Page 35 of The Secret Father

Lindy watched as he closed the trailer door. She realised for the first time that he was in costume. He was wearing a dinner jacket and black tie. He looked watchful, tense, but there was a strong sense that he could explode any moment. Lindy felt strangely objective as she summed him up.

‘I was talking to Magda…’

‘Is that all?’ He visibly relaxed. A grain of irritation even entered his voice. ‘It’s the last time I let sentiment overrule common sense when I employ someone. I can explain about Magda.’

Lindy made an imperative gesture and cut in impatiently, ‘She told me you have a son.’

‘Did she?’

His expression gave as little away as his words, but Lindy knew no denial meant only one thing. She felt physically sick. The blood was thundering in her ears. Please let him deny it, she prayed. Please!

‘Do you, Sam?’ Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Every small detail of the scene was etching itself on her consciousness.

‘I was going to tell you about him when the time was right.’

‘And when would that have been?’ Her voice was brittle and accusing, but it was the expression in her eyes that checked his intent to touch her. She was looking at him with icy condemnation. He recoiled from the rejection he saw there.

‘From your reaction, I’m not sure it would have made any difference.’ The joy was suddenly gone from the day; she was a stranger. ‘Ben is—’

‘You know his name, then?’ she cut in scornfully.

‘Ben is nearly thirteen.’

‘You can do simple mathematics, Sam, but how many of his birthdays have you seen?’

A flicker of something close to pain passed across his face, but Lindy was too caught up in her own orgy of anguish and disillusionment to notice. How could she have been so stupid? She’d been taken in by his charm, but it was all superficial. He was no different from Paul.

‘There are circumstances which make it impossible…’

‘Sure there are,’ she sneered. ‘There always are. Circumstances like your lack of backbone and decency. It’s easy to see now why you left Ohio. You were running away from your responsibilities.’ Her voice rose to a high, anguished cry of accusation.

‘If you’d listen for one minute I’d tell you why I was working away from home. We were only eighteen, for God’s sake.’

‘We! I’m surprised you didn’t conveniently forget the mother the same way you did the child!’

Pleading youth and innocence was no defence in Lindy’s eyes. Being young and innocent all those years ago hadn’t meant that she didn’t live with the consequences. If she hadn’t been so young and devastated back then perhaps she’d have been able to say these things on her own behalf, rather than for some unknown woman. The empathy she was experiencing was intense.

‘I have not forgotten Ben or Marilyn.’ He didn’t raise his voice, but every syllable vibrated with hostility. Teeth clamped together in a savage smile, he continued, ‘It’s strange, but I never suspected everything was so black and white to you.’ The look of distaste on his face fanned her anger to further heights.

How dared he look down his nose at her? ‘When it comes to men who desert their children there can be no excuses, no grey areas to hide in. You don’t even have the guts to admit what you did.’

‘You really do like to take the moral high ground, don’t you, Rosalind?’ There was nothing covert about his contempt now. ‘Well, here’s one mistake I’m quite willing to admit. I thought you were a warm, sensitive woman. I just hope, for your patients’ sake, that you allow a glimmer of compassion into your professional life.’

‘I save my compassion for the woman and child you deserted!’ she yelled back. He was turning everything around, making it sound as if she were the one at fault. He was totally shameless.

‘I didn’t desert anyone, but I don’t think that’s something I want to discuss with you.’

‘Because I’m not the gullible little fool you took me for?’

‘You’re certainly not what I thought you were.’

There was an empty finality in his voice that brought home for the first time how much she’d lost. It was never there to lose, she reminded herself. I was in love with a phoney. I’ve found him out and he doesn’t like it—they never do.

‘Then it’s just as well this was nothing but an on-location fling. They’re nothing to write home about, are they? You told me so yourself.’ Her stance defied him to deny the accuracy of her face-saving lie.

He shrugged his broad shoulders and pushed open the door, his whole attitude one of dismissal. ‘I may not see my son very often,’ he said, looking at her coldly, ‘but at least I can be sure he’s not being brought up by an intractable, self-righteous hypocrite.’