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A wry smile curved Eve Dwyer's lips as the door of St Mark's Church creaked open then closed again. Somebody was cutting it fine. Very fine. Another five minutes and the wedding ceremony would have begun, and curiously she glanced over her shoulder to see who the latecomer might be only for the smile on her face to freeze.
It was him. His thick black hair might be lightly flecked with grey now, and there were deep lines on his forehead that hadn't been there twenty years ago, but Eve would have recognised the man walking rapidly towards an empty seat near the front of the church anywhere. Tom Cornish was back in Penhally Bay and, if she hadn't been sitting in the middle of a packed pew, surrounded by her colleagues from the village's medical practice, Eve would have taken to her heels and run.
'Good heavens,' Kate Althorp, the village's senior midwife, whispered from Eve's left. 'Is that who I think it is?'
Other people were muttering the same thing, Eve noticed, seeing the number of heads suddenly craning in Tom's direction, the nudges people were giving their neighbours. Not the younger members of the congregation. They wouldn't remember a Dr Tom Cornish but those aged over forty-five certainly did, and not very kindly if the frowns on some faces were anything to go by.
'Is that who?' Lauren Nightingale asked from Eve's right, but Kate didn't have time to answer the physiotherapist.
The organist had launched into the wedding march, which meant the bride had arrived. A bride Tom Cornish wouldn't have known from a cake of soap, Eve thought, gripping her order of service card so tightly that the embossed card bent beneath her fingers. Both Alison Myers and her bridegroom, Jack Tremayne, would have been children when Tom had last been in Penhally Bay so why was he here, and why had he come back when he'd always sworn he never would?
'Doesn't Alison look lovely?' Lauren sighed as the girl walked past them, radiant in a simple long gown of cream satin.
Alison did, but any enjoyment Eve might have felt in the occasion had gone. The flowers in the church, which had smelt so sweet just a few minutes ago, now seemed cloying. The crush of bodies, which had once felt so companionable, now simply felt oppressive, and even the sight of Jack and Alison's small sons, walking solemnly down the aisle behind Alison, failed to give her pleasure.
'Eve, are you OK?'
Kate was gazing curiously at her, and Eve faked a smile.
'I'm fine,' she murmured. 'It's just a bit crowded.'
The midwife chuckled. 'Penhally loves a wedding. A christening's good, but a wedding is the only thing guaranteed to get the whole village out.'
But not Tom Cornish, Eve thought, stiffening slightly as she saw him half turn in his seat. Tom who had once said marriage was a prison he had no intention of ever inhabiting. Tom who'd said he wanted to be free, to travel, and was damned if he was going to rot away in the village in which he had been born.
'Oh, aren't they sweet?' Lauren exclaimed as Alison's three-year-old son, Sam, and Jack's equally young son,
Freddie, held out the red velvet cushions they were carrying so everyone could see the wedding rings sitting on them.
'Yes,' was all Eve could manage as a collective sigh of approval ran round the congregation.
Why was Tom herewhy? She'd read in a medical magazine a few years back that he'd been appointed head of operations at Deltaron, the world-famous international rescue team, so he should have been somewhere abroad, helping the victims of some disaster, not sitting in the front pew of St Mark's, resurrecting all her old heartache, and anger, and pain.
'Eve, are you quite sure you're OK?' Kate whispered, the worry in her eyes rekindling.
'I I have a bit of a headache, that's all,' Eve lied. 'It's the flowersthe perfumestrong smells always give me a headache.'
Kate looked partially convinced. Not wholly convinced, but at least partially, and Eve gripped her order of service card even tighter.
Pull yourself together, she told herself as the service continued and she found her eyes continually straying away from the young couple standing in front of Reverend Kenner towards Tom. For God's sake, you're forty-two years old, not a girl any more. Tom probably won't even remember you, far less recognise you, so pull yourself together, but she couldn't. No matter how often she told herself she was being stupid, overreacting, all she wanted was to leave. Immediately.
'Eve, you look terrible,' Kate murmured when Jack and Alison had walked back down the aisle as man and wife, and everyone in the congregation began to get to their feet. 'I have some paracetamol in my bag'
'Air,' Eve muttered. 'I just I need some fresh air.'
And to get as far away from here as I can before Tom sees me, she added mentally as she hurried to the church door and out into the sunshine. She wasn't talljust five feet fiveso, if she was quick, she could lose herself amongst the congregation, then hurry down Harbour Road and go home. She'd tell everyone at the practice on Monday she'd had a migraine, and her colleagues would understand, she knew they would. All she had to do was keep walking, not look back, and
'Eve Dwyer. By all that's wonderful, it's you, isn't it?'
His voice hadn't changed at all, Eve thought as she came to a halt, moistening lips that had suddenly gone dry. It was as deep and mellow as it had always been, still with that faint trace of Cornish burr, and she wanted to pretend she hadn't heard him, but she couldn't.
'Eve Dwyer,' Tom repeated, shaking his head in clear disbelief as she turned slowly to face him. 'I never expected to run into you within minutes of coming back to Penhally. It's Tom Cornish,' he added a little uncertainly when she stared up at him, completely unable to say a word. 'Don't tell me you've forgotten me?'
How could I? she wanted to reply, but she didn't.
'Of course I remember you, Tom,' she said instead. 'You're you're looking well.'
He was. Up close, she could see he was heavier now than he had been at twenty-four but on him the extra weight looked good, and the grey in his hair, and the lines on his forehead, gave his face a strength it hadn't possessed before, but it was his eyes that took her breath away.
For years those startlingly green eyes had plagued her dreams, teasing her, laughing at her, and she'd told herself that time and absence had created an unreal image of him, but they were every bit as green as she had remembered, and every bit as potent, and she had to swallow, hard.
They'd spoken together, and she felt a tingle of heat darken her cheeks.
'I didn't realise you knew Alison and Jack,' she said to fill the silence.
'Who?' He frowned.
'The couple whose wedding you've just been at,' she declared, moving swiftly to one side so the people who were still leaving the church could get past her.
'Never met either of them in my life,' he said.
'Then why come to their wedding?' she asked in confusion.
'I arrived in Penhally just before twelve o'clock, found the place deserted, and when I asked at the shop I was told everybody was probably here.'
Which still didn't explain why he'd come.
'Tom Cornish.' Kate beamed. 'What in the world brings you back to Penhally? I thought you were still in the States.'
For a second Tom stared blankly at the midwife, clearly trying to place her, then grinned. 'Kate Templar, right?'
'Kate Althorp now, Tom.' She laughed. 'Have been for years.'
And he hadn't answered Kate's question either, Eve thought.
'Are you coming to the reception?' Kate continued, waving to Reverend Kenner as he hurried towards his car. 'It's a buffet at The Smugglers' Inn so there'll be plenty of food, and I'm sure Alison and Jack would be delighted to meet you.'
'And I'm sure Tom has better things to do than go to a reception that will be packed with doctors and nurses who'll only end up talking shop,' Eve said quickly, and saw one of Tom's eyebrows lift.
'I can talk shop,' he said. 'I'm a doctor, too, remember, so I can talk shop with the best of them.'
'Afraid I might embarrass you by smashing up the furniture, getting drunk and insulting all your friends?' he said dryly, and she crimsoned.
'Of course not,' she protested, though, in truth, she wasn't one hundred per cent sure about the insults. 'I just thought ' She came to a halt. A small hand had slipped into hers. A hand that belonged to a little girl with long blonde hair who was staring up at her eagerly. 'Tassie, sweetheart. Where in the world did you spring from?'
'I've been out here since the wedding started,' the ten-year-old replied. 'Sitting on the wall, listening to the music.'
'Oh, Tassie, love, why didn't you come inside the church?' Eve exclaimed, her gaze taking in the girl's thin and worn T-shirt and her shabby cotton trousers, which weren't nearly warm enough to withstand the cool of the early October day. 'There's quite a breeze blowing in from the harbour'
'Don't feel the cold,' Tassie interrupted, 'and I'm not really wearing the right sort of clothes for a wedding. Her dress is pretty, isn't it?' she added, gazing wistfully towards the lych-gate where Alison and Jack were having their photographs taken.
'Yes, it's very pretty,' Eve murmured, her heart twisting slightly at the envy she could see in the little girl's brown eyes. Eyes which had always seemed too large for her thin face even when she'd been a toddler. 'Tassie, does your mother know you're here?'
'She said I was to get out from under her feet, so I did. She won't be worried.'
Amanda Lovelace probably wouldn't, Eve thought with a sigh, but that wasn't the point.
'I was wondering whether I could come to the reception?' the girl interrupted. 'I heard Mrs Althorp say there would be lots of food, so could I come? I won't be any troubleI promise.'
Eve's heart sank. Normally she couldn't refuse Tassie anything. The child had so few treats in her life, but she didn't want to go to the reception. She didn't want to go anywhere but home.
'Tassie, the reception's not really for children,' she began. 'It's more a grown-up thing.'
'Nonsense!' Kate exclaimed. 'My son Jem will be there and he's only nine. And Alison's son Sam and Jack's son Freddie are both going, and they're only three, so I'm sure Tassie would enjoy it.'
'Perhaps,' Eve declared, 'but I really don't think'
'Oh, I do, most definitely,' Tom interrupted. 'If Tom Cornish can be given an invitation then I think this half-pint should have one, too.'
'But her mother won't know where she is,' Eve protested, all too aware she was losing this argument, but determined to give it one last try. 'She'll be worried.'
Tom delved into his pocket and produced his mobile phone.
'Not if we use the wonders of modern technology,' he declared. 'Give her a quick call, and then I'll get to take two beautiful women out to lunch.'
Tassie giggled, and Eve sighed inwardly. There was nothing left to sayno argument she could come up withand when she reluctantly took the phone Kate beamed.
'That's settled, then,' the midwife said as Eve made her call then handed back the phone to Tom. 'Tom, Eve can show you how to get to The Smugglers' Inn if you've forgotten where it is, and.' She stopped in mid-sentence as a dull, metallic thud suddenly split the air followed by the sound of breaking glass. 'What the ?'
'Sounds like someone's just backed into something,' Tom observed.
'And no prizes for guessing who the "someone" is.' Kate groaned as Lauren clambered out of her car, her hand pressed to her mouth.
'Oh, come on, be fair, Kate,' Eve protested. 'The cars are parked really close to one another. Whose car did she hit?'
Kate frowned. 'Don't know. It's a metallic blue Range Rover, not from around here by its number plate, so my guess is it belongs to some flash holidaymaker.'
Tom cleared his throat. 'I'm afraid I'm the flash holiday-maker, so who is the "she" who has just reversed into my car?'
Kate looked uncomfortably at Eve, and Eve bit her lip.
'Lauren. She's our practice physiotherapist, and a really lovely woman, but quite dreadfully accident prone.'
And currently absolutely mortified, Eve thought as Lauren hurried towards them, her cheeks scarlet, her eyes worried.
'I was certain I had enough space to reverse,' she exclaimed, 'absolutely certain, but Does anyone know who owns the blue Range Rover?'
'Tom does,' Eve replied. 'Tom, this is Lauren Nightingale.'
'Not Florence?' he said, and Eve rolled her eyes.
'Tom, Lauren must have heard that joke about a million times.'
'A million and one now, actually,' Lauren said, 'but that's not the point. I'm so sorry about your car'
'From the looks of it, your Renault's come off worse,' Tom interrupted, gazing critically at his car, then at Lauren's. 'You've scraped quite a bit of paintwork off your tail, whereas you've only broken my indicator light cover.'
'Which I will pay for,' Lauren insisted, digging into her bag. 'I have my insurance certificate in here'
'Look, how about I simply send you the bill for the repair, and we don't involve our insurance companies at all?' Tom suggested. 'That way you won't lose your no-claims bonus.'
'Are you sure?' Lauren said uncertainly, and, when Tom nodded, she extracted a notebook and a pen from her bag. 'You'll need my address for the bill. It's Gatehouse Cottage. That's'
'The cottage at the bottom of the drive that leads to the Manor House.' Tom smiled when the physiotherapist looked at him in surprise. 'I was born in Penhally, lived here for the first twenty-four years of my life, so I know where everything is.'
'Where are you staying so I can contact you?' Lauren asked.
'The Anchor Hotel,' Tom replied, taking the notebook and pen from Lauren, 'but I won't be there long so you'd better have my London address.'
His London address. So he didn't live in the States any more, Eve thought as she watched him scribble in Lauren's notebook, and he wasn't going to be staying in The Anchor for long, but did that mean he was moving back into his old home in Penhally, or what?