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Authors: Jenny Harper

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Loving Susie

BOOK: Loving Susie
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LOVING SUSIE

Jenny Harper

She thought she knew her husband, but he’s been keeping a secret … about her.

Scottish politician Susie Wallace is under pressure. She risks censure from her Party for her passionate and outspoken views on arts funding. A charity she’s involved with runs into difficulties. And a certain journalist seems to have it in for her.

Susie stumbles across some information that rocks her world but not, apparently, her husband’s – Archie has been in on this particular secret for thirty years. Now Susie wonders if she can trust him at all. Soon, unemployed son Jonathan and successful daughter Mannie begin to feel the fallout too, fracturing the family and leaving Susie increasingly isolated.

Troubled by mounting pressure from her family, her Party and the Press, Susie goes into hiding. The Party needs her back for a crucial vote, but more importantly, Archie knows he needs to find his wife quickly if they are to rebuild their relationship and reunite the family.

Acknowledgements

For the information about tracing a birth parent, I am hugely indebted to the following: The National Records of Scotland staff, several of whom patiently took me through the process; the staff at Birthlink, the charity based in Edinburgh that offers a range of services to people separated by adoption with a Scottish connection; Chris Longmuir, author, whose wisdom and experience were invaluable; and to my brother-in-law, David Roulston, whose own journey through life – which brought him ultimately back into the heart of the Harper family – deserves a book in its own right.

Characters come alive when they inhabit real worlds, and I’m very grateful to Robin Stewart, then Business Development Manager at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh who gave generously of his valuable time to illuminate the world of sales in the hotel business.

Likewise, most of my insights into the Scottish Parliament came from my husband, Robin Harper, who was elected to the first Parliament in 1999 – the first Green Parliamentarian in Britain – and who served there for twelve years until his retirement in 2011.

I have been blessed to have been given encouragement and advice by a number of well-known writers. Eileen Ramsay has never failed to encourage me, and without her belief in my abilities I might well have given up long ago. Brilliant crime writer Bill Daly generously gave me mentoring and editorial advice. As for my Numpties – they know who they are – thank you, friends.

Thanks are due to Elizabeth Garrett for her most generous gift of time at her beautiful cottage retreat on the east coast of Scotland.

I’d like to pay tribute to those writers who have helped me through the publishing process and patiently answered my endless technical queries. And finally, I owe a great debt to my ‘support team’: the very talented Caleb Rutherford, who has now designed two covers for me, with more, I hope, to come – and my friend, Jane Knights, for proofreading the manuscript.

Note: Hailesbank and the Heartlands

The small market town of Hailesbank is born of my imagination, as are the surrounding villages of Forgie and Stoneyford and the Council housing estate known as Summerfield, which together form The Heartlands. I have placed the area, in my mind, to the east of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh.

The first mention of The Heartlands was made by Agrippa Centorius in AD77, not long after the Romans began their surge north in the hopes of conquering this savage land. ‘This is a place of great beauty,’ wrote Agrippus, ‘and its wildness has clutched my heart.’ He makes several mentions thereafter of The Heartlands. There are still signs of Roman occupation in Hailesbank, which has great transport links to the south (and England) and the north, especially to Edinburgh, and its proximity to the sea and the (real) coastal town of Musselburgh made it a great place to settle. The Georgians and Victorians began to develop the small village, its clean air and glorious views, rich farming hinterland and great transport proving highly attractive.

The River Hailes  flows through the town. There is a Hailes Castle in East Lothian (it has not yet featured in my novels!), but it sits on the Tyne.

Hailesbank has a Town Hall, a High Street, from which a number of ancient small lanes, or vennels, run down to the river, which once was the lifeblood of the town.

In my novels, characters populate the shops, cafes and pubs in Hailesbank and the pretty adjoining village of Forgie, with Summerfield inhabitants providing another layer of social interaction.

Loving Susie
is the third novel in the
Hailesbank
series. I hope you enjoy it. You can meet more inhabitants of the town and area in book one,
Maximum Exposure
, and book two,
Face the Wind and Fly
– with more titles to follow!

Chapter One

Susie Wallace pokes one foot reluctantly out from underneath the duvet, senses a chill in the air and pulls it back hastily. Ten seconds later she tries again. On the third attempt, she has to force herself to pivot her body through ninety degrees until she’s sitting on the edge of the bed. Behind her, a rumpled form stirs as the duvet settles uneasily back into place.

‘You off?’ mumbles the formless shape under the covers.

Susie switches on her bedside lamp. ‘Oh sorry, darling, didn’t mean to disturb you.’ She watches her husband Archie hunch upwards. ‘I’ve got an early telly interview. Will I bring you tea?’

‘I’ll get up.’

His hair is white these days, but to Susie’s biased eye, Archie’s face hasn’t changed in all the years she has known him. She steals a precious moment to contemplate her husband.

‘What?’ He pauses in the ritual scratching of the scalp, his hand hovering above the thick thatch of hair, his blue eyes paler, perhaps, than they used to be but even at this ungodly hour still swimming with tenderness and wisdom and laughter – all the things that she’s always loved him for.

‘Nothing. Just thinking how amazing it is that I still fancy you thirty years on.’

‘Christ.’

‘Did you forget?’ She isn’t angry, merely amused. Of course he has forgotten. Archie isn’t a man for remembering birthdays, anniversaries, little landmarks of celebration. Why would he remember their thirtieth wedding anniversary when he has unrepentantly forgotten all the others?

‘Just joking.’ His grin breaks through, boyish as the day they met. ‘I’ve booked The Shore for dinner.’

‘Really?’ Susie is astonished. ‘Am I free?’

Life has changed. As an actress, she’d snogged Colin Firth, flown the wires as Tinkerbell and delivered a twenty-minute monologue naked in an off-West End theatre. Now she’s no longer in theatre, she’s a politician – and in the two years since she was elected to serve the people as a member of the Scottish Parliament, Archie has had to learn to negotiate diary time with her assistant.

He yawns. ‘I brokered a seven o’clock slot with Karen.’

‘How lovely.’ She stoops and kisses him, responding involuntarily to the familiarity of his early-morning smell, then pulling herself away reluctantly as she senses his interest quicken. ‘Sorry, darling, must hurry.’

Archie pulls a face and she smiles as she turns towards the shower. How close she’d come to messing everything up, in those crazy days of their early marriage – and how right she’d been to stay with him. She slips off her nightdress, but it’s not just the sudden chill that makes her shiver – it’s the thought of what might have happened if he’d come to hear of her folly.

Her life may have changed but Archie, thank heaven, is as important to her as ever. The thread of security and intimacy that binds them together is a precious treasure in the madness that has become her daily life.

Archie watches his wife pat her hair dry. She has never quite tamed her hazelnut curls with their glorious russet highlights and he hopes she never will. They define her. Open any newspaper in the land and Susie Wallace is likely to be there, a flame-haired beacon for her causes. She always was passionate about some perceived injustice – it’s what he loves most about her. The progression from acting into politics had been inevitable.

She reaches for the drier and he swings out of bed. ‘I’ll put on the kettle.’

‘Will you, love? Thanks.’

Downstairs, Prince’s tail thumps excitedly on the stone flagstones of the kitchen floor. He’s growing old now, a little prematurely, as Labs tend to, but doggy affection is so completely undemanding that its rewards are sweet. Archie bends to pat him.

‘Hello, old boy. Another morning, another day of mayhem.’

He marches to the sink to fill the kettle, then glances at the old school clock on the wall above the range. Six thirty already. Susie will have to shift – she’s due at the BBC studios in Edinburgh in an hour and the drive from the cottage on the outskirts of Hailesbank can take all of that on bad days.

As the kettle begins to steam, Susie comes into the kitchen.

‘That was quick.’

‘I wanted to share five minutes with you before I rush off. Jon home?’

‘I’ll take a look.’

He pulls aside the heavy curtains that mask the door into the cobbled courtyard. Outside, a battered Volvo has been strategically abandoned, as if its owner was too tired to park it neatly into its corner. And that’ll be the truth, Archie thinks, guessing that their twenty-three-year-old son arrived home in the small hours. He says, ‘His car’s here, so yes.’

‘Good. Sorry I won’t see him today, but Mannie’s popping in for lunch at the Parliament. I don’t suppose she’ll linger.’ Their daughter Margaret-Anne is a sales director for a hotel chain and lives almost as frenetic a life as Susie herself.

‘Give her my love. And drive safely. I’ll watch you.’

‘Thanks. I’ll call you after.’

‘And I’ll see you in—’ he glances at the kitchen clock, ‘—twelve and a half hours.’

‘Hell’s bells! I’m off.’

But there’s frost on the car and she has to spend seven precious minutes clearing it.

An hour later, Archie makes his second cup of tea and settles in front of the television. Susie will be on in a few minutes. Prince settles himself heavily across his feet as the interviewer says, ‘And in our studio we have communications specialist Brian Henderson to tell us how he believes morale could be improved at the troubled firm. Brian—’

Prince snores and his weight shifts. Archie reaches down and pats the dog affectionately. When he looks up again, a middle-aged businessman is talking. ‘The key to good employee relations lies in communication—’

There is nothing remarkable about the man, yet for some reason Archie’s attention is caught. He stares at the round face and receding hair.

‘Culture of secrecy breeds a culture of suspicion—’

His grey suit is unremarkable, though his tie is loud. There’s something about the hazel eyes that looks familiar.

‘—while openness, by contrast, helps to build trust.’

Archie watches, riveted. It’s more the mouth than the eyes. There’s a peculiar mobility to the mouth, a certain twist to the smile, a way of moving the lips, that he has seen before.

‘It takes time, naturally. It’s impossible to turn a culture around in a matter of days or weeks—’

‘Are you saying that—?’

He thumps the mug onto the table so hard that tea rises in a great wave and splashes onto the wood. He knows where he has seen that mouth before – or one very like it.

Jesus! Surely the secret he has kept safe for so long is not in danger of getting out now? Panic grows. Can his instincts be right about this? Is the man in the studios with Susie? Will she see him?

And then the interview is over and the presenter is introducing his wife.

The panic slowly subsides. There’s no problem, he tells himself, the man must be in the Glasgow studio, Susie is in the remote in Edinburgh, there’s no chance of them meeting. And anyway, he must be mistaken, it’s just a coincidence.

The BBC’s remote studio in Edinburgh’s Tun is hardly inspiring. There’s a rather tired-looking backdrop of an Edinburgh scene that has nobody fooled, and the monitor is set below the camera, so that it’s all too easy to look down at the interviewer instead of engaging through the lens. Susie sets her plastic beaker of coffee down on a side table and settles onto the chair.

She isn’t really nervous. She has done this dozens of times, it’s no big deal – but today’s different because she’s going to go directly against her Party’s policy. It’s definitely not a good career move and she’s conscious of her heart rate picking up as she waits.

‘—The Government will today announce cuts in its funding for the teaching of music and drama in schools. One backbencher, however, disagrees with her own Party’s policy. Good morning, Mrs Wallace.

She’s on air. ‘Good morning,’ Susie says brightly. ‘You’re right. I believe there’s absolutely no case for axing funding.’

‘It’s easy to say that, but when there’s a choice to be made between health care and—’

Susie interrupts the interviewer passionately. ‘Don’t you see? Sometimes I wonder if it’s only politicians who are unable to understand that music and drama can be powerful ways of preventing ill health from happening in the first place.’ She leans towards the camera, her gaze brilliant. ‘Art, music, drama, poetry all help people to make contact with places deep inside themselves where difficult emotions can fester and explode and turn these into something joyful and exhilarating. It’s something they can share with others, do with others.’

‘But don’t you think—’

‘The performing arts and literature aren’t only ways of fulfilling our creativity, they also require us to work with other people. And wherever you come from, whatever your home life is like, these things can be immensely rewarding.’

‘Are you saying that the arts can keep us out of the GP’s surgery?’

‘Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.’

The interview continues, the journalist probing provocatively, Susie parrying with brilliance, She barely notices the time flying past, but before she has got half her points across, the interviewer says, ‘Susie Wallace, thank you very much for joining us this morning.’

‘It’s been a pleasure.’

‘And congratulations on “Home, Where My Heart Is”. You must be pleased the series has finally reached our television screens again after all these years.’

‘Oh. Yes. Thank you. I am. We all are – the cast, I mean.’

‘That was Susie Wallace MSP, talking about arts funding in schools. We did ask for a government spokesperson on the issue, but no-one was available.’

Susie watches until the red light goes out, then takes a deep breath.

‘Fabulous as ever, Susie, thanks,’ comes the producer’s voice.

‘No problem. Thanks for inviting me on.’

She collects her handbag and briefcase and walks out of the studio. Outside she dials Archie. ‘Was I all right?’

‘Darling, you were magnificent. Susie Wallace in full flow is a force to be reckoned with. I was terrified.’

She laughs. It’s infectious – passers-by turn their heads and smile. She nods at a sunken-cheeked man hurrying towards the newspaper offices opposite, his legs encased in tight jeans appearing stick-like and bony, like a bird’s. A freelance journalist – what is his name? Justin something. Justin Thorneloe. ‘Right,’ she says dryly, into the phone. ‘Like I could terrify you.’

‘You scared me into marrying you.’

‘Stop teasing, you’re a wicked man.’

The sound of his chuckles keeps her smiling all the way into the nearby Parliament building.

Some people might think that Susie is the stronger one in the Wallace marriage, but she and Archie know otherwise. She is an unrepentant social being, she can work a room like a pro, though the difference between her and many others is that she genuinely loves talking to people and sorting out their problems. Where she is loud, extrovert and passionate, Archie is thoughtful, balanced and diplomatic. He’s her rock, her anchor and her strength, and she very much doubts if she could scare him into anything.

Her heels click clack on the polished granite floor as she passes into the Garden Lobby, adrenalin still pumping from the interview. The sun streams through the boat-shaped windows high above her, illuminating the face of a lean terrier of a man who is striding across the great empty space of the Lobby towards her. It’s Tom Coop, her chief whip. He slows and opens his mouth, his stare steely – but another colleague arrives, eager to buttonhole him.

Susie breathes again. Good. She has no doubt he’ll be mad with her, but at least her wigging is deferred.

She swipes her pass to gain access to the Member Only office area and steps into the lift. She has an hour to deal with her emails and get her papers in order, a blissful hour before the next public pressure has to be faced.

It’s another normal day.

BOOK: Loving Susie
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