include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Deuce by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.




Deuce




Jen Silver




2019









Back of the Book



When Jay Reid was in her twenties, she had it all. A professional tennis career, Charlotte, the love of her life and a new baby. It ended far too soon when Charlotte’s research vessel, RV Caspian, was lost at sea, leaving Jay to raise their child alone.

But Charlotte was, in fact, the sole survivor of the RV Caspian. Rescued by a local fisherman, with no memory of her life before, she lives on the Faroe Islands as Katrin Nielsen. Seeing a beached seal one day triggers her memory and slowly her other identity comes back to her. She returns to England to try to reclaim her life with Jay and their child.

Twenty-three years is a long time. Is the love they once shared strong enough to be rekindled or have too many years passed eroding all hope of a happy ever after?


Deuce

Copyright © 2019 by Jen Silver


Smashwords Edition


All rights reserved.


ISBN: 978-1-98-854994-1


First Edition


PDF, ePub, mobi


Published: Month Date 2018


This book is Published by

Affinity eBook Press NZ LTD

Canterbury, New Zealand


E-mail: affinity@affinityebooks.com


Editor: JoSelle Vanderhooft

Proof Editor: Alexis Smith

Cover Design by Irish Dragon Designs

Production Design: Affinity Publishing Services

* * *

This work is copyrighted and is licensed only for use by the original purchaser and can be copied to the original purchaser's electronic device and its memory card for your personal use. Modifying or making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, without limit, including by email, CD, DVD, memory cards, file transfer, paper printout or any other method, constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions.

* * *

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.








Acknowledgments





During the writing of this book I revisited the selkie legends of the Scottish islands and, further north, the Faroe Islands.

In these stories, handed down to each generation, the seal people, selkies as they’re called in Scotland, come ashore and shed their skins to take on human forms. They are reputed to be beautiful, handsome beings, gentle souls – but beguiling to ordinary mortals. Attempts to keep them from returning to the sea by stealing and hiding their seal skins generally leads to disaster and heartbreak.

The cover image is of the statue of Kópakonan—the seal woman—who features in a well-known folktale in the Faroe Islands.

I would like to thank Affinity for taking the chance on publishing what may seem like a fairly improbable premise for a romance.









Dedication


For Anne, with love, always










Also, by Jen Silver



Single Stories:

Calling Home

Changing Perspectives

Running From Love

Christmas at Winterbourne

The Circle Dance



Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting Over

Arc Over Time

Carved in Stone



Short Stories:

There Was a Time

The Christmas Sweepstake (Affinity’s 2014 Christmas Collection)

Beltane in Space (It’s in Her Kiss—Affinity Charity Anthology)

Maybe This Christmas (Affinity’s Christmas Medley 2017)



Table of Contents


Prologue


PART ONE

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven


PART TWO

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten


PART THREE

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen


PART FOUR

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Epilogue

About the Author

Other Affinity Books









Prologue





I recall that the day started as many other days had for Katrin Nielsen, and I watch it now like a movie reel unfurling in my mind…



Once she had seen Konrad off to his morning lessons, Katrin washed their breakfast dishes and tied her hair back to stop it blowing across her face on the short walk to the library, such as it was; a grand name for the single-room turf-roofed hut. She was looking forward to opening the new shipment of books that had arrived from Copenhagen the day before. The books would need to be covered and catalogued but that was a job she enjoyed.

She sniffed the air when she left her work to go home at lunchtime. Only ten of the new books had been processed. Katrin always stretched the job out to make the most of the brief respite from the regular daily chore of gutting fish from the night trawlers’ catches.

Konrad came racing up the path towards her before she reached their house. She loved the way he moved. Fourteen years old and all long limbs and awkwardness. He reminded her of someone she’d once known. A flicker of recognition that came and went like a lighthouse beam piercing the night.

“Mamma. Come. There’s a seal on the sand. It’s stranded.”

Katrin gathered her coat closer to her body and followed her son down the winding path to the small strip of beach that was only visible at low tide. A few of her neighbours were already there standing around the large mammal lying on its side.

“Is it ill?” she heard one of them ask.

Katrin moved closer until she could see the creature clearly. “No. It’s not ill. Seals do this from time to time. Haul out so they can rest, digest a big meal. She will rejoin the sea on the next incoming tide.”

Konrad was staring at her open-mouthed, as was her nearest neighbour, Lars. She looked past them, past the recumbent seal, to the waves beginning the cycle of return to the shore. Her mind left them there, reverberations in her head, the swell of the sea, frantic shouts, holding on and holding on, wet, cold, pulling and pushing, falling into darkness….

“Mamma!” A boy’s anxious face came into focus.

“What?”

“Are you okay? You said something now in a foreign language. About the seal.”

“It will be okay. It’s resting.”



As I turned away and walked back up the steep path, so many images rushed through my thoughts—faces, and one in particular. A name. Jay. Where was she? I had to get back to Jay and my baby. A small bundle in my arms, tiny fist curling and uncurling…and one thought gained prominence as I reached the cliff top…I am Charlotte Summersbridge.









PART ONE








Chapter One





The lane leading up to the house was little more than a farm track, deep ruts on either side of the strip of grass. Tess checked her satnav. The image on the screen clearly showed a turn into the unnamed lane. Her destination lay at the end of it, only thirty seconds away. She thought she’d heard the name of the cottage as Sea View, but the small wooden sign pointing up the lane read “Seal View.” Hoping the undercarriage of her car wouldn’t suffer, she maneuvered it slowly round the corner. No horrible scraping noises alerted her to possible damage.

When the reclusive Jay Reid agreed to see her, Tess had envisioned meeting in a London hotel. However, the retired tennis player’s business manager, Mo Farrell, made it clear Jay spent most weekends away from the city, and the winter months always found her sequestered on the lonely stretch of coastline near Hunstanton from Friday to Monday.

Had she taken up bird watching? Tess couldn’t think of much else to occupy anyone out here on the eastern edge of England. An edge that was receding further away from the continent each year as if the shoreline had a Brexit plan of its own.

Birds of the non-feathered variety were mainly what she hoped to ferret out on this visit. Jay Reid’s reputation for bedding young players on the tour had outweighed her achievements of winning two Grand Slam titles and briefly holding the number-one spot in the world rankings.

Getting her to name names wouldn’t be easy. No one had come forward in the twenty-three years since Jay’s retirement from the tour. The adage of “what happens on tour stays on tour” seemed to have held true. But with the revelations of, mainly male, abuse of power hitting the headlines every day, Tess wondered how long it would be before someone would indulge in a “kiss and tell” story from Jay’s past.

She had seen the photos, watched the videos. Jay Reid’s meteoric tennis career shone brightly for eight years, then crashed and burned. At twenty-seven years old, the British star seemed to have no barriers to continuing to play at a high level for many years to come.

With the expanse of North Sea shining in the distance, the cottage came into view when she rounded the last bend. The squat grey building looked like an extension of the landscape. Visiting on a sunny day made it less bleak, but Tess could imagine how desolate it would look on a windswept rainy day, which was likely most of the year on this coastline. She parked behind a battered-looking Land Rover—one of the old models, the green paintwork daubed with mud, giving it the look of an abandoned army vehicle. The gleaming chrome of the motorbike next to it looked more like the kind of transport Jay would use.

Tess grabbed her bag from the front seat and climbed out of her two-year-old Honda Civic. She did a quick inventory to make sure she had her camera, recorder, and notebook. Unnecessary, as she’d checked three times before leaving home early that morning. Walking past the Land Rover and the bike, she was greeted with an unexpected view of a well-tended garden, sloping down from a patio.

A woman came out of the open doors and stood looking at the view before turning to acknowledge Tess.

She hoped the shock didn’t show on her face. The photos she’d studied showed a tall, athletic figure with androgynous good looks. Jay Reid was only fifty years old. Surely she hadn’t shrunk so much or acquired so many lines on her face. Perhaps she had a drink or drugs problem.

The woman came closer. “Hi, we spoke on the phone. I’m Mo.”

“Oh. Of course.” Tess hoped her smile covered her initial reaction. She held out her hand, “Pleased to meet you.”

“Jay will be out in a few minutes.” Mo shook her hand with a strong grip. “I’ll leave you to it. You’ve got my number.” Nothing resembling a smile crossed her features, and she brushed past Tess after letting go of her hand.

The roar of the motorbike shattered another of her misjudgments since her arrival. She shook her head.



A flock of seagulls wheeled away from her line of sight. Whatever had attracted them to the shore below had no doubt been hoovered up in their greedy beaks. Jay glanced at the timer. Another ten minutes. She kept her legs moving. Spinning. An apt metaphor for her life, wheels turning, going nowhere.

The journalist would be here in half an hour. As soon as Jay had finally given Mo the go-ahead to tell the woman she would talk to her, Jay had had second thoughts. Did she really want to rake up the past? She had always been thankful her career ended before the advent of social media. A few paparazzi could be shaken off, but not now when seemingly everyone carried a mobile device capable of taking pictures and sending them out to the world. Her secrets would have been public knowledge in no time.

Fifty years old, half her life gone if she lived to a hundred. Half her life wasted. Why would anyone want to read about that? She started the five-minute cool-down and reminded herself she was doing it for Charley and the seals. Nothing else mattered. Her successes on the tennis courts, her conquests in bed, those were the moments the journalist would want her to talk about. But that wasn’t Jay’s over-riding passion any longer. It hadn’t been since she quit the circuit. The only thing that mattered, the one thing she had never publicly spoken of…the loss of the love of her life. Could she ever manage to explain what the world…her world…had lost when Charley and the rest of the research team disappeared into the depths of the North Sea?

Losing tennis matches had threatened at times to overwhelm her emotionally. But there was always another day, another game, and another chance to win. Losing Charley hit her harder than anything else she’d faced up to that point in her life. By the age of sixteen, she had already lost her parents to a car crash, and then four years later, her older brother to an oil-platform explosion only days after she won her first Grand Slam match. It was no wonder she held on tightly to what had been left to her—the baby she and Charley had planned to bring up together.

Mo called out from the kitchen, “I’m leaving now. The coffee pot’s set up. You just need to switch it on.”

“Thanks.” Jay stepped off the exercise bike and walked around the screen as Mo entered the conservatory. “I have time for a quick shower, don’t I?”

“Definitely. And don’t come any closer. You smell pretty ripe even from here.”

Jay flicked the towel at her. “Go, then. I’ll see you on Monday.”

“And play nice!” was Mo’s parting shot as she left.

“Don’t I always?” Jay muttered, heading for the shower.



“I never get tired of the view.”

Tess turned to face the speaker. Jay Reid in person. She could have stepped straight off a tennis court, dressed in shorts and a form-fitting T-shirt. If Tess hadn’t known her age, she would have thought Jay was closer to forty than fifty.

A small dog trotted out from behind Jay’s legs. Tess held out a hand for it to sniff. She wasn’t a dog person, but she knew this was a safe way to let the animal approach.

“He doesn’t bite.”

After a cursory sniff, the dog licked her fingers, then settled down under the wooden bench next to the conservatory door.

“He’s cute. What breed is he?’

“Boston terrier. Coffee?”

“Yes, thanks. Would you mind if I used your loo first?”

“No, of course not. On your right, past the kitchen.”

Tess’s first impressions proved wrong again. The conservatory, kitchen, and bathroom were all outfitted like an IKEA showroom. A quick peek into the sitting room revealed the aspect she’d expected: dark, authentic wooden beams not far above her head, and a stone fireplace at one end. For a moment, a strange feeling assaulted her. A sense she’d been here before. She’d never really believed in it, but it was a clear déjà-vu moment. Tess shook her head. She had never been to this part of the country in her life.

Jay had set out the coffee mugs on a table in the conservatory. Tess sat in the cushioned chair her host indicated. She hoped she was getting this first impression wrong as well. So far, the subject of her visit didn’t seem too thrilled to see her. None of the usual introductory pleasantries, asking about her journey, or even introducing herself. Obviously Tess knew who Jay was, and Jay knew she was coming. Still, it made her feel uncomfortable, off balance. Maybe that was the intention.

She helped herself to milk and a spoonful of sugar. The clatter of her spoon against the side of the mug brought the terrier back inside. He looked at the plate of digestive biscuits on the table, then up at Jay.

“No, Ritchie. They’re not for you.”

He seemed to understand and sat by Jay’s feet. She fondled his ears before reaching for her own mug. No milk or sugar for her. No wonder she looked trim for her age.

Tess had interviewed many people, some who were more willing to talk than others. She always got through in the end. But something about Jay Reid made her think this was going to be a particularly difficult task.

“When you’ve finished your drink, we’ll go down to the beach.”

“Okay.” She looked at her shoes. They were comfortable for walking, but she wished she wasn’t wearing a skirt. An October breeze off the North Sea wasn’t what she’d bargained for. But if walking would get Jay talking, then she would have to go with it.



The poor girl looked frozen by the time they walked back from the beach. So Jay led the way into the sitting room and got the fire started. It would take a few minutes for the flames to catch and start consuming the logs. Ritchie claimed his place by the hearth.

“Tea or coffee?” Jay would have offered something stronger, but Tess had a long drive ahead of her.

“Tea would be lovely, thanks.”

When Jay returned with the tray, Tess had set up her laptop. She moved it to one side of the low table to make room. With the tea poured and fire starting to crackle, Jay gave in to the inevitable purpose of the journalist’s visit.

Tess asked the usual questions about her early years. Talking about her parents didn’t get any easier with the passing of time. And she didn’t want to talk about Stewart. After deflecting those prompts, she moved on to the start of her tennis career. How she was self-taught, with her brother finally convinced it was the best way forward for her, after only two terms at university. They’d both learned the hard way that life was short. Her goal had been to play at Wimbledon, and she couldn’t believe her luck when she got a wild card into the tournament after only her first year on the tour. Two semi-final finishes had brought her to the attention of the higher echelons of the tennis world.

“You’ve seen the tapes, I guess.”

Tess nodded eagerly.

Jay didn’t need a visual reminder of that day. Her first win…and on the fabled grass of Wimbledon’s Centre Court. The only thing she expected to take away from the tournament was a coveted green-and-purple branded towel. Since she was a wild-card entrant the crowd didn’t expect much from her either. Until she reached the fourth round…then the semi-final…and the final. Virginia Wade’s 1977 win was a faint memory in the minds of even the most ardent British tennis fans.



Jay won the toss and let her opponent serve. Why? A question that was asked many times during the first set. Games went with serve for the first five, then she was broken and lost the first set 6–2.

Her opponent won the first game off her in the second set. Jay returned to her seat aware that the crowd was with her all the way now. She was sure to lose, but she was all theirs, British through and through. It was inconceivable that she could win. She looked up from behind her towel and smiled. The cameras picked up that smile, and commentators remarked how relaxed she looked considering the tremendous pressure she was under.

Jay led the way out for the next set, and the crowd had to be told to be quiet as her opponent prepared to serve. From then on, Jay outplayed her, frustrated her at every hard-won point until serious errors took their toll. So it finished with scores in her favour at 2–6, 6–1, 6–0. The spectators couldn’t believe it. They had watched her demolish the highest-ranked player in the tournament with seeming ease in the last two sets.

When she saw the video of the match a few days later, the cringe-making remarks of the commentators were embarrassing. They sounded almost upset, apologetic even, that she’d won.



Tess looked up from her laptop. “There was a pitch invasion when you won, wasn’t there?”

“I suppose you could call it that. Totally flummoxed the officials. They were gearing up for the usual sedate ceremony. I certainly didn’t expect to be carried around the court by a group of well-dressed toffs chanting, ‘We are the champions’. The Duchess of Kent, of course, didn’t let it fluster her.”

“What did she say to you?”

“I really don’t remember. ‘Well played’, or something to that effect.”

The girl’s next comments shouldn’t have come as a surprise. She had obviously researched Jay’s career thoroughly before coming to see her.

“Your brother and his girlfriend were in the players’ box. That must have meant a lot to you.”

“His girlfriend? Oh, you mean Charley.” Jay struggled to keep her emotions in check. “Yes, it meant a lot that they were there that day.” She stood and walked over to the window. “Looks like a storm front’s moving in. You might want to leave now to get back onto the main road before it hits.”



Tess drove away, more questions than answers seething through her thoughts. The alleged storm didn’t materialise until she had reached Norwich and parked in the pub car park. As she suspected, Jay had used the weather as an excuse to get rid of her. When she reached her room, Tess texted Alice to let her know she was staying overnight and could FaceTime with her when she got home from work.

The Wi-Fi was good enough to let her do some Internet searching, and the first name she typed in was Stewart Reid. She already knew his was one of the bodies not recovered after the Piper Alpha platform explosion. Just three days after seeing his sister win the Women’s Wimbledon final. Further searches led to a brief bio of the petroleum engineer and the fact his only surviving relative was a Julie Ann Reid.

Tess could have kicked herself for not picking up on this before. When she’d googled Jay Reid initially, the information connected to that name and the Wikipedia entry only mentioned her tennis career.

Julie Ann Reid was also a common name so she got a lot of hits, but Tess found her easily enough now, listed as the managing director and senior consultant at CSC, a physical therapy clinic in London which helped injured athletes and armed-forces personnel get back on their feet, sometimes quite literally. J. A. Reid, BSc, MCSP, CSP, HSPC…an impressive list attesting to her professional qualifications. The full name of the business only appeared on the about us page on the website, causing another mental jolt for Tess. CSC stood for Charlotte Summersbridge Clinic.

Falling back onto the bed, Tess closed her eyes. It was almost too much to take in. When she had first seen the footage of that Wimbledon final, the camera had focused often on Stewart Reid and his companion between serves. Large sunglasses and a wide-brimmed straw hat obscured most of the woman’s face but something about her struck a chord. Now she knew why. Jay had called her Charley, but Tess had known her as Auntie Char.



Jay paced up and down, kicking at a loose stone on the patio. Tess Bailey-Roberts. No reason she should have recognised the name. But the face was all too familiar. She couldn’t blame Mo. Her friend and agent hadn’t known Charley or Stewart and she hadn’t met the girl, only arranged the meeting on the phone.

Taking her for a walk along the beach had helped assuage the tightness in her chest. Jay had succeeded in giving out little personal information apart from her involvement as a volunteer in the mammal-watch programme. But back in the cottage, answering questions and reliving her first Grand Slam win, she’d had to find an excuse to end the conversation.

The girl was no fool. She would have realised soon enough that Jay had wanted to get rid of her. Although Jay had agreed to meet up again in London the following week, she would ask Mo to cancel.








Chapter Two





“What did you tell her?” Mo gave the salad a final toss and brought the bowl to the table.

Jay handed her a glass of red wine and sat. “Not a lot. She asked about my tennis career. That’s all anyone wants to know about me. It’s all they need to know.”

“Not quite all.”

“Of course she wants to know what I’ve done since then. So I took her down to the beach.”

Mo smothered a laugh. “Poor girl. She wasn’t dressed for a hike.”

“Hey, she’d driven all that way. Might as well have a close-up look at the sea. I think she enjoyed it.”

“A lecture on marine conservation wouldn’t have been high on her list of topics.”

Jay pushed the lettuce to the edge of her plate. “Well, she must be a good actor. Either that or she has a high threshold for boredom. Didn’t yawn once.”

“Did you make another appointment to see her again?”

“I did.”

Mo wished she had been able to convince Jay to see a therapist all those years ago. She hoped the journalist could draw Jay out. Her employer’s next words shut that idea down.

“But I want you to cancel.” Jay finished her wine and poured another generous measure.

Mo saw the darkness lurking in her friend’s eyes, something that usually only showed up on three significant dates throughout the year. “Why? Did she upset you in some way?” Mo didn’t think the attractive young woman she’d met outside the cottage looked at all threatening. “Oh shit. You made a pass at her.”

“Fuck no!” Jay gulped some more wine.

“What, then?” Mo moved the wine glass away. “No more of this until you tell me.”

Jay sighed and leant back in her chair. “She’s Charley’s daughter.”

“Charley had another child?” Mo reached for her own glass of wine. She thought she knew all the details of Jay’s early life, but this was news.

“She was in her third year at Uni and wanted to carry on to do a Masters. But the course involved a lot of travel expenses that her scholarship fund wouldn’t cover. So she agreed to be a surrogate for these two women she knew. One had been her biology teacher in high school. They were both over thirty and wanted a child but neither of them were able to carry one.”

Mo pushed Jay’s wine glass back across the table. “Wow. And this Tess is the result?”

“Yeah. Apart from her looks, she’s the right age. And she has her father’s eyes.”

“You knew the sperm donor?”

Jay took another slug of wine. “My brother.”

“Christ! So that means you’re her aunt.” Mo sipped her wine. “Biologically-speaking, that is.”

“Got it in one. Charley didn’t talk about her much. I knew she visited the family on occasion, usually when I was at a tournament abroad.”

“Does the girl know?”

“If she does, she didn’t let on.”

“Are you going to let Josh know he has a sister?”

“No.”

“Why not? He might like to know he has a family, apart from you.”

“We’ve done all right.”

Jay’s steely look alerted Mo to the fact she had overstepped the mark, again. But sometimes Jay needed a prod. “Of course you have. If you’ve finished pushing that tomato around your plate I’ll get the stew.”



Jay knew she was only fooling herself if she thought Tess was easily put off. If she even had a fraction of Charley’s determination she wouldn’t let go until she’d ferreted out the truth.

“What have you got on this week?” Mo asked, placing the dish of irish stew on the table.

Jay didn’t think she would be able to eat anything, but the aroma was enticing and she appreciated the change of subject. “Some new clients at the clinic. Seeing Amanda tonight. Taking Josh out for dinner tomorrow.”

They ate in silence until both their plates were empty. Jay shook her head when Mo offered her another helping.

“No thanks, I’m stuffed.”

“What time do you need to be at Amanda’s?”

“She said she’d be home by eight, but there’s no rush.” Jay glanced at her watch. Eight thirty-five. Even if Amanda did get back to her flat on time she’d want to shower and change.

“You’re not wearing your engagement ring.”

“I’ve told her I can’t wear it when I’m working.”

“You’re not working now.”

“Or when I’m working out or making love, so there doesn’t seem much point in taking it on and off between those times.”

“You’re a shit fiancée.”

“I know.”

“The wedding is in three weeks. Have you even thought about what you’re going to wear?”

“Don’t fret. It’s all good. I’ve left Friday afternoon free this week. Josh and I are going suit shopping together.”

“You’re not buying something off the peg. This is going to be a classy affair.”

“Yeah, I thought we’d pop into Marks…” Jay laughed at the look on Mo’s face. “Honestly, you’d think you were the mother of the bride. Relax. We’ve got an appointment with a tailor on Savile Row.”

“Have you met her parents yet?”

“No. Considering she’s their only child, they don’t seem in any rush to meet me. Her mother’s more concerned about missing a few operas in Venice. And her dad’s always somewhere between Dubai and New York. I get the feeling it would be different if she were marrying a man.”

“Oh. You mean because it’s two women, it doesn’t really count?”

“Exactly. And then there’s Josh. Will they want to accept him as part of their family?”

Mo put a hand on her arm. “Hey. I’m sure that won’t be an issue. Everyone loves Josh. And, believe it or not, he’s a grown-up now, quite capable of fighting his own corner.”

“Yeah, I just can’t help worrying about him.”



Amanda checked her watch again. The cab had only moved a few feet since the last time she looked. She would be lucky to make it back to her flat by nine at the rate they weren’t moving. Walking was out of the question with the rain pelting down. She should have left the pub earlier, but joining colleagues for an after-work drink helped maintain Jay’s idea of her lifestyle as a City high-flyer.

She sat back and closed her eyes. Jay had a key and could make herself at home. Maybe they could shower together. That thought and the images that followed sustained her through the next few minutes of tortuously slow progress.

It was ten past nine when she made it through the door of her penthouse flat. “Honey, I’m home,” she called, removing her shoes, sodden just from the short trip from the taxi to the door of the building.

There was no answer and the living room was in darkness. Amanda adjusted the light switch to an ambient glow. Fumbling in her bag, she pulled out her phone to see if Jay had left a message. Ever since their engagement, her lover had been increasingly lax with her timekeeping. That would have to change once they were married. These mysterious weekends at some unspecified location would have to stop as well. She didn’t mind Jay spending the evening with Mo, although even she seemed to have taken a vow of secrecy about these excursions. Jay had muttered something once about training. But Jay didn’t need to train. She kept in shape though, and Amanda appreciated that. Josh had proven just as tight-lipped on Jay’s movements on the few times she’d got the boy alone.

Still, only a few weeks to go. Once they were wife and wife, there would be no secrets between them. Amanda shed her wet clothing as she walked down the hall. She dropped the garments off in the laundry room before heading into the bathroom.



The shower was running when Jay entered the flat. She dropped her passkey on the small table by the door and wandered into the living room. The view along the river at night always caught her attention. She stood by the window and gazed at the lights on Tower Bridge, almost close enough to reach out and touch.

Amanda wouldn’t have been able to afford this place even with her high level of earnings over the last fifteen years. Her father had snapped up some riverside real estate when the warehouses were abandoned. Prices for these flats now were in the multi-millions.

Jay never felt entirely comfortable here. Another thing they hadn’t really discussed; where they would live after the wedding. She didn’t want to leave her mews house in Kensington. It was now also worth millions, but when she’d bought it with what was left of her share of her parents’ life insurance, it had been almost derelict. The remainder of the prize money from her tennis successes enabled her to give it a complete makeover. It had been enhanced further by Josh’s architectural embellishments, which had formed part of his final-year university project.

And then there was the cottage that Amanda knew nothing about. It had been Charley’s dream to live there, at least part-time. She wanted to be close to the Sea Life Sanctuary at Hunstanton so she could offer her services to the seal-rescue centre and hospital. Shortly before she disappeared, Charley had started training to be a marine-mammal medic.

Leaning her head against the glass, her breath misting up the view, Jay made the decision to put off making a decision. For the foreseeable future, Josh could continue to live at the mews with Ritchie. Escaping to the cottage at weekends would be more problematic, though. Perhaps she could tell Amanda she was in the Territorial Army and had to train regularly to be battle-ready in case of regular army shortages in Afghanistan. Unlikely she would be sent there at her age, even if she were in the TA.

Arms reached around her waist, and Amanda’s heady jasmine-scented aroma enveloped her senses.

“Hey, babe. What are you thinking about?”

Jay hated being called babe. But she didn’t want to start an argument. As she pushed back from the glass, Amanda had to loosen her grip or fall over. Jay turned and repositioned the naked woman’s arms about her torso and bent her head for a kiss. It was easy to deflect Amanda’s questions and she couldn’t speak with Jay’s tongue probing her mouth. The moans that did escape were an invitation to keep going.



It was still dark when Amanda opened her eyes. She was an early riser, always in the office by eight thirty and ready to go. Unlike many of her colleagues who stumbled in at nine o’clock bleary-eyed, clutching mega cups of triple-shot coffees.

Memories of the night before washed over her as she breathed in the evidence of their extensive lovemaking. Just the thought of Jay’s tongue giving her pleasure had her insides churning again. It took her another moment to realise she was alone in the bed. Reaching for her phone, she checked the time. Six thirty-five.

Damned if she was going to let her lover leave without giving her what she needed. Hoping to catch her in the bathroom, she was disappointed to find it empty, although the shower walls were still steamy from recent use.

Jay was in the kitchen, fully dressed and draining a glass of orange juice.

“You don’t have go yet, do you?”

“Yeah. I’ve got to go home and change before work.”

“You should start leaving some clothes here. Then you wouldn’t have to leave so early.” Amanda pressed herself against Jay, giving her no option other than to hold her. “I’m so ready for you. Please, Jay. I need you inside me now.”

Jay’s expression was hard to read; her eyes darkened with either rage or lust, Amanda didn’t know. She’d trapped Jay’s leg between her own and could feel her arousal soaking into her lover’s jeans.

With seemingly little effort, Jay disentangled herself, and Amanda felt the loss keenly. But then Jay stroked a hand down her cheek, continuing down her body, lingering long enough to tweak a nipple. Amanda closed her eyes, anticipating the feel of those long fingers moving inside her again. She was so ready, the insides of her thighs already coated in moisture. She wriggled with pleasure as Jay’s hand pressed against her mound and the questing fingers teased apart the wet curls.

Amanda cried out, each slow stroke bringing her closer to the edge. “Deeper, please, Jay!” But with only one more gentle touch pressing lightly against her engorged folds of tender skin, she lost control, crying out Jay’s name over and over.

Jay removed her hand, grabbed a few pieces of paper towel, and left without a backward glance.

“Jay!” Amanda eased herself away from the counter. She reached the outer door in time to see it closing. Naked and dripping, she couldn’t run after her. Legs trembling from the effects of her most recent orgasm, she collapsed onto the floor, wrapped her arms around her knees and sobbed.



Throwing the paper towel in the first waste bin she saw, Jay carried on walking until she spotted a cab with its sign lit. She gave the driver her address; settled into the back seat and closed her eyes. She could still smell Amanda on her hand and her jeans.

She wasn’t proud of the way she’d left. Why did Amanda bring the worst out in her? It had never been like this with Charley. But Charley would have fought back. Amanda never did.

If she could have left before Amanda woke up, the whole thing could have been avoided. She didn’t need to be at the clinic before nine thirty but she wanted to take Ritchie for a walk. He’d not had enough exercise the day before. Another reason she couldn’t give up the cottage. The terrier loved the sea, the freedom of running along the beach.

Josh wasn’t up when she got back to the house. He’d left his dishes in the sink from the night before.

She gave Ritchie his breakfast and set the coffee maker going for a brew before heading up to her bedroom to change out of her jeans and have a quick shower. When she came downstairs, Josh had emerged, sleepy-eyed.

“Sorry about the mess. I was going to clear up before you got home.”

“No worries. I’ll take Ritchie out. Do you have time for breakfast when we get back?”

“Depends how long you’ll be.” Ritchie was gazing up at her, head cocked to one side, a hopeful look in his eyes.

“Half an hour tops.”

“Pancakes okay for you?”

“Yeah, of course.” She gave him a quick hug, then headed for the stairs with Ritchie close on her heels.

The sky was starting to lighten as they reached Kensington Gardens. Dogs were supposed to be kept on their leads, but Jay didn’t expect to encounter the park police at this time of the morning. Ritchie raced off as soon as she unclipped his leash. She watched his progress, fingering the plastic bag in her pocket. A cyclist passed her and she smiled to herself. Another person flouting park rules. If she were a park official, Jay thought this would be the ideal time to catch miscreants.

After twenty minutes, she called to Ritchie and he emerged from the bushes a few yards ahead of her.

“Did you do anything in there?” He wagged his tail, then sat for her to reclip his leash on the collar. She handed him his reward and he munched happily as they set off. Jay had a cursory look around the other side of the bush but couldn’t see anything.

Back at the house, the smell of freshly brewed coffee overlaid with bacon drifted down the stairs. Josh had only started cooking six years earlier. He hadn’t shown any interest before that. Of all the changes in his life, this was the one that had most taken her by surprise.

He was cleaning the frying pan when they arrived in the kitchen. Ritchie had run up the stairs ahead of her and was already sitting by her place at the table. The plate of cooked bacon was well out of his reach.

“Smells wonderful.”

“Hm. Only problem with cooking bacon is you’ll be smelling it in here for days on end.”

“I know. The extractor fan doesn’t really do the job.” Jay poured coffee into the two mugs on the counter and brought them to the table.

Two pancakes and several rashers of bacon later, Jay pushed her plate aside. “That was fantastic, but I can’t eat any more.”

“I was going to take a bacon sarnie in to work.”

“Good thinking.”

“Do you want one?”

“No. Best not torture my clients with the tantalising aroma. I’ll need another shower as it is. More coffee?”

“Mm.”

She retrieved the coffee pot and brought it to the table. There was just enough for two refills. Jay studied Josh’s face as she sat back with the mug in her hands. “What are you thinking?”

“How do you know I’m thinking anything?”

“You have the look of a constipated budgie.”

“I do not. And how would you know what one of those looks like?”

“You’re deflecting. Come on. What’s up?”

“Well, I did have this thought….”

“Ha, I knew it.”

“How would you feel about another tattoo?”

Jay put her mug on the table. “For both of us?”

“Well, yeah.”

“What’s brought this on?”

“I guess, just, you know….”

“Spit it out, son.”

“Well, after you get married, you might not be able to….” He looked down at the table, tracing a pattern in the wood. “Sorry. It’s probably a stupid idea.”

Jay reached over and held his hand. “No, it’s not. You’ve just taken me by surprise. Set up an appointment. Early next week. As long as I have enough notice, I can rearrange some clients. Not possible this week; we have the suit fittings on Friday.”

He looked up, tears glistening at the corners of his eyes. “You’re the best, you know that?”

“Yes, I am. Don’t you forget it.” She smiled and let go of his hand. “I’ll even wash up if you need to get off.”

“Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse.” His answering smile eased the heaviness in her chest that had been with her since leaving Amanda’s flat.

“Do you have a design in mind for the tats?”

“Several.” He grinned. “I’ll email them to you later.”



Jay finished washing the dishes before Josh left the house. Another ten minutes and she was ready to leave as well. Ritchie lay in his basket, head between his paws with the soulful look that came into his eyes when he knew he was going to be alone for a while. “Don’t lay that guilt trip on me, bud. I know you’ll be on the couch as soon as I’m out the door.”

Jay always made sure there was a break in her schedule so she could get back during the day to let him out into the garden. Josh could be relied on to take him for a walk when he arrived home from work, usually at least an hour before she did. So the dog had no reason to feel neglected.

She set off for the clinic at a fast pace in an effort to shed some of the calories ingested at breakfast. Waiting for the lights to change at the crossing on Holland Park Avenue, she sent a quick text message to Mo.



Mo wondered what Jay had to be sorry about this time. She must have sent her body weight in roses to Amanda Bowen in the last six months. In fact, she could date the first dozen Jay asked her to send from one week after they became officially engaged. Ms Bowen might be a high-flyer in the world of finance, but she seemed utterly clueless in the romance department. Jay’s erratic behaviour would have sent any sensible woman running away.








Chapter Three


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-27 show above.)