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Someone was moving in.
It had been weeks since the last tenants had left, but there was a car on the drive and the lights were on.
Emily craned her neck and tried to catch a glimpse of the people, but she couldn't see through the trees. Not clearly enough, anyway. The branches kept drifting softly in the light breeze and blocking her view, and every time she shifted, so did the leaves.
And she was turning into a curtain twitcher, for heaven's sake!
She snapped the curtain shut and turned her back on the window, tucking up Freddie and smiling down at him. Gorgeous. He was just gorgeous, and she wanted to scoop him up and snuggle him.
Except he'd wake in a foul mood and the sweet little cherub would turn into a howling, raging tyrant. The terrible twos were well named, and he wasn't even there yet, not for five months!
She grinned and tiptoed out, blowing him a kiss and pulling the door to, just a little, before checking on his big sister. Beth was lying on her back, one foot stuck out the side, her tousled dark hair wisping across her face.
Emily eased the strand away from her eyes and feathered a kiss over her brow, then left her to sleep. There was a film on television starting in a few minutes that she'd been meaning to watch. If she could get the washing-up stacked in the dishwasher, she might even get to see it.
She hadn't even stepped off the last stair before she saw a shadow fall across the front door and a hand lift to tap lightly on the glass.
Her new neighbours? She sighed inwardly and reached for the latch. She'd have to be polite. It wasn't in her to be anything else, but just for tonight it would have been nice to curl up in front of the television and be utterly self-indulgent. She'd even bought a tub of Belgian chocolate ice cream
Her hand flew to her mouth, stifling the gasp, and then her eyes dropped, dragging away from his to focus on
She blinked and looked again. Yes, definitely a baby. A tiny babyvery tiny, hardly old enough to be born, held securely against the broad chest she'd laid her head against so many times all those years ago.
'Oh, Harry!' She reached out and drew him in, going up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek and somehow resisting the urge to howl, because if there was a baby, then there was a woman, and if there was a woman
She let him go before she did something silly. 'Gosh, it's been so longhow are you?' she asked, her voice not quite her own, her eyes scanning his face eagerly.
No, she didn't, despite seeing him on the television almost on a daily basis. She didn't have the slightest idea, but his mouth was twisting in a parody of a smile and he looked exhausted.
Actually, he looked a great deal more than exhausted. He looked fantastic. Tall, bronzed, his striking pale blue eyes crinkled at the corners from screwing them up in the sun in all the godforsaken trouble spots he spent his life in. He needed a shave, and his hair was overdue for a cut, the dark strands a little wild. Her fingers itched to touch them, to feel if they were still as soft as she remembered, but she couldn't. She didn't have the right. Apparently, while she hadn't been looking, he'd given that to some other woman.
He turned a fraction, so his head was blocking out the light and she could no longer see his eyes, so she glanced down and her heart jerked against her chest. The tiny babe was all but lost inside the big, square hands that cradled it so protectively, the little head with wild black hair sticking out from under the edges of the minuscule hat cupped securely by long, strong fingers.
Such a powerful image. Advertising had recognised the power of it decades ago, but here it was now, standing in her hallway, and she felt her knees weaken.
Her resolve was turning to mush, as well. 'You're back,' she said eventually, when she could get her brain to work. 'I saw the lights on. I didn't think it would be you.'Not after all these years. Not after last time 'Are you alone?'
'Yes. Just me and the baby.'
Just? Just? She nearly laughed out loud. There was nothing just about a baby, most especially not one that tiny. She wondered how long it would be before his wife joined them and rescued him. Later tonight? Tomorrow? Although she hadn't heard that he was married, but then he hadn't stayed in touch with her or her brother Dan, and she didn't keep her ear that close to the ground.
Liar! her conscience shrieked. Weekly checks on the Internet, avid scanning of the news, hanging on every word of his news reports
'So where's the baby's mother? Does she trust you?' she asked, just because she couldn't stand the suspense another minute.
His smile twisted, and there was a little flicker of what could have been panic, but his eyes were sombre and there was something in them she just couldn't read. 'No mother,' he said expressionlessly. 'It's just usme and the baby.'
Hope leapt in her chest, and she squashed it ruthlessly. Quite apart from the fact that there was a story here he wasn't telling her, another go-round with Harry Kavenagh was absolutely the last thing she needed for her peace of mind, but his reply answered why he was here, anyway, and there was no way she was getting suckered into that one! He could cope with the baby on his own, thank you very much!
She pulled back, both physically and emotionally, trying to distance herself from him so she didn't get drawn in, but then the baby started to fuss, and a flicker of what was definitely panic ran over his face, and she had to steel herself against him.
'Sowhat can I do for you?' she asked, trying not to sound too brisk but giving him very little encouragement at the same time.
He looked a little taken abackperhaps she'd been too brisk after allbut his shoulders lifted and he smiled a little tiredly. 'Nothing. I'm staying here for a bit, so I just came to see who was here, to introduce myselfsay hello to your parents if they were still here. I wasn't sure '
Was it a question? She answered it anyway, her mind still stalled on his words. I'm staying here for a bit
'They're in Portugal. They live there part of the year. Mum was homesick, and my grand-mother's not very well.'
'So you're house-sitting for them?'
'No. I live here,' she told him. And then wished she'd said 'we' and not 'I', so he didn't feel she was single and available. Because although she might be single again, she was very far from being available to Harry Kavenagh.
The baby's fussing got louder, and he jiggled her a bit, but he wasn't doing it right and she looked tense and insecure. Emily's hands itched to take the little mite and cradle her securely against her breast, but that was ridiculous. She had to get rid of him before her stupid, stupid hands reached out.
She edged towards the door. 'Sounds hungry. You'd better go and feed herher?'she added, not sure if the baby was a girl, but he nodded.
Yes, what? Yes, she's a girl, or, yes, he'd better feed her/him/it? She opened the door anyway, and smiled without quite meeting his eyes. 'I hope you settle in OK. Give me a call if you need anything.'
He nodded again, and with a flicker of a smile he went out into the night and she closed the door.
Damn. Guilt was a dreadful thing. She walked resolutely down the hall, got the ice cream out of the freezer, contemplated a bowl and thought better of it, picked up a spoon and the tub and went into the sitting room, put on the television and settled down cross-legged on the sofa to watch her film.
Except, of course, it had started and she'd missed the point, and anyway her mind kept straying to Harry and the baby, so tiny in his hands, and guilt tortured her.
Guilt and a million questions.
What was he doing on his own with a baby? Was she his? Or a tiny orphan, perhaps, rescued from the rubble of a bombed out building
And now she was being completely ridiculous. The baby was days old, no more, and the paperwork to get a baby out of a war-torn country would be monumental, surely? There was always the most almighty fuss if a celebrity tried to adopt a baby, and she was pretty sure he counted as a celebrity.
Unless he'd kidnapped her?
No. He had the slightly desperate air of a man who'd had a baby dumped on himone of his girlfriends, perhaps, sick of his nonsense and fed up with trying to compete with the more exciting world he inhabited? Maybe she'd thought he needed a dose of reality?
Or perhaps she was dead, had died in childbirth
'Oh, for goodness' sake!'
She put the ice cream back in the freezer, hardly touched, and stood at the kitchen window, staring out at the house next door.
She could hear the baby screaming, and the mother in her was heading down the hall and out of the door, a cuddle at the ready. Fortunately the pragmatist in her stayed rooted to the spot, wishing she had defective hearing and wasn't so horribly tuned in to the sound of a crying child.
She made herself a drink, went back to the sitting room and had another try at the television. Maybe another programme, something less dependent on her not having missed a huge chunk. She flicked though the channels.
A cookery programme, yet another make-over show, a soap she'd never watched and a documentary on one of the many messy wars that seemed to be going on all over the world.
Which took her straight back to Harry Kavenagh and the tiny crying baby next door