ASHLEIGH knew something was wrong as soon as she entered her parents’ house on Friday evening after work.
‘Mum?’ She dropped her bag to the floor, her gaze sweeping the hall for her three-, nearly four-year-old son before turning back to her mother’s agitated expression. ‘What’s going on? Where’s Lachlan?’
Gwen Forrester twisted her hands together, her usually cheerful features visibly contorted with strain. ‘Darling…’ She gave a quick nervous swallow. ‘Lachlan is fine…Your father took him fishing a couple of hours ago.’
Ashleigh’s frown deepened. ‘Then what on earth is the matter? You look as if you’ve just seen a ghost.’
‘I don’t quite know how to tell you this…’ Gwen took her daughter’s hands in hers and gave them a gentle squeeze.
Ashleigh felt her heart begin to thud with alarm. The last time she’d seen her mother this upset had been when she’d returned from London to deliver her bombshell news.
Her heart gave another sickening thump and her breathing came to a stumbling halt. Surely this wasn’t about Jake Marriott? Not after all this time…It had been years…four and a half years…
‘Mum, come on, you’re really freaking me out. Whatever’s the matter with you?’
Ashleigh felt the cold stream of icy dread begin to flow through her veins, her limbs suddenly freezing and her stomach folding over in panic.
‘He called in a short while ago,’ Gwen said, her soft blue eyes communicating her concern.
‘What?’ Ashleigh finally found her voice. ‘Here? In person?’
‘Don’t worry.’ Gwen gave her daughter’s hands another reassuring squeeze. ‘Lachlan had already left with your father. He didn’t see him.’
‘But what about the photos?’Ashleigh’s stomach gave another savage twist when she thought of the virtual gallery of photographs her parents had set up in the lounge room, each and every one of them documenting their young grandson’s life to date. Then, as another thought hit her like a sledgehammer, she gasped, ‘Oh, my God, what about his toys?’
‘He didn’t see anything. I didn’t let Jake past the hallway and I’d already done a clean-up after your father left with Lachlan.’
‘Thank God…’ She slipped out of her mother’s hold and sank to the telephone table chair, putting her head in her hands in an attempt to collect her spinning thoughts.
Jake was back!
Four and a half lonely heartbreaking years and he was back in Australia.
She lifted her head from her hands and faced her mother once more. ‘What did he want?’
‘He wants to see you,’ Gwen said. ‘He wouldn’t take no for an answer.’
So that much hadn’t changed, she thought cynically. Jake Marriott was a man well used to getting his way and was often unashamedly ruthless in going about it.
‘I can’t see him.’ She sprang to her feet in agitation and began to pace the hall. ‘I just can’t.’
‘Darling…’ Her mother’s tone held a touch of gentle but unmistakable reproach. ‘You really should have told him about Lachlan by now. He has a right to know he fathered a child.’
‘He has no right!’Ashleigh turned on her mother in sudden anger. ‘He never wanted a child. He made that clear from the word go. No marriage—no kids. That was the deal.’
‘All the same, he still should have been informed.’
Ashleigh drew in a scalding breath as the pain of the past assaulted her afresh. ‘You don’t get it, do you, Mum? Even after all these years you still want to make him out to be the good guy.’ She gave her mother an embittered glance and continued, ‘Well, for your information, if I had told Jake I was pregnant he would’ve steamrollered me into having a termination. I just know he would’ve insisted on it.’
‘That choice would have been yours, surely?’ Gwen offered, her expression still clouded with motherly concern. ‘He could hardly have forced you into it.’
‘I was barely twenty years old!’ Ashleigh said, perilously close to tears. ‘I was living overseas with a man nine years older than me, for whom I would have done anything. If he had told me to jump off the Tower of London I probably would have done it.’ She let out a ragged breath. ‘I loved him so much…’