From Italy With Love Jules Wake Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins From Italy With Love JULES WAKE A division of HarperCollinsPublishers www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) HarperImpulse an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street London, SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by HarperImpulse 2015 Copyright © Jules Wake 2015 Cover images © Shutterstock.com Cover layout design © HarperColl?insPublishers Ltd 2015 Cover design by HarperColl?insPublishers Ltd Jules Wake asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Digital eFirst: Automatically produced by Atomik ePublisher from Easypress. Ebook Edition © April 2015 ISBN: 9780008126339 Version 2016-10-21 For Nicola & Ian Walker, friends, steadfast & true. Contents Cover (#u3bcf926b-83be-5c69-9d31-cedd57a19117) Title Page (#u731c6cf6-1b33-5b0f-9cca-71a961f7afc9) Copyright (#u2894f195-a210-5e87-a06b-30484fa02730) Dedication (#u25f57f61-59df-5616-8a8b-47bd19da2f9d) Chapter 1 (#u28fdcaa9-ea18-5c5d-9633-8107e527ff93) Chapter 2 (#ub6a1ff66-8cdd-5898-82ef-1902e83cce0a) Chapter 3 (#uee4921c6-a1aa-5496-836e-5efe36bd6d3b) Chapter 4 (#ub74e3455-b938-5887-bd41-47269ef41f64) Chapter 5 (#uf5b2f1a2-bb13-5df0-8a6b-579d0898cd8e) Chapter 6 (#u7e665e86-09eb-5483-84c8-9f322dd32278) Chapter 7 (#uf142d9e6-6b39-5911-b034-59a6a86c5f19) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 18 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 19 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 20 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 21 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 22 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 23 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 24 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 25 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 26 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 27 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 28 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 29 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 30 (#litres_trial_promo) Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo) Jules Wake (#litres_trial_promo) About HarperImpulse (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 1 (#u7d942f65-874b-5d78-9785-fba932bd752f) The minute Lauren saw the girl dressed in brilliant fuchsia, teetering along on mile-high heels, a fascinator bobbing in her hair like an exotic bird of paradise, she knew she’d got it wrong. Not just wrong – horribly, horribly wrong. She liked this navy blue suit and until that moment had liked it a lot. Some might say it was serviceable, but they were just mean. It was smart, fitted well and she felt OK in it. At the same time she realised her loose interpretation of Uncle Miles’ edict, ‘Don’t wear black,’ was way off the mark and that perhaps she should have paid more attention to the ‘wear your glad rags’ element of the instruction. Huddling closer to Robert, equally conservative in dark jacket and trousers, did little to reassure her, as another girl exposing an awful lot of pert cleavage passed them, her stilettos crunching into the gravelled drive up to the chapel. Out of the corner of her eye, Laurie caught Robert’s nipple radar go on high alert, even though he tried to look disapproving. Maybe she should have warned him about today. Not that it would have helped much. You had to have known Uncle Miles to appreciate his … what? Excesses? Eccentricities? Ebullience? She swallowed hard, unable to believe she wouldn’t hear his loud, imperative voice down the phone or see the impatient scrawl that covered his prolific postcards again. ‘Bloody hell,’ Robert breathed. She looked up. Oh boy, had she ever got it wrong. Flanking the chapel door were two beautiful blondes in full red and yellow leather cat-suits, very Flash Gordon, with zips slashed open to the navel, handing out Order of Service sheets printed on scarlet, no, make that Ferrari-red, card in the same shade as their glossy nails and pouty, shiny lips. Taking one with a limp smile, she tugged at Robert’s sleeve, ignoring his dazed look and pulling him inside with her. Could anyone really be struck dumb? It looked as if he might have been. Inside, the high-beamed room echoed with chatter and the wooden pews were filled with colour, like an aviary of brightly-plumed birds. Coming down the aisle, she felt like a decrepit Mini Metro at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. ‘Where do you want to sit?’ whispered Robert, indicating the pews with a sweep of his hand, nearly all of which were occupied but not full. Perceptively perhaps, he didn’t include the front two rows, where the more outlandish of the hats had taken roost. They belonged to Uncle Miles’ coterie of ex-wives, all of whom were happily exchanging conversation and air kisses. Robert didn’t know about them either. She closed her eyes for a second; what had she been thinking bringing him along with her? Pulling a face, she took a breath and focused on the four women in the first two rows of pews. As family she couldn’t skulk at the back but neither could she join them. They were too damn scary, although to be completely fair, they’d always been kind to her. The third row would do nicely. ‘Mind if we sit here?’ she asked the solitary figure sitting in the next pew. ‘No, you’re good.’ He barely glanced at her before turning away but she caught a flash of blue eyes and unshaven cheeks. Despite the scruffiness of his jeans, he was definitely one of the beautiful people. She could bet he’d worn the casual linen shirt in that shade of turquoise knowing it emphasised the brilliant green of his eyes, and that the stubble was deliberate. ‘Thanks,’ she snapped, a stubborn lick of anger flaring as she glared at him. He turned back to her, surprise and bafflement on his face. Shame gnawed at her conscience. Now who was being small-minded? You shouldn’t dislike someone just because they were too good-looking. Sighing she gave him a tight smile. She really needed to rein in that King Edward-sized chip on her shoulder. Dipping her head, she sat down and studied Robert’s polished black brogues. They contrasted with the worn, leather cowboy boots on her left. ‘So, do you know any of these people?’ asked Robert in a hushed, awed voice. Did he have to make it sound such an impossibility? She looked around at the other mourners surreptitiously, looking for any familiar faces. That was a laugh. Laurie had only been looking for one face in particular, feeling slightly sick and praying she wouldn’t come. ‘Just my aunts,’ she nodded at the four women talking in the pews ahead. ‘Aunts?’ Robert’s eyebrows shot up like startled caterpillars. He looked at them again, studying each in turn with more attention now. ‘Step-aunts, really. Uncle Miles married a few times.’ She chose to deliberately misunderstand him. ‘Those are your aunts?’ She nodded and gave him a bright non-committal smile. Livia could only just have turned thirty-five and Penny and Janine, at this side of fifty had been a good thirty-four years younger than her uncle. ‘Yes. Uncle Miles was …’ she faltered not wanting to say anything more. ‘A philanderer?’ asked Robert, his tone sympathetic. ‘No, no.’ How did you explain Miles? Complicated, selfish, generous, opinionated, kind, slightly mad. ‘He enjoyed being married but he liked women too.’ She lifted her shoulders in a Gallic shrug, trying to explain something that couldn’t be summed up in a few trite sentences. ‘So how did he know all these people?’ whispered Robert. ‘I thought I saw Liz Hurley near the back.’ His mouth curled as if that was a total impossibility. ‘Don’t you know anyone here?’ Guilt pinched at her. She hadn’t seen Miles for nearly a year. Now he was dead, none of the reasons for putting off seeing him seemed like good ones. Too shy, too cowardly, too stubborn. There was a flurry of activity and then suddenly at the front of the church, the vicar appeared. Although robed in black with a white collar looking every inch the traditional cleric, his eyes held a mischievous twinkle as if he’d been briefed by Miles as to exactly how this funeral should go. The chapel quieted and then organ music began to swell as the back doors opened and the coffin flanked by four pall bearers all dressed in drivers’ overalls and helmets came down the aisle. Robert shot her an incredulous look and dug her in the ribs but she stared straight ahead, trying to pretend to be as blaså as the rest of the congregation ? which didn’t seem to find anything amiss. The music soared, triumphant and vibrato, up to the high rafters. It sounded familiar but unfamiliar and it took Laurie a moment or two to place the tune. Oh my God. He hadn’t. She glanced at the vicar beaming beatifically at the gathered congregation and bit back a giggle as the notes continued to rise in volume and reverberate with drama. He had. She bit her lip hard, cheeks tense, trying to hold back the laughter, containing a snigger in her belly and making a funny sob noise. Robert squeezed her hand, mistaking it for an expression of grief. Sucking in a breath of air, she tried to get her equilibrium back and stared straight ahead at the stained glass window above the vicar’s head. The procession bearing the coffin passed on her left and she held herself rigid not daring to look. Her diaphragm ached as she tried to hold everything in. The stifled snort from her right did the damage and she made the mistake of turning just enough to register the man next to her valiantly swallowing and eyes fixed, his shoulders shaking. This was awful, any moment now she was going to burst out laughing. She let out a wheeze, trying desperately to hold onto the rising hysteria but it was no good, another snort escaped. Tears were starting to leak down her face and any moment now she was going to start … Her neighbour was no better, his puffed-up cheeks and tightly pressed lips told her he was as desperate to hold back the mirth as she. They caught each other’s eyes and both let a snort escape. As the notes of the organ rose again, building to the chorus, she felt something pressed into her left hand and looked down. A handkerchief, stark against his tanned hand, was being pushed into her palm. Gratefully she shook it out and held it up to her nose, covering most of her face, just in time to stifle the giggles that erupted. She blew her nose loudly praying it looked like she was crying. Recovering slightly she nodded her thanks to him. He winked and despite the solemnity of the occasion, she grinned at him. When he smiled back, revealing perfect white teeth brilliant against swarthy skin and several day old bristles, one eyebrow quirking in amusement, adrenaline hit her, socking her straight in the chest. Desire shot downwards arrowing between her thighs while her nipples, the miserable traitors, leapt to attention. Horrified, she burrowed her flaming face in the hanky again and concentrated on the music. Only Uncle Miles would have chosen Bat Out of Hell to kick off his funeral. Cam only just managed to get himself under control. Laughing uproariously, even at Miles’ funeral wasn’t the done thing, although it was better than weeping. He was going to miss the old bugger. The colourful card had felt more like a wedding invite, with its required dress code. It looked as if everyone else had followed Miles’ instructions apart from the girl next to him. If the dull navy blue suit was the best she could do, her life was seriously missing the sense of fun Miles had indicated with his invitation to wear your glad rags. She was definitely missing the glad. Her connection to Miles had to be distant. Although at least she had a sense of humour. Across the aisle Tania waved and smiled enthusiastically, her mouth a slash of scarlet against brilliant white teeth. He grinned back. It had been a while but she looked stunning, as always. The white dress showed off her opulent figure, cleavage to the fore and her dark hair cascaded artfully down one shoulder. He knew exactly how long it took her to achieve that, oh-so, casual placing and the softness of its touch. Was it Marbella or St Tropez the last time he’d seen her? He couldn’t remember exactly. He had a memory of sultry Mediterranean heat and the scent of pines and the sea. It would be nice to catch up with her at the wake. See how she was doing. Not bad from the look of things. Her skin still held the golden hue of the sun and her hand was linked proprietarily through the arm of a tall, blonde guy in a smart suit which shrieked designer. No, Tania was doing just fine. The guy looked much more her type, suitable in every way. With a self-deprecating twist of his mouth he looked down at his jeans, the material just about to give way across his left knee. Old and comfortable, he couldn’t remember buying them. Absently he picked at the worn fabric before looking at Tania. Like most of the women he dated, she’d done her best to her smarten him up. ‘See you later, Cam,’ she mouthed across the way. With an answering nod, he turned to scan the rest of the congregation. The wives were all gathered at the front. How the hell Miles managed it, he didn’t know. Cam couldn’t manage a civil conversation with his own ex-wife, Sylvie. Thank God they’d not overcomplicated things with children. Although neither had Miles; he’d had four wives, each successively younger than the last, remained friends with each of them and they all seemed to be friends too. They’d probably organised today, no – make that followed Miles’ instructions together. The old sod seemed to have planned every last detail. Cam could remember to the minute where he was when he heard that Miles had gone into the hospice. A terrible stilted phone conversation with Miles’ friend Ron. No one knew, it seemed. Everyone had assumed he was leading his normal nomadic existence, flitting between Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Le Mans and Rome. No one realised that the wily old so-and-so had gone to ground and holed up at home. Cam couldn’t decide if knowing, or not knowing, his friend was dying was a good or a bad thing. Not saying goodbye in person ached. But it saved a lot of awkwardness. And wasn’t he just the coward? Truth was, he couldn’t have coped with a goodbye, any more than Miles. Christ the two of them would have got pissed, maudlin and then pissed again. No maybe it was a good thing he’d not known. The funeral progressed at a cracking pace, just the way Miles had planned, although the eulogy done by all of the ex-wives took a little time. Each one of them found it hard to get their words out. Their obvious grief said as much about Miles as the words. Finally the last hymn was sung. With a reluctant, half-hearted smile at the curtains which closed on the coffin, Cam left the church and headed into the sunlit graveyard. At least someone was smiling down on him. Outside there were plenty of people milling about and he could have spoken to any number but was drawn to Eric and his wife Norah. Of all the congregation they looked the most sombre and, he noticed, quite frail. Eric had been with Miles for as long as he could remember. He and Norah had lived in the housekeeper’s quarters. She ran the house and Eric the garages, looking after the cars, tuning them up, doing oil changes and replacing spark plugs with the skill and dedication of a transplant surgeon. He needn’t worry what would happen to them – Miles would do right by them. Eric’s job had been an act of charity for the last ten years. His rheumatic fingers did their best to polish the chrome and the minute he’d retired for the night, a young lad from the village came in and finished the job off properly under Cam’s strict supervision. Norah’s eyes were red-rimmed but she dabbed at them with a heavily scented linen and lace handkerchief. He could smell the lavender from several feet away, reminding him that he’d just lost his one and only handkerchief. ‘Cameron, young man. Well that was a fine service.’ Eric pumped his hand. Norah sniffed but her wrinkled eyes held a little glint. ‘Mm, old devil. Always liked his own way.’ Cam grinned. ‘And did he get it?’ She huffed. ‘Yes, bless his generous soul. Told us a while back that he’d leave me and Eric the Old Wainwright cottage on the east side of the estate.’ ‘Thought he might.’ ‘For all his funny foibles,’ Norah gave a scathing glance towards one of the leather clad ushers, ‘he was a good man. Few strange ideas but there’s nowt so queer.’ ‘Quite a few coming back to the big house,’ observed Eric tipping his head to one side watching the crowd spilling out of the chapel. ‘Just like old times.’ Cam followed his gaze trying to duck the punch of sadness at the sight of so many gathered, a testament to how popular and well-loved Miles had been. They’d all crowd into the salon at Merryview where no doubt an unorthodox but meaty and filling buffet would have been laid on. A ribbon of excitement fluttered in his chest tinged with shame. He knew once he got to the house the lure of the old stable block would be impossible to resist. Although there was nothing official, no paperwork, no exchange of ownership, Miles wouldn’t have made the promise idly. A curl of satisfaction unfurled in his belly warming him. He could probably pick up the keys today. ‘Well that was the weirdest funeral I’ve ever been to,’ exhaled Robert as soon as they stepped out of the church and into the privacy of the shade of the cedars outside. His mouth wrinkled in a line of displeasure. ‘And I can’t believe you did that.’ She sighed. Neither could she. Meatloaf’s song had not been written for the organ – that was for sure. Certainly an interesting interpretation. The guy beside them had thought so too, although if he hadn’t started laughing first, she could have held out a bit longer. ‘I don’t think anyone else realised,’ he eyed her sombrely, ‘and they say grief does funny things to people.’ He gave her a swift pat on the shoulder. ‘It’s over now. We won’t stay too long at the wake. I suppose we have to go, though I’m not sure it matters.’ He gave a disapproving look around at the people who were all talking a storm. She followed his gaze, the two of them tucked away in the shadows away from the main event. For a moment it was like staring down a tunnel at another world, one she was long divorced from. An echo of a former life. Gaudily clad women danced and flitted here, there and everywhere resembling brilliant butterflies. They all seemed to know each other and had no inhibitions greeting and kissing with grace and ease, several times on either cheek, as if sliding into a dance and knowing all the moves – two kisses, three kisses, even four kisses. Everyone seemed instinctively to know the rules. Knowing her, she’d get it wrong and end up in an awkward embrace with a misplaced kiss right on the smacker. She huddled closer to Robert. ‘We don’t have to go, if you don’t want to, although it would look a bit odd. You seem to be his only living blood relative … here.’ His mouth turned downwards in blatant disapproval. ‘You’d have thought your mother would have made the effort for her own brother.’ Laurie hugged his arm to her, grateful for his support and ignored a twinge of irritation. Although she felt relieved her mother hadn’t turned up; Robert had never met her. Across the crematorium, she caught sight of her fellow conspirator. The sun glinted down on his dark glossy hair, firing up chestnut highlights but his attractiveness was enhanced by the memory of the laughter lines crinkling around those deep blue eyes as he’d tried to hold back his amusement. He scanned the crowd, but his gaze skipped right past her before he returned his attention to the older couple standing with him, bending his head and listening intently. ‘Wow.’ Robert voiced his astonishment as he steered through a pair of imposing gate posts and pulled up in front of the house, the circular driveway already ten deep in cars. As Laurie looked up at the house, Merryview, a breath caught in her throat and without warning tears welled up. A shocking pull of homesickness tugged at her. If only Miles had told her he was dying. She wouldn’t have stayed away. For a moment she gazed at the house, taking in the sun glinting in the leaded windows and the lichen-stained roof skimming the windows of the upper floor. It felt as if she’d come home. Her eyes traced the progress of the branches of wisteria, tracking across the east side of the house, framing the lower windows. ‘You never said your Uncle was rolling in it.’ The words were loaded with accusation as if the information had been deliberately withheld. She shrugged. ‘I suppose.’ She’d spent so much time here when she was younger, it hadn’t occurred to her to talk about the size of the house. He glanced at her, his eyes suddenly intent. ‘Do you think there’ll be a reading of the will?’ Robert’s question surprised her. ‘Do they still do that sort of thing? I thought it was just in books and films.’ ‘Would make sense, if all the family is gathered together at one time.’ ‘Knowing Miles, he would have told them all already.’ ‘Them? What about you? You’re a blood relative.’ Laurie swatted a fly away from her face with an irritable wave. ‘I’ve got no expectation from Miles, I haven’t seen him for …’ Guilt stabbed her. She should have seen him. All the excuses in the world didn’t justify her absence. ‘What did he do? Apart from constantly sending those crappy postcards.’ A good question and Laurie couldn’t help but smile. What didn’t he do? Dilettante, bon viveur, raconteur. He’d played a bit of cricket for England, done some commentary, raced fast cars, and collected expensive wine and classic cars. She had no idea how he’d come by his money but he’d certainly known how to spend it. ‘Wheeling and dealing,’ she laughed, repeating Miles’ words. Only now did she get it. He’d meant it quite literally. Robert’s mouth wrinkled in displeasure. For a brief disloyal moment, it reminded her of a prune. Unfair; he just liked things to be clear-cut and precise. He didn’t do riddles. Regret pinched at her. He probably wouldn’t have got on terribly well with Uncle Miles. ‘He bought and sold classic cars. He would take commissions from wealthy people to go and find a specific classic car. You know … the last Ferrari designed by Enzo.’ Robert looked even blanker. Of course he did. ‘Enzo as in Enzo Ferrari.’ She’d forgotten she even knew that. Like pinpricks of light through dark cloth, snippets of knowledge lit up her memory. Dots suddenly joined in ever-expanding memories. Facts she’d forgotten she knew. How could she have forgotten how much time she’d spent here in the holidays as a child? During the battleground of her parents’ divorce this had been her second home. ‘Oh,’ Robert sounded distant. ‘Do you want to lead the way? Stepping over the threshold was like snagging the trip wire of a booby trap, and a thousand more memories exploded in her head. In some ways nothing had changed in the huge airy entrance hall. Dappled sunlight still poured through the bank of leaded windows, just as it had every summer when she’d come to stay. The wicker baskets filled with piles of traditional green Hunter wellies; a size in there for everyone. The solid dark oak staircase looked as formidable as ever, the burgundy patterned carpet snaking down the middle held in place by brass stair-rods. The sight of the stack of Racing Posts, so high an avalanche was surely imminent, brought memories tumbling, stirring a lump in her throat almost choking her. For a moment she could hear the sound of hooves thundering down on turf. York Races, just down the road. She’d forgotten that. The memory crystalized in her mind bringing with it the smell of horses, the crowd roaring on their favourite and the magpie chatter of touts shouting their odds. For a moment she faltered, as if caught between two worlds and then became aware of her surroundings. An impassive waiter guarded the entrance to the grand hall, balancing a tray of wines, champagne in tall flutes, white in cut crystal and red in glass balloon goblets. At least she could guarantee the quality of the wine today. When was the last time she’d tasted decent wine? Taking a glass from the waiter, she motioned to Robert to join her. He was still taking in the hall. ‘Are you sure you want that? It’s a big glass. Drinking at lunch time? Is that wise?’ ‘Probably not but what the hell … it’ll be good. I guarantee it.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Definitely. Miles knew a thing or two about wine. Taste it.’ She took a deep sniff, poking her nose right into the glass and then swirled the wine around. Robert pulled a face, making it quite clear he thought she was being pretentious, and took a tentative sip. His brows drew together and begrudgingly he said, ‘Very nice.’ ‘Chateau Lafite. ’64.’ She had no idea how she knew that but she just did and although she didn’t mean to sound smug, she couldn’t help the small flicker of pride that she knew what it was. ‘’64 eh? Yeah right, Laurie. More like Tesco’s finest.’ ‘No, it is.’ A sceptical expression crossed his face. ‘What do you know about wine?’ he scoffed. Her brief moment of confidence faded for a second before reasserting itself. ‘It was Miles’ favourite.’ ‘Ah, so you don’t know for sure. You’re just guessing.’ She faltered; maybe she was. See, that’s what showing off did for you. It had been a long time. It probably wasn’t the ’64, although she did think it was Chateau Lafite. She took another healthy slurp, savouring the gorgeous rich berry flavour. Definitely had that distinctive earthiness to it. ‘She’s right, actually.’ The deep, gravelled voice belonged to Mr Handsome from the church. The brief wink he shot her as he lifted a glass from the tray turned her stomach inside out. Blood rushed to her face and she prayed she wasn’t blushing. Just those movie-star good looks ? they were overwhelming, that was all. With an ironic toast he took a cheerful glug and disappeared into the crowded room beyond. As he walked off her eyes were drawn to his long lean figure, his butt outlined in well-fitting denim. ‘Tosser,’ said Robert, shaking his head. ‘Bet he knows even less about wine than you do. Come on, I hope there’s some food to soak it up.’ He put his arm across her shoulders and steered her into the crowded room. She’d definitely drunk more wine than was sensible on an empty stomach but hadn’t been able to help herself and even now the third glass slipped down far too nicely. It had been lovely catching up with Penny, Livia and Janine and sharing lots of happy memories which she’d completely buried. Robert kept flashing her questioning looks across the room, as if she’d turned into some raving alcoholic, but luckily he’d been cornered by Norah pressing more sausage rolls on him. She smiled to herself, taking another sip of the Lafite. Sophisticated in the wine department, yes, but Uncle Miles had had a decided preference for proper man food. His rants on vegetarians were as legendary as his views on eating salad, which he likened to committing food crime. She could imagine he’d been quite specific about today’s menu, judging from the sideboard running the length of the dining room loaded with plates of good old-fashioned Cornish pasties, the pastry glistening with egg glaze, pork pies sliced to reveal solid pink insides and flaky sausage rolls, crisp enough to scatter dust motes of crumbs in the air. The assembled glitzy gathering certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves from the sound of the animated buzz of chatter and laughter rippling through the room. Very Uncle Miles. Of course he’d want everyone to be happy. It seemed a lifetime ago that she’d stayed here, taking up residence every school holiday until that awful summer her mother left Dad. Then everything had changed. Dad wouldn’t let her come and stay anymore. He blamed Miles for encouraging her mother to hanker after this kind of lifestyle and for allowing her to meet the man she ran off with. Rather unfair, thought Laurie, as Dad knew as well as anyone what his wife was like. Laurie blamed Miles for something far worse. Overwhelmed by the bleakness of her memories, a sense of panic rose up. Without saying anything to Robert, who thankfully was engrossed in conversation with another couple, she let instinct guide her toward the door, weaving between the maze of outstretched hands bearing glasses and plates. Instead of turning left out of the salon to the nearest downstairs loo, a rather grand commode affair, she turned right and crossed the hallway passing the staircase and keeping a careful eye on her wine so as not to spill a precious drop. She’d forgotten the treat of a truly delicious wine. Tempted as she was to slip up the wide flat stairs, she walked past ignoring the impulse to check the polish on the banisters. Once, long ago, she’d helped to clean and polish the wood – by sliding down them a on a towel. Uncle Miles believed in multi-tasking long before it had become a universal catch phrase. She crossed the hallway, skirting the kitchen and ignoring the enticing smells of hot food. The sound of her footsteps on the flagstone floor was overpowered by the clatter of cutlery and the slamming of oven doors. Ducking through a series of wooden doorways, she passed the pantry, the laundry room and the mud room. The final door led out into the brick paved courtyard, the herringbone pattern embellished with vivid green moss. Despite the balmy air, to her relief, there was no one out here. It would’ve been easy to stay there taking deep steady breaths to push away the hangover of emotion but instead she was drawn to the stable block. The stables had been renovated with care to ensure that the essence of the house was retained. The wooden beams were still in place and the brickwork old, but huge, plate glass, modern windows replaced the draughty stable doors and the roof had been insulated to keep out the damp and the cold. High-tech security guarded the contents which replaced the old horse-power with the new – the engine. The key pad next to the heavy wooden door was a more recent model than she remembered. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if she didn’t go inside, she could still press her nose up against the windows and peer inside. Before she could get any closer she realised there was someone inside, a shadow moving with furtive purpose. The dark shape skimmed through the cars, their smooth aerodynamic shapes collected in the gloom, like a pod of exotic whales. The Aston Martin, a Rolls Royce Phantom, the Ferraris, a Lamborghini, she ticked off those she remembered. Her Uncle’s passion. The shadow stopped close to the plate glass at the end of the gallery, reaching up to the cupboard that she knew housed all the car keys. A beam of light pierced the dark like a lighthouse with a brief flash and then it clicked out as the shadow leaned into the cupboard and then withdrew again. The figure then moved back to one of the cars in the garage, circling an area, stopping periodically as if weighing something up like an art critic in a gallery. Laurie frowned and took a thoughtful sip of wine. If the person in there was supposed to be in there, why hadn’t they put on the lights? Should she raise the alarm? The collection was extremely valuable. But then whoever it was clearly knew the access and alarm codes. Hamstrung by indecision, she stepped back into the shrubbery which skirted the stables. She watched for what seemed like ages but the shadow, the height of which suggested male, stayed in the same part of the garage. It was difficult to see but as her eyes adjusted she could just make out a reverent hand being run over the bonnet of the car he’d appeared to have staked out. The car door was opened and whoever it was hunched down and eased into the drivers’ seat, leaving the door open. Who was in there and what were they up to? At the very moment she’d decided to slink back to the house, the man got out of the car, threw up his head and strode back through the other cars. Even without the ambient light that cast a quick strobe across his face Laurie recognised his silhouette, the mane of long curls, the broad shoulders and his loose limbed walk. As he carefully closed the door behind him, she heard the chink of keys as she watched him weigh them up in his hand before slipping them into his pocket. With nowhere to hide, she backed into the shadow and bumped into one of the wisteria branches trailing across the wall; there was an eggshell crack of fragile glass and she froze. A few shards of the handsome balloon tinkled on the floor leaving her holding the stem and the fractured glass. The tall shadow paused briefly and looked her way. She held her breath, her heart suddenly pounding. It felt so fierce that she could almost imagine he could hear it. Stupidly she closed her eyes as if shutting out his image might make her invisible. A mistake because then all she could focus on was the soft crunch of footsteps on the brick-paved ground and for a horrible moment she thought he was heading towards her. A pause. And then silence. If he could see her now, she’d look really weird with her eyes squeezed tightly shut but then if she opened them, she’d have to face him. Feeling more stupid and awkward than she ever had in her life, she kept her eyes shut. Just as the silence threatened to swallow her up, she heard his steps retreating as he turned back towards the house. Catching a breath, her relieved sigh puffed out into the night air. It would have been so embarrassing to be caught. And why couldn’t she have just called out hello? What a nice evening? Isn’t it hot inside? Instead she’d acted like a complete idiot and made it look as if she were spying on him, like a horrid suspicious family member. People behaved badly when inheritance and money was at stake. She hated that he might think she was mercenary enough to worry about such things. Her mouth twisted, she knew all about probate and the murky things families thought when they believed they were owed something. Of course if he knew her, he’d have known she had no claim on Miles nor wanted anything from him, except perhaps for one last postcard. The incredibly valuable collection of cars and the properties scattered across the world would belong to her aunts now or once probate had been sorted. Miles was fair though, no doubt he’d sorted everything out to everyone’s satisfaction. ‘Enjoying the wine?’ The voice interrupted her reverie and she stared up at him, her cheeks turning pink. She’d just managed to snag a new full glass of the Lafite, abandoning the broken one out of sight in the laundry room on her way back in. Had he heard that tell-tale tinkle of glass? Did he know it was her? Was he about to challenge her on it? He lifted an eyebrow while she struggled to think and speak before finally managing a squeaked, ‘Yes’. If only she could have come up with something wittier or clever to say. Ever since she’d followed him back indoors, her eyes kept straying towards him. The vibrant coloured shirt stood out in the room; it was impossible not to notice him. He seemed to know everyone and the women all seemed to know him. He’d charmed his way around the room. For a moment he held up his glass, tilting the wine in it in consideration. Any minute now he was going to say something. Her stomach clenched with nerves. ‘So how did you know it was Miles’ favourite wine?’ he asked with a flirtatious smile toying around his mouth. She almost sagged with relief. His default expression, no doubt. Definitely a ladies’ man. Although why not with those looks? No one with any sense would take him seriously. Love them and leave them was written all over him. ‘Why shouldn’t I?’ Her words came more sharply than she intended. ‘You knew?’ She gave him, an uncharacte?ristically challenging look. Something surged in her blood, heady power buoyed up by nothing more than Dutch courage. In response, the smile blossomed into a knowing grin as he gave her an unhurried look up and down, a leisurely perusal that tugged at her. She gulped. He was good. And she was not his type. He knew that as well as she did. And he certainly hadn’t looked at her like that in the church. Her eyes must have signalled something because he looked surprised and then intrigued for a second. He took a step back and this time studied her more carefully. And she blushed … again. ‘Hi,’ the overly-loud voice cut through her stupor, ‘I’m Robert Evans. Lauren’s boyfriend.’ He thrust out his hand towards the other man. ‘Cameron, Cameron Matthews.’ His eyes glittered with mischief. ‘No one’s boyfriend.’ The heat of the room or maybe it was the wine started to catch up with her, a flush suffused her face and she rocked, feeling dizzy. ‘So,’ Cameron’s gaze took both of them in, ‘how do you know Miles?’ He looked at Robert’s suit and then down to the shiny polished brogues. ‘His accountant?’ He nodded at Laurie, ‘Wine broker?’ She didn’t think Robert realised he was being insulted but she’d underestimated him. ‘No, family.’ Robert informed him. The wine must have really got to her because she felt unexpectedly embarrassed at his pompous tone and aggrieved he’d applied the term to himself. Cameron Matthews looked surprised. ‘I’m Laurie, Miles’ niece.’ ‘Laurie?’ His voice went up in question. Disbelief etched across his face as he stepped back and said, ‘You’re Laurie. Aw shit.’ She flushed at the vehemence in his tone and watched as he turned on his heel and stomped out of the room, parting the crowd and leaving everyone staring their way with hushed voices. ‘Rude bastard,’ said Robert. ‘What the hell was that about?’ ‘I have no idea.’ Chapter 2 (#u7d942f65-874b-5d78-9785-fba932bd752f) ‘You happy to close up?’ asked Gemma, the other librarian, as if it was an unusual occurrence. Leighton Buzzard Library had been dead for the last half hour. Laurie nodded. Thank God, today was almost over. From the moment the alarm clock had gone off this morning, set for exactly 6.30 a.m. so Robert had time to make both packed lunches before he caught the train into London, she’d found herself checking the clock almost hourly. The damn long-hand seemed to be on a go-slow. The day just wasn’t right. She couldn’t put a finger on what was wrong. It just felt wrong. And as for what ‘it’ was, she had no bloody clue. Served her right for drinking all that wine yesterday. Her spirits had been well and truly dampened. Alcohol did that, didn’t it? And she wasn’t used to it. Drinking more in one afternoon than you did in an entire month was bound to have an effect. She stacked the last of the books on the trolley. Oh stuff it, just this once sorting the thrillers from the romance and Sci-Fi could wait until morning. In fact Gemma could do it. Time she pulled rank, she was the senior librarian, after all and Gemma needed reminding that librarians are well-read, not well-informed on celebrity gossip. And didn’t that make Laurie sound a dried-up old stick. Part of her wondered whether maybe Gemma had got it right; the magazines seemed to be a stronger draw than books in the library these days. Other people’s lifestyles proving more exciting than their own. Even Gemma’s life seemed a lot more exciting than hers. What was the matter with her today? She had a job, home of her own, a live-in boyfriend and her health. She was being ungrateful and stupid. Security, stability … you knew where you were with them. For a moment she wondered if she was trying to convince herself just a little too hard. OK, so they didn’t lead the most exciting life, her mouth turned down in disgust, they didn’t lead an exciting life full stop, but then excitement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Loads of people would kill for that type of security. She thought of her mother and then tried hard not to. She’d left Laurie’s dad in her quest for excitement and had found fulfilment in fast cars, rich husbands, glitzy parties, designer clothes and visits to one exotic location after another. Quite what her mother had ever seen in Dad in the first place was a mystery. There were poles apart but he had clearly adored her at one point. A tap on the window was an unwelcome reminder she should have switched out the lights and locked up. ‘Hello dear, I know it’s late but can I just …’ Laurie wasn’t supposed to stay open after six. ‘Go on, quickly.’ Mrs Wright slipped into the door and headed straight down to the crime section. ‘You are a dear,’ she called over her shoulder. Laurie might as well start re-homing the books on the trolley. Luckily Mrs Wright found something straight away. ‘Thanks love, you’re a lifesaver.’ Laurie smiled. The widow inhaled books like other people took in air. Her taste in gruesome killers obviously provided the escape from killing loneliness. Rattling around on your own in a house when someone had died was so hard. The ring of her mobile coincided with the click of the door when Mrs Wright finally left. Robert. ‘Hi.’ ‘Hi, you still at work?’ ‘Just leaving. I’ll be a while. I’ll heat up that shepherd’s pie for you when I get back.’ ‘I’m already home. Actually, I thought I’d take you out to dinner.’ Robert sounded very pleased with himself. ‘Why, have you had a promotion or something?’ ‘Does there have to be reason? I just thought you might like to be spoilt for a change.’ ‘That would be lovely. Thank you. I’m on my way.’ If she got a wiggle on she could just catch the next bus. See, she was just being a miserable old harpy. She had nothing to moan about. Her life was pretty good. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Not that she did know how it was supposed to happen but this felt pedestrian, as if she’d been short-changed. The candle on the table danced, casting shadows on the red damask tablecloth as Robert pushed the box across the table towards her. Her heart sank, leaden to the very pit of her stomach. The waiter loitering with a bottle of champagne looked on expectant. ‘I know we said that we were fine as we are but …’ he shrugged, ‘we don’t have to have a big wedding. That would be a waste of money. I thought we could be spontaneous … just book the registry office next week. They’ve got a slot on Monday at lunch time. How romantic would that be? Spur of the moment!’ Robert’s face lit up with the thought. With a quiver of disappointment, she realised he felt genuinely excited by the idea. Smiling took effort – she could feel the tautness of every muscle in her face. Robert had pushed the box right across the table, to sit centre stage in her place-setting like a dainty dish she needed to tuck into. It sat there like an unexploded bomb that she was expected to diffuse. She didn’t dare look at him, but she could tell, as he leant forward, his body language shouting eagerly, that he wanted her to open the box. Her hands shook as she lifted them above the table. ‘Aw … you don’t need to be nervous. It’s not the Rockefeller. Just a token really. We don’t need to waste our money on symbols. We know what’s important.’ Of course he was right. Having values. Being loyal. Maintaining integrity. Honesty. Unselfishness. They were the important things. Real love was based on friendship, stability and trust, not giddy emotion. She pushed away the thought of her mother, currently madly in love with husband number three. Her fingers touched the box and she opened it. The ring, an emerald with a diamond chip on either side, was pretty. Really pretty. A lovely engagement ring and only a miserable, ungrateful, shallow cow would have even thought they would have preferred a sapphire. She looked up at Robert. He beamed. ‘Like it? ‘It’s … lovely.’ Even as she blinked back tears, one escaped making a lonely trail down her cheek. ‘So, what do you say? Monday?’ He grinned hopefully, mistaking her tears for something else. Numb, she stared at him. ‘Monday? What, this Monday?’ Frantically she tried to think was she was doing on Monday. ‘Yeah. Twelve-fifteen.’ He pulled the crinkly great-isn’t-it face, as if chivvying along her enthusiasm. ‘But … but I’ve got work.’ ‘Come on, Laurie. They won’t notice if you take an extra half an hour … and if they do, just tell them where you’ve been. That lot will think it’s so romantic … just like one of those Mills & Boons.’ ‘I … I … This is all so …’ She sounded even more clichåd than him. ‘Not really.’ Robert had that let’s be reasonable face on now, ‘We’ve been living together for a while now. It’s the next logical step isn’t it? We’re not getting any younger. We’ve got a house. We’ve no mortgage. We’ve both got steady jobs. Why not?’ She frowned. Actually, her house and her ‘no mortgage’. They’d not been going out that long when Robert moved in pointing out it didn’t make sense paying bills on two separate homes. He’d been such a rock when her dad died so unexpectedly, leaving her so stricken and lonely she was incapable of deciding anything. A nagging headache gnawed her right temple as she stared down at the ring. She didn’t like green, never ever wore it. Her school uniform had been bottle green, enough to put anyone off. This wasn’t what she’d thought getting engaged would be like. Was she crazy? Most girls dreamed of this? A steady, reliable man who didn’t watch endless football, didn’t spend money foolishly, did his share of the cooking and was a dab hand with the washing machine. Even came to Sainsbury’s every Friday with her. Dependable, reliable, trustworthy. Someone who wouldn’t up and leave her behind. So it wasn’t the most romantic of proposals, but they weren’t like that were they? She’d had a few serious boyfriends over the years and Robert was the only one she’d lived with but still she couldn’t quite bring herself to say yes. This didn’t feel right but how could she articulate it without upsetting him? As excuses went it was pretty rubbish. ‘I … I don’t know Robert. It doesn’t feel right. The timing. Maybe because Uncle Miles …’ It was as good an excuse as any. Death in the family. Robert gave her one of his tender smiles reaching for her hand. ‘Poor Laurie. I do understand.’ Had she ever noticed before how his lips looked slightly crooked when he did that? ‘I thought this might help. Losing family, it’s hard but we can start our own family. You and me. Have children. Our own little unit.’ Children! Plural. Was he serious? They’d never even discussed it. Having babies was big and grown up. Even though she’d just turned thirty and the old biological clock should be ticking, you had to be really, really sure before you had children. Before you had one, let alone two. If you split up … she deliberately shut out the memories. She wasn’t prepared to go there. It was a long time ago and she was over it. All grown up now … well nearly. Just not grown up enough for children. Did she even want any? Adults did so many terrible things to children. No, she wasn’t ready and on a purely practical note ? she glanced at Robert ? what if they ended up with his nose? Long and a bit bulbous on the end. Horrified by the unexpected thought, she stared at him. Where had that come from and when had she turned into such a cow? It was time to get a grip and stop being an idiot. She was nothing like her mother. This was just a silly, minor panic-attack. Squeezing his hand, she took the ring out of the box, offering it to him. As he slid it onto her finger, he pulled her hand up to his lips and kissed each finger one by one very gently, his lips whispering across each knuckle. It was a lovely gesture, even the waiter looked misty-eyed. Pushing her shoulders back, she ignored the small leaden lump nestling in her stomach and gave Robert a brilliant smile and asked, ‘Are you going to pour me a glass of champagne then?’ ‘Stop it, that’s ticklish,’ she scrunched her neck up to her ear to try and stop Robert’s kisses. They stumbled through the front door and he pulled her to him. ‘Bed, Mrs Evans-to-be?’ Mrs Evans! That was his mother, domineering, opinionated and disapproving of Laurie. Oh God, she’d be family! His hands made a quick cold foray up under her shirt. ‘Oooh,’ she squeaked, pushing them away before they could hit their target. ‘You’re freezing.’ ‘Let’s go upstairs and warm them up,’ he suggested rubbing his hands together, waggling his eyebrows lasciviously. She fended him off again and pushed herself off the wall towards the kitchen. Everything seemed a bit wobbly. Lovely wobbly from the champagne. And not so lovely wobbly. Something nagged at her. Worry that she’d not done the right thing. The wine was discombobulating her brain, a whole bottle of champagne on a week night wasn’t conducive to straight-thinking, she needed to sink a few glasses of water otherwise her head would be in serious trouble in the morning. Robert had already disappeared halfway up the stairs. Staggering into the kitchen, she yanked open the kitchen cupboard and pulled out a pint glass, filled it to the brim and forced herself to drink the whole lot. The room swam around and the lights bounced off the kettle which seemed to be moving up and down by itself. The evening had disappeared into a big blur, although she could feel the ring encircling her middle finger. Too big for her engagement finger, but Robert had wanted her to wear it. Guilt warred with confusion. Had she really agreed to get married on Monday? It seemed so sudden and so out of character for Robert. The dizziness increased and clutching a second pint of water to her chest she slumped into one of the wooden chairs at the scarred table. The fruit bowl in the middle was empty of fruit as always but there was a white envelope propped in it. Miss L Browne. A proper letter. You didn’t get those very often these days. From the wrinkled back of the re-sealable envelope she guessed with slight irritation, Robert had already opened it. Peeling the letter out of the envelope, she looked at the smart headed paper. Solicitors. Sadness misted over her like a rain cloud bearing drizzle. Uncle Miles. Dear Miss Browne Further to your uncle’s recent death, we would be grateful if you could call Mr R Leversedge to arrange a convenient appointment to discuss the contents of Mr Miles Walford-Cook’s last will and testament. She turned the letter over, as if expecting something on the back of it, like a clue as to why she’d been summoned. A nagging thought hovered at the back of her brain, like smoke curling out of reach. She had no expectation from Uncle Miles. He had all his ex-wives to look after. Besides he was cross with her. Her mouth crumpled and she shut her eyes. Had been cross with her. Was probably still cross with her. Fancifully she glanced upwards. Yes, definitely would still be cross. With a sudden smile, she thought of his irate face, faded gingery eyebrows scrunched up over rheumy eyes that still had the power to intimidate most people. Now she understood why he’d been so blinking stubborn. Regret lanced through her and her breath hitched. If only he’d told her he was dying. Stupid old bugger. With a hurried swipe, she rubbed the tear from her face. And now it all made sense. Not so much his sudden desire that she go visit her mother, which of course had fallen on deaf ears, but his guilty admission. Laurie let out a small mirthless laugh. She thought his guilt completely misplaced but hadn’t been able to reassure him. He’d probably left her some small bequest. It would be nice to have a keepsake from him. But she certainly didn’t expect or deserve anything else. Despite what he thought, it hadn’t been his fault. If anything she owed him; he’d offered a haven every holiday when home was too unbearable before her parents finally called time on their battlefield of a marriage. After that the visits to her uncle and Merryview had stopped. It had been awkward, Dad refusing to see his former best friend, his ex-wife’s brother and Laurie hadn’t liked to leave Dad on his own. Hadn’t she also felt Miles could have done more to stop his sister misbehaving? As she tapped the letter against her hand wondering what it might be, the kitchen spotlights sparkled in the stones on her new ring. And insight as sharp as the refraction of the light, struck home. She looked down at the letter, the envelope and then back at the ring. And then frowned at herself for even thinking it. Chapter 3 (#u7d942f65-874b-5d78-9785-fba932bd752f) She’d thought the solicitors would be more impressive than this. Leather chairs, old wooden desks and book shelves lined with tomes. Instead the desk was birch veneer, she suspected 2009 Ikea, as were the bucket chairs in front of the desk. The bookcase in the corner sagged under the weight of haphazard mottled-grey box files, papers bursting from them, looking like an untidy sentry in the corner. An Olympic logo of coffee rings in varying shades of brown marked the top of the desk which was empty, apart from the phone and an outsize pad of paper. Mr Leversedge blended in perfectly, a shambolic figure with hair standing in tufts and glasses perched on his nose that were slightly skewwhiff. He smiled gently at Laurie inviting her to take a seat. ‘Thank you for coming all this way. Was your journey good? ‘Yes, fine. Easy really. Train to Euston, walk to Kings Cross and train to York.’ ‘I’m glad and I appreciate you coming. I am sorry for your loss.’ For a moment he looked bleak. ‘I’ll miss your uncle, he was one of a kind.’ ‘Did you know him well?’ asked Laurie, partly out of politeness but also slightly puzzled. ‘We both enjoyed a beer and a game of chequers at The Anchor once a month.’ Then it clicked. ‘Ron; you’re Ron.’ ‘That’s right!’ He looked delighted. ‘I remember him slipping off on a Sunday evening saying he was off for a pint, always used to say he needed some “man-time” away from the ladies.’ She smiled at the memory. Much as Miles had loved women, he’d disappear every now and then with a slightly apologetic air, to do ‘man things’. ‘Lovely to meet you, Lauren. He talked about you a lot … especially in recent months.’ ‘Really?’ her face crumpled. ‘I feel so bad that I didn’t see him.’ She swallowed hard and looked down at her lap. ‘I was … should … we’d sort of fallen out. And now it seems so stupid but …’ Ron leant forward and patted her hand. ‘Do you want to know something?’ She lifted her head, finding his understanding tone comforting and met the warm, steady gaze of his faded blue eyes. It was easy to imagine him and her uncle setting the world to rights. Ron had the same slight air of curiosity about the world, eyes alight and dancing. She wondered if they’d shared a tailor; Ron’s eccentric scruffiness bore a marked resemblance to Miles’ slapdash dress sense. ‘He was tickled by your stubbornness. Said it showed character.’ Laurie sighed. ‘Not really. I was refusing to go and see my mother. He wanted me to visit her.’ ‘And he understood exactly why you didn’t want to. Miles was under no illusions about Celeste, your mother. Unfortunately he did feel very responsible.’ Laurie rolled her eyes. They’d had that argument several times over. ‘Well he wasn’t. I know Dad blamed him but I didn’t. My mother obviously had her reasons.’ Ron shook his head. ‘It was still a terrible thing to do. Sorry dear, that’s a view I shared with Miles, and he felt he put the idea into her head.’ Just thinking about the decision her mother had, even all these years on, made her want to double over with the punch of pain she associated with that rejection. ‘My mother came to that conclusion all by herself.’ Laurie hated the bitterness that crept into her voice. She was grown up now, it didn’t matter anymore. Guilt twisted in her gut. Miles had kept his illness to himself and she’d had no idea how bad he was until he was admitted to the hospice. On her visit there, he’d barely been able to talk to her. Now it made sense; he didn’t want her to be totally alone, he wanted her to connect with her last remaining family ? especially with Dad dying only two years ago. She clamped her lips together but it was no use, the lump in her throat overwhelmed her and the tears pooled and slid down her face. Ron pushed a box of tissues towards her. His still watchfulness, gentle smile and the lack of inane platitudes felt soothing. Blowing her nose she finally managed to quash her emotions. ‘Sorry, I … it was so unexpected. I had no idea he was so ill.’ ‘That’s the way he wanted it, I’m afraid.’ He gave a rueful smile. ‘And you know Miles; nearly always got his own way.’ She nodded. Which was exactly why none of his marriages worked out. Despite his incredible generosity and garrulous personality, Miles had the attention span and self-awareness of a toddler. Some might say he was totally self-centred ? but they would be mean and small-minded. He simply did what he wanted, when he wanted. Eventually the wives got fed up with him disappearing on a whim to track down a car he’d got a sniff of, the impromptu parties and the bringing home of waifs and strays from all over the world. ‘However it did allow him to put his affairs in order and I’m pleased to say that he was particularly keen to ensure you were left with something of true meaning. He thought about this very carefully.’ Ron’s eyes twinkled as he pulled out an A4 folder. ‘Very carefully.’ He looked at his watch. ‘We need to get through a fair amount before Mr Matthews arrives.’ ‘Mr Matthews?’ Laurie sat up straighter, a prickling sensation easing down her spine. If Miles wasn’t already dead, Cam would have been tempted to strangle the old bugger. He shook his head and carried on pacing outside the closed door. Something was up. Being summoned was one thing, he expected that, the bankers’ draft was ready and waiting and maybe he’d been a bit premature about taking the keys already but the money was all there, his intentions were good. But being invited to meet Laurie … that was something else? Laurie, who just happened to be female. When Miles had asked him to look out for his sister’s child, Laurie, Cam had assumed it was a boy, not a young woman. Knowing the old man’s predilection for drama, Cam should have thought twice about making any promises. Miles was a bloody liability. And Ron was no better, playing along. He was supposed to be the responsible one. Cam pictured them devising their Machiavellian plans over their chequers games and despite his concern about what they might have cooked up between them, a rueful smile lit his mouth. He would have promised Miles anything. ‘Ah Cam, you’re here.’ Ron appeared from behind the door. ‘Come along in.’ The niece was already there. She looked paler than she had at the funeral, her face set in grim lines. She shot him an unfriendly look. It made him feel a lot better. He had no idea why he was here but he didn’t want to get involved. She clearly didn’t want him to be there either. ‘I’ve asked you both here to relay the terms of Miles’ will. Perhaps you’d both like to take a seat, as the terms are …’ he paused and his eyebrows quirked with suppressed glee, ‘somewhat unorthodox. ‘However, they are legal and Miles went to considerable lengths to ensure that all the terms are enforceable.’ He pulled out a file from his briefcase and slipped on a pair of bifocals. It took a while for Ron to cut to the nitty-gritty and while he went through legalese, Cam spent the time studying Lauren. Her light, brownish hair had been scraped back into a severe ponytail which wouldn’t have done anyone any favours but on her emphasised her pale narrow face and high cheekbones. She had good bone structure, he’d give her that, but she’d not bothered to do much with what she’d been given. He couldn’t tell whether it was her posture or the appalling cut of the same cheap suit as at the funeral that made her look like a navy blue sack of King Edwards. The jacket was square and the sleeves too short, so that her stick-thin wrists stuck out like a scarecrow’s. Then he realised she’d caught him staring and was now scowling at him. Good. ‘And now to the details …’ Both of them turned to face Ron, who took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter, as if preparing to go into battle and held the will a little higher like a protective shield. Cam felt a warning twinge in his gut. ‘To my niece I leave the Ferrari GT250 …’ he didn’t hear the rest. ‘There’s a letter for you.’ Ron pushed a bulky white envelope towards Laurie which she took with a shaky hand. An involuntary indignant hiss whistled out of his mouth. Fuck, shit and bollocks. No. That couldn’t be right. Cold washed through him, an icy tidal wave of horror. He caught a glimpse of startled blue eyes as she shot a look at him. Ron peered over his glasses, a clear rebuke in his expression. Cam responded with a furious stare, mind racing with the ramifications, his teeth gritted as he fought against disbelief. Shit. What the hell? This wasn’t the deal. Miles had agreed the fucking price. ‘If I may continue?’ Cam nodded tightly, his hands clenched on the edge of the seat. He’d dreamed of owning that car since the first day he’d driven with Miles down to Goodwood. ‘On the proviso that she takes it across Europe to Maranello within the next three weeks. Only on successful completion of the journey to a prescribed route, will the car be hers and at that point and that point only can she sell the car.’ Fury burned in Cam’s chest. ‘What?’ Laurie shook her head. ‘I don’t understand.’ Of course she bloody didn’t. Because it didn’t make any fucking sense. Ron smiled gently. ‘Your uncle has left you one of his classic cars.’ Cam snorted loudly. One of … only the cream of the crop. ‘But you have to take it to Italy before it’s yours.’ He looked at his watch, as if emphasizing the time constraint. ‘But … you will need to leave within the next ten days.’ ‘But I … I can’t.’ She looked horrified. Cam rolled his eyes cursing Miles. What the hell had the old bugger been thinking? This girl just didn’t have the guts and she certainly didn’t bloody deserve the car. It wasn’t as if she’d have any interest in it; she hadn’t earned it. Not like him. She caught him and gave him a steely glance before lifting her chin and turning away. ‘What if I don’t want to do it? What am I going to do with a car like that?’ Cam shot her a look. Was she stupid? This was the classic Ferrari, Enzo’s last design. Possibly, no make that definitely, the finest Ferrari ever made. People would kill to own it. ‘Once you’ve completed the trip the car is yours to sell.’ She wrinkled her face. ‘But I don’t want to do the trip. I’ve got a job. Responsibilities. I can’t just up and go.’ ‘Then it’s quite simple my dear. You forfeit the car and it goes to someone else.’ ‘What, him?’ She indicated Cam with her thumb. Suddenly relieved, he relaxed. Tension seeping out of his shoulders. Obviously that was why he was here. An easy transaction and he didn’t even have to pay for it. Ron held the moment, like a ringmaster holding court in a circus, a small smile playing around his mouth. ‘No.’ Cam sat bolt upright. ‘Your mother.’ Lauren’s face hardened. ‘Over my dead body,’ she spat. ‘If that’s the case I’ll drive it to Timbuk-bloody-tu.’ Her eyes narrowed for a second. ‘You don’t need to go that far.’ Ron’s eyes twinkled as if pleased to see her sudden anger. ‘There’s a very clear route with places and people Miles wanted you to visit. He planned it all out, with accommodation along the way. As soon as you agree your departure date, I will make all the necessary arrangements.’ ‘How will you know I’ve done what he wanted?’ Her chin had lifted in mutiny and Cam allowed himself a brief smile which was short lived. She had to succeed and complete the trip in order for him to buy the car from her. Bloody hell. Miles didn’t make it easy. ‘You have to send a postcard from each of the places specified.’ Ron pointed to a map of Europe behind him; a blue highlighter had been used to outline a route from Calais to Italy. ‘Fifteen in total. One from each town, which I’ve marked with a red drawing pin.’ He grinned happily like an overgrown house elf and Cam wanted to weep. House elves came in books you read to your shiny-eyed innocent nephews. Furious, Cam gave a disparaging look towards the map and its meandering route through France and the mountains of Switzerland and Italy. ‘So what the hell am I here for?’ Ron grinned at him. ‘Miles felt Laurie might need a co-driver.’ Might need? Bloody hell! What was that supposed to mean? He was just supposed to accompany Miles’ niece out of the sheer goodness of his heart. In a car that Miles had damn well promised him. Except now he thought about it, what exactly had Miles promised? He recalled the exact words. A guaranteed price for the car once it went on sale. The wily bastard. Ron pushed another one of the white envelopes towards him. ‘You’ll be recompensed, of course.’ ‘I don’t want his money,’ growled Cam. Money was no bloody good. How was that going to help him? Fuck. He almost put his head in his hands. How could Miles do this to him? A leaden lump settled in his stomach at the thought of phoning Nick and the way the conversation would pan out. ‘Hi, Mate. You know that Ferrari I promised as the highlight of our classic car festival. Well I lied; it’s not mine after all. And all that sponsorship money we’ve secured to make the festival happen, is all going to vanish in smoke, leaving you with huge debts because you’ve underwritten everything against a loan on your home. Both of our reputations are going to be down the pan.’ Nick would go ape. Cam closed his eyes; his mother would kill him. What was Miles thinking? The white envelope mocked him. It felt like an insult. Miles knew damned well Cam would honour his promise to look after his niece, even if the conniving old coot had conned him somewhat by deliberately letting him think that Laurie was a small boy. Truth was, he would have done just about anything for Miles. Despite the age difference, friendship had blossomed the day they met over the bonnet of a rather neat little Aston Martin. Cam had been the winner in that skirmish, outbidding Miles by several thousand to acquire the car for one of his clients. Miles had promptly taken the client and Cam out to lunch and done a deal to sell the client an E-type Jag for twice as much. Ron’s eyes narrowed and for a moment Cam saw the steely determination that made the solicitor a worthy representative of Miles. He picked up the envelope and pocketed it with a glare at Ron. The solicitor simply smiled. Chapter 4 (#u7d942f65-874b-5d78-9785-fba932bd752f) Her hands shook so hard the key barely hit the lock. Tears filled her eyes … again. The brass letterbox had done it. Over the years how many postcards often starting with the imperative, Niece, you must see this place, dropped through the door? Miles loved his postcards. Although they wound her dad up, each one made her smile. Even in the last few years when Miles was supposedly slowing down, the postcards had never let up. Random in their frequency, there was never a place too small or insignificant for him to stop and pick one up. She’d had cards from the Empire State Building in New York, the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Great Orme in Llandudno and Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Today Miles’ familiar, impatient scrawl, addressing her in his usual bossy fashion, brought piercing regret. No more postcards. Ever. No more anything. She wouldn’t even argue against the terms of the will. Miles knew her too well. Knew that she wouldn’t deny him his last wish. Frowning hard, she gritted her jaw. Duty. She’d always been good at that. She’d stuck by her dad’s side, despite Miles’ repeated invitations to visit. Dad liked to blame Miles for the break-up of his marriage, not wanting to admit that it was probably inevitable that Celeste would leave him. He never really got over it. For him it had been a grand passion, love at first sight. At least on his part. With ten years apart, he had tried to be the sensible one, holding her at arm’s length, which had made the spoiled, wilful eighteen year old Celeste all the more determined to marry him. Damn. The note. She’d leave it in the plastic bag in the hall along with the envelope that Ron had handed over. It felt too raw to share with anyone. Anyone? She meant Robert. Who else was there? And what would he say? His car was already in the drive. Squaring her shoulders, she went inside. And there he was already, twitching with anticipation. ‘So? Did he leave you anything?’ She nodded. Well that was the truth. He had definitely left her something. ‘What?’ She bit her lip. ‘It’s complicated.’ Robert frowned, ‘How so?’ Shrugging out of her coat, she took her time hanging it up. ‘Let me get us a cup of tea.’ ‘So you got nothing then?’ Robert sounded sulky. She faced him. ‘Like I said, it’s complicated. Come in the kitchen, sit down and I’ll tell you.’ Holding the mug of steaming tea as if it were some kind of talisman, she decided it was best just to spit it out and see where the conversation went. ‘Uncle Miles has left me one of his cars.’ ‘Oh,’ Robert looked crestfallen. ‘Is that all?’ Then he rounded on her, irritation lining his face. ‘But that’s ridiculous? You don’t drive.’ Her fingers strayed to her eyebrow, and she rubbed the bone there back and forth. ‘I know,’ she sighed thinking of the provisional driving licence still tucked in her drawer. Renewed faithfully for the last six years but yet to be upgraded. Booking a proper driving test was still … she couldn’t do it. She would get round to it … one day, when the memories of her dad’s first massive heart attack on the driveway of the test centre faded. ‘So why leave you a bloody car?’ For a moment she stared bemused at him, but then he hadn’t had much to do with Miles and had only been to the house on the day of the funeral. She wanted to smile but worried Robert would take it the wrong way. The whole will was so typical of Miles and if she were totally honest, deep down inside, a tiny almost invisible speck of her was ever so slightly amused and intrigued by the idea of driving a high performance sports car as recognisable as a Ferrari across Europe. Something most people would never expect dull old Laurie Browne to do. His shoulders sagged and his face twisted in disgust. ‘Bummer. Thought you might get something decent … with you being a blood relative … ‘So who gets the house?’ he demanded, a trace of belligerence tinging his voice. ‘That must be worth a fortune … at least 4 mill current market value. Especially with that amount of land.’ What amount of land? Laurie stared at him. ‘Forty acres! Can you imagine? You could flog half of it and still have loads. And it’s all prime development land.’ He laughed bitterly. ‘Don’t tell me, all the ex-wives cleaned him out. Bet he was in debt up to his eyeballs. All flash no cash. I suspected as much. I should have known it was too good to be true when you got the letter. Good job we aren’t planning a fancy wedding.’ Laurie gripped her tea mug wondering if it might shatter if she held it any harder. She felt as fragile as the china under her fingers. Grief warred with anger but all she could summon was utter weariness. No wonder he’d been so understanding when she’d finally explained she wanted more than a quickie ceremony at lunch time at the registry office. ‘Ron didn’t say anything about the house. I’ve no idea what’s happening to that. I don’t know what will happen to it. He just talked about my bequest.’ ‘Bequest. Is that what they’re calling it now? Hardly a bequest, leaving you his old car. Sorry Laurie, love. You’ve been left with a right old lemon. Not even that generous is it; not like he’s using it now. Don’t suppose he left you the money to tax and insure it. So what kind of car? It’s not as if you even drive. I suppose we could flog it, get a bit of money for it.’ Laurie shook her head, a half-smile hovering on her lips at the thought of the ‘old car’. ‘Actually, it’s one of his classic cars.’ Miles had loved that car. ‘I helped him track it down.’ Despite being gadget mad, her uncle wasn’t actually very good at using them and she’d helped him research and find the Benelli family who’d been the last known owners of that particular model. Robert looked even more disappointed. ‘You’re kidding. That’s a white elephant then. You won’t be able to keep it.’ Uncharacteristic temper flashed and Laurie bristled. ‘Why not?’ ‘Don’t be daft. What for?’ He laid a hand over hers as if to soften the words but she found the gesture patronising and overbearing. ‘It’d be a complete money pit for one thing. Will cost a fortune to run. God only knows what it would cost to insure and can you imagine the repair bills? We couldn’t afford to run it. Besides it’s probably worth something, if we sell it.’ Funny how things went so quickly from you to we. ‘Thing is …’ she heard her voice, it sounded cool and brittle, ‘the condition of the will is that I’m not allowed to sell it—’ ‘What?’ Robert slammed down his mug and tea splashed across the table. ‘I bloody hope he’s left you something for the upkeep then. That’s crap. What a bloody cheek.’ His voice tailed off as he stared angrily at her. She returned his gaze, her chin lifting and her eyes narrowing. Controlled fury pounded, shocking her. Losing your temper was something other people did. Other people who let emotion rule without thinking of the consequences or taking responsibility for the fallout. Taking a deep breath, she calmed herself. ‘If you’d let me finish,’ she said slowly, feeling the control slipping back into place, ‘I can explain.’ Folding his arms, Robert leant back in his chair raising one eyebrow. She refused to be cowed by the deliberately patronising stance he’d adopted and waited a moment or two, holding his gaze until he dropped his arms. ‘Sorry,’ he said sulkily. ‘I can sell the car—’ ‘I just thought you said you couldn’t.’ His face reminded her of an unhappy toddler complete with sulky lower lip. ‘Make up your mind.’ ‘I can sell it …’she paused. In Ron’s office she’d wondered how he’d take it, now uncharacte?ristically she no longer cared, ‘once I’ve been to Italy in it first.’ ‘What?’ ‘Miles wanted the car to have one last outing back to its birthplace.’ ‘So the old boy was bonkers then.’ ‘No!’ She sighed. How did you explain Miles to someone like Robert who was as conventional as they came? Sitting in his winged leather chair offering her cigars and port, teaching her to taste wine, change spark plugs and polish chrome. ‘Just a bit sentimental about his cars … and this one was his favourite.’ Robert shook his head and leaned onto the table. ‘And how was he expecting that to happen? We’d have to take a couple of days off work. Use up our holiday allowance.’ Make a change from decorating then, she thought, tracing the track of the wood grain on the table in front of her. ‘You don’t expect me to drop everything to do that do you? You know what it’s like at work at the moment.’ ‘No of course not,’ said Laurie, gnawing at her lip, she knew how difficult things were at the office at the moment. Poor Robert hated his boss, who’d pretty much slept her way to promotion, leap-frogging him, and now took all the credit for the work he did. She leaned forward and touched his hand. She still had to tell him the worst bit. Robert shook his head in disgust. ‘What was your uncle thinking? You can’t even drive to Dunstable let alone across Europe.’ Laurie felt the blush of temper staining her cheeks and fought again to tamp it back. ‘Whatever. It’s still a ridiculous idea. Those old cars drink petrol. It’ll cost an absolute fortune. Cost more in petrol than we’d get selling it. And think of the practicalities. We’d have to pay for hotels, food, the ferry crossing. What if it breaks down?’ Like she hadn’t been thinking that ever since Mr Leversedge had been through the exact conditions that went with her inheritance. It was scaring the crap out of her. The practicalities … Robert shook his head. ‘No, it’s out of the question. It wouldn’t be worth it. I mean, at most, what’s this car going to be worth? A couple of grand.’ She shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea but that’s not the point.’ ‘Well enlighten me, what is the point?’ She was sure he didn’t mean it to sound quite so disparaging when he adopted that low, superior tone. ‘Uncle Miles asked me to do it. He was good to me when I was younger.’ ‘Good to you? That sounds dodgy.’ ‘Robert!’ she said snatching her hand away. ‘Before my parents split up it was hell at home; it was a miracle we had a single plate left in the place. Going to Miles’ house got me away from all that during the school holidays.’ Robert shrugged. He thought her childhood odd but then he’d come from a respectable, normal family with parents who’d celebrated their silver wedding anniversary, two point two children, a dog and a cat. It sounded perfect. And anyone accusing Mr and Mrs Evans of occasionally seeming a little dull were just uncharitable. There was a lot to be said for creating a stable home life for your children. ‘He wants me to take his favourite car on one last journey across Europe to its original home in Italy. He said he didn’t trust anyone else to do it.’ ‘He didn’t trust anyone else?’ Robert shouted with laughter. ‘That’s a joke. What a heap of sentimental crap.’ ‘It’s not …’ Laurie began hotly. ‘Although a couple of thousand in the bank, now that would be nice … we’d have to do some sums,’ his eyes scrunched in thought, ‘but if we drove all day, stayed in cheap motels we could probably make a profit.’ There was that ‘we’ again. ‘There are conditions.’ She interrupted. ‘I don’t just have to … get the car to Italy …’ The wince on her face must have finally communicated to him that not everything was that straightforward. ‘You have to go somewhere else too?’ He’d sobered now. ‘Sounds like a con to me? I might have known it would be too good to be true.’ ‘Nothing like that, it’s just that I have to … take a certain route and complete it within a—’ ‘What do you mean a ‘certain’ route?’ Robert frowned. ‘I have to visit certain places on the way and …’ she had his attention now, she dropped her voice, ‘it’s got to be done within three weeks.’ ‘But that’s impossible!’ He began to pace the tiny kitchen, three strides and then back again. ‘There’s no way I can get that additional time off work.’ He wheeled again, another three paces. ‘Even if I explained to Gavin …. And you said they were looking to make redundancies at the library. You can kiss your job goodbye if you decide to go gallivanting off across Europe.’ Like she hadn’t been thinking that ever since Ron had spelled out the full terms of the complex will. Laurie worried for the lino as he span on his heel and paced the length of the room … and she still hadn’t explained about Cameron Matthews. He wheeled to face her. ‘You’ll have to contest the will. That’s it. He was clearly barking. It’s totally unreasonable to expect us to drive a car across Europe. That’s ridiculous. And frankly quite weird. Controlling from the grave. I don’t like it all. I’m sure no one in their right mind is going to enforce it.’ ‘I’m pretty sure that Miles had it all worked out,’ her voice dropped as she remembered how ill he’d been the last time she’d seen him. ‘In fact …’ she stopped struggling to find the right words, ‘he … organised … er … a mechanic to … go along too.’ ‘And this mechanic would just do it for … what? Love? Fresh air?’ Robert shook his head at her naivety. He had a point. ‘I’m not sure … I think he’s being paid for it. I know it all sounds strange but Uncle Miles had lots of time to think it all through and Ron, Mr Leversedge, the solicitor helped him draft the will. I don’t think it can be contested.’ Robert lapsed into thought, his mouth twisting this way and that as if ruminating every angle. After several minutes, he huffed out a sigh. ‘Hmph, I’m not very happy about it, but you’re probably right. He’s got us over a barrel but for that money it’s worth doing, I guess. You’ll have to do it on your own. At least if you’ve got this mechanic chappie along, if you break down or anything you won’t get ripped off. ‘There’s no point me giving up my job. It’s not like yours brings in much, so if we have to sacrifice that in the short term for the bigger gain, it’s a gamble worth taking … they might always take you back on or you could get an office job somewhere round here.’ ‘But …’ She loved her job and he hated his. What about what she wanted? ‘And you’d be happy me going on my own in a car worth thousands?’ asked Laurie, wanting him to say it was out of the question and he would have to give up his job to come with her. ‘Don’t take that tone. Of course I’m not happy. The pension at the library is a good one. And with the cuts you might have got a payoff. I wonder if there’s any chance they might give you a sabbatical or offer you voluntary redundancy.’ She closed her eyes. The library was the only job she’d ever known; the thought of giving it up made her feel quite panicky. Leaving Leighton Buzzard made her feel sick. Once she was old enough to stop the obligatory trips to France to see her mother, she hadn’t been out of England for the last twelve years. She thought of the envelope Ron had given her. And that wasn’t even the half of the problem. Chapter 5 (#u7d942f65-874b-5d78-9785-fba932bd752f) Cam gritted his teeth and gave the wheel nut another half turn. His shoulder ached like a bitch and he was cooking but he’d keep his T shirt on. He’d kept his promise and sorted Kerry’s car out today. He’d feel easier about her making the trip to Birmingham to see her Mum. Bald tyres were an accident waiting to happen. And it was him that pointed it out to her. Damn fool thing to do, as he then ended up offering to buy the new tyre and fit it for her. Last thing he needed was to encourage her. That should do it. Rolling his aching shoulder he hauled himself to his feet and wiped his grimy hands down his jeans. Despite breaking his shoulder over five years ago, it still hurt like a bitch every now and then. From inside the house that butted up next to his, he could hear Josh, Kerry’s three-year-old revving up with an unhappy, I need food and sleep cry. No wonder she looked so tired all the time. It had to be hard work raising Josh alone. But there was a difference between being neighbourly and playing Daddy, and despite the signals she’d been sending his way, he had no intention of signing up for that gig. Thank God for Josh’s return from playgroup; the cleavage on display was most definitely for his benefit. He liked Kerry well enough, but a guy like him wasn’t the answer. He wasn’t the settling down type … well not anymore. He’d tried it once and look what a disaster that had been. He’d made himself and Sylvie, his ex-wife, miserable. Kerry needed someone who would stick around. He shoved the spanner into the tool box and gently pumped the jack to bring the aging Nissan back to earth. At least he could help her out with a spot of mechanical engineering from time to time. And didn’t that just sound like one heck of a euphemism? And it wasn’t lack of sex that made him feel irritable and scratchy, although it had been a while. Maybe scratching that itch might help. There were any number of women he could hook up with, a lot more sophisticated and less needy than young Kerry. Maybe he should make a few calls, anything to put off the one call he was going to have to make. Damn Miles. What the hell had he been playing at? Cam gave a rueful grimace, tempted to pull out the white envelope which was still folded in four and rammed it in the back pocket of his jeans. The contents had offered some relief but he wasn’t home and dry by a long shot. He’d debated all week whether to phone Nick and forewarn him that the deal might not be a definite but he was loath to do that just yet. Miles had tied things up neatly. Cam had to ensure that Laurie completed the journey across Europe to the Ferrari factory in Maranello. If he did that, he got first dibs on buying the car at the price they’d agreed. All well and good as long as she made it all the way to Maranello. Piece of cake … provided she sold. Although that was pretty much a foregone conclusion but he needed to make damn sure. Closing the tool box, he gave the new tyre a quick kick. He hoped Kerry would gracefully accept the tyre and not want to pay him. A slow grin crossed his face. And that was what he needed to do with Laurie. Make her overcome with gratitude and totally reliant on him to get her across Europe. So much so, that she would see how impractical it was to even consider keeping a car that kept breaking down, needed so much maintenance, was cold and draughty, and horribly expensive. There’d be no harm in charming her along the way, just to make sure she couldn’t say no to him at the end of the trip. The relationship with the boyfriend looked a pretty joyless affair. He was a bit of a knob ? some male attention would probably be quite welcome. Cam was sure that despite the shaky meeting at the solicitors, he could turn things around ? after all they’d had that shared moment of empathy in the church. She obviously had a bit of a sense of humour. So maybe his intentions were less than honourable but what had Miles intended the outcome to be, if not for Cam to have the car in the end? Tucking the jack away in the boot, he slammed down the door and pressed the automatic lock. On cue at the sound of the beep, Kerry appeared in the doorway, a tear-stained Josh at her hip. ‘You’ve finished,’ she beamed at him. ‘Can I feed you as a thank you? I’ve got a lasagne on the go and there’s plenty there.’ The right thing would have been to say no but a suitable excuse evaded him. Besides, this might be a good opportunity to talk to her and make it clear that he wasn’t in the market for any sort of relationship. Or he could show her what a real bastard he was and decline. Looking at her hopeful expression, he opened his arms to the boy. ‘Hand him over and I’ll keep him occupied while you do what you need to.’ He might be a bastard but he wasn’t cruel with it and the poor kid looked like she could do with a second pair of hands. There were still a couple of hours before his appointment to meet Miles’ niece. With a grateful smile, she complied and led the way into the house. Josh shoved a sticky hand into Cam’s hair, as he took him. ‘Come on fella, let’s give your ma a break.’ He went into the lounge to find the big box of toy cars. Within minutes he had the little boy in fits of giggles as he showed him how to race the cars, taking them on two wheels, running them up his arms, crashing them, complete with sound effects. Hell, life was so much easier at this level. Could Miles have made his will more damn convoluted? Cagey devil. ‘Lunch’s ready. Sorry I haven’t got any beer or anything.’ Kerry shrugged apologetically. For a moment he thought about nipping next door to grab one from his own fridge. A cold lager would slip down a treat, but then it might change the tone of the meal. ‘I can’t stay too long. I’ve got an appointment and then I’m going to be going away for a couple of weeks, so I need to start sorting things out.’ ‘Is it a job?’ ‘Yeah, sort of.’ Cam pulled a face. ‘Doesn’t sound like you’re too keen?’ Frankly, he’d rather get married again. ‘It’s one of those jobs where there’s no pay off until you get to the end of the trip. Kind of puts all sorts of obligations on you. I prefer jobs where I agree the fee up front, do the job, get paid and everyone’s happy.’ ‘Can’t you say no? I mean …’ She coloured up. ‘Well, you’re organising this big festival, I heard you’d got all the sponsorship in place. Do you need the money?’ He grinned, unembarrassed. ‘No secrets living in this village.’ Except she didn’t know that all the sponsorship was based on the Ferrari being the centre piece of the show. That it was the car that would elevate the event into a serious contender and attract the enthusiasts. If only he hadn’t got his brother involved. If he lost everything there was only him. He could make ends meet. If Nick lost his home … it would be all his fault. The call of racing had long ceased for him but he had an affinity with cars. Eric liked to say that Cam could make engines sing and while he wasn’t sure about the romantic sentiment, he knew he was damn good with a rock solid rep which counted. Money was money. He only lived in the poky one up, one down because he hadn’t done anything about finding a proper place to live since the divorce. ‘So,’ she persisted, taking a moment to redirect Josh’s spoon of mashed potato which was being waved in the air. ‘Why don’t you say no?’ Because he couldn’t. He needed that car and he’d made a promise to Miles. He said he’d look after Laurie. End of story. The house looked exactly the same as it had on the day of the funeral. For some reason he’d expected it to look faded and dusty, as if it had been mothballed. He lifted the heavy knocker and to his surprise Eric opened the door. ‘Ah Cam, good to see you.’ Eric ushered him in, just like old times, and the smell of roasting chicken drifted up the hall. Cam shook the older man’s hand. ‘Still here? I thought you’d been pensioned off with the cottage.’ ‘So did we, so did we. Turns out Miles had other ideas. Will asked us to stay on and run the big house for a couple of months. Cottage is ours to do with what we like but he wanted the house kept up.’ And it had been. Norah’s diligence meant it looked exactly as if Miles might stroll in any second. Cam shook his head in wonderment. Typical Miles, no doubt leaving the place ticking over just in case anyone called by not realising he’d passed on. The house had always been open to all. You never knew who’d be visiting. Miles had an eclectic set of friends and acquaintances including wine merchants, wine growers, sommeliers from renowned restaurants, the racing set. Even his extended family of ex-wives and their new husbands, offspring and other relatives were equally welcome. ‘Norah has set tea up in the drawing room. Miss Laurie should be here soon. Taking her for a test drive, Ron says. And you’re going to go with her across Europe. You take care of her.’ Cam wasn’t sure whether Eric referred to the car or Laurie. ‘I’ve got the keys for the garage block for you; you know the codes.’ Eric handed over the slim set of keys. ‘You know where all the keys are kept in the cupboard. Which car are you taking out?’ Cam felt the car keys weighing heavily in his pocket. So much for presumption. That night he’d been so sure the Ferrari was his. He clenched the garage keys in his hand for a moment. Some people would kill for these. What was going to happen to the rest of the car collection? The Ferrari had been accounted for, but what about the others? Nothing had been said about them or the house. He’d always thought that despite Miles’ oft-aired view that cars had been designed to be driven, he might one day turn the place into a museum like Beaulieu. Christ, if he was happy to put the best car of the lot into the hands of a complete amateur, he hadn’t changed his philosophy much. Hopefully she wouldn’t wreck the engine. At least if he agreed to going along he could teach her to drive the damn thing properly … or, a slow smile slid across his face. Of course he could put her off driving it for good today. Frighten her a little. That would save the engine and ensure she sold the car. Miles’ will and its conditions had been prescriptive to say the least but as far as he could see, and he’d read it carefully to check, there was nothing in it that said specifically she had to drive the car. Maybe it was the legal jargon but the phrase relating to the car said Laurie had to take the car across Europe. All he had to do was show her what a difficult car it was to drive. And how much damage you could do if you didn’t do it right. It wasn’t as if it was all that underhand ? after all, if he wanted to be a real bastard, he could play any number of dirty tricks. Get lost along the route … miss out a place or two. Ensure she missed a couple of postcards. Make the journey twice as long as it needed to be. Get her to give up en-route. He couldn’t do that. He’d made a promise to Miles but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make Laurie face up to the huge impracticalities of owning and driving a high performance sports car. He suspected that she would be surprised by just how fast it could go. She’d probably never been in anything with an engine bigger than one point four litres. He smiled again. Today he’d take her out in the Ferrari, scare the shit out of her … and then, his mouth twisted wryly, he’d do the right thing. Sometimes he just hated that nagging conscience. He’d offer to drive it across Italy for her and show her along the way the realities and difficulties involved with owning and driving a classic car. She had to sell the car to him. There was no alternative. Pleased with his plan, he swung down the corridor, keen to reach the stable block and reacquaint himself with the Ferrari. Even if she hadn’t known where to go, the signature growl of the engine would have guided her. Like the roar of a dragon about to strike, the noise vibrated around the courtyard. Her skin reacted, goose bumps erupting, and she stood upright, the air reverberating around her. The sound brought back memories with a punch so hard it almost felled her. Tears pricked her eyes. Cam was reversing the silver Ferrari out into the courtyard. He scowled at her through the open window. ‘You’re early.’ She shrugged. She’d had second, third and fourth thoughts about coming at all. When she’d phoned Ron to accept the terms of the will, he’d immediately suggested she travel up to York and meet up with Cam to sort things out. A test drive had not been on her agenda. Although, she told herself sternly, what had she imagined? She could just rock up at the garage at Merryview, get the keys and set off down to the Channel Tunnel? Even though it made perfect sense, it still pissed her off that Cam had taken the initiative. ‘Are you coming or not?’ ‘Not,’ she scowled back. He ignored her, leaned over and opened the passenger door. Through the open door, she could see the red leather seat, the dash. Cam looked at her, challenge in his eyes. If she stayed put she’d just look stupid. The engine roared, as if impatient at being kept waiting and the sound howled around the courtyard, bouncing over the diamond pane windows and the honey brick walls. The car, a streak of silver, shimmered before her as her eyes blurred. Belatedly remembering a promise to Robert, she took her phone from her bag and took a quick picture. She stepped forward to get into the passenger seat which was on the right hand side. Of course the car was a left hand drive. It hadn’t occurred to her that it would be. Awkwardly she lowered herself into the car, one leg having to stretch right over into the footwell to get down into the low slung seat. Folding your legs in at the right angle took some doing. Like a dying swan she sank into the seat dragging the other leg behind her. There was no way of doing it elegantly. Not that it was anything she’d ever aspired to. No doubt Mother could get in and out of a car like this with perfect grace. ‘Nicely done,’ chuckled Cam. ‘Don’t worry, it just takes practice.’ She shot him a dark look. ‘I’ve been busy acquiring other skills.’ He raised one eyebrow. She blushed furiously and looked down at her phone. ‘So exactly which Ferrari is this? I’ve forgotten.’ Cam raised a cynical disbelieving eyebrow. She didn’t care what he thought. She had known once. ‘The GT250 California Spyder, probably Enzo’s finest design.’ At the reverence in his tone, she looked up from the text she was sending Robert. Uncle Miles had been like that about his cars. She pinged off the text to Robert, glad that she was now able to tell him the model of the car that she’d sort of inherited. It made it sound a little less pie in the sky and more real. ‘Seatbelt on?’ asked Cam. She nodded and was surprised when he leant over to give a tug to double check. Did he not trust her to manage that much? When he released the clutch, the car shot forward and she could feel the barely contained acceleration which matched the pace of her racing heart. She took in the interior. Basic and dated, it looked very little like the modern interiors of cars she was used to. It was noisy and she could feel the hum of the engine under her feet and the gentle vibrato of its song radiating through the body of the car. The well-worn leather of the seat seemed too smooth beneath her bottom and she kept slipping down and banging her knees on the dash. There seemed to be more to the outside of the car than the inside, with very little room to stretch. Although the noisy rumble of the engine didn’t preclude conversation, it certainly didn’t encourage it, and she kept silent as they drove down the drive and out onto a country lane. Being so low enhanced the feeling of speed as the hedgerows sped past in a blur of brown and green, but even so, she was surprised by how fast Cam was going. He obviously knew the roads well. Deciding she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of asking where they were going, she stared down at her knees, trying to ignore her speeding pulse. After a minute her stomach protested, nausea roiling and she had to give in and look out of the window. They were going faster now and she was having trouble keeping her balance in the seat as they roared around bends and twisted along the country road. A tractor loomed ahead of them, trundling along at snail speed. Gripping her seat, she tensed and held her breath. Cam shot her a disdainful look, dropped back a gear and zoomed around it in a move that threw her back into the seat with the force of a rocket blasting off. She let out a startled squeak as the car pulled in front of the tractor but refused to give Cam the satisfaction of voicing her fear. Instead she turned her head and looked out of the passenger window. Anyone would have been unnerved. There was no need for him to look at her as if she was some dumb hick who’d never sat in a Ferrari before. Gritting her teeth she tried to hold back the stirring of temper. No matter how hard she tensed her jaw she could feel it simmering in her veins. The car’s engine slowed and she heard the thrum as Cam changed down through the gears. She’d been so busy concentrating on keeping her emotion in check, she’d not noticed where they were. Now she looked up, she recognised it immediately. The car faced a long straight track of tarmac, stretching out into the distance. ‘Your turn.’ Cam turned his head and gave her a smile which didn’t get anywhere near his eyes. It reminded her of a shark measuring up its prey. ‘Don’t worry, this is a private track. The perfect place for you to learn how to drive this beauty. It’s extremely difficult and you will find it very different to driving anything else. It needs a very light touch in some ways but firm handling in others.’ He gave her a stern look. ‘You need to be confident. Best to start here where there’s nothing to hit.’ His perfunctory smile and patronising driving instructor tone pricked her. ‘We can start slow here, have a couple of lessons and get you used to it. It’s not the sort of car for a novice I’m afraid … but let’s see how you get on.’ With a smooth grace that belied those long jean-clad legs he uncoiled himself from the driver’s seat, leaving the engine idling. Laurie scowled. He bloody would. Scrambling out of her own seat and slamming the door, she went round the back of the car to where he stood holding the driver’s door for her. He took her elbow to guide her in, calloused palms grazed her skin as his larger hand cradled her arm making her conscious of how tall and broad he was. The gesture, old fashioned and courteous, gave her a sudden pang. For all his brusqueness, he was a gentleman. Not something she was used to at all. Mutinously she glared at him, even more cross that he’d managed to make her feel like a gauche teenager. As soon as she sat down, she arranged her seat to suit her, checked the mirror on the dashboard and ignoring him, looked down the track. One mile. A smooth circuit. Privately owned, once an airfield but abandoned long ago in favour of a newer, shinier one closer to the town. Rubber burns scarred the surface, veering off left and right, the harsh punctuation marks of cars put through their paces. Her nose twitched as if she could still smell burning rubber and the memory of the pistol shot of a blown tyre hit her along with a punch of adrenaline. The wash of unexpected and lost memories surfacing so suddenly left her dazed. Stuff Cameron bloody patronising Matthews. She pulled the car door closed and before he could get to the passenger side, she depressed the tiny clutch, and pushed the gear stick into first, forgetting how different the gearbox felt to modern cars. It distracted her for a moment and then her muscle memory rescued her and anticipating the kick, she flicked her foot off the clutch and pressed the accelerator. The car leapt forward and the acceleration fired up through her. In the mirror she caught sight of Cam’s surprised face. She allowed a brief smile to cross her face and focused on driving. She knew that all her attention would be needed, like hanging onto a bucking bronco. The steering wheel seemed huge, its span larger than anything she’d driven … for a while. Now she was in the driving seat she knew exactly where the speedometer was. It was just like riding a bike, well nearly. The speedo in front of her, the revs. Oil, water and fuel gauges lined along to right on the minimalist dashboard. She knew what she was doing. OK, not quite. It had been a long time, but the memory of things she didn’t know she’d forgotten rose up like flotsam on the surface. It all came back to her. Her skills were definitely ropey. Hanging onto the steering wheel, she focused, trying to remember all the things that Miles had told her, sitting exactly where Cam had been sitting. ‘Steer into the corners. Keep your speed up. Don’t brake.’ She could hear his voice, the commands clear and bright in her head. Riding the adrenaline driving through her system, she hit the clutch, rammed the car into second, and braced herself for the leap forward as the car speeded up and then in no time the transition into third. It wasn’t smooth, it was spiky, inelegant and not worthy of the car but the heady response of the accelerator beguiled her. Reckless, she accelerated, unable to resist the siren call of speed, pulsing in time with her heartbeat. Under her foot, she could feel the power trembling ready to answer her call; she depressed the pedal watching the speedometer needle leap forward. Outside the track shimmered and blurred as she concentrated on steering a straight course. Even this felt familiar; although she hadn’t been on the track for ten years, she knew it like the lines on her hand. With a wry smile she gave into the devil rising in her blood. Served Cam right for being so patronising. Feeling the car buck as she hit seventy, she pushed on still to reach eighty. ‘Oh for fuck’s sake,’ said Cam as she pulled away without him. Shaking his head, he folded his arms and waited for her to bunny hop to a halt the first time she tried to change gear. If you weren’t used to driving vintage cars they were very different to modern ones. She’d find the clutch very tricky. He steeled himself to hear the whine of the engine when she messed it up but surprisingly she wasn’t doing too badly. The car picked up speed. She’d probably got up into third. Not bad. Better than he would have expected and she was holding it steady, going all of thirty. She had no idea what the car was capable of but that was OK, he’d soon show her. In hindsight he should have done a couple of circuits before handing over to her. Now she’d tootle round the track in third and come back all pleased with herself. Damn he’d missed an opportunity to show her the car needed healthy respect. Then his ears pricked up as the engine note changed and he heard the growl as the revs increased. Bloody hell. ‘Slow down. Slow down.’ He took a sharp breath. Shit, she was speeding up. Christ, right at the wrong time. Half way down the straight. And still accelerating. She couldn’t take the bend at that speed. He started forward unable to take his eyes off the car, a macabre compulsion, knowing that any moment she’d hit the bend, lose control of the car and come flying off and then plough straight into the wall there. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Breathing heavily he willed her to slow down. For God’s sake, please. Miles would never forgive him if he killed his niece on her first outing. But even as he prayed, he heard the whine of the engine. Sweet Jesus. Thank you. The car flew into the bend but held the road. She must have dropped down to third. Sheer luck rather than judgement. Thank God. She’d probably scared the shit out of herself. Wait til he got hold of her; he’d bloody kill her. What the hell did she think she was playing at? Did she have any idea how bloody rare this car was? What the … he stared as she began to speed up again out of the bend. This time the acceleration was even faster and she came roaring down the straight. With mounting fury, he watched as she came up to the new bend and this time took it even faster than the last. Stepping out onto the track, he waved to her to stop. When she was three hundred metres away, he realised she had no intention of stopping and he shot back. The car zipped past leaving him doused in a trail of exhaust fumes. He stared down the track after her, his mouth firming into a line. Where the hell had she learned to drive like that? Here of course. Miles had owned this track for years. He shook his head at his own stupidity. She’d probably learned to drive on this track. While some more practice was certainly needed, he could see that she’d been well taught. Duh! Of course she’d been taught well, she was Miles’ niece but why the hell hadn’t the old bugger said anything? With a mirthless laugh, he shoved his hands in his pocket. She might have said something, although he’d been so wrapped up in his own preconceptions, he’d not exactly given her a chance. You had to give it to her, she had balls. Not that he wouldn’t be reading the riot act. Taking risks like that in a strange car. An inexperienced driver. Anything could have happened. She didn’t know the car. It was stupid. Crazy. Dangerous. Gave a massive adrenaline rush like no other …and he should know. He also knew how easy it was to miscalculate and how frail the human body was in a high speed crash. Stupid, stupid, stupid. This time as the little car came back into view, he stepped out into the track making it clear he expected her to stop. Chapter 6 (#u7d942f65-874b-5d78-9785-fba932bd752f) As she brought the car to a stop, she could see Cam was in a towering fury. Suddenly her bravado evaporated, the adrenaline surging through her veins catapulted to an abrupt stop and she gulped. He yanked open the car door and hauled her out to face him, his eyes blazing. Standing on shaky legs, all she could manage was to stare up at him, completely mute. Her heart still pounded and the last vestiges of euphoria sizzled in her nerve endings. That had been something else. ‘What the fuck do you think you were playing at?’ He ground the words out as if through gritted teeth. Reality crashed in and the enormity of what she’d just done hit her. ‘I knew what I was doing,’ she muttered. Oh God, she sounded just like a sulky teenager. Cam annoyingly quirked one eyebrow as if to say, ‘Who are you kidding?’ He shook his head. When that first bend came up a lot quicker than she remembered, she thought her heart might just burst out of her chest. Fighting to get the car into third had taken all her wits and strength but she wasn’t going to admit it to Cam. The look on his face the first time she’d passed him had been worth it. Sheer surprise. Served him right. Just because she didn’t mix with the jet set, didn’t mean she was some numpty dullard beneath his notice. The second lap of the track had been pure heaven though and she couldn’t regret it. She’d braced herself for him to shout but he seemed to have got himself under control. ‘Well, you might think you know what you’re doing,’ his stern expression made it clear, he didn’t think so, ‘but you can’t drive like that on public roads. There are a lot of other things to think about instead of showing off. And don’t forget it’s a left hand drive.’ Damn. He was right. She was going to have to back-track like mad. It was perfectly legal to drive with a provisional licence on a private road but not on a public road. She’d let herself get carried away. The magic of the car. See, that’s what happened when you let yourself be ruled by emotion. She didn’t want to risk driving. She’d been planning to play the girly-I-can’t-drive-a-car-like-that card. ‘Sorry, you’re right. It was irresponsible.’ She tried to strike a humble note even though she wanted to stick out her tongue at him. ‘I hadn’t thought. It would be very different with other cars around.’ ‘Yes, if you hit something else that would be very bad news.’ Cam looked very serious. ‘Cars like this aren’t built like modern cars; even a minor bump can cause a huge amount of damage. And if you’re not used to left hand drive, it’s difficult to orientate yourself.’ Her face fell. She hadn’t thought of that either. Of course the car would probably crumple like a tin can. No, no driving for her. It wasn’t like you could get spare parts for a car like this. All the better reason for him to drive. ‘Cam …?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Perhaps it would be better if you did most of the driving and I just did little bits on the quiet bits. I mean it doesn’t say anything, as far as I can see … I’ll check with Ron … but there’s nothing to say I have to drive, is there?’ An odd expression crossed Cam’s face. Almost like relief ? or was that triumph? ‘Sounds good to me. These high performance cars do take quite a bit of getting used to, and trying to drive on the other side of the road and coping with French drivers, not to mention the Italians, will make it even harder. I think that’s a good call.’ He sounded impossibly pompous and she gave him a curious look. It was not at all like the devil-may-care attitude she’d glimpsed before. He was right though. Disappointment flared, once she’d got used to the feel of the clutch and the accelerator, the responsiveness of the car had dazzled her, that burst of speed, the handling. But it was for the best, she couldn’t possibly take her test before they had to leave and there was no way she’d admit to Mr Super-sophisticated that she didn’t have a full driving-licence. She gave the low slung bonnet a longing look. Shame, driving it had been something else. Robert appeared in the hallway as soon as she opened the front door. ‘How was it? How did you get on?’ Laurie grinned, pleased to see his enthusiasm. She’d half expected him to be a bit sulky. ‘It was great. I surprised myself. It’s a difficult car to drive …’ ‘You drove it! I thought he was driving—’ ‘Don’t worry,’ she put a hand out to placate him, ‘it was on private land. Uncle Miles owns a disused track. I drove it there.’ ‘Well I don’t see why you bothered. It’s not as if you can drive it anyway.’ ‘That’s the thing; I’d forgotten I …’ There probably wasn’t any point explaining to Robert that her uncle had taught her to drive at the age of thirteen and that until she was fifteen she’d been a regular at the track. She knew he would be horrified. ‘Anyway Cam’s agreed to do the driving.’ ‘What all the way to Italy?’ Robert looked sceptical She nodded. His mouth turned down. ‘That’s great then, isn’t it?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well he’s hardly doing it out of the goodness of his heart is he? So your uncle must have paid him. How much I wonder?’ Then he brightened. ‘I suppose it will be worth it when you get to Italy.’ ‘Yes.’ She stepped past him into the kitchen. No sign of food on the go yet. ‘That’s brilliant.’ Robert scooped her up in his arms and swung her around. ‘You’re amazing, you know that.’ He kissed her soundly and then deepened the kiss, his tongue diving into her mouth. His sudden enthusiasm and the unexpected amorous lunge of his hand down her shirt and into her bra confused her. To put it bluntly he’d always been a lights off, in bed only type of guy and much as she might have occasionally wished for a bit more spontaneity, this didn’t feel right. With his other arm he pulled her against him. ‘Oh Laurie, I love you so much,’ he moaned, nuzzling her neck. ‘I’m going to miss you so much.’ ‘Robert,’ she tried to push him away but he was kissing her mouth again and pushing his groin against her with such insistence that she suddenly found herself with her back against the draining board. ‘I love you …’ he kissed her full on the lips again, eyes focused and bright. ‘Let’s get married. I know the registry office idea threw you … but with you going away … let’s just do it. Life’s too short. I hate the idea of you being so far away from me. I need to know you’ll come back to me. Mrs Evans.’ He held her face in his hand, his fingers biting just a bit too hard into her jaw. The intensity of his gaze, full beam, stirred anxiety rather than joy. This should have been romantic, incredibly romantic … it wasn’t. ‘What’s wrong, Robert?’ ‘Nothing. It’s just you not wanting to get married knocked me. I couldn’t bear to lose you.’ ‘Don’t be silly.’ She smiled to take the sting out of the words but he was being completely ridiculous. In their time together he’d never had a particularly romantic bent. They just weren’t that sort of couple. Why now? And why was he spouting about ‘losing’ her? It was ridiculously melodramatic. ‘If you really want all the bells and whistles, we can do that when you get back. Renewal of vows. The important bit is us, you and me, promising to each other. A declaration, private, just the two of us.’ Robert’s earnest gaze bored into her. She felt saliva collecting in her mouth, her jaw tense, aching. She closed her eyes trying to distance herself from him. The last thing, she wanted to do was hurt his feelings. What a contrary bitch she was. After such an impassioned, desperate declaration. And that was the clincher. Desperate. The word rang in her head. Desperate. Why was he suddenly so desperate? In eighteen months, he’d never shown any interest in getting married. She’d broached the subject six months ago, and despite the possible tax breaks, he’d been quite sure there wasn’t much point. ‘Honestly Robert, don’t be so daft.’ She pushed past him and opened the fridge. ‘Fancy an omelette for tea?’ Not waiting for his answer, she carried on, ‘Besides, it’s only a couple of weeks.’ She shook her head refusing to give into irritation. He’d got some bee in his bonnet but she wasn’t going to let it cause an argument. She didn’t do arguments or confrontation. ‘Laurie, darling … don’t you want to marry me?’ He was pouting, looking ludicrous and she had no idea what to do. The easiest thing would have been to say, don’t be silly … of course I do, but she couldn’t bring herself to say the words instead she said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ ‘Well why won’t you then?’ ‘Why won’t I what?’ She stalled, taking a pack of eggs from the fridge. ‘Marry me.’ Robert looked entreatingly at her and guilt curdled in the bottom of her stomach. Why the hell didn’t she just say yes? For an easy life? But she couldn’t bring herself to. ‘But Robert, six months ago, you didn’t want to.’ ‘I never said that.’ His mouth snapped shut in a mutinous line. ‘Yes you did. We talked about it.’ ‘No we didn’t.’ ‘We did. You said the only point was possible tax breaks.’ ‘So you don’t want to marry me.’ ‘I didn’t say that.’ Tamping down her exasperation, she cracked the eggs smartly on the edge of a Pyrex bowl, pushing the empty shells to one side. ‘Well you don’t exactly seem to be champing at the bit.’ With a sudden movement, he smashed his fist into one of the half shells crushing it. Realising she needed to tread carefully, she decided to change tack. ‘It’s not that … it’s just the timing.’ ‘What’s wrong with the timing? I’d have thought with another death in the family, you’d want the security of another income. If I wasn’t around you’d be completely on your own.’ Laurie closed her eyes, a feeling of unbearable sadness descending from nowhere. Everything he said had a horrible logic about it. Was that all it was about? Not being on her own? They made a good solid couple. Sensible. And today she’d tasted something else. Not sensible. For a moment she’d glimpsed a different world, experienced a surge of exhilaration and felt a moment of soaring freedom. Chapter 7 (#u7d942f65-874b-5d78-9785-fba932bd752f) She didn’t need the ring of the doorbell to tell her that Cam had arrived. The low grumble outside announced that it was time to leave. For some reason his punctuality surprised her. Robert lived his life to the second, a slave to perfect timing. She’d assumed Cam would be either very early or very late. With a last glance around the kitchen, she picked up her bag and hurried for the door. Her fingers toyed with her engagement ring. It would be mean and petty to dump it on the hall table. Reducing herself to Robert’s level. It didn’t feel right leaving without saying a proper goodbye but he’d left her no choice. Leaving her ring would have made a symbolic statement which would hurt him. A bit of distance now was probably exactly what they needed. The row about not getting married was utterly stupid and for him to carry it on and refuse to talk to her was even more stupid. Crossing quickly to the front door, she yanked it open. She didn’t want Cam wondering if she’d chickened out or to see the indecision lurking on her face. She had to go, for Miles and … Robert had to understand. She crossed her fingers, hoping she was doing the right thing. Forty-eight hours had lapsed since Robert issued his final ultimatum and he hadn’t uttered a word to her. She hated going away without settling things between them but when he’d gone ahead and booked an appointment at the registry office, despite everything she’d said, it had made her dig her heels in. She felt bruised and exhausted. Having spent the last two nights on her own in the double bed in the master bedroom, with Robert in the spare room and pointedly refusing speak to her as they played dozy doe around the kitchen, it was a huge relief to get out of the house and away. As soon as she opened the door, the car’s low level rumble buzzed through her making her legs turn to jelly as the enormity of the adventure hit her. For a moment she wanted nothing more than to turn back into the dark hallway of home, beg Robert’s forgiveness, call the head librarian and say she was cancelling her very short-notice holiday and didn’t want to be considered for voluntary redundancy after all. Then the dragon’s roar of the engine pulled at her, as enticing as a siren call and as she stepped into the summer sunshine, excitement shimmered with the promise of something wonderful. In the tiny garden, dancing delphiniums, phlox and lupins nodded their heads in unison, urging her on as if all the elements had conspired to send her off. Cam met her half-way down the path. ‘Morning. Let me take that for you.’ He looked beyond her expectantly at the door. Is this everything?’ he asked, an odd look crossing his face. If she’d had to guess she’d have said it was disappointment. She nodded feeling disconcerted. Didn’t men prefer to travel light? In response he snatched up her bag and then with a sigh he touched her elbow as if to guide her toward the car which waited at the gate, the silver bodywork gleaming in the sunlight. ‘I’ll take these as well.’ He took her jacket and an ancient beige cardigan she’d grabbed at the last minute. She gave a reluctant smile. Despite his odd demeanour, he had good manners and being looked after felt rather nice. Bugger, just his luck, the first female of his acquaintance who didn’t need an entire wardrobe at their disposal. He’d deliberately avoided talking to her about luggage. A hard shell case was hopeless, you needed something that would squash into the tiny luggage areas. Whether by luck or by judgement, she’d got it right. No, judgement, she was one of life’s sensible girls and about as low maintenance as they came … and he was an expert. Sylvie had never travelled light; she couldn’t leave the house without packing half the contents of the bathroom cabinet in her handbag. The size of Laurie’s bag wouldn’t have contained Sylvie’s accessories let alone a week’s worth of clothes. It messed plan A up though. She was supposed to have a great big suitcase full of clothes which he would have made her unpack and repack into a much smaller bag right there on the doorstep, accompanied with constant reminders that they had to get on the road otherwise they’d miss their train. The idea was that with his interference, she’d make decisions in such haste that she’d end up with all the wrong sorts of clothes for the trip. At least he’d snaffled her cardigan and coat, he thought with a wry grin, as they went with her bag into the boot. She might live to regret handing them over quite so easily. ‘Good bag choice,’ he lied, flashing a smile, hoping it might loosen her up. This was going to be a long journey and it was going to be damn uncomfortable for the first leg. He ignored the twinge of guilt as he looked at her short-sleeved T shirt. Crossing his fingers behind his back, he hoped she was one of life’s stoics otherwise he was in for a lot of earache. He didn’t have her down as a sulker. In fact he didn’t have her down for anything. She seemed incredibly self-contained, distant and buttoned-up. Nothing emotion-wise leaked from her face. Even her mouth measured out in a straight line of neutrality, neither disapproving nor approving. The rare view of the carefree girl on the race track had vanished again as if he’d imagined it. She inclined her head but still didn’t say much. He sighed loud enough to make the point. Her handbag suddenly seemed to command all her attention, and he watched as she touched her passport, and smoothed a bunch of papers. ‘You happy for me to drive the first leg. Get us to the tunnel?’ She nodded and he wondered at the flash of relief crossing her face. She didn’t need to worry; her driving rated well above competent. Hell, she knew how to handle a car. Amusement flooded anew through him. Who’d have thought it, although she’d scared the shit out of him at the time? ‘Not got any more surprises for me?’ he asked with a wry smile, thinking of what he’d got in store for her. Her eyes widened. ‘No. Why?’ She sounded nervy again, with that tone of almost guilt. ‘Just wanted to check you weren’t going to pull any more stunts like the last one.’ She shook her head, her ponytail whipping out quickly, reminding him of a dog shaking itself dry. ‘Got everything?’ he asked firing up the ignition. For a moment he saw her hands grip together around the bag, as if clutching a lifebelt. ‘Yes,’ her chin lifted as if she’d come to a decision. ‘Let’s go.’ For the first couple of miles he concentrated on the road and had to go at a relatively steady pace. In the heavy sweater he felt too warm but he sat it out, knowing that as soon as they hit the faster road, he’d be grateful for it. Once they joined the M25 and started to pick up speed, nipping along in the fast lane, the temperature began to drop inside the car. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Laurie shrink into her seat as if trying to escape the chilly breeze that was leaking through the nearly closed windows. ‘Sorry, the windows don’t fit as well as they do in a modern car,’ he shouted over the shrill whine of the wind that filtered through the small gap. ‘Should have forewarned you,’ he lied. Before he’d set off that morning he’d deliberately tampered with the windows, opening them just a few millimetres so that they would let the air whistle in to make the journey as uncomfortably draughty and noisy as possible. Now they were cruising along at seventy, the full effect had made itself felt. ‘You OK,’ he yelled, cheerfully mindful of the goose bumps appearing on her arms. ‘Fine.’ He smiled to himself and then focused on the road, nipping into the outside lane and starting to pick up speed. At eighty the whistling was horrible and starting to hurt his ears, but no pain no gain. For the next twenty minutes he needed to keep his wits about him. The M25 was a pig at the best of times, with a tendency to back up with no notice and invariably you got some pillock spotting the badge and deciding to take you on. It was only when he realised how cold his hands were that he risked a glance at Laurie. Unfortunately the effect of the cold on Laurie’s body had made itself very apparent and her nipples on her small rounded breasts were suddenly very prominent. Like a magnet they drew his gaze and Laurie glanced round and caught him in the act. With a florid blush staining her cheeks, she crossed her arms and determinedly looked out of the window. He swallowed hard. Shit the last thing he’d meant to do was embarrass her. ‘Do you want me to stop? So you can get a jumper or something?’ ‘No,’ she muttered, her head still turned away from him. He felt a complete arse but despite that, now that he’d registered the peaked nipples, he couldn’t seem to help himself keep checking her profile. Letting her freeze was one thing, humiliating her was another. ‘Do you want to see if you can do something with the windows, sometimes the mechanism works loose during the journey. You might be able to wind it up a bit.’ The lies sounded lame to his own ears. She gave him a sharp glance and with quick neat fingers, wound the old fashioned lever. The glass slid smoothly into place with a sharp clean move, immediately quenching the awful whistling and the cold wind. Watching the road, he didn’t need to turn to her to see her steady gaze on him; he could damn well feel it boring into him. ‘Funny that. Do you think your side might have “worked loose” too?’ He wound his window up feeling like a chastened schoolboy. OK, so that hadn’t gone so well, but they had a long way to go and he still had plan C. Hopefully without talking and no music, Laurie would quickly get bored and realise that ownership of this car was quite different to the comfort and ease she was used to. An hour into the journey, he realised that although she seemed quiet and contemplative, she’d relaxed a little. Like a student determined to learn everything she could, she watched the gear changes and studied the flow of the traffic around them. He smiled at her concentration. She looked like a rapt robin, her head bobbing up and down, her lower lip caught between her teeth as she took everything in. The bing of her mobile coincided with them mounting the incline of the Dartford Bridge. The fingers on the hand holding the phone whitened, as she read whatever the message said and he heard her breath hiss out. He waited, sliding into the middle lane, still aware of all the traffic around them, expectant of some moan or complaint. Except that was totally unfair. So far, despite having some cause, she hadn’t moaned or complained once and despite him not talking, she seemed quite capable of holding her own counsel. Clearly something was going on with the texts, it was the fourth she’d received since they set off and her face had become increasingly grim but she’d not said a word. Not like his ex-wife who liked to share every nuance of emotion and feeling, and had expected the same in response. He winced at the memories. The constant emotional barrage had pushed him further and further back like a snail retreating into its shell for safety. He didn’t want his emotions picked over constantly but she’d taken it as failure and the more he retreated the more she needed him to ‘talk to her’. Something had clearly upset Laurie but she seemed content to keep it to herself. Or was that him failing ‘to empathise’ which Sylvie had accused him of on a regular basis. ‘You OK?’ he asked. ‘Yeah, fine.’ She turned her head and looked out of the passenger window. He was getting a little fed up with looking at the back of her ponytail all the time. On the edge of his vision, he could see she lifted her chin and held the tension in the tendons in her neck. Remembering how it felt when Sylvie had persisted, he took her at her word and focused on the traffic. Cam obviously hadn’t spent much time on public transport. Half her teenage years had been spent travelling on rickety old buses which invariably broke down half way to Milton Keynes. If he thought a bit of a draught bothered her, it just went to show how different they were. No doubt the sort of women he was used to would catch a chill or need to be wrapped up in furs. She curled her lip as much in disgust with herself, if she wasn’t careful she’d turn into a right old curmudgeon. Staring out of the window, she watched the grey choppy waves of the Thames below the bridge. They matched her mood, scratchy and unsettled. Not angry, not sad … just antsy. She hated feeling like this. Only a few weeks ago everything had been fine. Normal. Robert’s text had her clenching her fists under her thighs, hidden from Cam. The last thing she wanted to do was air her dirty laundry. I take it you’ve gone then. I might not be here when you get back. Hope you’re happy now. Of course she wasn’t happy. Upsetting him hadn’t been her intention but it would have been wrong to get married, to rush it now. Not when it didn’t feel right. Ironically, his childish text pushed aside the guilt that had been mounting ever since she closed the front door, firming her resolve. She’d started this journey; she was going to finish it, with or without Robert’s approval. Arriving at the Channel Tunnel was disappointing. She’d envisioned a yawning black hole that was clearly visible for miles, a scary looking challenge not for the faint-hearted which brought up images of Stargate, The Hobbit and Dr Who. Instead it was all horribly pedestrian, the most boring train station on the planet immortalised in industrialised concrete. The only vaguely exotic thing was the paper hanger with the letter G which was propped on top of the dashboard. As they drew into a parking space in the busiest section of the car park, Cam turned to her. ‘Both of us can’t leave the car at the same time. We’ll have to take it in turns to go in. Unless you need the loo, I’ll go and get us a drink. Tea or Coffee?’ ‘I’m fine. Tea, please, milk and one sugar.’ He got out of the car and then leaned back in to call across, ‘You might want to get out and stretch your legs, but stay by the car. You don’t want some little oik scratching it or anything.’ Twisting in her seat, she did feel a little stiff and it would be good to get out in the sunshine. After Cam’s little refrigeration stunt, she could do with warming up. Unwinding herself from the seat, she got out and found herself with an audience. In the few short minutes they’d been there, the car had drawn an interested couple of by-standers. They stared at her and then at the car and she smiled stiffly back at them. It felt a bit like showing off to be standing right beside it, as if to say, look at me and my car. Shifting, she looked down at the floor, wishing she’d grabbed her handbag. She could have pretended to be texting or something. A woman came up right next to her, and without saying a word, pushed her way between Laurie and the car and put her hand on the bonnet. Too surprised to say anything, Laurie took a step back and watched in amazement as the woman’s boyfriend calmly took a couple of shots of the woman with his phone. ‘Nice car,’ he tossed at her as he draped his arm across the woman’s shoulders and they walked off. ‘Mind if I take a picture?’ asked another man. Smartly dressed in a suit in his mid-forties, he looked as if he were on his way to a meeting. Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39789681&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.