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'I'm beginning to dread christenings. In fact, I only have to hear the word baby these days and I come over all broody and me a mother of two hulking great teenagers. I ought to know better.
'I know what it is, of course It's the threat of empty nest syndrome looming, with nothing to look forward to but Greg's mid-life crisis and hormone replacement therapy Rosie are you listening to me?'
Obediently Rosie turned towards her elder sister, and repeated obediently what she had just been told.
'Of course, plenty of women are having babies at forty these days,' Rosie heard her muse. 'Although what the kids would have to say about it and how on earth I'd even manage to get pregnant in the first place You've no idea how inhibiting it is having almost-adult children in the house with you. It's amazing how guilty and embarrassed they can make you feel. Mind you, talking of sex lives, how's yours going at the moment?'
Rosie felt her stomach muscles tense and prayed that her facial muscles weren't reacting equally betrayingly.
There was virtually a decade between her and her elder sister, and this had led to Chrissie's adopting an almost parental attitude to her. Although Rosie knew that Chrissie would have been outraged had she been as inquisitive and critical of her most intimate personal life as Chrissie was of Rosie's, she also knew that Chris-sie would never be able to understand that there were times when she found her sister's questions intrusive and over-personal. After all, she knew how much Chrissie loved her and that her questions, no matter how awkward, sprang from love and concern.
And of course today she was feeling extra-intensely sensitive, she admitted. Christenings always had that effect on her, and it was pointless expecting Chrissie to understand that, to know what she was going through, to know about the tearing, wrenching pain within her, the sense of loss and anguish.
It was all very well for Chrissie to talk glibly about feeling broody, about having another child, to assume that she, Rosie, as a single woman of thirty-one with a business to runa woman who, as Chrissie was always reminding her, had chosen to keep any men who approached her at a wary distancedid not know what it meant to see another woman with a child, and to feel that aching sense of deprivation within herthat tight feeling of panic and pain, of loss and fear, of so many complex emotions that she herself could barely find the words to describe them.
And then for Chrissie to make that comment about her sex life!
The Hopkinses' lawn wasn't very big; they were a very popular couple and had invited a large number of people to the christening party. Rosie winced as someone standing behind her stepped backwards, and she felt a sharp elbow accidentally striking against her, jolting her glass and causing the other woman to immediately apologise as Rosie automatically turned round.
'I'm so sorry,' she began, but Rosie wasn't listening to her.
Her whole body frozen rigid with shock and rejection, she was staring past her at the man standing several yards away watching her.
Jake Lucas! What was he doing here? Watching her! She hadn't realised that he knew the Hopkinses. If she had suspected for a moment that he was going to be here.
She shivered, the rigidity leaving her body as she responded to the quick anxiety in her sister's voice.