Abbey got back into the limousine like a woman sleepwalking. She studied the file afresh, fear and doubt touching her in private as she had not allowed them to touch her in Nikolai’s presence. In a sudden decision she dug out her mobile phone and rang Caroline.
‘Can I come and see you? I know it’s late and I’m sorry but I could really do with someone to talk to,’ she admitted when her friend answered her call.
‘I’ll tell you about it when I get there.’ She opened the partition to ask the driver to take her to Caroline and Drew’s home instead of her own.
‘I watched you arriving at the premiere on television!’ Caroline gushed as Abbey entered the lounge. ‘You were in the same shot as the movie star leads. You looked amazing. But what happened to the fantastic jewellery?’
‘It was only on loan and I gave it back to Nikolai.’ Abbey held out the file to Caroline. ‘Take a look at this and tell me what you think.’
‘What on earth is it?’ Jeffrey’s sister questioned in lively surprise, and then when she opened it and saw the first paragraph, she exclaimed shrilly, ‘Oh, my goodness! Where did you get this from?’
‘Nikolai.’ In the silence that followed, Abbey was so tense she could hardly breathe. She had total trust in Caroline and it was inconceivable that Caroline would not have known if her older brother was having an affair for so many years, for the siblings had always been close.
‘Good heavens!’ The slim blond woman in the wheelchair gasped as she read. ‘How could anyone give this to you?’
Abbey’s throat was so tight she didn’t think she could extract a voice from it. Her entire concentration was focused on her friend and she was so tense that her knotted muscles were actually hurting her. She could not credit that doubt had entered her mind so quickly and she was ashamed that she had given way to it. She was desperate for Jeffrey’s sister to tell her that the claims in the file were a pack of contemptible lies.
But as Caroline looked up, her expression appalled, Abbey felt sick and her knees gave way, forcing her to drop heavily down onto the sofa behind her. ‘Tell me it’s not true,’ she begged.
‘I only wish I could,’ her friend whispered with unconcealed regret.
The silence lay thick and heavy, and Abbey felt as if she had been catapulted into a living nightmare in which everything familiar became threatening, because even her best friend could no longer look her in the eye.
‘Jeffrey was having an affair…for all those years? The whole time he was with me as well?’ Abbey cried.
Caroline nodded confirmation, her shrinking discomfiture with the topic painfully apparent.
Abbey felt as though a car had run over her and her very bones were being smashed to pieces inside her skin. The shock of the other woman’s corroborative nod and her silence tore her apart. Caroline was her best friend and Jeffrey’s sister: denial of the facts was no longer possible.
‘But why did he want to marry me then?’ Abbey whispered shakily. ‘That doesn’t make sense.’
‘Jane wouldn’t leave her husband and the affair was ruining Jeffrey’s life. Jeffrey wanted a wife and family of his own and he could see no prospect of a future with Jane.’
A shuddering breath raked through Abbey’s rigid frame; all her romantic illusions were falling apart at once. Suddenly the whole history of her love for Jeffrey was shattering before her eyes: Jane, not she, must have been the love of Jeffrey’s life. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? Didn’t I deserve a warning?’
Caroline gave her a look of anguish. ‘Jeffrey swore the affair would end before he married you and that he would be faithful—’
‘Their dirty weekend in Paris only a couple of days before the wedding doesn’t make the end of the affair look like it would have been a very likely development,’ Abbey breathed tartly. ‘Obviously Jeffrey couldn’t stay away from her, so I doubt if he’d have been able to give her up entirely for my benefit.’
‘You loved him so much. That drew him to you—’
‘No, let’s be blunt about what drew Jeffrey. I was young and foolish and I didn’t know his friends or colleagues, so there was no chance that I might have heard rumours about him and Jane. I didn’t ask awkward questions or expect much attention so that suited him as well. Our whole relationship was a lie, a nasty, sordid fraud, and I was the victim—’
‘No…Jeffrey cared about you!’ her friend protested vehemently.
‘I was just the means to an end. I was to be the little housewife and mother to his children while he got his excitement, his passion with Jane!’ Abbey snapped bitterly. ‘He was using me. Does my brother know as well?’