Authors: Carol Marinelli
,' Lavinia said. âThis is what it looks like when it's made upâthis is the one I was trying to explain.'
It was nothing more than a slip dressâreally it should merit nothing more than a glance. Except Zakahr was for a moment mesmerised.
âHowâ¦?' The simple, albeit beautiful, cloth he had held in his fingers now hung ruched and softly fluted at the bottom. There was no zip that he could see, no darts, just one simple seam at the back and two thin straps.
âMagic,' Lavinia said. âWhich is another word for bias.' She watched him frown. âCross-grain?' she at
tempted, and now it was Lavinia who rolled her eyes. âYou really are a fashion virgin.'
âAt least I don't pretend otherwise,' Zakahr said, and Lavinia's little smile of triumph faded, taken over by a blush.
âI don't have to pretend any more,' Lavinia said. âThanks to you!'
And he heard the implication of a future with another and Zakahr didn't like it. But Lavinia would not linger. Instead she turned her attention back to the slip dress.
âIvan really was a genius.'
âWhat was he like?' Zakahr surprised himself by askingâbut from Lavinia he knew he would hear part of the truth.
âA bully,' Lavinia responded instantly. âHe snapped his fingers and Nina jumpedâeveryone jumped. He loved his women; he flaunted them in her face. His latest mistress was even standing there with Nina at his deathbedâ¦' She thought for a moment. âPoor Nina.' She would
be silenced; she would always speak as she found. âShe used to be all bloated and miserable. I'm sure she drankâI'm sure he hit herâ¦'
He wished she'd stop.
a genius.' She looked around the boutique at the amazing things his twisted mind had created. âAnd, God help her, Nina loved him.'
They walked out of the boutique to the waiting limousine, and as Eddie waited for a suitable gap in the traffic Zakahr looked at the familiar cerulean blue building. There should be triumph building, surely? Except when he turned away he saw Lavinia staring at the building
too, a faraway look in her eyes, and he remembered their first journey and how different things had been.
Her phone bleeped and she read a text message. For a second she closed her eyes, and then gave a wry smile. âJasmine.'
Just for a moment he swore he saw a flash of tears in her eyes, and Zakahr knew that despite the smile and the talk and the clothes she was struggling inside. He did the kindest thing he could.
âI won't be needing you tomorrow.'
She was silent for a moment before she spoke. âAm I just to watch it on the news?'
âResign,' Zakahr said. âI'll ensure you get a good package.' He saw the clench of her jaw and corrected himself. âA fair package. You can say you were so opposed when you found out that you resigned on principleâ¦'
It was actually a relief.
There was sadnessâan aching sadnessâbut there was actually relief.
âCan I come back for my things this afternoon?'
âCan you be out?'
It killed her that he nodded.
had nothing to do with Zakahr.
She sat in Ms Hewitt's cluttered office and, though her world was falling apart, she knew she couldn't blame this part of it on him.
âYour references are wonderful,' Ms Hewitt said. âLavinia, I am so impressed at how you have turned your life around, and I don't doubt you would be a wonderful carer for Rachael. But we go to every length to keep a family together, and with extra support we feel Rachaelâ¦'
Lavinia had begged and pleaded her case, all to no avail, and now it came down to this. âWill I still get to see her?'
âOf course.' Ms Hewitt was the kindest she had been. âI've spoken to Rowena and suggested you have time with her this afternoon, and I've also recommended in my report that you have overnight access once a weekâwhich is more than before. Your role as a big sister to Rachael is one we take seriously.'
âAnd the decision is made?'
âThere'll be a case conference on Monday,' Ms Hewitt said. âI just wanted to tell you what to expect.'
âIs there anything I can do?'
âLaviniaâ¦' Ms Hewitt took off her glasses. âYou can get a lawyerâyou can challenge things, delay things a littleâbut nobody is on trial here. It's not about winning or losing. It's about what's best for Rachael.' She
what was best for Rachael.
Despite the decision, right at her very core Lavinia knew that.
And she would be a good parent; the next hour proved thatâbecause, even though she was bleeding inside, she fronted up to the hardest gig of her life and smiled when she collected Rachael.
âWhere are we going?' Rachael asked as Lavinia started the car.
âWe have to go to my office, just so I can collect a few things,' Lavinia said. There were essentials there, like her make-up bag and her MP3 player, but hopefully Zakahr wouldn't be thereâstill, given the hour, she thought it better to warn Rachael.
âMy boss might be a bit funny,' Lavinia explained as they parked the car and walked along the city street and through the golden doors. âHe's a bit of a grumpâand you wait till you meet Abigail.' She pulled a face, which involved making her eyes go crossed. Unfortunately at the same time the lift doors opened. Unfortunately Zakahr was in the lift.
His eyes looked to Rachael, and then away.
He did not want to see herâdid not want to think of what he was doing to either of them.
He could feel Rachael's eyes on him, wished the lift would go faster.
âIs that your boss?' Rachael asked, and Lavinia's eyes widened a fraction. Rachael rarely initiated conversation, and Lavinia rather wished she hadn't chosen now to start.
âIt is,' Lavinia said.
âThe grumpy one?' Rachael checked, and without looking Lavinia just knew Zakahr's tongue was rolling in his cheek.
They did a little dance as he went to step out. Zakahr was desperate to get out of the confines of the lift, but then he remembered his mannersâthough he wished he hadn't, because now he had to walk behind them.
See more of them.
Lavinia, polished and glamorous. Rachael, her dark curls in knots, her socks grubby and mismatched, wearing a T-shirt too short and shorts too long. He could see why Lavinia was upset that the clothing she bought for her sister wasn't being passed on to the little girl.
He just didn't
âI won't be long. I just need to get my things,' Lavinia said as they reached the office.
Zakahr brushed past without response.
âRight, can you sit there for five minutes? I just need to empty out my desk,' Lavinia said as brightly as she could as Rachael sat on the sofa.
For Zakahr it was hell.
Zakahr's job meant
Figures he could deal withâsob-stories he just tuned out.
For his business to survive he had to be ruthless.
He did not
to know about Eddie and his sick grandchild, he did not
to know that Lavinia's mortgage was a monthly concern, and more than that, he did not
a face to the name of Rachael.
Zakahr stared unseeing out of his office window, tried to tell himself that this time tomorrow he would be on a plane, that all he was leaving behind was not his problem.
Yet it wasn't that which consumed him.
Somehowâeven though he had deliberately not thought about it, had done his level best not to think about itâsomehow he had pictured Rachael as a mini-Lavinia. A blonde, precocious childâa resilient, happy little thing. What had shocked him to the coreâwhat he was having so much trouble dealing with at this very momentâwas that Rachael reminded Zakahr of himself.
He could feel her mistrust, her fear, her resignation, her expectation that hurt would follow hurt.
He could not stand to be involved.
He did not want to be involved.
He gave millions to charity, he spoke at functionsâbut there were no pictures of Zakahr donning a baseball cap and smiling beside a child. He kept his distance.
He was being manipulated, he was sure.
Deliberately not thinking, certainly for once not analysing, he pressed on the intercom.
âLavinia?' When she didn't come immediately, he marched out of the office. âCan I see you now?'
âOne moment.' She was getting Rachael a drink from
the water cooler, refusing to let him rush her, and Zakahr returned to his office, sat at his desk. Ages later, but more like a moment, she came in.
âIs this the sympathy card you're playing?' Zakahr challenged as soon as the door was closed. âBecause if you're using herâ¦'
not the one who uses people, Zakahr.' Lavinia was as direct as ever. âAnd just in case that black heart of yours is having an attack of guilt, though I doubt it, there's no need. I didn't get access to Rachael, so my lack of a job doesn't affect her future one bit. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get my things.'
âShe's going back?'
Lavinia shrugged, but Zakahr could see the effort behind the apparent nonchalance. It was as if her shoulders were pushing up bricks.
âShe'll adapt. Oh, and Zakahrâ¦' She gave him a black smile. âOn the drive here I heard them announce tomorrow's press conference on the radio. Enjoy your revengeâhope it's everything you've dreamed of.'
âWhat did you expect, Lavinia?' He could see that she didn't get it. âDid you really think that I'd come here to make things up with my family? Have you any ideaâ?'
âI've got a perfectly good idea of what you must have gone through,' Lavinia shouted. âBecause I lived it, Zakahrâbecause so many times I wished that my mother had turned her back on
. The same way I wish Rachael's father would turn her back on
âWhat Nina didâ'
âI'll tell you what she did,' Lavinia said, âthis woman you hate so much. She did something she bitterly regretsâhas done many things she no doubt bitterly regrets. But she will always be my friend.'
âMy friend,' Lavinia admitted. âShe gave me a decent job, gave me a chance in life. I didn't just dream of weddings, Zakahr. I used to lie in bed at night, listening to my mum entertaining her
, and wish that I'd find out I was adopted. To this day sometimes I wish my mother had done what Nina did. Believe me, sometimes I think it would have been kinder.'
âWell, I think that rules out a career in counselling!' Lavinia said to a nonplussed Rachael, and then she kissed her noseâwhether Rachael wanted it or not.
âLove you,' Lavinia said, and kissed her little fat cheek, which was probably the wrong thing too. But there was almost a smile on Rachael's cross little face. âI love you so much.' Which was, no doubt, according to Ms Hewitt, putting too much pressure on her. But Rachael was smiling, and Lavinia gave her a little tickle, and then she was actually laughing. âI want to eat you up, you're so cute.'
And it was so nice to just be sistersâone big, one little, one funny, one serious, but sisters. And they
Ignoring potential wrath, Lavinia didn't take Rachael for a milkshake or a boring swing in the park, and neither did she take her back to Rowena straight away.
âWhere are we going?' Rachael stood on the elevator in a large department store as they went up past children's wear, past toys, past books, till finally they were in the bedding department.
âWe need to sort out your room,' Lavinia said, trying to work out how much room she had left on her credit card. âLet's choose some nice bedclothes.'
âAm I coming to live with you?' Rachael asked, and Lavinia could hear the hope and fear and doubt in her sister's voice. It almost broke her heart that she couldn't give the answer they both surely wanted.
âNot for now,' Lavinia admitted. âBut I'm going to keep trying to make that happen. I don't get to decideâ¦' She saw Rachael's little pinched face tighten. âBut you
going to have your own room at my house.' Then she qualified it a touch. âWherever I live there will be a room there for youâeven if I can only get you one night now and then, or even if we have to wait till you're sixteen.' Lavinia had an appalling thought. âI'll be in my thirties!' She was surprised that Rachael actually smiled. âCome on.'
It was, in spite of a broken heart, in spite of losing everything dear to her, one of the best hours of her life.
She didn't listen to the experts, she listened to her heartâand, yes, it was Zakahr's advice she took.
They chose pinks and greens for her bedspread and pillowcases, and a butterfly dreamcatcher, and then Lavinia got Rachael the cheapest mobile phone. They took their wares
, and made up the bed and put
up curtains, and Lavinia set up the phone and taught Rachael how to text.
âI'll send you a kiss every night,' Lavinia said. âAnd, if you can, you can send me one back.'
So Rachael had a go at texting, and Lavinia's phone bleeped, and she got her first kiss from Rachael.
âCome on,' Lavinia said. âLet's get you back to Rowena.'
And this time when she offered her hand Rachael took it.
âYou know, we're going to be okay,' Lavinia said. âI'm going to make sure of it.'
And she did try to hand her back with graceâdid her absolute best to trust that Ms Hewitt maybe did know bestâbut as they walked up the garden path Lavinia could feel her heart cracking as Rachael looked up at her.
âI want to be with you.'
âYou'll be fine,' Lavinia said as bravely as she could. She saw Rowena's shadow as she came to open the door, and then her heart surely stopped beating.
âLavinia, I don't want to go back to him.'
And she knew you should never make a child promises you couldn't keep but, handing her over to Rowena, Lavinia hugged her tight and made one. âI'll do everything I can.'
Lavinia nodded. âI promise.'
She let her go, smiled to Rowena and even managed
a wave as she drove off. But hearing Rachael's plea was more than she could bear, because on Monday she
going back to her father.
There wasn't time to break down, there wasn't time to cry, there really wasn't much time to think.
All Lavinia knew was that she'd do anything for that little girl.