Authors: Michelle Betham
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First published in Great Britain by HarperImpulse 2014
Copyright © Michelle Betham 2014
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This novel is entirely a work of fiction.
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the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is
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To my family and friends - thank you.
‘You gonna let me in or what?’
Amber folded her arms and leaned back against the doorpost, her eyes fixed upon Ryan – Ryan Fisher, famous footballer, local north-east hero; a man who’d crashed into her life just a couple of years ago. Even though she’d done everything in her power, at the time, to stop that from happening.
She had a slight smile on her face. She couldn’t help it. Sometimes he just had the ability to make her smile, whether she felt like it or not.
‘You don’t have to bring him something
time you call round, you know.’ She stood aside to let him through into the hall.
‘I know. But I want to. Where is my beautiful boy anyway?’
‘He’s in the living room, and he’s asleep. Which is how I’d like him to stay for the time being. And I’m sure
like him to stay that way, too, seeing as you’re looking after him this afternoon.’
Ryan turned to look at her, his handsome face lit up by the widest smile, and Amber felt her heart dance around in her chest, followed by a succession of feelings she couldn’t explain, and didn’t really want. But sometimes, just the sound of his voice – that beautiful, soft Geordie accent of his – it could set off waves of confusion she didn’t always welcome.
For months, she’d tried so hard to fight against everything she was feeling for this man, because she’d never really been sure how much of it was real, and how much of it had to do with the fact she’d been pregnant, and therefore probably slightly more emotionally unstable than usual. But she’d given birth three months ago. And she still couldn’t shake those feelings Ryan Fisher could stir up inside her. He’d been there for her after her split from Jim – the love of her life. Her ex-husband, Ryan’s manager at top-flight football club Newcastle Red Star. He’d helped her deal with everything that came with that, in ways that probably hadn’t been the most sensible course of action. Sex never had been the best form of therapy as far as Amber was concerned. It only led to more trouble. So why did she seem to turn to it so readily these days? But just having him around, well, she’d needed that. She’d needed to have him with her, and not just because she’d been carrying his baby. She’d needed him. Simple as that.
‘You got a bit of time to spare?’ Ryan grinned, placing the tiny t-shirt emblazoned with the words
‘I Love my Daddy’
on the table behind him.
‘Seriously?’ Amber arched an eyebrow as Ryan pulled her towards him, circling her waist with his arm. ‘Do you know how much sleep I’ve had lately? Or how much sleep I
had, that should be.’
‘Well,’ Ryan began, gently nuzzling her neck, his fingers playing with her long, dark-red hair, ‘if we moved in together then I could help you, couldn’t I? I could take some of the load off your shoulders.’
‘Don’t start, Ryan, please. We’ve been over this.’
‘I’m serious, Amber.’ He stroked a strand of hair from her pale-blue eyes, kissing her lightly on her slightly open mouth. ‘It seems crazy, you and the baby living here and me all on my own in that huge new house of mine. I mean, I’m over here most of the time anyway, when you’re not in London, that is, so surely it’d make more sense if we…’
Amber shook her head, but she still let him push her back against the wall. She didn’t put up much of a fight, despite the constant wave of tiredness that seemed to inhabit her body these days, as he sneakily ran a hand up her thigh before sliding it up and under her t-shirt.
‘Jesus, Ryan, do you ever stop?’
‘I’m dying here, babe. All I can think about is fucking you, which is hardly surprising, considering we haven’t done much of that lately.’
Amber looked at him, shaking her head again. ‘I don’t believe you…’
‘What?’ Ryan shrugged as she pushed past him and walked into the living room. ‘Come on! What have I done now?’
But she wasn’t listening any more. She was looking down at their beautiful baby boy. Rico Alejandro Fisher had been born three months ago, just two days before the start of the new football season back in August. With Ryan by her side – although, only just – and a labour so short she figured she must have done something really good in a past life to have deserved that – she’d given birth just after 11am and been home by tea-time, back to a house full of people and all the help she’d so desperately needed in those early days. Days when she’d missed her mum so much, with a pain so physical it almost wore her down. So she’d had no hesitation in giving her son a Spanish name, as a nod to her Mediterranean heritage – Rico, because she liked it, and Alejandro after her Spanish grandfather.
He was the most beautiful baby, and she was all too aware that everybody said that about their own children, but he really was. She could spend hours just looking at him, and there were times when she did just that. When her busy schedule allowed. Because every second she spent with her son was precious.
She turned around, folding her arms as she looked at Ryan. ‘You think I don’t want a little bit of relief, too, huh? A little bit of time to feel sexy again because, God knows, it’s the last thing I feel these days.’
She pushed a hand through her hair as Ryan came closer, reaching out to take her hand. ‘You’re always sexy to me. Even with baby sick down the front of your t-shirt and your hair all over the place.’
She couldn’t help laughing, looking down at the floor as he gave her hand a quick squeeze before bringing it up to his lips and kissing it gently. ‘Yeah. Thanks for that.’
‘And I still don’t understand why you haven’t taken up the option of maternity leave. Cloud Sports are quite willing to let you have the time off, aren’t they?’
‘Yes,’ Amber sighed, letting go of Ryan’s hand, folding her arms against her once more. ‘But it’s just not for me, Ryan. And we’ve already been over this. In fact, I’ve been over this countless times – with you, my dad, Ronnie… I’m tired of explaining it. It’s just the way I am, okay? Rico isn’t suffering; he comes with me whenever he can, and between you, my dad, and my wonderful family we’re managing just fine, aren’t we?’
‘Yeah. I suppose we are. But you’ve been working yourself into the ground for months now. I mean, come on, you were back at work two days after giving birth! Isn’t it about time you gave yourself a break?’
‘I don’t want a break. Breaks give you far too much time to think about things.’
She walked over to the dining table at the back of the room and started folding a pile of baby clothes that was lying on it.
‘Like what?’ Ryan asked, sitting down on the arm of the chair next to Rico’s carry-cot.
Amber said nothing for a few seconds. She wasn’t in the mood for some deep conversation; she was way too tired for that. ‘Nothing.’
‘I hate it when you say that,’ Ryan sighed, throwing himself down into the chair. ‘There’s quite obviously
wrong, I can tell. You’re in one of those moods.’
‘One of those…? Jesus, Ryan.’
‘Okay, okay. I’m sorry.’
She couldn’t help smiling, throwing a babygro at him.
He grinned, flinging his legs over the arm of the chair as he held the babygro up in the air. ‘I can’t believe how small he is.’
‘Yeah, well, one day he’ll be as big as his daddy. I’m just hoping that doesn’t apply to his head, too.’
Ryan looked at her, still grinning. ‘You got something to say there, Ms. Sullivan?’
She just smiled at him, nudging his legs down. ‘Right, I’ve got to be somewhere.’
‘Yes, Ryan. Unlike you, my working day is only just starting. You gonna be okay looking after him for the afternoon?’
‘I’m his dad, Amber.’
She fixed him with a look. ‘Alright. I’ll be at Tynebridge if you need me.’
Ryan sat up straight. ‘You’re going to Tynebridge?’
She looked down into Rico’s carrycot, smiling at her son as his eyes flickered open. ‘Hey there, baby. You gonna be a good boy for daddy while I’m out earning us some pennies?’
‘Amber. Why are you going to Tynebridge?’
She reached into the cot and carefully picked up Rico, cuddling him to her, kissing the top of his head as she gently ruffled his mass of dark hair. ‘Because, unless it’s slipped your notice, it’s the derby weekend. And Cloud Sports are showing the game live, as you well know. Me and Ronnie are going over there to set things up. He’s one of the pundits, and I’m presenting… Ryan, you know all of this.’
‘Is Jim gonna be there?’
She nestled Rico in the crook of her arm as she fixed Ryan with another look. ‘I have absolutely no idea. Would it be a problem if he was?’
Ryan shrugged, his manner verging on the petulant. ‘I’ve got to be at the ground myself by six. The boss wants us ready to leave for the hotel by half past. You gonna be back by then?’
‘I’ll let you know. If I’m not gonna make it you can just bring Rico down there. He can stay with me. Ryan, will you quit acting like a sulky teenager? Please? Me and Jim, it’s over. You know that. But I can’t avoid him forever; it’s impossible. So just grow up and deal with it. You know, sometimes it’s like having two kids…’ She kissed Rico again, reluctant to let him go. He was so warm and soft, and he smelt of baby talc, and all of a sudden Amber had an overwhelming urge to just stay there and cuddle him all afternoon. Just one mention of Jim’s name had done what it usually did – change her mood entirely. ‘Okay, poppet. Daddy’s taking charge now, so, you keep an eye on him and make sure he behaves himself.’
‘Yeah, you’re funny,’ Ryan said, standing up and carefully taking Rico from Amber, holding him up in the air and bringing him back down for a huge kiss. ‘Hey there, little fella. We’re gonna have some fun, me and you.’
‘Wear him out, will you?’ Amber half-smiled, grabbing her jacket from the back of the sofa. ‘It’s a busy weekend this weekend and I could do with a few more hours’ sleep. I’ll call you later, but you know where I am if you need me.’