all, but either side of the drive were patches of lawn, and as Dan steered his car towards the house the headlights picked out the badly churned up grass.

“He’s been here,” he said. “Those marks were made by something bigger than a car. He’s turned the lorry on there and scuffed it up. Bet Oliver loved that.”

“The lights are on in the house,” I said, suddenly nervous. “Do you suppose we should knock?” I looked at the clock on the dashboard and it said quarter past three.

“No way of finding out where he is if we don’t knock,” Dan said, apparently unconcerned about knocking on the door at this unearthly hour of the morning.

Oliver Clayton, in silk pyjamas and a striped robe, was clearly not amused when he opened the door to find us standing there in the rain. He was holding a handkerchief to his nose, his normally slicked back hair fell over his forehead and his cold blue eyes showed nothing but disdain as he looked at us. Jonathan stood behind him, but I saw the trepidation on his face, and was interested to see that his silk pyjamas were torn. He was holding one hand to his head, from where I noticed a single line of blood trickling down his face.

“Where is he?” he almost screamed. “If he sets one foot back in here I’m calling the police.”

“Quiet!” Oliver snapped. “What do you want, James? If you’re looking for that maniac I’ve been calling a son, then he left here hours since.”

“Is it true?” Dan asked. “Were Bryn and Jordan really his parents?”

Oliver laughed, a chilling laugh that made me shiver, but Dan’s hands clenched tightly. “Go away, for goodness sake, James.”

To my amazement, Dan shot through the open doorway, grabbed a handful of Oliver’s robe and had him pinned against the wall before Oliver knew what had hit him. I heard a little wail come from Jonathan, but he made no effort to help his father, just backed off further still.

“Listen to me, Oliver,” Dan said, his normal placid behaviour having deserted him for a moment. “You might have scared me once, a long time ago, but I’ve grown up now, remember. Jack is my friend and I’ll stand by him. Were they his parents?”

Olive tried to wriggle free, but Dan slammed him back. “Bryn was,” he spat.

“And Jordan?”

“Would have nothing to do with the brat once he discovered he was the child of another man. He had his pride.”

“Jesus.” Dan let Oliver go and we watched him smooth the front of his robe, sighing as blood dripped from his nose and left little splatters on the white silk. “Then who is Jack’s father?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care.”

“Why did you have him living here then?” I asked, surprising him as I followed Dan into the hallway, both of us dripping rain water onto the floor. “If he wasn’t your son, why did you have him?”

“It was a deal,” Oliver sneered. “I was well paid for it, and Bryn and Jordan saved their marriage and their reputation. Everybody knows why Bryn gave up her baby, because Jordan would have nothing to do with him once he found out, and who could blame him?”

“And Bryn never told Jordan who the father was?” Dan asked.

“I was a constant disagreement between them, but no, she never let on and Jordan died never having found out. Since Bryn is also dead I wish that you would leave the memory of my sister alone. Get out of my house. You’re as mad as he is, bursting in here in the middle of the night and beating us half to death.”

“You know what?” Dan asked. “I’m glad he did it, it sort of makes up for all the years when you did the same to him. Come on, Lana.”

I hurried after Dan, back out into the pouring rain.

“Where has he gone?” Oliver called after us. “Look what he did to my lawns for goodness sake!”

“I don’t know where he is,” Dan replied.

“Well, I hope he’s taken that bloody lorry and killed himself with it.”

Dan stopped, the car door only half open, and looked at me across the roof of the car. “Tell me it’s not worth going back in there and breaking his nose this time.”

“It’s not worth it,” I said. “We have to find Jack.”

“Yeah, another time,” he said, through gritted teeth as he slid into the driving seat.

As we left the house behind I noticed that Jack didn’t turn the car back in the direction of the village, but went the other way, turning off onto some small coastal lanes. He was grim, throwing the odd glance at me as he drove, because I was weeping quietly. After a while he pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and told me to try calling Jack again, just in case he had already gone home. “Then call Ginny, keep her up to date,” he said. “She’ll be worried sick, and I’m worried about Jonus hanging around the place.”

I tried them both, leaving a message for Jack because he didn’t answer, and speaking to Ginny, who said that Kurtis was finally settled, there had been no further trouble from Jonus and she had all the doors locked. She sounded very anxious, and I told her I would call again later.

“Where are we going?” I asked, holding on to my seat as Dan sped through narrow lanes.

“There’s a couple of places Jack and I used to go,” he said, chuckling despite his concern. “Courting places, you know the thing.”

“I can imagine.” In actual fact I didn’t want to imagine Jack in the arms of any other girl but me right now. I wanted him back in the cottage where he belonged, and where I could take care of him. If he was out here somewhere, this late at night and troubled, I wasn’t sure what he might do. It was raining heavily and was getting colder. We didn’t find him in the first place Dan looked, nor in the second, and by the time we were heading for the third, I was giving up hope.

“How many places did you come courting to?” I demanded, impatiently. It was getting on for four o’clock in the morning and I was tired.

“There were a few,” Dan admitted. “Come on, Jack, where the hell are you?” Despite his banter I sensed his nervousness, his tension as he leaned forward over the steering wheel, trying to pick out the road ahead through the sheets of rain. We were on a lane which I had seen signposted as the cliff top coastal path. “The trees and hedges have closed in a lot since I was last here. I doubt he’s brought the truck up here, it’s too narrow.”

“There it is!” I shouted, picking up the dim shape of the lorry in front of us. “There’s the lorry, Dan.” I felt a wave of relief flow through me as Dan stopped the car. The lorry had been left on a narrow, grassy bank with the driver’s door wide open to the rain and elements. The lights inside the cab were on, but Jack wasn’t there. My spirits sank again as I tried to make out where we were. Dan climbed in to pick up Jack’s torch and switch it on.

“I knew it all along, he’s bloody crazy,” he muttered, taking hold of my arm and leading me to the other side of the lane. “Be careful, we’re close to the edge of the cliffs up here. Me and Jack used to come here a lot, but it’s too dark to see where you’re going at the moment.”

He led me down a narrow track, and several times we tripped on branches and undergrowth. Calling Jack’s name as we went, we hoped fervently for a reply, but didn’t get one. I was soaked through and could feel the rain trickling down my neck as I walked, not enjoying the experience in the slightest, but desperately hoping to come across Jack at any minute. As I tripped again I clutched Dan’s arm tightly.

“He’s not here,” I said.

“Maybe he took a different track,” Dan answered. “There’s a few of them. He has to be here somewhere.” Then I felt him come to a sudden halt and he grabbed my coat to stop me. “There he is. Jesus, he’s on the bloody edge.”

The torch beam just about picked him out, sitting with his legs swinging over the side of the cliff top. He didn’t look back when we called him, nor did he appear to notice us. I heard the roar and thunder of waves crashing against the rocks below, and it occurred to me that anyone falling over the edge had little chance of survival when they hit the bottom. I stepped nearer, but Dan grabbed my hand and stopped me.

“Jack?” I called. “Please come home.”

He did hear me that time and turned his head to look at me. He hadn’t taken his coat and didn’t wear a hat, so he was absolutely drenched, his hair tangling into a wet mane about his face. “Leave me be,” he said.

“You need us.”

“Come back from the edge,” Dan called.

“Why?” Jack looked over to the rocks below and I heard Dan suck in his breath.

“For God’s sake, Jack, you’re scaring the hell out of me. Come back from the edge.”

“Oliver isn’t my father,” he said. “And Bryn was my mother.”

“Dan knows,” I called. “We’ve already been to see Oliver.”

“That’s a good bloody nose you gave him,” Dan added. “And Jonathan had a job to walk by the looks of it.”

“He didn’t look so good once I’d finished with him,” Jack admitted. “He’s got a better right hook than I thought, though.” He put a hand to his mouth and as Dan followed with the torch beam we saw the marks on his face from Oliver’s fists.

“Please?” I called. “I want you to come home.” It was another minute or two before he sighed heavily and pushed himself away from the edge. I realised suddenly I was very cold and the heavy rain was beginning to seep through the anorak I was wearing. Icy cold droplets worked their way into every possible avenue and I stamped my feet to try and get some warmth back into them. I wondered how Jack could have been sitting there for so long wearing only a denim jacket over his shirt.

Jack stepped back two paces and swore at Dan to take the torch beam from his face. “I don’t know what you’re all so blasted worried about,” he snapped.

“We found the lorry,” Dan said, “and neither of us can turn it around, so we thought we’d better look for you. Anyway, Lana was worried sick that you were going to throw yourself over the edge, so I thought it was a good idea to bring her up here and tell her you wouldn’t do a silly thing like that, right?” But there was an edge to his voice that said he had doubts himself, and we were both relieved when Jack stepped back further.

“If you had any ideas about me going over that cliff, then think again,” he grumbled. “Fuck sake, did you look over there? Only an idiot would want to kill himself by going down on those rocks. Better to stand in front of a lorry doing fifty miles an hour on a dark road, yeah?”

He looked directly at me when he said that and I flushed, despite the cold rain on my face. “I didn’t stand there,” I pointed out. “I passed out.”

“But you thought about it.”

“Yes, but I passed out first.”

“Then what do you think gives you the right to come up here and tell me how stupid it would be jumping over the cliff?”

“Jack, shut it!” Dan warned. “She was worried about you.”

“Of course she was, she’d have nowhere to live if I was dead.”

I was shocked by his reaction and upset to think that after all this time he was thinking along those lines. His words cut straight to my heart, and without another word I turned to walk back in the direction of the lorry. They both followed close behind me and I heard Dan laying into Jack for the way he had just treated me, but as far as I was concerned he might as well forget it. Jack was shivering with cold, but I felt no sympathy for him now. Tomorrow I would ask Ginny for the list of available flats she had obtained on my behalf. No matter how much I loved him, there was no future here for me and it was time I faced up to it.

Jack had fallen silent by the time we reached his lorry. He was blue from cold and didn’t grumble as Dan pushed him into the Scania’s passenger seat and wrapped a blanket around him.

“Don’t know how you managed to get this lump of machinery up here,” Dan groaned, seeing the small amount of space he had to try and turn the vehicle around. “Didn’t it occur to you when you came up here, that you’d have to turn it around?”

“I was going to jump off the cliff, remember?” Jack said, sarcastically. “I assumed you’d drive it home and I wouldn’t need to. I don’t know why you’re complaining anyway, you could have had it for yourself.”

“If you’d jumped, I’d have saved myself the bother of turning it around and pushed it after you,” Dan replied, throwing his car keys to me. “Can you drive my car back to the cottage?”

I nodded and left them to it. Jack sat hunched under the blanket, his mood dark despite his banter with Dan. I watched while Dan shunted the vehicle until he had managed to turn it all the way round, then I followed them home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

I was glad to see Ginny when we walked in with Jack. She took over immediately and efficiently, ushering all of us into the living room and making sure Jack was in front of the fire as she stoked the flames higher.

“Take off those wet clothes,” she ordered. “I’ll get you some dry things to put on. Dan, go and make him some coffee.”

“I’m cold too,” he protested, but it was to Ginny’s departing back, and so he went to do as he was told. Ginny returned with dry clothes and Dan made sure we each had hot coffee. Jack hadn’t moved, apart from attempting to take off his jacket, which was so wet it appeared to be stuck to him. He was so cold that his fingers were numb and not working properly. I knew how cold I was just from being out there for a short time, and goodness only knew how long Jack had been sitting there before that.

“What were you doing out there anyway?” Ginny asked, once Dan had finished telling her where we had found him.

“It’s a local beauty spot,” Jack said, shaking from head to foot. “You want to get Dan to take you up there sometime.”

“He already did.”

Jack tried the jacket again. “You mean to tell me he took you up there and took advantage of you?”

“What makes you think that? It’s a beauty spot, remember? We went there to appreciate the view.”

Jack made what sounded like a disbelieving grunt. “We never took girls up there to look at the view,” he said.

Ginny slapped his arm as she passed. “If you don’t get on with it, you’ll catch your death of cold.” When Kurtis whimpered she went to his pram to see to him.

I watched Jack try to undo his shirt buttons, but his fingers didn’t co-operate and he gave up, standing in front of the fire forlornly, and despite his digs at Ginny, he was still in the same dark mood he had come home in. Dan eventually helped him remove the sodden jacket, and Jack again tried the buttons.

I got up from my chair, shrugged out of Jack’s anorak and went to undo them for him. He didn’t say a word as I removed his shirt, pulled the tee shirt up over his head, then undid the belt and zip on his jeans. I knelt down to undo his bootlaces and helped him remove the boots, then stood back. Dan had gone into the kitchen to talk to Ginny and I could hear hushed conversation coming from there.

“You’ll have to take the jeans off,” I said. “They’re soaked.”

He shivered again. “I’m so cold that I can’t feel my fingers,” he complained. “They’re numb.”

Gritting my teeth I pulled his jeans down, pushed him into the armchair, dragged them completely from him and threw the duvet Ginny had brought down, over him. “Better?” I snapped. “You’re lucky not to suffer hypothermia, sitting out there in the freezing cold like that.” I picked up a towel and stood in front of him to rub his hair dry, then ran my fingers through it to put it in some sort of order. He watched me closely all the time, until I was so conscious of his gaze on me that I felt the need to retaliate. The burning humiliation he had brought me to on the cliff top had not subsided.

“What are you staring at me for?” I snapped again.

“You look nice,” he said, tiredly.

“Well, I don’t feel nice, so don’t get any ideas.” But at the same time I knew something had changed. To be told I looked nice was more than I had expected from him, especially since my hair was bedraggled and windswept, and I still wore damp jeans and my socks were wet.

“Sweetheart,” he said, resting his head against the back of the chair. “I’m so cold that not even Dolly Parton could raise a spark of hope in me tonight.”

“Damn, he must be cold.” Dan had come back into the room to get his coat. “Dolly Parton usually does it for him any time of the week in any weather.” He winked at me. “Ginny and me have to be getting home, Jack. We’ll be back as soon as we’ve all got some sleep, and we’ll talk this over. Will you two be okay for tonight?”

“We’ll be fine,” I promised him. “Thanks for everything.”

“No problem. Jack, you’re a lucky man to have a girl like this so worried about you. You want to start treating her properly.” He didn’t wait for an answer, probably because he knew he wouldn’t get one, and if he did, it wouldn’t be polite, but he went to help Ginny with her coat.

“I don’t know if I ought to be staying here with Lana,” she was saying, but I assured her that she needn’t.

“We’ve put you out too much already,” I protested. “And thank you for all you’ve done.” Following her to the front door, she waited for Dan to go outside before she turned and took my hands in hers.

“I realised for the first time tonight just how much you care about Jack,” she said. “You love him, don’t you?”

I shrugged. “I like him a lot.” Before she could speak again, I cut in. “I know he won’t ever love me back. I know it, but I can’t help it. Yes, I love him.”

Ginny squeezed my hands. “It’s nice to know somebody is here to take care of him. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

I watched them leave before shutting and locking the front door in case Jonus should have any ideas about coming back, although he’d think twice now Jack was here. I returned to the living room where Jack had stayed underneath the duvet and now stared into the flames. I sat down, not sure what to say. This time, when he had used the word ‘sweetheart’ he hadn’t sounded patronising, but as if he’d meant it. He was tired, exhausted, and he’d had enough, but when he turned to me his eyes were dull.

“I said some awful things back there. I didn’t mean them.”

“You don’t need to explain anything to me,” I said. “Ginny and me will be making appointments to look at the flats in Truro. If I find one that is reasonable, then Kurtis and I can move out. There’s one that is near shops and has a children’s nursery nearby, so Kurtis could go there if I get a job.”

“Don’t go.”

“I have to. I don’t see the point in staying here, not when I really need to be getting my own life back together. You’ve problems enough, without me and Kurtis adding to them.”

“I like you being here. You make the problems bearable, you don’t add to them.”

“Because you have your meals cooked for you, your housework done for you, and your books kept up to date.” I was angrier than I should have been, considering he was actually being nice to me. “I haven’t minded because you’ve given me a roof over my head in exchange, but I think it’s time for me to decide what to do with the rest of my life, and I can’t rely on you to keep me forever. I have to earn my own money.” I expected him to be nodding his head and agreeing with me, but instead he seemed to be rather upset.

“I know all that,” he said, huskily, “but I still like you being here.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“How do you mean?”

“As a housekeeper, or bookkeeper?”

He sighed. “As a person, Lana. I thought you liked it here.”

“I do.” I stood up and walked over to the table where a pile of clean washing waited to be sorted. I folded up little babygrows, putting them in a neat pile to take upstairs with me. “It’s all I ever wanted, a house to run, children to care for, a man to……..” I stopped, not sure what to say then.

“To what?” he teased, gently.

“A man to love and take care of.”

“Do I fit that?” He wasn’t teasing this time, but when I looked at him he was staring back at me with a seriousness I hadn’t bargained on. What was more, he was waiting for an answer, so I nodded slowly. “Then why can’t you stay?” he asked.

“When I said a man to love and take care of,” I said, slowly, “I meant one that loved me back.”

“And you think I don’t?”

“You’ve already told me that you can’t,” I countered.

He looked away then. I left the pile of clothes and went to his side, brushing his hair down with my hands. “It’ll be stuck out everywhere if it dries like this,” I said, softly. “You love Karen, I know that, and accept it. That’s why I have to find somewhere else to live.”

He reached out to take my hand and he kissed it gently before pulling on it, so that I came to kneel at his side. “I don’t know what I feel,” he said, quietly. “Especially in the light of what I found out tonight.”

“What was Bryn like?” I asked. “You don’t talk about her much.”

“She was lonely, I think. I suppose I could have been the reason for that, but when I came back here it was like she had something to live for again.” He stared into the crackling flames while he absent-mindedly stroked the back of my hand. “She used to like taking us on picnics, me, Ginny and Dan, and she was always cooking. The first couple of years I was here she loved me to help her in the garden, and she was always on for a game of any sort. I wish I’d known, back then. Maybe I would have felt different about it if I’d known she was my mother.”

“You really had no idea?”

“Not one, but I didn’t let anyone get too close, not even Bryn. I liked to be with her, and it was heaven after living with Oliver and Jonathan, but I never got close to her. Not like she would have liked me too, I suppose. In some way I regret it, but that’s the way I always was, and still am. The first, and only, time I gave my heart away was when I met Karen, and look where that got me. And then, when I got older, I was rarely home. That must have hurt her more than I realised.”

“It was hardly your fault,” I said. “They should have all been honest with you from the start.”

He nodded, slowly. “All this time thinking Margaret Clayton was my mother, wondering why I never felt anything for her, wondering why I couldn’t cry like everyone else did when she died. Wondering why nobody liked me, wondering why all they ever wanted to do was hurt me. It’s going to take some time to get used to. I need to think about it, Lana. Give me time?”

I wanted to. Oh, I wanted to! I also wanted to be strong, to be independent. “Jack,” I said, honestly. “I love you more than anything. If only I could think of you loving me back one day then it would make me the happiest girl alive, but I have Kurtis to think about too, and it will be far better if I have somewhere else to live. You could come and see us whenever you liked and we could see where that took us.”

“I’d like that.”

I cheered up when he said that. “It could be good for both of us,” I said. “Sort of like courting.”

He pulled at my hand again. “Can I kiss you?”

I let him, of course. And then I let him again, praying that Kurtis would stay asleep this time. He wrapped the duvet around both of us and we stayed in each other’s arms while he gradually warmed up. I was aware that I shouldn’t be doing this, that I was falling into his hands again, but lying against the bare skin of his chest, face buried into his neck, I didn’t want to leave him. Just now, during all this uncertainty in my life, he suddenly gave me a sense of security, of being safe within his arms. It was as if nobody could hurt me in any way as long as I stayed in this safe place. He hugged me tightly to him, as if I were the one person in the world he could rely on right now, and soon I felt tears on his face.

“Stay until Christmas is over,” he said. “Christmas makes me feel more alone than ever. Karen loved it. We always had a tree and she let the kids in her class make the decorations for it. She did everything, bought the presents, wrapped them, labelled them. She joked that I wouldn’t be any good at it anyway, and she was probably right, but she never minded doing it. She made Christmas cakes and puddings, and did little mince pies to take in to school. She was good at things like that.”

I tried not to feel jealous, although it was hard not to. Karen sounded like a difficult woman to live up to, although had I a young family of my own, it was the sort of thing I would be happy to do. I reminded myself that she was not going to be a threat to me, and that Jack just needed comforting because he missed her so much.

“I hardly think Kurtis and me are going to make up for Karen,” I said, tightly, and I felt him tense slightly.

“I’m not asking you to do that. Company is what we’re both looking for, isn’t it?”

That much was true, I thought. I didn’t want to be alone either, but just when it seemed we were getting closer, Karen had got in our way. I ran my hand over his chest, feeling the warmth there now, feeling him relax as I did so.

“Will you?” he asked. “Stay until after Christmas?”

I nodded. It was unlikely I would move before then anyway, since Christmas was only ten days away. I felt his hands moving, caressing and stroking me, and he bent his head to kiss me. He wanted me, and though my brain was screaming at me to walk away from him, my heart just didn’t want to let him go. When he unbuttoned my shirt and slipped his hands inside, I made no protest, pushing myself closer to him instead, and he moaned softly.

“Are you sure, Lana? Are you sure?”

I was sure, and in front of the roaring fire I let him make love to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Christmas came and went quietly. We went to Dan and Ginny’s for dinner on Christmas day and it was lovely, but Jack was quiet and thoughtful. He wasn’t unpleasant, he seemed to have dropped the attitude all together and had been much easier to live with since we had spent the night together in front of the fire. He paid more attention to me, and if I mentioned anything that needed doing he had it done as soon as he could. He picked Kurtis up quite often, sitting for hours with him asleep on his shoulder, or talking to him while Kurtis smiled back. It was good, but I stuck with my plan and Ginny came with me to look at flats that I could afford with the help of social services. They weren’t up to much, but there was one just the other side of Truro that was bearable and I agreed to have it when it was ready in three weeks time.

Jack didn’t say much when I told him about it, just agreed with me that it was the best thing for me and Kurtis.

The days between Christmas and the New Year were spent quietly at the cottage, and during that time we did a great deal of talking. He had dragged the trunk out again and we went through it, trying to find answers to his questions. Ruby Dunn had refused to have anything to do with him since his visit that awful night, and even Albert had kept his distance. He was convinced they knew something, but it was pointless to keep pestering them, especially when they were so reluctant to talk about it.

We were all baffled by the discovery of an edition of the local newspaper the week that Jack had been born, inside of which his birth had been announced to the world, or rather to the local community. ‘Bryn and Jordan Ross were pleased to announce the arrival of Jack Philip Thomas Ross’ it said, and further on was a photograph of Jordan himself holding the baby and giving a short interview. He had been a fairly well respected businessman in the community and so had been celebrity enough to warrant an interview for the local paper. He was over the moon with the birth of his first child, we read, and one day hoped he would follow him into business. The boy stood to inherit a small fortune.

Dan put the paper down when he finished reading it, and put his arm around Ginny as she sat on his knee in the armchair. “I don’t understand this, Jack. Why is Jordan in here crowing to the world when he knew you weren’t his?”

“Maybe he didn’t know then,” Ginny said. “Maybe he did think you were his, he must have done because he wasn’t the sort of man to take on another’s child.”

“But that means Bryn must have had a lover,” I added. “And all these things…..” I pointed to the little baby clothes. “She obviously looked forward to having her baby if she made all these. They’re all hand stitched, and look at the smocking on the front of the rompers……it’s all been done by hand. And she kept all the photos through the years.”

“She didn’t keep me, though,” Jack said, quietly.

Dan looked over my shoulder as I opened the book again. “What I don’t understand is why you never found out about it, Jack. If it was such a big deal in the local paper, why didn’t the likes of Albert and Ruby Dunn tell you before? It’s been a big secret for a long time. And this small fortune you stood to inherit from Jordan, where did it go? If I remember rightly, all Jordan’s money was left to Bryn, and she never spent it on herself, or gave the impression she had money.”

Jack, sitting cross-legged on the floor, shrugged. “Good point, but I don’t know. Maybe Bryn has an account somewhere and it’s all still there. Then again, Oliver dealt with everything when Jordan died, and I can’t imagine him overlooking a bank account, especially a loaded one. Maybe he has it.”

“She left some to relatives when she died,” Ginny said. “Dan and I had a few thousand, so did Jonathan and some cousins, but that was about all. The businesses Jordan owned went to dad a long time ago.”

“In exchange for me.” Jack sounded resigned to it all now and I was happier that he did seem to be accepting the facts of it, but it still touched my heart the way he said those words. It had to be hard to accept as a nine year old he had been exchanged for business and money.

“Oh, Jack!” Ginny cried. She dropped to her knees and put her arms around him. “You were probably better off with Bryn than you ever were with dad.”

“It could have been worse,” he agreed. “At least Bryn wanted me for what I was.” He grinned weakly. “It does answer some questions though, like why Jordan wouldn’t look at me, or why Oliver hit me about so much. Feels funny though, not being a Clayton.”

“Will you change your name?” Ginny asked.

“Nope. I don’t want Jordan’s name any more than I do Oliver’s, especially if I wasn’t a Ross either. Jack Philip Clayton is what I’ve grown up with, and I’ll stick with it.” He grinned a lop sided grin and shrugged. “Anyway, if I change my name now it’d cost a fortune getting the truck re-sprayed.”

“When did the Thomas bit get dropped?” Dan asked.

“Search me, I never knew I had it. Hey, listen, let’s get all this back in the trunk. I’ve had enough of trying to figure out my past.” He gathered up the baby clothes and threw them back in the trunk. “Seems to me I ought to be looking more to my future instead – at least I can still do something about that.” He looked up at me quickly as he said that, and aware that both Ginny and Dan were watching, I felt my face blush.

“Did Tony ask you to the New Year Millennium party at the Happy Man?” Dan asked. “Or has he got fed up with throwing you out of the place?”

“He asked me.”

“Are you going?”

I looked at Jack. This was the first I had heard about the party. “What did you tell Tony?” I asked, hopeful of an evening out, especially since it was the new Millennium. We both needed something to celebrate, but if Jack was going to get drunk and end up being thrown out like he was at the Christmas party, I could do without the embarrassment of it.

“Please come,” Ginny pleaded. “Tony’s decorating the pub and there’s going to be fireworks on the village green. You can’t miss it, not the New Year party. Everyone’s going to be there, and it wouldn’t be the same without you.”

“Okay,” Jack said, grudgingly. “Lana and me will be there.”

“No fighting!” Dan warned.

“Nope.”

“No arguing with Tom?”

“Nope.”

“No heavy drinking, just a good time had by all?”

“I can’t get drunk?”

“Only if it’s happy drunk,” Ginny said.

“I can be happy.”

“I can’t go,” I protested. “I have a baby to look after.”

“Already sorted,” Dan said. “My mother wants a chance at babysitting, and since they don’t much like parties, she said she’d have Kurtis.”

“Okay,” I said, happily. I was already looking forward to it. “All I need now is a knight in shining armour to take me there.”

“Will I do?” Jack asked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY

Despite having looked forward to the New Year party so much, when the evening actually came around I was hit with a severe attack of nerves. We didn’t need to dress up, it wasn’t that sort of a party, and so we were both okay wearing jeans and shirts, but this felt much more like a date with Jack. Kurtis was duly dropped off with Dan’s parents, where his mother was only too pleased to take charge of a baby once again. I was happy to leave him with them, even though this was the first time I had met them. They were ordinary, nice people and it was easy to see where Dan got his common sense and good nature.

The atmosphere in the Happy Man was far better than either of us had imagined it would be. Jack held on to my hand as we walked through the door, causing a comment or two, and the odd look from some people. Coral noticed immediately and was frosty towards me for a while, but as the party got going she let it drop and became much more friendly, especially once she hooked up with a young man neither of us knew, but of who Tony obviously approved. By nine o’clock the bar was so full that Tony and his daughter had difficulty keeping everyone served at the bar, and I noticed one or two of the locals stepping in to help.

“You two got it together then?” I turned to see Albert standing by my side, and Ruby behind him. While Jack was as surprised as I was that they wanted to sit with us at the same table, we all moved along to give them some space. That meant me being closer to Jack, which I didn’t mind at all, especially when I felt his arm creep around my waist.

“We’re just friends, really,” I told Albert, and he threw his head back and laughed.

“It’s about time he got himself another wife.”

“Oh, I’m not going to be that,” I added, hastily, hoping that Jack hadn’t heard. The subject of Karen had become a very taboo one, and since we were getting along so well I had let it go. No point in starting more trouble, I had thought, but it still festered away in the back of my head. I was still competing with a dead woman.

“Ah, but Jack needs somebody,” Ruby said, nodding knowledgeably. “Poor man, losing his wife like that, when he’s had so much to contend with.”

Jack chose that moment to go to the bar, and since it was going to be a while before he got served, I turned around to face both Albert and Ruby.

“He’s been very upset lately,” I started to say.

“He’s a right to be,” Albert nodded.

“What he doesn’t understand is why nobody ever told him he didn’t belong to Oliver Clayton. After all, in a village like this, word usually gets out sooner or later, but he had no idea. You were there when he was born, Ruby, so you must have known what happened. Why did he never hear about it?”

Albert fidgeted in his seat and splashed beer down the front of his heavy, fairisle jumper. Ruby merely looked into her glass and said nothing, but her face was bright red and gave away the fact that she certainly did know something. If I hadn’t found it so irritating that she was not letting on her secret, then I would have liked Ruby Dunn. She was, in my imagination, what a typical midwife looked like, plump and matronly, with a round, beaming face. She and Albert suited each other, they looked comfortable together, like I hoped it might be for me one day.

“I want to help Jack,” I continued, not sure I was actually going to improve on anything we already knew, but hoping they might tell me something. “He just needs a few answers. He’s accepted who he is, apart from not knowing who his father is, but just needs those answers.” At the mention of Jack’s father, Albert had paled. He stood up and wiped his jumper with a clean handkerchief.

“I’ll get us another drink, my love,” he said.

“He knows, doesn’t he?” I asked of Ruby when Albert had gone to the bar. She appeared very uncomfortable, perhaps annoyed with Albert for leaving her to it. “Does he know who Jack’s father is?”

“Nobody knows that,” she replied, bluntly. “I would rather not talk about it.”

“I think you ought to.” I shouldn’t be saying this here and now because it was meant to be a party where everybody was enjoying themselves, and this way I was going to upset Albert and Ruby, but I was on a mission and didn’t want to let go. “I don’t mean right now, but Jack looks up to Albert and thinks of him as a friend. If you know something that would help Jack, then let him know.”

“Young lady, you are going too far,” Ruby said, coldly. “I want to forget it.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologised, my face again flushing red as she put me firmly back in my place. “All I want is for Jack to feel settled again, and he hasn’t been that in a long time.”

We didn’t speak of it again that evening, and Ruby didn’t speak to me again all night, but from the way she looked at Albert when he returned to his seat, I believe I had planted a few thoughts in her head. I crossed my fingers and hoped.

By ten o’clock Jack, Dan, Albert and a good many others had consumed enough alcohol to make them very merry. Then, at almost eleven o’clock I had a telephone call from Dan’s parents to say that Kurtis had settled in for the night and not to worry about picking him up until the morning. After that I wasn’t as careful about what I was drinking, and joined wholeheartedly in with everyone else.

Ginny and I were given the dubious task of judging several competitions, the highlight of which was the Dolly Parton sing-a-long contest. Tony had gone to the trouble of installing a karaoke for the evening, and there were many willing participants, Jack and Dan included. I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed so much, and poor Ginny was clutching at her stomach and complaining that it hurt each time she laughed. This was the first time I had seen Jack so at ease with himself, even if it was with the aid of a few drinks, but he was so different that I didn’t want to take my eyes off him for the whole evening.

It was a fantastic evening. The new year of 2000 was seen in with a display of fireworks on the village green, which I watched with Jack’s arms around me. He was quite drunk by that time, and so was Dan, but I found out that when they got drunk with fun in mind, that was exactly what they did, much to Tony’s relief. I was glad, for had I been alone on this particular night of the year – well, it didn’t bear thinking about. It would have been something we would have celebrated as a family home in Derby, normally anyway, and I suppose the villagers there were doing something very similar. It made me feel slightly homesick, and think of my mother and what she was doing across the other side of the world in Australia. Was she thinking about me as she watched fireworks?

Tom Coleman was at the party and I saw him several times, hunched over a glass and watching us with a grim expression on his face. Each time I met his gaze he looked away and I was glad that Jack hadn’t appeared to notice him. Thankfully he had chosen to ignore Tom for the night. Only once did Tom choose to speak to me, and that was while Jack was at the bar and I had been left alone for a few minutes.

“He won’t get away with it,” he said, and I turned around to face him, not expecting the sudden alcohol and tobacco fumes he breathed directly into my face.

“Go away!” I said, as icily as I could manage. “You’ll spoil the fun.”

“He’s not going to keep that place. There are those that will see to it.”

“Which place?” I asked. “The one you came to one night and tried to find something you didn’t want Jack to have?” I couldn’t help it, since it had played on my mind ever since that night, and although I’d only had a few drinks they were enough to have loosened my tongue. Was Tom one of the men, or was I wrong? I wanted to know, but I didn’t get the answer I was looking for. Tom’s eyes opened wider for a split second, and I looked into red-rimmed, watery eyes, detesting them, detesting him. He coughed and I turned my head away from the fumes on his breath, but he put a hand on my shoulder and made me turn back.

“Whore!” he spat. “You’re no better than he is.”

“And both of us are far better than you will ever be,” I snapped. “Go away and leave me alone before Jack comes back, because if he sees you he will half kill you.” I was braver than I would normally have been been, but even so I was glad when he shuffled away before Jack had the chance to see him talking to me. I didn’t mention it to him either, not wanting to spoil a lovely evening.

“I’ve got something for you,” Jack shouted in my ear as we watched the last of the fireworks on the green. “A sort of new year present.” He put both his arms around me and hugged me to him, a moment I shall never forget as long as I live. Almost the entire population of the village was on the green, drinks in hand, congratulating and wishing each other a Happy New Millennium. The fireworks eventually died down, but all around us, and in villages not too far away we still saw them lighting up the sky in various shades of colour, and it was special. Jack was special.

“I didn’t get you anything,” I said, concerned that he might have expected me to. We hadn’t given each other gifts for Christmas because I had very little cash, and Jack hadn’t bothered. He had, however, brought some toys for Kurtis, which he had presented to him on Christmas morning, unwrapped, but the thought was there.

He shook his head. “It’s not something that you keep. It’s sort of….well, come with me and I’ll show you.” He draped an arm over my shoulder and we left the green with the intention of walking back to the cottage. Dan and Ginny found us before we got too far, and we all hugged each other, wishing all the best for the new year.

“What have you done to Jack?” Ginny asked, her mouth close to my ear so that Jack didn’t hear.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s been back to his old self tonight, and it must be down to you. He can’t keep his hands off you. Are you leaving already?”

I nodded, a smile on my face. “Jack has something he wants to show me.”

Dan heard that, and punched Jack’s shoulder. “That was what he used to say to all the girls,” he laughed. “Don’t trust him, Lana, especially if he mentions any beauty spots, and don’t get into his cab if he asks you. Always a dangerous sign, that is.”

“You’re just jealous because I always got more girls than you did,” Jack said, good-naturedly.

“I knew your game,” Dan continued, drunkenly. “You got Tilly Carter in there more times than I could count, and that was cheating. One girl, one point. Not one girl, six times, six points.”

“You can’t count, that’s why you never got one better than I did.”

“So you did cheat!”

“Go home!” Jack ordered, pleasantly. He might have been drunk, but he was looking at me in a way that I hadn’t seen before, and that sent shivers of anticipation though me as I wondered what he was thinking.

Dan was dragging Ginny away from us. “Don’t you worry,” he said, “I’ve got to get this woman home and wish her a happy new year.”

“I thought you already did that.” Jack was grinning as he took my hand.

“No, not yet, not properly.” Dan chuckled, then he pushed his wife in the direction of home, and Jack pulled me the other way. As we walked towards the lane and watched one or two late fireworks shoot high in the air, I was on cloud nine. There would never be another night like this in my lifetime. The man I loved was by my side and the moment was just perfect. I didn’t want to think ahead, not now, not this night.

“Come on,” Jack was urging me along. “It’s damned cold out here.” He took my hand and marched me along, laughing as I protested.

“It’s too nice a night to rush,” I said, despite the cold that was stinging my face. I felt warm inside and that was enough. I’d had just enough alcohol to make me feel pleasantly happy, but I wasn’t drunk. “It’s lovely, don’t you think so? Look at the stars!”

“That’s women,” he said, “seeing the romance in everything.”

“But it’s been so perfect tonight. I don’t want it to end.”

He was laughing as he nuzzled by ear. “It hasn’t finished yet. That’s why I want to get you home.” He kissed my neck, then moved to my lips and we kissed there and then, standing in the dark lane.

“Is that all you want to get me home for?” I asked, light-heartedly. We hadn’t made love since that first time two weeks ago, and I hadn’t been sure what he had been thinking about that night. I had tried, tactfully, a couple of times to find out why he hadn’t wanted to again, since I had thought it so perfect, but the most I got out of him was that he was too bloody old for a young girl like me. That first time had meant a lot to me and I’d almost convinced myself that it had to him, even though he hadn’t said as much. I was disappointed that he hadn’t wanted me again, but put it down to the fact that he’d been working a lot and was tired. He’d also had a lot to think about with his personal problems, but since there were just two weeks left before I moved out of the cottage and into my flat, I’d been desperately hoping for a sign that said he thought something of me. I wondered if I should really be giving in to him now. After all, did he have to get drunk before he thought of making love to me again?

“What do you mean, is that all?” He pretended to be horrified.

“When I asked you before, you said you were too bloody old,” I reminded him.

“That was last week. Tonight I’m a lonesome truck driver looking for a pretty woman to spend the night with.”

“Better go and find one then.”

He laughed. “I have. Take pity on a lonesome truck driver?”

“I’ll give you pity,” I warned, but I loved the feeling of being in his arms, drunk or not, and I let him walk me home that way. He talked non-stop, mostly utter nonsense, but when we reached the Scania standing in the driveway, he started to look through his pockets for the keys.

“Dammit, I put them somewhere,” he complained.

“You’re not going anywhere in that?” I asked, horrified that he would even think of it.

He shook his head. “I might be old and I might be stupid, but not that much. Damn!” He spread his arms wide and grinned stupidly at me. “I can’t find my keys.”

I made a big show of sighing heavily and then I started to go through his pockets while he laughed and tried to kiss me. Eventually I located the keys and I dangled them in front of his nose. “This them?”

“Dammit, that’s where they were.” He took them from me and unlocked the Scania’s cab, not without a good deal of effort. “Go on, get in,” he said, taking my arm.

“But what for?” I asked, mystified that he wanted to sit in a freezing cold cab at this time of night. “Can’t we go in and sit by the fire?”

“Soon,” he promised, climbing in behind me. He sat in his driving seat and looked directly at me, and suddenly he didn’t appear to be drunk at all. I knew he’d had more than a few pints, but I began to wonder how much of his drunkenness had been an act. His blue eyes now looked steadily at me as he picked up the little blue bear from the dash and handed it to me.

“What’s this?” I asked, amazed that he would do such a thing. Perhaps he was still very drunk. “This is your reminder of Karen.”

“Not any more. I want you to put it away.”

“Why?”

“I can’t throw it away.” He looked at the bear, then back at me, eyes wet with unshed tears and my stomach churned. Jack got angry sometimes, he got moody, but never emotional.

“I wouldn’t expect you to throw it away,” I said. “Why would you even consider it?”

“Don’t you see?” he asked, leaning towards me. “I’m going to put it behind me. By putting that bear away, I’m telling you that I need you, and I don’t want you to go and live anywhere that isn’t with me.”

I started to protest, but he silenced me. “Dan made me realise something the other day. We were parked up in a lorry park for the night, nothing to do but talk the hours away, and all I could talk about was you and Kurtis. I didn’t even know I was doing it, but then he turned around to me and told me I was a bloody fool for not seeing what was right under my nose all along. Karen is dead, she can’t come back, and I can’t go with her, wherever she went. Dan told me it was time to accept it and get on with my life, and he was right.”

I turned the bear over and over in my hands, knowing what a wrench this had to be for him, yet also what a commitment he was making to me. I wondered what I should do with the bear. It had, after all, been Karen’s gift to him and it was his way of remembering her. I’d seen nothing else, except for the three photos in his jacket pocket. “I don’t know………..”

“Take it!” he interrupted. “Put it away somewhere.”

I shook my head. It was hurting him to make this commitment to me, and I wondered if he was truly ready to change. One thing I did know was that I couldn’t take the bear away. Karen wasn’t, and never had been, a threat to me. She was dead, but she had been his wife and he had loved her, so it was only right he should have something to remember her by. I put the blue bear back in its place on the dashboard and pulled the little tee shirt straight. “It should stay there,” I said, “but the words you’ve just said mean more to me. I love you, Jack.”

His eyes were still wet as he leaned forward to kiss me. “It’s been a long time since I picked a girl up like this,” he murmured. “The last one was pregnant.”

“And how many points was that worth?” I asked. “For getting her into your cab?”

“More than I credited her for at the time.”

“And now?”

He grinned a roguish grin. “I’d like to say thousands, but Dan already thinks I’m cheating.”

“You admitted yourself that you were cheating,” I reminded him.

“Are you kidding? His score went off the board when he first started seeing Ginny. As if that isn’t cheating!”

“Does it only count when it’s in here?” I asked, shivering.

“Yep, them’s the rules. A girl has to give out in here.”

“Then how about forgoing the points?” I asked. “Treat me nice, truck-driving man, but treat me nice inside by the fire?”

He grinned. “Let’s go.”

We were laughing like teenagers as we raced into the cottage, threw ourselves in through the front door and into the sitting room. As we collapsed into each other’s arms I thought that it was a perfect end to a perfect evening, and I could only hope that the remainder of the year 2000 would be the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

My dream of a good new year was dashed only the following morning when Ruby and Albert turned up on the doorstep unannounced, and told me they had decided to come and see Jack. In other words, they had come to drop their bombshell, and since it was me that had asked them to, I could hardly refuse. As I let them in, Dan and Ginny also pulled up outside, and I looked at Albert, who shrugged.

“I asked them to come along,” he said, almost apologetically before I could ask the question. “Dan’s the only one who can keep Jack under control when the going gets rough.”

Gets rough? My heart sank. I told them all to take a seat around the kitchen table while I went to wake Jack. Ginny busied herself with coffee, and knowing Ginny as I did now, I realised she was probably even more worried about what Albert was going to tell us than I was. When Ginny was worried, she kept herself busy.

Jack was still in bed, face down in the pillows and wearing only a pair of black boxer shorts and a white tee shirt. I stood by the bed for a moment, enjoying the sight of him, remembering how it had felt to have slept the entire night with him. After making love in front of the fire we had stumbled upstairs and fallen into Jack’s bed, but whereas I had woken early because I was used to it, he had refused to be woken at all. Now I shook him gently, then more vigorously when he didn’t wake. Soon he moaned loudly and turned over.

“Albert wants to talk to you,” I whispered.

“Who’s Albert? Tell him to come back next week. No, next year.”

“Jack, I think you should come down. He has something important to tell you.”

He groaned as I pulled open the curtains and a beam of light shot into the room. “Fuck sake, Lana!”

“He seems really serious. Ruby is with him and he’s picked up Dan and Ginny on the way.” I put my hand on his chest to shake him again, but this time he grabbed me and pulled me down on top of him. His mouth found mine and we kissed urgently.

“This lonesome trucker has got one hell of a headache that needs kissing away,” he said.

“You’ve got to get up!” I giggled and tried to pull away from him, but his arms were around me, his hands already sliding inside the back of my shirt and finding bare skin. “Jack, not now! Ginny and Dan are here.”

He let me go, reluctantly, and I pulled the duvet right off him. Groaning, he sat on the edge of the bed and took his jeans when I passed them to him, but before he put them on he put his head in his hands and moaned.

“How can Dan be downstairs waiting for me?” he complained. “He had the same as me to drink, and I can’t even get out of bed.” He grabbed my wrist again and tried to pull me closer. “Are you sure we can’t go back to bed?”

“Later,” I whispered.

“Promise?”

I pushed his hair into place and kissed his forehead. “Promise. But hurry downstairs to see what Albert has to say. I have to fetch Kurtis soon.”

He came downstairs ten minutes after I returned to the kitchen, sliding gingerly into a chair and gratefully accepting the coffee and paracetamol I passed him. His hair hung in his eyes, he had a day’s growth of stubble on his face and was hungover, but still my stomach lurched a little bit when he gave me a quick smile.

“Suppose you don’t even have a headache,” he said to Dan, ungraciously.

“Not me, I always look this good in the morning,” Dan remarked, but when I watched him I noticed that he wasn’t moving his head much, and when I accidentally dropped a cup he flinched just the same as Jack and reached for the box of headache pills.

“I don’t see how you can look like that when you should be looking like me,” Jack muttered.

“Some of us can hold our drink better than others.”

Ginny and I were laughing tolerantly, but Ruby and Albert shuffled in their seats and looked very ill at ease.

“Albert came to talk to you, Jack,” I reminded him, and straight away Albert sat up in his chair. He stopped twisting the cap he held tightly in his hand and pulled a small book from his pocket. He looked at Ruby, who patted his hand, then he passed the book to Jack.

Jack sighed, impatiently. “Albert, I know that Bryn was my mother and Jordan wasn’t my father. Oliver agreed to have me living with him in exchange for cash, didn’t he?”

“It was all wrong,” Ruby moaned. “Giving a child away for cash. I don’t know what Bryn was thinking when she agreed to it.”

“She was given no choice,” Albert said. “There was a big to-do about it at the time. It hadn’t long been announced in the paper that Jordan Ross had a newborn son, when he received an anonymous letter telling him the baby wasn’t his. He got a couple more after that, and when he tackled Bryn about it, she admitted the truth and that you didn’t belong to Jordan. It shocked us all at the time, but then there was a story went about that Bryn had been raped and was too frightened to tell anyone until it was too late, but there was some of us who didn’t believe it, and still don’t.”

“It was a terrible time,” Ruby added. “Poor Bryn was nearly beaten to death by that despicable man for wanting to keep her baby, but you were taken from her. She came screaming and panicking to me that day, trying to make me get you back, and Albert went to talk to Jordan, but it was no good. Oliver took you to his house as a brother for Jonathan, then a few years later Ginny came along and it all seemed like happy families for a while. Until Margaret died, that is. I reckon she was the only one who stopped Oliver hitting you before, that’s what I reckon.”

“Only Jack was never happy,” Albert said. “Were you, son?”

Jack shook his head. “I always knew something wasn’t right, that I didn’t fit when everyone else did. Did Jonathan always know?”

“Yes, he knew. He was ten years old but he was a bright spark and there wasn’t going to be any keeping it from him. He was jealous of course, and it showed, but Oliver never did anything about it. He let Jonathan bully you from the start, and gave him huge amounts of pocket money to keep the secret.”

“So, why have I got this?” Jack waved the red book at Albert, who nearly spilled the coffee he was trying to hold with a shaking hand.

“It was Bryn’s account. The money that should have been your inheritance, even though it wasn’t what Jordan wanted. Bryn was saving it for you. She didn’t need it, she had enough to live on, believe me, and we always made sure she was all right.”

I watched Jack’s face change as he opened the book and studied it, flicking through the pages, his surprise showing more at each turn. When he finished he looked up in astonishment, then passed the book to Dan, who opened it to study. “This shows regular withdrawals of thousands of pounds, on a monthly basis. Funny way of saving money.”

“It was to keep us all quiet,” Ruby said, firmly, when Albert didn’t answer.

Jack laughed suddenly, then put a hand to his head and groaned. “You what?”

“True.” Albert twisted the cap until I thought it wasn’t going to be any good if he didn’t stop soon.

“Albert, you had better explain why before I go and park that lorry of mine right where you left that taxi cab,” Jack warned.

Albert threw the cap on the table and sighed. “Jordan Ross was embarrassed by the fact that everyone in the village knew Jack wasn’t his baby. Most believed his story that Bryn had been raped and hadn’t told anyone, but there were a few of us who knew her well, and refused to believe his story. He tried to make everyone keep quiet by donating a lot of money to the church and the school. It blew over after a while and we thought that was the end of it. Until Jordan disappeared.”

“Don’t you mean that he died?” Dan asked, who was still turning the pages of the book.

“That’s what Bryn told us. There’s some of us never believed that, either.”

There seemed to be a sudden hush fall over the room as Jack digested these last words. I watched him carefully, glad he was getting the answers to his questions, but dreading the fact that it had probably ruined what had been the best week of my life so far. Jack had been so nice and kind to me that I would have gone to the moon and back for him if he’d asked. This news would send him back into one of his dark, depressive moods, and I would catch the sharp end of his tongue once more.

“A few that didn’t believe?” Jack repeated. “Just what did they believe happened to him?”

I held my breath. It was like the calm before the storm. Dan sat up straight and was watching Jack as closely as I was, so I knew he expected an outburst, too.

“It wasn’t just Ruby and me,” Albert continued. “Tony Porter thinks he was done away with, and so does Tom Coleman.” He shook his head. “When I say done away with, I don’t really know, not for certain. There were some of us who thought she had found a way of getting rid of Jordan so she could have you living with her in peace and quiet. She called me and Tony here one day, said she had heard the rumours and they weren’t true, but we had always been good friends and she wanted to keep it that way. She said she had more money than she knew what to do with, and she would make regular payments to us both if we put paid to the rumours and just let her and Jack be. It was mostly Jordan’s money, some she had managed to keep out of Oliver’s sight.”

There was a moment of silence during which we were all thinking about the implications behind Albert’s confession, then Jack ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head. “Bryn was paying you the money to stop you asking questions about Jordan’s disappearance?”

“She had been very frightened of Jordan,” Ruby said, and once he was gone she settled down to a happy life with just the two of you, but a year or two before she died, someone started to blackmail her.”

“She never said anything to me or dad,” Ginny said.

“She would hardly have told Oliver anything. She didn’t think much of him, even if he was her brother. She received letters from someone threatening to tell the national papers she had murdered her husband to get her child back, and she decided to pay the blackmailer. We all wanted her to call his bluff while we tried to find out who it was, but she was scared. She wanted to pay.”

“So,” Dan said, a frown on his face as he struggled with the rest of us to put it into perspective. “How did the blackmailer know what Bryn did to Jordan, if she did anything at all?”

“Who is the blackmailer?” Jack asked.

At this, Albert shook his head. “I wouldn’t like to say. Bryn knew she was dying, see. She’d been ill for a while and we always made sure she didn’t want for anything. She was a great lady, was Bryn. A proud lady. She didn’t want anything to reach the national papers and she knew she had enough to keep the blackmailer happy until the day she died. She loved you, Jack. She was proud of you, proud you had found a life for yourself, even if it was so far away.”

I saw Jack’s face redden and he threw the passbook to the table. “I think you knew why I didn’t come back,” he defended. “I wasn’t wanted here. If I’d known…..” he looked at me, as if he wanted moral support, and so I went to put my hands on his shoulders. “If I’d known she was my mother I might have come back to see her.”

“So, apart from the few grand she handed out to you and Tony, most of this money went to the blackmailer?” Dan waved the book at Albert, who shuffled in his seat and nodded his head.

“Bryn didn’t want it,” he said. “She didn’t want Jordan’s money. Yes, we took the money, some of us can’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth, but we looked after her, she knew she could call on us at any time.”

“Do you know,” Dan said, “I’ve always wondered how you came to afford such a big house on a cabby’s pay, Albert. It’s even got a swimming pool, Jack. And come to think of it, Tony can afford to change that Mercedes for a new one every year on a publican’s wages.”

“All of my inheritance,” Jack said, but I noticed he seemed brighter rather than annoyed, and he was remaining calm. He leaned back in his chair. “Hear that, Dan? I’ve got shares in the local pub, so that’ll come in handy now I don’t have a penny to my name. There’s me, thousands of pounds in debt and these guys have spent all of my inheritance between them.” He laughed then, and we all jumped, shocked at his reaction. Albert looked at his wife, Dan looked at Ginny, but Jack continued to laugh.

“That’s funny, ain’t it, Dan? Not a bean to my name and they’re rich on my money.” He chuckled harder. “That’s almost as funny as the time Benny Simpson crashed his truck into the wall at Pete’s truck stop, remember?”

To my further surprise, Dan started to laugh, too. “Yeah, that was funny, but not nearly as funny as the time we let the tyres down on that police car so he couldn’t follow Mike.”

Jack laughed harder still, and by this time it was so infectious that Ginny and I were laughing with him. “Hey,” he said, pointing at Dan, “and that spilled load of eggs on your trailer, remember?”

Dan pulled a face. “Speaking as a man that can’t stand the sight of raw eggs, I didn’t find that one funny. What about the time you got so drunk you couldn’t remember where you’d parked that old Daf of yours for two days?”

Albert and Ruby were sitting open-mouthed, staring at Jack as if they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Here he was, just having lost a fortune, and he was laughing.

“Well, that’s the story, and now you’ve heard it,” Albert grumbled, taking Ruby by the hand and marching her to the door. “Don’t expect Jonathan and Oliver to be pleased that I’ve told you. They won’t be.”

Jack stopped laughing, groaned as he grabbed the headache pills and swallowed two of them. “Damn this hangover,” he said. “Listen, Albert, I appreciate you coming here and telling me this today, I really do. And all this money that I’m supposed to have, well, it’s never been mine, not really. I wouldn’t have wanted it, not when it came from Jordan, who couldn’t even look me in the face because he hated me so much. What sort of a man would I be, taking his money?”

“But Bryn wanted you to have it,” Ruby said.

“Yes, but I’d rather have known she was my mother than accept all that money.” Jack pushed himself to his feet. “I wish she would have told me when I went to live with her. Why didn’t she?”

Albert shook his head. “She wanted to, was desperate for you to know, but perhaps she thought she was doing the best by you.”

“You should have known,” Ruby comforted. “You deserved it, poor kid.”

“That’s me,” Jack grinned. “Always deserving.”

“Hah,” Albert sniffed. “You deserved the title last night, all right.”

“What title?”

“Ruby thought you were the best, and I agreed, but I reckon Coral only got it on account of her having the biggest chest.”

As Ginny and I exploded into laughter, Jack and Dan were eyeing each other suspiciously. I remembered perfectly well, and so did Ginny, but it was apparent that neither of the men did.

“Do you remember?” Jack asked of Dan.

“No, do you?”

“Would I ask you if I did?”

“Best show of the night,” Ruby chortled, causing Ginny and I to collapse in fits of laughter again. Jack eyed us, glaringly.

“What?” he growled.

“The singing contest,” I said, through my giggles.

“The Dolly Parton sing along contest,” Ginny corrected.

Jack and Dan both groaned in unison.

“I didn’t!” Dan said.

“You did!” Ginny told him.

“I don’t remember.”

“I do,” I said, and suddenly we were laughing again, except for the men, who both put their heads in their hands and moaned again.

“Changing the subject,” Jack said, from between his fingers.

“Good idea,” Dan agreed.

“How are you fixed for work today?”

“I knew it,” Dan groaned. “He wants something.”

“There’s that old MG out in the barn, the one we used to mess about with, remember? I want to get it out, fix it up a bit and send it to the auction. Probably the Roller as well.” He lifted his head.

“The Rolls Royce?” Albert clutched his cap to his chest and stood, transfixed. “The black one Bryn kept in the barn?”

“Yep, the barn’s coming down. This place is going to be a haulage company one day, and there won’t be any room for barns, or the Rolls.”

“No.” Albert’s voice was instantly quiet, and he appeared to be so alarmed by Jack’s statement that a shudder crept through me. “Don’t move that car!”

“Don’t be crazy, it has to go.”

“Don’t move it!” Albert’s voice thundered through the kitchen and we all fell silent as he dragged his cap over the thatch of grey hair. He looked as if he had just seen a ghost, and a tingling feeling shot through me. “Come on, Ruby, we had better get going. I’m warning you now, Jack Clayton, don’t move that car! You lot can all stay away from me and the missus if that’s your intention. That car should rot where it stands, do you hear me?”

We all watched, dumb-founded by his reaction, as he dragged Ruby to his car and helped her into the passenger seat. He didn’t look back at us, just got in and drove away.

“What was all that about?” Jack asked.

“Search me,” Dan said. “There’s nothing inside the car is there?”

“Only the trunk Lana and I found, and he already knows about that. Anyway, are you on to help me with the cars?”

“Better ask Ginny.”

I smiled as Jack put his arm around Ginny, kissed her cheek several times and asked if Dan could come out to play. She picked up a tea towel to flick at him before giving her consent, and we stood at the window to watch the two of them walk across the field towards the barn.

“What do you think Jack will do now?” I asked her. “He certainly took that much better than I would have thought.”

“I always thought of Bryn as such a decent sort, a lovely woman, but all those secrets and blackmail threats, it’s really shocked me. Do you know what’s so awful, as well? It’s finding out that the man you’ve loved as a brother for all these years really isn’t your brother at all. That’s a feeling I don’t think I’ll get used to easily. I wonder how Jack feels about it.”

“Jack dotes on you,” I pointed out, trying to offer her some comfort. “I don’t believe he’ll change in that respect.”

“My mother, Margaret Clayton, died of a heart condition when I was eight,” Ginny continued. “It was most likely aggravated by the stress she was under if she had to cope with all this.”

“Did she love Jack?” I asked. Was it possible, I wondered, to take someone else’s child and bring them up if you really didn’t want to? Especially if you knew the real mother was very upset at having that child taken away from her. I wouldn’t have thought so, but perhaps Margaret was given no more choice than Bryn was.

“I barely remember her. She was very affectionate towards me, but I was her little girl, the baby of the family. Jonathan is a lot older than me and he was always with dad. Jack didn’t go to her for anything, he was never the type of child that needed cuddles, or comfort, so perhaps he suspected something even then.”

“Actually I expected him to lose his temper,” I told her. “At the very least to throttle poor Albert and Ruby before driving off like a madman to find Oliver and Jonathan.”

Ginny laughed. “Plenty of time for that yet. He is changing, though. He’s so much calmer these days.” She punched affectionately at my shoulder. “I want to know what else he’s been up to lately.”

“What do you mean?” I knew exactly what she meant, of course.

“He was all over you at the party, Lana Collier. I’ve never seen him this way with anyone before, only when he was with Karen.

I shrugged, nonchalantly. “He was drunk.”

“He didn’t leave your side all night.”

I felt my face redden, and she let out a little shriek of triumph.

“Tell me,” she said, rubbing her hands together in delight. “Did you two get it together?”

“Ginny!”

“Did you?”

“Yes.” I flushed redder still. “He took me back to his lorry……..”

“Not the lorry,” Ginny groaned. “Those men and their point system…….”

“No, listen,” I nudged her ribs to make her stop and listen to me. “He took me back there and gave me the blue bear.”

This time Ginny was stuck for words, her mouth halfway open for ages before she spoke. “Not the blue bear Karen gave him? The one on his dash? He’d never give it away, Lana.”

“But he gave it to me and told me to put it away. A while ago, not long after he found out about Bryn being his mother, we had quite a long talk and he asked me to stay here. I told him I couldn’t, that it would be best for me to stand on my own two feet and take care of Kurtis, and that if he still wanted to see us, then he could. He didn’t want to commit himself and couldn’t tell me he loved me or anything because he still loves Karen. He asked me to give him some time, and then last night he gave me the bear and told me to put it away, and that was his way of telling me he cared about me.” I crossed to the other side of the kitchen to switch on the kettle for a cup of tea.

“Oh, my God! Jack did that?” Ginny covered her mouth with her hand, her blue eyes wide with wonder. “I wouldn’t have believed it. What did you do with the bear?”

“I put it back.”

“You did what?”

“Put it back.” I was still certain I’d done the right thing. “He needs to have something to remember her by, and it isn’t like she’s a real threat to me, is it? I mean, he doesn’t have her belongings all over the house or anything, just a few photos and that bear.”

“Oh, Lana!” Ginny came to hug me, and there were tears in her eyes. “He doesn’t deserve you. I never imagined you were getting that close. I realised a while ago how much you liked him, but you never said anything.”

“I didn’t think it would work.” I busied myself with cups. “I still don’t think we’re that close, just good friends, and I’ll probably still take the flat. I know he’s trying to change, but……..” I lowered my eyes to the table. “He was very drunk last night, and he might not have remembered what he said about the bear.”

“Has he told you he loves you?”

“No, he can’t. He probably finds it hard to say, since Karen is the only girl he’s ever really loved, and he doesn’t want to feel untrue towards her. This is different.” But I was tortured by my thoughts. Would he have asked me to stay with him if he didn’t love me? Did he think there was hope for us in the future, or should I cut my losses, take the flat and see what he did then? At least I’d know the truth if he didn’t bother to come and see me again. “Oh, Ginny, I just don’t know.”

“But you do love him, don’t you? It’s just that I’ve seen him go through so much in his life, and I couldn’t bear him to be hurt again.. You are sure?”

“I’m sure,” I said, and my heart lifted as I realised I’d just been given Ginny’s blessing. “I love Jack.”

Ginny took both my hands and squeezed them gently. “He’s a dark horse, our Jack, but you’ll be good for each other. Karen was a lovely girl, and if she were to have any say in the matter, I know she’d want him to be happy. She would have liked you, Lana.”

“Thanks,” I said, slightly embarrassed, but pleased to hear it all the same. Knowing I was keen to go and get Kurtis, she offered me a lift back to the village and we talked some more, but I was still convinced that getting the flat was the best way to discover Jack’s true feelings about me.

When the men returned from the barn, Ginny was making up sandwiches, and I was playing with Kurtis. We smiled at their enthusiasm.

“Shouldn’t be too much work,” Jack said, “lesser still if only Dan knew the exhaust pipe from the radiator hose.”

“Who was it that pulled it apart to begin with?” Dan countered.

“I was going to fix it.”

“Yeah, so you could take Sarah Jane Cowley in there with you.”

“Wrong! I was going to drive it over to her place and pick her up, take her out to see the views.”

“I remember, but you were only fourteen and old Harry Benton found out about it.”

“One thing about local coppers,” Jack said, as he washed his hands in the sink, “is that nothing ever gets past them. I still don’t know who told him.”

“I did,” Ginny confessed, putting sandwiches and cake on the table. “I thought Sarah Jane was a tease, and only after you for one thing.”

“That was the whole point,” Jack explained, then he and Dan had another bout of laughter, followed by nudges and pushes at each other.

“Like two little boys,” Ginny sniffed.

I was laughing as I cuddled Kurtis in my arms. It was good to hear them talk like this from time to time because it gave me an insight into Jack’s past. I had developed a great need to find out all about him, to know all there was to know.

“Is the car worth selling?” Ginny asked.

“Should fetch a bit,” Dan told her. “It’ll be worth doing some work on it first, and then getting the body re-sprayed, but it should help Jack out with his finances when it’s sold. I’ll come over next weekend and we’ll tow it over here, to his garage. There’s not much wrong with the Roller, just that it’s stood like that for a long time. We didn’t try turning the engine over.”

“I was going to put it over the pit in the barn,” Jack said, “but damned if Bryn hasn’t gone and had it filled in.”

“What pit?” I asked.

“Jordan had a pit dug into the floor of the barn,” Jack explained. “You know the sort of thing, like mechanics use in garages. He kept his cars in there and had a mechanic service them every now and again.”

“It was there when we used to mess about with the MG,” Dan said, “because we used it a few times. Anyway, time Ginny and myself were going home. Make a date for Saturday, Jack, and we’ll drag the cars out of there.”

“Are you drinking later?” Jack called after him,

Dan put his thumb up in approval as he reached his car, and Ginny blew a kiss as they drove off. Jack took the baby from me and was rewarded with an instant smile.

“He likes you,” I said. “He does that every time you look at him.”

“I must look funny.” Jack stuck out his tongue and pulled more faces.

“Well, since he’s that fond of you, how about changing his nappy while I get a few things done?”

“A nappy?” Jack pulled a disgusting face at Kurtis and got a gurgle in return. “I’ve never done one before.”

“First time for everything,” I laughed, and followed him to the living room, where the changing mat was already on the floor, with a clean nappy next to it. I stopped at the door, watching him undo the dirty nappy and pull another face.

“Kid, we have to make a deal here. One where you do the dirty ones for your mama and save the wet ones for me.” He managed to change it though. Not as quickly as I could do it, and probably not quite as well fitting, but he got a nappy on and did Kurtis’s clothes up again. Then he put on the television, settled into the chair with Kurtis curled into his shoulder, and they promptly drifted off to sleep.

I was pleased that he appeared to be so relaxed after all he had discovered about himself lately, because things like that weren’t easy to accept. I supposed he must have felt happier in himself just knowing he had the answers to some of his questions. He didn’t say anything more about the spent inheritance, and didn’t appear to be bothered by it. What you never had, you don’t miss, was probably how he was thinking.

I smiled tolerantly at the sight of the two men in my life asleep in front of the television, and went to get on with some housework.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Jack was away for the rest of that week and I missed him to the point where it was hard to bear the pain inside me, my heart, everywhere. I had plenty to do with Kurtis on my hands, but I still missed him like crazy.

To fill in the time, I accepted invitations to two coffee mornings, despite my better judgement. One was from Ruby Dunn, which surprised me. I attended because I didn’t want to upset her further, not after she and Albert had taken the trouble to let Jack know what had happened in the past. It had been three days since they had shed a little more light on his life, and I gathered from her stressed appearance that she hadn’t recovered from the experience.

“It wasn’t right what they did to her or to that boy,” she said, sadly, passing china coffee cups around. “But Jordan didn’t want anything said about it, and I was more frightened of what he might do to me and Albert if we told anyone.”

I had assured her she wasn’t to blame for anything, and his friendship with Albert would always remain, but I crossed my fingers when I said it because I wasn’t sure that’s how Jack felt. He’d said nothing about it.

My second coffee morning was at the Happy Man, where Coral and some friends were trying to raise money for the local school. As far as I knew the school was for primary age children, of whom there were very few left in the village, but the building needed constant repairs and a committee was organised at the coffee morning.

“We thought we might invite anyone interested in our school,” Coral shrilled as she tottered around on her high heels and pulled her skirt lower each time Tony cast a disapproving stare in her direction. “And let’s face it, Lana, this little one of yours might be going to our school in a few years time.” She bent and stroked Kurtis’ cheek. “Aaaah, he’s beautiful.”

I smiled and tried not to appear too proud in front of all these women, most of whom I hadn’t seen before. I was nervous, not particularly fond of walking into a room full of people I didn’t know, but Kurtis had attracted a lot of attention and had been happily passed from one to another as they all cooed over him indulgently. He was a beautiful baby, even if I was a little bit biased. He wasn’t following his natural father for his looks very much, something I was grateful for. He was so good, though, and had even beamed at Tony when Coral had shown him to her father.

I was bombarded with questions about Jack and the haulage business he intended starting with Dan. Obviously the word had got around somehow, and I doubted that would please Jack, since he’d done no more than think about it up until now. I said as much to anyone who asked me, but rather than the negative attitudes I expected, they all appeared to be in favour of it.

“As long as it doesn’t mean heavy lorries thundering through our village day and night,” one woman said.

“Oh, no,” I answered. “There’s access from the field behind.”

“But what of Oliver Clayton’s plans for that land?” another asked, and I turned to face the older lady, who immediately seemed embarrassed to have gained my attention.

“It’s not his land,” I said. “It’s Jack’s.”

“I work for him, cleaning at that house of his, and he definitely has plans for that field. He left them out on the table one morning. He told me it was to build a small factory, with the aim of giving work to the villagers, especially part time work to young mothers, who need it most.”

“Well, now then Pat, you might clean for him, but we all know Oliver Clayton isn’t a man who does things for the good of the community,” another woman said. “More than likely he intends to build houses on it.” There was a rumble of agreement from most of the women, and I was glad to know the man didn’t appear to be liked very much.

“Well, the land belongs to Jack anyway,” I insisted, but I stored away her information to tell Jack when he returned. “He and Dan James might go into business together, but at the moment it’s just talk.”

“If he goes into business with Dan James he can’t go far wrong,” another woman said. “I’d trust Dan completely.”

“Don’t you trust Jack?” I asked. I’d seen the indulgent smiles pass between them and knew what they were thinking about me. A young girl obsessed by a man who had shown her a little bit of kindness. A man who just might be the father of that baby, no matter how much she insisted he wasn’t.

“I wouldn’t know, love. Always been a bit of a tearaway, that one, but there again, people can change.”

“Jack will change,” I insisted. “He hasn’t exactly had it easy.”

“True, that is.” The lady who had introduced herself as Pearl, nodded her head and several of the older woman agreed. “He was a little so and so, but the poor kid never knew if he was coming or going. Not until Bryn got her hands on him, gave him some stability. Then again, it looks as if he’s settling down well enough now.” She nudged me with her elbow and I smiled. “You two look happy enough together.”

I was glad I’d gone, even if I had been nervous. I made a few friends, stayed there for a couple of hours and chatted and it felt good to be out and about for a change.

It was beginning to drizzle with rain as I left the pub, so I pulled up the rain covers on the pram to protect Kurtis, who had fallen asleep after his busy morning. About to start the journey home, I noticed Jonus sitting on the wall around the pub car park. He was watching me and immediately I was uncomfortable, thinking of the long walk home and not wishing to have his company. I pushed the pram quickly, not looking at him and hoping he wouldn’t follow me, but he did. And I hadn’t gone any further than the entrance to the car park before Oliver Clayton pulled up in front of me. I stopped, unsure of what to do, but since Jonus now stood behind me I couldn’t go back to the Happy Man.

Oliver and Jonathan both stepped out of the car, a brand new BMW, and walked over to me. Behind me I heard Jonus giggling like an excited schoolgirl, and it made me feel sick. I heard him whisper about devil’s spawn, just loud enough for me to hear. Oliver appeared not to have noticed him, but a thin-lipped smile was on his face as he looked at me.

“Lana,” he said. “What a pleasant surprise.”

I somehow doubted that it was all that much of a surprise to him, rather that he had been waiting for me to come out of the Happy Man. Jonathan was also smiling at me and I noticed he still had faint marks on his face where Jack had hit him.

“Hello, Jonathan,” I called, sounding much braver than I was feeling. “I hope you feel better, only Jack said you weren’t so good after he called on you last time.” I obviously hit a nerve, for his smile turned to a glower.

“Who do you think you are?” he spat, “sticking your nose in where you aren’t wanted.”

“Quiet!” Oliver snapped. “We’re here on business, remember. Lana, do you know where Jack is?”

“On his way home,” I lied.

“Not until Friday, not until Friday,” Jonus chanted, and I spun around to face him, wondering how he knew that.

“So, he’s out on the road,” Oliver said, and I shrugged. They were making me feel distinctly uneasy and a quick glance around the car park told me the only person with any interest in what was going on was Tom Coleman, who stood by his garden gate. He was watching, but I doubt he would have backed me up.

“I need his first payment.” Oliver stated. “Three hundred pounds.”

“He doesn’t have it.” I heard Jonus cackle loudly as I spoke.

“He must pay it, under the terms of the agreement I brought to him. He may have decided to throw his copy on the fire, but that didn’t make it invalid. The first payment is due, now.” He took a few steps towards me and I tightened my grip on the handle of the pram, wondering if I should just make a run for it.

“You know he doesn’t have that sort of money,” I said. Oliver was leaning over the pram and looking down at Kurtis, so I pulled it closer to me. “Look, Jack will be back soon, so come to the cottage when he is. It’s none of my business.”

“Oh, but I think it is.” Oliver placed one hand on the handle of the pram and wrenched it from mine. It was so sudden a movement that I had no choice but to let go, and I cried out. He smiled. “This baby must mean an awful lot to Jack.”

“It’s not his son,” I said, reaching for the pram, but he pushed me away. He was frightening me. His eyes were cold and hard, grey eyes, like steel as he stared into mine.

“Jack took the trouble to bring you back here and take care of you while you had the kid,” he said, “and Jack isn’t that sociable normally. That tells me he’s been carrying on his little affair in some remote corner of the country, and when he found himself in trouble he had no choice but bring you here. Of course the kid is his.”

“Please, let me have him back?” I tried to stand my ground, not let him see the tears or the panic that welled up inside me. “He isn’t Jack’s baby, I swear it.”

Then Oliver pushed his face close to mine. “You tell Jack, little lady, tell him if I don’t get three hundred pounds in the next forty-eight hours, I might just have to hurt him in some way.”

“You’ve hurt him enough already,” I shouted. “Give me my baby back!” Jonus was leaping around and laughing loudly, enjoying my terror. His eyes were bright and more than ever I thought of him as dangerous, believing Jack rather than Ginny, who still thought of him as harmless. I grabbed the jacket of Oliver’s pin-striped suit and tore at it in an attempt to get Kurtis back, but instead he shoved the pram towards Jonathan. I beat both fists against him and screamed as loud as I could.

“What’s going on?” With huge relief I saw Coral Porter in the doorway of the Happy Man. “Lana? Are you all right?” she called. “Dad?” The last word was shouted back over her shoulder as she hurried to me, and in seconds Tony was following her.

“Oliver?” he greeted, uncertainty on his face. “What’s going on?”

“Tell him to give me my baby back?” I pleaded. At my scream Kurtis had begun to cry, and Jonathan was keeping his distance with the pram.

“Oliver, for goodness sake!” Tony stood between us, and suddenly Jonathan shoved the pram back in my direction.

“Tell Jack I want the money,” Oliver warned, pointing his finger at me. “And I won’t rest until I get it.” He returned to the BMW, with Jonathan close on his heels.

Jonus was chanting Bible verses from a distance, then he began threatening me with the fires of hell thing again. Taking Jack’s advice I picked up three large stones and began pelting them in his direction. “Go away!” I screamed. “Stay away from me!” The first stone caught his leg, the second hit him full in the face, and while I hadn’t actually intended them to hit him, it must have hurt him terribly. Jonus clasped a hand to his face and shrieked loudly as he turned and limped away, in the opposite direction to my intended one, I was glad to see.

“Hey, hey!” Tony took my hand and shook the third stone from it. I had been about to hurl it after the departing Jonus, but I let it fall to the ground. “For God’s sake, Lana, he’s just an old tramp.”

“He’s nasty,” I shouted. “He’s always watching us, and he gets into the cottage and won’t go away. He wants Jack dead and he keeps spouting all that hell fire and damnation thing at us.”

Tony stared after Jonus as if he didn’t believe what I was saying, and to be honest I probably did sound like a freaked-out school girl.

“I know Jonus can be a bloody pest,” Tony said, “But why is Oliver Clayton bothering you?”

I took a screaming Kurtis from his pram and promptly burst into tears, noticing the small crowd of women gathering outside after the end of their coffee morning.

“Aaah, dad, let’s take her inside,” Coral said, rubbing her hand on my arm.

“No, they’ll ask too many questions,” I said, inclining my head towards the women.

“They’re all leaving,” Tony said. “We’ll go round the back way into our living room. How about that?”

I had calmed Kurtis down and was halfway through a cup of tea made by Tony when Coral came to join me. She slipped off her high heels and slumped into a chair.

“Oooh, that’s better. My feet were killing me.”

“So what was going on out there?” Tony asked. He had been patient as I tried to compose myself, but I knew he was bursting with curiosity. “It looked to me as if Oliver was trying to frighten you.”

“He was. Jack owes him a lot of money.”

“Jack? I would think Oliver was the last person Jack would borrow money from.”

“He didn’t borrow it from Oliver.” I was unsure whether to carry on, as this was really Jack’s business and he wouldn’t appreciate me broadcasting it. Then I remembered that Tony had been one of the few to benefit from Jack’s inheritance, and I thought by telling him how much trouble Jack was in, he might feel guilty enough to be on Jack’s side for a change. “Jack left a lot of debts behind him when Karen died. Her parents sorted it out for him, and when they finished he owed them twenty thousand pounds. Oliver found out about it, paid the debt without asking Jack, and now wants three hundred pounds a week from Jack towards paying it off. Or else the cottage.”

“That cottage is worth a fortune in itself,” Tony said, in disbelief. “Jack could lose out all round.”

“He already has,” I stated, flatly. “He doesn’t have three hundred a week to give to Oliver. He doesn’t have anything in the bank at all.”

At my last words Tony’s face turned a very deep shade of red and he coughed. He didn’t say anything, but he was fully aware of my meaning. It was likely that Coral knew nothing of the money Tony had come by and it wasn’t my place to tell her, so I stood up and took Kurtis back to his pram.

“I’m sorry to have been so much trouble,” I said. “I’ll go home now.”

“Will you be safe?” Coral asked. “What if that man comes to the cottage? Or Jonus – ugh, that man scares me to death.”

“I’ll keep all the doors locked,” I said, trying to sound confident when all I wanted was Jack to be there when I got home. Tony jumped up from his chair to help me with the pram, then he pulled car keys from his pocket.

“I’ll run you home,” he offered. When I protested he silenced me and said it wouldn’t take a minute and he would rather I got home safely, just in case Jonus was lurking somewhere in the lane, or Oliver had decided to wait for me at the cottage. “If he is,” he declared, “I’m bringing you straight back here. If we can’t get in touch with Jack, then Ginny will know how to contact Dan.”

“I’d rather not tell Jack until he gets home,” I told Tony once we were on our way. “It’ll just put him in a bad mood and he’ll try to get home earlier. He needs to be out there earning his money, not chasing around after me.”

“So, this baby, he’s not…….”

“Jack’s? No.”

“Good of him to help you out, then.”

“Yes.” I was keeping an eye open for Jonus, but we got to the open gateway without having seen him. “Tony, tell me why Jonus is so awful? He says such vile things to us, and he hates me, but apparently he used to like Bryn a lot.”

Tony nodded. “Bryn took pity on him, that’s all. He turned up in this village nearly forty years ago, just a young man then, but he wasn’t interested in getting a job, just bumming around and living off what he could beg. He wasn’t liked all that much, people mostly paid him to get off their property, but Bryn gave him meals, made him coffee and such. Eventually he got that he was jealous of anyone that went near her. He probably thinks Jack was responsible for her death or something like that. It’s the way he thinks. Damn it!”

Tony stopped the car suddenly, jamming on the brakes and letting out a swear word for which he immediately apologised. I wasn’t listening, paying more attention to the broken garage doors and Jack’s car. The garage doors had been taken from their hinges and thrown down. The car had been pushed out, had four flat tyres and two broken headlights.

Tony went to get a closer look, shaking his head and muttering under his breath. When he came back he was just in time to see me taking yet another note from where it was pinned on the front door.

“What’s that?” he asked, taking it from me.

I gave him time to read it. It used foul and abusive language just as the others had, but warned that since he had taken no notice after Dan’s accident, the car and his truck would suffer next.

“Who’s doing this?” Tony asked, amazed.

I shook my head, upset at having yet another threat carried out. “He gets them quite often, two or three a week. They mostly just threaten bad things, but a couple of times the threats have been real. Like when Dan got hurt in his lorry.” I watched Tony rip the note to pieces. “And some men came here one night and sprayed red paint all over Jack’s lorry.”

“Who does Jack think it is?”

“Oliver and Jonathan.”

Tony shrugged his shoulders. “I’d no idea he was getting trouble like this. I know there’s a few he’s upset in the past, but nothing that deserves this sort of thing.”

“Would Tom Coleman do it?” I asked.

Tony took a minute to regain his composure, not having expected such a question from me. “What would make you ask that?” He seemed edgy all of a sudden, and I knew then he wasn’t aware of Albert having told us about the inheritance. I watched him lift the pram from his car and put it together for me.

“Jack knows where all of Bryn’s money went,” I said, bluntly.

Tony could only stare at me for a while, his mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. He had gone a dark shade of red once more, and his hands were shaking as he pushed the pram towards me. “Where did he hear that?”

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Jack is in trouble and his inheritance has been spent. He needs three hundred pounds by tomorrow.”

“I’ll get it,” Tony promised. “It’ll be here first thing in the morning.”

I watched him drive away, slightly relived that if Oliver came to call tomorrow, I would at least have the money to give him on Jack’s behalf, and it bought me another week. What Jack would have to say about it was another matter, and I didn’t want to think about that right now. When all was said and done, Jack was many miles away, and it was me that had to face the music.

I looked at the car, knowing Jack would be furious when he came home, but there was nothing I could do to put it right. Sighing, I left the car where it was and went inside, locking all the doors behind me.

Jack called me that evening to say he was coming home on Friday afternoon, and he must have guessed from the sound of my voice that something was wrong, despite me trying to keep my nerve. I determined not to tell him, assured him I was fine, Kurtis was fine, and we were managing perfectly well without him. He stopped asking questions after a while and told me he was looking forward to seeing us.

I walked on air for the rest of the evening. He was looking forward to seeing us. The way he said it had made my nerves tingle with excitement. He wanted to see us. It was the first time he had said it, and the words stayed in my head until I fell asleep.

Tony was true to his word and delivered the money to me first thing in the morning. Coral was in the car with him, but she didn’t get out and she didn’t call a greeting to me, just watched suspiciously as Tony handed me the envelope. Obviously he hadn’t told her what he was doing, or why. He didn’t stop to chat and I didn’t care. I had the money to pay Oliver and that was all I wanted. I put the money on the kitchen table and spent the rest of the day looking out of the window in case Oliver appeared.

He didn’t, but Jonathan turned up at three o’clock that afternoon, and by the time I had reached the front door with the envelope in my hand, he had wandered over to Jack’s car and was walking around it.

“Who did this?” he asked, and such was the surprise on his face that I knew immediately it hadn’t been him or Oliver. “Nice work, I have to say.”

“I don’t know,” I said, icily.

“Does Jack?”

“Not yet.” I was irritated by his sudden laugh of contempt. “He’ll find out when he comes home.”

Jonathan slipped his hands into his pockets and stood back to survey the damage. “Tell him not to bother coming looking for me this time, because it wasn’t me, but congratulate whoever did when you find them. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.”

“I’ll tell him,” I said, holding out the three hundred pounds and deriving a certain amount of pleasure from the shocked expression on his face. “And now I’m telling you to leave.”

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Three hundred pounds, just like you asked for.”

“Where did you get it?” He shuffled the notes in his hands as if he couldn’t quite believe I had given him real money.

“None of your business.”

“You said you didn’t have it.”

“Now I do.”

He waved the envelope at me and curled his lips angrily. “This only buys you another week.”

“I know,” I said, putting a brave smile on my face. “But Jack will be here next week when you come collecting, so you can ask him about it then.”

He went without any further trouble and I was very relieved. It would be another week before they bothered us again and hopefully Jack would come up with a solution by then.

Hearing Kurtis cry out I started to walk back to the cottage. Jonus appeared by the wall, but this time I gave him no chance to shout anything at me. I picked up the first stone I saw and he ran away shrieking before I could even launch it. Putting it down by the front door in case I needed it again, I shouted after him, warning him not to keep bothering me. In reality I don’t know who was more frightened, Jonus or me. When I returned to the kitchen I was shaking more than Jonus probably was. He scared me a lot more than I cared to admit, especially since the incident when Dan had to come and evict him from the cottage.

After that I went about my housework with an eagerness to please Jack when he came home, and I started to make plans to cook a special meal for us both the following evening. I longed for a replay of that night when he had made such sweet love to me, and wanted to be sure to put him in the right frame of mind when he got home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

When I heard the heavy sound of the diesel engine pulling into the driveway, I felt the excitement rising in me. I had missed him so much that it hurt, and now I was eager to feel his arms around me, perhaps share a passionate kiss if he’d missed me as much as he intimated when I’d spoken to him on the phone last. I stopped to look at myself in the small hallway mirror, dragging my fingers through my hair and patting my cheeks to make me look less pale.

The months I’d spent here had done me good. Since having Kurtis I had lost most of the weight I’d put on with the pregnancy, and now I was looking after myself my hair and skin looked far healthier. I was back to the way I’d been before Connor, before the pregnancy, except that I was a year older and ten years wiser. Satisfied with my appearance, I ran to open the front door and wave at him.

Instead of following my fantasy of running into his arms and sharing that passionate kiss, he was storming angrily towards me and not looking at all pleased to see me. I let the smile disappear, my heart thudded as I anticipated his bad mood.

“What the hell happened to my car?” he shouted, looking at me, but pointing towards the wrecked vehicle.

“It happened two days ago,” I said, “I went to Coral’s coffee morning, and when I came home it was like it. There was another letter, too.” In my haste to see him I had temporarily forgotten about the car, which I had left where it was, not knowing an awful lot about fixing it. I watched him throw his crumpled paperwork to the ground. “There wasn’t a lot I could do about it,” I told him, hesitantly.

He looked tired. He hadn’t shaved in the time he’d been gone, or changed his clothes by the look of them, and his hair hung over his forehead. Those blue eyes were dark with anger and I wanted to cry. My eagerness to see him dissolved and I wondered if I should go and hide somewhere until he was a little bit more sociable.

He walked around the car, kicked the tyres, inspected the garage doors still lying on the ground, hinges wrenched from them. Then he came back to me.

“I stopped in the village, just to ask Ginny where Dan was, and Jonus was there. He told me and everyone else around that you had paid Jonathan three hundred pounds.”

I stepped away from him, not sure of his intentions. “I had to.” I wanted to sound brave, but I was faltering under his glare.

“Where did you get the money?” He grabbed my arm and shook me. “What the hell did you think you were doing, giving money to that idiot?”

“It was the only way to get rid of him,” I said, trying to free my arm. He held me so tightly it was hurting where his fingers gouged into my skin. “Please, let me go.” This wasn’t how I’d planned it, how I’d envisioned it to be. He was supposed to have pulled up and been pleased to see me and Kurtis. He was supposed to have had a long bath that I’d taken the trouble to get ready for him, then when he was relaxed, he was supposed to have enjoyed the full roast dinner I had prepared for the two of us. This wasn’t anything like it.

“You knew I didn’t want to give them money.”

“It was the only way.”

“Who gave it to you?”

“Tony.”

“Tony Porter? Jesus! Now he knows my business, I suppose.”

Then I decided I’d had enough. With all the strength I was able to muster, I dragged my arm from his grip and slapped his face as hard as possible. Not having expected it, he rocked back on his heels, stepped back before the second one landed, but I went for it a third time and he put a hand to his cheek where it stung him.

“Don’t ever do that again!” I screamed. “You weren’t there when Oliver took my baby away from me, and you didn’t hear how he threatened to harm him if I didn’t have the three hundred pounds by the end of the week. He thinks Kurtis is your baby, and he can get to you through him. You weren’t there, so don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t do.” I kicked his shin and he hopped out of my path before I did it again.

“What are you talking about?”

“Tony rescued me and brought me home. He wanted to know why they were doing it to me, and I suppose he felt guilty for taking his share of your inheritance, and so he got me the three hundred pounds to pay Jonathan off and keep him away until you came home. Only now I wish you hadn’t bothered coming home, because even the threat from Jonathan or Oliver is better than dealing with you in this frame of mind.”

With a final punch to his stomach, as hard as I could manage, although it didn’t seem to affect him much, I marched back indoors, took the bottle I had ready warmed for Kurtis, picked him up and went to my bedroom. I was close to tears, but determined not to cry. Looking at my arm I saw the bruise starting to appear, but I didn’t intend letting him know he’d hurt me. Let him get on with it, I thought. The flat was almost ready, I was leaving soon.

I fed and changed Kurtis, having deliberately kept him awake for longer than I should have done so that Jack and I could enjoy our meal in peace once he fell asleep. He fell asleep before he’d finished the bottle, and I tucked him into the Moses basket. He was getting so big now and wouldn’t fit in the basket for much longer. It had been my intention to ask Jack to help me bring the cot upstairs, but now I’d wait until I got to the flat before transferring him to the cot.

When I was sure Kurtis wouldn’t wake, I went to the window and looked out over the garden, seeing Jack cleaning the inside of his cab. I watched him pick up the blue bear and hold it for a while before replacing it, and I wondered if he was regretting having made his commitment to me, assuming he remembered having made it in the first place. After a while, having calmed down, I was filled with the urge to go outside and tell him I was sorry for shouting at him, but stopped myself when I realised how stupid that would be. He was the one who should apologise to me for having got in such a bad mood to begin with, and for having hurt me. He was taking his anger out on me, and it wasn’t my fault.

It went on like that for the rest of the evening, not speaking and staying well out of each other’s way. Some homecoming, I thought, since I’d wanted it to be special and had looked forward to it so much. Instead of eating together, I slapped his on a tray and took it into the living room, where he’d sank into the armchair to watch the television, and I stayed in the kitchen with mine.

He brought his tray back when he was finished, looking in my direction a few times and I thought he looked guilty, but he didn’t say anything and I wasn’t about to let him off the hook. It wasn’t until I was doing the washing up, quite late, that he came up behind me and put his arms around my waist.

“Sorry,” he whispered in my ear. He kissed my neck, but I wriggled out of his grasp. He wasn’t about to get round me that easily, although just the touch of him could have been enough to make me forgive him everything. He’d found the bath water I’d left for him, and now he was clean, with fresh clothes, he stirred me even more than ever. His hair smelled of shampoo as he lowered his head to my neck again, and again I shrugged him off, concentrating on the soapy water and dirty dishes. His hands were on my hips, stroking gently, caressing me, and I tried to ignore it. Deliberately I splashed water so that it soaked his white shirt, the shirt I loved him to wear because he looked so nice in it. Damn it, I could feel myself sinking fast and I was annoyed at my own lack of control.

“Don’t!” I snapped, elbowing his ribs.

“What?” he asked, edgily. “Want me to get on my knees and say sorry?”

“Say it however you like,” I said. “You had no right to treat me like that.”

“It’s been a rough day,” he admitted. “I had a tyre blow this morning and it put me behind, and then I had some trouble finding a place to pick up pallets. I had to catch up because I didn’t want you to be alone any longer than you had to. Last night I didn’t sleep much because I had things on my mind.”

I pulled my hands out of the soapy water, flicking more splashes over him. “Oliver scared me,” I told him. “Tony came to help me when he heard me scream. They threatened my baby, Jack.”

“I’ll go and see Oliver in the morning.”

“And what good will it do? You’ll just get in another bad mood, probably thump him one and just make things worse.”

“You make it sound like that’s all I do.”

“Think about it,” I challenged. “It seems like it sometimes.” I watched his gaze drop to the floor in a resigned way and suddenly felt sorry for saying it. “We need to work out who is doing this to you, Jack. Oliver has his own mission in mind, but I don’t think he’s responsible for all this other stuff going on here. When Jonathan saw your car he was surprised, and even though he thought it funny, I could see by his face that he hadn’t done it, or didn’t know about it. You need to work out who wants to hurt you and why.”

“I don’t know who…….”

“I don’t want to see you hurt,” I blurted. “I love you, I can’t bear to think of you hurting, but I can’t risk them hurting Kurtis. Tell me what to do, Jack.”

He reached for my hand, but I snatched it away and plunged it back into the soapy water. God, he looked so good that all I wanted to do was fall into his arms. He stood closer to me and I felt his fingers playing with my hair.

“I don’t know, Lana. It’s been on my mind all the time I’ve been away, and you know what? I can’t think of an answer either, so tell me what I can do to make it better for you. I want you to know that I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted at you, and shouldn’t have hurt you.” His fingers moved to my arm and traced the bruise on it, and I’m sure I heard him sigh as he saw it. “I’m sorry, Lana. So sorry.”

He sounded so suitably contrite that I almost gave in there and then, but I forced myself not to look at him, to carry on with the dirty dishes and get them finished. I hated to come down to washing up first thing in the morning.

“How sorry?” I asked, feeling his hair tickling my neck as he bent to kiss it again. I felt his breath and it sent shivers down my spine. Oh, God, I was giving in.

“Very sorry,” he murmured into my neck and I swear he knew he was winning me over.

“Enough to make me a cup of tea while I finish this?”

“Tea?” he put his hands back on my hips and was caressing them a little harder this time. I was powerless to wriggle away even if I wanted to as his whole body pressed against the back of mine, pushing me into the side of the sink.

“Yes, tea. I haven’t had much time to make tea since you came home and I could do with one.” It was no good, it didn’t matter how much I tried to concentrate on the washing up, it wasn’t taking my mind off what he was doing. “I haven’t said I’d forgive you yet,” I reminded him, lifting a mug from the water and dumping the soapy bubbles over his head. Then he laughed as the water dripped onto his shoulders, and I melted completely. He took the mug and put it back in the sink, then took me in his arms and carried me through to the living room with my arms still covered in bubbles.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked as he lay me on the rug in front of the burning fire. I felt the heat instantly and it warmed me through.

“Saying sorry.” He took off his shirt, wiped my hands dry with it and I took it off him to wipe the water from his hair and shoulders. Then he kissed my hand, looking up at me from underneath his dark, tumbled hair, eyes so blue that I leaned into him willingly.

“Just don’t do it again,” I muttered. It was no good pretending I didn’t want him. Five days of being without him had only served to make me realise I was more in love with him than ever. I let him demonstrate just how sorry he was, thinking that if only it could be like this forever I wouldn’t need him to tell me he loved me. It didn’t really need to be said, did it? Not when he made me feel like this.

If only I had known how short lived this newfound happiness was going to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Jack was out of bed at first light the following morning, his intention to start work on the MG. I had spent the night in his bed with his arms curled around me and feeling his breath on my neck, and if that was another way of him telling me how sorry he was, well, he could keep doing that for as long as he liked. When he rolled from the bed I was disappointed, but only until I heard Kurtis cry out ten minutes later and Jack brought him to me, soaking wet and hungry.

Dan arrived not long after Jack went downstairs and I heard them laughing, obviously in good spirits as they made coffee and burned toast. They didn’t start on the MG as quickly as they had wanted to because Jack wanted his car put right first. Luckily for him the tyres hadn’t been punctured but just let down, and while he saw to them, Dan had gone out to get two new headlight units. Jack had grimaced at the cost of them.

It was afternoon by the time they managed to dismantle some of the wall separating the garden from the field, and Jack took his car across to the barn. The MG was duly pushed out and towed back to the garage, looking a sorry sight under the many years of dust and grime, but Jack said it was solid enough and just needed some tender loving care. The engine parts were collected up and taken with it, and once it was safely installed in the garage, and Dan had helped to put the doors back on, we all trooped back to the barn to look at the Rolls Royce.

Ginny had turned up at dinnertime, and was as keen as I was to see if the Rolls could be started. Kurtis had just fallen asleep in the cottage, and knowing he would go down for his usual couple of hours, I took the baby alarm Ginny had borrowed from a friend and locked the doors behind me. It was a useful gadget to have, and if he so much as whimpered in his sleep I was able to hear him.

We watched the men push the Rolls out, and leaving it outside they went back into the barn and looked at the patch of ground that had been underneath the car.

“Wonder why she filled the pit in,” Dan said. “We could have done with it right now.”

Jack shrugged. “You know what Bryn was like – she probably thought it was dangerous and had it filled in. She always worried about kids getting in here and falling into it. Bryn was soft like that.”

He sounded almost wistful as he spoke of Bryn, I noticed, but as I stared at the patch of ground that had been filled in, it occurred to me that it looked like a grave and I quickly forgot about any thoughts of wistfulness. One minute we were laughing and joking, the next I had stunned them all into a dreadful silence while they considered the implications of my words.

“It looks like a grave.”

Well, it did! A patch of ground roughly six feet by three was darker than the rest and slightly higher. For a full minute we all stared at it, until Dan kicked at the soil with his boot.

“Shit!” was all he said.

“Don’t be silly,” Ginny whispered, but her face had turned very pale. “Bryn had the pit filled in, that’s all. It was a mechanic’s pit that she didn’t need and she was worried for the kids, nothing else.”

I noticed that she took a few steps away from it though, just as we all did, and I didn’t miss the look Jack threw at Dan.

“You don’t think…..”

“No, I don’t,” Dan growled. “It’s a stupid idea.”

“Thanks,” I told him. “I didn’t say it was a grave, I just said it looks like a grave. I mean, its not likely that anyone is buried in there, is it? It just looks like a grave, that’s all.” But the air had gone suddenly cold and a gust of wind blew into the barn, sending wisps of straw flying, and I jumped.

“Jesus!” Jack swore.

“Albert told us not to move the car.” Dan said the words in hushed tones, as if he had just remembered them, and I felt a tingling sensation run over my body. He looked at Jack. “You remember how he was when we said we were going to move the car, don’t you?”

“That was just Albert being Albert.” But Jack appeared uncertain as he thought about it. “You don’t suppose…..”

“What?” Ginny asked as his words trailed off.

“Nah, it’s just a stupid thought.”

“You’re full of stupid thoughts,” Ginny said, “so spill it, brother.”

“Couldn’t you just dig a bit out?” I asked. “It’s probably full of rubble.”

Jack looked at me as if I’d suddenly lost my brain. “Dig a bit out?”

“Well, you’re the one that keeps saying it isn’t a grave, so dig a bit out, and then we’ll know.”

“I don’t like digging.”

“Then leave it as it is, only you’ll still be wondering about it this time next month, and so will the rest of us.”

“Go on, Jack,” Ginny urged. “Just a bit off the top.”

“Just a bit off the top,” Jack repeated in a silly voice. “For God’s sake, what’s wrong with Dan doing it?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Ginny marched over to the other side of the barn where a heap of garden tools had been piled. Everything had turned rusty with age, but she managed to sort out two shovels that weren’t too bad and handed one each to the men. “Just a bit off the top, and when we see the rubble underneath we can all put our minds at rest and get on with the cars like we’re supposed to be doing. Now get on with it, or we’ll be here all day.”

As Jack snatched one of the shovels from her, we were all frightened out of our wits as a loud howl came from the doorway. Dropping the shovel Jack spun round, his eyes wild. Ginny had grabbed my arm and I clung to her as we turned around to see Jonus in the doorway.

His mouth was wide open having just emitted the howl, but no further sound came from it. My heart began to race and I moved closer to Jack. If I had seen anything so scary as the look on Jonus’s face in a horror film I wouldn’t have dared to turn out the lights at night for months. His mouth remained open, like an enthusiastic choirboy, but he had no teeth to be seen. His eyes were large and round and full of terror.

Jack, having regained some composure, picked up the shovel and brandished it at him. “Get lost!” he shouted. “Scaring the hell out of us that way. Go on, get lost!”

He backed off slightly just to be out of Jack’s firing line, but he didn’t go far. He stopped just clear of the barn and carried on wailing, tearing at his hair, his clothes. He took his hat off, then put it back on.

“Crazy idiot,” Jack said, taking a few deep breaths and pushing the hair back from his face. I saw that he was sweating. “I should dig this out to put him underneath there, that’s what I should do.”

“He looks scared,” I said, uneasily, standing in the doorway to watch him.

“He does, Jack.” Dan came to stand by my side. “I’ve never seen him like this.”

“Probably because he thinks we’re going to destroy this barn and he won’t have anywhere to live,” Jack said, bluntly. “Serves him right, maybe he’ll go and pester somebody else for a change.”

Ginny and I moved to stand by the Rolls while Jack eyed the darker ground in trepidation. “You first,” he said to Dan, who stepped forward, lifted his shovel into the air and slammed it down into the earth. Putting his foot on it he jammed it in deep and pulled out the first shovel full of dirt.

“It’ll just be dirt and rubble,” Ginny said, not as confidently as I’m sure she meant to sound.

I wondered how come I had been blamed for everybody thinking it was a grave, when all I had done was to say that it looked like one, which it did. But Ginny’s worry turned to shock thirty minutes later when the shovels touched on something other than rubble or dirt, and both men stood back with nearly half of the pit uncovered.

“Fuck!” Jack said, panting from his efforts with the shovel. “What is that?”

“Carpet.” Dan patted it with his shovel. “Or a rug. Maybe Bryn had it filled in with rubbish from the cottage, save going to the tip.”

Dropping to his knees on the edge of the pit, Jack reached to pull at the roll of carpet, uncovering one end of it. Then he jerked backwards, scrambled to his feet. “Call the police,” he said to me.

“Why?” I started to laugh, thinking he was trying to scare us. “I’m not falling for…………………”

“Call the fucking police, Lana.” He turned me round, gave me a little push in the general direction of the cottage, then did the same with Ginny. I pushed back.

“What am I supposed to tell them?” I asked, but he was shoulder to shoulder with Dan and pointing at the roll of carpet. And then I realised what he was trying to hide from Ginny and myself.

As Jonus let out the longest and scariest wail I had ever heard in my life, I knew we were looking at skeletal fingers protruding from the end of the roll.

I heard Ginny gasp and felt her hand on mine, and comforted, I held hers tightly.

Then, without warning, the baby alarm emitted a screech that would have scared the devil himself had he been present. I sucked in my breath as Ginny let out a little scream and flew into Dan’s arms. Jack sent the shovel flying and spun around again to see where the sound had come from. I took the alarm from my belt and waved it at them.

“Kurtis,” I said, and there was a concerted sigh of relief. “I need to go to him.”

“Lana, call the police,” Jack said again, and I nodded.

Dan ushered us from the barn. “I think it’s best we all go back to the cottage,” he said. “I don’t like the way Jonus is behaving, and I’d sooner stay with the women, Jack.”

“Yeah.” He nodded, sucked in his breath. “Yeah.”

I hurried back to the cottage to get Kurtis, making a wide circle around Jonus just in case, but he continued to wail and pull at his hair, following us at what he considered a safe distance from Jack. I ran straight in to pick my baby up, taking him to the kitchen to start warming a bottle for his feed. Ginny watched Jonus from the window.

“Do you think we should try talking to him?” she asked. “He knows something about this, he must do, or why would he be behaving in this way?”

Jack held her back when she tried to open the door. “You’re not going anywhere near him. We don’t know what he might do.” But he stepped outside himself and stopped about a metre from Jonus.

“What’s in the barn?” he asked.

“You’ll rot in hell.” The last words were screamed at Jack, and both Ginny and I jumped as he said them. Ginny turned and threw herself into Dan’s arms.

Jack sucked in a deep breath and walked closer to Jonus, who scrabbled to his feet, and he asked the question again. “What’s in the barn? Is someone buried there? Someone you know?” He stepped closer still, until Jonus tripped over his own feet and fell heavily onto his backside. Reaching down, Jack grabbed a handful of the dirty trenchcoat and dragged the tramp to his feet by it. “Is there a grave over there?” he asked, his voice menacing, threatening. “Is there a grave that you don’t want us to find?” Do you know who is buried there?”

Jonus was wriggling desperately to try and free himself, kicking and squealing until Ginny pleaded with Jack to let him go.

“He knows,” Jack growled. “He knows something. It is a grave, isn’t it?”

“You’ll burn in hell,” I heard Jonus struggle to say.

“If you don’t tell me what’s in that barn over there, you might be burning in hell before I even get there,” Jack shouted.

“Jonus don’t know, don’t know.” In a second Jonus had turned from being vicious and threatening to a pitiful child. I shivered and went back to the window, wanting to be as far away from Jonus as possible. I couldn’t bear those round eyes staring at me again.

“Tell me!” Jack demanded, shaking Jonus hard. I struggled to keep my breathing even, frightened by all these goings-on. Jack was far from being the same man who had loved me last night, who had rolled from the bed that morning after raining kisses down my neck and telling me how lovely I looked. I wondered just how much more he had to take. After the shock of discovering his family weren’t who he thought they were, and all the threats he had been receiving lately, was he really to find out now that there was a body buried in that barn? When I had stumbled in front of Jack’s lorry one fateful night back in October I couldn’t have begun to imagine where it was going to take me. This was more like a bad movie than real life.

“Jack, let him go.” There was a struggle as Jack’s hands moved to throttle Jonus, and Dan got between them to pull them apart. As Dan held on to Jack and told him to calm down, Jonus took advantage of his freedom and ran through the gap in the wall. I went back to the open door as he ran across the field, back to the barn.

“Dammit!” Jack spat.

“I think you had better call the police now,” Ginny said, quietly.

Jack nodded, spun on his heel and pushed past me to find his mobile phone. Soon I heard him talking, and then he came to sit at the table with us. “They’re sending somebody out right now,” he said.

“At least we’ll know for sure, one way or the other,” I said in way of comfort. “It’s the best thing to do.”

Six hours later, when the police had dug the hole out further and lifted out the skeletal remains of a body wrapped up in a rug, Jack sat stony-faced at the table and watched the fevered activity outside, refusing to speak to anyone. Police vehicles were parked everywhere and I was kept busy making tea and coffee for those out there on duty. The day had turned cold, with a misty drizzle drifting down from the sky and I was glad to be indoors.

It quickly turned into a murder enquiry when a knife was discovered still embedded in the chest of the remains, and Jack wandered in to the living room to stand with the rest of us, watching from the window.

Ginny put her arms around his waist, and in return he put his around her. He still didn’t have much to say, more intent on the comings and goings than he was on us, but at least he had joined us rather than staying out there on his own. I would have liked to put my arms around him and hold him tightly to me, but for the time being he seemed to be content at the side of his sister, and I had Kurtis to contend with.

As policemen, some in white overalls, seemed to take over the entire field and garden, we were then visited by one, who told us that the body had probably been in there for twenty years or more.

“Just as well,” Jack said, indignantly. “At least they can’t pin that one on me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

As word spread through the surrounding area that a body had been found out at Briar Cottage, Dan’s parents arrived with the offer of having Kurtis for the night, so that I didn’t have to cope with a new baby as well as what was going on. While he was still a tiny baby and wouldn’t remember any of the events of the day, still I was glad of them taking him off my hands, not enjoying that fact that such an innocent child was in the same vicinity as a murder victim.

I found Jack slumped at the kitchen table, his arms folded and a sour expression on his face. He had been very quiet since we had made him call the police and now I thought he was slipping into another dark mood that I wouldn’t be able to penetrate. He looked up at me as I entered the kitchen, nodding his head in the direction of the female police officer at the table with him, pen in hand and taking notes. I went to sit down with them, half expecting her to ask me to leave, but instead she just smiled, then turned back to Jack with a tolerant expression on her face.

“Do you have any idea who it might be?” she asked him, and he shook his head quickly.

She made a study of her notebook again, the open page full of nothing but doodles. “Well, since the grave has obviously been there for quite some time we will take the body away now for further investigation. I’m afraid we will need to take the car as well.”

Jack nodded, wearily. “Go ahead.”

“Can I ask why you decided to move it on this particular occasion?”

“I was going to sell it, get rid of it. I need the cash.”

“And does it belong to you?”

“Yes.” He nodded at me. “Get Bryn’s car file?”

When I returned with the documents proving the Rolls was now in his name, she flicked through them quickly. “Jordan Ross, of this address, was the previous owner. Is he here?”

“He’s dead.”

“I see.”

She didn’t see it at all as far as I was concerned. She didn’t see that it was probably Jordan Ross himself that they had just removed from his last resting place. She was bursting with more questions, but Jack wasn’t exactly encouraging them, not in the detail she was looking for.

“Right, well, we’ll call a stop there. Can I call you as soon as we have some information, Mr. Clayton?” At Jack’s nod she closed her notebook and gathered up her belongings. “We can find out who it was, and then I might have some further questions. How long have you lived here, by the way?”

“I lived here as a boy,” Jack said. “And when Bryn left it to me, I came back about three months ago.”

“You were here as a boy?” She sounded interested again.

I nudged Jack in the ribs. “You might as well tell her who it might be. They’ll find out anyway.”

About to get up from her chair, the woman sank back down again, looking at me with renewed interest. “If you have anything that can help us with this enquiry, then I ask you to do so. We will find out the truth eventually anyway.”

“Jordan Ross,” Jack said, quickly, as if he really didn’t want to say the name at all. “Try looking at his past. He’s supposed to have died abroad somewhere.”

“You have reason to believe he didn’t?”

“Just try him.” Jack stood up suddenly and walked across to the window. Jonus stood underneath a tree in the far reaches of the garden, where he had been since he ran away from us earlier in the day. He kept putting his hands to his head, as though in despair, then he would turn in circles before standing and watching the proceedings again. “If you want more information you could try asking the old tramp over there, if you can get anything coherent out of him.”

The woman followed him to the window. “Who is he?”

“His name is Jonus, he’s been around here for donkey’s years, and by the way he’s acting up today, my guess is he knows what’s going on. He hates the sight of me, and I can’t stand him being here, but he might talk to you.”

She glanced back at me as Jack suddenly turned and left the room without explaining why, and then made a note of the name on a cardboard folder she carried. “Mr. Clayton doesn’t appear very happy to answer my questions,” she told me, “but in no way is he under suspicion for anything. I imagine he would only have been a boy when this took place.”

“Jack recently made some discoveries about his family,” I said, thinking that it was all going to come out anyway if it was Jordan Ross. “It turns out that Jordan Ross was married to the woman who was his mother, except that he thought of her as an aunt. Jordan never had anything to do with him. It’s been a difficult time for him and he’s still trying to come to terms with it.”

“Are you connected with the family?”

“No, Jack and I have only known each other for a few months. He gave me a roof over my head when I needed one.”

“Then you don’t mind if I have to ask more questions later?”

“Only if Jack doesn’t mind.”

“Is there anyone else in the family who might know anything? This is a definite murder enquiry, as there were stab wounds.”

“Oliver Clayton,” I said. “He lives two miles outside the village.”

“Yes, I’ve heard the name. Right, thanks. I’ll be in touch. I hope Jack gets over it.”

“He’s really a nice guy, just a bit out of sorts at the moment.” I said it bluntly because I didn’t want her to think he was always like this, but she didn’t take any offence, just nudged my arm as she left.

“And a very nice looking guy, only I never said it.”

I smiled as she went back to her car, and an immense feeling of pride swelled suddenly inside my chest. Yes, I wanted to shout after her. He was a good looking guy, and he was also my guy.

I found Jack in the living room watching from the window as the car was loaded onto a truck and taken away. A van collected the body just a few minutes later and Jack came to sit down.

“There goes my money,” he sighed. “Do you think Tony will let me have another three hundred quid next week?”

“He should!” I said, indignantly. “He stole part of your inheritance in the first place. If you had that, you wouldn’t be in this position now.”

“It was a lot of money,” he admitted.

“You’d have been rich.”

“Would it have made any difference?”

“To what?”

“To you, to the way you feel about me.”

I was surprised he asked that question. “No. Should it?”

“I just wondered.”

“Oh, I get it.” I folded my arms and glared at him. “You think I’m in love with you for what I can get out of it?”

“Nope.” He pushed himself out of the chair and came to put his arm around me, but not sure if I should be offended by his last words, I shrugged him off. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“You’d better not! I love you the way you are, no money and bad tempered with it.” I turned to leave the room, annoyed that he considered such a possibility, but he pulled me back and turned me to face him.

“I wasn’t always like this, Lana. I can be different.”

With his hands on my shoulders, his fingers digging into my skin, I had no choice but to look into his eyes, so dark, so deep and confused. I put my hands on his chest and moved them in slow circles. I loved him so much. “I want you to be happy, and you’re not. Not living here.”

“You think I should walk away from it all? It’s what’s been on my mind all week, just up and go one day, go so far away that Oliver won’t know where to find me. He’s paid part of my debt to Karen’s parents, and as far as I’m concerned it makes us even for the way he treated me when I was a kid. I can get work driving on the continent, I don’t need to stay here.”

I nodded slowly, wanting to ask if I was a part of those plans, but not daring to in case his reply was negative. “You could do, but you ran away from everything in Yorkshire and it didn’t do you any good. Maybe you should stick it out until the police have finished their investigations and we find out who the body was.” I put my head on his chest and he wrapped his arms around me, sighing heavily.

“It was a mistake coming back here. I should have stayed where I was, paid my debts and started again, but the pain of losing Karen was too much. When Dan got in touch to say the cottage was mine, I thought it might be a new beginning, but I was wrong. The only good to come out of coming back was to see Dan and Ginny again.” He kissed the top of my head. “And you and Kurtis.”

“Then let’s give the place to Oliver and disappear.”

He pushed me away slightly so he could look into my eyes. “You?”

My heart thudded. He hadn’t intended taking me? “Yes, me.”

“You’d go with me? Really?”

“If you wanted me to.” My reply sounded nonchalant but I would follow him to the ends of the earth if he wanted me to. I’d do anything, go anywhere just to be with him, but the added complication of a homeless girl and her baby would surely slow him down if he wanted to find work driving abroad. That meant him being gone for weeks at a time. I waited for his answer, hardly daring to breathe, but instead he stiffened and pulled his arms from me.

“What’s he doing here?”

I followed his gaze to the window where Tom Coleman was seen lurking by the Scania, watching the police at work. He stood with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders slumped.

“Just leave him, Jack,” I pleaded, but he didn’t.

“I don’t want him on this place.”

“Jack, word has probably gone right around the village by now. There are bound to be people who want to come and see for themselves.” But he was already out of the front door and running towards Tom. I ran to the garage, where Dan and Ginny were talking by the MG.

“Dan, Tom is here, and Jack’s gone after him.”

He ran past me and hurried to diffuse what might be a volatile situation, although I didn’t think Tom looked well. He wasn’t his usual belligerent self and didn’t square up to Jack as he usually did, but asked what the police had found. When Dan told him it was a body he turned and slumped away without further comment.

“He’s no right to be here,” Jack growled, but even he couldn’t find enough to make an argument with. “Dammit, Dan, I need a drink.”

“Just for once, so do I,” Dan agreed, and that’s what we all did. Once we had forced ourselves to eat a light supper, we watched the last of the police vacate the property and walked to the Happy Man for a drink. I called in on Dan’s parents to make sure Kurtis was fine, and he had settled happily for the night, so I left him where he was, making arrangements to collect him in the morning. For tonight I wanted to give all of my attention to Jack. He needed it.

As it tended to in a village community, word had spread quickly about the finding at the cottage, and once we arrived people seemed to come from everywhere eager to find out exactly what had happened. Jack was bombarded with questions from all sides and had so many offers of drinks that he could have easily drunk himself into oblivion once more. Strangely, though, he refused them and he wasn’t saying much about the grave in the barn, so eventually people gave in and left him to it.

He pulled Dan to one side later, away from Ginny and myself and they talked earnestly for almost half an hour. Dan was nodding and agreeing to something, but then I noticed him frown, like he was seriously contemplating something.

“What are those two up to?” Ginny asked, but all I could do was shrug.

“Jack’s had enough. He was talking about leaving, looking for work on the continent and getting as far away from Oliver as possible. Especially now he’s being hounded for three hundred pounds a week…………..” I let my words trail off as I realised I was talking about Ginny’s father and she had stiffened as I said his name.

“What three hundred pounds?” she asked.

I picked up my drink and swirled it around in the glass, not sure what I ought to say. I should have known Jack wouldn’t tell her about the deal Oliver had made after paying off Karen’s parents. He wouldn’t have wanted her to know what a mess she had inadvertently left him in, and now I had let it slip.

“Perhaps you should talk to Jack,” I said, quietly. “I really shouldn’t have said anything.”

“You tell me, Lana.”

I sighed, knowing how hard this explanation was going to be, so first of all I emptied my glass, then started to tell her what had happened between Jack and her father. At first she didn’t believe me and it took a while to convince her that Oliver was slowly pushing Jack to the brink. On the verge of tears she sat quietly while I told her they had threatened me and my baby because they thought Kurtis belonged to Jack, and when I had finished she just nodded and sat in silence while we waited for the men to finish their conversation. I wished I had kept my big mouth shut and felt really bad for letting it slip.

I glanced up as a sudden hush fell over the room, saw that Jack had stopped talking to Dan and was looking towards the door. Following his gaze, I realised Oliver and Jonathan stood in the doorway. Tom Coleman got up from his usual table in the dark corner and went to stand behind Oliver. His eyes were brighter than I had ever seen them, and his face was contorted into a nasty sneer he directed at Jack.

Oliver waved a hand towards the table Ginny and I were sitting at. “I’d like to sit down and talk, if you don’t mind? His voice was even, no hint of sarcasm, and he didn’t have that usual cold steel look about him. Jack nodded and they came to sit around the table, all of us uneasy. Tony banged his fist down on the bartop and told Coral to get some drinks served and some music going, probably to give us a chance to talk without the whole pub overhearing.

“You don’t know what you’ve done.” Oliver’s words were clearly heard over the silence and they made me shiver. They were foreboding, scaring me and Ginny both. Jack, however, merely smiled coldly and his eyes were hard.

“You know about the grave, then? Of course you do. Why else would you be in here looking for me tonight, of all nights? I think maybe you knew about it twenty or more years ago. Albert too. He warned me not to move the car.”

“A warning you chose to ignore.”

Ginny had her hands over her mouth as she listened. “You knew, dad? You knew Jordan was there?”

The juke box in the corner suddenly struck up some sixties music, and I was grateful for it. I think this was a conversation more suited for behind closed doors rather than a village pub, but Jack wanted answers.

“What happened back then was for the good of all concerned,” Oliver said, keeping his voice low. “It suited Bryn, it suited me.”

“Yeah, you made a small fortune out of me.” Jack grinned, but it wasn’t a friendly grin like it had been when he realised where his inheritance had gone. This time it was cold. “But you’re right, it suited me too.”

“Dad, do you know who killed Jordan?” Ginny whispered. “Please tell me it wasn’t you?”

He shook his head. “It wasn’t me. I had nothing to do with it. It came about by chance and it was the best thing that could have happened. Jordan Ross was a controlling, calculating, despicable man, and I never knew what Bryn had seen in him from the start. She was better off without him.”

“And you knew where he was buried?”

“I had an idea. She told me the pit had been filled in. If it hadn’t been for you coming back to her cottage, I was intending to have the land built on. I thought the secret was safe as long as the barn stood there. And then you came back.”

“But you know who killed him,” Jack said.

“I do not.”

But he did. I knew it, Jack knew it. He would have been mad to admit he knew who the murderer was.

“You know.” Jack folded his arms across his chest. “Just the same as you know who my real father is. But I’m good with that. I don’t give a damn, not really. The land is mine, Bryn wanted me to have it. Dan and me, we intend to go into business and use that land. You can stay the hell away from me and that business or I go to the police and tell them you know who the murderer is, and you knew all along there was a body in there.”

“You’re daring to threaten me?” Oliver’s voice lowered even more, and if voices could chill, we’d have all frozen where we were. “You owe me a lot of money. You don’t have a penny to your name, and certainly don’t have enough to start up in business.”

“I’ve got the truck. I’m already in business. And things could get very sticky for you if the police start hanging round and asking you questions. I’m not giving you the land.”

“You can’t pay your debt. You will have to sell. I’ll sue……………..”

Jack pushed his chair back and stood up. His voice was just about as icy as Oliver’s. “I won’t sell the land. I can’t pay you now but one day I will. You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone. Now this conversation is finished.” He reached out to grab my hand and pulled me to his side. “We’re leaving.”

“I want my money!” Oliver moved to stand in front of Jack.

“Oliver?” Tony came from behind the bar, wiping his hands on a towel. “If you want to take this into the back room, you’re welcome, but I don’t want any trouble in the bar.”

“Shut up, Tony!” Oliver didn’t even look at Tony, just kept his gaze on Jack, who stood with clenched fists. “It’s time this waster was gone from this village, and I fully intend to see that he does go. It serves me right for bringing up another man’s bastard, doesn’t it? This is all the thanks I get.”

“I’ll never thank you for the way you brought me up,” Jack whispered, and I swear the entire room chilled. “I’ve still got the marks to prove it.”

“He causes too much trouble,” Tom added from the safety of Oliver’s back. “He doesn’t deserve that place.”

“You were there this afternoon,” Jack said, turning his attention to Tom. He stepped forward, brushed aside a chair that was in his way and it crashed to the floor. Tom took a step back hurriedly, missed his footing and fell heavily to the floor. “What were you looking for? Was it you that scuttled off to tell Oliver?”

Ginny screamed as Jonathan and Oliver both grabbed Jack at the same time and he was shoved to the floor to land at Tom’s side. Jonathan aimed a hefty kick to Jack’s ribs and I flinched as he coughed.

“Dad, please don’t.” Ginny ran to try and help Jack to his feet.

“Stay away from him, Virginia,” Oliver snapped. “You know I’ve never liked you hanging around with him.

“Jack’s my brother,” Ginny sobbed. “I love him.” By this time customers in the pub had cleared a space in the middle of the room so that it appeared a performance was taking place in the circle. Tony was standing on the edge looking confused, and every so often I thought he was going to stop it, but he didn’t.

“Oliver, let’s take this someplace else,” Dan offered. “This isn’t the place.”

“You can shut up, too.”

“We can talk this through, there must be a solution somewhere.” I saw from the set of his jaw that he wanted to be on Jack’s side here, but was doing his best to stop an explosive situation getting even worse. “All we’re doing is upsetting Ginny.”

“And I told her at the time she should never have married you.” Oliver spat the last words with so much hatred that even Dan was shocked. “You’ve been around him too long. You weren’t good enough for my daughter then, and you’re not now.”

There was another heavy silence then, interrupted only by Ginny sobbing, and so I went to put my arm around her. Dan, obviously stunned by the way Oliver had dismissed him, just stood and stared at Oliver.

Jack got up from the floor holding his ribs and coughing, and I was pleased to see Tony lend him a hand. Tom tried to get to his feet but slipped down again and nobody went to help him. I despised him as much as I did Oliver and Jonathan for making Jack’s life a misery.

Suddenly, as Jack groaned and leaned on the table for support, I saw red. My hatred for Oliver and my love for Jack, both came boiling to the surface and impulsively I did something I would never have planned. I spoke out!

“Why are you constantly getting at Jack?” I asked. “Why were you so awful to him when he was a boy? What did he ever do to you? You deprived him of his own mother, you beat him, left him to fend for himself. Bryn – his own mother, Bryn – left him the cottage and the land because she wanted him to have it, because he was her son, and he deserves it. And now, all these years later, after he lost his wife to a car accident, after he’s struggled to come to terms with everything, and finally learned the truth, you still want to blackmail him, you still want to try and get the land from him. You can ask all you like for the three hundred pounds a week, but he doesn’t have it and he can’t pay it. And he shouldn’t have to pay it. He’s a decent man, a hard working, decent man, and I love him. And no, my baby does not belong to Jack and I had to leave my home because I too was dumped on, but we are together now. We’re a family, all three of us. We will stay together and Kurtis will be Jack’s son, and he won’t be treated like Jack was. We love each other. Maybe it’s time you learned what love is, Oliver. Because you don’t have the first idea what it is. So stop sending threatening letters, stop all the crappy stuff like wrecking Jack’s car and spray painting on his lorry. It’s not a joke. Now, get the hell out of our lives and don’t come back. We don’t want you.”

I felt my face flush bright red as I came to a finish and realised exactly what I had done, but as I turned to Jack he was grinning at me, admiration plain to see on his face. Dan was also smiling, and he began a slow hand clap that Jack joined in with. As I watched a few more did so, including Coral, Tony and Albert.

Realising that the odds of coming out in everybody’s favour were now considerably stacked against him, Oliver nudged Jonathan towards the door. Nobody spoke to him, or acknowledged him in any way, but as he reached the door and the clapping ceased, he turned to me.

“I don’t know where you got the part about threatening letters from,” he said, “I have never sent such a thing in my life and I assure you I have better things to do with my time than spray paint over dirty lorries.” Then he was gone and there was a hush that fell over the room until Jack came to take me in his arms and kiss me.

“Damn!” he said, admiringly. “I should marry you, I’d never have to fight another battle in my life.”

But I was shaking like a leaf. “I need a drink,” I whispered. “Badly.”

“On the house,” Tony called, and I was given a double brandy that despite me not liking the taste of, I drank anyway. I couldn’t believe I had been brave enough to say all those things, or that Jack was thinking of me in such an admiring fashion. Whatever, I liked his arms being around me, especially when he was being so open about it. There were smiles coming from all directions now.

Tony put another beer at Jack’s side. “Albert and I had a chat this morning,” he said, quietly. “and we’re thinking that we ought to do something to help you pay off those debts.”

“It’s no matter,” Jack said, easily.

“It is, especially since you can’t pay them yourself.”

“I’m really not that bothered, Tony. What I would rather have are some friends around here, and if you feel that strongly, you can slip me the odd free pint or two.”

“Consider it done,” Tony beamed, and then he leaned across his bar and lowered his tone. “I’d keep an eye on Tom, though. He’s got it bad, hates you with a vengeance, and Oliver isn’t going to let this one go.”

Jack grunted an agreement, then he looked at me. “I’m more worried for you than me. I have to stay away for the night tomorrow, so maybe you should stay with Ginny until I get home. I’m going to ask for some shorter runs for a while, so I can be home at night.”

“I’ll be okay,” I said, brightly, not at all how I actually felt. “It’s only one night.”

“I’ll keep an eye open,” Tony offered. “and I’ll let Albert know that he has to do the same. So, are the police going to let you know who they found out there today?”

“As soon as they know for sure.” Jack took a long drink. “But I’ve a hunch it’s Jordan Ross.”

“No!” Tony’s face reddened. “I knew it! We always said he’d been done away with, not gone and died abroad.”

“Maybe.”

I looked up in time to see Tom Coleman sloping out through the door and wondered why he had left so quickly. There was something about the man that I truly disliked and I didn’t trust him any further than I could throw him.

“Ginny and I are going home,” Dan said, his arm protectively around his wife. I saw that she was still very upset and I asked her if she would be all right. She nodded, then smiled at Jack as he kissed her cheek.

“I’m sorry, sis.”

“It’s not your fault,” she said. “I’m tired and I want to go home. I’ll see you all soon.”

Dan helped her on with her coat, then pulled his own on. I thought he seemed pale and a little shaken at the idea of Oliver considering him such a bad choice of husband for his daughter, and I guess it had come as a big shock to him.

“I’ll be out soon,” he said to Jack. “It’s been a hell of a day.”

“Yeah.” Jack took his offered hand and they patted each other on the shoulder. It was a show of affection that I had never seen them do before, and it told of a lifetime’s friendship, a trust that went back thirty years or more. It was pleasing to see, and I wished I could be a part of it someday. Then Jack fetched our own coats. “Lana and I should be going home, too. We’re going to call in and get Kurtis from your parents, Dan. Oliver made a threat towards him the other day and I’d as soon have him where I can see him. No offence to your parents, but I wouldn’t want them to become involved in any of this.”

Dan nodded. “Sounds like you think a lot of that baby, Jack.” He was smiling and dropped a wink at me. “Maybe you should adopt him.”

“Maybe I should.” But Jack was serious, and when he helped me on with my coat he was gentle.

We picked Kurtis up on the way home, both in agreement that we wanted him where we could see him, and when we got home Jack carried the Moses basket into his room.

“Sleep with me tonight,” he said as I tucked Kurtis in. “I want you both where I can see you.”

“And touch,” I asked, teasingly.

He put an arm around my shoulder and hugged me close. “I’m thinking of calling in tomorrow and see if they can find another driver. I’m worried about leaving you.”

“Don’t be silly,” I told him. “You don’t want to lose out on that contract. I’ll be fine and if I’m scared I can call Albert or Tony. Leave your car right outside the front door and then I can jump in at a moment’s notice and be at Ginny’s house in minutes.”

“Good idea,” he said, but I could tell he was still worried and he didn’t let me more than a few feet from his side until we went to bed. He made gentle love to me, and when we finished he curled his body protectively around mine and we slept like that for the night. I wished it could be like that forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Somewhere in the very early hours Jack left. By nine, when I had seen to Kurtis and got myself dressed, I was already desperately missing him. Kurtis must have sensed something too, for he was restless and wanted a lot of cuddling. I did some housework but he wasn’t happy to be put down for more than ten minutes, so I gave up and sat in the chair with him, watching morning television until I got bored with it. I had several telephone calls through the day, from Tony, Ginny and Albert, all anxious to check that I was okay, and it was reassuring to know they were thinking of me. The best news came from Tony when he told me Jonus had been taken into the local police station to be questioned regarding the murder because he had refused to talk to them otherwise. It made me feel better knowing I wouldn’t look out of the window to see his face staring back at me, or calling me names.

That first day passed slowly, and Kurtis didn’t improve. I tucked him into the pram once and took him out for a walk, but the weather was blustery and wet, and while I felt better for the fresh air, Kurtis hadn’t been impressed at all. He became snuffly and started to cough, and that night was spent very restlessly for both of us. By the morning he was no better and the only way to comfort him was to carry him everywhere with me. I watched the clock, expecting Jack to be home at some point, but my hopes were dashed when he called me around midday to tell me he wasn’t going to make it home before nightfall. He had made his delivery but the truck was broken down and he was having to wait for spare parts to be fitted. He sounded frustrated, but I did my best to reassure him that we were fine and looked forward to him getting back.

As well as me he was concerned for Ginny and asked questions about her that I couldn’t answer. I hadn’t seen her all day yesterday, just spoken to her on the phone and she was reluctant to talk of the events the previous night. She was obviously upset, but I had my own problems with a restless baby and so we hadn’t said much at all. It was difficult for her, I appreciated that, and so did Jack. Oliver had been her father for thirty years and she loved him.

There was no word from the police, not that I expected much seeing that it was a Monday and they were probably just getting going with their enquiries. I was grateful for the lack of police presence, not wanting to be reminded of the body in the barn any more than I had to be.

As the day went on Kurtis became fractious and I was at a loss to know what to do with him. He developed a temperature and I gave him Calpol every four hours as Ginny instructed when I called her for advice, but although it cooled him down he still wanted to be held all the time. For much of the afternoon I sat in the armchair with him while he dozed, and it was during this time that I wrote a proper letter to my mother. My earlier attempts were taken out of the drawer and binned, and I began again, describing in full detail all that had happened to me since the day she left. Being in a low state of mind and slightly fearful of the emptiness and loneliness around me, I poured out my heart. When I finished it was five pages long and I felt better for having written it all down.

I read it through twice, then I fetched an envelope and wrote her address on the front. Then I placed the letter on the mantelpiece and stared at it for a long time until I knew I didn’t have the nerve to post it. It had been a silly thing to do in the first place, pouring out my ramblings like that. What was my mother going to think if she were to read it? That the sensible, level-headed daughter she had raised to adulthood had been reduced to an incoherent idiot, that’s what! When I got up from the chair I took it and slipped it into the pocket of my nightshirt. I was glad I had written it down because it helped put my thoughts into order, but it wouldn’t be posted.

I slept in Jack’s bed that night. I’m not sure why, but I felt more comforted being there, even if I didn’t feel his arms around me the bed smelled of him. His last call had been about nine o’clock in the evening and he was parked up for a few hours to get some sleep. As soon as he was able, he’d be back on the road and expected to be home first thing in the morning. He also told me that since he’d had a lot of time standing about waiting for the truck to be repaired, he’d done some thinking and had come up with a few ideas to run by me when he got home. He also told me he’d got a few days off and would be home for the rest of the week to resolve a few problems. As I lay in his bed I couldn’t help but wonder how he intended to do that, and if Kurtis and I featured in his plans at all. The thought of being out of Jack’s life now filled me with dread.

I must have dozed for an hour or two when Kurtis woke me with his crying again. Picking him up I went downstairs to get a ready-made bottle from the fridge and warm it up. After two days of constantly tending to him, and the restless nights spent, I was very tired and had an awful headache. When I had warmed the milk enough I began to make my way upstairs intending to sit in bed and feed him where it was warmer

As I approached the bottom of the stairs I stopped and sniffed the air, thinking that I could smell petrol, but then I remembered Jack’s car being parked right outside the front door. I made a mental note to tell him to check the fuel in case it was leaking.

It was then I noticed the living room light was on. I stopped, cursing myself for having left it on, but as I neared the door I actually remembered turning it off just after pocketing my letter. A tingling feeling began to creep up my spine as I carefully approached the open doorway.

I froze – hand held out towards the light switch. A scream stopped in the back of my throat. Jonus sat in an armchair, cup of coffee in one hand and a biscuit in the other. On his lap was the remainder of the packet. He watched television but the sound was turned right down and he frowned at the screen as if he was trying to understand what was being said.

He hadn’t seen me. I stepped back from the door and tried to calm myself down. The mobile phone was by the side of Jack’s bed, and with a thumping heart I made my way quietly upstairs. I hated to do it again, but I had to call Dan. He was the only man I knew who wouldn’t be afraid to come and evict Jonus for me.

Halfway up the stairs I became aware of a sudden flash of movement in the kitchen, just a flicker in the corner of my eye and it startled me. The light was still on after having made Kurtis his bottle, and for a moment I wasn’t sure what had caught my attention. I went back downstairs and stood in the doorway. All appeared to be still and empty, until I happened to glance at the window and somebody was looking at me.

Almost dropping the bottle of milk, I screamed loudly, setting off Kurtis in the process. It was Tom Coleman looking back at me.

“Go away,” I screamed, my whole body shaking. “You dirty old man.”

“Bitch!” he shouted back at me.

“I’ll call Jack,” I threatened.

“He’s far enough away not to worry about,” Tom said. I saw that he was swaying, and as he lurched against the window I saw him wave a whisky bottle at me. It looked to be almost full, but there was a rag sticking out of the neck and I wondered why.

“Go away!” I shouted again. I considered running to get the phone and calling the police, but I didn’t want to let Tom out of my sight, wary of what he intended to do. It was only then, in a blinding flash of light, that I realised. The smell of petrol, the bottle in his hand, the rag sticking from it – he was here to set fire to the cottage!

Even as the thought crossed my mind I saw him take a cigarette lighter and flick open the flame to hold it to the bottle neck. I screamed at him to stop, and I ran to the front door intending to plead with him to stop what he was doing and think of the consequences. As I got nearer the door my bare feet were in a puddle, and the smell of petrol was so strong that I realised he’d been pouring it through the letterbox.

Gagging on the smell, I ran back from the door and heard a window smash in the kitchen, then a small explosion. Flames licked suddenly upwards and even as I debated over what to do, another burning rag was pushed through the letterbox and a sheet of flames rose suddenly towards the ceiling, driving me back to the stairs.

Jonus appeared in the living room doorway, his eyes large and round. He looked at me as if he was surprised to see me there, then he saw the flames in the kitchen and he opened his mouth to scream loudly. It set Kurtis off and sent me into a state of panic as another window smashed and another sheet of flames engulfed the dining room. Tom was making good and sure he was doing the job right.

The fire was taking hold quickly and I soon realised the only way out was from an upstairs window. Tom had very effectively cut off all the downstairs exits.

“Upstairs,” I yelled at Jonus, starting up them myself, clutching Kurtis to me as the smoke billowed around.

Instead of following me, Jonus continued to scream, staying where he was.

“Jonus, come on,” I shouted. “We can’t get out down here.”

He stared up at me and stopped screaming. His panic turned quickly to contempt and he spat on the floor. “Whore!” he screeched.

“Jonus, come on,” I repeated. The flames were only a few feet away from him, but he didn’t appear to notice. “I’ll help you get out, but you have to follow me.”

“Whore!” he shrieked. “Whore! You’re going to burn in the fires of hell.”

I had to give up then. The heat was getting intense, I had to get myself and Kurtis outside and there was no time to stand and argue with Jonus. “If you don’t follow me, you’ll be burning in them yourself,” I said, and then I was thundering up the remainder of the stairs.

In Jack’s room I snatched the sheet from his bed and wound it around me, trying to keep Kurtis bound inside it so that I had both hands free. He was screaming blue murder by that time, but I had no time to console him, only minutes to find my way out of the burning cottage. I could only hope that Tom was long gone by the time I got out, because I didn’t want to meet him face to face.

As I made sure Kurtis was tucked in safely I was suddenly struck rigid by the sound of Jonus screaming. The screams struck fear into my heart and soul as I realised he had chosen not to follow me and was even now being swallowed up into the flames. I began to sob loudly, more from fear than anything else. There were a few more terrifying screams, then it was quiet apart from the roar and crackle of the fire. For a while I stood where I was, shaking all over and too scared to go and look downstairs. It wasn’t until Kurtis began to choke and cough, and I felt the heat burning my hands and face that I was forced into movement.

As a loud explosion shook the very ground underneath my feet I realised that it would have been Jack’s car, and now that method of escape was useless to me. I snatched up the phone and threw it inside the sheet with Kurtis, then looked out of Jack’s bedroom window. Tom was still out there, surveying his night’s work drunkenly and shouting insults at me. He was drinking heavily from a bottle. Looking down at the ground I knew there was no way out from this window. It was a straight drop, but also a very steep one. Further along was a lean-to built onto the house that was full of chopped wood for the fire, and I ran along to the room Bryn had once used. The corrugated tin roof was directly underneath this window and would help break the fall, but the window catch refused to budge.

The smoke that billowed upstairs was now thick and black and I was already coughing. I held Kurtis with his face into my chest, hoping to keep him from inhaling any smoke, but I had to get out, and I had to do it fast. My heart hammered in my chest, I tried to keep my breathing normal but wanted to take great gasps of air. Already downstairs I heard glass windows falling in as the fire took hold. Kurtis had stopped screaming and the sooner I got both of us outside the better off we would be. I hit the heel of my hand against the catch but it didn’t budge, and through sheer frustration I slammed it against the catch for a second time. Apart from ripping a six inch gash across my hand it didn’t make any difference.

Frantically I searched the room for something else to hit the catch with, but this one had largely been cleared of everything ready for Ginny and I to decorate, and so I returned to Jack’s room to look in there. By now I was having difficulty breathing clean air and was beginning to feel slightly light-headed.. I got down on my hands and knees where the air was very slightly better, but it was difficult keeping Kurtis bundled against me and crawl at the same time. Luckily for me I noticed some of Jack’s tools pushed underneath the bed and remembered having cursed him for leaving his mess behind after dismantling cupboards in Bryn’s old room, but now I thanked him for having done it. Grabbing the biggest hammer he had there, I crawled quickly back to the other room, coughing non-stop. Kurtis was quiet and had stopped moving, giving me cause for concern, but there was no point in stopping to look at him. Standing up, I shut the door behind me and threw the hammer as hard as I could at the window pane. Thankfully it shattered easily and I looked down at the corrugated roof below.

Outside the billowing smoke was almost as bad as inside. It came up to me, carried by the breeze, and I coughed until I choked. I was feeling very dizzy, close to passing out, and I made a last ditch frantic effort to get out. I climbed onto the windowsill and contemplated the jump of about ten feet to the roof, then another ten to the ground. Any other time I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but I had Kurtis wrapped in the sheet around me and wondered how much it would hurt him in the drop down.

Sucking in my breath I knew it was jump or die in the flames anyway. Behind the door I heard the crackle of flames as they crept stealthily upstairs. There was no going back. This was it. I had to jump.

I let myself slip from the windowsill. I screamed as I dropped, remembered hitting the corrugated roof, then slipping from it to the ground below. I fell heavily, luckily with Kurtis on top of me, but my back jarred against the ground. Rolling on to my hands and knees, my back in great pain and my breath having been knocked almost entirely from my body, I attempted to crawl to safety, but my head was spinning and I was going to pass out. I needed to get out of the reach of the flames before I did, and sobbing loudly I managed to get into the bushes at the back of the house.

Falling to the ground I remembered the phone, but was unable to feel it anywhere. Kurtis was quiet, lying still against my stomach and I wanted to prod him to see if he was still breathing, but I was so dizzy now that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I let them close.

I don’t know how long I lay there. Now and again I woke and heard the flames, but my head was aching so badly that I had to close my eyes again. I didn’t think anything, there was nothing inside my head except pain. I opened my eyes once to see that the fire had almost died down and it was beginning to get light. I heard voices and a siren sounded in the distance, but I was unable to move. Now my body was very feverish, my head was too painful to move. There seemed to be a period of time when I alternately dozed and woke, dozed and woke, and somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I heard Jack calling my name. He was shouting loudly, frantically, and eventually it turned into a frightening yell of panic. Once I thought he seemed to be coming nearer to me and I opened my mouth to call his name, but no sound would come from my throat, now so sore and swollen. Then I though I must have been dreaming. Jack was still on his way home. He didn’t know anything about the fire yet.

It wasn’t long after that when I heard somebody talking to me and opened my eyes to see a fireman at my side. Right then that fireman’s face was the kindest, sweetest thing I had ever seen in my life and I wanted to cry in relief. He patted my hand.

“We’d almost given up hope of finding you alive, young lady.”

I managed to tell him, through swollen lips, that my baby was wrapped in the sheet, and a look of shock crossed his face as he realised what I meant. Turning his head he shouted for help, then extracted Kurtis from the sheet. I wanted to know if he was all right, if he was still breathing, if he was hurt, but he took off his coat, wrapped Kurtis inside and handed him quickly to another fireman.

“Don’t worry, love,” he said. “We’ve got an ambulance standing by.”

I tried again to ask him about Kurtis, but it was too painful to talk and he merely patted my hand again.

“Don’t try and talk now, love. Let’s get you to the hospital and sorted out. You’ll be more comfortable there.”

Within seconds a paramedic team were at my side. They slipped a collar around my neck, felt me all over for broken bones, then I was lifted and carried to the ambulance. I couldn’t turn my head to look at the cottage, but I knew it was gone, there was nothing left by now. A heavy, smoky smell hung on the air and made me want to cough again.

“Soon get you sorted,” one of the paramedics said. “And I know of one distraught lorry driver that’ll be pleased to know you’re still alive.”

“Jack?” I whispered. Had he been here? Had they seen him? I had so many questions to ask, but couldn’t. And then, as they put me into the ambulance I saw the lorry, parked haphazardly at the bottom of the drive and knew that he had been here.

“We’ll let him know, love,” the fireman called after me. “His mate had to drag him away, he was that upset.”

I wondered what time it was. I must have lain in the bushes for most of the night. Jack had expected to be home during the early morning and would have come home to find the cottage gone, and so he must have imagined that Kurtis and I had gone with it. They were all thinking I was dead. I remembered having heard him frantically calling my name, thinking that I was dreaming it, but it must have been him. He had been calling for me, looking for me.

Kurtis! I wanted to know how he was, but they were working on him over the other side of the ambulance. As I heard the siren sound and the vehicle move off, I closed my eyes again and didn’t know any more until I woke up in hospital.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

When I did wake I felt absolutely awful. My throat was day and sore, my head ached and my body felt too stiff to move. The collar had been removed, though, and I was grateful for that. I woke suddenly, having dreamed of seeing Jack in front of the burning cottage, calling hopelessly and sinking to his knees when he realised that Kurtis and I had perished in the fire. I was trying to call out to him and tell him that we were fine, but he couldn’t hear and with the realisation of losing us, he had put his head in his hands and rocked back and forth on his knees, crying in despair. It was one of those dreams in which I kept trying to reach him, to tell him we were okay, but the harder I tried the further back I got. I was screaming his name and crying, and when I woke there were tears pouring down my cheeks.

For a while I wondered where I was, until a nurse came in to check on me, and seeing me awake, she smiled.

“Back with us, then? How do you feel?”

Kurtis! Where was Kurtis? I rolled my head to look all around the room, but there was no sign of him, or of a cot, and I felt that familiar panicky feeling well up inside me. I tried to ask where he was, but my lips were so sore and dry that I couldn’t move them. The nurse held a glass of water to my lips.

“Just little sips, mind.”

The water was the best I had ever tasted, soothing my lips and my throat as it slid easily down, and I ran my tongue over my lips. “My baby?” I managed to ask.

“Lie back, love. Take it easy. We’re taking care of him, but he’s had a bit of a rough time of it.”

I felt more tears rush down my face as she made me lie back on my pillows. “Can I see him?” Every word made my throat worse. What did she mean, a bit of a rough time? Had I hurt him when I jumped? Had he taken a knock when I hit the corrugated roof? I’d tried to jump with him on top of me, but he hadn’t been moving when I hit the ground.

“Later. Try to relax and the doctor will be here to see you shortly. You don’t have any serious injuries, but you will be sore and bruised for a while. You’ve been a very lucky girl.”

“I want to see my baby.” Please, I was silently pleading. Please let me see him. What was wrong with him? I wanted to ask so many questions, but no words would come. I wanted some more of that water.

She came to pat my shoulder. “He breathed in rather a lot of smoke, but he had a very high temperature, too. Had he been ill recently?”

I nodded. “Grumpy and hot.”

“He’s probably picked up a bit of a virus, that’s all, but the doctors wanted to be sure, especially with a young baby suffering the effects of smoke inhalation, so we’ve got him in the intensive care unit until we’re sure. He’s holding his own, you can be sure of that.”

I rested my head against the pillow because it was aching so much. The clock on the wall told me it was four in the afternoon. I tried to recall the time when I had taken Kurtis downstairs for the milk, but my head was fuzzy to say the least and I couldn’t remember. I had obviously slept for a long time.

I thought about Jack and wondered where he was. Vaguely I remembered the fireman promising me he’d tell Jack I was all right, but with the cottage gone, burned away with everything we owned between us, it would be the last straw for him and he would leave. I sighed and wondered what I should do now I didn’t have anywhere to go either. I was going to be all alone in the world again, with the exception of Kurtis. I remembered the flat I was supposed to move into soon, and was relieved that I did have somewhere to go.

Suddenly it all seemed so hopeless again and I wanted to cry great, wracking sobs. I looked down at my hands, seeing the bruises on them from trying to hit the window catch open, and the dressing covering the gash I had opened. There was also a bandage around my wrist, although I didn’t recall having done anything to it. Lifting the covers to investigate further, I saw several dressings on my legs. I must have knocked myself badly when I fell, and if I had all these injuries, I dreaded to think what I might have done to Kurtis.

I lay back and looked at the ceiling. I didn’t want to be in here, but didn’t have the energy to get out of bed and dress myself. In any case, I had been in my nightshirt when I jumped from the window, and that left me with nothing to wear anyway. As more tears fell I realised I had nothing at all, not even a pair of jeans to put on.

And then I saw him in the doorway, standing by the door post, his head leaning on it as he watched me. He stood in clothes blackened by fire and smoke, his face was dirty, his hair hanging straight and wet from the rain that must have set in again. He looked exhausted.

We didn’t speak for what seemed like ages, not until a tear dropped to his cheek and he moved to stand by my bedside. There was more emotion in those eyes than I had ever seen before, and it tore me apart to see him like it.

“I thought you were dead,” he said, and his voice cracked as he gave in to his emotion and more tears fell. My own pain forgotten, all I wanted to do was put my arms around him.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, putting my hand to my throat as it hurt. “I couldn’t stop the fire, it was too quick. The cottage is gone.” My own voice cracked and he took my hand and put it to his lips.

“I don’t care about the cottage. I thought you’d gone with it.” And he put his arms around me and lay his head on my chest. “Jesus, I thought you and Kurtis were dead when I got there. I called your names over and over, I searched through everything I could get to, but the firemen kept pulling me away. Then they said they had found the remains of a body and I thought it was you.”

“It was Jonus. He was in there, Jack.” Now I was crying for all I was worth. “I had to jump. A fireman found me.”

“Yeah, he called Ginny and told her. We couldn’t believe it, we were in shock, then we get this call to say they found you and a baby in the bushes behind the cottage. I came straight away, but they wouldn’t let me see you until you were properly awake.”

“Kurtis is in the intensive care. I want to see him and they won’t let me. I don’t even know……………”

“He’s fine.” Jack pulled out of my grasp and pushed the hair from his face as he looked down at me. “When they didn’t let me in here, I went to see him instead. I couldn’t get close……” he indicated his dirty clothes and hands. “but they told me he was fine, not hurt or anything, and that he must have been on top of you when you fell.”

The relief was wonderful. Kurtis was fine and Jack was here with me. He bent to place a kiss on my lips. “Ginny has gone into Truro to pick up some stuff for you to wear. She says not to worry, she’ll be in later and we can go and stay with her for a bit. It’ll be crowded, but I can sleep in the truck. I’ll try and find us somewhere to live.”

“Us?”

He smiled and brushed the tears from his eyes, leaving streaks of dirt on his face. “I love you, Lana,” he said, and those were the sweetest words I would ever hear coming from his lips. His voice was trembling with emotion. “I should have told you a long time ago. I love you, and I want you and Kurtis to stay with me.”

“Jack, I want that more than anything.”

“Ginny said it was more of a case of me needing looking after,” he smiled. “not the other way round.”

“I can do that.”

“I’m not easy to get on with sometimes. I know I can be a pain in the backside.”

“Only because people have made you be that way,” I cried, hoarsely. “I love you, and I can put up with anything you can throw at me.” I laughed through my tears, hardly able to believe it was happening. This was all so unexpected and I felt like I was soaring. Jack wanted me, he had finally told me he loved me and he meant it. As long as I knew that, nothing else mattered.

“Goodness me,” the nurse said as she came back to check on me. “Look at the state you’ve got her into.” And when I looked down at myself I was almost as black as he was. “I think you had better go home and change, young man, before you start that again.”

“Home?” Jack was grinning. “You’d send me home to a pile of burned out rubble?”

“Oh, sorry,…….”

“I’m not.” He was still grinning. “I thought I’d lost everything, but now I know I’ve still got what matters the most.” And he leaned over to kiss me again, with the nurse looking on tolerantly.

“I’ll forgive you just this once. Oh, perhaps you can see about getting Lana’s nightshirt washed in case she needs it again?” She handed him the nightshirt I had been wearing.

“I will need it,” I said. “It’s the only piece of clothing I have left.”

“I’ll come back this evening,” Jack promised. “I’ll see what I can do meantime.” He waved the nightshirt at me as he left, and I sank back into my pillows with a sigh of relief. I must have been smiling, for the nurse looked at me and folded her arms.

“Well, he must be a tonic. He certainly brightened you up.”

I nodded. “He’s wonderful, isn’t he?”

“I think that underneath all that dirt, he probably is,” she said. “It’s a pity I’ll be gone off shift before he gets back and I have a chance to see how good he looks.”

“And he’s mine,” I said, with a contented sigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

I left hospital the following day with instructions to take it very easy, but Kurtis had to stay for a couple more days just to be on the safe side because he was so young to have suffered smoke inhalation. He had been taken out of intensive care and I spent as much time as possible with him, but knowing he had all the care he needed, I took the opportunity to sort things out ready for when he came home. I was fine apart from some pretty awful bruises and a few cuts to my hands and legs, but I had no ill effects from the smoke. My throat gradually got back to normal.

Ginny’s house was just a small two bedroomed terraced house in the village, and I saw immediately that we were going to be living practically on top of each other. I was given the second room for Kurtis and myself, and since it only had a single bed and enough space for a cot to stand in, Jack was having to sleep in the lorry. It wasn’t going to be an easy time either, having lost so much in the fire. I was more concerned with all the baby items I had lost than I was for myself.

However, Ginny and I were surprised by a visit from Tony and Coral, along with Albert and Ruby, on the evening of my coming out of hospital. I hadn’t seen Jack for most of the day because he was out at the remains of the cottage with the police. I had been asked a great many questions and was able to tell them it was Tom who had started the fire, but he had disappeared, and despite an extensive police search of the area, he hadn’t been seen since. They had also confirmed that the body in the fire had been that of Jonus, and that the one in the barn had been Jordan Ross. Although Jordan had suffered four stab wounds, a single, fatal one to the heart had been the one to kill him. I wasn’t sure how Jack had taken the news, as I hadn’t seen him, but he promised to be at Ginny’s by the evening and I looked forward to it.

Tony had presented me with an envelope containing two hundred pounds. “We had a collection around the village,” he explained, “and that’s to help you and Jack get a few clothes, or whatever you need. I wish it was more, but at least it will help you out a little bit. Oh, and we put out an appeal for baby things, and this…..” he pointed out of the window where Albert and Coral were unloading the back of Albert’s cab, “is what came up. For the baby.”

I hadn’t known what to say. There was everything there that I could possibly need when Kurtis came out of hospital. Somebody had given a cot they no longer needed, and there were nappies, bottles and piles of clothes, as well as a pushchair and many, many toys. “I can’t accept all this,” I said, overwhelmed at such a gesture.

“It’s all been given by people that care about you and Jack,” Tony said, beaming at me. “I think Jack will find he has a lot more friends around here than he realises. Oliver Clayton didn’t do himself any favours when he came to the pub and had a go at Jack the other night. I don’t know where Tom has gone, but rest assured, if he shows his face back here, it won’t be for long.”

They had gone and left me to it, then. Ginny and I, both rather emotional, sorted through everything and took it upstairs. We made the cot up ready and the piles of clothes were stacked in a chest of drawers and I surveyed the little room in satisfaction, knowing it was all in place, just waiting for me to bring my baby home.

When Jack came home it was already dark and he was exhausted. I was so excited about the generosity of the people in the village that I dragged him upstairs straight away to show him what they had given us. Like me, he was overwhelmed, but he wasn’t as excited as I expected him to be. Rather, he was quiet and flopped in a chair to watch television, staring at the screen without actually taking anything in. Ginny handed him his tea on a tray and he accepted it with thanks, but merely picked at it.

“Did the police have anything else to say?” I asked.

“They still haven’t found Tom,” he said, wearily.

Ginny shivered. “I wish they would. It gives me the creeps to think he might be watching us, ready to have another go.”

A tingling sensation ran through me as I contemplated her words because it hadn’t occurred to me until then that Tom might be doing that. A small gasp of fear stuck in the back of my throat. I couldn’t go through anything like that again, I was still a nervous wreck from the first time and hadn’t slept soundly since. I’d had to relive the entire event when I made a police statement, and it hadn’t been pleasant.

“Why was Jonus in there with you?” Jack asked, yawning. He wanted to be angry with me for having allowed Jonus inside, but he held back, waiting for my answer.

“I didn’t know he was. I went to get Kurtis his milk about two in the morning I think. Neither of us had slept that well, but I hadn’t heard him get in, or the doors opening. He was sitting watching telly with a cup of coffee and a packet of biscuits, watching it with the sound turned down. I’d locked all the doors, I swear it. Then Tom was at the window and it frightened the life out of me. When he started the fire Jonus just stood there screaming, his mouth open. I tried to get him to follow me upstairs but he started calling me a whore and other things, so I left him there. I had to get me and Kurtis out and the doors were both blocked by fire. I heard Jonus just after that – screaming and screaming, but I didn’t go back…..” This time I turned away before the tears fell, giving myself time to calm down.

“Perhaps he had a key,” Ginny suggested.

“I’d had all the locks changed,” Jack pointed out. “He was probably already in there, hiding somewhere, when you locked all the doors for the night. It’s not the first time he’s done that. Anyway, there’s nothing we can do for him now.”

“Poor Jonus,” Ginny said. “What an awful way to die.”

“He burned in his own fires of hell as far as I’m concerned,” Jack growled. “And I won’t miss him.”

I had to agree with him. All I could think of was never having to see that frightening face again. It made me feel a bit guilty thinking that way, but Jonus had scared me so many times.

“The police found a few empty whisky bottles in the garden,” Jack continued. “Some had petrol in, a couple still held the whisky. He’d have been very drunk when he set the fire.”

“He was,” I said, shuddering at the memory of his face at the window. “I’ll be lucky not to suffer nightmares for years after seeing his face looking back at me. He tried to kill Kurtis and me.”

“Why?” Jack chewed at his food absent-mindedly. “Why would he want to kill you? I know he hates me, but why go that far? Is he that crazy he thought…..” Suddenly he banged his fork down on the tray and Ginny jumped. “Damn!”

“What?” Ginny asked.

“It must be Tom who has been leaving the threatening messages all this time. If he managed to kill Lana and Kurtis then I would have left the village for good. Perhaps that’s what he was thinking.”

“Well, he never liked you, but that’s a long way to go to get you out of the village,” Ginny said. “Threatening letters to murder is a big step.”

“He was so drunk I doubt he even thought about the consequences,” I added.

Jack smiled gleefully as he realised he might have all the answers. “Tom wrote the letters and got Jonus to post them.” Then he clicked his fingers and pointed at me. “You could have been right about Tom being in the house that night you first came.” Jack rubbed his hands together. “It has to be him.”

“But why would he have been in the house that night?” I asked. “If it was him, he was looking for something, and we still don’t know what.”

“I thought it was the trunk Bryn had kept all Jack’s things in,” Ginny said.

“But why would Tom be interested in that?”

Jack shrugged his shoulders and I knew he was annoyed at having cold water poured over his theory about Tom. “I don’t know,” he said, grumpily.

“I don’t know either,” I said, not wishing to dwell on the subject any longer. I had nearly died in that fire. “Jack, I need to post that letter. Will you walk to the post box with me?”

He handed Ginny his tray with his tea only half eaten. “Sorry, sis, I’m just not hungry.” He collected his coat, helped me on with mine and I took up the letter to follow him outside. At his request I had written the letter to cancel the agreement to have the flat in Truro. Jack wanted to find somewhere to rent, temporarily while he sorted us out with more permanent accommodation, and I hadn’t relished the idea of being in a lonely flat without him. Not now I knew how much he cared for me.

It was dark outside, but the rain had stopped and the sky was clear, dotted with stars. His arm went around my waist as we left Ginny’s house, and I was glad to feel it there. Since the night of the fire I was trying to keep myself as calm as possible and give him and Ginny the impression that I had got over the ordeal, but sometimes, if I had no choice but think about it, inside I went to pieces. Tom’s face at the window, the sound of Jack’s car as it exploded into flames, the thick, acrid smell of the fire and the fear I’d experienced being caught up in its ugly wrath was enough to fill me with dread and make me want to hide away from everyone. Now and again I still heard the awful screams from Jonus as he perished in the flames and it always made my heart beat faster, my breath quicken. Having Jack’s arm around me helped to keep me calm.

I posted the letter and turned to walk back, but Jack stopped me. “Let’s keep walking for a while, give Ginny some time to herself. She’s probably sick of the sight of me already.”

“She loves you to bits, just the same as she always did,” I said, pushing at his shoulder affectionately. “But all the same, it’s going to be a bit of a squeeze when I get Kurtis back.”

“We’ll get by, and it shouldn’t be long before we find somewhere of our own. I’m looking forward to having him home.”

“Are you really?” I stopped him by standing directly in front of him. “Do you really like Kurtis? You don’t pretend to, just because he comes with me?” It was a question that had been burning at me ever since he had told me he loved me. Was he taking on Kurtis because he felt he had to?

“Of course I do! What do you take me for? I was there when he was born, remember?”

“As I remember it, I didn’t give you much choice.”

He put his head on one side and looked quizzically at me. “Do you suppose that makes me some sort of surrogate daddy? Seeing him born? I mean, that’s more than his real dad wanted to do, isn’t it? Do you think he’ll ever want to see his son?”

“No.” If Connor had any intentions of seeing Kurtis I believed he would have done so by now. “He made my life a misery. Even if he tried to find us, I wouldn’t want him to see Kurtis. You’re more of a dad to him than Connor will ever be.”

“A dad.” He took my hand and we kept walking. “It sounds strange, but nice. I like the idea of being his dad, Lana.”

And I liked the way he said those words, as if he were proud to be his dad. It made my heart swell. “I want you to be his dad. I just thought…………”

He laughed. “I want both of you with me. Anyway, if I’m around from day one I can make sure he picks a decent first lorry. I wouldn’t want Dan getting a look in first, would I?”

“You’re looking an awfully long way ahead.” But it was comforting to know he looked that far into our future and saw us all still together.

“Yeah, well if something better comes along, be sure to tell me.”

I put my head on his shoulder. “Nothing will.”

“We’ve got some big plans to make, though. We have to decide what to do with the rest of our lives. Do we stay here or do we go somewhere else? I was talking to a friend last time I was out with the lorry, and he says he can get me work driving abroad.” He looked down at me. “But that means me being gone for long spells at a time, and I don’t know if I want that either.”

“I don’t,” I said, fervently. “What about your haulage business?”

He shrugged. “That would be my dream, but I can’t see me affording it. Dan still wants to go ahead, but I haven’t solved the problem of owing Oliver three hundred a week yet, and he’ll be on my case any day soon looking for the next payment.”

“You still have the land, you might as well do something with it.” We had discovered that the cottage had no insurance policy, and hadn’t since Bryn died, so now there was no plan to rebuild it. In one way, he said, he was glad because Jordan had built the place and so it held no sentimental value at all. It had just left him homeless and broke.

We were walking past the churchyard when he stopped again and leaned on the wall. “This is where Bryn is buried,” he said. “I’ve never been in there to see her grave. I should have done.”

“Do you want to see it now?” I shuddered at the idea of walking into a dark graveyard, but he nodded and took my hand.

“You can stay here if you want to.”

“No, I’ll come with you.” And so I let him lead me through the churchyard, which wasn’t too dark because two streetlights actually overlooked it, and the light streamed down on us.

Bryn’s grave was nothing fancy, just a stone with her name on it and ‘rest in peace’ underneath it. Jack bent to pull up a few weeds that had grown around it, then he stood still, looking down on it. “It’s hard to believe she was my mother,” he said. “How could I have lived with her for all those years and never found out? She doted on me, always did, but she never told me the truth and I wish she had.”

“Do you miss her?” I asked, thinking of my own mother far away in Australia and realising just how much I missed her. Far more now than I had a few months ago. I suppose because I was happy and content I wanted her to know about it.

“I left home when I was nearly twenty and never came back. I never thought about missing her, but I suppose I did. I wish I had come home just once to see her, although I’m starting to wonder just what sort of woman she was inside. Why did she let me live with Oliver? Why didn’t she tell me anything?”

“She was an angel and always will be.”

We both turned suddenly at the voice behind us, me stopping a cry in my throat before it became a scream. Jack had to allow his eyes to become accustomed to the poorer light behind us for a while before he recognised Tom Coleman and his hands clenched into fists.

“Don’t!” Tom held up his hands in front of him. “All I want to do is talk, just for a moment.”

I put my hand on Jack’s arm. “Jack, don’t hurt him. Let him talk.” I don’t know why I said it, but there was just an instinct there that told me he ought to listen to what Tom wanted to say. This was the first time I had seen Tom sober, although he obviously wasn’t coping with the experience. He was shaking badly and held a cigarette between two fingers, drawing on it long and deep every so often.

“Get the police!” Jack glanced quickly at me, then returned his gaze to Tom.

“You can do that in a minute,” Tom said.

“Now!”

I hesitated, but he turned to look at me and ordered me again to call them. I started to walk away, but once I was out of his sight I turned to see what was happening. My heart thudded, my hands shook and I sent up a quiet prayer that Jack kept his cool and wouldn’t do anything silly.

“Why?” Jack was asking. “Why burn the place down? You nearly killed Lana and the baby, for Christ’s sake. What were you thinking of? The kid isn’t mine, no matter what everyone seems to think. He’s going to be mine, but I’m not his real dad.”

“I wasn’t thinking,” Tom confessed. He drew heavily on the cigarette again and blew the smoke into the air. “I was too drunk to think about her being in there. All I was going to do was burn the house, but when I saw her there it just made me feel worse. I wanted to take it all away from you.”

“Why?”

“Because it didn’t belong to you.”

“Bryn gave it to me.”

“She had already promised it to me.”

Jack laughed. “And why would she do that?”

Tom coughed, a ragged cough that made me wince. He inhaled on the cigarette for a final time before letting it drop from his fingers, stamping on the butt and taking a packet from his pocket to light another. “She led me to believe we would live there together when Jordan was out of the picture, and then she backed out on the deal.”

“Deal?”

“Me, her and you.”

“I don’t know what the bloody hell you’re talking about,” Jack said, impatiently, but I did. Suddenly it became abundantly clear.

“It was a mistake her getting pregnant in the first place,” Tom said, alternately coughing and inhaling. “But I said I would stand by her if she left Jordan, which she wouldn’t – or couldn’t. I tried to make her leave, but she went and told Jordan she was pregnant and the stupid fool thought it was his.”

“Go on,” Jack said, and even from a distance I heard how strained his voice was. “You wanted to talk, old man, so talk.”

“When you were born Bryn wouldn’t even let me see you. It was torture, do you see that? That woman had my baby and told another man it was his, and that was torture. That’s why I sent the letters to him, telling him it wasn’t his baby.”

“Fuck sake!” Jack ran his fingers through his hair and looked about him wildly before returning his gaze to Tom. “Are you trying to say that you’re my father?”

“I thought it would bring her running back to me, don’t you see that? Instead you were passed around from pillar to post, eventually sold to Oliver for a business deal because his wife was desperate for another kid, and Bryn stayed with a man who suffocated and dominated her. You were supposed to have brought us together, not driven us apart.”

“So you started to hate me for that?” Jack asked. “I was a baby.”

“And as you grew up you didn’t like me. Bryn told you not to like me, or have anything to do with me.”

“She never said anything of the sort.” I watched Jack shift slightly, but his menacing air had gone, he was more interested in finding out details from Tom than he was in hurting him.

“Nothing?” Tom sounded as if he didn’t believe it. “She turned you against me.”

“She never said a word about you. Don’t you think I might have tried to talk to you if she had? I didn’t even know she was my mother, let alone you being my father. I wish I had known. I wish I’d grown up with parents, not with the likes of Oliver Clayton. Fact is, wishes will get me nowhere. All I remember of you, Tom, is spitting at me in the street and calling me names. It didn’t make me like you, but Bryn never said a damn word.”

“But I thought……I thought…..” Tom coughed again, so badly this time that I doubted he’d be able to stop. At this rate he was going to need an ambulance before the police arrived. I looked over my shoulder at the phone box across the road. It wasn’t far, and I should have called the police by now, but I was too intrigued by Tom’s confession. I waited until the coughs slowly died down and he caught his breath. “I thought she’d told you to stay away from me. She didn’t want me. When she finally got her hands on you, she didn’t want me. We’d had an affair for five years.” He coughed again, then I heard what sounded like a laugh. “I wasn’t always like this. When I was a young man I could turn heads, just the same as you. There was always an attraction between Bryn and me. I thought she loved me enough to make us a family.”

“So you decided to take it out on me?” Jack asked, bitterly. “For God’s sake, Tom, I never knew any of this stuff. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Surely after Jordan died there was enough reason to tell me.”

“Oliver didn’t want the subject raised again. I was warned away from Bryn and he was the only one to know anything about the affair. Jordan was stabbed and killed, and even he didn’t know I was your father.”

“Who killed Jordan?”

“Jonus, but it was me that forced him to do it.”

“You’re kidding me!”

“It’s true. Jonus was harmless enough to start with and most people didn’t mind him being around so much then. He didn’t have much of a brain, but Bryn seemed to like him being around. He liked Bryn, he knew what Jordan was like, and he was easy enough to force into killing the man. Only Bryn found out he’d done it, she helped him get the body into the pit and cover it over. That’s when Jonus turned queer in the head and started spouting stuff from the Bible and doing weird things.”

Tom stopped to cough and choke some more. I was fascinated with his story though, and still hadn’t got to the phone box.

“When Bryn died Jonus stayed in the cottage, and that’s why he hated you. He didn’t want to give it up.

He wanted you out as much as I did, and that’s why we sent the threatening letters and why I sprayed your lorry and caused Dan James’ accident. I didn’t want you where I could see you – a constant reminder of what I didn’t have.”

Tom let loose with another bout of coughing and I saw from Jack’s expression that he had little sympathy for the man, even after being told Tom was his father.

“So you broke into the cottage that night?”

“I’ve had keys ever since I was seeing Bryn. She never asked for them back. I knew she had pictures of you, keepsakes and stuff and I thought she might have put something in there that linked me with you. Oliver knew about it, too, and he kept on at Albert and me to make sure we got them before you did.”

“Albert was with you?”

“Reluctantly.” Tom lit yet another cigarette and I wondered if he was on a death wish. “Don’t blame him, he’s been on your side since the day you were born. He was there because he didn’t want to see you hurt anymore.”

“They were in the trunk of the Roller, in the barn.”

I heard a suppressed laugh from Tom. “Bryn wanted you to find them. You broke her bloody heart by not coming home.”

“Can you blame me? If it hadn’t been for my wife being killed, I still wouldn’t be here.”

It was then that I decided to run to the telephone and call the police before Tom had a chance to disappear again. Whatever his past, whatever he had felt for Bryn, and no matter how tragic their love affair was, he didn’t deserve to be let off the hook for almost killing me and my baby.

When I got back I saw Jack standing by the entrance to the graveyard. He leaned against the gatepost, hands in pockets and watching me walk towards him.

“Where is he?” I asked, frantically, worried sick that he might have gone. I didn’t want to be forever looking over my shoulder.

“Sitting in there. He said he doesn’t want to go anywhere, he’ll wait for the police.”

“He might not.”

“He will. He’s not going far anyway, not the way he’s coughing. He’s told me he’ll give himself up to the police because he’s ill and can’t live outdoors like he has been doing the last couple of days. He needs hospitalisation.”

“He needs shooting,” I said, bitterly, “not a nice soft hospital bed.”

“Probably.”

“Why was he here tonight, just when you happened to come and look at Bryn’s grave?”

“He wasn’t. He’s been following us around all day trying to get to talk to me. He wanted to tell me the truth, and to give me this.” He pulled a stuffed envelope from inside his jacket and opened it to show me that it was stuffed with money. “He said there’s enough here for me to pay off Oliver.”

“Where did he get it?”

“He was the blackmailer. He never spent any of it, just carried it around with him for the pleasure of looking at it and knowing I didn’t have it.”

“So why give it to you now?”

He shrugged. “Me telling him Bryn never turned me against him, I suppose. I don’t know, but I ain’t arguing. I can take pleasure in stuffing this in Oliver’s face and telling him to get the hell out of my life.”

“Jack, no more fighting,” I pleaded, and he shook his head.

“No more fighting. I want to talk to Oliver and Jonathan, work something out. It’s a big enough county we live in, so we can stay out of each other’s way.”

It was only a few minutes before the police arrived, and true to his word Tom had stayed in the churchyard and waited for them. As they brought him to the car and the streetlight shone directly on him, I saw that Jack was right, and he was ill. Very ill. His face was grey, his eyes red-rimmmed and his body was stooped, almost doubled over as another coughing fit overtook him. Still I couldn’t feel pity for him.

As the police tried to push him in the car he struggled for just a moment, but only to speak to Jack.

“I would have looked after you,” he said, gruffly. “All I wanted was Bryn and you. You were my son and I would have seen that you were cared for properly. I want you to know that.” He put his hand inside his coat and pulled out a ragged photo, slipping it into Jack’s hand. “I was only allowed to hold my baby the one time,” he said, before he was pushed into the car and driven away.

Jack hadn’t answered him, but he was looking down at the photo, a copy of the one we had seen in Bryn’s trunk, the young man holding Jack as a baby. “I can’t believe this,” he said. “If I had laid bets on who was my father, it wouldn’t have been on Tom Coleman, that’s for certain. What sort of a man takes it out on his own kid like he did? I know I must have reminded him of Bryn, but Jesus, I was a kid.”

“How do you feel about it all?” I asked.

“Numb.”

“Do you feel anything for Tom?”

“Nothing.” I watched him tear the photo into little pieces and dump it in a bin by the church gates. Then he came to put his arms around me and I got the impression that he needed the comfort as much as I did. “Apart from everything else, he tried to kill the people I love the most. You saw the state of him, he’ll be dead within the week, you can bet on it, and I won’t be attending his funeral.”

“What a sorry life he had,” I said, although there was no sentiment in my words. “He ended up with nothing, and nobody to be with him in his old age. I don’t ever want to end up like that.”

“Or me.” He tightened his grip on me, as if he thought I might walk away from him when he needed me, but I wouldn’t have done. I put my own arms around his waist.

I wish I had the answers to put him out of his misery, but I didn’t. All I knew was the Jack had suffered because a lot of people had made some serious mistakes in the past. “The best you can do is put it all behind you,” I offered, although it seemed a bit harsh. “You found happiness once, with Karen, and you can do it again.”

“With you?” he asked.

“Well, since you ask, I could do with a little happiness myself.” I smiled up at him and he was nodding.

We walked hand in hand back to Ginny’s to tell her the news, but far from being elated, we all seemed to sink into a deep depression that evening. Jack left at around ten o’clock to sleep in his lorry and I went to bed early myself because I was able to pick Kurtis up from the hospital in the morning and I didn’t want to be late in fetching my baby home. I heard Ginny come to bed just after I did. Dan was working and would be away for the next couple of days, and soon I heard her crying softly to herself.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

The next few days were spent quietly at Ginny’s. Kurtis came home and was fine, and I was so relieved to have him back. Jack came in now and again, but spent most of his free time working on the MG out by the remains of the cottage, probably to keep his mind from the events of the last few days. The nights he spent in the lorry, and during those nights I longed for the feel of him next to me, his touch, his comfort. It was an overpowering feeling, leaving me breathless and frightened that this wasn’t going to work out, that something else was going to happen to cause our little world to fall apart, and stop Jack and myself being together. I wondered if he felt the same, but didn’t get the chance to ask him.

He was attentive towards both Kurtis and me when he was in Ginny’s house, yet I knew he was still very confused about his future and where it should be. Ginny had made it clear that she wanted him to stay in the village, and from the odd conversation I had with local people, it seemed most of them did too. Dan was still trying to convince Jack that the business could go ahead and they should start the ball rolling, but Jack was holding back and not saying why.

Tom died in the hospital two days after the police arrested him, and true to his word Jack stayed away from his funeral. In fact, it was attended by Albert and Ruby Dunn, and Tony Porter, and once the burial had taken place that was the end of it. There was no talk of him in the pub afterwards.

It was a strange time, a sort of winding down time, and one in which I also found myself thinking about the rest of my life. I knew I wanted to be with Jack and I’d follow him wherever he went, but at the same time I hoped he’d stay here with Ginny and Dan. I was also thinking about my own family. I wondered if my father ever thought about me, if he worried about me, or felt sorry for the way he had treated me. When I left on that day back in October I was full of bitterness and hate, and he’d been suffering depression for months, and had been heading for a nervous breakdown. He had made it virtually impossible for me to help him, and I had wanted to help him, even though I was having enough trouble with Connor and his friends. Eventually he had all but kicked me out. I wouldn’t go back, of that I was certain, but I wondered about contacting him, maybe a telephone call or a letter, just to see what his response was. I’d also not had any contact with my sister, who had moved to Scotland to be with her husband, and while we hadn’t been overly close, we had always kept in touch. Now, of course, she wouldn’t know where I was.

I gave a great deal of thought to my mother in Australia, and I missed her more than ever. The paper with her address and telephone number had burned in the fire, though, so I was left with no method of contacting her, unless my father agreed to give me the details. I doubted it, though. But sometimes I felt an overwhelming urge to talk to mum, to tell her all that I’d been through, and listen to all that she’d been through. We both had our new lives, and I’m sure she’d want to see her grandson if she had the chance.

Then, towards the end of January I walked back to Ginny’s on one wet, blustery afternoon after having Kurtis weighed and checked at the clinic, to find the table spread with food, a small pile of presents underneath it, and a birthday cake holding twenty two candles.

“Happy Birthday,” Ginny said, coming to kiss my cheek and hug me.

I was lost for words. Of course I’d known it was my birthday, but I didn’t recall telling anyone else about it. I got out of bed that morning, wished myself a happy birthday and forgot all about it after that. I hadn’t even told Jack. After all, with no family around me, and supposing they were interested in sending a card, they still wouldn’t know where to send it, so there hadn’t been much point in saying anything.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I was with you when you had to fill in the forms for family allowance and the flat, remember?” Ginny laughed. “Jack and Dan are both due home soon.”

“But it must have taken you ages to prepare all this,” I said, a lump forming in my throat. I had only been gone for just over an hour.

“I had a bit of help.” Ginny took my arm and pushed me into her living room. Coral and Tony, Ruby and Albert all sat around and raised glasses of wine as they chorused a rendition of happy birthday. Dan came home five minutes later, kissing my cheek and telling me I looked great, but for me it was made complete when I saw Jack’s lorry pull up outside. He also came to hug me and kiss me, raising a few cheers as he did so. Later he handed me a card in which he’d written ‘to the girl I love and don’t want to be without’.

When the impromptu party had finished and Tony and Coral had departed to see to the opening of the Happy Man, Ruby came up to me.

“You want to hold on to him, love,” she said, nodding towards Jack. “You couldn’t do any better, and neither could he.”

“Thank you, Ruby,” I said, smiling. “And I will hold on to him.” As she left I saw her tell Jack the same thing, and he nodded as he looked across the room to me.

I began to help Ginny tidy up dishes and plates, but she stopped me. “It’s your birthday, you sit down.”

“She can’t do that,” Jack said. He was holding Kurtis in his arms. “I haven’t given her my present yet.” He dumped Kurtis in Dan’s arm and grinned at him. “It’s easy, Dan. All you have to do is stick a bottle in one end when it cries, and change the other end when it’s gone all the way through.”

“Where are you going?” Dan turned Kurtis so he was more comfortable and jiggled him up and down.

“Out.”

“To where?”

“To give Lana her present.” He threw my coat at me and winked.

“Does that mean you’re not back until morning?” Dan enquired.

“Possibly.”

“Jack, I can’t leave Kurtis…..” I started to protest, but he stopped me by putting a finger over my lips.

“Yes, you can. He’s fine, look! He likes Dan. Who wouldn’t?”

“If I get a sleepless night, you owe me three beers,” Dan warned.

“I’ll buy you four,” Jack called over his shoulder as he bundled me out of the door. “Sure this is okay, sis?”

Ginny threw a tea towel after him, but I saw from her expression that she had expected to have Kurtis for the night and really didn’t mind a bit.

“Where are we going?” I asked, expecting him to take me to the lorry, but instead of that he marched me across the road and to the other side of the green. Taking a set of keys from his pocket, he led me to one of the terraced houses and unlocked the door.

“I rented it,” he said, jingling the keys in front of my nose. “Just temporary, but at least we’ll be on our own. It’s furnished.”

He flicked on a light and I entered the little house that was identical in appearance to Ginny’s. I walked around it in a daze, not having had any idea of the surprise he was waiting to spring on me. It had two bedrooms, a small living room with a gas coal-effect fire, a kitchen I could have barely swung a cat in, but it was warm and cosy. It had a sparse amount of furniture, but nothing needed doing to it apart from moving in our meagre amount of belongings.

“It’s yours?” I asked. “When did you get it?”

“It’s ours,” he corrected, putting a second set of keys into the palm of my hand. “It’s only rented, but it’ll do for the time being.”

“Just for us?” I imagined the nights spent together in a warm house rather than a draughty cottage.

“I only got the keys today, so we can move our stuff over tomorrow.” Jack sounded eager to get my approval, and so I went to hug him. There was a light in his eyes that I hadn’t seen before, a sign that he had come to some conclusion, that he knew the way ahead and getting this house was the first step towards that. There was a sense of relief in me that was pleasing because it meant Kurtis and I were included in his plans and he had found somewhere for us all to be together.

“There’s something else,” he said, pushing me away from him and dangling another set of keys in front of me. “It’s parked outside.”

“You got another car?” I asked, going to the window and peering out. All I could see was a dark coloured hatchback on the road outside. “Is that it?”

“Not mine,” he said. “Yours.”

“What?”

“It’s your. I reckoned that once we got things sorted you might not want to feel stuck in one place. At least you can get yourself about if you have a car.”

“I can’t accept a car!” I said, but at the same time excitement rose up inside me. My own car! “It’s too much.”

“You have to. Anyway, there is a string attached. You have to drive me home from the pub every time I get drunk.”

I laughed at the silly expression on his face. “You’ll be able to stagger home from the pub now it’s only just across the road.”

He came to put his arms around me and kiss my neck. “With you at home I don’t suppose I’ll be going to the pub so much anyway. Hey, come and look at the bedroom.”

“Why would I want to do that?” I laughed as he took my hand and dragged me up the stairs.

“I got it ready,” he explained. “Your proper birthday present.”

On the bed, in the larger of the two rooms, was a brand new duvet and cover, complete with matching pillow cases and sheets. I went to sit on it. “A double bed,” I said, thinking of all the nights we had cuddled together in his single bed.

“I made it up myself, no help from Ginny.” He walked across to draw the curtains together, then came to sit on the bed by my side. “I thought we might test it out,” he said, a grin on his face.

“Did you,” I said, keeping my face expressionless, although it was hard.

“It’s been a month of sleeping in the truck. I never used to mind it, but now….”

“Now what?”

“Now it’s getting boring, especially thinking of you in another bed…..” He grinned, wickedly. “And I get this godawful backache….” He took my hand and placed it on the small of his back. “It needs attention, straight away.”

“Old age,” I said, “doesn’t come alone.” I rubbed his back, pulling up his shirt to slide my hands inside.

“Good thing I’ve got a younger woman then. Someone to push the wheelchair when I’m too old to drive any more.”

“You do think of me then? When you’re out in the lorry?”

He pushed me down, his hand on my stomach. “All the time. You know what else?”

“What?”

“I’ve given up collecting points.”

“No more girls in your cab?”

“You were the last. Now I’d much rather be at home getting my backache seen to. Oh, and if you make it all better for me, this old trucker might just be able to give you a good time, sweetheart.”

“You’re not too old at all then?”

“As old as I feel.”

“Which is?”

“Whatever you want me to be,” he murmured, and followed me down onto the bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

There followed a few weeks in which we settled into some kind of normality and for me it was heaven. Jack worked as often as he could because money was short and we needed all we could get, but we couldn’t have been happier. It was the first time in my adult life I had actually felt truly settled, and Jack was a different man. It was just as Ginny had said, that he could be content if only he would allow himself to be, and he did seem to be coming to terms with all that had happened. He loved me, and although he didn’t often say it to me, I knew he did. It was plain to see in the way he was with me, the way he spoke to me, the things he did. He treated Kurtis as if he were his own son, and I realised Jack was exactly the father I wanted for him.

There was a Saturday late in February that we all went out to the cottage grounds. It was the first time I had been back there since the fire, despite Jack trying to persuade me to go with him from time to time. The memories of that night were still painful to recall, but in actual fact, once I got out of the car and stood looking at the ground where the cottage had been, I was glad I’d come. The ground had been cleared of all the burned remains, leaving only a space in the midst of the trees that had once surrounded it. I saw that some of them had been burnt and needed removing, but others stood untouched. There was nothing left here to frighten me any longer. No cottage, no Jonus, no grave. Jack had even seen to the removal of the old barn once the police had finished with the site.

I laughed at the men as they pulled the old MG from the garage and the box of spare parts was dumped unceremoniously at its side. There was a friendly scuffle between the two as Jack tried to point out the front end of the car to Dan, as opposed to the back and he in turn tried to kick Jack’s shins. There was a real, lasting friendship between these two men, becoming more obvious to me as the weeks had passed and Jack had been more at ease. They were comfortable with each other, could rib each other without offence and there was rarely a cross word between them now.

Ginny took a flask of coffee from the carrier tray underneath the pushchair. “Come on, we might as well make ourselves comfortable.”

I agreed, and we went to sit on the wall. Kurtis was asleep and I was happy to take advantage of that for a while. At five months old he was a very content and happy baby, but he had recently found his voice and had become quite noisy.

“Have you heard from Oliver lately?” I asked, taking the coffee she handed to me. I put my hands around the cup to feel the warmth.

She shook her head. “I’ve tried not to let it bother me, Lana. I only wish I’d known how he was treating Jack years ago and perhaps I wouldn’t have been so close to him, but I didn’t know anything about it. Both of them kept it very quiet, but I’ve got Jack back, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s the one that counts. If my father wants to see me, he knows where I am.”

“I’ve been wondering if I should write to my father,” I said. “To let him know where I am in case he wants to see me, or get in touch.”

“You should,” Ginny encouraged. “People do and say silly things in the heat of the moment, and if he was close to a breakdown he might feel different about things now. He might wish he’d been more supportive, or he might not. Either way, you’d know whether he wants to see you again.”

“I think I’m more frightened of him telling Connor where I am,” I said, truthfully. “I don’t believe he’d come after his baby, but I can’t really be sure. I don’t want to see him again.”

“Well, rest assured, if he finds you and tries anything, Jack will soon sort him out,” Ginny smiled. “He thinks the world of you and Kurtis.”

I felt the warmth spread through me as I thought of Jack, Kurtis and myself in that little house together, warm and cosy and happy. Very happy. Jack tried to get work that didn’t take him quite so far away, but I wasn’t so worried about it now anyway. Wherever he was, no matter how many nights he was away, I knew he was always thinking about me, about coming home to his family. And that’s what we were. His family.

I made up my mind to write some letters when I returned home. One to my father, others to my sister in Scotland and the brother I hadn’t seen in ten years. We might not all survive together as a family, but I wanted the contact with them. I wanted them to know I was doing well and that I had my baby son and a wonderful father for him. I also hoped my father would provide me with the address for my mother so that I could write another letter.

“We can make our own family now,” I said, looking at Kurtis. “If my father or your father don’t want to see us, then all we can do is make certain our own children know who their fathers are. We start again.”

“I wish it was that easy,” Ginny sighed. “Dan and I just don’t seem to have any luck with getting pregnant. Four years of trying, Lana.”

I slipped my arm through hers, sensing her disappointment, knowing how much she and Dan wanted children of their own. “Have you been to see the doctor?”

“Not yet. Dan was a bit funny about that, being a man, I suppose, but we did discuss it the other night and he said we should go and find out what the problem is. At least I know he wants a baby as much as I do.” She laughed suddenly as Jack did something silly and Dan tripped him up. “Schoolboys, the pair of them.”

I laughed as well, not continuing with the subject of babies. It had been so easy for me to get pregnant, and I hadn’t wanted to, but I could only imagine how difficult it was when the urge to have a baby was so strong and yet it didn’t happen for them.

“What’s that he’s found?” Ginny said, as we both watched Jack pull a tin box from the engine compartment of the car. “Oh, no, don’t tell me it’s the tin he used to keep his love letters and condoms in.”

I giggled at the thought. “He never kept them in a tin!”

“He did, believe me. I found it once. It was full of all the things a boy keeps and doesn’t want his little sister to see.”

“Was he really that bad?”

“Worse. No girl was safe on her own with either of them.”

“I can’t imagine Dan being like that.”

“Oh, he was, and I was jealous as hell. Come on, let’s go and see what they’ve found.”

“We might embarrass them,” I reminded as we jumped from the wall and took the pushchair over to the garage. Ginny gave Jack a little shove in the back.

“Don’t tell me you’ve found your secret tin, Jack? Has it still got the jelly babies in? I imagine you used the condoms a long time ago.”

He looked at her in complete amazement as Dan hooted with laughter. “How did you know about that tin?”

“I found it once, showed it to Lizzie Brindle and she said she’d never go out with you after that because she thought you were after her for one thing once she saw what you had in there.”

“I was after her for one thing. I never did get it, and now I know why.” He pulled a face and stuck out his tongue to her. “Little sisters are a pain in the ass.”

“Big brothers are even worse.” Ginny stuck her tongue out in return and earned a hug from him as a result. “Now, if it isn’t your secret stash, what is it?”

“It isn’t mine.” Jack turned the tin around in his hands and tried to work the lid loose. “I can’t get it open.”

“Give it here!” Dan took the tin from him, put it on the ground and used a screwdriver to force the lid off. It gave way suddenly and an envelope fell out. We all crowded around, curiosity aroused and Dan picked it up to hand to Jack. “Got your name on it.”

“Told you,” Ginny crowed. “It’s Jack’s tin.”

“It’s not mine, I’ve never seen it before,” he insisted, ripping the envelope open and taking out a sheet of paper. As he removed it I heard a hiss from Ginny and I followed her gaze into the tin that Dan held in his hands.

“Oh, Jesus!” Jack said, forgetting the letter for a moment. “It’s full of jewellery.”

“Bryn’s jewellery,” Ginny said, excitedly, reaching to take some of it out of the tin. “I used to play with this when I was a little girl, I can remember them. Jordan bought her a lot of expensive jewellery and she only let me touch it when he wasn’t there. She used to tell me they were worth an awful lot of money and I wasn’t to lose or damage them. Oh, my God, Jack, these must be worth a fortune.”

“I remember her telling me he wasted a lot of money on jewellery,” Jack said, fingering a necklace that spilled from Ginny’s hand. “She said they may have been worth a lot, but they were nothing in sentimental value to her. I never saw her wear any of it.”

“What does it say in the letter?” Ginny asked.

Jack opened the paper in his hand, looked quickly at it, then handed it to Ginny. “You read better than me.”

“My darling Jack,” Ginny read. “I don’t know if I shall ever see you again, but as always I live in the hope that you will come to see me one last time. This tin contains all the jewellery I own and is my gift to you in the hope that you find it before anyone else. There was nowhere else to hide it. Sell it! Sell it all and don’t even think about it. It means nothing to me and neither should it to you. It was Jordan’s money that bought it and I feel he owes it to you, if not in life then in death. I know only too well what has happened to the money Jordan left, and which was meant to be your inheritance from me, so this is my way of making it up to you. I want you to benefit from this.

You may, or may not, know by now that I am your mother and not your aunt. I want to tell you now, in my own words, that I never wanted to let you go and I begged and pleaded to be able to keep you with me. Jordan, unfortunately, was a difficult man, he didn’t take lightly the fact that I had been having an affair, and he had no intention of letting me keep the baby born of another man. In the end I was powerless to stop him doing what he did. I cried inside every single day that you were apart from me, and I still do today. The number of times I have wanted to tell you the truth I have lost count of. There are very few people who know the exact truth and I believed I was doing right at the time. Now, however, I am not so sure. Tom Coleman is your father and I beg you to try and forgive him for all that he’s done. He wanted to make a life for both of us and I couldn’t let him. Jordan wouldn’t have stood for it, and Oliver would have made his life a misery after Jordan had gone.

I want you to be happy, my son. I want you to find contentment and peace as I never did. Let the money you make from selling these jewels pave the way for you and never look back. Your loving mother, Bryn Charlotte Ross.’

“Wow!” Dan said.

Jack took the letter from Ginny, folded it up and slipped it inside his jeans pocket. Taking the tin from Dan, he handed it to me and told me to put it in the car. “We’ve got work to do,” he said.

“But Jack!” Ginny spoke in hushed tones. “What are you going to do with them?” She looked at the tin, still in my hands. “Look at them!”

Jack did look. “Do you know what I see when I look into that tin?” he asked, and we both shook our heads. “I see a haulage business. Clayton and James Trucking. I see two houses, one for me, one for Ginny. I see our future and it’s all down to Bryn. And dammit, I wished I’d come home just once, to see her.”

There was a moment of silence while we all digested this information, then Ginny threw herself into his arms. “Oh, Jack!”

“You mean it?” Dan asked. “The whole works? Clayton and James Trucking?” There was a grin on his face that reached from ear to ear, and as Jack put his sister down, they shook hands. It was a wonderful moment and I felt the tears springing into my eyes again.

“It’s what Bryn said to do, isn’t it?” Jack asked. “She’s just told me not to look back, but to find peace and happiness. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve already got most of that.” He winked at me. “Maybe a few more babies……”

“A few more?” I gasped, but he was laughing as he came to put his hands on my cheeks and kiss my lips. He left black smudges on my face, but I didn’t care. As long as he wanted me with him I didn’t care about anything else.

“Come on, Dan,” Jack said. “Let’s get some of this work done. I want to visit the Happy Man tonight and do some serious celebrating.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY

A party was thrown in the Happy Man that night. Nothing too big, just anybody Jack and Dan could get there to celebrate the birth of their new business partnership. There was a long road in front of them, plans to be drawn up and approved, and many other things to be sorted out, but tonight Jack was on a high and I loved him for it. Kurtis had been left with Dan’s parents once again, and I joined whole-heartedly into the celebrations because I didn’t have to pick him up until the morning.

During the midst of the celebrations Oliver and Jonathan walked in and my heart sank. Ginny’s face paled and she went to stand by Dan, but I noticed that Jack didn’t seem particularly worried. Instead he went to greet them and invited them to sit at our table.

“Thanks for coming,” he said, and although he wasn’t completely at ease, he seemed to be making a real effort. I got the impression this had been pre-arranged.

Oliver took off his heavy coat and sat stony-faced, although he accepted the drink that Jack bought him, and so did Jonathan. “What is all this about?” he asked. “I don’t have much time, so I would rather you told me why I was asked to come here.”

So Jack had asked him. The only reason I could think of was to give Oliver the money he still had, the money Tom had given to him, although I’d expected Jack to deliver it to Oliver’s house rather than do it in public. Instead, Jack took the envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket.

I sat still and so did Ginny, both watching with bated breath as Jack began talking. He’d had three or four pints that I knew of, but he was sober enough, and probably relaxed enough, to say what he had obviously rehearsed without getting nervous about it.

He started by pushing the envelope across the table to Oliver. “I want to put all this behind us,” he said. He wasn’t aggressive, didn’t sound angry or offensive and I was proud of him. “This is the twenty thousand I owe you. It doesn’t matter where I got it, the fact is that I owe it to you and here it is. Dan and me, we’re putting plans together for a haulage business on the grounds of the cottage and the field behind it. Eventually two houses will be built on there as well. I want to make this permanent and I want to make it work. Tom Coleman and Bryn are both dead, so therefore I don’t have a mother or a father. You are just a businessman who lives on the outskirts of the village as far as I’m concerned. After this, I owe you nothing. Lana and me…..” he reached to take my hand. “we’ll be getting married soon.”

Married? My heart jumped. He’d mentioned nothing to me about marriage. Me, married? The breath caught in my throat and I saw Ginny smiling at me.

“Anyway,” Jack continued. “I don’t want to go on the way we have been. Tom caused a lot of trouble for me and now he’s gone. So has Jonus and so has the cottage. For us, it’s time to make a new start.”

“And what do you want from me?” Oliver’s eyes were narrowed. He hadn’t expected Jack to be quite so reasonable, obviously.

“I think there’s enough room for both of us here. It’s a big enough place that we don’t have to come across each other too often, and I’m prepared to stay out of your way if you stay out of mine.”

“I thought you were too broke to start a business,” Jonathan said.

Jack cocked his head to one side as he looked at Jonathan. “Yeah, I was, because of the inheritance I never got. Fortunes change though, and now I’ve come across some money and I can do what I want. All I’m asking is that you leave us alone. Ginny has been very upset, being torn between us all and she deserves better. She wants to stay in touch because you’re her father, and she wants to be with us because Dan is her husband. That’s the link between us, the only one. What happened in the past can stay there, but now I want to do like Bryn said and get on with the rest of my life. What do you say?”

It was a while before Oliver responded, and I saw the relief on Ginny’s face as he nodded his head slowly. “I suppose we can do that,” he said. “I’ve no wish to lose my only daughter. I love her.”

Jack nodded his head in agreement. “That’s it, then. It’s over.” He raised his glass to Dan. “Here’s to the Clayton and James Trucking Company.”

“I might remind you that you never were a Clayton,” Oliver said, sourly.

“I know. I thought about that, but I was never a Ross either, and I’d throw myself off a cliff before I ever took Tom Coleman’s name. Clayton is what I’ve got used to, so Clayton it will stay.”

“Here’s to it,” Dan said, and Ginny and I raised our glasses too. Oliver didn’t, and neither did Jonathan, both of them finishing the drinks in front of them and leaving quietly.

Once they were gone the party got into full swing, getting louder and louder as the night went on. Jack was plied with drinks from all sides and was much sought after for his company, so that I barely saw him for the rest of the night. When Ginny enquired after the marriage statement all I could do was shrug my shoulders.

“He didn’t mention it to me,” I said.

It was Tony that put the seal on it when he hammered on his bar and roared at everybody to be quiet. Once silence had fallen he picked up a glass of champagne and called Jack to the bar. “I thought I heard something said about marriage,” he said, handing the glass to Jack.

“Who me?” Jack said.

“Me and Lana are getting married soon,” Dan reminded him with a single nudge to his ribs.

“I never said that.”

“Yes, you did!” Ginny retorted, but when he looked at me he was grinning.

“Did I say that?” he asked of me.

“You said it,” I confirmed, “but you didn’t bother to ask if I’d mind marrying you first.”

There was a chorus of ‘ooohh’ that went around the pub and Jack’s face reddened. “I’ll talk to you about it later,” he said.

“Now!” Dan insisted. “We all want to hear you talk about it now.”

“You mean, I have to ask her here and now?”

There was another chorus of ‘yes’, and I felt suddenly faint.

“Okay,” he shrugged, nonchalantly. “Lana, will you marry me?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Ginny said, slapping him on the shoulder. “You’re supposed to get down on one knee and make it sound romantic.”

“On one knee,” Tony repeated. “Let’s be having you on one knee then.”

“Fuck sake!”

“Has to be on one knee,” Dan said, “or else she’ll say no and then you won’t have a wife or a book keeper, and we’re going to need a book keeper.”

Jack was suddenly surrounded on all sides and pushed to his knees, and I was pushed to the front of the crowd wishing my face wasn’t such a bright shade of red.

“Will you marry me, Lana?” Jack asked again. “Please say yes quickly and let me get up.”

“Yes,” I said, my heart pounding heavily. “Yes, I’ll marry you, and yes, I’ll be your book keeper.”

There was a roar of approval this time. Jack was dragged to his feet and Tony produced several bottles of champagne and announced that it was on the house. Jack brought a glass to me, kissing me quickly.

“Do you mean it?” he asked.

“Do you?” I countered.

“Yeah, I really need someone to do the books.”

“A system,” I said. “All you need is a system.”

“Show me your system,” he laughed. “and I’ll show you mine.”

I was crying as he swept me up into his arms and kissed me again. “God, I love you, Lana Collier,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

It was a good summer. Jack seemed to turn a corner and put his past behind him, and I still like to think Kurtis and myself were responsible for him being able to start over again. He was so different from the surly lorry driver that had picked me up off the road one rainy night in October, but neither was I the same girl. The love and attention he paid to both me and Kurtis far exceeded all of my expectations. Kurtis was fast approaching his first birthday and was already trying to take his first steps. He was a happy child, always laughing, and he loved Jack unconditionally.

He wriggled in my arms now as we stood looking at the work that had so far been carried out on the site of the old cottage. The summer had been spent making plans for the haulage business and today the new sign announcing the name of the business was to be erected over the gate way. Work was already underway, the barn had gone, the field was being cleared and Kurtis was very impressed with the amount of heavy machinery moving over the site. Fidgeting to the point where it was difficult to hold him, I set him on his feet and watched with a certain amount of pride as Jack held out his arms to him and he took a few faltering steps before falling into Jack’s hands. Kurtis was chuckling loudly as Jack held him high and pointed out the sign, then Dan made him laugh louder when he tickled him.

Bryn’s jewellery had been worth far more than any of us had originally thought, but Jack hadn’t hesitated about selling it, apart from one ring that Ginny had recognised as Bryn’s personal favourite. Jack had kept that one and given it to me.

I hadn’t thought about Connor for months. Jack and I were married after a quiet ceremony that both of us wanted, and Kurtis had taken his name just as I had done. The big white wedding I had dreamed of as a young girl suddenly hadn’t seemed as important as just being with the man I loved, and our little ceremony with just a few friends present had been the perfect wedding as far as I was concerned. What mattered to me most was the fact that I had the man of my dreams, he loved my little boy no matter who his father was, we were a family and life was complete. I placed a hand over my stomach and felt the new life growing there. Jack’s baby, our baby. I was just a few weeks pregnant and Jack had been over the moon when I told him, although I had yet to break the news to Dan and Ginny. Oliver and Jonathan had done as asked, staying out of our lives and we hadn’t even seen them. I was glad, and I think Jack was relieved it had all turned out fine in the end.

Ginny took a camera from her pocket and began to take photos of the construction site. Behind us were both lorries, now painted in matching livery, and a year from now both men hoped to have at least two more vehicles working for them. Judging by the interest already being shown from local companies, I didn’t doubt for a minute that this business would be a success.

Jack carried Kurtis back to me, and his eyes were bright, his grin from ear to ear. He pointed to the sign. “Like it? Clayton and James, has a ring to it, don’t you think?”

“I love it,” I said, as he kissed me, his hand resting briefly on my stomach, on the new baby he was so excited about. He looked up as a car pulled up behind the lorries, frowning briefly, then relaxing. A couple got out of the car as I turned around to see what he was looking at.

“Know who that is?” he asked, as if he was testing me. He rested his arm across my shoulders as realisation dawned on me.

“Mum?” I said, uncertainly.

“Do you remember the letter you wrote?” Jack asked. “The one you wrote on the night of the fire?”

I tried to remember. I could recall having written it, but not what I had done with it. “It was lost in the fire,” I said, watching the woman walk towards me.

“Not the letter you wrote that night. It was in the pocket of the nightshirt they gave me in the hospital, the one the nurse asked me to wash for you. Ginny found it.”

“Yes, but…..”

“It was addressed and everything, so I assumed you’d been going to post it.”

“I was,” I stammered. “and then I thought twice about it and wasn’t going to.”

“I posted it for you,” Jack whispered. “She telephoned three months ago and you weren’t home, so she spoke to me and told me she was planning a trip to England with her new man. She wanted to surprise you and she asked me not to say anything. It’s been bloody hard keeping it a secret all this time, I can tell you.” He handed Kurtis to me and gave me a little push. “When Ginny found the letter she showed it to me and we decided the best thing to do was post it. Ginny added a letter of her own, said that you hadn’t been well and maybe you could get in touch. Go on, she’s looking for you.”

“She’s come all the way from Australia,” I said, not quite believing.

“Of course.”

“Just to see me?”

He planted a kiss on my cheek and pushed me again. “To see her daughter,” he said, “and probably to make sure I’m the sort of bloke she wanted for you, so don’t worry about a thing, I’ll be on my best behaviour.”

“You’ll never manage it.” I watched my mother come closer, seeing how well she looked, and how confident. She too had changed from the browbeaten mother who had made sure all her children were standing on their own two feet before she left in search of a better life for herself.

“Course I will. Dan’s been giving me lessons. Next thing you know I’ll be buying a bloody Volvo and taking you out for fancy meals on our anniversaries.”

I smiled. “Don’t worry, Jack, I’d never let it go that far.” And cuddling Kurtis to me, I walked proudly towards my mother.

 

 

186


A Blue Bear

Lana Collier has run away from an abusive relationship with her boyfriend. Depressed, not knowing what to do or where to turn, she finds herself walking a dark, lonely road on a cold, wet October evening. Her plan is to throw herself under the wheels of the next lorry to come her way. Jack Clayton is the driver of the next lorry, but he manages to stop in time, and he isn't best pleased when he realises what she intended. Or that she is heavily pregnant. Against his better judgement he takes her home and hands her over to his sister to 'sort out'. Over the next few weeks Lana and Jack find they need each other in a way neither would expect, and Lana finds herself thrown into Jack's complicated life. Who keeps leaving threatening notes on the front door of the run down cottage he has inherited? Why do members of his own family hate him so much? And who was responsible for the small blue teddy bear he keeps in his lorry? Until Lana can find out the truth, can there be any hope for the two of them?

  • ISBN: 9781370756605
  • Author: Sandra Powell
  • Published: 2017-09-13 23:20:17
  • Words: 113870
A Blue Bear A Blue Bear