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Love Interrupted


by



Jade Winters


Love Interrupted


by Jade Winters


Published by Wicked Winters Books



Copyright © 2015 Jade Winters


www.jade-winters.com


All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author.


All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.



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Chapter One

Dylan grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels from the kitchen worktop and took a hearty swig. Kicking off her heels and dropping her bag on the grey porcelain tiled floor, she hurried along the hallway to run a bath. She felt momentary disgust with herself. Of course, she had known what kind of man Mr Michaels was, yet she had helped him keep his fortune while the mother of his children lived a life of poverty. He was pond scum. No, even that was too good for him. He was Satan incarnate. So what did that make her? A very good divorce solicitor!

She grabbed a fresh towel from the airing cupboard, and her mind turned to her prize—the reward she would receive for being a traitor to her sex. It was a dirty job denying people a financial settlement they thought they were entitled to, but someone had to do it, so why not her? After all, she’d been groomed for the position ever since she had begun studying law ten years ago. Dylan smiled inadvertently at the thought of the hefty bonus and pay rise that was in store for her. The only thing that put a dampener on her spectacular win was there was no mention of the elusive partnership she so desperately wanted.

Dylan stripped naked and unceremoniously threw her clothes to the other side of the room before sinking into the soothing warm water, breathing in the bath oils she’d mixed. Bottle of Jack still in hand, she closed her eyes, turning her thoughts to the evening ahead. Dylan realised with dismay she hadn’t had sex in over three months, which was a lifetime for her. Her latest case overwhelmed her to the point of working as many as sixteen hours a day. She barely had the time to sleep, let alone anything else.

‘Sex or sleep? Sex or sleep?’ she said aloud, lifting the bottle’s neck to her lips. The burning liquid assaulted her throat and tongue, sliding down her gullet and warming her insides. Dylan hated to admit it, but she missed having a woman in her life. Not only for the sex but the companionship. Unfortunately, her work schedule allowed insufficient time to build a strong foundation for a relationship. When it came down to choosing between love or work, she always chose the latter, and she couldn’t see that changing anytime soon.

Oh, sod it, I can sleep when I’m dead,’ she said, finally making up her mind to cruise the bars in search of someone she could connect with for a few hours. It would help to recharge her batteries for her next case. After all, it could be the one that finally propelled her onto the next step of the partnership ladder.

Chapter Two

Harper only realised it was after nine when the sound of her mobile phone broke her attention. She glanced down at the caller ID. Oh crap, now I’m really in for it. She cleared her throat and put the phone to her ear.

‘Hey, sweetheart. Now, before you say a word, hear me out …’

‘I’m all ears.’ The voice on the other end of the line was cold and impersonal.

‘I was meant to meet you earlier, right?’ It was as clear as day that Harper was fishing. In all honesty, she couldn’t actually remember their arrangements.

‘Kaboom. She’s suddenly regained her memory. Harper, I sat by myself in that damn restaurant for over an hour. The looks of pity were an embarrassment. Even the waiter knew I’d been stood up. I felt like a right prat. And to do this to me on my birthday of all days. How fucking humiliating is that?’

‘Stella, God! I’m so sorry. Shit. I totally forgot.’ Harper jumped to her feet and began clearing her desk. ‘Twenty minutes. I’ll be there in twenty.’ I need to get her a card, dammit! I hope Tesco is open. If I show up empty-handed, my life won’t be worth jack shit.

‘Don’t bother,’ Stella mumbled. ‘You’re everywhere but where I need you … always.’

‘Come on now. That’s so not true.’ Harper scrambled for an example to prove her point, grabbing the first one that came to mind. ‘Ha! I came to your nan’s for tea last week,’ she said triumphantly.

‘And left after an hour!’

‘Only ’cause there was an emergency at work.’

‘Exactly. Work, work, work. It’s all you bloody think about. Well, I hope it’s worth it, ’cause I’m done with you and your shit. Go and play superhero on someone else’s time.’

Harper dropped onto her seat. ‘What the hell’s that supposed to mean?’

‘I’ll make this really simple for you, shall I? We. Are. History.’

The line went dead. Harper stared down at her phone. Is she for real? Dumping me over a missed date. What’s the world coming to? Okay, so she knew it wasn’t just any date; it was the poor woman’s birthday, but Stella hadn’t even given her a chance to explain the importance of the case she was reviewing. If she had, she’d have known the blame for her absence lay at the door of the hot-shot divorce solicitor who had literally run circles around her colleague earlier today. Harper was all for trying to win the best outcome for a client, but some of the underhanded tactics played by the opposing solicitor to get the right deal for her own client, were outrageous. It seemed the rumours about Dylan Blue being cold-blooded and ruthless were true. I bet she’d go as far as selling her own mother if it helped her win a case. Harper closed the file she had been reading, opened her desk drawer, dropped it in, and slammed it shut. It was true she wanted to save the world. She wanted to be a beacon of light and stand up for those who had no voice.

Like me, once upon a time.

Harper grabbed a pile of work files from her desk and headed for the door. The one saving grace was that it wasn’t her who had to tell the client that after being a housewife for forty years and rearing two sons, she was going to get nothing—at sixty-five the woman was now penniless.

Damn Dylan Blue—if Harper ever had the misfortune of crossing paths with that woman, she’d look her straight in the eye and tell her exactly what she thought of her.

Chapter Three

Robyn paced the living room floor, a pinched, tension-filled expression on her inflamed face. ‘Why the hell should I have to pay maintenance for your baby?’

Abi blinked rapidly. ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this. My my baby? Have you heard yourself? You’re talking as if I planned for our baby by myself.’

‘Rephrase that, Abi,’ Robyn scowled. ‘There’s no “our”. That’s what I’ve been trying to drum into your thick skull for the past year.’

Abi cocked her head. Her heart pounded against her chest, but she fought to keep her voice steady. ‘So what’re you saying? That you’re just gonna walk away like you’ve got no responsibility towards our child? ’Cause if you do, think again. I don’t care what you say, Robyn, Jake’s your son, and you’re as much responsible for him as I am.’

Abi’s estranged wife’s illogical behaviour astonished her. Just over a year ago, Robyn was excited about trying for a child. Fast forward to today, and it felt like seven lifetimes ago.

‘No, that’s where you’re wrong.’ Robyn stopped near the dining table and pounded her fist on it, causing the contents to fly in the air. ‘You think I’m going to let you and your greedy demands fuck up my life because you can’t bear for me to be finally happy?’

‘Finally happy?’ Abi folded her arms over her stomach. She tried to maintain eye contact with Robyn but bottled it, not able to bear the hate and anger in her eyes. Instead, her gaze dropped to the floor. ‘So what was our time together then? All doom and gloom?’

Robyn took a few jerky steps towards her, then stopped abruptly. Sneering, she threw her hands in the air. ‘I give up. Seriously, we’re just going round in circles. From now on, I’m just letting my solicitor deal with you.’ Brushing past Abi, she stormed towards the front door, kicking a packet of nappies lying in the hallway to the side. ‘Look at the fucking state of this place. It’s a shithole.’ Roughly pulling up a folded buggy that had fallen in front of the door, she reached for the door handle and wrenched it open.

Abi did a quick run-walk behind her, glancing through the crack of Jake’s bedroom door as she passed by. ‘That’ll be about right. Run away. Why did I expect anything different from you?’ Abi called out as Robyn started towards the communal stairs. The stench of piss in the air was overpowering. Abi nearly laughed out hysterically when she saw Robyn’s face crease in disgust. Imagine having to frigging live here.

Robyn stopped a couple of steps down and glared at Abi through a space in the railings. Her eyes burned into Abi’s with mock pity. ‘You’ve brought this all on yourself, not me.’

Abi slapped a hand on her forehead. ‘Are you crazy? You’re punishing me because I want you to be part of Jake’s life. Despite the fact that you cheated on me. No mention of that in the divorce petition was there?’ She stooped slightly, bending to hold the rail. Her trembling hands gripped the cold steel tightly. ‘And now you don’t wanna help raise him or pay maintenance. What kind of a mother are you?’ she demanded, her eyes wide and wet with the sting of betrayal.

‘A reluctant one,’ Robyn said, raking her hands through her hair. ‘And I’ll tell you what’s crazy. Expecting me to pay for a child that isn’t even blood-related, that’s crazy. If you want an easy ride, go and find yourself a rich sugar daddy.’

‘You actually think I want the money for me?’ Abi quickly scanned her immediate surroundings to see if any of her neighbours’ doors were ajar, eavesdropping on their conversation. Satisfied they weren’t, she continued, ‘This isn’t about us. My only concern is Jake and what he needs to make sure he has a decent upbringing.’

Robyn fixed her with a stony stare. ‘No, what I think is that you’re jealous that I’ve found someone else.’ She spat the words through gritted teeth. ‘It burns you that I’ve got someone younger, doesn’t it?’

Abi said nothing. Instead, she watched as Robyn broke into a run, taking two steps at a time. Seconds later, she heard the entrance door slam shut with finality. Despite the warm air, she involuntarily shivered and wrapped her arms around her chest. Defeated, she slowly returned to her flat. She had neither her youth nor beauty with which to retaliate. She was just a single mother, working two jobs, trying to make ends meet. Robyn was right about one thing, though. Her life was a mess, and she had no one to blame but herself.

She had given up her dreams and aspirations for love and look where it had landed her.


Chapter Four

Adrenaline coursed through Robyn’s body as she jumped into the driver’s seat and slammed the door behind her. She dropped her forehead onto the steering wheel with a muffled thud. ‘That bloody woman infuriates me.’ Mimicking a growling dog, she then added, ‘How did I let this happen to me, Tiffany? How?’

‘Calm yourself down and tell me what happened,’ Tiffany chastised, rummaging through the Subway bag sat on her lap.

‘Abi’s still going on at me about wanting money for the baby.’

When Robyn initiated divorce proceedings a week ago, she had stupidly assumed the process would be a quick one. She hadn’t considered for a second that Abi would be so hard to get rid of. She was refusing to get divorced until Robyn agreed to pay for her baby’s upbringing. Like that’s ever going to happen.

Tiffany unwrapped her sandwich and took a large bite from it, chomping away with her mouth open. ‘You’re gonna have to sort this out pretty sharpish ’cause you’re gettin’ seriously borin’. All you ever yap on about is that bloody baby and her mother.’

Robyn tilted her head to the side and grimaced. ‘Weren’t you taught not to speak with your mouth full?’

‘Hey, don’t start gettin’ arsey with me,’ she said firmly. ‘I ain’t the one tryin’ to fuck you over.’

Robyn closed her eyes and groaned. ‘You’re right. My bitch of an ex is.’

Anyway, maybe you should take your dad’s offer of gettin’ you a new solicitor? The one you’ve got at the moment is an idiot.’

‘You’ve got that right. Seriously, what solicitor in their right mind would think handing over fourteen hundred quid a month for a baby that isn’t mine, is “reasonable”? It’s daylight robbery. I’d rather go on benefits than have to pay it.’

Robyn sank back in her seat and wiped the thin film of perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand. Just when she thought her life was on the up and up, a big black cloud appeared, pelting fat raindrops down on her dreams.

She had spent months fantasising about making love with Tiffany in Venice while the gondolas hovered on the water, their fire-lit lamps reflecting on the rippling waves of the lazy canals. The two of them sipping red wine in the vineyards of Tuscany at sunset, enjoying the good life. Abi’s stubbornness had soon put a stop to that. Until her divorce was finalised, the plans for Robyn’s work promotion and transfer to Italy were on hold.

Tiffany devoured the remaining piece of her sandwich, only speaking once her mouth was empty. ‘So whatcha gonna do then? Something’s gotta give.’

Robyn huffed. ‘The one saving grace is Abi can’t afford a solicitor. So, yeah, I think I will let Daddy hire me someone new. Someone who can put the fear of God into her. There’s no fucking way I’m letting some over-the-hill has-been ruin my life.’

In the cold light of day, Robyn saw Jake as just another burden, the same as his mother, and Robyn wanted nothing to do with either of them.

Tiffany flipped down the mirror and messed with her hair. ‘So that’s sorted then. Let’s go and get pissed. All this drama between you two is depressin’ the fuck out of me.’

‘It’s quite frightening.’

Tiffany pulled a face. ‘What is? Goin’ out for a drink?’

‘No. To see how much Abi has changed. She looks like shit.’

Robyn’s mind sourced hazy images from a time when Abi looked so hot; just one glance from her ocean-blue eyes was enough to seduce Robyn on the spot. How she used to love running her fingers through Abi’s thick, long, glossy hair. That was before she became pregnant with that parasite. Ever since she gave birth, Abi had been a shadow of her former self. Dark shadows under her eyes and a pale complexion seemed to be her permanent features nowadays. Robyn glanced over at Tiffany as she ran liner carefully along the curvature of her lips. Licking her lips to moisten them, she applied her lipstick and rounded it off with strawberry gloss. Tiffany was just what she liked, her fresh skin still unblemished and smooth. Robyn loved young women. They were so impressionable. They had no idea what life was really about, how cruel it could be, or how easy they were for men and women to feed on.

So young and sexy and, most importantly, childless. Tiffany’s presence only served to remind Robyn what a lucky escape she had made. What on earth had possessed her into thinking she wanted to commit to family life? I’m way too young to be sitting at home every night with a dribbling sprog.

Robyn fired up the engine, glanced out the window at the decaying block of flats Abi was holed up in, and pressed her foot down hard on the accelerator, causing the car tyres to screech as the car took off along the road. She would stop at nothing to get Abi and Jake out of her life for good—nothing!

Chapter Five

‘Ted, I couldn’t get the potatoes, so I didn’t make bangers and mash,’ June explained, her hands fanned out in front of her defensively. Ted moved threateningly towards her under the cruel brightness of the kitchen bulb that hung from its electrical cord. Outside, the weather was as wild as Ted’s eyes, teeming with fury.

Still nursing a stomach ache from this afternoon’s vomiting spell, June prepared herself for the impact. Before she could brace herself adequately, Ted’s drunken frame planted a hefty wallop across her face, taking her clean off her feet. The small woman fell with her forehead hitting the table, sending a chair clattering down with her and skidding across the floor.

‘I told you I don’t eat rice!’ Ted bellowed through a foaming mouth reeking of brandy. At sixty-five, Ted was out of shape, his jawline concealed under layers of unshaven fat, and his belly jiggled over the belt of his trousers.

‘You will make me some proper bloody dinner woman, or I swear to God you’ll be sorry. I take care of this house; I pay for everything ... yes, even the goddamn cigarettes you suck into your lungs every day. All I ask is a proper fucking meal, and you give me this shit.’

He picked up the plate of rice and pork sausages, flinging it across the kitchen where it connected with the wall with a mighty crash. The whole floor was covered in food; food June spent half an hour preparing. Now on her knees on the floor, she had no way of shielding herself against his kick burying itself in her ribcage, making her screech like a tortured kitten. Her face contorted in pain, and she felt the sickness of earlier take her once more. Ted stood over her as she spat bile and convulsed on the floor, choking and coughing.

‘Am I supposed to feel sorry for you now? Christ, get your act together, June,’ he ranted.

The empty bottle of Hennessey had fallen on the table when June’s body slammed into it, spilling the last tumbler of alcohol. Ted set it upright before examining the remains of his dinner. June’s head pulsed with dead pain that spread over her skull like a helmet, and her eye ached in the socket as she spat the last of the sour water from her gullet. She dared not look up yet as she heard the clinking of bottles inside the fridge door. They rattled under the force of Ted’s inebriated tug while he violently pulled the door wide open. He belched out loud, took a beer and slammed the door carelessly before walking towards the living room.

‘I’m hungry, June. Make it snappy,’ he said nonchalantly as he left the kitchen.

June wanted to cry, but she physically couldn’t. The abdominal pain she had been suffering for the past few months was only growing worse, and she found that she could hardly stand up straight anymore, let alone spend hours cooking the right food for her abusive husband’s ever-changing preferences. He always ate rice. Now he refused simply because she could not get potatoes for mash. This had been a regular occurrence soon after he’d put a ring on her finger; he’d begun manipulating her actions and using the most ludicrous things as excuses to hurt her. June corrected her posture as best she could and crawled to the cupboard under the sink to get a bucket and cloth for the mess she inadvertently made on the kitchen floor. She could hear him knocking things over in the living room, but she would never go in there now, not for complaint or assistance. June was certain Ted would kill her in a fit of rage eventually. Sometimes she wished he would, if only to rid her of the excruciating abdominal pain she had to endure in silence so as not to set him off.

After she cleaned up the puke and washed her hands, June started to cook pasta, hoping it would appease her unstable husband. The rain came down just as darkness started to fall, making the sky eerily purple behind the grey clouds that ushered in the darkness over Dorchester. It was a metaphor June did not need to entertain right now, the coming of the night over the land, just like whatever demon ate her entrails was slowly consuming her body.

June had made the biggest mistake of her life the day she married him. A sweet charmer hiding behind a dark facade. She thought she was doing the right thing, giving her ten-year-old daughter a father that she’d never had. Instead, she’d lost her. In the end, June had no choice but to force her only child out of the family home. It was the only way she could protect her before Ted turned his attention towards her. Somehow, June had managed to hide the domestic abuse. Coming out with plausible stories for a bruise here, a black eye there. The broken ribs were well hidden beneath her clothes. She couldn’t let her know what kind of man she’d brought into their lives. Knowing her strong-willed daughter, she would have tried to make June leave. That would have cost them both of their lives, June was sure. If he’s going to kill me, I pray to God I get to see Harper again before he does.

Chapter Six

‘Cathy,’ Dylan said to her personal assistant, handing her the notes for a statement. ‘On my desk. Two o’clock.’

Cathy slumped. ‘Eek! Can I finish after lunch? I was supposed to meet my mum.’

Dylan froze in her tracks. Her eyes narrowed. ‘Two o’clock, Cathy. No later. See your mother on your time—not mine.’

‘If you insist,’ Cathy conceded, reaching for her mobile phone.

Dylan could feel Cathy’s eyes burning into her back until she kicked the door of her office shut behind her. She no doubt thought Dylan was the Wicked Witch of the East, but she was unapologetic about her demands. That was how she did things. If it had to be done, it had to be done yesterday. It had to be flawless, and no matter what sacrifice was needed, she would lay it on the line. All or nothing, that was Dylan’s approach to her career, and she did not mind cracking skulls to achieve it.

Dylan’s phone rang and, noting the caller, she picked it up immediately.

‘Dylan. My office, please,’ Gregory Maynard requested in his calm authoritarian tone.

‘I’ll be right there.’ Dylan replaced the phone on its receiver. She grabbed her notebook and pen from her desk before hurrying out of her office and down the hallway.

‘Good afternoon.’ Dylan smiled as she entered his lavish office. ‘I didn’t see you this morning. Big case?’

‘Is there any other kind at this practice?’ he asked, closing the door behind her. ‘Please, sit.’

Dylan sat on the leather seat in front of his desk while Gregory positioned himself on the edge of the desk, propping himself against it and folding his hands in front of him.

‘We have a new case,’ he began. ‘A good friend of mine has a daughter who wants a quickie divorce.’ He rubbed his hand through his greying hair, bringing it down to his chin. ‘We “have” to make this happen, Dylan. He’s placing his faith in this firm and me.’ He got up and walked over to the window, staring down from the 8th-floor office, overlooking Temple, London’s legal district.

‘Is the father anyone I know?’ she asked, shifting uncomfortably in her seat.

‘Max Massey. The CEO of Magenta.’

‘The investment company in the Docklands?’

He turned to face her and raised his dark eyebrows. They conflicted with the short brush of straight grey hair overhanging his forehead. ‘You’ve heard of them?’

‘I have, yes, from my time at law school.’ A ripple of self-satisfaction ran through her. ‘So he wants his daughter’s case to be handled as discreetly as possible?’

‘Now, see, that is exactly why I know I can rely on you.’ He strode back to his desk. ‘Here’s the file,’ he said, passing her a thin case file she was almost disappointed with. ‘This case needs to be cut and dried. It can’t go to court. A baby is involved, and it just might ruffle a few feathers with the more moral citizens. I don’t want the media getting wind of it.’

‘Consider it done,’ she answered, perusing the first few pages.

Gregory resumed his position, propping himself on the corner of his desk. ‘You know what a favourable outcome for our client will mean?’ he said, his steely look demanding attention.

‘We scratch his back, and he’ll scratch ours.’

‘Correct. So I want you to impress the client. I want her to report only good things back to her father,’ he explained, his usual tranquil tone making him sound more like a professor of theology than a deadly advocate.

‘I’ll take care of it,’ she reassured him.

‘Good.’ He nodded. ‘And don’t forget, look into everything.’

‘Of course.’

Gregory continued, ‘We can never afford to be lenient or ignorant, not for a minute, you see?’ His clear blue eyes that belied his age bored into hers. ‘Even the strongest armies have to keep stock of their enemies’ positions. You never know who we might come up against.’ He folded his hands around his bent knee.

Dylan couldn’t help but smile. On his wedding finger, a single gold band shimmered, confronting the irony of a man who made a living from broken marriages and spousal abuse, bitter custody battles and heartbreak, while he lived in blissful harmony with his wife.

‘Understood. I’ll take a look at the file and contact his daughter to set up an appointment,’ Dylan said. She stood up, straightened her skirt, and walked towards the door.

‘One more thing, Dylan,’ he said quickly.

She turned to face him, her eyes remaining fixed and unwavering. ‘Yes?’

‘If you get the desired outcome, you’ll be up for Junior Partner.’ He broke out into a grin. ‘That’s how confident I am in your abilities.’

Dylan beamed, fighting the feelings of dread that flooded her at the same time. Those were the words she had longed for since she started working for the firm. For now, she avoided the immense pressure of Maynard’s expectations and enjoyed the moment.

‘Thank you. You know I won’t disappoint you,’ she asserted with a slight bow of her head.

‘I know, Dylan, I know. You are my daughter after all.’


***


In her spacious office, Dylan sat at her glass desk and flicked through Robyn Massey’s file. ‘Let’s see what we’ve got here, then?’ she said as she scanned the pages. The case looked simple enough to Dylan. Ms Massey and her soon-to-be ex-wife had been married for five years. A quick glance at Ms Massey’s income showed she was a high earner. One hundred and fifty grand a year. Dylan let out a low whistle. Not bad for working for Daddy. The child in question was three months old. Robyn Massey wasn’t the biological mother although her name was on the birth certificate. Dylan scanned the rest of the pages, checking to see who was representing Robyn’s wife.

That’s strange. No solicitor. Open and shut for sure. Why on earth would it be handed to me? Not that she cared. The quicker the win, the faster she moved up the work ladder. She continued reading, noting quickly that Robyn Massey’s previous solicitor had only filed a divorce petition. There was one problem concerning maintenance for the baby. Her new client wanted to absolve herself of any responsibility.

Dylan cupped a hand to her chin. ‘Hmm, this could be interesting after all.’ Before she could plan her strategy, she would need full disclosure on the arrangements the couple made regarding the pregnancy—before and after. As well as any affairs or transgressions, something Dylan knew most people were reluctant to share, to the detriment of the case outcome.

She put her feet up on the desk and read carefully. Piece by piece, she picked apart the circumstances of the case, as she always did. This way, she could find discrepancies more easily and reshuffle the facts. This was called spinning—twisting the facts to serve the purpose of the spinner’s intentions, and Dylan was a master of it.

A knock on the door revealed Cathy. In her hand, she held a folder with the statement she had completed during her lunch break.

‘Ah! Thanks, Cathy,’ Dylan said curtly. ‘This one will have to wait now. We have a new client that gets preference over Mr Wallow.’

Cathy’s mouth fell open when Dylan took the folder and tossed it into the ‘To Do’ tray for later attention.

Looking at Cathy with one eyebrow slightly raised, Dylan asked, ‘What?’

Cathy’s cheeks turned scarlet. ‘Nothing. Nothing. I’ll have a quick snack in the kitchen, if you don’t mind, having missed lunch to finish your urgent work.’

Dylan answered very cordially, ‘Of course, Cathy. Take all the time you need. You deserve it.’

Cathy’s eyes widened, but she remained silent as she turned on her heel and left.

Dylan sank back in her chair, smiling at her personal assistant’s futile exasperation, before returning her attention to the file.


Chapter Seven

Abi crept into Jake’s bedroom. The baby slept like a rock, unmoved, apart from the tiniest light snore. He didn’t seem bothered by the small, cramped space into which she’d managed to squeeze his wooden cot. Nor the drab pine furnishings that surrounded him. In an attempt to brighten the place, Abi had painted the walls in a soothing pastel colour and hung animated pictures of animals and teddy bears. It wasn’t perfect, but for now, it would have to do.

Abi tucked Jake’s blue blanket under his chin and rested the palm of her hand against his cheek. Her heart squeezed painfully at the thought of leaving him. ‘Don’t worry, little one, Auntie Tia’s here.’ She spoke softly as she leant into the cot and kissed his forehead. ‘She’ll take care of you while Mummy’s at work.’

It was hard to believe that at one stage a baby was the last thing Abi wanted. Until the age of thirty-eight, she was the sole carer for her elderly parents. When they both died within six months of each other, despite her grief, she was relieved her caring days were over and was looking forward to only having herself to think about. It would have remained the case had she not met Robyn.

She heard a creak behind her, and the door opened. Abi’s sister edged into the room and stood beside her. Tia was slightly taller than Abi with a mass of frizzy blonde hair trailing halfway down her back.

‘Why don’t you let him sleep a bit longer? I’ll look after him here today. He looks so peaceful and angelic.’

Abi tilted her head and sighed. ‘I know. And to think if it wasn’t for Robyn’s insistence on us having a child, he wouldn’t even be here.’ She snorted. ‘I thought I’d finally made it, Tia, despite all the odds. Instead, I’m working two dead-end jobs, I’ve got bills coming out my arse I can’t afford to pay, and all the responsibility of being a single mum. Some fairy tale ending, eh?’

Tia bumped her shoulder. ‘Come on. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You weren’t to know that Robyn would turn out to be the lowest of the low.’ Tia glanced down at Jake, then whispered, ‘All that matters is something good came out of the whole sorry mess.’

Abi nodded her head in agreement. Yes, I have Jake, if nothing else. ‘Do you think I’ll ever figure Robyn out?’

‘Why do you need to?’

‘I dunno. I mean, it’s fair enough if she doesn’t want anything to do with me, but what’s Jake done?’

Tia gripped Abi’s hand. ‘Maybe Robyn’s just an arsehole. Who knows and, to be honest, who cares? Some people can’t cope when kids come into the picture. But do you know what? That’s her problem, not yours.’

‘I didn’t tell you this before, but as soon as I became pregnant, Robyn wanted me to have an abortion. That’s despite it being her idea. Explain that one if you can.’ Abi sighed. ‘Apparently I pressured her into parenthood.’

Abi still couldn’t believe the juvenile capacity by which Robyn, a normally intelligent person, could determine such a thing.

Tia’s expression faltered just a fraction. ‘What a bitch. And there I was thinking her cheating on you with that slut was as low as she’d go.’

Abi’s jaw tensed at the mention of Robyn’s unfaithfulness. The thought of Robyn and her young lover made her feel physically sick. She fought to keep the bitterness out of her voice when she spoke. ‘It’s a pity Robyn doesn’t share your morals.’

‘Let’s hope karma bites her in her fat arse. If it’s true what I heard about her girlfriend, it will, tenfold.’

A breath hitched in Abi’s throat as she envisioned the two of them. Happy and in love, with not a care in the world. There was no worse feeling than the sting of realising that your wife was loving someone else, and you had now become invisible. A close second was being left alone to deal with all the responsibilities because you and your child simply became inconvenient. The irony amazed her sometimes; how the very thing she never wanted, the perceived bane of her existence, became the one thing that kept her going—the one thing that inspired her and would love her unconditionally.

‘Like you keep telling me, I just need to take one day at a time and stop thinking so far ahead.’

Tia placed a hand on her shoulder. ‘That’s right, so no more moping about, alright? Get some fire in your belly. Let that bitch know you’re not gonna be her doormat anymore. I know the old Abi’s in there dying to get out.’

‘Please, less of the old. My creaking joints are the only proof I need to know I’m no spring chicken.’

‘Young, old, it doesn’t matter. You’ll meet someone one day. In the meantime, you need to get Robyn out of your head.’

Abi raised a smile, but there was no humour in it. ‘That’s easier said than done, believe me.’

Despite what her head told her, Abi still missed Robyn—her Robyn. She missed being loved, the companionship, and the feeling of being important to someone. But she knew in her heart Robyn wouldn’t be coming back to her. It was over. Their once sweet love had gone sour, no matter how she wished it was otherwise.

‘Nothing lasts forever, Abi. Not even heartache.’

Abi leant into the cot and pecked Jake’s chubby cheek, then pushed herself back to a standing position. ‘Anyway, enough of this. I’d better go and get ready for work.’ She made for the doorway, turning to face Tia before stepping out into the dank, dark hallway. ‘You’re the only one that’s been there for me. I don’t know what I’d do without you.’

Tia smiled. ‘Well, it’s a good thing you and Jakey aren’t going to have to, isn’t it? I’m not going anywhere.’

If I could at least afford to pay her for looking after Jake, I wouldn’t feel so guilty. Abi had been forced back to work only a few weeks after Jake’s birth. Robyn had kicked them out of their home, with no thought to what they would live on or where they would go. Luckily, Abi had managed to find a small flat that she could just about afford. Thinking of money, Abi’s heart sank when she realised she still had four days until payday with only five pounds left to her name. After paying the rent, food bills, and all the stuff Jake needed, she was barely keeping her head above water. Abi refused to go on benefits. Why should she when she had a wife who should be contributing to their son’s upbringing?

Against her better judgement, Abi found her mobile in her bedroom and sat down on the bed, squeezing it between her hands. She took a minute to gather her thoughts. The message had to be quick and to the point. She knew how Robyn hated time wasters. Abi turned the phone upwards and typed out a text message with great reluctance.


Hi, Robyn. I was wondering if you can help Jakey and me with some money for food, please. Have not been able to make ends meet this week. Thanks in advance.


When she pressed the send button, her fingers left behind a residue of vapour, her heart pounding from the unpleasant rush of having to engage with Robyn at all.

Her heart stopped as her phone buzzed.

‘Please don’t make me regret texting you Robyn,’ she said, anxious inside.

Her sweaty fingers opened the message. It was a simple reply, but it carried chapters of psychology within it.


No, I won’t give you any money. Not now, not ever. That’s what you have a job for.


Chapter Eight

Still reeling from Robyn’s text message, Abi gave up trying to hide the fact that she was crying. By some sort of grace from God, she found herself walking to work in heavy rainfall. Like her tears, the water came unrelenting. Rapidly darting like phantoms, the people who passed her by shimmered in and out of her line of sight. A blast of wind blew back her hood as she hastened through the sheets of rain, wetting her hair and spoiling the meagre make-up she’d applied. She roughly pulled her hood back on top of her head. The more she thought of Robyn, the angrier she got—denying her money for food was the final straw. How can she be so cruel? So uncaring? All I ever did was love her, and this is how she repays me. By shitting on me from a great height. Up until now, Abi had played by the rules. But no more. She was going to have to stop feeling sorry for herself if she was going to pull her shit together.

All great wars have begun with one foot, not a foot advancing towards the enemy, but a foot put down. For Abi, that war had just begun. That revitalizing thought made her raise her head. Across the street, under the turmoil of the darkening sky, she noticed a brown building. It was an old, weather-torn lump of bricks that had been beautifully restored. Am I going blind? How could I have not seen it before? I walk down this street every day?

Yet there it was, larger than life in its quiet authority. She crossed the road and stood in front of the towering building. A small plaque in marble had black chiselled lettering on it that convinced Abi that all things did happen for a reason:


Syner & Associates—Solicitors


Did it have to rain for me to finally see what has been right in front of me all this time? Abi’s mum had always told her that ‘some solutions could only be seen through tears’. A faint smile played on her lips as she added her own thoughts. Just as some restored old buildings can only be seen through veils of rain. With little regard for the hour, Abi veered from her usual timed course to work and entered the building.

Inside the lobby, the heavy glass door slammed behind her with a clamour. Abi flinched, waiting for the glass to shatter and then let out a sigh of relief when it remained intact. She eyed her immediate surroundings with interest. Two large curtain-less windows stretched from the high ceiling to the floor where huge potted plants obscured their bottom windowsills. Only black wrought iron bars adorned the windows as if the renovators wished it to be a prison. The polished wooden floor was covered by a large Persian rug.

Above the only entrance to a wide corridor, Abi admired a painting that held a tinge of menace to it. Sharp and contrasted, the oils on the canvas depicted a stunning redheaded goddess, standing before two giant doors. Under her flowing red hair was a beautiful pale body and face, but her eyes were positively striking. Bright blue, narrowed eyes pierced Abi’s as if she were being watched by a depiction from centuries before.

‘Who are you?’ she asked the painting inadvertently, and almost immediately she felt utterly stupid.

‘Her name is Syn.’ The words came from behind her, silky and smooth.

‘Oh my God.’ Abi slammed her hand on her chest and turned to face a woman just escaping the chaos of the rain. Despite the weather conditions, the woman’s sleek blonde hair remained perfectly unruffled.

‘I’m sorry. Did I scare you?’ The woman smiled as she closed the front door and wiped her feet on the mat carefully.

‘Um, uh ...’ Abi awkwardly shook her head. ‘Actually, no. I just feel silly for talking to a painting.’

The newcomer shook her head. ‘Not at all. In churches, people speak to statues and pray to unseen spirits, so to speak. There is power in faith, no matter what the medium, I say.’ The woman’s grey-green eyes sparkled with mischief. ‘Harper Anderson.’

Abi took an instant liking to her warm nature. ‘Nice to meet you. I’m Abi.’ Abi smiled and briefly shook the woman’s elegant hand. ‘What did you say her name was?’ She pointed at the painting of the stern deity.

‘S-y-n, pronounced as “sign”. She’s the Norse goddess of ... well, a few things, one of which is justice. But there’s a special twist because this handmaiden presides over unfair cases—those where people have been wronged unjustly, and they need an advocate to vindicate them in a court of law,’ Harper explained to Abi in a dreamy voice while admiring the painting. It was clear that she was a fan of the goddess. She looked at Abi and, in a rather playful, almost adolescent voice, she said, ‘Cool, huh?’

Abi laughed and looked up at Syn’s firm expression, and deep inside she felt a sense of belonging, a sort of protection settling over her that she could not pinpoint.

‘In that case,’ she looked at Harper, ‘I’ve come to the right place.’

‘Are you here to see Charles ... or Martha, perhaps?’ Harper asked.

‘Oh, no. No. Actually, I don’t really know who I came to see. I just ...’ Abi lowered her eyes to the ground and sought the right words. She could feel the unfairness scratch at her sense of justice again, a slithering demon of emotions causing her eyes to suddenly brim with tears.

‘Abi?’

Harper’s voice floated in the air and, in Abi’s troubled mind, the image of Syn came together with that sweet sound of compassion that soothed her and made her feel safe from the hurt scratching at her composure.

‘I need help.’ Her voice was high pitched as she tried to cram the past year of her suffering into a few sentences. ‘I haven’t got enough money to live on … my baby will be the one to suffer my wife doesn’t want to support himI can’t go on like this anymore!’

Abi finally buckled under the emotional stress of reality and her preordained doom that she was convinced nobody in Britain’s cruel judicial system would ever care to change. Here she was, pathetic and beaten, imploring a stranger just to listen, hoping that by some miracle it would seep through somewhere in karma’s conduits.

‘Abi. If I can help you with your problem, I will. Don’t fret, okay?’

Immediately she felt stupid. ‘I’m so sorry,’ Abi said, fussing with her hair.

‘You have nothing to apologise for. You’re clearly under a lot of stress,’ Harper said. ‘Listen, I have half an hour free before my first client is due. If you’ve got the time, come to my office and tell me what this is all about.’

‘But you don’t understand,’ she muttered. ‘I can’t afford to pay solicitors’ fees, and my soon-to-be ex-wife knows it.’ Abi sighed in defeat as she looked around the prestigious room, then at Harper dressed in an expensive grey suit. ‘I doubt I could even afford a minute of your time.’

Harper looked at her quizzically and raised her eyebrows. ‘You’re in the middle of a divorce? Well, in that case, you really have come to the right place. And don’t worry, you won’t have to pay for my services.’ There was a strong determination in Harper’s voice as she led Abi towards her office. ‘Your wife will, out of the settlement you’re going to win.’

Chapter Nine

The cup of coffee warming Dylan’s hands provided the much-needed caffeine boost her body was craving. She glanced at the oversized clock on the wall. Robyn Massey was due for their first appointment any minute. Putting the cup on her desk, she quickly checked the documents she needed Robyn to sign were all in place.

‘Ms Blue,’ Cathy said, suddenly appearing in the doorway.

‘Christ, Cathy! You trying to give me a heart attack?’ she cried with a gasp.

Cathy covered her mouth with her hand, but Dylan could see a glint of satisfaction in her eyes from making her jump. ‘Ms Massey called. She’s not coming. She wants you to meet her at her office, instead.’

‘Excuse me?’ Dylan snapped, slipping her stylish black framed glasses a little down her nose to look at Cathy.

She said, I quote, “I don’t have time to drive all the way there for such a minor matter, it would be better for me if she met me at my office at five-thirty”.’ Cathy looked at her notepad where she had written down the address given by Robyn.

Dylan sat, stunned. Her pen dropped to her lap while she kept her eyes fixed on Cathy.

‘You’re messing with me, aren’t you?’ So Robyn Massey was playing true to form, wanting everyone at her beck and call. She sounded exactly like the arsehole her prior solicitor said she was.

‘No, I’m not.’ Cathy shook her head contritely.

You’re telling me, not only is she late for her appointment, but she now wants me to go halfway across the city in the rush hour because she deems our meeting unimportant?’

‘Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. If you leave now, it should only take …’ Cathy looked at her wristwatch. ‘Around two hours,’ Cathy finished gleefully.

‘Jesus Christ! What a bitch!’ Dylan raved just loud enough to rant and just soft enough not to be heard by any of her colleagues in the hallway. She slammed the folder shut on her desk and gestured for Cathy to bring her the jotted address.

‘It’s times like this I wish I had a clone to deal with clients,’ she said as she perused the location.

‘Two of you? How would the world cope?’ Cathy said sarcastically.

Dylan narrowed her eyes but ignored her comment. ‘God, I hate humans.’

‘I hope you don’t hate all of us, Dylan,’ Gregory said, poking his head around the door and shocking Dylan back to reality as Cathy returned to her desk, tittering.

‘No, of course not, just one at the moment,’ Dylan said reflexively, waving her hand demonstratively across Robyn Massey’s file. Just this pain in the arse.

‘You know most, if not all, of our clientele, are bona fide pricks.’

‘Do I ever.’

He raised his eyebrows. ‘Well-paying pricks at that.’

‘I know.’

‘And we have to accommodate their arrogance as far as humanly possible.’

‘It’s very unfortunate, though, isn’t it?’ she said, looking up at the ceiling thoughtfully.

‘I totally agree with you.’ He smiled, tapping his lean, gold-adorned wedding finger against the doorway’s aluminium. ‘But then again, we chose this profession because no matter how cordial we are, we know that evil pays. We don’t condone it. We just make sure that those who do, make us rich in the process.’

‘With respect,’ Dylan smiled in obvious admiration, ‘you’re slicker than the Devil.’

‘That’s what you keep telling me.’ He grinned. ‘And I’m pleased to see you’re exactly like me.’

Before Dylan could reply, he turned and walked off with a self-assured gait.

The Devil would be nothing without his sinners, would he?’ she said to herself as she gathered up her files, signed off from her laptop, and placed it in the black leather Samsonite sling bag she always carried with her. Robyn’s lucky this case is important to my dad otherwise I’d tell her to shove it where the sun don’t shine.

When she walked past Cathy’s desk, she tossed a deposition in Cathy’s ‘In’ tray and said, ‘Needs Maynard’s signature after you re-draft it. Thanks.’

Dylan rushed to the lift and disappeared behind the silver sliding doors. But not before she heard Cathy say, ‘Get knotted, Ms Blue.’


***


Dylan arrived at the specified address as directed by her sat-nav. While driving like a maniac through traffic, she’d repeatedly tried to call Robyn on her mobile to tell her that she would be at least another twenty minutes, which was a miracle in itself considering the time of day. Not that Dylan really cared. It wasn’t her fault that Robyn had pissed her about—so if by being late she was inconvenienced, tough shit.

As she turned the corner of the front facade of the building, where the ‘Reception’ sign was hidden behind a giant Yucca bush, she saw a tall, slender woman with short spiky hair unlocking her Lexus. Trusting her gut instinct that this was her new client, Dylan pulled up to the car and lowered her window.

‘Ms Massey?’

The woman turned to face her, nodding her head irately. ‘Is this the service I’m paying for? You’re late, I was just about to leave,’ she barked, hands set on her waist.

Dylan was taken aback by the aggressiveness of the woman. Though attractive, her features were stern and her grey eyes steely cold—vacant, even.

Dylan smiled as she exited her car, taking her time to move to the rear door and gather her belongings. Only after locking her car did she finally speak.

‘May I remind you, Ms Massey that my services are paid for by your father. Therefore, I would appreciate you refraining from confusing me with the hired help. Also, I would kindly advise you to address me with respect.’ She smiled to lighten the obligatory blow she had to deliver to circumcise Robyn’s attitude. ‘This advice is free—remember it and we’re going to get on swimmingly.’

She watched as Robyn swallowed her attitude quickly with a sheepish smile. ‘Sorry. I’m tired, it’s been a long day.’

‘Obviously. Shall we go inside to your office … unless you want to discuss your case out here?’

‘No, inside,’ Robyn said, gesturing to the door of the reception area. ‘I’m sure you could do with a drink after your long drive over.’

If there was any malice behind Robyn’s words, Dylan missed it. All she saw was a woman who seemed in shock that someone hadn’t crumbled beneath her rudeness.

‘I just need to go through the basics with you and get your signature on a few things. I won’t keep you long.’

‘No worries, take as long as you want, Ms Blue. I’m the one who’s inconvenienced you, after all,’ Robyn said, leading the way along the narrow path to the building.

‘Yes, you did,’ Dylan said haughtily as she remembered her evening plans had been interrupted because of this ill-mannered woman. Dylan strode into the air conditioned building with purpose and mentally pushed any grievances to the back of her mind. Let the games commence.

Chapter Ten

Harper’s office smelt like the perfume counter at Boots. It was a well-known fact that Shay, her assistant, stopped by there daily before she bought her lunch from the sandwich shop next door. Although she hadn’t been in Harper’s office for a few hours, the fresh citrusy scent still remained. Harper stood by the window overlooking a busy main road. She liked to people watch and imagine the kind of lives they led, who they went home to—or not. Now that the working day had officially come to an end, she had a decision to make. With her mounting workload, should she take on Abi’s case or pass it on to another colleague?

Harper had many single parents come through her door for help, but for some reason none had left the kind of impression Abi had. In a way, she reminded Harper so much of herself. Abi was certainly not ready to admit defeat, no matter how much she’d tried to convince herself that she was weak or inept. Deep down she was a fighter. With the constant blows her wife had laid on her, Harper was surprised that Abi wasn’t on her knees already. She knew stronger women who wouldn’t have got as far as she had.

A tap on the door broke into her thoughts. Shay, a petite woman with a slight limp and glasses, appeared in the doorway. Her glossy brick red hair fell on her shoulders with soft curls and her pale skin gave away her Irish origins. ‘Well, what’s it to be? Yay or nay?’

Harper looked at her quizzically.

Shay let out a frustrated sigh. ‘You know what I mean. Abi. The woman that came in earlier.’

Harper made a snap decision there and then. ‘At the moment, it’s looking like a yay.’ Somehow, she would have to fit her in. Even if it meant working late. Abi’s lack of money wouldn’t be a problem. Harper’s firm allowed their solicitors to take on clients who couldn’t afford to pay but didn’t qualify for legal aid, at their discretion. But only if they thought they had a good chance of a settlement.

Shay broke into a grin. ‘Fantastic! If a woman ever needed your help, it’s her. I don’t know how you do your job, listening to all of these people suffering. I heard Martha is thinking about leaving law and studying massage.’

Harper laughed. ‘Martha, a masseuse? You’ve got to be kidding me.’

‘Nope. Her assistant told me she’s still in pieces after being ripped to shreds by one of the wolves over at Maynard’s.’

‘She’ll be alright once she settles in. All newbies get dragged across hot coals in their first few cases. The memory soon fades after you’ve been round the block a few times.’

Shay looked doubtful. ‘If you say so. But I wouldn’t stay here if I were her. I’d rather be happy than miserable, regardless of the money.’

Harper smiled at her sadly. Shay Morgan had been in a serious car accident in which she nearly died. Instead of looking at her survival as a godsend, Shay’s then husband turned his back on her. He’d told her she was broken goods because of the injuries she’d sustained and had divorce papers delivered to her hospital bed.

Syner & Associates were assigned to facilitate the divorce proceedings, and that was when Shay’s plight compelled Harper to take her under her wing and hire her as an assistant when she was well enough to leave the hospital.

‘Do you think you’ll get a decent settlement?’ Shay asked, scrutinizing Harper through her thin spectacles.

‘She has a good case. I’m going to try my very best,’ Harper told Shay matter-of-factly. ‘I won’t be fighting just for her, though. There’s an innocent baby involved as well.’

‘It’s always the children who come off worst.’

‘Yes, they do, and that’s why I’m going to take great pleasure in hammering Abi’s wife. Imagine abandoning a baby just because she decided motherhood didn’t suit her.’

Shay gasped. ‘Terrible. Absolutely terrible.’ She dropped onto a chair opposite Harper and stared up at the ceiling in thought, her mouth agape. ‘When I hear how cruel people are to each other, sometimes I wish I’d died in that car crash.’

Harper reached over and squeezed her hand. ‘There’re a lot of good people in the world, Shay. They’re not all bad apples. Even the ones that pass through the doors of solicitors like Maynard’s.’

‘If you say so,’ Shay nodded.

‘Anyway, I’ve told Abi to contact the Child Maintenance Service to sort out support payments straight away. Her wife has just bullied her since they split. Forcing her to leave the family home, withholding money. If this goes to court she won’t have a leg to stand on.’

‘Is there anyone else involved?’

‘Isn’t there always?’

Chapter Eleven

Like liquid, metallic crimson, the nail polish poured itself from the tiny hairs of the brush and bled out onto Tiffany’s fingernail. With expert precision, she gently spread the red stickiness from her cuticle to the edge of her elongated nail where it ended in a brisk spittle of gel. The smell always intoxicated Robyn. It reminded her of when she was a teenager, and she’d sleepover at her best friend’s house. She would watch Melanie groom herself like a grown woman and fantasise about her running her newly-painted nails down her back, screaming out in ecstasy as Robyn fucked her senseless. Unfortunately, that’s all it ever remained—a fantasy.


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