Read A Bride for Kolovsky Online

Authors: Carol Marinelli

A Bride for Kolovsky (13 page)

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‘Ko
a
,' Lavinia said. ‘This is what it looks like when it's made up—this is the one I was trying to explain.'

It was nothing more than a slip dress—really it should merit nothing more than a glance. Except Zakahr was for a moment mesmerised.

‘How…?' 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.

‘Magic,' Lavinia said. ‘Which is another word for bias.' She watched him frown. ‘Cross-grain?' she at
tempted, and now it was Lavinia who rolled her eyes. ‘You really are a fashion virgin.'

‘At least I don't pretend otherwise,' Zakahr said, and Lavinia's little smile of triumph faded, taken over by a blush.

‘I don't have to pretend any more,' Lavinia said. ‘Thanks 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.

‘Ivan really was a genius.'

‘What was he like?' Zakahr surprised himself by asking—but from Lavinia he knew he would hear part of the truth.

‘A bully,' Lavinia responded instantly. ‘He snapped his fingers and Nina jumped—everyone jumped. He loved his women; he flaunted them in her face. His latest mistress was even standing there with Nina at his deathbed…' She thought for a moment. ‘Poor Nina.' She would
not
be silenced; she would always speak as she found. ‘She used to be all bloated and miserable. I'm sure she drank—I'm sure he hit her…'

He wished she'd stop.

‘But he
was
a genius.' She looked around the boutique at the amazing things his twisted mind had created. ‘And, 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. ‘Jasmine.'

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.

‘I won't be needing you tomorrow.'

She was silent for a moment before she spoke. ‘Am I just to watch it on the news?'

‘Resign,' Zakahr said. ‘I'll ensure you get a good package.' He saw the clench of her jaw and corrected himself. ‘A fair package. You can say you were so opposed when you found out that you resigned on principle…'

It was actually a relief.

There was sadness—an aching sadness—but there was actually relief.

‘Can I come back for my things this afternoon?'

‘Of course.'

‘Can you be out?'

It killed her that he nodded.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

T
HIS
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.

‘Your references are wonderful,' Ms Hewitt said. ‘Lavinia, 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 Rachael…'

Lavinia had begged and pleaded her case, all to no avail, and now it came down to this. ‘Will I still get to see her?'

‘Of course.' Ms Hewitt was the kindest she had been. ‘I'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 week—which is more than before. Your role as a big sister to Rachael is one we take seriously.'

‘And the decision is made?'

‘There'll be a case conference on Monday,' Ms Hewitt said. ‘I just wanted to tell you what to expect.'

‘Is there anything I can do?'

‘Lavinia…' Ms Hewitt took off her glasses. ‘You can get a lawyer—you can challenge things, delay things a little—but nobody is on trial here. It's not about winning or losing. It's about what's best for Rachael.' She
was
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 that—because, even though she was bleeding inside, she fronted up to the hardest gig of her life and smiled when she collected Rachael.

‘Where are we going?' Rachael asked as Lavinia started the car.

‘We 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 there—still, given the hour, she thought it better to warn Rachael.

‘My boss might be a bit funny,' Lavinia explained as they parked the car and walked along the city street and through the golden doors. ‘He's a bit of a grump—and 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 her—did not want to think of what he was doing to either of them.

Could not.

He could feel Rachael's eyes on him, wished the lift would go faster.

‘Is 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.

‘It is,' Lavinia said.

‘The 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 manners—though 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
want
to see.

‘I won't be long. I just need to get my things,' Lavinia said as they reached the office.

Zakahr brushed past without response.

‘Right, 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
not
getting involved.

Figures he could deal with—sob-stories he just tuned out.

For his business to survive he had to be ruthless.

He did not
want
to know about Eddie and his sick grandchild, he did not
want
to know that Lavinia's mortgage was a monthly concern, and more than that, he did not
want
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.

Somehow—even though he had deliberately not thought about it, had done his level best not to think about it—somehow he had pictured Rachael as a mini-Lavinia. A blonde, precocious child—a resilient, happy little thing. What had shocked him to the core—what he was having so much trouble dealing with at this very moment—was 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 functions—but 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.

‘Lavinia?' When she didn't come immediately, he marched out of the office. ‘Can I see you now?'

‘One 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.

‘Is this the sympathy card you're playing?' Zakahr challenged as soon as the door was closed. ‘Because if you're using her…'

‘
I'm
not the one who uses people, Zakahr.' Lavinia was as direct as ever. ‘And 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.'

‘She's going back?'

‘Yep!'

Lavinia shrugged, but Zakahr could see the effort behind the apparent nonchalance. It was as if her shoulders were pushing up bricks.

‘She'll adapt. Oh, and Zakahr…' She gave him a black smile. ‘On the drive here I heard them announce tomorrow's press conference on the radio. Enjoy your revenge—hope it's everything you've dreamed of.'

‘What did you expect, Lavinia?' He could see that she didn't get it. ‘Did you really think that I'd come here to make things up with my family? Have you any idea—?'

‘I've got a perfectly good idea of what you must have gone through,' Lavinia shouted. ‘Because I lived it, Zakahr—because so many times I wished that my mother had turned her back on
me
. The same way I wish Rachael's father would turn her back on
her
.'

‘What Nina did—'

‘I'll tell you what she did,' Lavinia said, ‘this woman you hate so much. She did something she bitterly regrets—has done many things she no doubt bitterly regrets. But she will always be my friend.'

‘Your
friend
?'

‘My friend,' Lavinia admitted. ‘She 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
friends
, 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.'

 

‘Well, I think that rules out a career in counselling!' Lavinia said to a nonplussed Rachael, and then she kissed her nose—whether Rachael wanted it or not.

‘Love 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. ‘I 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. ‘I want to eat you up, you're so cute.'

And it was so nice to just be sisters—one big, one little, one funny, one serious, but sisters. And they
should
be together.

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.

‘Where 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.

‘We need to sort out your room,' Lavinia said, trying to work out how much room she had left on her credit card. ‘Let's choose some nice bedclothes.'

‘Am 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.

‘Not for now,' Lavinia admitted. ‘But I'm going to keep trying to make that happen. I don't get to decide…' She saw Rachael's little pinched face tighten. ‘But you
are
going to have your own room at my house.' Then she qualified it a touch. ‘Wherever I live there will be a room there for you—even 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. ‘I'll be in my thirties!' She was surprised that Rachael actually smiled. ‘Come 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 heart—and, 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
home
, and made up the bed and put
up curtains, and Lavinia set up the phone and taught Rachael how to text.

X

 

‘I'll send you a kiss every night,' Lavinia said. ‘And, 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.

‘Come on,' Lavinia said. ‘Let's get you back to Rowena.'

And this time when she offered her hand Rachael took it.

‘You know, we're going to be okay,' Lavinia said. ‘I'm going to make sure of it.'

And she did try to hand her back with grace—did her absolute best to trust that Ms Hewitt maybe did know best—but as they walked up the garden path Lavinia could feel her heart cracking as Rachael looked up at her.

‘I want to be with you.'

‘You'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.

‘Lavinia, 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. ‘I'll do everything I can.'

‘Promise?'

Lavinia nodded. ‘I 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
was
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.

Anything
.

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