‘So, I’ll give you a loan to tide you over,’ Rory slotted in with an easy shrug.

‘No, thanks,’ Star told him hurriedly, determined not to lean on him that way. ‘You’d better just take us home again. I need to phone around and try to get hold of Juno to find out what’s happening.’

‘Be sensible, Star. She’s hardly ever at home. Meanwhile, you still have to eat,’ Rory pointed out with all the practicality of a male whose considerable family fortune was built on that same fact of life.

However, Star was immovable. Half an hour later, Rory drew up in the cobbled courtyard of a dilapidated fortified house complete with a tower surrounded by rusting scaffolding. Star lived rent-free as caretaker at Highburn Castle. The owner lived abroad. A friend of Juno’s, he didn’t have the money to maintain his inheritance, or the interest to apply for the grants available to repair a building listed as being of historical significance.

Star detached the belts from the baby seats in the back of the car. Rory unlocked the sturdy rear door of the castle and transported the first twin inside. Venus sighed in her sleep but remained comatose. Mars loosed an anxious little snort and shifted position. Both Star and Rory stilled until her restive son settled again. Mars had yet to prove the perceived wisdom that a baby could sleep through anything.

‘They’re great kids.’ As they entered the big basement kitchen, Rory scrutinised the sleeping babies with the interest of a male who, as an only child, had had little contact with young children. ‘I can never get over how tiny they are. When you think how premature they were, they’re a right little pair of miracles!’

Having noticed the winking light on the answering machine which her mother had installed, Star gave him an abstracted nod. She switched on the tape and a familiar voice broke into speech.

‘Star, it’s me…I’ve got into some real hot water,’ Juno gasped breathlessly into the sudden silence greeting her message. ‘I haven’t got time to explain, but I have to go abroad in a hurry and I had to borrow your money to pay for the flights! I’m absolutely skint. If I’ve left you in a hole, I’m sorry, but maybe you could contact Luc and get him to pay his dues for you and the twins…please, darling—’

‘Who’s Luc?’ Rory demanded abruptly.

Star wasn’t looking at him. She had jerked violently at the sound of that name. Her stomach somersaulting, she turned a whiter shade of pale. With an unsteady hand, she stopped the tape to absorb what she had so far heard and forcibly repressed all thought of Luc Sarrazin…Luc, her estranged husband, and the unwitting father of the twins.

What on earth had happened to the art gallery Juno was about to open in London? Only six weeks ago, Juno had been so confident of success. For goodness’ sake, she had borrowed a small fortune to open that gallery! At the time, Star had been secretly astonished that any bank would give her mother such a large loan. Investing in Juno was a risky venture. Twice before, her mother had set up businesses which had failed.

And now it seemed that once again everything had fallen through. Star sighed. Where Juno was concerned that was nothing new. There was nothing new in her sudden dramatic flight from trouble either. That was vintage Juno, Star reflected sadly. When things went wrong, Juno panicked.

But now she urged her daughter to approach Luc Sarrazin for child support, Star simply cringed. Her mother might be desperate to justify her bahaviour, but that particular suggestion had been way below the belt. Juno knew what a disaster her daughter’s short-lived marriage had been. Hadn’t it been partly her fault that Luc had felt constrained to marry Star in the first place?

‘Star…’ Rory said again more forcefully.

‘Shush! I need to hear the rest of this message.’ Star switched the tape back on.

‘I know you’re trying to tune me out because I’m not saying what you want to hear. Yes, I hate Luc because he’s a Sarrazin, but you made babies with him! He’s got no heart or imagination but he ought to be keeping his own kids.’ Juno paused. ‘You see, I don’t know how long it’ll take to sort this mess out, or even if I’ll be successful. But I promise you that if I am, I’m going to have the most wonderful surprise for you when I get back again!’ she forecast in a bright but not very confident tone. ‘Byee!’

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