Authors: Sally Clements
‘OK, yes. But it’s early days and I don’t want to jinx it.’
‘Hey, that’s great!’ Skye clunked her cup against Tempest’s in celebration, then, mercifully, took pity. ‘Say no more.’
She changed the subject abruptly, as only Skye could.
‘Daniel got some more details from Phillip about the men they picked up at the train station. They broke under interrogation, and revealed that the heist is going down tomorrow morning, when Jake’s mother opens her gallery in the museum. The police have assigned a detail to watch her and she seems to be holding up all right, but there are apparently two men with her all the time.’
‘Paul and the so-called cousin.’
Skye nodded and helped herself to another biscuit. ‘We’re due to meet Ayman in Heathrow tonight. I told Jake before he set out, so we’d better get ready.’
She drained her coffee cup. ‘I like him, Tee.’
Tempest’s body still tingled from his touch, the night before. But doubt niggled. There was no blocking the look in his eyes, the look that sent her senses into uproar and shouted he was lying to her. She’d always slavishly followed her instincts, relied on them not to lead her astray. This time, she pushed away doubt and listened to her heart.
I like him too.
Ayman Omar strode through the bustling holidaymakers at Heathrow, surrounded by a phalanx of police officers who had accompanied him and the small crate of artefacts from the special EgyptAir flight. The flotilla passed through the customs area, veering left through an open door into a small, secure room.
‘Tempest, so good to see you again!’ Ayman opened his arms wide to embrace the daughters of his old friend. ‘And this is Skye?’
Tempest hugged the elegant Egyptian. ‘Ayman, thanks for helping.’
She’d seen Ayman six months ago, whilst working on a commission to provide a set of replicas for The Egyptian Museum. But he hadn’t seen Skye since she was a child.
‘It’s been a long time, Ayman.’ Skye smiled. Then she introduced Jake and Daniel while Tempest opened the black velvet bags on the table.
She pulled the bracelets out of the bag, and held them up. ‘Here they are.’
Ayman took the bracelets from her. He carefully looked them over, and then showed them to his security team.
‘Miraculous, I cannot tell these from the originals – which are carefully under lock and key.’ Ayman opened the small crate to reveal a lot of packing material, and nothing else. He slid the bracelets back into their bags. ‘Perfect.’
He handed both to his assistant who placed them in the crate and sealed it, then turned to grip Jake’s hand firmly.
‘Praise Allah your mother will soon be freed from this terrible situation. Have strength.’
‘I appreciate your help, and my mother will too, once she learns of it.’ Jake’s earnest expression gave weight to his words and Ayman patted him reassuringly on the arm, then followed his entourage towards the door.
There was silence once Ayman had left, as if the actors were in their places for the second act, waiting for the curtain to come up.
Jake nodded to the tall policeman who had accompanied them from Kent.
‘Give me a minute please.’ He walked Tempest out of earshot. ‘I’m staying in a hotel in London, to be nearby when the heist goes down.’ He wrinkled his nose in distaste. ‘Officer Smith and I are sharing a room, so I won’t see you until it’s all over.’
His breath tickled her ear, tempting her to turn her mouth to his. She resisted. They weren’t alone, and the others were curious enough as it was.
‘I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know what’s going on.’ He kissed behind her ear, his lips setting off delicious shivers. ‘Dream of me.’
‘You better.’ He kissed her, just once, hard on the lips. ‘Because I have a feeling I’ll be dreaming of you.’
Jake sounded as disturbed by the confession as she was. She tried not to watch as he strode from the room, but couldn’t drag her eyes away from his retreating back.
A familiar red car was parked outside the house as they drove up, a hefty figure illuminated by its interior light.
‘Oh no, I forgot all about Mother!’
Skye leapt out of the car as soon as Daniel drew to a halt and jerked open the driver’s door to help her mother out. From the Mercedes’ interior, Tempest heard her mother’s strident tones and Skye’s answering apologies. She rolled her eyes.
Some things never change
Tempest slowly opened the door, unwilling to get embroiled until the last possible moment. Like a heat-seeking missile, her mother’s head swivelled, eyes honing in immediately on her younger daughter.
‘Ah, Tempest, there you are. Aren’t you going to apologize for keeping me waiting?’
‘Tee didn’t know you were coming,’ Skye muttered.
If I had, I would have stayed in London, police chaperone or not.
Tempest braced herself as her mother bore down on her like an ocean liner.
‘Evening, Mother.’ She clenched her teeth and forced a smile onto her frozen face. The showdown was on. There was nothing that she could do to avoid it, much as she would like to.
Alison MacKenzie kissed the air next to her daughter’s cheek, smacking her lips together in an audible
as she did so.
‘It’s good to see you.’ She paused for maximum effect. ‘At last.’
The glare she threw Tempest would have withered a lesser woman.
‘I wish I could say the same.’
There was no rancour in Tempest’s tone, it was a straightforward comment uttered without malice, but Alison reacted as Tempest had predicted she would, by rallying the troops to her cause.
‘Skye, Daniel, did you hear what she said to me? Honestly Tempest, I don’t know what’s got into you. I’ve a good mind to get back into my car and—’
‘You’ve come to stay with Skye, not with me.’
It was typical of Alison to play the victim. She really had a nerve, after what she’d done. But Skye was frowning. Tempest didn’t want to make it worse. The best thing to do was to make a speedy retreat. She plastered a tight smile onto her face, and stepped away.
‘I’m going for a lie down.’
‘Will you come back up for dinner?’ Skye asked. She seemed determined to bring about a reconciliation, however painful.
Tempest smiled apologetically. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ It didn’t seem right to subject Skye and Daniel to the inevitable fireworks that an evening dining with her mother would ignite.
Her mother’s voice was scolding. ‘Oh for goodness sake, Tempest, stop being so childish.’
Tempest’s nails cut into her palms and she bit back the bitter words that threatened to escape. She wasn’t a child to be scolded any longer, but a woman who had the right to be affronted at her mother’s actions. For months, she’d avoided this confrontation with her mother, reluctant to irrevocably shatter whatever tenuous relationship still existed between them. But in a flash of clarity the truth was revealed.
There was no relationship left between them; her mother’s intolerance had destroyed it. There wasn’t any point in fighting. Alison wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t learn.
Tempest’s hands relaxed and the tension seeped from her knotted shoulders. She focused her attention on the one person who was on her side. Her sister.
‘Would you like me to help make dinner?’ she asked.
Skye’s answering smile was worth every inch of Tempest’s capitulation. ‘I asked Betty to make her chicken dish. I just have to warm it up.’
Calm settled in Tempest’s core. No matter what the outcome of the inevitable showdown, Skye would always love and support her. The knowledge warmed her heart. Skye’s friendship made her invincible. Impervious to her mother’s vitriol.
‘Come up around eight,’ Skye said.
Tempest nodded, and walked down the path to her cottage to prepare herself.
Once the dinner things were cleared away, Daniel and Skye moved into the sitting room, leaving Alison and her daughter alone at the kitchen table. Tempest pulled in a deep breath, and clenched her hands under the table. This had gone too far, she’d had enough.
‘Skye cares that you and I are estranged, so for her sake – ’
Alison clasped her hands in her lap, lip curling in distaste. ‘I think estranged is an over- exaggeration. You’re just being difficult, that’s all.’
‘Estranged is exactly the right word. I’m sick of the insinuations that you’ve made to Skye and Daniel. You told them I’d probably found myself a man when I didn’t come home the other night.’
Alison’s mouth was set in thin line and her eyes blazed. ‘Well, given the circumstances, it seemed reasonable.’
‘No, it didn’t.’ A host of butterflies fluttered in her stomach, but she wasn’t going to back down, not this time. ‘I’m different from you and Skye, you know that. I follow my instincts. Six months ago I made a bad decision, but that doesn’t make me a fool.’
Alison crossed her arms over her ample chest and frowned. ‘Tempest, I never said you were a fool. I distinctly remember telling you that I understood.’
‘You told me that you understood why I seduced your employee, that I felt vulnerable and that’s why I threatened to tell his wife about our affair. You were very careful to sympathize with my motives, but you still believed Joe Delaney’s version of events, not your own daughter’s.’
In her distress Tempest had let it go, had walked away and left her mother to believe whatever she wanted to. Now it was time to set the record straight. Skye was in the middle, and the knowledge that her mother and sister were at war was tearing Skye apart.
‘There’s no shame in it, he’s an attractive man,’ Alison said.
‘You wouldn’t listen then, but you’re going to listen now.’ Tempest threw back the last dribble of brandy from the glass that Skye had soundlessly placed before her before leaving the room. ‘I met Joe Delaney at your company’s Christmas Party. He was alone, and he spent the night chatting me up. He was very charming, and I agree with you, he’s a very attractive man. He was attentive, and kept my glass filled all evening. He drove me home and asked to see me again.’
And I believed everything he told me, stupid me
‘He called me the next day and took me out to dinner. Joe pursued me, not the other way around. I had no idea he was married. Or that he was a father. If I’d known, I would never have gone out with him.’
An ache bloomed in her chest at the remembered shock of discovering the truth. Joe was a lying hound. So attractive he’d screwed up her internal radar somehow. Whatever it was, finding out was a body blow that had almost brought her down. But not as much as finding out that her mother thought she was to blame for the whole mess. She interlinked her fingers and clasped them tight.
Her father would have known she wouldn’t chase a married man. But her father wasn’t there to fight her corner, this time she was on her own.
Alison looked stunned, this wasn’t the story that Joe had spun at all.
Tempest pulled in a breath, and kept on with her sordid story. ‘I found out the truth at Skye’s wedding, when he brought his wife along. He pushed me into a room and told me he was married. He begged me not to say anything, told me we could still see each other, and tried to kiss me. When I slapped him he got his first inkling that things weren’t going to go the way he wanted.’
Realization dawned in Alison’s eyes. ‘That’s when Joe came to see me.’
‘Yes. He told you a pack of lies Mother, to save his job, and his marriage.’
Alison’s face fell and she avoided Tempest’s eyes. She knew she was wrong, it was written all over her face, but she didn’t apologize.
‘He told me you were having an affair, you’d chased him since he took you home from the party, and threatened to tell his wife if he didn’t leave her. He begged me not to fire him. He told me…’
‘He told you I was unstable, Mother, and you believed him. You promised him his job was safe and you’d take care of it. Take care of me.’
Tempest clenched her fists tightly, relieving the anger that had swept over her when she’d discovered her mother’s treachery from Skye.
Alison’s voice was high and whiney. ‘You’ve always acted so impulsively.’
‘Yes, I acted impulsively when I started to fall for him, I didn’t check him out, didn’t run a bloody security check on him. I thought he was telling me the truth. That makes me naïve; it doesn’t make me promiscuous. I hadn’t had a relationship for three years before Delaney.’
Alison walked around the table and placed a thin white hand on Tempest’s shoulder.
‘I said such awful things to you. I don’t know how to make it better.’ She raised her head and gazed into Tempest’s eyes. ‘Your father would know. Your father would never for one minute have taken someone else’s word over yours.’
The hand trembled as Alison’s façade began to crumble.
‘I’m sorry.’ Her mother grasped the wooden back of the chair for support.
‘Sit down, Mum.’ Tempest helped her sit back on the chair. Anger melted as her mother started to cry helplessly. This was the woman her father had loved, the woman who gave her life, the woman her father would expect her to love. ‘He was convincing, a great salesman. I know how believable he can be.’
He’d even got past her intuition. Joe must be a master liar to do that.
Alison sounded tired. ‘He told me you’d fallen in love with him, that you were distraught because Skye was married and it made you want to be married too. He told me you were lonely. That resonated with me because I know how hard your father’s death was on you. You and he were so alike.’
Even though Alison had acknowledged her guilt, she was still trying to justify it. The betrayal ached, but the bile was gone, now it was all out in the open. Maybe she should have fought harder to tell her mother what happened ages ago, rather than expecting Alison to believe in her. It didn’t matter any more.
Tomorrow the heist would go down. And Jake would be back. Light flooded Tempest’s heart at the prospect.
‘Let’s go in to the others.’
Jake strapped his father’s watch around his wrist. He’d almost worn a track in the royal blue carpet striding backwards and forwards across it for the past hour, but now it was time for action. He followed Officer Smith down the corridor of the hotel, slipping down the service stairs to the emergency exit.