Making your mind up, p.40

Making Your Mind Up, page 40

 

Making Your Mind Up
 



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  Lottie told him, moved by his concern and the efforts he’d made to track her down. It was a comfort, to see him. Well, considerably more than a comfort, but some things were better left unsaid.

  “So where are Ruby and Nat?” Tyler asked when she’d finished.

  “Staying at Seb’s place in Kingston Ash. He’s been brilliant. In fact, he may have left a message for me, letting me know if he managed to get through to Mario.” Pointing with her drip-free hand, Lottie said, “My phone’s in the locker, but we’re not allowed to have them switched on in here. Could you take it outside and see if there’s any word from Seb or Mario?”

  * * *

  More relieved than he’d been letting on that Lottie was OK, Tyler left the ward. Outside in the freezing night air, he saw that there was one message from Seb.

  Except it wasn’t.

  He listened in silence to Ruby’s stumbling, tear-choked words. And knew that there was no way in the world he could pass this message on to Lottie.

  Without hesitation he rang Seb’s cell phone. On the fifth ring it was answered. Evidently having seen whose phone the call was coming from, Ruby whispered with a heartbreaking tremor in her voice: “Mummy?”

  “Hey, Ruby, your mom’s not allowed to make calls from the ward. This is Tyler.” He said it as gently as he could, as if she wouldn’t already have guessed the moment he opened his mouth. “Now, are you OK? You sounded pretty upset when you left your message. Because if there’s any kind of problem I can come straight over and pick you and Nat up.”

  The silence hung between them. He was the Enemy. He knew that only too well, and Ruby knew it too. Finally she said in a stiff little voice, “No, it’s all right,” and hung up.

  Tyler stayed where he was under the outside light, trying to figure out what he should do. Not tell Lottie, that was for sure; she’d go out of her mind with worry. But Ruby’s voice had betrayed more than just simple homesickness. And why wasn’t Seb answering his own phone? Should he be calling the police or—

  The phone rang again. His heart in his mouth, Tyler answered it.

  “Yes,” whispered Ruby, her voice quavering.

  A few flakes of snow drifted down. Tyler said, “You want me to come and fetch you?”

  “Yes. Will you be here soon?”

  Tyler exhaled with relief. “Don’t you worry, sweetheart, I’m on my way. Now listen, I know you’re in Kingston Ash, but I don’t know which house. Are you on the main road through the village?”

  “Yes, we’re up in the attic bedroom. I can see the road from the window.”

  “That’s great. OK, give me ten minutes, then as soon as you see a car, start switching the bedroom light off and on so I’ll know where you are. Got that?”

  “Yes.”

  “Good girl. Is Nat with you?”

  “Yes.”

  “And Seb? Is he there in the house?”

  “Yes.” Ruby’s voice was wobbling again. “He’s downstairs with…someone else.”

  Tyler’s jaw tightened. “OK, you two just hang in there. I’m on my way. Don’t worry about a thing.”

  “’Kay. Bye.”

  Back on the ward he found Lottie dozing again, her dark hair spread out over the pillow, her cut lip swollen, the bruises on her bare arms already spectacular. The temporary plaster cast on her left leg was sticking out from under the bedclothes, and her right arm, swathed in bandages, rested across her stomach. As ever, the sight of her caused something inside him to quicken.

  “No messages,” Tyler said quietly, causing her eyes to flicker open. “Mario’ll probably call in the morning. Right, I’m off. I may as well take your phone with me.”

  “Fine.” Sleepily Lottie smiled at him. “Thanks for coming over. Sorry about work.”

  He’d never wanted to kiss anyone so badly in his life and was ashamed of himself for even letting the thought cross his mind. He had a more important task on his hands.

  “Don’t worry about work. You take care of yourself. Everything’s going to be fine,” said Tyler.

  He hoped.

  * * *

  It was starting to snow again properly now as he approached the village of Kingston Ash. Carefully he maneuvered the car along the slippery road, keeping an eye out all the time for an upstairs light being switched on and off.

  Moments later he rounded the bend past the church gates and saw what he was looking for. The house, one of the biggest in the village, had a gleaming 4x4 parked on the driveway. More importantly, the light in one of the attic bedrooms was switching on and off, illuminating two small figures framed in the window.

  Tyler made his way to the front door and rang the bell.

  Nothing.

  He rang it again.

  Finally he heard footsteps and the rattle of keys. The door opened a couple inches, and there was Seb, barefoot and tousle-haired, wearing nothing but a pair of jeans.

  “Hi. Lottie asked me to come and pick up the kids.”

  Seb laughed. “What?”

  “You don’t need to keep them anymore.” Tyler could tell at once that Seb was sky-high on something. “I’m here to take them off your hands.”

  “They’re asleep. And—how can I put this?—they hate your guts. Good-bye.” Seb, still laughing wildly, attempted to slam the door shut, but Tyler already had his foot in the way and it ricocheted back on him. Caught off guard, Seb staggered sideways. The doors to the kitchen and dining room were open. Pushing past him, Tyler made for the only one that was closed.

  “Jesus Christ, who are you?” shrieked a blond girl, naked but for the man’s shirt she was clutching in front of her. “Get the fuck out of here, I’m calling the police!”

  “Excellent.” Taking in at a glance the white powder scattered across the glass-topped coffee table and the matching white rings around her nostrils, Tyler said pleasantly, “Tell them to bring the sniffer dogs—they’ll think it’s Christmas.” Closing the door, leaving the girl gaping in shock, he turned and saw Ruby and Nat huddled together at the top of the stairs. Gesturing for them to join him, he said, “OK, you two, let’s get out of here.”

  “You bastard,” hissed Seb. “Coming over here and fucking up my life. I know why you’ve done this. It’s because you’re—”

  “Don’t try it,” Tyler warned.

  Ignoring the warning, Seb launched himself with fists flying. Catching first one wrist then the other and twisting them up behind Seb’s back until he was yelping like a dog, Tyler bundled him out the front door and into the yard. One clean punch to the jaw sent Seb flying into a snow-covered flower bed where he lay groaning while Tyler ushered Nat and Ruby past him and into the car.

  Then Tyler went back and stood over Seb, still boiling with fury but willing himself not to beat him to a bloody pulp.

  “You’re not going to see Lottie again. Don’t even try to phone her. And if she ever claps eyes on you,” said Tyler, “I’d advise you to run for your life. She trusted you to look after her children.”

  “OK, OK. Jesus, it’s fucking cold down here.” Still lying bare-chested and flat on his back in the snow, Seb said blearily, “You’ve got what you wanted. I hope that makes you happy.” He held out an arm. “Just give me a hand up, will you? Before I freeze to death?”

  Tyler viewed him with distaste. “I don’t think so. Get yourself up. Or better still, freeze to death.”

  Chapter 62

  When Kingston Ash was behind them, Tyler stopped the car and turned around to look at Nat and Ruby in the backseat. It was at that moment he realized that if he’d been expecting an iota of gratitude he was going to be disappointed.

  Luckily he hadn’t.

  “OK, I’m going to take you back to my place. Hestacombe House,” Tyler added, in case they thought he meant Fox Cottage.

  “I want to see Mum,” said Ruby.

 
“I know, I know you do, but she’s asleep now. And they wouldn’t let you onto the ward. So we can’t—”

  “I’m not staying at your house.” Nat, his tone final, was gazing fixedly out of the window.

  Breathe deeply. Patience. “It won’t just be me. Liana’s there too.”

  Nat folded his arms. “Still not doing it.”

  “Well, you don’t have a lot of choice,” Tyler pointed out. “What with being seven. Ruby, tell him.”

  Ruby’s dark eyes were expressionless. “I don’t want to stay at your house either. Just leave us at the hospital and we’ll sit in the waiting room till Mum wakes up.”

  Oh, for crying out loud.

  “Now listen to me. I didn’t just kidnap you,” said Tyler. “You were the one who phoned me, remember? You asked me to come and fetch you.”

  “I didn’t,” Nat retorted. “I didn’t want anyone to come and get me. I was asleep until she woke me up.”

  “Don’t poke me.” Ruby gave Nat a shove in return.

  “So what do you want me to do? Turn the car around and take you back?”

  Silence.

  “Tell me,” Tyler persisted. “I’m interested. Is that really what you want?”

  Finally, in a low voice, Ruby muttered, “No.”

  “But we don’t want to go back to your house either,” Nat repeated stubbornly.

  “OK, but I have to warn you, your options are pretty limited. Your dad’s in Tenerife. And Lottie tells me her friend Cressida’s not around. So do you want me to ask Ben and Harry Jenkins’ mother if you can share their bunk beds? Or, let me see, would you rather stay with Ted from the shop? Or, hang on, what’s the name of that teacher your mom’s so scared of? Miss Bat-something,” said Tyler. “Would she take you in, d’you think?”

  More silence.

  Nat said, “We’ll stay at the hospital.”

  “You won’t, because someone would call the police and you’d both be arrested.” Tyler sighed as the snow began to fall more heavily, clogging up the windshield. “Right, this is my final offer. Tomorrow we’ll sort out a better solution, but just for tonight you stay at my place.”

  Ruby, fiddling in the pocket of her trousers, produced a key. Triumphantly she said, “We’ll stay at our house.”

  “Not on your own you don’t.”

  “You wouldn’t call the police.”

  “I bet I would.” With a glimmer of a smile Tyler said, “And they’d throw you in jail for a week.”

  Unamused, Ruby glared at him for several seconds. Finally she shrugged. “Well, you’re not having my mum’s bed. You can sleep downstairs on the settee.”

  * * *

  Honestly, talk about surreal. Lottie was beginning to wonder if she’d landed on her head after all. One minute, she thought she felt better, the next minute she knew she must be hallucinating, because Nat and Ruby were heading up the ward toward her with—ooh, weird—Tyler following in their wake.

  Except, even weirder, he appeared to be real.

  “What’s going on?” Lottie craned her neck to see past them. “Where’s Seb?”

  “Hello, Mummy. We’re fine.” Having planted a kiss on each cheek, Nat and Ruby moved away from the bed.

  “They’ll be back in ten minutes,” said Tyler as they ran out of the ward. “And you can see they’re OK. I just need to—”

  “What happened?” Lottie instantly conjured up mental pictures of an accident, Seb losing control of the car in the snow, the ambulance crew managing to get Nat and Ruby out unscathed but unable to reach Seb before being flung back by a violent explosion. Sick with fear she blurted out, “Oh God, tell me he’s all right!”

  Ten minutes later, Tyler had told her everything. Rigid with horror and disbelief, Lottie listened in silence. By the time he reached the end, she was ready to rip the intravenous drip from her arm and launch herself like Frankenstein’s monster out of bed—except she couldn’t even walk.

  “I’m sorry. Here.” It wasn’t until Tyler passed her a handful of tissues that she realized tears were rolling down her face. “Hey, don’t cry. I know it’s a shock, but you can do better than him.”

  Lottie clumsily wiped her eyes with her unbandaged left hand. “Do you seriously think that’s why I’m upset? Because that dirt bag was cheating on me? My God, what kind of a person do you think I am!”

  Tyler paused. “But you’re crying.”

  “Because I’m so relieved my kids are OK!” Incandescent with rage—how could he be so dense?—Lottie hurled a sodden tissue at him. “Because I can’t believe I was so stupid.” She hurled another. “Because I trusted another person to look after my children and I shouldn’t have! Because I got it wrong and I’m a lousy judge of character and…oh God, anything could have happened to them.”

  “But it didn’t. They’re fine.” Tyler’s tone was soothing. “Besides, how could you have known?”

  “I just should have.” Noisily Lottie blew her nose. He must be bursting to say “I told you so.” Because he never had liked Seb.

  “Did you know he used cocaine?”

  “No!” Although now, of course, everything made more sense. Seb’s overenthusiasm, his episodes of almost over-the-top hyperactivity, the way he sometimes laughed a bit too much at something that wasn’t that funny. His over-the-topness was one of the reasons Nat and Ruby had enjoyed being with him. Feeling stupider than ever, Lottie said, “Did you?”

  “It crossed my mind. Hey.” Tyler handed her a clean tissue. “I worked on Wall Street, remember? There was a bit more of that kind of thing going on in New York than you’re used to in Hestacombe.”

  This didn’t make Lottie feel any better at all. She still wanted to tear Sebastian Gill apart with her bare hands. While he’d been high on coke and cavorting in his living room with some tart, Ruby had been upstairs so desperate to escape that she had been forced to accept help from, of all people, Tyler.

  “I’m sorry I threw those tissues at you.”

  “That’s OK.” He sounded amused. “I’m a man. I can handle soggy tissues.”

  “And thanks for rescuing Nat and Ruby.” There was still so much she had to say. “So does this mean they don’t hate you anymore?”

  “Wouldn’t that be nice?” Tyler gave her an ironic look. “Sadly, there’s no danger of that happening. Your children still hate me every bit as much as before.”

  “Oh.” Disappointed, Lottie said, “Is Mario on his way home yet?”

  “We haven’t been able to contact him.”

  “Bloody hell.” She shook her head in exasperation. “What’s he playing at?”

  “No, we can’t find the piece of paper with his details. We’ve turned the kitchen upside down, looked everywhere.” Tyler shrugged. “It’s gone. Can you remember the name of the hotel?”

  Lottie looked blank. “No.”

  “We’re back,” Nat announced.

  “Oh, sweetheart.” Ready to burst into tears all over again, Lottie held out her good arm. “Come here.”

  Nat, dodging smartly out of the way, said, “Yuck, get off, not if you’re going to cry.”

  “Poor Mummy, be nice to her.” Ruby stroked Lottie’s shoulder.

  Making an effort to retain control, Lottie whispered, “I’m so sorry about last night, sweetheart. Are you sure you’re all right?”

  Ruby nodded before jerking her head in Tyler’s direction. “Except for having him looking after us.”

  Lottie was mortified. “Oh, Ruby, don’t say that. Look what he did for you…”

  “I still don’t like him.” Ruby spoke matter-of-factly. “Anyway, Dad’ll be home soon.”

  “He won’t be if we can’t contact him. Now think,” Lottie cajoled. “The hotel and phone number were written on a sheet of yellow paper. It was on the dresser on Friday. It can’t have just disappeared.” As s
he said this, she saw Nat’s dark lashes flicker. “Nat? Any ideas at all?”

  “No!” He sounded outraged.

  “Because if there was some kind of an accident, then that’s fine,” Tyler joined in casually. “But if it is still there, we’ll just have to keep on looking until we find it.”

  Nat glanced furtively around the ward before saying hurriedly, “I spilled juice on it and the ink went all blurred. So I threw it away.”

  “You idiot.” Ruby let out a wail of disbelief.

  “Well, that’s not a problem.” Tyler looked relieved. “All we have to do is go through the kitchen trash.”

  It was a measure of how desperate he was to get Nat and Ruby off his hands, Lottie felt, that he was willing to trawl through a disgusting smelly mess of empty baked bean tins, potato peelings, and old chicken bones.

  “I didn’t want anyone to find out what I’d done,” Nat mumbled. “So I threw it in the toilet and pulled the flush.”

  Lottie and Tyler looked at each other. Nat said in a defensive voice, “It was an accident.”

  Ruby rolled her eyes. “And it’s practically the first time in your whole life you’ve ever pulled the flush.”

  This was too true to be funny. And now they had no way of contacting Mario. Beckoning over a passing nurse, Lottie said hopefully, “If I promise to stay in bed, could I go home?”

  The nurse rolled her eyes exactly as Ruby had just done. “No.”

  Oh.

  “I’ve got an idea,” Ruby said suddenly. “Amber!”

  “Yay, Amber! She could look after us.” Nat’s face lit up as he clutched Lottie’s arm. “She can, can’t she, Mum? We like Amber.”

  “Give her a ring,” Lottie told Tyler. “Her number’s on my phone. Fingers crossed she can do it.”

  Tyler was gone from the ward for a good fifteen minutes. When he returned he wasn’t looking giddy with relief.

  “She can’t.”

  “Oh no.” Lottie had been pinning all her hopes on Amber riding to the rescue.

 
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