My latest contemporary romance releases today :)
How to Love a Best Friend is the 2nd book in my How to Love series. These romances are light and humorous, even while sometimes dealing with tragedy.
The How to Love series are different stories, different lives, each a standalone book connected by a common theme... sometimes it takes a special kind of loving to break down the walls we build around our hearts.
When a tragedy leaves her best friend alone with newborn twins, Cami doesn’t think twice about stepping in to help out. But before long, she’s moved in with Mark and so, apparently, has the crush she thought she’d left behind with her teens.
The attraction between them is undeniable, but can their friendship take the heat?
Because Mark’s never been more off limits than he is right now and the one night of passion that dragged on for a week doesn’t change a thing.
The attraction between them is undeniable, but can their friendship take the heat?
Because Mark’s never been more off limits than he is right now and the one night of passion that dragged on for a week doesn’t change a thing.
Available now from Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble
Please enjoy an excerpt...
The evening traffic out of Hammersmith was still buzzing despite the late hour. Blue neon advertising trendy wine bars, cars stopping abruptly to negotiate parking spaces, pedestrians zigzagging in front of her as if they had right of way.
Her fifteen-minute journey turned into twenty, thirty, and each minute ticked inside her like a bomb.
Everything would be fine had become her makeshift mantra.
It had to be.
But Cami couldn’t shake the feeling that every traffic light delaying her, every jaywalking obstacle in her path, was slowly eating away at her mantra, somehow nullifying it more and more by the minute.
It was half eleven when she finally swung through the doors of Brendall, the private Chiswick hospital Julie had decided on. Her heart pumping double-time, her mind as blank as she could keep it, Cami strode to the reception desk and asked for Mark or Julie Petersham.
The young woman’s bright smile faded and her expression closed.
“Mr. Petersham is in Lounge B, straight down the corridor, second left, first door on your right.” The woman made to stand, her voice kind, too kind, “Would you like me to take you?”
Cami was already marching, ignoring the doctor-nurse couple bearing down on her, ignoring the pounding inside her head that refused to let up. She pushed through the door to Lounge B and her frantic gaze immediately found Mark.
He sat rigidly upright in the caramel upholstered chair, hands slotted between his knees, his face drawn, ghostly grey.
As her mind clocked the details, she couldn’t suppress the tremble and nightmare visions that had been threatening to overtake her since his phone call.
Something was wrong with one of the babies. Maybe both. She’d known it was bad from the sound of his voice.
But seeing him... a simple word like bad didn’t do justice to whatever had broken Mark.
She jabbed her fist into her mouth to stop the cry. The pain in her heart was physical, a chisel steadily chipping away and she didn’t even attempt to sedate it with her abandoned mantra.
Julie had had an emergency caesarean four days ago, almost seven weeks early. Not wholly unusual for twins, apparently. Even though the babies had been rushed to neonatal intensive care, the specialist had been optimistic. They all had.
She took a shaky step toward Mark, then another, and then he stirred, looking up at her with dull shock clouding his sunken eyes.
She stopped short. Of course, whatever she felt, it was quadruple, more, a hundred times more, for Mark. And Julie.
“Cami,” he croaked, then cleared his throat. He stood up and covered the distance between them. “Thanks for coming.”
He sounded stronger than he had on the phone, but the wretched sight of him more than made up the difference.
“Oh, Mark.” What was there to say?
Tears brimmed her eyes, reflected in his. He was standing so close she could easily pull him against her, wrap her arms around him and console without words. But she’d been denied that for so long, she wasn’t sure how to any more.
“What happened?” she finally asked, her arms hanging limp at her side. “Are the babies all right?”
“The twins are holding their own.”
A wave of relief rolled through Cami, dissolving the tension knotted at the base of her skull and all the way down her spine.
“It’s Julie.” Mark spoke so quietly, she had to lean in to hear. “Julie is gone.”
Cami frowned. What had his wife done now?
Julie had promised her that affair was over, that it hadn’t meant a thing. She’d sworn it was the biggest mistake of her life, the first and last mistake, begged Cami to spare
Mark the truth.
Cami hadn’t needed begging.
She’d do anything within her power to save Mark from that kind of hurt.
Her lips thinned in anger. “Gone where?”
Mark looked at her in silence. He seemed to have run out of words, or maybe just the energy to express them. Bone chilling weariness sucked at his jaw. Grief haunted his eyes.
The air whooshed from her lungs, leaving behind an empty chalice that nevertheless weighed a ton.
Not even Julie would abandon her babies to run off with a lover.
“Gone?” Cami whispered hoarsely.
His hands fisted at his sides. He took a deep breath. Released it.
“A cerebral aneurysm. The doctors haven’t—” He cleared his throat. Took another breath. “The doctors suspect delayed trauma from the general anaesthesia. An autopsy will be performed.”
Then, as if the only thing holding him together was the task of delivering those official details, tears spilled from his eyes.
Without thinking, Cami held open her arms and gathered him close. His daughters were fighting for their lives in neonatal and the woman he loved, his wife, their mother, was gone. The combination was enough to test the devil.
They stood there, clinging to each other. His chin rested on her shoulder, his chest hiccupping against hers as he allowed himself to break down. Cami gave him as long as he needed. She would have stood there all night.
When he finally pulled back, though, and asked in a scratchy voice, “What am I going to do?” Cami knew she had to do more than comfort him. She had to be strong.
“You’re going to survive, Mark.” She gripped his upper arms firmly, forcing him to maintain eye contact.
“You’re going to survive for the sake of your children.” Her gaze softened. “You know I’ll be there for you and the twins. Every step of the way.”
Strength flowed into Mark.
Cami was his rock.
Always had been.
Tomorrow he’d fight the shock of losing his wife and find the courage to raise the girls on his own.
But for tonight, he couldn’t believe Jasmine and Carmen would be fine without their mother, that he’d find a semblance of peace within himself, that his family would survive.
He wrapped his arms about Cami, pulling her close again, holding on tightly.
Tonight, he needed Cami to help him believe.
Mark kissed me today!!
On the cheek.
Oh, it felt as if my heart grew instant wings and I don’t think it will ever come down to earth again. He told me to take care and says he will write. Will he have time to? He will be very busy at Oxford, doing very important things. He looked deep into my eyes for the longest time when he said goodbye and I just know a part of him will miss me almost as much as I’ll miss him. It’s only been a few hours, and already I’m counting down the minutes until his first half term.
Cami smiled to herself, rolling her eyes at the childish enthusiasm that had carried her away. She didn’t need to check the date in her diary or perform any quick calculations to place her age.
She remembered that day very well.
She’d felt as if she were dancing on the clouds. Teenage hormones did that to a person. You were either shooting for the stratosphere or drilling toward the earth’s core, never simply walking on the ground alongside everyone else.
That diary entry had been two days after her thirteenth birthday. She still kept the silver charm bracelet Mark had given her in the Mandarin jewellery box on her vanity.
He had written.
His monthly letter had arrived religiously, throughout the first two years anyway.
Cami tossed the glossy pink book onto the growing heap at her feet, then reached for her wine glass on the pedestal table beside her.
She took a healthy sip before delving into the chest again, checking the dates on the spines until she found the year she was looking for.
When she pulled the diary out and started flipping through it, a page doodled with red hearts and arrows stopped her.
Mark just called to find out how my tests are going and to make sure I’m studying hard. I told him I’m quite aware of how important A Levels are and I have every intention of acing them. He’s coming up from London next week. I can’t wait! Oh, how on earth am I going to concentrate on my studies now? There’s so much to plan and rehearse.
I’m going to tell him. Sarah thinks I should. She says he likes me. Really, really likes me. She says everyone can tell from the way he smiles at me. She says I’ll regret it for the rest of my life if I never let him know how I feel.
The spiky handwriting reflected her wired-up nerves from that time of the school year, the secret love she was about to unlock from her swollen heart, the fear she needed to overcome in order to do just that.
Cami reached for her wine again and took a large sip without taking her eyes off the page.
I broke it off with Harry today. He wanted to know why, but I couldn’t tell him the truth. I’ll feel enough of a dolt if Mark laughs me off without the rest of the world knowing why I have to be free and single next week.
Cami turned the page, sucking in a deep breath. She knew what was coming and still it had the power to rock her heart off-centre. But she needed to read the last entry in the last diary she’d ever kept.
She needed to know.
The last time she’d spent this much time with Mark was when she’d been at school and he’d lived next door.
She needed to crosscheck and cross reference, then and now, and calibrate the risk.
Mark came home today. His taxi pulled up next-door and I leaned out of my bedroom window to shout hello. My knees were trembling and my pulse raced so fast I thought it might take off and fly away. He climbed out of the taxi, looking so very smart in the dark suit he has to wear at Link & Crowle. He’s a lawyer now! It’s crazy. My heart kept missing beats and I could barely breathe and I thought I was going to die of absolute adoration. But then he dipped back in, to help her out.
Her name is Julie and apparently they’re in love. I suppose they must be. They’re engaged.
She’d sulked, plotted, fumed, researched and rallied for eight months. After all, the stats on broken engagements left divorces in the shade, and that was saying something.
And then everything had changed.
She could even say she was happy for the newly married couple when she’d run into them in Long Fenwick two Christmases later. Mark and Julie were spending the weekend at his mum’s and Cami was down for the Christmas break.
Julie was vivacious and dynamic, beautiful and graceful.
If Mark had to be with anyone else, Cami couldn’t have chosen better for him herself.
Or so she’d nobly thought, until she’d moved to London and started spending time with Mark again. Mark and Julie.
Cami closed the diary, her fingers drumming mindlessly on the hard cover. A surge of guilt hit her, then sank to the bottom of her tummy and anchored.
She hadn’t been fond of Julie, had quickly discovered a hard layer of selfishness beneath all that grace and beauty. And the dislike had definitely been mutual.
Mark had never had a clue.
She’d never do that to him.
And anyway, it wasn’t as if she’d hated the woman. She’d supported Mark’s marriage. How could she not? He loved Julie. Getting on with your best friend’s wife was not a preordained fact of life.
So long as they made each other happy... and by then, Cami had known she could never make Mark happy, even were he free.
She could never give him the one thing he desired above all else.
Julie had given it to him, though, had given him the twins, a proper family, and in
Cami’s eyes that was the woman’s one redeeming quality.
Cami stopped the drumming to strum her thumb through the diary pages, suddenly overwhelmed by the youthful memories they contained. How much simpler life had been back then, no matter that it hadn’t felt like it at the time.
She did mourn Julie’s death. No husband deserved to lose a wife, no child deserved to lose a mother, no woman deserved to die so young.
But the wave of guilt kept returning.
Maybe it wasn’t really guilt, but whatever it was, the remnant feeling that always remained in its wake was unease. Maybe it was natural to feel guilty when something terrible happened to someone you didn’t particularly like. As if you’d jinxed that person with bad karma.
“Which is simply ridiculous,” she muttered crossly, tossing the diary onto the stack as she stood and stretched her cramped legs.
She’d learnt all she needed to know.
She could honestly say there’d been no heart soaring and/or skipping and definitely no death by adoration this time round.
She loved Mark.
As a friend.
That silly childhood crush had not returned.
Seeing Mark and the twins almost every day these last four months hadn’t changed a thing.
The relief was enough to make her dizzy.
The twins were finally being discharged and she was perfectly capable of helping Mark adjust to his new family in an Aunt May kind of way.
Mark was at the reception desk, signing the discharge papers, when Cami arrived. His jeans and ribbed sweater hung loose on his lanky frame. He’d lost too much weight, stopped working out in favour of spending every free moment at the hospital, but his slightly gaunt form was somehow more endearing to Cami than the lean, muscular triangle of broad shoulders, narrow hips and just-so solid thighs.
He turned, caught her eye, and beckoned her closer with a smile. “We’re almost ready.”
He wore his chestnut hair longer now, just touching the neckline of his sweater and falling across his high cheekbones in thick waves. The look suited him, softened the newly sharpened angles of his face.
“Excited?” she asked, mainly to distract her thoughts from just how well that look did indeed suit him.
Great time to notice how divine Mark Petersham was.
Second time around.
“Nervous.” He winked, then chuckled. “And excited.”
“Same here,” Cami said, thinking how good it was to hear his laugh again.
Today they were closing at least one half of a hard read chapter. The cloud that dulled their world was lifting and she sensed that they both knew it would be gone by the time they walked the twins out of Brendall.
It was time to look to the future, to Jasmine and Carmen.
She touched Mark’s arm lightly and gazed into his eyes, her smile filled with hope.
Now that his face was thinner, Cami noted, the dimple on his left cheek was more pronounced when he grinned like that.
And since when do you notice tiny details like that?
She gave herself a mental shaking and stepped back, leaving her hand to slide from his arm. “Where are the twins?”
“Greta and Carol took them to the nursing station for a final goodbye. We’re to join them there in a minute.” His gaze travelled down the outsized cotton shirt she’d buttoned over a strappy T-Shirt, down the black stretch pants she usually jogged in, and to her trainers.
He flicked amused eyes up, his lips curling around suppressed laughter. “Super mom outfit?”
Cami shrugged. “I wasn’t sure—”
“They can’t sit up yet,” he teased unmercifully. “And crawling is a good three to four months away.”
“I know, you dolt. We read the same books.” Cami glanced down at her ready-steady-go outfit and laughed. “You know my motto.”
“Always be prepared?”
“It doesn’t hurt.”
Brown eyes lit up with long forgotten humour. “Oh God, you’ve drawn up a business plan, haven’t you?”
She ignored him and took to studying the pale cream walls of the reception area, admiring the oil landscapes that broke the monotony and which, she decided, had an amazingly calming effect.
“You’re going to insist Betty takes minutes at the end of each day and prepares a bi-monthly presentation on their actual-over-target development.”
So much for calm.
Her chin jutted up as she shot him a dark look. But couldn’t hold it.
She had, in fact, drawn up a pretty comprehensive schedule for Betty, the registered nurse turned nanny who would be living with Mark and providing around the clock childcare.
Cami had interviewed her, done the reference checks, but even so, one could never be too careful. Caring For Baby had emphasised the importance of a strict routine and
Cami had to admit it made good business sense.
Life just worked better with structure.
Mark was grinning like an idiot now. “There’s going to be pie charts. Broken down into physical, mental and social. Are you going to suggest cutbacks if they under-perform? Because I’m telling you, I’ve grown rather fond of both Jazzie and Carmen and wouldn’t like to see either one getting laid off.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Cami slapped his arm, but a bubble of laughter escaped to betray her crossed brows.
Mark continued with his ludicrous predictions as they walked down the stark corridor, until a vaguely familiar, slightly tinny melody drifted from the nursing station. “Dare I ask?”
Cami smiled. “It sounds like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star unplugged.”
It was, in fact, a five-foot singing Teddy Bear being presented to Jasmine and Carmen as a farewell gift by what appeared to be Brendall’s entire maternity staff compliment.
Mark and Cami waited at the long counter just inside the doorway until the tune came to an end.
“Morning,” Marsha, the senior ward matron, whispered, signalling them to come closer. “Bruno seems to have put the babes to sleep.”
Cami’s gaze went to the twins, already strapped into their infant car seats and tucked in with pink receiving blankets. Their wrinkled eyes, button noses and sweetly puckered lips were enough to spin her heart afresh each time.
“Bruno?” Mark mouthed, one eyebrow shooting high the way it did when amusement battled with his belief system.
Marsha pointed to the giant woolly Teddy Bear dressed to the nines (in the Teddy Bear catalogue of style) with candy-striped shorts held up by red suspenders.
“Bruno’s travelling with you,” Mark firmly told Cami.
It was her turn to grin stupidly. “I came by tube. I thought it might be better to catch a ride with you. Just in case things got out of control on the road, you know.”
“Out of control?” Mark bent over the twins, adjusting blankets that were already
perfectly snug. “As in two gurgles instead of the regulatory one.”
She punched his arm. “A simple thank you will suffice.”
He slanted a look her way. She could see the barbed retort collecting on his lips, and was a little surprised when he offered her a genuine smile instead.
A flurry of activity followed as goodbyes were said and promises to visit were made.
All too soon they were on their own in the car park, the support structure they’d relied on since the twins were born instantly cut off.
Mark clicked the remote to open his car and gave her a typically male “what now?” look.
A quick glance up at the darkening clouds and Cami took charge. “Let’s get the girls belted in.”
They each took a baby and went to opposite sides of the car. Cami lifted Jasmine’s carrier onto the back seat and pulled out from the car again to rummage through her bag.
“You made notes?” Mark quipped, watching her unfold the paper she’d retrieved.
“The manufacturer’s installation instructions,” she told him smartly, propping it up on the seat. “Petra warned me these things could be tricky.”
Her eyes came up, met his, and hooked onto the warmth she saw there. The moment stretched, then broke as Mark murmured, “Thanks.”
“There’s nothing to thank me for. The instructions came with the packaging.” She leant over Jasmine, dropping her gaze to the diagram as she pulled the rear seat belt completely slack and rested one hand between the two infant seats to support herself.
Mark’s hand came over hers. The merest flutter of awareness took her by surprise.
She peered up and found him looking deep into her eyes again. But differently. It was the same look he’d had that day so very long ago, the day he’d left for Oxford. Kind, concerned, nostalgic, sad. For a split second her pulse paused, time stopped, and an illogical message flitted through her brain. Was this another goodbye?
“I mean for everything,” he said softly. “Thank you for the last four months. For today. I—we couldn’t have done it without you.”
“You needn’t thank me,” she returned, more abruptly than she’d intended.
She couldn’t help it. Her memory was playing tricks with her head and raising alarms where none should be.
None of this, however, was Mark’s fault, and when she saw the question forming on his brow she added in a soothing tone, “It’s what friends do for each other.”
His frown cleared. Keeping her locked down with those emotion rich eyes, he moved his hand to briefly trail a thumb down her cheek.
That flutter didn’t seem so mere anymore, building in intensity as it wobbled through her. His eyes were so dark, the colour of melted chocolate. His pure male scent invaded the confined space and infiltrated all her senses for the longest uninterrupted moment. If only...
Cami forced her eyes from his and bit down hard on her lower lip. What was happening to her? For goodness sake, she was acting as if a passing fairy had suddenly decided to shower her with potent pheromones bagged from the past.
She felt his eyes still on her, and knew she had to look up again and pretend everything was normal. No, not pretend. Everything was normal.
Mark was smiling. A broad flash of white across his angular jaw, still smooth from his morning shave. She knew that in a couple of hours a shadow would fall in the valley of his cheeks and edge further definition to the granite curves of his jaw; she knew he’d shave again later in the day if he had a formal evening affair. Sometimes it felt as if she knew too much, and not nearly enough.
She’d released him from her heart, hadn’t she?
Then why did it feel as if parts of him were still inside right now, chipping and chopping and demanding attention?
“You’ve always been there for me,” Mark continued, “and I might take that for granted most times, but I do appreciate it. Appreciate you.” His expression remained serious. He looked older than his twenty-nine years; the last three months had staked worry lines above his brow, cut crowfeet into his temples, added a lifetime of knowledge to his eyes. “For being there.”
“I’ll always be there for you,” she assured him.
“And I for you.” Their eyes held for a few seconds longer, then the moment passed and Mark ruffled his hand over the top of her hair with a low chuckle before turning to strap Carmen in.
Cami felt as if she needed a break, a cup of tea and a good few hours to analyse the tremor that had passed through her at his touch, the fuzzy awareness still warming her, but obviously now was not the time or the place. Instead, she concentrated on fitting the seatbelt into the infant seat and reached a quick conclusion: this was all one big misunderstanding.
She should never had read those diaries last night, should never have churned up emotions dead and buried. She should never have been so smug.
Too much had changed.
Mark had his own children now.
He was free.
For the first time since Julie had passed away, they were both relaxed, happy and even eagerly looking toward tomorrow.
Cami pulled and plucked at the seat belt, and finally achieved something that looked close enough to the diagram. Leaving Mark to fight his own battle, she slid from the car and rested her elbows on the roof.
She wouldn’t allow her past to sneak up on her and hijack her future. Because if her past thought itself so clever at having resolved all those little problems, Cami knew better. Mark had never been more out of bounds. Julie had made sure of that when she’d persistently and maliciously sown those seeds of doubt.
“Oxford should offer degrees on ‘The Hidden Tortures of Parenting’,” Mark muttered irritably as he shut the back door softly, adding when he caught sight of her face,
“Why so glum?”
“Speak for yourself,” she said. “Grab Bruno and let’s go.”
Mark’s head dipped from sight. He came back up. “I don’t think he’ll fit in the back.”
Cami dipped down. She could just about squeeze between the infant seats, but Bruno was, even for a bear, on the pudgy side. A smile lit her mood. “He’ll have to sit up front with you.”
“You are kidding.” Mark lugged the bear to the back of the car and flipped open the boot.
Cami followed, her humour improving rapidly when she saw the packets of disposable nappies stacked from one side to the other. Men! “A bit last moment, wouldn’t you say?”
He grimaced. “Betty thought it might be wise to pick up a little extra on my way over this morning.”
Mark shrugged, and continued staring at the nappies as if he could mentally teleport them to Long Fenwick and get his boot space back.
“Well, the way I see it, you get Bruno or Bruno. Take your pick.” She gave him her best sad face, just in case he had any doubts as to how much she was enjoying herself.
A few minutes later they were on their way, Cami wedged in between the twins and Bruno strapped into the passenger seat.
Mark’s gaze met hers in the rear view mirror. “No need to look so cheery. Your turn will come.”
And it did.
Theoretically, Long Fenwick was less than half an hour from Chiswick, up the M25 to exit 16 and then onto the M40 for just a couple of miles. At nine thirty on a Monday morning, however, they were still stuck on the M25 an hour later and not going anywhere fast.
Carmen stirred first. She opened her eyes, pale blue and watery, and Cami was just about to stroke her plump cheek when the little cherub let out a piercing scream.
“Lift her out,” Mark barked after fifteen minutes of non-stop wailing.
Cami glared at his image in the rear view mirror, but Mark’s eyes were back on the road as the traffic stop-started once again. She unzipped the bag at her feet and pulled out the emergency supplies, then reached forward between the front seats to plug the bottle warmer into the car lighter.
Mark frowned down at her as she looked up from her awkward angle.
“Hi,” she said, smiling comically, hoping to ease some of the building stress. Babies picked up on these things, apparently.
His warm breath, however, fanned her cheeks, and a different kind of stress began to mount the walls of her chest, making it almost impossible to breathe. Long black lashes dipped across sensually brown eyes. Healthy, golden skin mapped valleys and ridges in all the right places, and if there were a few extra roads, it somehow worked for rather than against.
When had he become so totally, impossibly, male? Good looking was one thing. He’d always had that. Charm another. That had been her downfall all those years ago. But this...?
Cami gritted her teeth.
“Is this legal?”
He was referring to the fact that she’d unbelted herself in order to push forward, but her mind took it one step further and the answer was a resounding ‘No!’ It would take a jury less than a minute to condemn her. With a desperate, silent groan, she jiggled her brows and put on a brave grin. “I dare the cop that stops us.”
His scowling expression melted as his lips picked up a slow quiver that fed fresh tingles through her. She couldn’t help it. She very nearly groaned aloud from pure frustration.
What could she do? His lips were just there... hers were just there... heat coiled in the depths of her tummy... she’d always wondered... the slightest movement on either side...
Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen. She turned her head and fixed her eyes on the dashboard, promptly removing her lips from all that temptation. She’d be fine. She just needed to grab a couple of hours alone and figure out what was happening. Then she could work on a plan to put a stop to it.
She plugged the warmer in, balanced it between Bruno’s legs, and shot back determinedly into her seat.
Had Julie been right?
Was I the thorn in their otherwise perfect marriage?
A rock of panic lodged in her throat. Cami sucked in a deep breath, struggling for balance. She hadn’t wanted Mark for herself. She’d already dealt with all the issues. Had even prayed thanks to God that nothing had ever happened between Mark and herself. That she’d never know the pain of having to leave him.
Cami exhaled slowly. The panic receded. There wasn’t a bone in her body that had resented that marriage.
When Julie had hinted at their friendship being inappropriate, she’d made an effort to never see Mark alone. He’d still phoned every couple of days, but she’d drawn the line at asking him not to.
Then Julie had started on the wishy-washy barbs that nevertheless held clear warnings:
You’ll never take Mark from me. Unfair and unwarranted.
He made his choice years ago and it wasn’t you. True, but irrelevant.
That Julie had even felt the threat necessary, however, had caused Cami to withdraw from the friendship even more. But how could she give him up completely? She’d known Mark most of her life.
Feeling the pain shooting up her wrists, Cami unfurled her hands, which had fisted tight enough to crush bone. She’d done her best to address Julie’s concerns. She knew she was innocent of trying to steal Julie’s husband, of even wanting Mark in that way, married or single.
And she sure as hell had no intention of proving Julie right from the grave.
Thankfully, if that’s what one could call it, Jasmine decided to join the fun. Two screaming babies were the perfect antidote to manic self-analysis. Cami adjusted blankets to aid the feeding position, then grabbed a bottle in each hand.
The poor mites latched on. They must have been starving. She exhaled long and slow into the heavenly silence and rested her head on the back of the seat.
“Go ahead,” Mark said, meeting her eyes fleetingly in the rear-view mirror. “Say it.”
He laughed. “There must be at least one “I told you so” on the horizon.”
Cami sighed for effect. “Gimme a minute to catch my breath and then I might even do the dance.”
The clouds had finally stopped threatening and what had begun as a drizzle was rapidly working its way up into a slashing downpour. Sated, the twins nodded off again and the journey progressed smoothly until Mark was stopped by Long Fenwick’s only set of traffic lights.
“Isn’t that Mrs Brampton?” The elderly postmistress, and local gossipmonger, was crossing the street, staring unashamedly from Mark to Bruno and back again from beneath her umbrella.
Make swore under his breath. “The entire village will think I’m an unstable half-wit by nightfall.”
“Nonsense.” Cami waved at Mrs Brampton, who was now standing on the opposite side of the street, still gawking, braving the rain to make her disapproval clear with a far-reaching scowl. “Hmm... Maybe.”
Mark turned into Vicarage Street, taking them past the once-familiar houses. Cami stared out the window, mesmerised by the giant elms lining the street, by the neat two-storeys with their pruned hedges and three-foot wrought iron fences, by the sense of déjà vu building a forbidden image in the recesses of her mind.
Her parents had moved down to Cornwall shortly after she’d graduated from Cambridge and she hadn’t been back to the village since. Now, here she was, with
Mark, turning into his driveway with a pair of babies in the backseat.
Time had certainly not prepared her for this.
As Mark cut the engine, she looked across the front garden to the house next door, corner window on the top floor, and shivered as a blast of emotion, so strong she felt it might sweep her away, took temporary control.
She was seventeen again, her upper body hanging out the window, bursting from excitement as she watched Mark’s taxi pulling up.
She was seventeen again, slumping down against the wall onto her butt, too numb to move until well into the night.
“We’re home,” Mark called out from the front.
Cami turned her attention from the window and gazed first at Carmen, then at Jasmine. “Yes,” she murmured, “you’re home.”