Read on for an exclusive extract from ‘Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove’ by Jessica Redland.
Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove
Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Book 3
‘Li! Are you ready yet?’ Gary shouted up the stairs. ‘I thought we were meeting them at seven.’
I glanced towards the digital alarm clock: 18:28. Still twelve minutes till we needed to leave. I took a deep, calming breath then called, ‘Just a few more minutes. We won’t be late. I promise.’
Squirting another mist of hairspray on my loose auburn curls, I blew a few flecks of make-up off my new teal dress, then pulled on a pair of black strappy, sparkly shoes. Grabbing a black pashmina and clutch bag off the bed, I took a quick glance in the full-length mirror on the wall. Not bad. Perhaps a little over-dressed for a meal at The Bombay Palace with my sister and her fiancé, but surely Gary would be impressed with the effort, especially as the dress was his favourite colour on me. Maybe he’d even pay me a compliment. I shook my head at my reflection. I wouldn’t get my hopes up on that one. I’d be lucky if he managed the ultimate cop-out non-compliment of, ‘You look nice.’
I paused at the top of the stairs and gazed down at my husband tapping something into his phone, a deep frown creasing his brow. Even in a mood, he was still irresistible with his dark hair, dark eyes and tall, athletic build.
‘I’m ready,’ I called, preparing myself to do a little twirl so he could appreciate the tightness of the bodice clinging to all the right places – a daring move for someone who normally wore long skirts and maxi-dresses – but he barely managed a cursory glance as he pocketed his phone.
‘About time too,’ he said. ‘I’ll get the car started. Can you lock up?’ Without waiting for an answer, he went outside.
I reached for the banister and clung onto it as I took a few deep, shaky breaths and willed myself not to cry. It was fine. Timekeeping stressed him out and, even though we weren’t actually late, he was understandably tired and irritable. He’d been working long hours with the surgery expansion recently and seemed to be permanently on edge. He’d likely skipped lunch again so was bound to relax when we ate.
‘Would you like me to drive back tonight so you can have a drink?’ I asked as Gary backed his Lexus off the drive. I reached across to give his thigh a gentle stroke but withdrew my hand when I felt him tense under my touch.
‘I’m fine, thanks. We’ll stick to the rule.’
‘Okay.’ Gary’s ‘rule’ was that if it’s your family or your friends, you drink and the other drives. I rarely drink so was happy to be the designated driver most of the time, but Gary refused to deviate.
I stared out of the window as he drove along Abbey Drive then guided the car out of the small new-build housing estate where we’d lived for the past six years. Glancing across at his tight jaw as we joined the main road into Whitsborough Bay, he certainly looked like a man who could do with a relaxing drink. Perhaps I’d have one more try at breaking the rule.
‘Are you sure? You know I’m never bothered about drinking when we’re eating.’
We stopped at the traffic lights, but Gary still didn’t look at me. His hands tightly gripped the steering wheel. ‘I’ve already said I’m fine. She’s your sister so I’m the driver. Can we just drop it, Li? Please?’
‘Okay. Sorry.’ I turned to look out of the window again, blinking back tears. He’d come round when he saw Jess and Lee. He loved their company, even if he didn’t seem to love mine at the moment.
* * *
‘I have exciting news,’ Jess announced when we’d placed our food orders. ‘Bay Brides called earlier and the bridesmaid dresses are ready early. They’ll be in on Wednesday so I’ve made an appointment for a fitting a week tomorrow at two. Are you free?’
I grinned at my younger sister – a shorter, slimmer version of myself. ‘How exciting!’
‘We don’t have any plans for next Saturday, do we?’ I asked, turning to face Gary.
‘I don’t know about you, but I’ll be going into the surgery.’
I frowned. ‘I thought you were going in tomorrow.’
‘I’m doing both. Maybe the one after too.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to say, ‘But we always spend weekends together,’ but what was the point? I had two choices: confront Gary and spoil the whole evening or ignore him and focus on my little sister’s news. Forcing a bright smile, I said, ‘Two’s perfect. Can Izzy and Megan make it?’ The wedding was less than three months away on the first Saturday in August. I was chief bridesmaid, supported by Jess’s best friend, Izzy, and Izzy’s four-year-old daughter, Megan.
Jess nodded. ‘I texted Izzy earlier. They’ve got no plans.’
‘Brilliant. Do you know when your dress will be ready?’
‘Four weeks later. I managed to order a bigger size just in time and I’m desperately hoping it will still fit on the day.’
I frowned. ‘Why would you need a bigger size? You haven’t put on weight, have you?’
Jess and Lee exchanged big grins.
‘She hasn’t,’ Lee said. ‘Well, not yet anyway…’
I gasped as realisation hit. ‘Oh my goodness! Are you saying…?’
‘We had our twelve-week scan this afternoon and everything’s looking good. In fact it’s looking doubly good.’
I gasped again and clapped my hand over my mouth. ‘Twins?’
Jess nodded and I let out a little squeal as I leapt up and dashed round the table to hug them both.
‘Congratulations you two,’ Gary said. ‘Wow! Twins? Two kids? That’s some news!’ He stood up, shook Lee’s hand and kissed Jess on the cheek.
‘I can’t believe it!’ I sat down again. ‘My baby sister’s having her own babies, which means I’m going to be an auntie. I’m so excited for you both. Twins? That’s so amazing. And that’s cause for celebration.’ I signalled a waiter and ordered a round of drinks including a very large glass of wine for myself, then giggled as I added, ‘Make that two. One per baby.’
* * *
‘I think they’ll make brilliant parents,’ I said. ‘Oopsie!’
Gary took my arm to steady me as I stumbled out of the car a few hours later. ‘Those babies will be so loved and so spoiled and so loved.’
‘You said “loved” twice.’ Gary unlocked the front door and stepped aside to let me in.
‘Did I? Are you sure?’ I carefully navigated the doorstep, clinging onto the frame for safety. ‘Would you like a nightcap?’
‘No, and you don’t need one either. It’s late and I’d like my bed. I think that’s where you should be heading too. After a pint of water.’
‘You’re going to take me to bed?’ Wow! First time in… hmm… don’t know how long. Months. Lots of them. I reached out towards him and he took my hand. Then he placed it on the banister and let go.
‘I suggest you hold on so you don’t fall. You might want to take your shoes off first.’
‘Will you do it?’
‘Li! You’re not a child. You can manage it yourself. And don’t just kick them off and leave them for me to trip over. I’m going to get you a glass. I’ll see you upstairs.’ He made his way down the hall towards the kitchen.
Scowling, I undid the straps, kicked off my sandals and defiantly left them in the middle of the hallway, before hauling myself up to the bedroom. I flicked the light on, but the brightness hurt my eyes so I flicked it back off, shuffled round to my side of the bed in the darkness and switched on my bedside lamp instead. That was better. More romantic too.
I gently placed my bag and pashmina on my dressing table chair and wobbled slightly as I removed my necklace and earrings. Oopsie. Had a bit much to drink. Had to celebrate, though.
‘I’m going to be an auntie,’ I whispered to my reflection in the dressing table mirror. ‘Pretty good, eh? I’d rather be a mum, though. Suppose I’ll have to settle for auntie for now. Unless…’
I heard Gary’s heavy footsteps on the stairs, then he appeared in the bedroom doorway holding a pint of water and my sandals, which he deliberately placed on the floor by the dressing table with a sigh. ‘Drink this.’ He handed the glass to me. Then he smiled and his dark eyes twinkled as he added, ‘Doctor’s orders.’
‘Yes, Dr Dawson.’ I smiled back. That was my Gorgeous Gary, the man I loved, the one who wasn’t all spiky and grumpy. It was such a shame that he rarely made an appearance these days. His evil twin, Grumpy Gary, seemed to have taken up residence instead. He wasn’t much fun to be around, but I knew it was short-term. He’d be gone when the surgery expansion was complete and then, with both of our careers where we wanted them, it would finally be time to start that family we’d talked about for years.
I took a sip of my water then put the glass down on the dressing table, taking care to slip a coaster under it first – no point upsetting Mr Neat-Freak unnecessarily.
He wandered over to his side of the bed and put his lamp on.
‘Gary, can you help me unzip my dress?’
‘Can’t you do it?’
‘I can’t reach properly.’
‘Then how did you put it on?’
He sighed but made his way over to me. I imagined him slowly lowering the zipper, his breath hot on my neck. He’d gently kiss just below my ear as he slowly lowered my dress to the floor. He’d kiss my neck as he undid my bra clasp, then he’d…
That was it. One swift tug and the zip was down. He moved away a few paces and unfastened his tie, neatly rolled it up, then wandered into the walk-in wardrobe where I knew he’d carefully put it in its rightful place in the drawer with his other ties, all in their own little cubby holes, arranged in colour order.
‘You should really drink that water, Li,’ he called. ‘You’ll be sorry if you don’t.’
‘Okay.’ I obediently took another sip.
He returned to the bedroom and began undoing the buttons on his shirt. Watching him intently, I lowered my dress and willed him to look at me. To notice me. To see I was wearing new underwear. Sexy, lacy, teal underwear. Rip-them-off-me-and-take-me-right-now underwear.
But he didn’t raise his eyes. He took off his shirt, tossed it into the laundry basket in the corner and disappeared into the en-suite.
I slowly bent down and retrieved my dress, placed it on a hanger and made a mental note to check for curry stains and cleaning instructions in the morning. Then I waited. And waited.
It felt like hours before Gary finally emerged from the en-suite dressed only in his boxer shorts. ‘I thought you’d be asleep,’ he said in a voice that sounded like he’d hoped that’s how he’d find me. Surely not. Surely I’d imagined that.
‘I’m not ready for sleep yet.’ I tried for sultry but think I managed slurred. Moving towards him, I wrapped my arms around him and felt his whole body tense. Ignore it. He’ll relax in a moment. ‘You know how you said we needed to wait until the surgery expansion was finished before we could think about starting a family? Well, it’s nearly done now and Jess’s news is making me extra broody. How about we stop talking and actually start doing?’
‘No! Elise!’ I flinched at the use of my full name as he backed away. My arms slid off him and slapped back down by my sides. ‘I told you I’m tired.’
‘You’re always tired these days, Gary.’
‘And you’re always on about having a baby. I told you, I’m not ready. The timing’s not right. Can’t you just accept that?’
I stared at him for a moment, debating as to whether to fight it, but the angry glint in his eyes told me to leave it. ‘Okay. Sorry.’
Gary nodded. ‘Night night.’ He moved towards his side of the bed.
‘Night night.’ I bit my lip. No! This isn’t on. He always had an excuse and I always accepted it, but not this time. I put my hands on my hips, the alcohol making me feel bold. ‘Actually, Gary, I can’t.’
He moved back towards me. ‘You can’t what?’
‘I can’t just accept that. When will it be right? You never seem to want to talk about it. I want a baby. I want to be a mum like our Jess. You know that. She’s six years younger than me and she’s already pregnant. And I’ve been married for nearly twelve years. It’s not fair!’
Gary folded his arms and shook his head. ‘Do you know how childish that sounds?’
‘I don’t care. We’re both thirty now and we said we didn’t want to be old parents. At this rate, we’re going to be in our forties before we have number three and four. Or maybe even before we have number one if we continue with the excuses. It’s time we started trying. I’m ready for a baby now. Aren’t you?’
I folded my arms too and glared at him. ‘Why not? Talk to me, Gary. What’s going on? Why are you shutting me out? Why won’t you commit to having a baby? What’s changed?’
‘Everything, Li. That’s how life is. Everything changes. I know we originally said we’d start a family in our mid-twenties, but we weren’t ready then and I’m still not ready for a baby now.’
‘That’s not good enough. We’ve talked about children for years. There’s always been an excuse. University, my promotion, the surgery expansion. What’s next? Anyone would think you don’t want a baby.’
‘I don’t want a baby,’ he yelled.
I stepped back as if I’d been slapped. My heart raced and my head swam. ‘What?’ I certainly formed the word in my mouth but I’m not sure whether I actually managed to say it. I stared, open-mouthed, at Gary.
A vein throbbed in the side of his head and he looked quite shocked at his own reaction. ‘Yet,’ he mumbled. ‘I meant to say yet.’
‘Are you sure?’ The words were barely audible.
My heart raced. ‘I mean it, Gary. Are you absolutely sure? Because if you really don’t want children, then we have a serious, serious problem.’
‘I’m sorry, Li. I didn’t mean to… I’m just not ready to be a dad yet. Sorry I shouted. I’m just tired. It’s been a long few months. I’m… I’m just…’
‘It’s okay.’ I reached for him and held him. He felt rigid in my arms for a moment, then he relaxed and his arms tightened round me. Thank goodness for that. ‘I’m sorry I pushed.’ I stroked his hair and breathed in the scent of toothpaste, hair gel and CK One: the smell of Gary. The smell I loved. I kissed his neck very gently, then started to trace little kisses round towards his throat.
‘Li…’ he whispered. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Sshhh. Just relax and enjoy.’ I kissed back towards his ear then nibbled on it slightly – something he’d always loved.
‘Li… I…’ He tensed again.
I ran my left hand down his back, my nails scratching him slightly. He gasped. ‘We don’t have to try for a baby tonight,’ I whispered. ‘I just want you.’
My fingers reached the elastic of his boxers and I slipped my hand inside then edged it slowly round to the front.
‘No! Stop!’ Gary stepped back so quickly that he collided with the wall. ‘I can’t do this, Li.’
Was that fear in his eyes? My heart pounded so fast that I felt sick. ‘Can’t do what? What’s going on?’
‘I mean tonight. I can’t… I’ve already told you I’m tired. I’m sorry. Do you mind?’
I studied his face. He looked terrified and I was too afraid to explore why. ‘It’s fine,’ I lied. ‘I understand. Bit tired myself. Drank too much as you know. Think I’ll just brush my teeth and go to bed. And drink that pint of water, of course. Wouldn’t want to go against my doctor’s advice.’ I tried to laugh at my joke, but it sounded more like a hiccup. I picked up the drink and tried to swallow some, but the razors in my throat prevented it from slipping down easily. ‘Yummy,’ I said. ‘Night night.’
‘Night night,’ Gary said. He climbed into his side of the bed and turned to face the wall.
As I backed into the en-suite, my stomach churned at the familiar sight of the man I loved rejecting me yet again. I brushed my teeth while tears poured down my cheeks like rain and my heart ached at the overwhelming feeling that something between us had just irrevocably changed.
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