Making your mind up, p.21

Making Your Mind Up, page 21


Making Your Mind Up

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  Fenella disappeared upstairs to take her bath. In the kitchen Lottie made coffee and listened to Freddie’s account of yesterday’s events. She especially enjoyed the bit about how Fenella had evidently seen the error of her mercenary ways and had been horrified to discover that he was a multimillionaire, because the only men she wanted to be associated with nowadays were the kind without two ha’pennies to rub together.

  And no, they hadn’t slept together last night either. They had simply been laughing and talking together for so long that Fenella had ended up missing the last train home.

  After hearing far more than she wanted to hear, Lottie said, “I know this is none of my business, Freddie, but I still don’t trust her. She was going through your private things.”

  “But she’s explained why.” He looked defensive. “And I did tell her to make herself at home.”

  This wasn’t going to be easy. “She accused me of feeling threatened by her because I want you to leave everything in your will to me. Which isn’t true, by the way,” Lottie added hastily.

  Freddie shrugged. “So you say.”

  “Freddie! I’m not!”

  “I know that.” He looked amused. “But Fenella doesn’t, does she? Because she doesn’t know you. Just like you don’t know her.”

  Bursting to retort, but I know I’m right, Lottie forced herself not to. She gazed steadily at Freddie.

  “Touché. Look, I want you to be happy. It’s what you deserve. Just…don’t do anything hasty, OK?”

  “Like rush off to the nearest register office?” One eyebrow went up. “Or change my will and leave everything to Fenella?”

  Exactly. Exactly.

  Lottie said, “Something like that.”

  “Darling, it’s sweet of you to worry about me.” Freddie’s tone was consoling. “I appreciate it. But I’m not some love-struck teenager. Nor am I senile. I think I can trust myself not to get carried away.”

  Lottie, who knew better, said nothing. Of course he couldn’t trust himself; he was a man.

  * * *

  “That was a long five minutes,” Tyler observed when Lottie reappeared in the office.

  “Sorry. I’ll work through lunch.” She sat down and began a to-do list.

  “You always work through lunch.”

  “You’ll just have to sack me then. Ooh, bloody pen.” Discovering that her ballpoint wasn’t working, Lottie hurled it across the office with such force that the wheels on her chair scooted backward. The pen bounced off the opposite wall and Lottie clunked the back of her head against the shelf behind her desk. “Ouch, bugger.”

  “OK, here’s the deal. I won’t sack you if you promise not to sue me for injuries sustained in the workplace. It’s entirely my fault for allowing a pen to run out of ink.” Manfully attempting to keep a straight face, Tyler said, “Lottie, what’s wrong?”

  “You mean apart from the fractured skull?” She rubbed her head. “I’ve just met Freddie’s lady friend.”

  “The old flame from Oxford?” Tyler looked interested. “He was telling me about her. What’s she like?”

  “The words gold and digger spring to mind.”

  “Oh well, goes with the territory.” With a so-what shrug, Tyler said, “Does that bother Freddie?”

  Lottie stared at him in disbelief. “What?”

  “Well, it clearly bothers you.”

  “Because she’s a fraud! She’s pretending to be in love with Freddie so she can get her hands on his money!”

  “According to you.”

  “She is!”

  “Maybe she likes him anyway,” Tyler said reasonably, “and the fact that he’s wealthy is an added bonus.”

  Lottie couldn’t believe he wasn’t taking her side. This was an outrage. If there’d been another pen on the desk she would have flung it at his head.

  “Hey, give them a break. Let Freddie have his fun.” Tyler spread his arms. “If she’s really bad news, he’ll see through her sooner or later. But look on the bright side,” he went on. “You could be wrong. They might be perfect for each other. They could be deliriously happy together for the next thirty years.”

  “No, they couldn’t,” Lottie blurted out. “That’s just it. They—”

  “They what?” Tyler raised his eyebrows as she ground to an abrupt halt.

  Ashamed of herself for almost having let the cat out of the bag, Lottie shook her head. “Nothing. They just wouldn’t, that’s all.”

  Chapter 33

  The temperature had soared back into the eighties, and Lottie was on the beach, busy topping up her tan, when she felt a shadow fall across her face.

  Her stomach instantly tensed. Tyler?

  She opened her eyes and saw that it wasn’t. Mario was standing over her looking so grim that Lottie knew at once what had happened.

  Pushing herself up on her elbows, she shielded her eyes from the sun. “What’s wrong?”

  Mario glanced over at Nat and Ruby, who were splashing around in the shallows with a golden retriever belonging to the family currently staying in Beekeeper’s Cottage. When he was satisfied they were out of earshot he said, “Amber’s chucked me.”

  “Oh no.” Lottie looked suitably shocked. “I can’t believe it! Why?”

  “Turns out she’s been seeing someone else.” Mario watched as Nat threw a stick into the lake and Ruby and the dog simultaneously plunged in to retrieve it.


  Mario nodded and waved back as Ruby, having lost the battle for the stick, waved at him. “Really. Why are women such liars?”

  “How long’s it been going on?” Perspiration trickled down Lottie’s cleavage as she adjusted her bikini straps.

  “And that includes you,” Mario continued evenly. “Because you’re lying now, pretending to be surprised. Amber told me she told you last week.”

  Cheers, Amber.

  “Oh well.” Lottie wasn’t going to feel guilty. “That’s just sisterly solidarity. I was being discreet. Could you move out of my sun?”

  Mario sighed and sat down on the beach towel next to her. “Is that all the sympathy I get?”

  “How much do you think you deserve? I’m your ex-wife, remember. You messed around with other girls and we ended up getting divorced because of it. Now Amber’s decided she can’t stay with you because she can’t trust you, so she’s found someone she can trust instead.” Reaching for her bottle of sunscreen and uncapping it, Lottie squeezed a dollop of the cream onto her stomach. “If I were the type to gloat I’d call it poetic justice.”

  Mario’s eyes glittered. “Thanks a lot. Even though I haven’t been unfaithful to Amber, not once.”

  “Of course you haven’t. Not even when Amber was away in France,” Lottie pointedly reminded him. “Thanks to me.”

  “And that’s another thing. It wasn’t until she found out you’d spent the whole time acting like a human chastity belt that she realized she couldn’t carry on seeing me.” Mario gestured in disbelief. “If it wasn’t for you, we’d still be together.”

  “Oh no, don’t start trying to shift the blame onto me! Amber was in France with another man while I was being your damn chastity belt!”

  “So you’re glad this has happened.” Mario’s voice rose. “You think it serves me right!”

  “Of course I’m not glad it happened,” Lottie bellowed back. “I didn’t want it to happen, that’s why I acted like a chastity belt! Blaaarrrgghh!” She jerked back as the golden retriever, having bounded out of the lake and raced up to them, shook himself vigorously and showered her with cold water.

  Nat, hot on the boisterous animal’s heels, said, “Why are you shouting at Daddy?”

  “Because Daddy was shouting at me.”

  “Oh. What’s a chastity belt?”

  “Something you buy in Marks & Spencer to hold your
tummy in. Right, we’d better be getting home now.” Lottie checked her watch.

  This had the desired effect. “Nooo,” Nat protested, charging back down to the water’s edge with the dog in tow.

  “You know I didn’t want you and Amber to break up.” No longer shouting, Lottie reached over and touched Mario’s wrist.

  He nodded, watching Ruby and Nat as they skimmed stones across the shimmering surface of the lake.

  “I know. I just can’t believe it’s happened. I thought we were so happy.”

  Lottie’s heart went out to him. He was clearly more upset than he was letting on. Mario had always led something of a charmed life; he was easygoing and cheerful, liked by everyone.

  “Oh God, and I’m going to have to tell Ruby and Nat.” His jaw tightened. “They’re not going to like it.”

  This was an understatement. Lottie knew they’d be devastated. They loved Amber as much as they hated Tyler, the difference being that this time they couldn’t influence the outcome.

  “I’m really sorry,” Lottie said quietly.

  “Me too.” Mario hesitated, swallowing hard. “I love her. I didn’t know it would hurt this much. I can’t stop thinking about her being with someone else.”

  Now you know how I felt when you did it to me. The words ran through Lottie’s mind but she didn’t voice them. Instead she put her arms around him and held him tightly. Mario might no longer be her husband, but she still cared for him, and right now he was in need of comfort. It hurt to see him like this.

  Having spotted them, Nat crowed, “Ooh, seeexy.” Then his gaze shifted and the smirk faded from his face. Twisting around to see what he was looking at, Lottie saw Tyler making his way along the narrow lane leading to the cottages. Damn, what was he going to think now?

  Then again, what did it matter? They were each free to do whatever they liked. She could be having wild sex with Mario if that was what took her fancy.

  Well, maybe not on this beach in front of the kids.

  Tyler disappeared from view and the dog loped off. Ruby skidded up to them, excitedly clutching a coin in her hand. “Look, I found fifty pee in the water!”

  Mario said, “That’ll be the fifty fish.”

  “Daddy! That’s gross.”

  Nat, who adored toilet humor, snorted with laughter and threw himself down on the sand next to Mario. “I’m going to find fifty poos! Why was Mummy hugging you? Is it because you’re so seeexy?”

  Mario hesitated. Lottie decided to get it over with. “Dad’s fine. He’s a bit sad, that’s all. He and Amber aren’t seeing each other anymore.”

  Ruby and Nat stared at her, then at Mario.


  “These things happen.” Mario shrugged, but his jaw was set.

  Ruby’s hand crept into his. “Don’t you like her anymore?”

  “Oh, I do.”

  “But she doesn’t like you.” Nat’s lower lip was beginning to wobble.

  “Or us,” Ruby whispered.

  “Oh, come on, you know that’s not true,” Lottie exclaimed. “Amber loves both of you!”

  “But we’re never going to see her again. That’s not fair.” Ruby gazed up at Mario. “What did you do to make her stop liking you?”

  “Nothing,” said Mario.

  “You must have done something.”

  “Well I didn’t, OK? She just found someone else.”

  Nat looked outraged. “Someone she likes better than you? Where did she find him?”

  “It doesn’t matter.”

  Perplexed, Nat said, “Is he better than you?”

  “Of course he isn’t.” Mario smiled and pulled him onto his lap. “How can anyone be better than me? Amber just has weird taste in men.”

  “Like Mummy,” Ruby chimed in, “with that horrible Tyler.”

  Lottie hoped that that horrible Tyler wasn’t currently hiding in the bushes behind them overhearing this. Although it was hardly telling him anything he didn’t already know.

  “Amber might change her mind,” Nat said hopefully. “Do you think she’ll change her mind and come back?”

  “Honestly? No.” Mario shook his head. “Amber isn’t like that. Once she makes a decision, she sticks with it.”

  “What’s her new boyfriend’s name?” said Ruby.

  “Quentin,” said Lottie.

  “Quentin? That’s a dumb name!”

  Nat’s eyes sparkled. “Almost as dumb as Tyler.” Perking up, he said, “I know, we can make another VD doll of Quentin and stick pins in it. Shall we do that?”

  Ruby was scornful. “Voodoo, durr-brain. Honestly, you’re so stupid.”

  “I’m so hungry.” Lottie, mentally scanning the contents of her fridge, was wondering what she could possibly do that was inventive with half a packet of bacon, a jar of mint sauce, and two giant bags of parsnips.

  Parsnips, for heaven’s sake. Buy One Get One Free had a lot to answer for.

  Mario, familiar with that desperate look in her eyes, came to the rescue as they had all hoped he would. “Come on.” Shifting Nat from his lap he stood up and held out his hand to Lottie. “Let’s take them to Pizza Hut.”

  * * *

  Somewhere downstairs a door creaked and Mario woke up.

  He knew where he was without even having to open his eyes. It wasn’t as if he’d had tons to drink last night; every memory was crystal clear in his mind.

  He opened his eyes anyway and looked around the bedroom at the pink curtains, the chalk-blue walls, and the blue and pink rug on the floor. There were most of his clothes thrown over a rattan chair, and there was his shirt and leather belt on the floor beneath the window.

  Unable to reach his watch, Mario guessed from the light streaming through the curtains that it was around sevenish. He had to get home, shower and change, and be at work by eight thirty.

  What had caused the door to creak downstairs?

  The answer arrived moments later as the bedroom door was nudged open and a black-and-white cat padded into the room. It stopped when it saw Mario and blinked enigmatically. Then it sprang up onto the bed and began kneading its white paws against the pale pink duvet.

  Mario was allergic to cats; they made him sneeze. He sneezed.

  The cat shot him a look of disdain as if to say, you’re allergic? To me? What a wimp!

  Next to him, the figure beneath the duvet shifted and stretched. Raising her head meant Mario could at least have his left arm back, which was good as it meant he could see the time by his watch. The bad news was that he now had to speak to the girl with whom he had spent the night.

  It was five past seven.

  “Hi there,” Gemma murmured sleepily, emerging from beneath the duvet with bird’s-nest hair and the kind of dopey grin that made Mario’s heart sink. Why had he done it? Why, why?

  Except he knew the answer to that one. He had done it to punish Amber, to make her sorry, to show her that she might not want him anymore, but plenty of other girls did.

  “Hi,” Mario replied, feeling sorry for Gemma and sorrier still for himself. Checking his watch again—still five past seven—he said, “Oh hell, I’m going to be late for work.”

  “You don’t have to go yet.” Unaware that the remains of last night’s makeup were smudged under her eyes, Gemma probably thought she was pouting prettily. “Hello, baby. Who’s a beautiful boy?”

  This, thank God, was directed at the cat, who was still sitting inches from Mario’s face. The cat continued to gaze fixedly at him.

  “This is Binky,” said Gemma. “Isn’t he gorgeous? Binky, say hello to Mario.”

  Mercifully Binky didn’t. That would have been just too weird. Mario said, “I’m allergic to cats.”

  And to you.

  “Oh, you can’t be! He’s my angel! Binky’s my best friend,” Gemma protested. “
Aren’t you, baby?”

  “Well, good. But I really do have to leave. Look, last night was great…”

  “Oh, it was, wasn’t it?” Joyfully Gemma exclaimed, “I’d call it the best night of my life! Honestly, you have no idea…I’ve fancied you for years!”

  Mario’s heart sank. This was turning into a nightmare. Yesterday evening after his meal with Lottie and the kids in Pizza Hut, he had dropped them at Piper’s Cottage and headed back to his own house. He’d even gotten as far as pulling into the driveway before realizing that he couldn’t face the emptiness. He needed to be out somewhere, socializing with other people, staving off the cold, lonely sensation of rejection.

  He had gone to the Three Feathers in Cheltenham, a popular pub around the corner from the car showroom, and sure enough there had been Jerry and the rest of the crew from work, drinking and laughing laddishly and playing a boisterous game of pool. Mario had been here plenty of times before, but he wasn’t a regular like Jerry. He vaguely recalled that the barmaid’s name was Gemma and, because he had the car with him, ordered a Coke.

  Two hours later Jerry nudged him and said, “You could be in there, you know. She hasn’t taken her eyes off you all night.”

  That was when it had occurred to Mario that if he wanted to, he could. Why not? There was nothing to stop him now. Just for fun, he had begun experimentally chatting up Gemma across the bar.

  It wasn’t long before Jerry, possibly jealous, joined them and stage-whispered to Gemma in his laddish way, “Watch him, love. He’s already got a girlfriend.”

  “No, I haven’t,” said Mario.

  Jerry snickered and gave him another all-boys-together nudge.

  Looking worried, Gemma said, “Have you?”

  Mario shook his head. “No.”

  At eleven o’clock the landlord called time. Mario wondered what Amber was doing now and drew the obvious conclusion. A mental picture of her in bed with Quentin refused to go away, despite the fact that he had no idea what Quentin looked like. In the mental picture he was as scrawny as a skinned rabbit, with skin so pale it was almost blue and clumpy leather sandals on his bony—but surprisingly hairy—feet.

  To punish Amber, Mario said, “How are you getting home?” and saw Gemma flush with happiness.

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