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  • Pamela Belle

CHAPTER THIRTY ONE

Jenna reached her first. "Flora! Flora, it's all right, it's me, you're safe now."

Sammy, wild with excitement at having found his quarry, rushed around them, his tail revolving like a windmill in a hurricane, and uttering sharp, infuriating barks. Ignoring him, Jenna knelt on the ground beside the sleeping bag, and took Flora into her arms. She was aware of Ruth grabbing the dog and pulling him away, and then Rosie saying, "Give me your mobile, Mum, and I'll call Fran and say that we've found her."

"I d-don't want to be found!" Flora sobbed. "Please don't tell Dad yet!"

"Sorry, but we've got to," said Jenna. She fumbled in her pocket and pulled out her phone, hoping there'd be a signal. The girl's face was white, with a bluish tinge round her mouth, and the hand on her arm felt icy cold even through her fleece. "He's desperately worried about you." And over the top of Flora's head, she handed the phone to Rosie and mouthed at her, "Tell him to call an ambulance."

"But I don't w-want to go with Mum!" She was shivering uncontrollably, and Jenna pulled her closer, hoping to transmit some of her own warmth. Thoughts of hypothermia filled her mind. Flora needed to be checked over, at the very least, and it would take some time, especially if the paramedics thought she would have to go to hospital. Where was the nearest one? Aldeburgh? Woodbridge? Ipswich? She didn't know.

There was obviously a signal even here in the wildwood, for Rosie was saying softly, "Yes, she's OK, but really cold, can you call an ambulance?" And then, more loudly, "Mum? Fran and the police want to know where we are so they can meet us."

Jenna realised, with a shock, that she had no idea. They'd just followed Sammy through the thickest part of the wood, and she'd taken no notice of which direction they were going in, or how long it had taken them to find Flora, or, indeed, how to find their way back. "I don't know," she said helplessly. "Just - somewhere in the woods."

"I know," Ruth said, and took the phone. Soon her calm, competent voice was issuing instructions. "North-west of your cottage, perhaps about half a kilometre? You may be able to follow our trail. We'll start heading back in a moment, but slowly, Flora's in a bit of a state. I've got a whistle with me, I'll blow it at intervals. No problem. Just so glad to have found her. Bye."

"Come on, sweetheart," Jenna said to the sobbing child. "Let's get you home and in the warm."

"No!" There was a wild, hysterical note in Flora's voice. "No, I don't want to go!"

"You can't stay here, it's too cold. You're too cold. You feel absolutely frozen and you're shivering, and it's dangerous, getting too cold." And then, as the girl's sobs continued, she added, "Flora, listen to me. Listen!"

Her words seem to have penetrated at last, for Flora raised her head, with such a look of despair on her face that Jenna's heart was wrung with pity. "Sweetheart, I can't promise anything, you know that. But I will do my very very best to persuade your mom that you need to stay with your dad, OK? And he will too."

"She w-won't listen, she never does."

"Shall I tell you what I think? I think that from one point of view it was very silly to run away. But looking at it from another point of view, it shows all of us, including your mom, how strongly you feel about wanting to stay here. And whatever happens, you're not going to be on that three o'clock plane. Not today, at any rate. We've all got to sit round and talk about this and thrash it out, what's best for you and your future, and I promise that we'll listen to you, because you're the most important person in all this - not your mom, not your dad, certainly not me, but you. OK?"

Flora said nothing, but wiped a hand across her eyes and sniffed.

"We're going to start walking back in a moment. The police are with your dad, they've come to help look for you, but Sammy found you first. One of the police officers might tell you off a little, for running away."

"The police?" Flora looked horrified. "They'll be really cross with me!"

"No, they won't, but they might say you've been a bit silly. It was so cold last night, we were all really worried about you. Why didn't you go to a friend's house?"

"I didn't want to be found," Flora said again. "And I knew that if I went to Izzy's, she'd tell her mum and dad, and it was a long walk and I didn't want to go along the road. So I thought I'd hide in the woods." She shivered. "I didn't know it'd be so cold. Even with the sleeping bag and my jacket, it was freezing. And I lost my beanie hat."

"We found it. Here you are." Jenna took it out of her fleece pocket and gave it to her. "Put it on, it'll help warm you up."

"And I was scared because there were all sorts of noises and I didn't know what was making them, and I thought it might be coyotes and then I remembered there aren't coyotes in England, or wolves, but it was still really spooky and I couldn't sleep much." She was trembling. "And something was shrieking in the distance, a really horrible sound like a ghost."

"It was probably just a barn owl. They make a noise like that. But frightening all the same, if you don't know what it is." Jenna looked down at Flora. The girl's face was still very pale, and blotchy with crying. Worryingly, the blue shade still lingered around her mouth. "Right, shall we get going? And I've asked for some paramedics to come out and check you over, just in case. So don't worry, it's only a precaution."

"Paramedics? You mean an ambulance?" Flora looked overwhelmed. "I'm not hurt or anything, I don't need an ambulance!"

"I know you're not hurt, but you might have something called hypothermia, which means that your body has got too cold and you need proper warming up. Don't worry, I don't think you have, but it's much better to be safe than sorry." She disentangled herself gently and stood up, holding out a hand to help Flora to her feet. "Come on. Time we weren't here."

Very slowly, reluctantly, the child extracted herself from the sleeping bag. She was still shivering, and her jeans and trainers were damp. Ruth handed Jenna's phone back and said briskly, "I'm going to blow the whistle. Cover your ears."

They obeyed, but the blast still seemed to penetrate Jenna's skull. She became aware that she was feeling quite shaky herself, and that she would give a fair sum for a large mug of hot strong coffee. Sammy came rushing up, obviously thinking that the call was for him, and Ruth praised him, while Jenna picked up the sleeping bag. It was a thin summer one, and wet through with dew, or melted frost: no wonder Flora was so cold.

"Everyone OK?" she asked, looking round. "Right, let's go."

Ruth set off confidently with Sammy beside her, heading south-east towards the rising sun. Its rays penetrated the bare branches of the ancient oaks, which laid twisted shadows on the undergrowth. The bitter chill of the night was lifting, though there were bluish pockets of frost in the deepest hollows. Rosie and Jenna followed, with Flora stumbling between them, holding their hands when it was possible to walk three abreast, clinging to Jenna when it wasn't. After Ruth had blown her whistle for the second time, they heard distant shouts ahead, and had to change direction slightly. Soon several figures appeared from behind a grove of towering hollies, and Jenna felt Flora falter and pull at her hand. "Mom," she whispered, on a sob.

There was Fran, pushing his way urgently through the dead bracken, with two police officers just behind him, and with them was a much smaller person, wearing a bright scarlet jacket which blazed like a beacon, jarringly, in this primeval place. Jenna glanced down at the girl's white, anxious face. "It'll be OK," she said reassuringly, though she was far from sure that it would be. Even at this distance, the small woman's stiff, jerky movements projected considerable fury. "There's your dad as well."

Flora let go of her hand and began to run, stumbling, towards Fran. Jenna saw the woman who must be Krystal, halt and hold out her arms as if she expected her daughter to rush into her embrace, but the child ignored her and hurled herself at her father. Over her head, his eyes met hers, and she read the relief and gratitude in them, and the love. Suddenly the wild emotions of the last few hours overwhelmed her, and she reached him a moment after Flora, and held them both close, and wept from exhaustion and relief.

When she raised her head at last from Fran's shoulder, Krystal was standing a few feet away, staring at them, with an expression on her face that Jenna interpreted as hostility. "Who are you?" she demanded, her voice harsh.

"Jenna. I spoke to you on the phone yesterday."

"Ah. The tutor." Krystal's tone was dismissive. "Flora? Flora, come to Mommy."

Above the birdsong, an emergency siren started to intrude. Fran disentangled himself and said gently to his daughter, "Go to your mom."

Flora, white, shaking, lips compressed, shook her head vehemently, as if she thought that the very act of touching her mother would whisk her immediately off to California. Jenna gave her an encouraging smile. "Go on. She must have been really worried about you, and she's not going to bite."

"Come here, honey," Krystal said, more hesitantly, a tremble in her voice, and Jenna realised that what she'd taken for anger was in fact extreme anxiety. "Are you all right? Tell me you're OK."

"I'm OK," Flora said obediently, but didn't move from the safety of her father's side.

"Excuse me," said one of the officers, coming over. "But I can hear the ambulance. We'd better get the little girl into the warm as soon as possible." He was young, and gave Flora a friendly grin. "Come on you, we don't want to keep the paramedics waiting."

Their search, following Sammy, had seemed to take hours, but to Jenna it seemed a matter of moments before the familiar outline of Fran's cottage appeared amongst the trees. The older of the two police officers, a sturdy woman in her thirties, led the way, followed by Fran, Jenna and Flora, with Krystal just behind them. Rosie and Ruth, with a panting Sammy straining at his lead, had found a different but parallel path through the bracken, while the young policeman brought up the rear, as if he feared that stragglers would get left behind, or that the captured Flora would make a desperate bid for freedom.

The paramedics came out to meet them, and lifted the child over the fence, while everyone else went the long way round to the front gate. By the time Jenna and Fran reached the sitting room, Flora was huddled by the fire wrapped in blankets and a thick dressing gown, and her wet clothes lay in a sorry heap on the floor. One of the paramedics was sitting beside her, talking softly to her while making notes on a tablet, while another police officer was spooning drinking chocolate into the eight or nine mugs ranked on the kitchen work surface beside the kettle. It was a big room, but suddenly very full of people, and the air was hot and humid, at this moment a welcome contrast to the chill outside.

Someone's phone rang, and from her reaction, it was Krystal's. She went into the garden to take the call, and Jenna couldn't help feeling relieved. A reckoning was in the offing, and she wasn't looking forward to it one bit, because she knew she was far too partisan, so completely on Fran's and Flora's side now that she was unable to step back and take a more balanced view. And she wasn't sure, either, that she had any right to voice her opinion. As far as Krystal was concerned, obviously, she was just the tutor, a hired hand.

"Mrs. Johnson?" It was the woman police officer who'd come with them into the woods. "Can I have a quick word? Obviously we're very relieved that Flora has been found safe and well, but I'd like your take on why she ran away in the first place. Is there somewhere quiet we can go?"

They went into the small hall by the stairs, and Jenna shut the door. She explained, as honestly as she could, the reasons for Flora's flight, and stressed, in answer to the woman's questions, that Fran was a responsible, loving and caring father, and that it was purely the thought of having to go back to America that had prompted his daughter to take such a drastic step. Hopefully it would reassure the police that nothing else was amiss: the last thing anyone would want, at this point, was for Social Services to become involved.

"Thank you," said the woman, when Jenna had finished. "I agree with you that this seems to be a one-off incident, but it will have to be followed up, I'm afraid. Flora will need to be interviewed by a trained and independent counsellor, to make sure that there are no other reasons for her running away. That should take place within the next two or three days, but I suspect it'll be little more than a formality. Now, I need to talk to her mother."

So Flora's departure would be delayed further, and they would have more opportunity to persuade Krystal to let her stay. Jenna went back into the big living room, and was immediately approached by Ruth. "Jen? I've spoken to the police and they've said I can go. Is it OK with you if I take Sammy home now? Apart from anything else, Gary will probably be wondering where the hell we've got to."

"Of course it is! And thank you so much, Ruth, for all you've done. You've been an absolute star."

"Oh, don't thank me, thank Sammy! He's the one with the nose. I have to say, I never thought he'd be capable of doing it, but he's proved me wrong, and how very glad I am that he did. Will Flora be OK, do you think? She's looking better already."

Jenna glanced over to where the child still sat by the fire. The bluish tinge had gone, and there was some healthy colour in her face now. "I'm sure she will be," she said confidently, though whether that would apply to her mental state was in doubt. "And thanks again. I don't know what we'd have done without you."

"I'm sure you would have managed to find her just the same."

"Perhaps, but not so quickly. Give Sammy a big hug and his favourite treat from me. Hopefully, I'll see you later, when the fuss has died down."

It died down surprisingly fast. The paramedics left shortly after Ruth, satisfied that Flora was recovering well from her ordeal. It took a little longer for the police to go, as they had to take statements from all the participants, including Rosie, who by now looked as Jenna felt - ready to drop from weariness. But soon they were saying goodbye, receiving thanks and apologies, and Fran shut the door behind them with an audible sigh of relief.

Jenna looked round. Her daughter and Flora were snuggled together on the sofa opposite, and the younger girl was asleep with her head on Rosie's shoulder. She supposed they ought to go to bed, but it was so warm and cosy in here that it seemed a shame to move them. At the other end of her sofa, bolt upright and obviously a mass of nervous tension, sat Krystal. She hadn't taken off her bright red coat, and her eyes darted from her daughter, to Fran, who was putting the coffee machine on, and then to Jenna. She was much smaller than her photos or her film incarnations would suggest, but obviously made up for her lack of height with the force of her personality. She said, as if her words could no longer be safely contained, "How the hell did all this get on social media?"

"What?" Jenna was bewildered. "What do you mean?"

"I mean it's gone viral. Twitter, Facebook, you name it. That call earlier, that was my agent, asking if I'd seen it. I've had hatemail."

"Hatemail?" Fran came round the corner of the work surface and stood by Jenna, staring at his former partner. "Why would anyone want to send you hatemail, for Christ's sake?"

"Because they've decided I'm a bad mom. So bad my daughter would run away and nearly die of exposure in the woods rather than live with me."

Since this was a fairly accurate assessment of the reason for Flora's flight, Jenna kept quiet. She looked at Rosie, who had posted the news of her disappearance on Facebook, and was therefore almost certainly responsible. From the expression on her face, and her deep blush, Rosie had realised it too. She said in a small voice, "I was only trying to help. I didn't realise, I just wanted people to look for her."

"So what did you put? A big headline screaming 'Game of Thrones Actress's Daughter Runs Away'?" Krystal's tone was savage. "And who are you, anyway? How do you fit in?"

"She's Jenna's daughter, and she wanted to help. You're being very unfair," Fran said, his voice hard. "If you want to take your anger out on someone, take it out on me. I'm used to it. Rosie and Jenna aren't. And it would be nice if you waited until I've got Flora in bed before you kick off." He bent and very gently lifted the girl into his arms. "Come on, wee lass, let's take you somewhere more comfortable."

"I'm comfortable now," Flora mumbled, but she didn't protest as he carried her out of the room. The three women were left in an uneasy silence. At last Krystal said flatly, "I'm sorry. I guess I was looking for someone to blame."

"It's OK," Rosie said, though from her heightened colour and her suspiciously bright eyes, Jenna knew that it was not. She added, "Do her schoolfriends and her parents know about - about who you are? Because I didn't mention it, of course I didn't, but maybe someone realised and thought it was a good bit of gossip."

"I expect they know what I do," said Krystal. "Flora's very proud of what I've achieved."

Jenna couldn't somehow see Flora lording it over her friends with tales of her mother the famous actress, but she must have explained to them at some stage why she had been brought up in the US, and why she would be going back. She said, "That's probably what happened. I'm really sorry if it's led to unpleasantness, but our only concern last night was to find Flora. We thought she might have been going to a friend's house. We never thought she'd try to hide in the woods. It was only thanks to Sammy that we found her when we did."

"Sammy? Oh, the dog." Krystal paused, and Jenna saw her twisting the large diamond ring on her index finger. "Well, it seems I have to thank you, Jenna and ... "

"Rosie."

"Well, thank you both. And I'm sorry for all the trouble that child has put you to. I don't know what possessed her to do such a thing."

"I think she was very unhappy at the thought of leaving her friends," Jenna said cautiously. "She loves it here."

"But she knew that she was going to come back with me." The ring was being twisted even more. "I told her about that school months ago. I thought she liked the idea."

"Perhaps, when it came to the crunch, she realised she didn't want to go," said Rosie. "I know I wouldn't want to leave all my friends and start again at a new school thousands of miles away where I didn't know anyone." She fixed Krystal with a look at once serious and challenging. "If you want her to be looked after by someone else while you're working - and don't get me wrong, that's fine - why can't her dad look after her here? She can go back to you during the summer holidays or at Christmas, and the rest of the time she's happy here at school with Fran and Mum."

"Fran and your mom?" Krystal turned her sharp, very blue eyes on Jenna. "Do you have a thing going with him, then?"

To her acute annoyance, Jenna felt her face grow hot. "Yes, we do have a relationship," she said, trying to appear calm. "It's in the early stages, though."

"I see. So how long have you known each other?"

Normally, these questions, fired at her in the other woman's brisk American voice, would have seemed intrusive, but Jenna knew why she was asking them, and it gave her hope. "We met at university," she said. "Thirty years ago."

"They're not very fast workers," Rosie said drily. Jenna suppressed a snort of laughter, but noticed that there was not a twitch of a smile on Krystal's face.

"Who aren't fast workers?" Fran came in, shutting the door behind him. Something about the body language of the three women must have reassured him, because he grinned. "Are you talking about me and your mother?"

"Sorry," Rosie said, though she didn't look it. "Is Flora OK?"

"She's fine," Fran said. "I don't think she'll run away again, somehow. She had a pretty miserable night out in the woods, cold, wet and frightened."

"It's got her what she wanted," Krystal said.

Fran glanced at her sharply. "Has it?"

"Look." Krystal leaned forward. "I'm not denying I want Flora to go to a top school. She's very bright and I don't want her to waste all that potential. But she won't achieve her best if she's not happy."

Hallelujah, Jenna thought. The penny has finally dropped.

"No, I'm sure she won't," Fran said. He sent her a look full of significance, and then turned back to Krystal. "So what are you suggesting?"

"I'm suggesting that she stays here with you, bar the long vacation. I wasn't keen on it prior, I admit, but now I know that you and Jenna here are in a relationship, I can rest easier in my mind. Flora's approaching adolescence, and she needs a woman in her life for the times I can't be with her."

"A role model," Rosie said, without looking at her mother. "And Mum knows all about bringing up girls. After all, she brought up me."

"And that's a recommendation?" Jenna enquired.

"I think you can be very proud of your daughter," said Krystal, who seemed to lack any sense of humour. More than ever, Jenna couldn't understand why she and Fran had ever got together in the first place, let alone for long enough to have a child. It must surely have been a purely physical attraction, for the gulf between Fran's laid-back common sense and Krystal's obviously fierce and brittle ambition seemed far too great for any lasting affection.

"I am," she said, with simple truth. "And you and Fran can both be very proud of Flora. She's a great kid, and I've really enjoyed teaching her. It would be lovely to think that I'd still have a part in her life." Gosh, she thought, I'm beginning to sound like a character in some soppy Hollywood film myself.

Fran began to pour coffee into mugs and distributed them. Jenna took hers and sipped it, revelling in the heat and the fragrance. He said to Krystal, "So what's brought on this change of heart? Was it just Flora running away, or have you had a rethink?"

"A lot of things," said Krystal. She was, Jenna noticed, looking quite uncomfortable. "I mean, if the child feels so strongly she has to do something so drastic ... what if she does it again, and it doesn't turn out OK? Running away from school could land her in terrible trouble, or even danger."

Jenna thought of Saskia's admission that she had hated her boarding school so much that she'd done her best to get expelled. She said, "I know. And she's stubborn and has a mind of her own. To be honest, I wouldn't put it past her to fail the entrance exam deliberately."

"She warned me last time we spoke that she might not pass. But I just thought she didn't think she was bright enough. Seems I was wrong. I've been wrong about quite a lot of things, where my daughter's concerned. If she's so desperate to stay here, and if you're OK with that, Francis, I'm not going to stand in her way."

Jenna wondered about this. She suspected that those negative comments on social media, and the call from her agent, might have had a lot more to do with Krystal's apparent volte face. Being vilified on Twitter was probably an unpleasant and chastening experience. And a cynical voice within whispered, too, that Krystal was probably considerably older than she looked - late thirties, perhaps even early forties - and having a pretty adolescent daughter in tow might not be a favourable career move.

"Well, that's good news," Fran said. "I'm glad you've changed your mind." Jenna suspected that he'd left a lot unsaid, most of it uncomplimentary to Krystal - the words 'seen sense at long last' sprang to her mind - but it was in no-one's interests, least of all Flora's, to indulge in a slanging match when he'd effectively won the battle.

"I'm glad too," said Krystal, though there was a certain set to her mouth which implied that this concession, so apparently generous, was more a result of calculation than emotion. She was obviously hard as nails, but you needed to be if you wanted to build a career in Hollywood and on US TV. And Flora seemed to have inherited some of that toughness, along with Fran's gentler, more empathetic nature. It would make for a formidable combination, when she grew up.

Jenna got up and went over to Fran, who was now getting a pack of frozen croissants out of the freezer. "Do you want to tell Flora now?"

"In case she does another bunk?" He grinned at her. "Good idea, hen. I'll put these in the oven and then nip upstairs. Hopefully she hasn't fallen asleep yet."

"And she can come down and make her peace with Krystal," Jenna said very quietly. "She needs to, even if she's now going to spend most of her time with you."

"I know, I should have thought of it too, but I'm too tired to think straight."

"I'm not much better." Aware that Krystal was watching, she leaned over and gave him a hug. "I think we're all going to spend most of today fast asleep. Did she say when she was going?"

"Soon. Catching an evening flight." He bent and put the tray of pastries into the oven, and then straightened. "I don't think I've said it, hen, but thank you. Thank you for everything you've done to help, and most of all thank you for finding Flora."

"It wasn't me, it was Sammy - and using him was Rosie's idea, not mine."

"Then I'll treat you and Rosie to a slap up meal, and Sammy to a very large bone. See you shortly."

When he'd gone upstairs, Jenna went back to the sofa. Her daughter seemed to be dozing, though she'd doubtless wake up when the smell of hot coffee and baking croissants reached her nose. She gave Krystal a rather tentative smile. "For what it's worth, I really think you've made the right decision. I don't think a hothouse academic school would suit Flora. She's very bright, but also very individual, and she might find it hard to fit in."

Krystal leaned forward earnestly. "You understand, I've only ever wanted the best for her, and for her to be the best. But I've come to realise now that maybe her happiness is just as important. Thank you for showing me that."

"Don't thank me, thank Flora."

"Thank me? What for?" The young lady herself had just come in, wearing the fluffy dressing gown over pale blue pyjamas. Fran was just behind her, his hands on her shoulders. He gave her a little push. "Don't worry about that. Go on, wee lass, say what you want to say."

Jenna could see the child take a deep breath and steel herself. Then she fixed her eyes on her mother's face, and said, "I'm really sorry, Mom. I didn't mean to scare you or upset you. I just didn't want to go back to California and go to that school. Thank you for changing your mind." Her lip wobbled suddenly. "I really wish I hadn't gone into the woods, it was really scary and really cold and there were all sorts of spooky noises and I thought I'd be in there forever because I'd forgotten the way back."

"That's all right, honey," Krystal said. "You're safe now, and that's the only thing that matters." She held out her arms, and this time Flora went gladly into her embrace.

Fran's eyes met Jenna's over the top of Krystal's pale head, and he smiled. There was great happiness in his expression, and she gave him an answering look, full of joy. It had turned out all right in the end, thanks to Flora's drastic action. Still, however, she could not quite believe that Krystal's change of heart was genuine. Perhaps inside she was seething at having been outwitted by her ten-year-old daughter, but was intelligent enough to realise that dragging her back to the US against her will, and all the adverse publicity that might ensue, would be damaging to her newly flourishing career. All in all, Jenna was glad that Krystal was soon going to be many thousands of miles away, and that if all went to plan, it would be several months before mother and daughter were reunited.

"Can I smell croissants?" As predicted, Rosie had woken as the aroma of baking permeated the room. "I'm starving!"

"Me too," said Flora, squirming out of Krystal's arms. "Dad, can I have some of that chocolate spread?"

Fran took the croissants out of the oven to cool, and made more coffee. Within a few moments, they were all sitting round the big table, tucking in. Jenna still felt very tired - after all, she'd only had two or three hours sleep - but the fresh, buttery pastry and rich chocolate and invigorating coffee put new life into her. She longed for Krystal to go, but also knew that there were practical arrangements to discuss, regarding Flora's future, before she left.

When everyone had eaten, and his daughter had gone back to bed, and Rosie had snuggled up on the sofa with her phone, Fran took the initiative. "OK, let's talk about Flora."

"Do you want me to go?" Jenna asked. She still hadn't got used to the idea that being in a relationship with him in effect made her the girl's stepmother, and she felt that somehow she didn't have the right to participate in what was essentially a discussion between Flora's parents.

"Of course not," Fran said warmly. "You're part of her future, aren't you? Then you can stay." He grinned. "And a slightly more detached viewpoint could be very useful. If that's OK with you, Krystal."

"Of course," said Flora's mother, with a slightly effortful smile.

There was not, after all, very much to arrange, because everyone was in agreement for once. Flora would stay with Fran, continue at the local primary school, and move on with her friends next year to the local comprehensive. Any problems that might arise would be sorted out between both parents. She would spend all or most of the summer in California, if Krystal's work schedule allowed, and at least one other holiday there, either at Easter or Christmas. It was decided that nothing should be set in stone, and that it was best to be flexible and accommodating. Then Krystal looked at her watch and announced that she would have to go, as her transport was due in five minutes.

It hadn't occurred to Jenna to wonder how she'd arrived at the cottage. Obviously, her latest TV role was very lucrative - and were those real diamonds, glinting around the watch face?

"I'll go up and say goodbye," Krystal said, getting to her feet. "I won't be long."

When she had left the room, Fran leaned across the table and took Jenna's hand. "Thanks," he said again.

"What for? People keep thanking me, and I haven't done that much."

"For being here. For doing your best. For being a third party. It doesn't take a lot for Krystal and me to start arguing, we're as different as salt and sugar, so having you at the table dispensing wisdom and common sense defuses the situation."

"Wisdom?"

"Yes," he said, suddenly serious. "Wisdom. And you're not selfish, either."

"I can be selfish for England, sometimes."

"That I utterly refuse to believe. Krystal's a good mother, but she's always wanted to put her career first. You always put your kids first."

Jenna, blushing, glanced involuntarily at Rosie, who was texting someone, probably India. Her daughter, aware of it, gave her a grin and a thumbs up before returning to her screen. She said, "Please don't think I'm some kind of saint. Far from it. I can be as wrong and stupid and selfish as anyone else."

"So can I, for that matter, but that's not why I love you."

He said it quietly, but it seemed like a fanfare. She tried them out in her head, soundlessly, and then responded. "And I love you."

She'd never thought she would say those words to anyone again, after Rick's betrayal. But they seemed so right, that she knew they were the truth.

His hand squeezed hers, and they smiled at each other. Then footsteps came rattling down the stairs, and Krystal appeared, looking at her phone. "The car's almost here. I gotta go. Thank you, guys, for all you've done, I'm very grateful."

Rather awkwardly, they said goodbye to her, and watched as she went out into the morning sunshine to meet a large, anonymous black Ford that had just pulled into Fran's driveway. As the car moved off, Fran put his arms round Jenna and Rosie and said, "Thank God that's all over. So, what shall we all do with the rest of the day? Sleep?"

"I could certainly do with some kip," Jenna said. "So if you don't mind, Rosie and I are going to go home. Are you doing anything tomorrow?"

"Not as far as I know. Why?"

"I've got something to show you, and Flora. And Saskia too, if she can - it's a Sunday, but she often does buying or admin then, so perhaps she won't be able to come, but I'll phone and ask her when we get home."

Rosie looked at her enquiringly, and then smiled, realising what she was planning. "Great, Mum, it's going to be a brilliant surprise."

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