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Authors: Lucy Diamond

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BOOK: Hens Reunited
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‘And . . .’ He looked down at the starched white tablecloth for a moment before gazing up into her eyes. ‘And I felt awful about the way we parted. Me storming off in a huff, and . . .’

‘You were right to,’ Georgia said quietly. ‘I was . . . an idiot.’

‘We were both idiots,’ he told her. ‘I couldn’t believe I’d let you go back to London without anything happening. I was gutted. And so . . .’ He cocked an eyebrow. ‘I had to think of a plan. And then I saw the competition in your paper.’

‘You actually
?’ Georgia couldn’t help laughing.

‘’Course not! It was hanging around one of the waiting rooms. Like I’d spend my hard-earned money on that kind of tat!’ He gave a snort, then smiled a little sheepishly. ‘All right, I bought it,’ he admitted. ‘Only because I saw your name on the front cover. And then I read about the competition, and . . .’

‘And what? I’m genuinely intrigued here. This is the sort of stuff that
Blue Peter
have been done for, you know, competition-fixing. Did you slip a bung in a brown envelope to Isabella or something?’

‘Kind of,’ he said. ‘A bung in a brown envelope to Battersea Dogs’ Home. That was what did it . . .’

Georgia frowned – then it clicked. Red-haired Lily’s Dogs’ Home mug . . . ‘You bought her off,’ she laughed. ‘You bought Lily off with a pledge to Battersea Dogs’ Home!’

He nodded, a little shamefaced. ‘I did,’ he said. ‘Very corruptible, that Lily. You want to watch out for her.’

She leaned across the table and kissed him. Several times. ‘Wiles like that, you’re wasted in the NHS,’ she told him throatily. ‘Ever thought about working as a journalist?’

‘Nah,’ he replied. ‘But I have thought about working
a journalist . . .’

She kissed him again, laughing. Several more times. She felt giddy and excited, tingling all over with anticipation. He’d come all this way to find her, he’d wheedled and wangled, he’d pulled strings to get her.

‘I looked for you in the hospital last week, you know,’ she told him between kisses. ‘Then I tried to write you a note, but I couldn’t get the words right. I wanted to say sorry. What I did – it was horrible. This job – it’s not good for me any more. I know that now.’

He looked into her eyes. God, he was so lovely. ‘Ever thought about relocating?’ he asked. ‘I’ve heard the best thing about being a writer is that you can work anywhere . . . even up north.’

She flushed. ‘I’ve always wanted to write a novel,’ she said. ‘Maybe I should just take the plunge and leave . . .’

He held her hand. ‘Maybe you should.’

Was this really happening? It was all so, so romantic. And then she was kissing him again, and . . .

‘Blimey, Georgie, don’t eat the lad,’ came a voice just then, and Georgia turned to see Malcolm, her snapper for the day, there with his camera. He raised his eyebrows at the sight of their flushed faces and their hands tangled together on the tabletop. ‘Cor, is this the story, then? Showbiz girl about town falls for her prize-winner? Fatal attraction at the Wolseley?’

Georgia exchanged a glance with Owen. ‘Something like that,’ she said. ‘But we’re keeping that bit private, all right?’

Malcolm winked. ‘Got it. Are you ready for your close-up, then, darlings? And . . . smile!’


Chapter Twenty-One

Back for Good?

Saturday, 21 June 2008

He looked out of place in the cottage, Jake, as he ducked to enter the low doorway and go into the living room. He was too handsome – high-definition handsome – with his hair in a different style so that it flicked over one eye in an insouciant sort of way, and his clothes definitely a step up from Primark. He smelled different too. Back when they’d been together, he’d smelled of Adidas deodorant, Fahrenheit aftershave and, frequently, sex. Now he smelled rich, of fame and Hollywood castings, of money, money, money.

He was looking around politely. ‘So . . . have you bought this place, then?’

Was he looking down his nose at her, at the cottage? It was hard to tell. Seen through his eyes, it was probably poky and dismal. He probably wasn’t used to being in such a small room, after the all-star lifestyle he’d been leading for the last year. It must seem like a cupboard to him.

‘No, just renting,’ she said. And then, bluntly, because she didn’t want to put it off any longer, she scooped up her little daughter and said, ‘This is Iris.’

This is Iris. Like there was any other baby in the room, any chance of him not realizing who the small person on the rug had been all along.

Iris was squawking because she wanted to get back down to the plastic stacking pots she’d been banging together for the last ten minutes, her chubby arms flailing, her eyes mutinous.

‘She’s tired,’ Alice said, plopping her back down again, feeling a needling irritation that Jake hadn’t said anything, that she’d felt she needed to defend her daughter.

He crouched down. ‘She’s gorgeous,’ he said softly. ‘Hello, Iris. Hello little one.’

It choked her up to see him talking to Iris, and her eyes swam with tears suddenly. There they were, father and daughter, looking at one another for the first time. It was just so . . .

‘Ow!’ said Jake, recoiling. ‘She just whacked my nose!’

Iris gave a chuckle. ‘Ba, ba,’ she said conversationally, waving the pink plastic beaker in mid-air.

‘Iris!’ Alice said, coming to kneel next to Jake. ‘Gently with that.’ She felt mortified. Jake was going to think his daughter was a right biffer now. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘She doesn’t know what she’s doing.’

But he was smiling. ‘Cheeky monkey,’ he said, tickling her under the chin. ‘Are you bashing Daddy, hey? Are you bopping Daddy on the nose?’

Iris’s face lit up in a toothy beam and she gurgled at the tickles. Alice had a lump in her throat. He’d said ‘Daddy’! He’d actually used the word ‘Daddy’! And he was talking to her properly, as if he’d known her for months, unlike some of the blokes you saw, who seemed nervous of babies, as if they would break them just by speaking to them.

‘I bought you some things,’ Jake was saying to Iris now. ‘I did! Some jim-jams.’

‘Bo,’ Iris said conversationally.

‘Yeah, bo, exactly,’ he replied. ‘You are so cute, you know. Nearly as cute as your mum.’

He grinned up at Alice and she felt as if her heart was melting.
Nearly as cute as your mum . . .
Oh! But she had to take it with a pinch of salt, of course. She must. A whole bag of salt. Once a liar and a cheat . . .

‘I’ll leave you two to get to know each other,’ she said, feeling sniffly and sentimental. ‘I’ll just make you a coffee, Jake.’

Biting her lips together so that he couldn’t see the happiness that was flooding across her face, she turned and went through to the kitchen. She filled the kettle, humming. He liked his coffee milky with one sugar, she remembered. And now here she was, making him a coffee with one sugar again, as if the year without him had passed in the blink of an . . .

She leaned forward and stared through the window at the sleek silver Mercedes she’d just noticed parked outside the cottage. A fat-necked bloke in shades was reading the newspaper in the front seat. Oh God. Was it the press? Had they followed him here?

‘Jake?’ she called. ‘Jake – there’s a car outside. Do you think—?’

He cut in before she could finish. ‘Oh, it’s just Jed,’ he replied airily. ‘He dropped me off here.’

‘Oh,’ Alice said, getting down a couple of mugs and spooning coffee into both. Her hands were shaking. ‘But . . . why is he still there? Have you got to rush away somewhere?’ She felt shattered at the thought. So this was a flying visit, after all, then. Nothing more. No Happy Families. No Happy-Ever-After. She should have known. ‘You’re welcome to stay as long as you want to,’ she added quickly, trying to sound casual. But she found herself clutching the worktop as if hanging onto it for dear life while she waited for his answer.
Stay, stay!
she wanted to shriek.
Don’t rush away – you’ve only just got here! And we’ve been waiting for you for so long!

‘Well . . .’ He came into the kitchen with her and almost made her jump with his presence. God, he was so handsome in that ever-so-slightly dishevelled sort of way. Rumpled, as if he’d been lounging around having sex all morning, before throwing on a pair of jeans and shirt to come and see her.
Don’t think about that, Alice.

‘Well, to be honest,’ he said, with disarming frankness, ‘I wasn’t sure what sort of reception I’d receive. I didn’t know if you’d throw crockery at me or something, once you clapped eyes on me. Not that I’d have deserved any less, of course – the way I treated you was so atrocious . . .’

She blushed as he stepped nearer. The kitchen felt warm and he was just a fraction too close for comfort. Deliberately, no doubt. That expensive cologne was making her feel dizzy. ‘I would never throw crockery at you,’ she said softly, not quite able to raise her eyes to look at him.

‘You’re so lovely, you’d never throw anything at anyone,’ he agreed, and placed a hand over one of hers. ‘Alice, I can’t believe I’m standing here with you. You look amazing.’

She opened and shut her mouth but no sound came. She felt swoony and weak from his words.
Come on, put up a fight, at least
, a voice chided in her head.
Don’t just fall back into his arms as if nothing’s happened! ‘
Jake, I . . .’ she began falteringly. ‘I missed you,’ she said. Did that sound desperate? She knew he didn’t like desperate or clingy. She pulled away suddenly as the kettle reached boiling point, hissing out plumes of steam, then subsided. ‘But anyway,’ she said, not wanting to plunge any deeper into the subject. Not yet. She didn’t feel ready to go there yet. ‘Anyway. Coffee?’

‘Lovely,’ he said. ‘No sugar for me, thanks.’

Her hand had been on the sugar packet in the cupboard and she let it go, feeling as if the world had tilted on its axis. Oh, right. She wondered fearfully if Kenco instant would still do him, or if he only drank the real stuff these days. Probably only ever saw lattes or cappuccinos with perfect froth and a dusting of chocolate powder. ‘Um . . . is instant okay?’ she asked.

‘Yeah, anything,’ he said carelessly. ‘I’ll just go and send Jed packing, shall I? Tell him he can have a wild night out in Yeovil or somewhere. Yeah?’

She smiled. So Jake was staying. That was good. That was
good. ‘Sure,’ she replied. ‘You tell him.’

Somehow the time just passed. She’d worried the conversation might be stilted, awkward – because, really, what did she have to talk about other than Iris and life in the village? – but it flowed between them with barely a moment’s silence. He was full of stories about celebrities he’d met, places he’d been, funny moments on set (thank goodness he didn’t ask her if she watched the show) and plans for the future.

‘I think everything’s opening up ahead of me now,’ he told her. His face looked almost boyish with the excitement, and she could see the light of optimism in his eyes. ‘Hollywood, I mean. The big time. I’ve been to a few castings over there, got a few studios sniffing around after me, according to Jed. This could be it, Alice. This could be what I’ve always dreamed about.’

She was pleased for him – she couldn’t
be when he looked like a kid who’d been promised his first Chopper bike – but at the same time, she could feel him slipping away from her; she felt a gulf opening up between them. Because, of course, there was no competition. The domestic life she was living in the quietness of the countryside versus the tits-and-teeth world of Tinseltown. No contest.

A while later, Iris went to bed in the cute shortie pyjamas Jake had bought for her (Baby Dior no less. Baby DIOR!), and once Alice had settled her, she came back downstairs to discover that Jake had opened one of Jen’s bottles of wine and was pouring them each a glass. He drank half of his in a single gulp, smacking his wet lips afterwards. ‘I needed that,’ he said, and had another huge mouthful.

‘Must have been a strange few days,’ Alice said, watching him. He did look jaded all of a sudden, as if he hadn’t slept for a while. His eyelids had a bruised tinge about them.

He nodded and pulled out his phone. ‘Sorry – just need to check in with Jed quickly,’ he said.

‘No problem. I’ll make us some food.’

Alice retreated into the kitchen and made them a Spanish omelette and salad. She was conscious of how small the cottage was, and how Jake had dined in all the best London restaurants recently but was now eating his tea from a tray on his lap, crammed into her tiny living room. Still. He didn’t seem to mind – he was tucking in with gusto, drinking and eating quickly as if he were half-starved.

‘Oh, proper food,’ he said after a few minutes, topping up his wine glass – blimey, the bottle was empty already – and wiping his mouth. ‘This is so nice, Alice, eating proper food after posh hotel stuff, all with
and served in little towers so that you spend ages fiddling around with the stuff before you can actually get any of it in your gob . . .’

Alice looked down at the chipped china plate she was eating from, the mismatched cutlery, and felt a pang of longing. ‘Oh, I dunno,’ she said. ‘I always quite liked the posh places we went to in London. Seeing how the other half live, and all that.’

He turned to her, his eyes slightly glazed from the wine. ‘Then I shall take you there again. To all of them, each in turn!’ he declared. He leaned over and grabbed her hand, almost sending his glass toppling. ‘What do you think?’

‘Well . . .’
Well, we’ll have to sort out a babysitter, obviously
, was the first thing that sprang to her mind. But that was probably a deeply unsexy, sensible sort of thing to actually say. ‘Sounds wonderful,’ she replied instead, although she felt as if she were betraying Iris in some way. ‘And if we go there for lunch, we could take Iris too,’ she added boldly.

He seemed to deflate at the mention of their daughter but nodded. ‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘Why not?’ He swallowed the last of his wine. ‘Mind if I open another?’ He stopped himself. ‘Have you got another, rather?’

BOOK: Hens Reunited
4.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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