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  • Pamela Belle

CHAPTER NINETEEN

“Thank you, Jennifer.” Patricia slid into the passenger seat of her daughter’s Peugeot, in a manner which must have been instilled in her as a girl, when skirts were short and there were approved ways of getting into a car without showing more than the prescribed length of leg. “It’s such a long way to drive.”

Jenna bit back a hasty response to the effect that it was only a couple of hours round the M25 and up the A12, and she’d had to take the afternoon off, to Andrew’s dismay, in order to collect her. Patricia was in her 70s, after all, and the hazards and frustrations of motorway driving, not to mention the latter part of the route up through Essex and Suffolk, full of huge container lorries heading to or from Felixstowe, must seem very daunting to someone who didn’t normally venture much further than the Waitrose car park. She said, “No problem. I wanted to do a bit of shopping in Ipswich anyway.”

That was a white lie, though she’d quite enjoyed a look round the big stores of Suffolk’s largest town. Picturesque it was not, but it had a down-to-earth bustle and liveliness that places like Aldeburgh and Woodbridge lacked, and she’d spent a couple of happy hours browsing in Debenhams and Waterstone, and buying fresh fruit and veg in the market. In fact, she’d been so absorbed that she’d almost forgotten her mother’s train was due at four. Fortunately she’d driven up just as it was pulling in, and had managed to meet Patricia in the entrance without appearing too flustered.

Now, with her mother’s case safely stowed in the boot, Jenna climbed into the car with rather less grace, fastened her seatbelt and started the engine. “You’re looking very well,” she said, with a quick sideways glance. “Cruising certainly seems to agree with you.”

Too late, she realised what she’d said, but fortunately Patricia was oblivious to any innuendo. “It was very pleasant,” she agreed. “I must say, I did have my doubts at first, never having been on a cruise before, but all in all, it was a very successful holiday.”

It was true, she did look well. Her skin, under the immaculate light covering of foundation, had a glow to it, her eyes were bright, her face more relaxed than Jenna had seen for a long time, if ever. “That’s brilliant,” she said, turning out of the station forecourt. “What was the weather like?”

“Warm and sunny,” said Patricia, leaning back. “It was the Caribbean, after all, dear. Simply heavenly. And the food was wonderful.”

She launched into a prolonged description of the meals she’d had on board, and the momentous evening, highlight of the entire trip, when she and her companion had been invited to join the Captain’s table. It all sounded far too stiff and formal for her daughter’s taste, but of course Patricia would have been in her element. As she continued to talk, Jenna began to relax. Whatever this urgent news was, it was, she knew, highly unlikely to be about her father. Unless her mother was telepathic, or had unlimited access to its real-life equivalent, high-tech surveillance methods, there was absolutely no way she could know about her researches into Keith’s supposed death.

It wasn’t until they’d reached Woodbridge that Patricia’s flood of reminiscences began to run dry. Jenna drove past the station and along the quayside. Her mother peered out of the window with interest. “Jennifer, dear, where is this?”

“Woodbridge. Nice, isn’t it?”

“It’s very quaint,” said Patricia, in the sort of tone that implied that ‘quaint’ was a not entirely positive word. “Was that really a proper station?”

“Yes, but it’s just a little branch line that goes to Lowestoft.”

“I didn’t think there were any branch lines any more.”

“Well, there are in Suffolk.” Jenna fought the rising sense of irritation that her mother’s presence always seemed to incite. She turned right at Melton and headed along the Orford road, over the bridge across the Deben, currently a river of mud with a sad narrow channel of water winding along it. Feeling she ought to point out some of the local sights, she said, “Sutton Hoo’s up there, over to the right behind those trees.”

“Sutton Hoo?”

“Where the ship burial was. An Anglo-Saxon king. Lots of fabulous golden treasure. There’s a great museum and visitor centre there, we went last year with Rosie.”

“Ah,” said Patricia, without much interest. She gazed out as the Suffolk countryside unwound along the road, fields, woods, hedges, bungalows and a few of the traditional cottages, with their distinctive pantiled roofs and dormer windows, that Jenna loved. After a while, her mother added disparagingly, “It’s very flat round here, isn’t it?”

“Well, not entirely flat – and certainly not as flat as Norfolk.”

“Well, it looks quite flat to me. And I don’t much care for all those fir trees. So dark and dismal.”

“That’s Rendlesham Forest, and it’s actually quite a nice place for a walk – in the summer,” Jenna added with a grin, acknowledging that Patricia did have a point. “Lots of wildlife. Deer and squirrels, mainly. And all this area is perfect for cycling – because it’s so flat.”

“I didn’t know you were keen on cycling, Jennifer.”

“Oh, we all used to go out with a picnic when we stayed here in the summer. Perhaps I’ll go out again once the weather warms up.” At the moment, there was no prospect of it under a lowering February sky, threatening rain if not worse, and with darkness rapidly approaching.

“You will be careful, won’t you? Have you got a helmet?”

“Yes, and of course I’ll be careful. I can go with Ruth.” There was no point in mentioning Saskia, who regarded cycling as the invention of Satan, and would no more get on a bike than she would wear track-suit bottoms in public.

“Ruth?”

“Yes, she’s my neighbour. She’s very nice, and she and her husband have been so kind and helpful. They’ve introduced me to all sorts of people, helped me get a job – “

“But it’s hardly a proper job, working in a shop.” Patricia made it sound as if it involved namelessly hideous duties. “I thought you would return to teaching.”

“Well, I have, sort of. I’m doing some private tutoring.”

“Are you? What sort of tutoring?”

Jenna explained, briefly, about Fran and Flora. She could tell that her mother was unimpressed, but she had no intention of revealing how much she was being paid, or about her employers’ apparently glamorous careers. Patricia always expressed disdain for what she termed ‘popular culture’, but that wouldn’t stop her boasting about Jenna’s connections to her cronies, and such an invasion of her friend’s privacy was unthinkable.

Rendlesham Forest, with its birch and fir trees, the dark prickly mounds of gorse and the green signs pointing the way to favoured walks and campsites – doubtless deserted at present – came to an end, and they approached Staverton Thicks, its oaks and hollies as wild and tangled in the dusk as Rendlesham was tame and managed. Patricia stared at the scenery dubiously. “Goodness me, that looks quite sinister! Is it all part of the same forest?”

“No, this is Staverton, it’s an old deer-park full of the most wonderful gnarled ancient oaks. It’s lovely in summer, but I admit I wouldn’t care to go in it after dark.”

“Nor would I,” said her mother, with an ostentatious shudder. “One wouldn’t be surprised to see wolves in there. Goodness me, there’s a house in the middle of it! I wouldn’t want to live there at all, far too isolated and lonely.”

“Rosie and I call it the Witch’s House,” said Jenna, with a quick glance sideways: she could see Fran’s car through the trees, but no sign of either him or Flora, though there was a light on in the cottage. She thought of the warmth and welcome that lay within, and resolutely put it from her mind. Her mother was here for just two days, and putting up with her foibles and her annoying ways was surely not much to ask.

“It does seem to get dark very early here,” was Patricia’s next comment, as if Suffolk somehow existed outside the laws of nature. “What’s the time, Jennifer dear? Oh, I see it on the dashboard. Goodness, it’s nearly five o’clock. How much further is it? I would very much welcome a cup of tea.”

“Don’t worry, it’s only ten minutes, if that. And I’ve set the timer for the central heating, so the cottage should be lovely and warm for us.” A thought suddenly struck her. “Mum, I hope you won’t mind, I completely forgot to tell you, but I’ve got a couple of kittens.”

“Kittens?”

“Yes, two Burmese kittens. Saskia and the children clubbed together and got them for me as a Christmas present. You’ll love them, they’re adorable.”

Kittens.” Patricia invested the word with a huge burden of doubt. “I see. Will they scratch or bite?”

“No, of course not.” They'd had no pets at all during Jenna's childhood, and Patricia hadn’t even cared much for the placid, character-free Sooty who, with an unerring feline instinct, had always made a bee-line for her lap. “They’re very sweet, and very clean. They always use their litter-tray, and they love cuddling up to you and purring very loudly.”

“Well, I do hope they won’t be any trouble.”

“As if!” Jenna said, praying that they wouldn’t be. She didn’t trust Artemis not to shin up her mother’s expensive nylons, or leave a small but malodorous offering under her bed. And Apollo would doubtless love a skirted lap, undivided by trousers.

Fortunately, when they entered Wisteria Cottage, the two feline reprobates were in their favourite place, an ingenious cat cradle slung over the sitting room radiator, but as Jenna came through the door, carrying Patricia’s weekend case, they sat up, yawned in unison, surveyed the new arrivals, and miaowed plaintively.

“It’s not supper time yet,” Jenna informed them. Her mother gave them a dubious glance, and sat down rather gingerly on the sofa. Hoping that they were too warm and comfortable to investigate their visitor, Jenna set the case down and went to put the kettle on.

By the time she returned, with a tray set with bone china cups and saucers (an unloved but expensive wedding gift, kept specially for maternal visits), her only tea-pot, a cheerful bright yellow, and a plate of the M&S chocolate biscuits she’d earlier bought in Ipswich, Artemis and Apollo were sitting by Patricia’s ankles, looking hopefully at her with pleading expressions. At least they hadn’t attempted to climb up to her lap. Jenna put the tray down on the coffee table, gave the tea a quick stir – Patricia liked it strong, but not too strong – and went back into the kitchen, calling the kittens. They followed her hopefully, and she put their food bowls down in the corner. That would remove them from her mother’s orbit for a while.

Back in the sitting room, she poured the tea and handed over one of the cups. Patricia took it, elegantly balancing the saucer on her knee while she sipped appreciatively. “I must say, Jennifer dear, you do know how to make an excellent cup.”

“Thank you!” Compliments from her mother rarely came her way, and Jenna felt as if she ought to be framing the words in letters of gold. “But you’re the one who taught me. You and Nanna May.” She poured her own tea and sat down at the other end of the sofa.

Patricia waved a dismissive, self-deprecating hand. She looked round at the room, the books and pictures, the warm lamplight and the thick curtains drawn against the darkness, and said, “This is all very nice, dear, but don’t you find it rather small?”

Normal service resumed! Jenna thought wryly. She resisted the temptation to count to ten, and said mildly, “Well, it suits me fine. I don’t need a lot of space, after all. Rosie’s only here in the holidays, so most of the time I’m on my own.”

“But what will happen when Joseph and Thomas come back from Australia?”

“They’ve got a bedroom too, if they need it, but I can’t imagine they’ll stay here long. Tom’s got an MA place at Bristol, and Joe wants to get a job in research. Don’t worry, Mum, I’m very happy here. The cottage is cheap to run, it doesn’t take a lot of keeping clean, it’s warm and comfortable, Orford’s a great place to live and I love it. What’s not to like?”

“But what about all your things?”

“I got rid of most of them.” Jenna thought of her mother’s bungalow, cluttered with ornaments and a wide assortment of pot-plants, mostly cacti and African violets. One year, one of the larger cacti had sprouted protuberances which had caused the twins, then about twelve, much covert hilarity. “It’s called ‘downsizing’. I don’t need all that stuff, really I don’t. One thing this split with Rick has taught me, is that ‘stuff’ isn’t what makes you happy.”

“But how can you be happy, all on your own?”

“Easily,” said Jenna, and realised, somewhat to her surprise, that it was perfectly true. She had her cottage, and the delight of making it just as she wanted it. She had friends, a job, the kittens, and the love of her children, even if they weren’t around much now. “You’ve been on your own for much longer, after all, so you know it’s true. Neither of us need a man to justify our existence. I’ve had more than enough of that sort of thing.”

“Oh, Jennifer, you’re not turning into a feminist, are you?”

“No, I think I’ve always been one,” Jenna said, rather waspishly. “Have one of these? They’re M and S.”

Patricia leaned forward and put the biscuit delicately on her plate. Jenna took another and, ignoring her mother’s evident dismay, dunked it cheerfully in her tea and sucked off the thick layer of chocolate. For some reason, she felt ridiculously elated. Suddenly, it no longer seemed to matter what Patricia thought. She could disapprove all she liked, make her carping criticisms of her daughter’s choices, but it wouldn’t make any difference to what Jenna did. To be honest, it never had. Stupidly, she had just allowed her mother to get under her skin, exploit her feelings of guilt, and make her unhappy. And it was all so unnecessary.

“So,” she said, through a mouthful of biscuit, “what was it you have to tell me?”

“To tell you?” Patricia gazed at her in some bewilderment. “Did I?”

“Yes,” Jenna said patiently. “You phoned me from the ship and said you had something to tell me and it couldn’t wait.”

There was a pause, in which she had time to wonder whether her mother did in fact have some momentous news to impart, or whether it had in fact been a ploy to force Jenna to invite her for the weekend. She wouldn’t have put it past Patricia, who had a lot of previous form in the emotional blackmail department, but equally it could just be elderly forgetfulness.

To her surprise, several incongruous expressions crossed her mother’s immaculately made-up face: apprehension, coyness, and also something that Jenna, startled, recognised as happiness. She took a deep breath and turned to face her daughter, her eyes shining. “Jennifer, dear, I’ve met someone.”

Whatever she’d expected, it certainly wasn’t this, not in Jenna’s wildest imaginings. “Met someone? On the cruise?” She stared at her mother in bewilderment. Surely, surely Patricia couldn’t mean ...

“Yes, dear. I’ve met someone rather special.”

“You mean – a man?”

“Yes, dear, of course I mean a man,” said Patricia, obviously becoming impatient with Jenna’s obtuseness. “What else would I mean? A very nice man called Stuart.”

A variety of lurid scenarios flashed through Jenna’s mind. A gigolo. A toy boy. A con-man out for her mother’s money. An axe murderer. She said faintly, “Have you? How did you meet?”

“I told you, we met on the ship.”

“But how? I mean, how did you get talking?”

“We were partners in a game of bridge,” said Patricia, speaking slowly and clearly. “Sandra and Marion – she was the woman in the next cabin, very nice, but her husband doesn’t play – and I needed someone to make up a four. Stuart didn’t have a partner, so he joined us. We won,” she added, unable to disguise a note of triumph.

“So – you met over a game of bridge. What’s he like?”

“He’s very nice.” Patricia’s expression became remote, almost dreamy. “Very well turned out. Perfect manners.”

Jenna wouldn’t have expected anything else. Her mother would welcome Genghis Khan into her bungalow if he said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and held the door for her. She said, “Manners aren’t everything.”

“I know they may not be for you, dear, but they do mean a great deal to me, I find. I couldn’t like a man who was in any way discourteous.”

Jenna asked the first question that entered her head. “How old is he?”

“He’s seventy. Before he retired, he worked in the City.”

Well, if that was the case, perhaps he had a fat banker’s pension to fund his old age, and hopefully wasn’t after her mother’s money. “Where does he live?”

“It was such a coincidence, dear, it was what got us talking in the first place. He lives in Tring. In a house overlooking the park, such a nice area, and lovely views. He showed me a photograph on his phone.”

So, very conveniently, just up the road from Berkhamsted, and it would be easy enough to take a picture of someone else’s house. But Jenna reminded herself that it really must be a coincidence. How could this Stuart have known in advance that he would meet a woman from Berkhamsted on the cruise? She felt ashamed of her suspicions. Her fears about her father had affected her more than she’d realised.

“Does he have a family?” she asked.

“He’s a widower – very sadly his wife died two years ago. Cancer. He has a daughter who lives in Germany, and his son is in Scotland, something in oil apparently. Three grandchildren, younger than mine, all teenagers.”

“Have you got a photo of him?” Jenna asked, without much expectation – her mother’s phone could only cope with calls and texts, and her camera was an ancient Kodak that predated the arrival of digital. “It would be nice to see what he looks like.”

Patricia beamed, and reached for her handbag, which was on the floor beside her. At once she gave a gasp of surprise and snatched her hand away. “What was that? Something touched me!”

Hiding a smile, Jenna looked down and saw Artemis, the picture of innocence, peering up at her. “It’s all right,” she said. “Just one of the kittens, wanting to play.” She held out her hand and made a tweeting noise, and Artemis came over and rubbed her face against her fingers. Jenna scooped her up and settled her on her lap, stroking and petting her, while loud appreciative purrs filled the room. She had no idea where Apollo was – licking the bowl clean, probably, he had a stupendous appetite – and hoped he wasn’t going to ambush her mother’s feet.

“Oh.” Patricia leaned back and fanned herself in exaggerated relief. “For a moment I thought it might have been a spider – an old house like this must have plenty of them.”

“There are a few,” Jenna admitted, “but the kittens are doing what they can about that – they love chasing them. Practice for catching mice when they grow up.” Seeing her mother’s expression, she added hastily, “I’m sure we haven’t got any mice here. I’ve never seen one.” This wasn’t quite true, as there had been numerous signs of them when she and Rick had bought Wisteria Cottage, but poison had been put down, much to Rosie’s disgust, and the problem had swiftly disappeared.

“I do hope so.” Patricia made a second attempt to lift her handbag, this time successfully, and brought out her purse, a large expensive-looking one in smooth dark blue leather. She unbuttoned the wallet section, which had space for cards and photos as well as notes. Jenna saw a group picture of herself, Rick and the children, taken in Patricia’s garden when the twins were about six and Rosie a toddler. It gave her a pang of regret and distress to see them all, full of happy innocence, smiling brightly for the camera. “That’s a nice one,” she said.

“Yes, isn’t it. Such a shame that all ... all that happened.” Her mother still seemed unable to pronounce the dread words ‘separation’, or ‘adultery’, or ‘divorce’. “Now, Jennifer dear, this is Stuart. Sandra took it on her phone and had it printed off for me, on the ship.”

Jenna took the small square of glossy paper. Her mother stood on a deck, impossibly blue sea behind her, smiling brightly for the camera. She was wearing linen slacks and a blouse in a similar neutral shade. “Why does Granny always wear that boring colour?” Jenna had overheard the ten-year-old Rosie asking once. And Joe had answered her with his usual bluntness. “Because she’s a beige sort of person, Rosie-Posie. Beige clothes, beige handbag, beige skin, beige nails - even her hair is beige.”

Cruel, but true: beige, and bland, and safe. Her mother never took risks, never pushed the boat out, never went beyond her very narrow comfort zone. And yet, after more than thirty years alone, she had met this man on a cruise, and fallen for him. Who was this Stuart, who had so successfully managed to jolt her out of her stagnant complacency?

He stood beside Patricia, smiling cheerfully. His hand rested lightly on her shoulder. He was wearing a light blue shirt, open-necked, darker chinos and a panama hat at a slightly rakish angle. She couldn’t tell what colour his hair was – if he had any under the hat – but he appeared tanned and healthy, his stance upright and only a slight paunch distending the shirt.

She said, acutely conscious of the inadequacy of the term, “He looks very nice, Mum.”

“I know.” Patricia held out her hand for the photo, and Jenna returned it to her. “I wouldn’t be ... be interested if he wasn’t.” She looked at her daughter, excitement battling with apprehension on her face. “I really do think, Jennifer dear, that this is it.”

“It?” Jenna echoed, being deliberately obtuse: she wanted her mother to make the effort to spell out to her exactly what she meant, rather than putting words into her mouth.

“Yes, dear – well ... “ Patricia was looking a little flustered. “You know what I mean. We’ve agreed to meet for dinner next week, at the Crown.” It was a well-known gastro-pub in one of the villages near Berkhamsted. “He really is most ... gentlemanly, you know, and so kind, and we agree on so many things.” She gave a little laugh that was almost girlish. “Of course it’s early days, but you never know what’s round the corner, especially at our age – do you think I’m being too hasty?”

Dear God, Jenna thought in amazement, she’s actually asking me for my opinion! She looked at her mother, seeing the difference in her, the hesitant grasping at potential happiness that had been evident from the moment she got into the car at the station, and firmly suppressed fears about con-men. She said, “No, of course not – go for it, you deserve some fun in your life.”

“Do you think so?” Patricia looked at her in surprise. “I thought you would disapprove.”

No. That’s your job, to disapprove of ME. But she didn’t say it. “Why should I? It’s your life, not mine.”

“He hasn’t asked me for any money, you know,” her mother said defensively, as if sensing Jenna’s unspoken concerns. “Aren’t you worried about that? The papers are full of stories about smooth con-men preying on women like me.”

“Mum, you’re an adult, you make your own decisions, just as I make mine, for better or worse. I trust your judgement. If you think he’s a nice guy, that’s fine by me.”

“Well, I do,” said Patricia firmly. “And I’d like you to meet him.”

“I’m sure we can arrange that. How about I come and stay with Saskia at Easter? My job may have finished by then, and Rosie can come too, I’m sure you’d like to see her.”

“Easter? But that’s months away!”

“It’s early this year, remember? In March. And it’ll give you enough time to be sure that this relationship is going to last.”

Patricia thought for a moment. “Very well, I can see some sense in that. But I would like you to stay with me, not with Saskia. I am your mother, after all, and it might look a little odd.”

It seemed ungracious to argue, and after all, it would only be for a couple of nights, though Jenna knew that more than a few hours in her mother’s company would bring her nerves to screaming pitch. She said, as cheerfully as she could, “OK, whatever,” before realising that she sounded like a stroppy teenager.

Patricia didn’t seem to have noticed. She sipped her tea and absent-mindedly stroked Apollo, who had clawed his way up onto the sofa beside her, and was looking keenly at the biscuits. Then she put her cup back in the saucer and said, “You have been very understanding, Jennifer dear. I must admit, I was dreading telling you about Stuart.”

“Oh, Mum, why? You surely can’t think that I’d come over all nineteenth century and forbid you to see him, can you? You’ve been on your own for more than thirty years, for goodness sake, why should I object to you reaching out for a little happiness?”

“That’s very nice of you to say so, dear.” Patricia looked down at her empty cup. “Is there any more tea in the pot?”

“It’s probably a bit stewed by now. I’ll make another one.” Jenna got up, loaded the empties onto the tray and went through into the kitchen to put the kettle on. She was very surprised by her mother’s unwonted confidences. Patricia had always kept an emotional distance from her daughter, and when there’d been just the two of them once her father had died, there had been none of the ‘you and me against the world’ feeling that Saskia and India enjoyed (if that was the right word). Indeed, the prevailing feeling of her teenage years had been ‘me and Nanna May against my mother’. She was touched by Patricia’s tentative hopes about her new relationship with Stuart, and by her worries that Jenna might disapprove, or raise some trivial or not so trivial objection.

Well, she wasn’t going to object. She hoped that this man was genuine, and that he could, against all the odds, make her mother happy. It didn’t seem likely – Patricia’s default demeanour was a sort of perpetual low-level air of complaint – but she deserved the chance of a new relationship, after so long alone. Even if it turned out to be nothing more than friendship or companionship, it was better than staring at a lonely old age in her fastidiously clean and tidy bungalow, with only the bridge club and the funerals of friends to look forward to. Jenna resolved to support her mother, whatever happened. Patricia wasn’t like Nanna May, robustly defying the years with gusto and style. Patricia needed other people to validate her sense of self, which was why she had come to rely so heavily on her daughter.

As she poured boiling water onto the teabags in the pot, her phone, which she’d put down on the worksurface next to the sink, announced the arrival of an incoming text. It was probably Andrew, telling her how the afternoon had gone at the shop. Jenna picked it up and glanced at it, seeing in surprise and alarm that the text was from Joe. It was half past five here – what time was it in Australia? It must be in the middle of the night. Something was wrong.

With a thumping heart, full of sudden fear, she pressed ‘view’ and stared at the tiny letters on the screen.

Hi, Ma, don’t worry, all good here. Meant to text you earlier but forgot, great night at the bar, ha ha. Remember that guy Bill Clarke? Got in touch with him, asked him why he wanted to be friends, really weird this, he says he’s our uncle and your brother but we thought you didn’t have a brother? Anyway, thought we’d let you know, he’s going to send a friend request to you too. Hope the kittens are trashing the place, love to Rosie and all, Joe and Tom xx.

She had persuaded herself that she must be mistaken, that she was making Everests out of pebbles, that what her mother and her grandmother had told her about her father was true. She had suppressed the hope that he was alive, because to acknowledge that he might be was like removing the foundation stone of a grand edifice so that it all came crashing down around her. And now here was that devastation, in the casual text that Joe had sent to her without the slightest idea that there might be anything so significant in what he had learned.

Her knees were shaking and her hands felt clammy and clumsy. A wave of terrifying anger swept through her. How could her mother sit there blithely wittering on about the new man she’d just met, when she’d been lying to Jenna for more than thirty years? And not just a little white lie, either, but a massive, monstrous untruth that had profoundly altered her daughter’s life. And Nanna May too, her beloved grandmother, had undoubtedly colluded in that lie, for whatever reason: even on her deathbed, she hadn’t revealed the secret.

Before she could stop and think, before she could change her mind, Jenna picked up the phone and swept back into the sitting room on the wings of her fury. Patricia looked up at her with an expression of mild enquiry, but there must have been something in her daughter’s face, for it changed abruptly to alarm, even fear. “What is it, Jennifer dear? What’s happened? It’s not – it’s not bad news, is it?”

“You might say that.” Jenna thrust the phone into her hands. “I’ve had a text from Joe. A week or so ago, he got a friendship request on Facebook. Out of the blue, from a stranger.” She paused, staring at her mother. “From a man called Bill Clarke. He says he’s my brother.”

And in the dawning guilt and consternation on Patricia's face, she saw with horror that all her worst fears were true.

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