“You might as well know from the start, I’m not going to tell on him and I don’t care how much trouble I get in. It’s not like it could get any worse than it already is.
I can’t. Don’t ask me why, I just can’t.”
When Nina finds out that her fifteen-year-old daughter, Scarlett, is pregnant, her world falls apart.
Because Scarlet won’t tell anyone who the father is. And Nina is scared that the answer will destroy everything.
As the suspects mount – from Scarlett’s teacher to Nina’s new husband of less than a year – Nina searches for the truth: no matter what the cost.
ExcerptTuesday, 1 September 2015
Nina pulled up outside the house and paused for a moment to savour the new life she was slowly adjusting to. Something both marvellous and momentous had happened over the summer holidays: Nina Carrington was no more. The ever so slightly bitter divorcée who had brought up two children singlehandedly, vowing never to be financially or emotion- ally dependent on any man ever again, was no more. She blamed the Welshman.
She had met Bryn Thomas at a New Year’s Eve party thrown by one of Sedgefield’s most renowned citizens who happened to be Nina’s best friend and confidante. Sarah Tavistock and her husband Miles knew how to throw a good party and Sarah had high hopes every year of finding a suitable candidate for the vacancy in Nina’s life.
Yet despite Sarah’s valiant efforts, for the previous eight years Nina had been left feeling distinctly underwhelmed. It was going to take someone exceptional to persuade her to forsake the independent life she had become accustomed to, and, to everyone’s surprise, that someone had been the taxi driver who had dropped her off at the party.
Within six months, Nina couldn’t imagine life without her Welshman and by August, Nina Carrington had officially moved out, making room for Nina Thomas, the forty-two- year-old, newly married wife of Bryn. Nina’s second husband was a year younger than her, and as far removed from her first husband as she could hope. Where Adam Carrington had been a smooth operator, Bryn was quietly charming. He was attentive, he was eager to please, and he was gentle in spite of his muscular frame. Bryn did his best to keep in shape despite a job renowned for late nights fuelled by junk food, but he was by no means vain, which was perfect because Nina hadn’t been looking for an Adonis. She had been looking for someone who wasn’t expecting to be noticed, and when she had found him, the speed of their relationship had surprised them both, as it had her family and friends.
When Nina Thomas put her key in the front door, she pitied her former self, who would have been about to step quietly into an empty house. It was Liam and Scarlett’s first day back at school and Nina would normally be the first one home during term-time. What wasn’t normal, or at least not yet, was coming home to the aroma of home baking.
‘You’ve been busy,’ she said as she stepped into the large open-plan kitchen.
Bryn picked up a flapjack from the cooling rack and held it temptingly towards her. ‘Like to try one?’
Nina walked over and with her hands behind her back, opened her mouth while suppressing a smile. Bryn held the flapjack at a tantalizing distance so that Nina had to snatch a bite. When she bit down on the delicious mix of sweet, golden oats, toasted hazelnuts and juicy raisins, she groaned. ‘You’re deadly for my figure.’
‘I’d say it’s your figure that’s deadly,’ Bryn said, replacing the flapjack with a kiss.
‘You won’t be saying that after I’ve had a year of your home cooking.’
‘The recipe is low-fat and I’ve only used natural sugars. Besides, a little of what you fancy does you good.’
‘And what happens if you have too much of a good thing?’ Nina asked.
Bryn patted his stomach. ‘If I’m anything to go by, you won’t be gaining weight.’ There was a note of pride in his voice, but then a thought occurred. ‘But that’s only because I was turning into a bit of a couch potato before I met you. I’m not suggesting you need to lose weight.’
Nina gave a soft laugh. ‘Don’t panic, I know what you meant, but I could stand to lose a few pounds. Believe it or not, I was once as slim as Scarlett.’
‘And she has you to thank for her looks,’ he said, sounding serious all of a sudden. ‘You are without doubt the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, Nina.’
When she held his gaze, Nina felt such a rush of love that it took her breath away. She knew they were still in the honeymoon period and there would come a time when they would settle into a comfortable life but, right now, she wanted her husband and he knew it. The air fizzed between them.
‘The kids will be home soon,’ he said.
Letting out a frustrated sigh as she took control of her desires, Nina said, ‘I know. So what else have you been up to? I hope you’ve had a chance to get your head down.’
‘A few hours, once I knew the kids were off OK.’
Bryn worked the late shift for a local cab company and was out from early evening until the small hours. Before taking on the responsibilities of a family, he would have returned home and gone straight to bed, not rising until midday.
‘How were they this morning?’ Nina asked, having set off for the market shortly after Bryn had come home.
‘I wouldn’t go as far as to say they were raring to go,’ he said, ‘but they were both up in time to eat breakfast, even if Scarlett did have to rush to catch the bus. Liam was his usual leisurely self, so if he was running late, I didn’t notice.’
Nina scrutinized Bryn’s slate-grey eyes. He was painting a picture of average family life that didn’t quite fit with her household. For most of their young lives, her children had endured an absent father and an overworked mother who had either dragged them out of bed to stay with a child- minder, or more recently, left them to their own devices in the mornings and hoped for the best.
Liam was the oldest at seventeen and Scarlett two years younger, and despite the challenges of single-parenting, they had all been happy enough with their unremarkable lives. Nina wasn’t sure if her children had ever considered the possibility that she might find a new man; Bryn had been her one and only serious relationship since her divorce. Their reaction to his sudden appearance had been muted, and while they hadn’t gone as far as refusing to accept Bryn into their lives, neither had they welcomed him. Liam had continued with his usual routines, which rarely involved leaving his room; for the most part, his acceptance had been less tangible. Scarlett, on the other hand, was more aloof than hostile. Nina had watched anxiously as her daughter attempted to work out how, or even if she should, acknowledge Bryn’s intrusion into the family.
Aware that the idyllic family life of her dreams was still a work in progress, Nina asked, ‘Did you actually see them?’ ‘I piled a plate high with toast to tempt them,’ he said in a low hush as if he were a naturalist out in the field waiting for a glimpse of some rare species. ‘Using a news- paper as a hide, I heard the female approach. The fridge door opened, orange juice was poured and there was the distinctive crunch of toast. When I looked up, the juice had been discarded and the creature was cursing under her breath as she slammed the front door.’ ‘And the male?’
‘He was far more elusive, and I must have become distracted by the sports section, because the next thing I knew, the last of the toast had been reduced to crumbs, and with a gentle click, the front door closed again.’
‘Did either of them actually speak to you?’ Nina said, her playful tone replaced by one of exasperation. When Bryn winced in response, she added, ‘Not even a good morning, please or thank you?’
‘It’s the first day of term, what did you expect?’
‘A bit of gratitude wouldn’t have gone amiss, given how you stayed up to make them breakfast.’ She looked at the flapjacks, and added, ‘And I suppose those are to make their homecoming more welcoming?’
‘I enjoy baking. I enjoy having a family to look after.’Nina slipped her arms around her husband’s neck, which was quite a stretch. She was the shortest
member of the household and even Scarlett towered over her these days. ‘Well, if my self-centred children don’t appreciate you, I do. I really did get lucky when I phoned for that taxi.’
‘Oh for God’s sake, get a room,’ someone said from behind them.
Rather than pull away from the embrace as Bryn intended, Nina drew him closer for a kiss, not caring that it would intensify her daughter’s mortification. If she couldn’t convince her children to accept Bryn, she was going to make it absolutely clear how important he was to her. Marrying Bryn Thomas was not the symptom of a midlife crisis, as Sarah had suggested on more than one occasion. There were simply times when something felt right because it was right.