What the reviewers say about the
Meyrick has written a beautiful love story with detail and
sensitivity for her lead character, a military vet. She tackled PTSD,
partner abuse and family dynamics that any one of us could identify
with the characters. I look forward to reading more from this author.
is such a beautifully written story. Ronni's attention to details and
her respect in the way she handled the injuries and the wartime
flashbacks of Jack to the emotional and physical turmoil that Carrie
endures shows what a talented writer she truly is.
love this book so much I can't even put into words how much. As a
veteran, it alone makes me proud to read any military story, but as
the former spouse of veteran who suffers from PTSD and TBI it hit
home a little more.
To the woman who loves me
unconditionally, no matter how stupid I am…My lovely wife K. When I
zone out writing something new, she ensures I have food and an
endless supply of coffee, also acts as a beta reader for me.
For Mum, whose unwavering support,
encouragement and love mean everything to me.
For Dad, who I know is sitting on
his cloud thinking to himself, ‘Oh Lord, what is she up to now?’
I hope you’re proud of me.
I love you all!
To my beta readers, Debs Arminshaw,
Sue Collins, Kristen Webber, Ratna Summers, & Syd Sexton. I’d
be lost without you all and your feedback. Thank you!
My mentors Dawn Carter &
Shiralyn Lee. You’re awesome, ladies! I’ll never be able to repay
you for the amount of time and effort you’ve spent teaching me the
right from wrong. (No I don’t want to take out stock in Majestic
Wines or Smirnoff Vodka, to help with the whole repayment!) LOL…I
love you both loads, and hope we continue to work together.
Adrian (AJ) Smith, my editor, thank
you for such an outstanding job.
My fellow Wicked Sisters, who are
always there whenever I have a question, or to just chat and break my
day up. (Giving me a rest from writing – If only for a few
Kate Charlton, (My sister from
another mister & terrible twin) and Karen Tighe. A girl couldn’t
ask for better friends. You’re amazing, love you both.
Ratna & Alan Summers, my friends
come family. You’re always there for me or Mrs M whether that be at
the end of the phone or a quick coffee at your house. When you decide
with Mrs M that I need a break, I find myself whisked away from
pounding the keys, as we tour a local landmark or visit an
attraction. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Xxx
Also, my thanks go to my readers.
It’s your kind words and friendship that drive me and encourage me
to write more…Thank you. Xxx
Successful business woman, Stella
Williams couldn’t ask for anything more in life after marrying her
girlfriend Jennifer, who was about to give birth to their baby. But
as quickly as life had dealt her the winning hand, it rapidly chose
to tare her world apart.
While dealing with emotional loss,
she is forced into parenthood alone, and spends the next few years
struggling with her new identity as a single working mother. But when
she discovers a legal document that had been hidden away from her,
she soon realizes how her empire is on the verge of new threats.
Over cold hallway tiles, the
click-clack of Stella Williams’s heels echoed as she rushed down
one of the many corridors at St. George’s hospital. Pale walls,
fluorescent lighting, and pager announcements gave her anxiety an
even bigger boost while she juggled her briefcase and phone in her
clammy hands. Her mind filled with trepidation, and regret screamed
at her to hurry. How could
I be so selfish? Jen’s going to kill me if I miss this. I promised
I’d be there for her. Fuck, why did the baby have to come early?
The smell of disinfectant mixed with
the room’s dim lights made Jennifer want to vomit as she bore-down
once again and pushed with all her might.
“Where the hell is she?” she
cried. “Arhhh, it feels like I’m giving birth to a cannon ball.”
She gripped her mother-in-law’s
hand with her swollen fingers and squeezed tight.
“She promised to be here for
Helen placed a cool cloth over her
daughter-in-law’s forehead and wiped her brow. “I’ve left
countless messages on her phone. She’ll pick them up when the plane
lands and she can turn her phone on. She loves you, Jen, and I’m
sure she’s just as eager to be here.”
“Fuck! Why the hell did I agree to
do this?” Jennifer pushed again and held her breath while
contorting her sweat-ridden face caused by the agonising pain
coursing through her.
The nurse placed her cool fingers on
Jen’s wrist and checked her pulse. “Doctor, the pulse is a little
weak.” She looked over at the monitor. “You have another
contraction coming, Jennifer, get ready to push.”
“Breathe, Jen, just like they
taught you. We can do it together,” Helen eagerly offered.
Jennifer squeezed even tighter on
her hand and dug her fingernails into the skin. “I want it out of
me. Get it out. I can’t take it anymore. I’m too tired.” She
blew out a long breath. Her body trembled, and her teeth chattered,
and then she became limp with exhaustion. Her eyes rolled back, and
her dry cracked lips parted.
“Jen?” Helen’s panicked voice
alerted the doctor to an unexpected situation.
Suddenly the room filled with an
obnoxious loud beeping sound. The doctor looked up from between Jen’s
legs and frowned at the monitor for both mother’s and baby’s
The nurse examined the numbers on
the machine, which dropped drastically from 130 to 99, then she
calmly told the doctor, “We have non-reassuring fetal distress.”
She placed her hand on Jennifer’s
shoulders and gently guided her over on to her side. “Jennifer,
your baby’s heart rate has dropped. Changing your position will
“I’m just going to insert a
small tube inside your vagina to spray the baby’s head with
anaesthetic, and then I’m going to take a blood sample to test for
oxygen levels. Nothing to worry about at this stage, just a
formality,” Doctor Bourne informed her. She carefully inserted a
small needle inside the tube. “This won’t hurt your baby.”
“What’s happening? Is my baby
okay?” Jen’s panicked weak voice asked.
Doctor Bourne collected the blood
sample in a glass tube and then analysed it in a machine in the
delivery ward. A few minutes later, she had the results. “Baby’s
blood is at p H 7.20, which is borderline. We’re going to increase
your fluid levels via a drip.”
Jen looked over her shoulder at her
“It’s okay,” she answered,
then bit her trembling lower lip.
Not understanding why everything was
spinning out of control, Jen constantly looked back and forth at
Helen and the nurse. “My baby’s okay, isn’t it? Please tell me
my baby is okay.”
The nurse stood between her patient
and the monitor, and while she looked down at the dropping heart
beats, she said softly, “I need you to remain calm, Jennifer. Let’s
concentrate on making baby’s journey as comfortable as possible.”
Doctor Bourne assessed the mother
and baby’s situation, then while removing her latex gloves, said,
“Call down to the operating theatre. Tell them we need to prep for
an emergency C-section.”
Jen attempted to raise her head but
failed. “No! I want to give birth naturally!” The sensation
struck through her crotch like lightning as another torturous
contraction shot through her.
“Okay. But if your blood pressure
increases further, we’re going downstairs.” The doctor moved back
between her legs, and as she settled into position she sucked in a
loud breath, her eyes widened. “The caesarean might not be a
feasible option now. Your baby’s already crowning. Three more long
hard pushes and the head will be out.”
With every fibre of her being,
Jennifer clenched her teeth and bore down. A series of grunt-like
screams left her lips a few seconds later as she felt a burning
sensation and the baby’s head crowning.
“Good, another push like that and
the head will be through. Come on, Jen! Give it everything you’ve
Helen kissed her cheek. “Just one
more, Jen. Once the head is out it’ll be easier.”
Doctor Bourne practiced the
breathing pattern technique, with “hee, hee, who” and encouraged
Jen to follow her direction.
“Hee, hee, who,” Jen practiced,
while focusing on the doctor’s instructions. Even though she tried
to keep up with the technique, her shoulders were pulled up tight
around her ears, and her neck muscles had become rigid. Panic
enveloped her, causing her to over-breathe in short, sharp gasps.
Pins and needles prickled in her hands and fingers, and
light-headedness affected her ability to control her actions. Her dry
mouth became numb—she was exhausted and scared.
Doctor Bourne cupped her hands
around the baby’s head when a herculean scream left Jennifer’s
throat before she gave another push. “That’s it. The head’s
out. Baby will soon be here.”
A few moments later, the wail of a
newborn filled the room.
The doctor listed the baby up and
placed it the waiting nurse’s arms.
“It’s a boy!” She attached two
clamps on the umbilical cord then passed Helen a pair of scissors.
“Come on, Grandma, you need to cut the cord.”
Helen kissed Jen’s cheek, then
gently touched the full head of black hair. “He has the same colour
hair as Stella.”
Looking up at her mother-in-law
through watery eyes, the corner of Jennifer’s mouth turned up
slightly. “He’s perfect.”
The nurse draped blanket over him,
then carefully guided him of his mother’s arms. “I just need to
clean him up, Jennifer. You can have him back in a minute.” wiped
him down with some warm water and cotton wool and rubbed him over
with a soft terry cloth towel to stimulate his blood vessels, then
carried him across the room and wiped him down, then wrapped a diaper
over his tiny body, and placed a blue cap on his head.
Unseen by the doctor, nurse, and the
over-joyous grandmother, Jennifer experienced an uncomfortable surge
of energy. The muscles in her face and arm went into spasm. She had a
strange sense of dizziness, and then her body shook, while her mind
became disconnected to her surroundings. Fear filled her, and then
she lost consciousness.
The beeps on the monitor quickly
changed from frequent to a couple of long beeps, and then one long
The nurse immediately handed the
baby over to Helen and rushed over to the bed.
“You’ll have to wait outside the
curtain,” Doctor Bourne instructed as she ushered Helen back and
pulled the curtain around the bed. Her first thought was to make sure
the blood was still flowing to where it needed to go, so she used the
technique of chest compression by pushing down on Jennifer’s chest.
After a few minutes, the nurse took
over, and again, she pushed down on Jennifer’s chest.
Doctor Bourne reassessed the
patient’s situation and told the nurse, “She’s in V-Tach. Get
me a crash cart!”
The nurse rushed out of the room and
grabbed the handle to the defibrillator, then hurried back. She
glanced at the monitors as she handed the paddles to the doctor.
“We’re losing her?”
Doctor Bourne worked with speed as
she charged them, ready to deliver a shock to Jennifer’s heart to
re-establish a regular heartbeat. Then she placed the paddles over
her chest and administered the shock.
Why did I have to go to New York
for those business meetings? Leaving Jen alone so close to the birth
was a bad idea, Stella
A sign pointed to her left told her
where the delivery unit was, so she pushed the door open and hurried
down yet another corridor, constantly monitoring the signs for any
indication to where she should go.
Her feet skidded to a stop in front
of light coloured double doors, and she tugged aggressively at the
handle, grunting with every pull. They wouldn’t open. The blinking
light from an intercom call button on the wall caught her attention.
She switched her phone into her other hand, then pressed the button
repeatedly with utter urgency.
“Hello,” an angry voice answered
through the small speaker. “You do realise there are babies, new
mothers, and expectant mothers in here trying to sleep?”
Stella’s eyes grew wide, she
smacked herself in the forehead as she realised the stupidity of her
actions. “Hello, my name is Stella Williams, my wife, Jennifer
Williams-Reece, was admitted earlier,” she said, feeling giddy from
her ragged breathing.
The electric lock buzzed loudly in
the empty hallway. She pulled the handle violently and fell through
the door as it swung open with ease. A nurse’s desk was immediately
in front of her, and the grey-haired matronly looking woman sitting
behind it scowled with displeasure.
Two women with their heads low and
leaning slightly towards each other stood in a corridor to the right
of the desk, drawing her attention. One of them glanced her way
before rushing over and engulfing her in a hard embrace.
“Where have you been?” Her
mother’s small frame filled her arms.
The tall, muscular physique of her
best friend, Claudia, stepped up to her side. The blonde wrapped an
arm around Stella’s shoulders and gave them a squeeze.
Stella’s gaze landed on Claudia.
“What are you doing here?” Claudia was not only like her sister,
she was also her family and business lawyer.
Helen took Stella’s hand and
squeezed it in her palm. “Love, there’s something we need―”
Stella’s breath caught at her
mother’s tone, and her posture straightened. She gazed at her
Unshed tears shimmered in Helen’s
eyes. Her mascara had run, leaving trails of black lines down her
cheeks. The one sentence she’d said was hoarse, and her dark hair
was ruffled, sticking up at all angles.
“What’s going on? Where’s
Jenny? Has she had our baby?”
Helen took Stella’s arm and guided
her into the Relatives Room. “You have a healthy six-pound
ten-ounce baby boy.” She guided her daughter into a chair then
closed the door.
Stella’s feet slid on the floor as
she stood and turned to the door, intent on going to her wife and
son. She staggered as a small hand restrained her by her wrist,
holding her in place. “I want to see them, let go of me. What
aren’t you telling me?”
Claudia sighed heavily and rubbed
her hand over her forehead. “There was a problem, Stel. Jen has…Jen
is…” Her voice cracked and betrayed her emotions. “I…she…Oh
fuck! How am I supposed to do this?” She placed her hand over her
mouth, then looked directly at Helen with water-filled eyes.
Stella followed Claudia’s focus
and looked to Helen for answers. “Do what? I don’t understand.”
The vice-like grip her mother had on
her forced Stella away from the door. “Jen had some complications,
love. She didn’t make it.”
“What?” Stella’s stomach
flipped over while her thoughts scrambled.
Helen stepped closer. “I’m so
sorry, darling, but Jen died a couple of minutes after she gave
The room spun, and the contents of
Stella’s stomach threatened to spew onto the floor. Sweat beaded on
her forehead, and her knees buckled.
The piercing wail filled the room.
Her eyes burned with the saltiness of her tears as they streamed down
her cheeks. Her body shook as heart wrenching sobs broke from her
very soul, tearing it asunder. Surrounded on both sides, she clung to
her mother and Claudia’s arms desperately.
The loud click from the door handle
turning caused the three of them to flinch. A tired looking
dark-haired woman dressed in green scrubs entered.
“Are you Mrs. Williams?” The
slightest movement of Stella’s head answered her question. “I’m
Doctor Lydia Bourne. I delivered your son and was with Jennifer when
she died. I’m sorry for your loss. I did everything within my power
to save Jennifer.”
Claudia moved to the doctor’s side
and placed a hand on her forearm. “What happened?”
“From what we can tell, Mrs.
Williams-Reece had a heart attack. However, we can’t tell you what
caused it.” Doctor Bourne took a seat. She sighed heavily and
scrubbed her face with her hands. “We’ll have more answers once
an autopsy is completed.”
Stella’s tear-filled eyes bored
into the doctors. “I…I…don’t understand.”
She swallowed hard against the
Sahara-like dryness in her mouth and licked her lips.
“We visited her doctor last week.
Jenny and the baby were given a clean bill of health. If something
had been flagged I would never have gone to New York.”
She was bombarded with memories of
her and Jennifer. The way they held hands while walking in the park,
the laughs they shared with friends and family, and the most recent,
lying in bed with her beloved wife with her head on her bump talking
to their baby. The movement of their child as he kicked and moved
around whenever he heard her voice was a rush, and there was nothing
she enjoyed doing more than spending time with them. The memories
brought on a fresh round of tears, and her cries of anguish possessed
her once again.
“This can’t be right, you’re
wrong!” Denial swept through her veins.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Williams. If
you’d like to see your wife, I’ve arranged for you to do so in
one of the viewing rooms downstairs in the morgue.”
I don’t want to see her. I’ll
lose my shit if I see her laid out.
“No, I don’t want to do that…I
Helen stood. “Would you like to
see your son?”
When a nod was her only answer, she
guided her daughter out of the room.
“He’s with your father.”
Claudia’s strong tanned arm linked
with Stella’s, and Stella found herself being led out into the
hallway. Nothing registered as she staggered along. The pain in her
heart filled her body, and her head thudded with her heartbeat,
making her squint with the intensity.
They stopped in front of a plain
brown door. Doctor Bourne opened it and held her arm out to indicate
that Stella should enter. “Your father and son are in here. Due to
him being three weeks early, I’d like to keep him overnight for
As she walked into the room her gaze
landed on her father’s tall form. His back was to them as he stood
in front of a window. His soft whisper echoed as she took a tentative
The sound of the door closing caused
Thomas Williams to turn around. In his arms swathed in a fleece white
blanket was the baby.
“I don’t know if I can do this!”
Stella turned and jerked toward the door. But she once again found
herself unable to move as her mother and best friend grabbed hold of
her arm. “Please, let me go.”
Helen dug her heels in. “No, you
need to see your baby.”
“Please, I don’t think I can do
this without Jenny.”
“Nonsense! Your boy needs you.”
Helen released Stella’s arm and took her grandson from her husband.
“Please, Stella, be the mother Jen would want you to be. I know you
envisioned this scene as something you’d be doing together, but
unfortunately, fate had other ideas. The poor mite needs to bond with
you as soon as possible.”
Stella looked at her baby. He had
Jennifer’s nose and heart shaped mouth. It felt like a kick in the
teeth to look at him. The most important person in her life had been
viciously stolen away from her, and their hours-old son was her
Helen’s patience waned, and
without a second thought, she laid the little one in Stella’s arms
and stepped back out of the way. “Support his head, love.”
Stella focused on the small pale
wrinkled face. The dam inside her broke, and she slid unceremoniously
into a chair. Tears streamed down Stella’s face as she studied her
son properly for the first time. She stroked his cheek gently and
reached up to remove his hat. His hair was as black as the night, the
same colour as hers.
Claudia took a step closer and
reverently ran her hand over his head. “Wow, he has the same colour
hair as you.”
Tears still ran down Stella’s
cheeks she looked up at her friend. “We chose the donor to resemble
me. We knew he’d have some of her features as she was carrying him,
but we wanted him to have some of my attributes as well.”
Thomas kissed his daughter on the
forehead. “I’m so sorry, love.”
She reached up with her free arm and
wrapped it around his neck, pulling him down into a desperate hug.
“What am I going to do, Dad?”
He patted her back and rubbed
soothing circles on it. “First, we need to give this little man a
name. We can’t go around calling him Baby Williams for the rest of
Looking down, she allowed a sad grin
to grace her face. “Jen and I liked the name George.”
Claudia placed a soft kiss on his
head. “Welcome to the world, George. I’m your Aunt Claudia. I’m
going to love you forever and treat you like a prince. I’m sure
your mummy will be mad at me when she realises how much I intend to
spoil you.” When she stood back up, tears were in her eyes. “What
about a middle name?”
“That was to be a surprise…”
Stella chanced a brief glance to her parents. “His full name is
George Thomas. We thought he should have one family name, so we chose
to include his brilliant grandfather’s.”
Thomas’s chest ballooned, and he
stood tall and proud. A gentle smile tugged at his lips, as her tears
mirrored in his eyes. “I’m honoured.”
Her eyes once again fell on her son.
“So, my little one, what are we going to do now? Without your other
mummy, I’m lost. But I’ll promise you one thing, you’re going
to know everything I know about her and we’ll talk about her all
the time when you’re older. I could never love anyone more than I
love her. I’ll try my best to raise you as she would’ve liked.”
The family gathered around them and
watched as Stella bonded with George. “We’ll help as much as we
can, too.” Helen placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Stella knew it wasn’t going to be
easy. While trying to raise her son correctly, she also had two
successful international businesses to run and her own grief to deal
How am I ever going to cope?
Something her mother said stuck in
her mind. George needed her, and no matter what, she’d make sure he
had everything he would need in life.
Seven Years Later
The sun beat down on Stella’s face
as she sat on the back patio enjoying her early morning coffee. The
soothing dark liquid calmed and bolstered her for what her day held
in store. Her ever-present laptop lay on the table in front of her,
open and ready for any problems either of her businesses should
An excited giggle echoed around the
house, and the sound of heavy running footsteps slapped against the
hardwood floor. “Mum, Mum, Mum. Look what I’ve found!”
She placed her mug down and turned
in time to catch the excited seven-year-old, George. “Hey, slow
He stared down at the floor, causing
her to grin and lean down to kiss his face.
“Now, what was so important?”
George held a small stack of
creased, slightly yellowed papers out to her. “I found these in an
old suitcase in one of the rooms at the top of the house.” He
separated them out across the table and pointed to one of the photos.
“Is that my mum when she was younger?”
Stella picked up the photograph of
her wife a smile curled at her lips as she remembered when the
picture was taken.
“Yes, and it was only taken twelve
years ago.” She did a quick calculation in her head. “She
would’ve been twenty-one.”
“Come on! Dance with me!”
Jennifer raised her arms above her head and swayed her hips in time
to the music.
Stella’s eyes moved to the
large event screen mounted at the side of the main stage of the
festival. Her eyes squinted together, and her head shook from side to
at the grunge band piping out a low bass. “It’s not really my
thing, perhaps a bit later when the dance music starts.”
Jennifer reached out, snagged
Stella’s hand, and pulled her away from the tent entrance. “You
only live once, baby. I know how well those hips can move and
Stella rolled her eyes as she was
propelled forward into a group of gyrating bodies. Jennifer joined
the crowd; she turned her back to Stella and inched closer until she
felt Stella’s hands on her hips and her pelvis tuck neatly against
her arse. .
“I’d do anything to make you
Jennifer’s head rested against
Stella’s right breast; she arched her head and puckered her lips.
Without hesitation, Stella seized Jennifer’s lips with her own and
flicked her tongue over her lips.
“Hey, you two, smile!”
Claudia jumped in front of them with her camera raised to snap a
George hopped onto her lap and took
the picture from her fingers. “She’s so pretty.”
Over the years, she’d come to see
more of Jen in their son. He had a mix of both of their senses of
humour but had Jen’s laugh and mannerisms. “She was, and I
couldn’t have loved her any more than I did.”
“Why didn’t she have a mum or
Stella bit her lower lip and worried
it between her teeth as she considered her words carefully. “She
did. But they died when your mum was a teenager. They were involved
in a horrible car crash and didn’t survive. She told me she has no
other family members.”
George seemed to consider what his
mother said. She’d never denied him the knowledge of his other
mother and was happy to answer whatever questions he had about
He held a yellowed piece of paper up
and then unfolded it in front of them. “What does that word mean?”
He pointed to the top of the
document, and Stella squinted.
What the hell!
She did a double take and her eyes widened as she stared at it
unblinkingly―it was an adoption certificate with Jennifer’s name
printed at the top. How
could I have missed these when I sorted through her things?
“The word is adoption,” she
finally answered after she’d gathered her wits and remembered
George’s question. Her eyes scanned the document and settled on an
official court stamp. The name of her adoptee was Josie Reece, named
as Jennifer’s aunt. Slapping her hands on to the arms of the chair,
she pushed herself up.
“I won’t be a minute.” Her
brisk stride took her to the downstairs bathroom.
After running water into the sink,
she splashed some on her face. The reflection looking back at her
from the mirror was not the one she was used to. Large black circles
ran under both eyes, making them appear sunken, and the skin on her
face was grey in colour. Her hands formed into tight fists as her
stomach rolled unpleasantly, bile rose in her throat, and made her
take several deep breaths to combat the nausea.
A loud bang sounded from the front
of the house, and Claudia’s low timbre voice called out. “It’s
Stella wiped her face on a towel and
opened the door to find George waiting for her.
George twisted the toe of his shoe
on the tiled floor and didn’t look up from something he’d been
entranced by on the wall. “Mum, have I done something wrong?”
Stella shook her head. She reached
for his hand and led him back into the garden. “No, son. I’m
surprised, that’s all.”
Claudia strode out onto the patio
and slammed her briefcase down on the table. “Stella, we’ve got a
huge problem.” She bent and kissed her godson on the forehead. “Can
you give us a minute to talk, please?”
“Okay, Auntie Claudia.”
Stella watched him race into the
house to ensure they were alone before she turned to Claudia. “What’s
Claudia took a seat then reached
over and poured herself some coffee from the cafetière Stella had
prepared for herself earlier. “The accountant Jen used to file her
tax returns and keep her books was sent to prison a couple of months
ago for defrauding the Inland Revenue, embezzlement, and being
responsible for some creative accounting on behalf of some unsavoury
Stella’s head fell into her hands.
“Do I want to know who these people are?”
Claudia shook her head from side to
side. “Anyway, that’s not what I am here about. When I discovered
what’d happened, I hired a new accounting company. They came in to
conduct an audit on the main club last month and have only just
finished. Something was picked up on.” She took a deep breath, then
climbed to her feet and started to pace up and down the patio. “The
minute I tell you, I know you’re going to blow up.”
Stella pinched at her bottom lip.
“Come on, spit it out!”
Stella’s hand left her mouth, and
she folded her arms across her chest and drummed her fingers
impatiently on her biceps.
Claudia cringed and took a step away
from her friend. “Apart from the prior accountant, there is someone
stealing funds from the main club.”
The coffee pot and cups tipped over
as Stella jumped to her feet and slapped the table hard with her
hands. “For how long? Do we know who is responsible?”
“I don’t know how to say
this…but it’s been going on for over ten years. I wonder why the
club was never audited. I guess they must’ve missed them by
Realisation smacked Stella in the
face, and she sunk back into her chair.
“Okay, we’re going to sort this
out today.” Her voice was low and dangerous, and there was a
murderous glint in her eye. “I need to drop George off with mum
first. Then you and I are then going to the club.” Today
is not going to end well for someone.
“I also need you to look into something for me.”
She picked up the document George
had found and handed it to Claudia.
“Apparently, Jen was adopted. I
need you to find out everything you can about this.”
“What!” Claudia snatched the
paper from her hands and scanned it. Her eyes threatened to bulge out
of her head as she read the last line. “Fucking hell, she told us
she was an orphan. Her parents had died!”
Stella stared into her friend’s
“I know, and what makes this worse
is that George was the one to find it, which is even more upsetting
than the lie itself. He has questions, and to tell you the truth,
he’s not the only one. Please help me to sort this mess out. I
don’t want there to be any skeletons in her closet that will come
out and bite me on the ass, or worse—” She closed her eyes to
fight the tears that stung. “That she has family members who might
try to take George from me.”
Claudia scooted around the table and
wrapped her arms around Stella. “I’d never let that happen.
Anyway, you’re registered as his mother and legal guardian.” When
Stella’s lips curled up in a small smile and she wiped her tears on
the sleeve of her jumper, Claudia released her. Jennifer’s adoption
certificate folded easily along the creases, and she slipped it into
her briefcase. “I’ll have someone start the research
“I appreciate it, and if you can
think of anything else I can do to protect George, go ahead and do
it. He must remain safe through all of this. Until we have news on
that…we’ve bigger dragons to slay.” Stella picked the phone up
and pressed a speed dial button. “Let me call my mum and make some
arrangements for George, then we can get down to business.”
The ride to the main club was made
in silence. Stella’s blood boiled, and her stomach muscles
tightened. She pulled into the first available parking bay, and they
jumped out and marched towards the club entrance. As she pulled on a
large bronze handle attached to the glass doors, she expected some
resistance, but when it opened freely, she stumbled back. “That’s
Claudia’s eyebrows moved close
together as she frowned. “I thought the club was closed during the
The loud bass sounds pumped out and
seemed to shake the building.
“It’s supposed to be.”
They hurried inside. Both of them
tripped over their own feet and abruptly stopped, their mouths
dropped open in shock at what greeted them. The dance floor was
heaving, as at least forty people crowded on it, all of them swaying
and gyrating to the music.
“What the hell’s going on here?”
Claudia scanned the unusually
well-lit club and spotted a familiar face behind the bar. However, it
was out of context, she would never expect to see another friend
here, especially serving drinks.
“What is she doing here?” She
asked nobody in particular. “Hang on, I’ll be right back.”
Stella watched as Claudia moved to
the bar and beckoned the barmaid closer with a finger. The small
redhead beamed a smile at Claudia that lit up the place. Yet, as
Claudia spoke the woman’s face fell. Claudia pointed in her
direction, and she watched the woman’s eyes bulge.
Claudia walked back to Stella and
motioned with her head towards a set of stairs that led up to a
gangway that served as an entrance hall to the offices. “Naomi is
Stella was intrigued, and her
unwavering gaze settled on the woman at the bar once again. “Who
“Her name is Carly Martin, and
she’s an old friend of the family. I didn’t know she was employed
here. But I haven’t seen her in six months. Apparently, she’s
been too busy working to call me.”
Stella led them up the gangway to
the manager’s office. When they reached the door, she thumped once
on it, then pushed it open.
The club manager, Naomi Crawford,
sat behind a large black glass desk. Her head of short black curls
was down, and she never once looked up as they entered, she was too
preoccupied in her task, cutting up long neat lines of white powder
on the desktop with a razor. A purple twenty-pound note was rolled up
next to her free hand, the fingers of which twitched towards it.
Stella swore under her breath as she
strode across the room and swept her hand angrily over the desktop
and scattered the powder to the floor. Her hand grasped the front of
Naomi’s purple shirt, and with a Herculean heave she pulled Naomi’s
small frame across the glass and threw her onto the floor.
“Get the fuck out of my club now!”
“Stella!” Naomi stumbled to her
feet and backed up toward the exit. “What…what are you doing
Claudia grabbed Naomi by the collar
of her shirt and dragged her to the door. “You heard the lady, get
out, and don’t come back.”
“Claudia, apart from the staff,
everyone else downstairs needs to leave. I want to question our
employee’s one by one. Someone’s going to tell me what the fuck
has been happening here.”
Stella moved to the other side of
the desk and sat in the large high-back leather chair. She reached
down to open one of the drawers, and when she saw its contents, she
slammed it shut quickly.
“Don’t let her leave! Find
something or somewhere to restrain her, and call that pal of yours
who works for the drug squad. I want them here as soon as possible!”
A fast-loud knock sounded on the
door, and it swung open. Claudia’s friend from the bar walked in
carrying a tray of cups and a pot of coffee. “Sorry to interrupt, I
thought you might like some coffee.”
Stella stood and took the tray from
her then extended her hand. “Thank you, I was going to ask Claudia
to ring down for some. It’s nice to meet another of Claudia’s
Carly shook her hand in return.
“Likewise, I hoped I would one day get to meet you.”
“Is the cellar door here still
lockable from the outside?” Stella released Carly’s hand and
moved to stand next to Claudia. Carly’s eyes narrowed as she
frowned, but she bobbed her head up and down. “Excellent! Claudia,
throw her arse in there until your friend arrives. They can deal with
Carly bit her lower lip and took a
step towards the door. “If that’s all, I have to get on with the
“You bitch!” Naomi screamed as
she was pulled roughly out of the room. “Jenny knew what was going
on here. She approved and helped me run the whole operation!”
With great strides Stella crossed
the room and stood toe-to-toe with Naomi. Her fist curled into a
tight ball, and with the speed that Mohammed Ali would be proud of,
she punched Naomi squarely on the nose. Her knuckles burned from the
impact and reddened immediately. Don’t
react to the pain…don’t give her the satisfaction of seeing how
much that hurt.
“How dare you talk about my wife
like that? Jen was an angel compared to you, and she would never have
condoned any of this.” She tilted her chin towards the door, an
indication for Claudia to get Naomi out of the room. “Get her
locked up safely.”
When the door closed behind them,
Stella shook her hand, flexed her fingers, and rubbed her tender
knuckles. She fell back into the chair and stared transfixed at the
powder arches left across the desk. Jen
can’t have been mixed up in this shit…there’s no way she’d
ever do that.
An hour later, Stella and Claudia
had turned the office upside down and found more large packets of
white powder taped to the underside of the file cabinet drawers. The
last place to check was the desk drawers. Claudia reached it before
Stella and rifled through them.
Stella saw her open the large one at
the bottom that acted as a small filing cabinet and watched as her
hand halted in mid-air. “What is it?”
Claudia slammed it shut and steered
Stella away. “It’s best you don’t know until the police get
“We arrived just in time I see.”
A tall brunette wearing a blue combat uniform and a bullet-proof vest
stepped into view in the doorway.
“Bev, it’s good to see you
again.” Claudia greeted her friend with a hug and then introduced
Stella. “We’ve found several large bags of narcotics in here
you’ll need to deal with. But there’s also something else I want
you to see. Stella, you need to look at this, too.”
Her arms crossed along the back of
the chair as she stood behind it and leaned over to see what Claudia
was going to reveal. With the top end of a pen, Claudia hooked it
under the lip of the drawer and pulled.
Stella gasped then covered her
mouth. “What that fuck are they doing in my club?”
Bev reached in and lifted a small
black handgun out. “Holy crap, this is a Ruger LCRx .38 special.
It’s super light-weight and easy to conceal.” Looking back into
the drawer her eyes widened. “There’s a small arsenal in here.
Without touching anything else, I can see a Baretta M9, and an old
British service revolver, the Webley MK VI. The Webley fires a large
.455 cartridge, and is one of the most powerful top-break revolvers
The Ruger was returned carefully to
the drawer. The glint of something silver caught her eye, and she
reached out for it and pulled it out
“What the hell was this woman
into?” Bev pulled the combat knife from its sheath.
“Jesus, where did that come from?”
Stella’s eyes widened as the glinting sharp edge of the blade
reflected the ceiling lights.
“That’s what I’d like to know.
This is a black Tanto Ka-Bar. It’s US military grade.” Testing
the weight of it in her hand, she sighed. “Very light, and probably
made of steel. The blade is possibly seven or eight inches long.”
Claudia took Stella’s arm when she
noticed her friend’s grey complexion and led her to the sofa. “Bev,
just get them out of here. The rest of the club needs to be checked.
You might want to bring in a drug dog or two to sweep it. CCTV will
tell you exactly what we’ve done since we arrived.”
The next two hours passed in a blur
as they sat and watched things being bagged and tagged throughout the
building. Several members of staff had been arrested along with
Naomi, and the club was being torn apart by search teams and
forensics. Two police vans had already been filled with evidence, and
they were now working on a third.
Stella stood on the gangway and
watched the action unfolding below her. Her eye caught slight
movement at the bar, and she glanced to her right, Carly was leant
back with her elbows on the large oak polished surface, and observed
the police officers’ every move.
“Your friend seems to be clean.”
Claudia appeared at her side.
“Carly’s a good woman and would never knowingly get mixed up in
any of this shit. She graduated university last year with degrees in
economics, business administration, and mathematics. She aced every
course and left with a two one in each subject. I think she’s been
awaiting the right managerial position before moving on to greener
Stella’s eyes widened. “Exactly
how old is she?”
Claudia laughed as she led them back
into the office. “She’s twenty-eight.”
She walked to the phone, lifted the
receiver, and ordered more coffee for them.
Stella rubbed her face tiredly with
both hands and blew out an explosive breath. “So what are we going
to do now?”
“I’ve organised for a forensic
accountant to check the books for all your clubs, starting with this
A knock at the door stopped her from
saying anything else.
Carly entered with another tray and
placed it on the desk. “The police are finished downstairs. Is
there anything else you need me to do, or can I go home?
Stella’s gaze locked on Carly, the
green eyes drew her in, causing her breath to hitch and her stomach
to roll pleasantly. A sensation she hadn’t felt for years bubbled
deep inside her. Lust.
Swallowing against her incredibly
dry throat, she managed a smile for the pretty redhead. “No, you
can leave. We’re going to be here for a while, and I’m sure one
of us can figure out how to work the coffee machine.”
“Thank you.” Carly walked out of
the room but surprised both the other women when she stopped in the
doorway. “If there’s anything you and Claudia need help with, I’m
only a phone call away. Claudia has my number.”
Stella looked deep into her eyes,
and tried to judge how sincere the offer was. When she saw no change
in Carly’s body language, the right side of her mouth curled
upwards. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Stella waited until they were alone
in the office and turned her attention back to Claudia. Her shoulders
slumped as she sighed wearily.
“What a massive clusterfuck of a
mess this is! Can you call all the other staff members who work here
and tell them there will be a mandatory meeting at the club tomorrow
morning? If they can’t make it for any reason, then they’re to
speak to me directly.”
“I can do that, and if I have any
other information from the forensic accountant tonight, I’ll
contact you straightaway.”
Sagging back into the chair, Stella
closed her eyes to combat the newly formed stress headache. Managing
two businesses was becoming too much. You
should’ve hired a manger when Jen died.
Her inner voice of reason, but logic, had always been a curse.
“All we can do now is wait.”
An hour later, Carly entered her
flat and kicked her shoes off, which sent them flying into the cream
hallway wall. She cringed at the black mark they left.
What a day!
she thought a she sauntered into the kitchen, retrieved a beer from
the fridge, and then flopped down into her worn leather recliner. Her
degrees hung on the walls around her. When she looked at them every
day, it was like a slap in the face that she wasn’t using them to
their full ability. I
can’t help it that the right job hasn’t come along.
Her thoughts returned to the night’s
events. Never in her wildest dreams did she expect to see her
illustrious friend Claudia Miller in a Misfits nightclub, especially
with the owner. The two women were obviously close but not close in a
biblical sense. The looks they shared seemed sisterly, and the easy
banter between them indicated they’d been friends for a long time.
She couldn’t even begin to imagine
what was going on in the club―well, apart from the drugs. That was
obvious from the number of bags removed and the fact she’d seen
Naomi and a few other staff members dealing in the past.
Poor Stella, perhaps I should
talk to Claudia about the other rumours I’ve heard. But they’re
only that…rumours. Still, I think Stella has a right to know what
Naomi’s been doing right under her nose.
The gentle breeze coming through the
window blew softly over Stella’s face—she welcomed the sensation.
Sat at her desk with her small reading glasses perched on the end of
her nose, she was deeply absorbed in the financial report for her
real estate company. Overall, it was flourishing, and now that she
had more international offices and competent staff to run them, her
investments were growing nicely.
The gravel stones on the driveway
crunched as a vehicle approached the house. Glancing at her watch,
she noticed it was late. Who
the hell could that be?
She stood and stretched over the large pine desk and peeked out the
window. Claudia’s midnight blue, BMW M6 convertible ground to a
stop, and she watched as her friend climbed from her car. Instant
nausea filled her as she saw Claudia hesitate, take a deep breath,
and scrub her face with both hands.
It had been nearly two weeks since
she’d seen her, which was rare. Claudia made a conscious effort to
visit them at least once a week so she could spend time with her
godson. However, the reports she’d been compiling for Stella had
taken precedence over everything.
Her arm reached out, and she swung
the window wide open. “Are you coming in or turning into a new
statue for my garden?”
Claudia flinched and jumped two
steps back. “Jesus! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”
Stella chuckled to herself as she
pulled the window closed and made her way downstairs. Halfway to the
bottom, she heard another car. Jesus,
who else is here? She
yanked the door open and discovered her mother. This
can’t be good. They gang up on me whenever someone has bad news.