Authors: Jo Briggs
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Copyright © 2013 by Jo Briggs.
Published by Daydream Books. June 2013
is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and events portrayed in this book either are from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, establishments, events, or location is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover art by Daydream Books featuring a stock photo
Once satisfied that all her belongings were safely in the boot of her car, Layla slammed the heavy, oak front door closed behind her, fully aware that she was also closing the lid on her relationship with Evan Carter.
Layla gulped down the rising sensation of guilt she felt at taking the coward’s way out by leaving when the man was still on a business trip. While sharing Evan’s sense of emptiness, the woman was unable to express it in words, but she did know she could no longer deal with the look of pain on his face when he tried to talk about what happened. Whenever she attempted it, her throat seized up and no sound came out, only an endless stream of tears, which seemed to frustrate him even more.
Layla had not been especially close to her parents, but the abruptness of their death, followed by the traumatic horse-riding accident that resulted in the loss of her baby, had led to an irreparable strain on her two-year relationship with Evan.
Settling into the 4x4, she plugged her phone into the hands-free system and set off for Surrey, where her BFF, Keely lived. She was the only person who knew of Layla’s plan to leave Yorkshire and head to New York. Activating the voice
dial on her phone,
to her friend’s home number
, she heard a familiar voice come over the speaker. “Hello?”
Hey, it’s me,” said Layla, unable to conceal her subdued mood. It was becoming more than a regular occurrence and she was fed up of feeling that way. She just hoped a change of scenery would lift her out of her despair.
Are you on your way?” Keely asked, her voice sounding tight and restrained. Layla knew she was holding back on what she truly wanted to say.
Are you really sure you want to do this?”
Layla sighed. Keely had been trying to persuade her to stay and work through her problems with Evan ever since she’d revealed her plans to leave. Layla recognised it was going to be hard, but she could see no other solution. The stabbing pain from the healing wound, caused by the accident, and the ache of her breaking heart had merged into one.
No, I don’t want to do this, but I can’t stay either,” Layla replied, ending the call.
As the turbulent events of the past few months pushed to the front of her mind, she noticed a wetness forming on the fabric of her top as the silent tears refused to be held back any longer.
After a brief stop for food, she arrived at her friend’s house several hours later.
When Keely answered the door, Layla noticed a look of shock on her face and she wasn’t surprised. She knew she looked pale and thin in comparison to six weeks earlier, when they’d attended the funeral of her parents, Stephanie and Hugo Keyes. “My god, you look awful. Haven’t you been eating properly?” Keely questioned as they settled on the sofa.
Gee, thanks for the confidence boost,” Layla responded drolly, rolling her eyes. “I have been eating properly, but the pain medication has been making me sick, on top of all the leftover pregnancy hormones.”
What does your doctor say? Surely, it can’t be beneficial if it’s making you ill?”
He put me on a weaker dosage, which has eased things a bit. I have to register with a new doctor in New York as soon as I arrive, so they can monitor my anaemia for a few more weeks.”
Have you warned Annette and Lawrence that you’re coming?”
Keely was referring to Layla’s aunt and uncle, with whom she planned to crash in the city until she could secure a place of her own. They had been more like second parents to her when growing up.
No, I need to call them today,” Layla replied, “although I doubt they’ll mind the possibility of a live-in babysitter for a few weeks.”
I’m sure they’ll understand the lack of notice under the circumstances.”
Layla met her friend’s disapproving tone with a sigh and a raised eyebrow. “I know you don’t approve of the way I’ve left Evan, Keely, but please stop going on about it. I didn’t take the decision lightly. It’s for the best. You haven’t seen how the loss has affected what we used to share.”
I understand that relationships end, and God knows yours has had every reason to fail, with the strain of everything you’ve been under, but I simply don’t get why you’ve left him while he is on a business trip.”
Because he would never let me walk away and if I stayed we would just end up hating each other. This way, once the hurt, has dispersed, we might have a chance of staying civil when we meet at unavoidable family events, now that Ava and Cameron are married.” Ava was Layla’s older sister and her new husband was Evan’s closest friend, Cameron Barker.
And what do I say to him when he comes looking for you?” Keely wanted to know.
I don’t expect you to lie about my whereabouts. Just tell him it’s for the best.”
Sure, I’ll tell him because you’re like my sister, but I think you’re foolish to throw away everything simply because of one hurdle. Granted it’s a big one, but I’m sure you could work through it in time, once the pain lessens.”
Keely, I’ve made my decision,” Layla repeated in an exasperated tone as she stood up and walked out of the room. She knew her friend was frustrated with her decision, but it wasn’t up for further discussion.
Later that same day, Layla placed a call to Annette to obtain her agreement to stay at her home. The conversation was not an easy one, but her aunt, already aware that the couple had been having issues, agreed all the same. While she didn’t ask many questions, Layla could tell that she shared Keely’s opinion on the matter.
The next couple of days passed quickly. Layla and Keely stayed within the confines of the house due to the biting December winds, spending time reading, and talking about everything and anything apart from the elephant in the room.
Layla managed to avoid any further confessions, despite many calls from Ava, asking her to get in touch. She knew that if she did so, before heading to New York, her plans and whereabouts would find their way back to Evan in a heartbeat. Despite all her unanswered calls, Ava had not attempted to visit Keely’s home, so, over breakfast that morning, Layla decided that no one suspected her of being there. She was booked on a flight that night and believed she was safe from discovery.
Therefore, when the doorbell did ring, it kind of freaked out Layla. She had been snoozing on the sofa while Keely sat at a nearby table, going over some new photographs that she had developed in her old-fashioned darkroom. Startled, Layla raised herself to a seated position and ran a hand nervously through her hair
The girls exchanged disconcerted glances as neither one of them made a move to see who was at the door.
Are you expecting anyone?” Layla asked uneasily.
Keely shook her head.
Again the doorbell chimed, the sound echoing dimly through the elegant hallway of wood and marble.
Let’s ignore it,” Layla suggested, holding on to the desperate hope of burying her head in the sand a while longer.
Having spent the last two days discussing all the recent events, from her parents’ death to her miscarriage, Layla was feeling emotionally drained, beyond measure, and she knew she wasn’t strong enough to refuse to see Evan on top of all that.
For a third time, they heard the doorbell, but in a longer burst this time.
No, we’re going to have to be grown-ups and deal with it,” Keely rationalised sensibly. “Let me try to talk to him.” It was a foregone conclusion that Evan would be standing outside.
Keely left the room, shooting a last uncomfortable glance in the direction of Layla, who followed behind, but remained out of sight. Leaning against a wall, she held her breath as her friend opened the door. Some hushed tones were exchanged, which Layla couldn’t make out unless she craned her neck dangerously close to the corner, where Evan might spot her.
I know Layla is here, Keely. I need to talk to her.”
He spoke firmly, but Layla could detect the weariness in his voice; a deep fatigue she’d heard many times over the last few weeks since the accident and her surgery. All of the sorrow had disturbed her sleep pattern to such an extent that Evan had stayed up late into the night to comfort her. But his own lack of rest only served to heighten his irritability, while her depressive state seemed to extend indefinitely, with no end in sight.
The pressure had led to a few heated exchanges between them, with Evan stating that Layla needed to pick herself up and move on. She knew he hadn’t meant to sound so harsh, but his remarks cut her, and they had slept separately for days afterwards, which had never happened before.
Evan, I understand you’ve had a long drive here, but she has already been through so much that I don’t think it would be constructive right now,” said Keely.
I’m asking for only a few minutes. I accept it’s over, but I can’t bear to let it end without at least making peace.”
I agree with the sentiment, but everything too raw to expect her to agree to see you today. Just give it time, and I’m sure she’ll agree to meet with you.”
A few moments of silence passed, and then Layla could make out the rustling of what sounded like paper.
Fine,” Evan responded, sounding resigned to it. “Can you at least tell her that I bear her no ill will for leaving, and give her these for me?”
Layla peered around the corner, eager to discern what he handed over without him seeing her. Spying the large bouquet of lilies in Keely’s arms, she gulped as the significance of the gift caused a deep, stabbing pain in her chest. When Evan first met her, he had sent lilies every day after discovering they were her favourite. He still made sure the housekeeper organised fresh displays of them all over their house every week, without fail. Her heart contracted at the poignant gesture.
Closing her eyes briefly, Layla reluctantly accepted what she ought to do next. He deserved some time to say goodbye properly.
Of course, I...” replied Keely, pausing in mid-sentence as the sound of Layla’s heels echoing along the stone flooring distracted her. Turning her head, she shot her friend an inquisitive look.
Keely, it’s fine. Let him in,” said Layla, walking into full view of the open front door. Her pulse raced as she lifted her deceptively calm gaze to meet Evan’s surprised one. Blue met green as Keely glanced at both of them in turn. Slowly, she moved to the side of the doorframe, allowing Evan to enter the hallway.
He stepped forward, keeping his eyes fully locked on Layla, ignoring the other girl’s presence for a moment until she broke his silent trance. “Take Evan into the lounge,” Keely suggested. “I’ll go and place these in a vase in the kitchen.”
Waiting until they were alone, he finally uttered softly, “Thank you for agreeing to see me.”
With all the emotions churning in Layla’s stomach preventing her from speaking, she simply nodded before gesturing to the open door that led into the lounge.
With a nervous smile, Evan moved past her and into the indicated room. Layla breathed in a waft of his cologne as he did so. Taking a deep breath, she fought to hold back her welling tears, as the familiarity of the smell, and the fact it would be the last time she would smell it on him, overwhelmed her. Entering the lounge, she pushed the door partially closed, leaving just enough of a gap for Keely to be able to hear if it were wise to enter when she returned.
Evan was standing in his usual pose, by the window with his back to the room, staring out at the view. Taking a seat, Layla waited for several moments before he turned and spoke. “As I said to Keely, this will take only a few minutes.” His voice trembled with obvious emotion.