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Authors: Sue Moorcroft

Tags: #Fiction, #Family Life, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General

Want to Know a Secret?

Want to Know a Secret?

Sue Moorcroft

 

Copyright © 2010 Sue Moorcroft

First published in hardback as
Family Matters
by Robert Hale in 2008

Published 2010 by Choc Lit Limited

Penrose House, Crawley Drive, Camberley, Surrey GU15 2AB

www.choclitpublishing.co.uk

The right of Sue Moorcroft to be identified as the Author of this Work has
 
been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the
 
public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying. In the UK such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90
 
Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9HE

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library

Print
ISBN-978-1-906931-26-1

Epub ISBN-978-1-906931-5-13
Mobi ISBN-978-1-906931-48-3

PDF ISBN-978-1-906931-06-3

 

 

 

In memory of my father

Walter Moorcroft

1932–84

He would have been pleased

Acknowledgements

With grateful thanks to Sloane Helicopters, Sywell, for allowing me to visit; to Alan for telling me exactly how my helicopter prang should happen and Sheila for taking me to see one that had landed hard. To Roger for making the introduction, answering flying queries, reading the manuscript and pointing out the ugly sentences (even
 
when
 
they weren’t).

Thanks to Jean Fullerton, supernurse and author, for
 
pointing out where details of hospital routine and
 
drugs
 
needed
 
work.

Special thoughts for ‘Natasha’ from Northampton and thanks to Nigel Spratt and Linda for sharing their
 
experiences.

As ever, thanks to the Choc Lit team for their unending support, and all my friends at the wonderful Romantic
 
Novelists’ Association, ditto.

Chapter One

Two towering policemen filled Diane’s kitchen, incongruous amongst the splatter and clutter of dinner preparation and her hand sewing litter draping the chair backs. She touched the fabric, as if the blue satin intended for a prom dress would keep her knees from buckling. ‘How badly is he hurt?’

The older, taller of the two officers hovered closer. ‘Our information is that Mr Jenner’s in no immediate danger but has been injured. He was helped at the scene and taken to Peterborough District Hospital.’

Diane imagined the busy A47 on Gareth’s route home and an ambulance nosing its way through traffic chaos to their silver Peugeot bent and twisted. And Gareth trapped inside. She swallowed. ‘Where? Did it happen, I mean?’

‘The helicopter in which Mr Jenner was a passenger unfortunately crashed on take-off from Medes Airfield, this afternoon.’


Helicopter
?’ Relief whooshed through Diane, slackening the sinews that panic had tightened. For an instant she thought that her head might actually snap backwards like a puppet with a string cut. ‘Helicopter? He’s as likely to be in a flying saucer.’ She laughed, flopping into a kitchen chair and flipping her waist-long plait over her shoulder. As if Gareth would somehow magic himself into one of those clattering monsters when he should be fitting ventilation units to industrial buildings!

The policemen exchanged glances. ‘Is your husband here, Mrs Jenner?’

‘Well, no he’s late – but Gareth works all the hours that God sends, he’s probably been held up in the wastes of some industrial estate. One of the last people in the civilised world not to have a mobile phone, is Gareth.’

The older policeman smiled kindly. ‘If you’re convinced of a mistake, we can radio a colleague at the hospital to double check.’ He even shut his notebook, as if that was that.

‘I think you’d better. He has a fuzzy old tattoo at the top of his right arm, a capital G. If the man in hospital hasn’t got that, it’s not Gareth.’

‘That ought to settle it.’ The older man nodded his young colleague out of the back door to make the necessary call while he chatted easily to Diane about how she liked living in a village way out here, isolated by the splendour of the Fens.

In less than two minutes the young officer returned. ‘G-golf, top of right arm,’ he reported. ‘I’m afraid it sounds like your husband, Mrs Jenner.’

‘Oh.’ Cold with shock, Diane fumbled her way into a jacket against the June evening and her new burgundy shoes from the hall cupboard. The shoes felt cold and stiff without tights. A sale bargain, they clashed with just about everything, including the turquoise skirt and top she was wearing, but now wasn’t the time to be particular. She must see what had happened to Gareth.

She’d never ridden in a police car before. Perched on the back seat feeling sweatily sick, she watched swaying nettles tangle with froths of cow parsley as the car swished up the straight Fen lanes between fields divided into rectangles, brown soil embroidered with green crops. The land was flat for as far as the eye could see and deep dykes drained water to the sea that had once made a marsh of the people-made landscape, but was now miles away. The older constable kept up his amiable conversation. ‘Flat up here, isn’t it? We don’t normally get up so far towards Holbeach and Spalding. Not many windbreaks.’

‘People from outside the area do tend to feel the wind.’ Although she responded automatically, Diane’s mind was churning. What the hell had Gareth been doing in a helicopter?

‘And it was a special dinner you were cooking, was it?’

‘Silver wedding anniversary.’

He glanced back over his shoulder. ‘Never! You don’t look old enough.’

She flushed. ‘I married young.’ Her heart was drumming with apprehension. Gareth might not be a husband sent by angels to make her life heaven on earth but he was her husband. This morning, he’d given her a card,
To My Wife on our Silver Wedding Anniversary
. He’d known that she was cooking a celebration dinner: lamb steaks with herb butter; new potatoes, broccoli and baby carrots from the garden. He’d smiled and dropped a rare kiss on her cheek. ‘I’ll be home on time.’

Instead, he’d been in a helicopter crash. How badly did you have to be hurt for the hospital to send the police to inform the next of kin?

In the thirty minutes of the journey to Peterborough the dread grew that the answer was, ‘Very badly’. The car turned off Thorpe Road and parked between A & E and Outpatients by an ambulance with
East Anglian NHS Trust
on the side in dark green.

‘Here we are, Mrs Jenner.’

Floating through the automatic doors on a cloud of unreality, she found herself the baton passed efficiently from the policemen in the car to a PC Stone, who was exactly what the public expected of a copper – a big, stolid man with buzz-cut hair and a mission to keep her calm. Positively oozing positivity, he must have been top of his police class in reassuring silently freaked women in their best clothes and the wrong shoes. ‘I’m assured that your husband isn’t in any danger, Mrs Jenner. And he’s in good hands. I’ll tell you what I know so far.’ A & E was busy but he found her a blue vinyl chair in the waiting area. Her legs wobbled and she dropped down onto it, wiping a prickle of sweat from her top lip.

He fetched a cup of water and she sipped while he repeated everything the first two policemen had said in his deeply reassuring policeman’s voice and she made herself listen and nod. It was real. It was happening.

Presently, he rose. ‘I have to go back behind the scenes to see what I can find out. Will you be all right here?’

‘Yes. Thanks.’

‘Should I contact someone? You might like to have a relative with you?’

Bryony
. But her daughter was far away in Brazil, working in an orphanage full of beautiful, black-eyed waifs who had almost nothing, but considered themselves lucky not to have to scavenge on the street, according to her letters. Bryony would have to be told. But not yet. So far away from home, it would be cruel to frighten her until Diane had concrete information. Bryony’s childhood of illness and narrow squeaks made Diane shield her automatically. Also, Bryony and Gareth’s relationship had been what Bryony declared ‘shitty’ before she had left, so Diane wanted to know exactly what shape Gareth was in before she prodded that sleeping tiger.

‘The Norths are over there, if you don’t want to wait alone.’ Constable Stone gestured over his shoulder.

Diane didn’t understand what he meant by ‘Norths’, but knew that to wait alone was exactly what she did want. The hospital procedure was familiar from all the times they’d brought Bryony here in the throes of an asthma attack, clutching her inhaler, white-faced, eyes frightened. The staff worked their way down to you and you just had to wait.

‘I can call my brother if I find I need anyone.’ She tried to imagine Freddy abandoning his big, comfortable house in leafy Orton Longueville to sit beside her on these crowded seats. He would in a heartbeat, of course, if she asked him. But it had probably been a long time since he entered an NHS hospital. Much more likely companions were Ivan and Melvyn, who would willingly charge in to keep vigil for their big brother. They’d take over. They’d tell her not to worry, sit either side of her and be grim and demand to see every doctor in the place.

No, she’d wait alone, listening to the vending machine’s satisfied gurgles as a steady procession of people fed its coin slot. A group of teenage lads laughed and swore. Kiddies, pale and whiney, red and sleepy, crying, noisy kids that should’ve been in bed instead of arguing in the children’s playroom, waited while their siblings had their broken limbs and split heads seen to.

‘Diane?’

She jumped. A man loomed over her, his black leather jacket shining dully and his thick dark hair looking freshly cut.

‘Yes?’ she answered, cautiously.

He took the seat the policeman had vacated and smiled. ‘I’m James North, Valerie’s husband.’

Sorting rapidly through her memory, Diane failed to locate a James or a Valerie North.

‘Valerie was in the crash, too,’ he added, as she hesitated. Then, patiently, ‘You know who Valerie is, don’t you? Valerie North?’

She blinked. She hadn’t had time to wonder if there were others in the crash. ‘If you’re her husband, I’ll take a stab that she’s your wife.’ And, realising she’d been unnecessarily curt, ‘Does she work with Gareth?’

His brows went up. ‘Of course not.’

‘I’m afraid I don’t know, then.’

His eyes narrowed intently. ‘You don’t know who Valerie is?’ He leaned nearer, as if he could hypnotise her into divulging all she knew. The leather jacket brushed her hand; cool, sinuous.

She resisted the urge to check out its stitching to see if it was as well-made as the rest of him. ‘Should I?’

Frowning, he murmured, almost to himself, ‘I don’t know.’

His grey-eyed scrutiny made her feel like a specimen under his microscope. She put on the crisp voice she used with the bank to cover up a dread of uncovering unpalatable facts – this time that Gareth had been with this man’s spouse. A chill rippled through her guts. ‘You’re talking in riddles. How about simply telling me what’s going on between my husband and your wife?’

‘For God’s sake! What could be “going on”?’ For an instant something blazed in his eyes and she realised with a little shock that behind his show of patience, James North was smouldering with anger.

Before Diane could bark back that that was exactly what she wanted to know, a pale and untidy young woman rushed up, big-eyed as a fawn. ‘Dad – look at
Pops
,’ she hissed, a hand fluttering towards an older man who, drained of colour and sunk in a chair, was foraging vaguely in the folds of his jacket.

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