Read an Excerpt
Grace McAllister restlessly paced the entrance to Accident and Emergency, punching yet another number into her cellphone in a desperate attempt to contact Josh Kingsley.
It would be Sunday evening in Australia and she'd tried his home number first. A woman had picked up.
'Oh ' The sound of her voice, the knowledge that she was in Josh's apartment answering his phone, for a moment drove everything else from her mind. Then, gathering herself, she said, 'Can I speak to Josh, please?'
'Grace Grace McAllister. I'm his his '
'It's okay, Grace, I know who you are. His brother's wife's sister, right?'
The woman was in his apartment and knew all the details of his personal life .
Grace gripped the phone tighter until it was hurting her fingers. 'Could I speak to him, please?'
'I'm sorry, Josh is away at the moment. I'm his personal assistant. Is there anything I can do to help?'
'Do you know where he is?'
'He's moving about a lot. Hong Kong. Beijing. Can I pass on a message?' she prompted when Grace didn't reply.
'No. Thank you.' This wasn't news she could ask a member of his staffno matter how personalto deliver secondhand. 'I need to speak to him myself. It's urgent.'
Anna didn't waste time asking questions, playing the dragon at the door, but gave her a string of contact numbers. His cellphone. The number of his hotel in Hong Kong in case there was no signal. The private number of the manager of the Hong Kong office, since it was evening there. Even the number of Josh's favourite restaurant.
There was no signal. She left a message asking him to call her, urgently, then called the hotel. He wasn't there and the manager of the Hong Kong office informed her that Josh had flown to mainland China. Apparently Anna had already called the office and primed the manager to expect her call and again, when she wouldn't leave a message, he helpfully gave her the number of Josh's hotel there, and his partner in Beijing.
Beijing? He had a partner in Beijing? That was new since the last time he'd been home. Or maybe not. He hadn't stayed for more than a few hours and no one had been talking about business
Calling the number she'd been given, she was told that Josh was out of the city for a few days and that the only way to contact him was through his cellphone.
She felt as if she were going around in circles, but at least it helped take her mind off what was happening at the hospital, even if she was dreading the moment she found him.
This time it rang. Once, twice, three times and then she heard him. His voice, so familiar, so strange as he briefly instructed the caller to leave a message.
'Miss McAllister '
She spun round as a nurse called her name. Then wished she'd taken her time.
She'd been trying so hard not to think about what was happening to Michael. She'd only caught a glimpse of him lying unconscious on the stretcher while the emergency team worked on him before they'd rushed him away to the operating theatre and she'd been told to wait.
One look told her everything she needed to know. Her warm, loving brother-in-law had not survived the accident that had already killed her sister.
'Josh ' She forced his name out through a throat aching with unshed tears. There would be time for tears, but not yet. Not now. 'Josh You have to come home.'
A day, even an hour ago, the very thought of seeing him would have been enough to send her into the same dizzy spin that had afflicted her as a teenager.
Numbed with the horror of what had happened, she was beyond feeling anything but rage at the unfairness of it.
Rage at the cruelty of fate. With Josh for being so blind. For refusing to understand. For being so angry with them all.
She didn't know what he'd said to Michael.
Remembered little of what he'd said to her, beyond begging her to think again.
All she could remember was his bloodless face when she'd told him that it was too late for second thoughts. That she was already pregnant with her sister's child. She would never forget the way he'd lifted a hand in a helpless gesture, let it fall, before taking a step back and opening the front door, climbing into the car waiting to take him back to the airport.
The nurse, no doubt used to dealing with shocked relatives, put her arm around her. Said something about a cup of tea. Asked if there was someone she could telephone so that she would not be alone.
'I've called Josh,' Grace said, stupidly, as if the woman would understand what that meant. 'He'll come now.' He had to come.
Then, realising she still had the phone clutched tightly to her ear as if she might somehow catch his voice in the ghostly static, she snapped it shut, pushed it into her pocket and allowed herself to be led back inside the hospital.
Josh Kingsley looked up at the majestic sight of Everest, pink in a freezing sunset.
He'd come here looking for something, hoping to recapture a time when he and his brother had planned this trip to Base Camp together. Older, a little wiser, he could see that it had been his big brother's attempt to distract him from his misery at their parents' divorce.
It had never happened. Now he was here alone but for the Sherpa porters, drawn to make this pilgrimage, take a few precious days out of a life so crowded by the demands of business that he was never entirely on his own. To find a way to come to terms with what had happened.
Now, overcome with the sudden need to talk to him, share this perfect moment, make his peace with the only member of his immediate family he cared about, he peeled off his gloves and took out the BlackBerry that he'd switched off three days ago.
Ignoring the continuous beep that signalled he had messageswork could wait, this wouldn'the scrolled hurriedly through his numbers. Too hurriedly. The slender black miracle of computer technology slipped through fingers rapidly numbing in the thin atmosphere. And, as if he, too, were frozen, he watched it bounce once, then fly out across a vast chasm, not moving until he heard the faint sound of it shattering a thousand feet below.
When he finally looked up, the snow had turned from pink to grey and, as the cold bit deeper, he shivered.
Josh would come, but not yet, not for twenty-four hours at the earliest. Now, numb with shock, incapable of driving, she let the nurse call Toby Makepeace. He was there within minutes, helped her deal with the paperwork before driving her home to Michael and Phoebe's home and their three-month-old baby.
'I hate to leave you,' he said. 'You shouldn't be alone.'
'Elspeth's here,' she said, struggling with the simplest words. 'She stayed with Posie.' Then, knowing more was required, she forced herself to concentrate. 'Thank you, Toby. You've been a real friend.'
'I'm here. If you need anything. Help with arrangements '
She swallowed, not wanting to think about what lay ahead. 'Josh will be here.' Tomorrow or the next day. 'He'll see to everything.'
'Of course.' He left his hand briefly on her arm, then turned and began to walk away.
Elspeth, a close friend of Michael and Phoebe, had answered Grace's desperate call and stayed with Posie. Now she said nothing, just hugged her and made her a cup of tea and then shut herself in Michael's study, taking on the task of calling everyone to let them know what had happened. She even rang Michael's parentshis mother in Japan, his father in France.
Grace had never met either of themMichael and Josh had only minimum contact with either parent since their divorce but Elspeth had at least known them, could break the news without having first to explain who she was. Then she stayed to answer the phone, field the calls that came flooding in.
Calls from everyone but the one person she was waiting to hear from.
Friends arrived with food, stayed to give practical help, making up beds in the spare rooms in the main part of the house while Grace did the same in Josh's basement flat. Even when her world was spinning out of control, she couldn't bear to let anyone else do that.
Then she set about putting her own life on hold, leaving a message on the answering machine in the self-contained flat she occupied on the top floor, before taking her laptop downstairs.
Sitting in the armchair that had been a permanent fixture beside the Aga for as long as she could remember, Posie within reach in her crib, she scrolled through her schedule of classes, calling everyone who had booked a place, writing the cheques and envelopes to return their fees as she went. Anything to stop herself from thinking.
After that she was free to concentrate on Posie. Bathing her, feeding her, changing her, shutting out everything else but the sound of the telephone.
She'd insisted that she tell Josh herself.
'It's night in China,' Elspeth said, after the umpteenth time the phone rang and it wasn't him. 'He's probably asleep with the phone switched off.'
'No. My call didn't go straight to the message service. It rang '
Asleep and didn't hear it, then.'
'Maybe I should have told someone in his office'
'No. They've given you all the numbers they have and if you can't get hold of him, neither can they.'
'You're the only person he'll want to hear this from, Grace.'
'Maybe.' Was she making too much of that? What did it matter who gave him the news?
'No question. You're the closest thing he has to family.'
'He has parents.'
Elspeth didn't bother to answer, just said, 'Come and have something to eat. Jane brought a quiche '
She shook her head. 'I can't face anything.'
'You don't have the luxury of missing meals,' Elspeth said firmly. 'You have to keep strong for Posie.'
'What about you?' Grace asked. Elspeth had lost her best friend. She was suffering, too. 'You've been on the go all day and I haven't seen you eat a thing.'
'No, you're not.' She lay Posie in the crib. 'Sit down. Put your feet up while I boil us both an egg.'
'Do I get toast soldiers?' Elspeth asked, managing a smile.
'Of course. It's my turn to look after you, Elspeth.'
'Only if you promise to take one of those pills the doctor left for you. You haven't slept '
'I can't,' she said. 'Not until I've spoken to Josh.'
'I promise,' she said. And, because it was the only way to get Elspeth to eat, she forced down an egg, too, even managed a yoghurt.
She had a bath and might have dropped off in the warm water, but Posie was fretful. It was almost as if she sensed that something was out of kilter in her world and Grace put on Phoebe's dressing gown so that she would have the comfort of her mother's scent as she held her against her shoulder, crooning softly to her, walking the long night awaywaiting, waiting, waiting for the phone to ring.
Finally, when she knew it was day on the other side of the world, she called again. Again, it was the answering service that picked up. 'Where are you?'she cried out in desperation. 'Call me!'All she got back was ahollow emptiness. 'Michael's dead, Josh,' she said hopelessly. 'Phoebe's dead. Posie needs you.'
She covered her mouth, holding back her own appeal. Refusing to say that she needed him, too.
She'd always needed him, but Josh did not need her and, even in extremis, a woman had her pride.
'Did Grace McAllister manage to get hold of you, Josh?' He'd flown direct to Sydney from Nepal, stopping at his office to pick up urgent messages before going home to catch up on sleep.
'Grace?' He frowned, looking up from the list of messages his PA handed him. 'Grace rang me?'
'Last week. Sunday. I gave her the Hong Kong numbers but I knew you'd be on the move so I gave her your cellphone number, too,' she said. 'She said it was urgent. I hope I did the right thing.'
'Yes, yes,' he said, reassuring her.
Last week? On Sunday he'd been in the mountains, thinking about his brother. Thinking about Grace. There had been a message alert on his phone, but he'd ignored it .
'I dropped the damn thing off a mountain. Can you get me a replacement?' Then, 'Did Grace say why she was calling?'
'Only that it was urgent. It's the middle of the night there now,' she reminded him as he picked up the phone, hit the fast dial for her number.
'It doesn't matter. She wouldn't have called unless it was ' He stopped as the call went immediately to the answering machine.
"This is Grace McAllister. I'm sorry that I can't take your call at the moment. Due to a family bereavement, all classes have been cancelled until further notice. Please check the Web site for further details."
He felt the blood drain from his face, put out a hand to grasp the desk. Posie
It had to be Posie. Small babies were so vulnerable. Meningitis, cot death After so many years of waiting, so much heartache.
'Cancel everything, Anna. Get me on the next available flight to London,' he said, dialling his brother's number.
Someone whose voice sounded familiar, but wasn't Michael, wasn't Phoebe, wasn't Grace, answered the phone.
'It's Josh Kingsley,' he said.
There was a momentary hiatus and then she was there Grace, her familiar voice saying his name.
It was all it took to stir up feelings that he'd done his level best to suppress. But this last year he hadn't been able to get her out of his head .
'Josh, I've been trying to get hold of you .'
'I know. I rang your number. Heard your message,' he said, ignoring her question. 'What's happened? Who died?'
He heard her take a long shuddering breath.
'There was an accident. Michael, Phoebe They were both killed.'
For a moment he was too stunned to speak. His brother was dead. 'When? How?'
'Last Sunday morning. I've been calling, leaving messages. When you didn't get back to me I thought I thought '
'No!' The word was wrenched from him. He knew what she'd thought and why, but it didn't hurt any less to know that she could believe him so heartless.
But then she already believed that.
She had been so happy that she was having a baby for her sister, couldn't understand why he'd been so desperate to stop her. And he hadn't been able to tell her.
'What happened?' he asked.
'The police said that the car skidded on a slick of mud. It went through a fence and then it rolled. It happened early in the morning and no one found them '
'The baby, Grace,' he pressed urgently. 'Posie '