“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope—”
Eight-year-old Davina Trent tuned out the vicar and looked around the graveside, panic growing in her chest. What was happening? What were they doing here? This was wrong. Everyone said her mama had gone to heaven, but she hadn’t. The last time Davina saw her mother, she was sitting up in bed reading her a story. She had been ill, but she would get better. Now everyone said she was dead. It couldn’t be true.
Davina looked at the faces around the grave—stern, solemn looking men and women, some with a tear in their eye, but most just staring into the ground where they had lowered her mother’s coffin.
This was wrong. Her mama was not dead. The panic turned to anger and she shouted, “My mama is not dead.”
Everyone looked at her, and her father gave her a deadly stare, the one that she feared, so she turned and ran across the graveyard, tears streaming down her face. Davina found a large old oak and hid behind it.
She touched a bandaged wound above her eyebrow and took out a picture of her mother, then said through her tears, “Mama, I don’t believe them. Come back for me. Don’t leave me with him.”
Davina heard footsteps, and then her nanny was suddenly upon her.
“Davina Trent, stand up and stop making a spectacle of yourself,” Nanny Wilson said. “What would your mama think of you?” She pulled Davina up and brushed down her clothes. “Look at the state of you.”
Davina couldn’t stop the tears from falling down her cheeks. This was all wrong and she didn’t understand. There was a crunch of gravel and her father appeared at her nanny’s side.
“I’m so sorry about this, Mr. Trent,” Nanny Wilson said.
William Trent looked at her and said firmly, “Pull yourself together, Davina. People are watching.”
“Mama isn’t gone, Papa. Don’t leave her here,” Davina said through her tears.
William didn’t respond to her. He turned to Nanny and said, “Take her straight home—she’ll just cause a scene at the wake.”
“Yes, Mr. Trent. Will you be home after the wake, sir?”
“No, I’m going to the office. I have work to do.”
Davina watched him walk away and felt her heart hurting so badly. She broke free from her nanny and ran.
Davina Trent smiled smugly at the computer screen in front of her. The Osbourne divorce deal was done, and Trent got exactly what she’d set out to get. As a family lawyer, Trent dealt primarily with divorces, and she often wondered why on earth people got married in the first place. The first flush of married bliss in the rich always ended up here—in the London offices of Trent, Trent, and Masters—and making her a wealthy woman.
She sat back in her leather armchair and said to herself, “Marriage is good for business.”
Trent looked around the large office that had once been her father’s. It had changed little since he’d started working for his own father, many years ago. Her gaze trailed over the familiar oak bookcases filled with legal books, the antique furniture and old, valuable paintings, and the drinks cabinet across from her desk.
She had wondered many times if she should move to more modern offices, which would suit her style much better, but then again, the demographic of her clients was such that they lived in a world where musty paintings and antique furniture were the norm, so she always concluded this suited them better. She drew clients from the upper echelons of English society. The aristocracy, rich businessmen and women, foreign diplomats, and the odd celebrity kept her in business, wealthy, and in the sharpest of suits and the best of champagne.
Since taking over the top job from her father fifteen years ago, she had added some junior partners and expanded the size and scope of the firm. Her professional life couldn’t be going better.
Trent’s mobile beeped with a text. She checked the screen—it was from her closest friend, Rebecca Harper. Lunch on Saturday at 1 o’clock. Don’t try and wriggle out of it again. We miss you. Becca x
Trent got up and walked over to the window and looked out at all the people coming and going. Business was going well, but her personal life not as much. Becca was the only woman she had ever loved, and she had let her slip through her fingers. Becca had wanted a family and that had filled Trent with terror.
They’d gone their separate ways, and soon Becca had her son Jake. But Trent had never quite let go of her love for Becca, and until about a year ago, somewhere in the back of her mind she’d thought they might get back together one day. Then Dale McGuire came along and gave Becca the love and family Becca had always wanted.
At first Trent tried to turn Becca against Dale, but as time went on she realized what a good, honourable person Dale was. They called a truce and became friends, and Becca insisted they all become one big, unusual family unit.
Becca invited her to dinner and lunch often, but lately Trent had used excuses to get out of the visits. Watching Becca and Dale with their perfect happy family reminded Trent that she had let go the one woman she had trusted, and she didn’t think she could find that with someone again.
Trent saw a chauffeured car pull up outside and her next client get out. Lady Claudia Osbourne was a beautiful woman in her mid-fifties. She understood her sex appeal and used it to get what she wanted. She’d gotten a title and now a handsome divorce settlement from Lord Osbourne.
Claudia saw her at the window and waved. Trent smiled back and walked to her desk. Claudia had tried to seduce her all through the divorce process. Trent found the older woman attractive, but she wasn’t some aristocratic old duffer, ready to give Claudia what she wanted because of her smiles and compliments. No, Trent had a solid rule. Never get involved with a client while on the case. But despite Trent trying to keep her distance, Claudia didn’t give up.
Trent’s office phone buzzed. She picked it up and her secretary said, “Lady Osbourne to see you, Trent.”
“Show her in, India,” Trent replied. She quickly straightened her tie and put her suit jacket on over her waistcoat.
The door opened and Lady Osbourne glided in. Today Claudia was dressed in a red dress that clung to her body. She had a fantastic figure and large full breasts—fake, no doubt, as a lot of Lady Osbourne was, but still extremely attractive.
“Darling Trent.” Claudia gave her a kiss on each cheek, then lingered and breathed in her ear, “So good to see you.”
The voice and the closeness of her breath, along with the smell of her perfume, turned Trent on. She hadn’t slept with anyone in a month, highly unusual for her. Since Rebecca’s wedding, at which she gave her away to Dale, Trent had tried to lose herself in sex, but it made the empty feeling inside her worse, so much so that she’d given up on her usual wine bars and went home each night after working late.
But maybe it was time to distract herself again. After all, she would be finished with Claudia’s divorce case after today’s meeting, and she wouldn’t be breaking her golden rule. But that wasn’t what she really wanted for herself, not any more.
“Good to see you too, Lady Osbourne.” Trent escorted her to the seat.
“I’ve told you before—call me Claudia.” She sat back and crossed her legs seductively.
“Drink?” Trent offered.
“I’m always ready for a drink, but”—Claudia took a cigarette case from her designer handbag—“it depends on whether we have anything to celebrate, darling.”
Trent grinned and took a bottle of Krug champagne from the fridge beside the drinks cabinet. “I think you’ll want to celebrate.” She took two champagne flutes from her cabinet and came over to sit on the desk.
Claudia put a cigarette to her lips. She was the kind of woman who expected a light to be forthcoming from whoever was around her.
Trent didn’t like cigarettes herself but kept a lighter on her desk for the odd cigar she enjoyed and offered to her clients. She lit the lighter, and Claudia touched the cigarette between her red lips, which matched her deep red nails, to the flame. She blew out a cloud of smoke.
“Thank you. Let’s pop that Krug before it gets warm, darling.”
“Of course.” Trent poured out the glasses and handed one to Claudia.
She took a sip and said, “Hmm, a very good year.”
Trent sat on the edge of the desk beside her and smiled. “I only give the best, Lady Osbourne.”
Claudia ran a teasing fingernail down Trent’s thigh, lighting a need inside her. “I’m quite sure. Now tell me what my dear husband has agreed to.”
Trent pulled a file from the other side of the desk. “See for yourself.”
Claudia gazed at the file and her eyes lit up. “That’s more than you thought you could get, Trent. Ten million?”
Trent grinned, feeling the buzz of the win against Lord Osbourne’s lawyer. “Let’s just say that your stepchildren were worried about their inheritance. He doesn’t have too many years left, and I suggested what we would be entitled to if he…passed on while still married. The ancestral home, et cetera.”
“You are a genius. What about the house in Mayfair?”
Trent raised her glass and took a sip. “You’ve got the whole bag of tricks—plus you get five hundred thousand a year for the length of your life.”
Claudia stood up and leaned in close to her lips. “Darling, you are a treasure.” Then she kissed her softly before saying, “I’m having a divorce party tonight. Will you come?”
Like a predator, Claudia had been hunting her down since their first meeting. Trent hadn’t been actively pursued by an older woman before—normally she did the chasing. Although she was flattered, she felt slightly uncomfortable at the relentlessness of the pursuit. She thought about her invitation from Becca, the hurt that still lived somewhere inside her. This was what she needed to banish the lonely feeling that was growing with each passing day. Maybe she should just go to the party for an hour or so.
“I’ll be there, Lady Claudia.”
Wendy Darling looked up at the dark London sky as she rode in the taxi she’d gotten at the airport. She hoped the grey skies weren’t an omen for the future. She hadn’t been back to London for five years, but nothing seemed to be different.
The taxi driver looked in the mirror and said, “Just back from a holiday, sweetheart?”
“No, I was working abroad for five years.” Wendy smiled.
“That’s a long time from home. Where did you work?”
“All over—France, America, Canada, and Australia as a nanny, and then I taught English in Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul, and Mumbai.”
The taxi driver smiled. “You sound like a clever girl. I bet you’re glad to be back home.”
Home? Would it feel like home again? Wendy had left Britain, her bad memories, and a broken heart behind her, and she was frightened they would come back to haunt her now that she was back.
She’d thought long and hard about coming home. She didn’t have family drawing her home. Her mother and father couldn’t have cared less where she was, and her work history meant Wendy could have walked into any job abroad, but there had been a yearning to come home growing inside her for a year or more.
She wanted to finish what she’d started and not let any pain she had five years ago stop her.
“Yes, I’m ready for a new challenge,” Wendy said to the driver.
Five minutes later he pulled into the car park of a block of flats. She handed over the fare and got out. The driver helped her with her large rucksack, guitar case, and duty-free bags.
Her whole life was in these bags. Not too much to show for her twenty-six years. She never thought her life would turn out like this. All Wendy ever wanted was to be a teacher, have a stable home, and a family to love. Instead she had become a traveller, moving from job to job, and living a nomadic life.
Wendy put on her rucksack and carried her guitar case up to the small block of flats. Her friend Kira had offered her a bed until she got on her feet. They’d met at university and become the best of friends.
She buzzed her flat and said, “Ki, it’s me.”
Wendy heard a scream of excitement over the intercom. “You’re here! Get up here now, boho girl. I want to hug the life right out of you, sweetie.”
Wendy laughed. “I’m coming.”
Kira was one of the only friends Wendy had kept up with while she was travelling. They video-called each other at least once a week and shared all their news and problems. Kira called her boho girl because travelling through all the different countries had left her with a bohemian hipster style.
Wendy’s highlighted blond hair hung loose under a large brimmed hat, two braids hanging down at the side. The many leather and beaded bracelets adorning her wrists were picked up at local markets as she travelled from country to country. On her wrists, hands, and feet were henna tattoos in intricate patterns, a vestige of her latest travels through India before heading home.
She was in so many ways a different woman than had left London five years ago—she hoped she had lost the innocence and naivety that had led to her broken heart, and that she was a more confident, strong woman.
The thing was, despite how much she had pushed the old Wendy deep down into her soul, she was there—the girl who wanted a home, wanted someone to love her and to make a family with. The only problem with that was she didn’t think she would ever trust anyone again, not after Bailey’d destroyed her heart.
Wendy walked into the foyer area of the flats and was faced with two lifts. She looked down at her hands filled with bags and her guitar and felt weighed down by her backpack. She sighed. “Bloody lifts.”
She’d been uncomfortable in lifts since she was a little girl. She did what she could to avoid them, but if forced to by the height of a building she was visiting, she had a tried and tested method. Close her eyes, cover her ears, and hum. Fortunately this building didn’t have many floors, so she decided to climb them herself.
By this stage in her life, Wendy was well used to climbing stairs—a lot of stairs, but it was a daunting task. “Come on, Wendy.”
She climbed the stairs to Kira’s flat and finally arrived at her front door where her friend Kira was already waiting with her hands on her hips. “You still don’t like lifts?”
“Not especially, Ki,” Wendy said.
Kira had the biggest smile and opened her arms wide. “Come here, sweetie.”
Wendy dropped her bags and went into her friend’s arms. “It’s so good to see you, Ki.”
Kira stepped back and smiled, “You too.” She lifted Wendy’s arm and looked at her henna tattoos. “Dee, you look like you’ve just come from Glastonbury.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. You look as beautiful as ever, Ki,” Wendy said.
Wendy wasn’t exaggerating. She had always admired Kira’s beauty. Her warm brown skin and almond shaped, hazel eyes were gorgeous, and her petite figure and delicate bone structure only added to her beauty. All through university, Kira had never been short of a date, but like Wendy, she hadn’t found the one.
“Are you going to invite me in?” Wendy asked.
Kira lifted Wendy’s guitar case and said, “Come in and let’s get the kettle on. I’m sure you’ve missed good old British tea.”
Kira made the tea and brought it and some biscuits through to the living room. It was a comfortable small flat, with a tiny kitchen and two bedrooms, and handy for Kira’s job at the local school, where she was a teacher.
She handed Wendy a cup and flounced down on the sofa. “So, you’re back at last. I sometimes wondered if you ever would. You were only meant to be away for a year.”
Wendy took a sip of tea. “I was making really good money, more than I could here, so it made sense when I had debts to pay off. Besides, the lifestyle in America and Australia was so good.”
“So why now?” Kira asked.
Wendy pulled her feet up on the couch and sat cross-legged. “I’d made more than enough money to pay my debts”—Wendy looked down into her teacup—“and I felt like my heart had enough time to heal. Besides, I’m a lot stronger. It’s time to pick up where I left off.”
“I saw her, you know,” Kira said softly.
Wendy immediately felt that familiar knot of tension when her ex-fiancée’s name was mentioned. No matter how much stronger Wendy was now or how much she had matured, she didn’t think she’d ever lose that sense of panic that she had the day she found out her ex, Bailey, had left her.
“When did you see her?” Wendy asked.
“About four months ago. I was out at a club with one of the other teachers from school. I spotted her by the side of the bar. I wasn’t sure at first because the years haven’t treated her well. It looks like she has been drinking like a fish since she left you.”
Bailey had always liked to drink, any excuse really, and that was something Wendy had thought she could help her with. She’d been young and naive.
“Did she see you?” Wendy asked.
“Too right, she saw me. I marched right up to her and said, Where is my friend’s money?”
Wendy put her hand to her mouth. “You didn’t, did you?”
“I did,” Kira said. “You worked two jobs at night, after classes, to save up for your wedding to that piece of crap, and not only does she cheat on you, but she empties your bank account and runs. I’m not letting her off by just glaring at her across the dance floor.”
Wendy had worked hard for her money and was proud that she could save up the thousands it would cost for her dream wedding. Then in one day it was gone, and Bailey had destroyed all Wendy’s hard work—and her heart.
She tried not to think about that day, as it made her shudder, but most nights when she closed her eyes she ran the movie in her head. She thought five years and travelling the world would diminish the memory, the pain, the embarrassment and shame of being taken for a ride, but it hadn’t seemed to.
Wendy wasn’t going to let Kira know that, though. “Thank you for defending my honour, Ki, but it’s in the past. I’ve paid off my debts and I’m ready to restart my life where I left off.”
“Quite right, sweetie. I know why you left university, but teaching is in your blood. You were the best in our year,” Kira said.
Wendy gave an embarrassed smile. “I don’t know about that, but it’s time to take my life back, and that means finishing my teaching degree. Although I’m going to feel ancient compared to all those in my year. I never imagined I’d be a mature student.”
Kira laughed. “A sexy mature student. You’ll have the younger women running after you.”
Wendy rolled her eyes. “Hardly. Besides, I don’t think I’m going to be ready to go out with anybody, anytime soon—if ever.”
“I don’t believe that for a second,” Kira said. “I’m convinced that there is someone for everyone. You used to be a romantic like me, Dee. Don’t let that scumbag Bailey change what you are.”
Wendy put down her tea and sighed. “She did change me, Ki. That’s the problem. Things I used to love became less important. I let myself be overwhelmed with her personality, and the years I’ve spent away have been about getting the old Wendy back. I have in so many ways, but that last part—the romantic, giving faith and trust over to another person—I don’t think I ever will get that part of me back.”
Kira smiled and said, “Well, I’ll keep the faith for you. So, when does uni start?”
“Five months. I’ve got myself on the books of a nanny agency, so I should find work until then.”
“You can stay as long as you need—you know that. It’ll be like old times when we shared our uni flat together,” Kira said.
“I can’t wait.”
Trent walked up the steps to Lady Osbourne’s Mayfair mansion, a house that Trent had secured for Claudia by using her tough negotiating skills. Trent got a buzz from every win she got, and this divorce settlement was clearly a big win.
She straightened her tie and adjusted the gift box she was carrying—a celebratory bottle of champagne—then rang the doorbell.
The door was opened a few seconds later and she heard the sounds of loud music, laughter, and chatter, coming from inside the house. A grey-haired butler opened the door and said with a sneer, “Good evening, name please?”
Trent didn’t like the way he was looking at her. Usually those looks were because of her style. Some people couldn’t get over a masculine woman in a suit, but it was who she was, and had always been.
“Trent, to see Lady Claudia.”
Recognition spread across his face. “Ah, Ms. Trent. Do come in.”
She was led into the vast entrance hall. The floor was marble, and the walls were hung with museum-quality paintings, yet another win from her divorce deal.
The hall was full of people enjoying the party, which spread into the two rooms either side of the hall. There were half-dressed men and women standing with drinks and canapé trays, and one younger waitress approached her and offered her a drink. She took it and said, “Thank you,” while not taking her eyes off the bodies on display.
Trent’s lustful thoughts were interrupted by a loud feminine voice. “Darling, you made it.”
She turned around and saw Lady Osbourne approach her in a gorgeous tight-fitting black cocktail dress. Her body’s reaction told her it was too long since she’d had sex.
“Lady Osbourne, thank you for inviting me.” Trent handed her the gift box. “A little something to mark your divorce day.”
“You know it’s Claudia, darling, and thank you for the gift. It’s sweet of you.” Claudia handed her butler the box and said, “Put this somewhere safe, James.” Then Claudia took her hand and pulled her into the throng of the party. “Everyone, this is Trent, my brilliant divorce lawyer. If it wasn’t for Trent, then there would be no divorce party here tonight. Three cheers for Trent. Hip, hip, hooray.”
Trent was highly embarrassed at being the centre of attention all of a sudden. Most of the partygoers were women, but there were a few men dotted about here and there. They lifted their glasses and joined in with the cheers.
“Claudia, you’re making me blush,” Trent said.
Claudia laughed and said, “Oh, I do hope so. Come, let me show you around the house you won for me.”
Claudia took her hand and led her through the throng of the party and up the grand staircase. When they reached the top of the stairs they saw a couple disappear into one of the bedrooms.
Claudia leaned in to her and said in a low voice, “Looks like they have gotten started early.”
Trent was hit with a memory of doing exactly the same thing with Becca Harper when they were first getting together. She gulped hard trying to banish the emotion of the memory. Becca had understood her past and her emotional issues, and Trent trusted her like she hadn’t anyone else in her life, before or since. If only she had been ready for the family that Becca wanted.
Now when she pictured Becca, Dale was always standing beside her. As much as she had come to like and admire Dale, it still hurt to know Becca was not hers any more.
The scent of Claudia’s perfume brought her back to the present. Claudia was someone to lose herself in.
She trailed her fingers down Trent’s tie and lingered on her belt buckle. “Why not start with my bedroom?”
Claudia grinned and took her hand and pulled her down the hall. She followed like a lamb, not a word that would normally be used as a description of her. She was a ruthless divorce lawyer, confident, dominant, but now she was nursing a broken heart. So for the first time in her life she was susceptible to being led.
Claudia opened a door. “Come in, dear Trent.”
To Trent’s surprise the bedroom was really old-fashioned looking. The walls and carpet were drab, and the room was decorated in dark wood furniture, including a four-poster bed that looked like it had come directly from an ancient castle.
Claudia must have noticed the way in which she was looking around because she said, “Please don’t judge me, darling. This was my husband’s room.”
“You slept in separate bedrooms?” Trent said.
Claudia began to slip Trent’s jacket off.
“Oh yes, I encouraged it. He could barely raise a smile, far less anything else,” Claudia said while undoing Trent’s tie. “He’s sending a removal company to pick up his dusty old furniture.” Claudia began to give her jaw little teasing kisses.
There were warning bells going off inside her mind. This wasn’t a good idea. “Claudia…” Trent started.
But Claudia turned around and said, “Unzip me.”
Trent unzipped her dress slowly and revealed the sexiest black lingerie with stockings and suspenders. Trent’s excitement started to mute those warning bells. She loved stockings and garters and she didn’t often sleep with a woman who wore them.
The dress dropped and Claudia kicked it away. She turned to face Trent, took her hands and placed them on her hips. “Not bad for a woman in her fifties, eh?”
Even though Trent knew not much was real on Claudia’s body, she still wanted to lose herself in it. Trent pulled Claudia to her and said, “You look great.”
She then kissed her and ran her hands up and down Claudia’s body before unclipping her bra and letting it drop to the floor. The kiss had no passion, no feeling, and tasted of stale cigarettes, so Trent pulled away, but she wanted this, needed this to make her feel better. She cupped Claudia’s breasts and squeezed.
Claudia led her back to the bed and pulled her on top of her. Trent cringed inside. This was a bad idea, but when she closed her eyes, she saw herself walking Becca down the aisle at her wedding. Trent hated dealing with feelings, and she wanted to cover over those feelings, even just for a short time.
She opened her eyes and saw Claudia grinning like the cat who got the cream. “Come on, darling, make me come.”
Trent’s heart started to race. This would make her feel better. She pushed two fingers inside.
Claudia gasped. “More, darling.”
She added a third and then positioned herself on Claudia’s thigh. Trent didn’t draw it out. She thrust until Claudia tightened around her fingers and her own orgasm came with a whimper.
The rush of the muted orgasm was gone in a second, and she looked down at Claudia still groaning and coming down from her orgasm. And in that moment she had never felt so empty and alone.
Trent attempted to get dressed straight away, but Claudia pulled her back into the bed. She rested her head on Trent’s shoulder and stroked her fingernails across Trent’s stomach. “I’ve always had a thing for alpha females, powerful women, but men I find are much easier to manipulate, and it gets boring. But as soon as I saw you, Trent, I knew I wanted you. There was someone once who I couldn’t dominate, who made me feel like I was not in control, and you reminded me of them.”
Trent said nothing, but her mind was full of thoughts. She lay staring at the ceiling, feeling stressed and uncomfortable. Sleeping with Claudia was not the answer to the echoing sadness inside her. Claudia had pursued her and got her exactly where she wanted.
Trent wasn’t used to that and didn’t like it. She needed to get out of here without offending a very lucrative client.I should never have broken my golden rule.
“You feel tense, darling,” Claudia said and started to pepper kisses on her jaw and cheek. “Let me make you feel better.”
Claudia began to reach her hand under the covers, but Trent sat up quickly. “I’m sorry, Claudia, I—”
“What is it?” Claudia said.
Before she had time to come up with a plausible excuse, Trent’s phone rang on the bedside table. Saved by the bell.
“Excuse me,” Trent said.
Claudia sighed audibly as Trent sat up and got her phone. Trent was surprised by the caller ID. It was her own lawyer—that was strange.
She answered it quickly. “Jasper? Is everything all right?”
Trent could feel Claudia’s fingers stroking her back and so edged forward away from her touch.
“Sorry to phone you so late, Trent, but I have some bad news. Your cousin David was killed in a car accident this evening.”
Trent stood up quickly. “Jesus, David…what happened?”
David and she had played together often when they were children and saw each other at family events, but she hadn’t seen or heard from him since she was godmother to his first child. He had been the black sheep of the family, leaving university and joining a band instead of entering a good solid profession.
Jasper cleared his throat nervously. “Apparently he had gone to pick up his kids from a babysitter after a show. He was in a band, I believe?”
“Yes, that’s right. He has a second child? He never told me,” Trent said.
She saw Claudia get up and put on a silky dressing gown then light a cigarette.
“That’s right, a six-year-old boy, the girl is eleven. They were involved in a head-on collision. David was killed instantly, but the children are okay, apart from bumps and grazes.”
Trent started to pace up and down. “What about his wife?”
“She died three years ago, apparently. The police just contacted me. The hospital couldn’t get a hold of any family, but apparently his solicitor knew about you and got in touch. The mother was estranged from her family since she was a teenager, and as far as David’s legal papers go, you are the next of kin.”
Trent ran her hand through her hair. “What do you need me to do?”
“Identify the body at the St. Giles Hospital. The children are being looked after there by a social worker, if you could speak to her too.”
“Of course. I’ll go straight there,” Trent said.
“Thanks, Trent. I’ll be back in touch about his papers, et cetera,” Jasper said.
Trent ended the call and let out a breath.
“Bad news?” Claudia asked.
Trent started to pull her clothes on quickly. “My cousin David was killed in a car accident yesterday. I’m his nearest relative, so I have to go and identify the body.”
Claudia walked over and slipped her arms around the back of Trent’s waist. “I’m sorry to hear that. Can we meet tomorrow night again? I have more celebrating to do.”
Trent just wanted to get out of there. Now dressed in her shirt and trousers, she pulled away from Claudia and picked up her tie and wallet.
Claudia wasn’t exactly full of sympathy. Maybe her ex-husband and children were right about her. She was cold and heartless.
“I doubt it, I’ll have a funeral to arrange by the looks of it. I’ll call you.” Trent had no intention of calling. “Goodbye, Lady Claudia,” Trent said.
“For now, Trent,” Claudia said as she walked out the door.
Trent hurried into the A&E department of St. Giles Hospital and found it still full of people, even in the early hours of the morning. She waited in line at the desk, looking at her watch and tapping her foot anxiously.
Finally, she got to the head of the queue and a harassed looking receptionist said, “Yes?”
“I got a call to come and identify the body of my cousin, David Trent. I think he was brought in yesterday.”
“Name?” the receptionist said.
“Trent, Davina Trent,” she said in a quieter voice. Trent had always hated her first name.
The receptionist tapped the keyboard in front of her. As she waited, the noise of the casualty department increased. A young mother tried to calm her crying child, who was obviously in a lot of pain.
The sound triggered a memory in her of having a virus as a child, and even though her mother was very sick by that time, she took Trent in her arms and rocked her all through the night. The next time Trent was ill, her mother was dead, and her father and nanny let her cry all night, never once trying to comfort her. Nanny didn’t believe in mollycoddling, and her father was disinterested.
Trent realized she had gotten lost in her thoughts. She shook herself and said, “Sorry?”
“If you take a seat, I’ll have someone take you over to the mortuary.”
Trent didn’t want to take a seat. Her mind was whirling with all sorts of thoughts. She would have to organize the funeral, and there was no other family but her it seemed, so she’d have to find out who his friends were and get the word out, or there would be no one at his funeral except her and his children.
The children, Trent thought, and her stomach twisted into a nervous knot as she remembered attending her own mother’s funeral. It would probably be best if they didn’t come. She didn’t think she would ever forgive her father for forcing her to attend her mother’s burial.
Then there was the guardianship of the children, but she supposed David’s solicitor and social services would sort that out. She was sure David made provisions for them in his will.
A hospital orderly approached and said, “Ms. Trent, I’ll escort you to the mortuary.”
She followed him out of the A&E and walked over to a foreboding dull grey building on the other side of the car park. This building could only be the mortuary.
Trent’s heart started to pound in her chest. She hated everything to do with death. Despite her confident personality, death and funerals made fear strike her heart. It had been her father’s idea that she should see the body of her mother as it lay waiting for the undertakers, claiming to her nanny it would build strength of character. Nothing would ever take the image of her mother’s lifeless body from her brain. She had shaken and shaken her mother’s body, thinking that she would wake up, until she was dragged away in hysterics.
They reached the door and Trent shivered. Stay in control, stay in control.
She was guided to the second floor where a woman with a caring face was waiting for her by a set of double doors.
“Yes, that’s me,” Trent said.
“My name’s Jane. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. Is he in there?” Trent asked.
Jane’s sympathetic look became more serious. “I just want to warn you that Mr. Trent’s car crash was very violent, and it will be distressing to view his body. If you feel you can’t do it, we can contact his doctor—”
“No,” Trent said quickly, “I haven’t seen my cousin for a long time, and I think it’s my duty to do this for him.”
“Okay, then we’ll go in, and I’ll get you to fill in the paperwork. If you’ll follow me.”
Trent’s heartbeat got even faster. She took some deep breaths and followed Jane.
Trent leaned over a toilet in the ladies’ and tried to calm her stomach. After seeing the condition of her cousin’s body, she’d walked back over to A&E in shock, then felt her stomach starting to churn. To see her childhood playmate in such a state was horrifying. She quickly ran for the ladies’ toilets and got the usual looks, stares, and whispers from the women already in there. Her masculine appearance always made people look at her with accusation in their eyes, but she didn’t have time to worry about that. She burst into the toilet and vomited a few times.
When her stomach started to settle, she took some toilet tissue and cleaned herself up, and swallowed the bitter, acidic taste in her mouth. She leaned her head against the cubicle wall and closed her eyes. This was not like her, reacting so emotionally to difficult times that came up through life.
Trent was always the strong one. She had learned from an early age to keep emotions well under lock and key, or she would receive punishment. That attitude gained her a tough reputation in university and made her a tough negotiator in the law. When Becca Harper had her whole life ripped away from her, she was the white knight coming to rescue her. Trent had handled everything, coolly and calmly, but this was different somehow.
After a few deep breaths she walked out to the sink area, washed her hands, and splashed some water on her face. She wandered out in the waiting area and sat down. Trent just needed to gather her thoughts before she enquired about the children and went home.
Trent looked up to find a woman holding a folder. “Yes.” Trent stood up.
“I’m Marjorie Swale, the social worker called out to handle Mr. Trent’s children’s case.”
“Oh yes, pleased to meet you. How are the children?” Trent felt bad that she couldn’t even remember their names.
“Physically it’s just bumps and bruises. It’s an absolute miracle they survived—so the police say.”
Trent nodded. “Yes, I saw Mr. Trent’s body. It is extremely lucky they survived.”
“Yes, the girl, Alice, is in deep shock, not talking, and hiding away inside herself. She had a view of the front seat of the car, whereas the younger boy didn’t.”
After seeing David’s body for herself, she couldn’t imagine a child seeing that. “My lawyer said she was about eleven—is that right? I haven’t seen David in years.”
“Yes, eleven, and the boy Noah is six. He doesn’t understand as yet that his father is gone. Follow me and I’ll take you to them.”
Trent didn’t want this, to get any further involved, but Marjorie set off at a fast walk, so she had no other choice but to follow. They came to a curtained-off area and Marjorie pulled the drape back to reveal a little dark-haired girl with cuts and bruises, on a hospital gurney, hugging her legs. On the floor was a little boy playing with a toy dinosaur with one of the nurses.
“Alice? Noah? This is your cousin Trent,” Marjorie said.
The little girl looked up with haunted eyes. Trent’s mouth dried up, and she could hear the thudding of her heart in her ears. She had seen that haunted look before, in the mirror every day when she was a little girl. Trent panicked. She didn’t want to acknowledge those feelings or let them even an inch out of the place she kept them locked away.
I need to get out of here.
Alice put her head down, but the boy, Noah, walked over to her.
“You look like my daddy,” Noah said.
That was it. She couldn’t handle this, and she turned around and walked away quickly, panic filling her body. When she reached the waiting room she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Ms. Trent? Is everything all right?” Marjorie said.
Trent stopped and took a few breaths, rebuilding the cracks in her walls.
“Ms. Trent, I know it’s been a shock, but those children need you.”
“Need me? Why?” Trent asked.
“You’re their next of kin. The mother had been estranged from her family long before she and David met. I mean, we’ll make enquiries, but we hoped they could go home with you.”
“Me?” Trent squeaked.
“It’s you or they’ll be taken into care, and we try to avoid that whenever we possibly can,” Marjorie said.
“Oh no,” Trent said with firm determination, “that is not happening. I will of course support them financially until their father’s will is sorted out, but it is not possible for them to live with me. I run a busy solicitors’ office and I live in a dockside penthouse, not suitable for young children.”
“You want me to take them into the care system?” Marjorie’s words had a hint of anger.
“It’s the only possibility,” Trent said coldly. “I’ll be in touch about the will and David’s funeral.”
Trent turned around and walked quickly out of the A&E doors into the cool fresh air. Alice’s troubled eyes floated across her mind.
Walk away, Trent told herself, and she did.