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My Husband's Daughter
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Format:Trade Paperback $12.99 $16.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 22, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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On a cold Friday evening, Rebecca and her husband Jack’s doorbell rings. Outside is a woman who introduces herself as Jack’s ex-girlfriend Cara. And she’s holding the hand of a shivering, blue-eyed, four-year-old girl. Who she claims is Jack’s daughter.
Rebecca is shocked to discover he has a child from his last relationship—one he hadn’t known about. Especially since becoming parents isn’t part of their life plan. But Cara needs them. Because she has a devastating secret that she can’t tell anyone yet. Not even her daughter. A secret with the power to change all of their lives, and one that forces Rebecca to ask herself: Could she find it in herself to welcome her husband’s child into her home, and into her heart?
Good food, interesting company: a Friday night dinner with the partners and directors of Jack's advertising agency and their spouses had been surprisingly pleasant until Jack mentioned their wedding last year, which – inevitably it seemed these days – led to the topic of babies.
It was a gift from heaven for Linda McCray, the wife of the financial director, sitting across the table from Rebecca in the managing director's large dining room. Judging by her vacant gaze while her husband discussed profit margins with the man to his left, she'd been politely bored for most of the meal, but her ears pricked up at the mention of marriage and babies. 'You've been married a year? It'll soon be time for the pitter-patter of baby feet then.'
Rebecca forced a smile. This dinner was important to Jack. It was the first time he'd been invited to the house and he had been uncharacteristically nervous. Having started in the creative side of the business, then moving to management, further promotion would only happen if he 'fit in' with the board. Rebecca had teased him but she hadn't felt at ease since they'd got here, either. She was usually employed by people like this, not sitting at the table making small talk. Like a good little wife. 'No, we're not having children.'
Linda's eyes widened and her face turned a shade pinker. 'I'm so sorry, I didn't realise…'
Rebecca should have just let it go, let her think that they weren't having children because they weren't able to. It would serve her right to squirm because she shouldn't have made assumptions. But something – possibly the third glass of Malbec – made Rebecca feel belligerent. 'It's not that we can't. We just don't want children.'
Linda's face changed immediately and she lowered her voice, leaning closer. 'Is it Jack? Because men change their minds. My husband…'
Rebecca shook her head. 'No. It's both of us. I don't want children. Never have.'
Then there was the smile. The I Know Better smile. 'Maybe you're just not ready yet. They are a lot of work, but it's the best thing you can ever do, believe me.'
The best thing Rebecca could think of doing was travelling first class round the world. Not pushing a small person out of herself. Still, they were at a dinner at Jack's boss's house; it wasn't the time for a full-on debate on a woman's right to make choices about her own body. She smiled tightly. 'Maybe. I'll let you know if I change my mind.'
But Linda wasn't for turning. At the other end of the table, three men were discussing the new menu at the golf club, and Jack's head bobbed up and down as he tried to add to their analysis. His thick head of blonde hair made him look like a young child trying to make a good impression on the grey-haired grown-ups. Rebecca was on her own. At least Linda was keeping her voice low. 'We only have a finite time in order to have a baby, you know? If you keep putting it off, it might be too late. What happens if you regret it?'
Rebecca twisted the silver bangle on her wrist, wishing she was at the other end of the table discussing the golf club. It might be a good venue to add to her portfolio. Plus, it would save her from this irritating conversation. From experience, women like Linda seemed to find her lack of interest in having children personally offensive. She tried to keep her voice light. 'What happens if I do have children and regret it though? This way, if I do suddenly have an epiphany in my fifties, at least it's only me that I'm letting down, isn't it?'
She picked up her wine glass to signal the topic over, but before she could change the subject to something innocuous, Linda kicked it up a notch. 'But what about Jack? What if he wants children? Don't you owe it to him?'
Was she serious? Had they woken up in a Jane Austen novel? Shouldn't she be taking Rebecca for a turn around the drawing room before she imparted her sage advice? Rebecca was about to tell her exactly what she thought of that opinion when, thankfully – for Linda's sake – Jack caught the end of their conversation. He reached for Rebecca's hand under the table and squeezed it. 'Don't worry about me, Linda, I'm in complete agreement. Like kids; couldn't eat a whole one.' He winked at Rebecca. 'Anyway, George tells me you've got the planning permission for the renovations on your house. When does it all kick off?'
Rebecca returned the squeeze of Jack's hand. He was good at diverting trouble. She wasn't normally one to fly off the handle but she was so tired of people like Linda preaching on about the wonders of motherhood. It was like a cult. She had nothing against children. She'd even been one once. She adored her nephews. Wasn't averse to the children of friends. But she had no desire to have one of her own. Ever.
Back home, after repressing her rage through the dessert and coffee and the cheese course, Rebecca was finally ranting to Jack on the sofa in their living room. 'Can you imagine if I reversed the conversation? Told her that she shouldn't have had children because of the overpopulation of the world? I'd have been lynched.'
Jack kissed the top of her head. 'There's no point reasoning with someone like that. They think their way is the only way. You shouldn't rise to it.'
It was easy for him to say. Somehow, no one judged a man who wasn't bothered about having children. But when a woman said it, she was either an unnatural witch or a deluded soul headed for a life of lonely regret. 'I just wish people would keep their opinions to themselves.'
'Yep, me too. But you're not going to change the Linda McCrays of this world. Plus, have you seen their son? A sweaty, spotty, sullen teenager. She's probably jealous of your freedom. And that's before you point out that you don't need to sort out a babysitter to go on the weekend in Bruges that your ever-loving husband is planning.'
It took a minute to realise what he'd said. Rebecca sat up. 'Are you? Really?' She reached over and kissed him. This was a perfect example of what she had tried to explain to Linda. Why would anyone want to risk what she and Jack had by putting a baby into the mix? She leaned back and looked at him. 'Did you check the calendar first?'
Jack laughed. 'Of course. I barely go to the toilet without checking the calendar. I do value my life, you know. That's also why I'm telling you now rather than springing it on you. I learned from Parisgate.'
She laughed and kissed him again. They'd been together for six months when he had booked a surprise trip to Paris on the same weekend that she had two big events going on in two different towns. In his defence, he hadn't realised that she actually attended the events that she planned. He might tease her about her uber-organised schedule but it made life a lot less stressful if everyone knew where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to be doing. Simple. No surprises.
Jack picked up his wine glass from the table. 'It would be nice to be allowed to surprise you sometimes, you know. There might be a whole lot of fun you're missing out on by wanting to have everything planned out to the nth degree.'
Missing out on what? Poorly organised parties or weekends in a hotel she wouldn't have chosen? 'Nope. I am quite happy with the arrangement we have. Don't you start on me. I've had enough from Linda tonight. Next you'll be suggesting we do have a baby.'
Jack pulled a face. 'No way. I'm fully with you on that one. That would not be a good surprise.'
Rebecca hadn't eaten much at dinner. Nerves at making a good impression on Jack's boss followed by suppressed anger at Linda's comments had made her throat so tight that she'd resorted to pushing the food around her plate rather than eating it. But now she was hungry. 'I'm going to get some cheese and crackers. Do you want something?'
'No, I'm fine with just wine, thanks. But you go ahead.'
Sleek white cabinets, Miele appliances and granite worktops: the kitchen was still new enough that Rebecca got a thrill every time she entered it. Working from home, she had ended up the unofficial project manager for the whole thing, and it had been a major pain for two months because of the extension and the bifold doors and then the fitting of the kitchen itself. When she'd tried to speak to Linda about how stressful the whole thing had been – but how she was so happy with it now – Linda had attempted a clumsy analogy to the pain of childbirth: like a dog with a bone.
There were no crackers in the dry goods cupboard. She called back to the lounge. 'Jack, have you moved the crackers somewhere else? The water biscuit ones.'
There was silence from the other room. There was no way she would have put them anywhere else, but she checked the cereal cupboard. None there. 'Jack? Can you hear me? Have you seen the crackers? They were definitely on the online shopping order.' Still nothing from next door. Not in the tins cupboard. Or the cupboard with the herb and spice jars. Confused, she opened the crockery cupboard to get a tea plate and… there were the crackers. Jack was leaning in the doorway, laughing. She shook her head at him. 'You sod. Did you hide them in there?'
'Got to give you a few surprises in your life.'
She pulled the plastic-wrapped crackers out and threw the empty box at him. He ducked behind the door, chuckling to himself.
When she returned to the lounge, Jack was back on the couch. He patted the seat next to him. 'Have you got any plans for the morning?'
One of the downsides to being an event planner was that those events often happened on a Saturday. 'Not during the day. I've got the Andersons' dinner tomorrow night, but that should run like clockwork. As long as the PA I'm dealing with doesn't fret herself into pieces. Are you still out early for golf?'
Jack sipped his wine and nodded. 'Unfortunately, yes. I would definitely rather be spending Saturday morning in bed with my beautiful wife, but it was their MD's suggestion and I couldn't say no. I need to be at the course for 8 a.m. so I'm there to meet everyone as they arrive. Fingers crossed everything goes well and they'll give us their business by the time we get to the last hole. If so, we'll take them out to lunch and then Rob and I will need to go back to the office and get the paperwork sorted and sent out. I might not be home until late afternoon.'
It wasn't often that they got both weekend days together, whether it was her work or Jack's. 'That's fine. If you're seeing Rob, can you take that last box of his stuff that's in the spare room?'
Rob was Jack's junior colleague who'd recently camped out in their spare room for two weeks after his girlfriend had kicked him out for being a philandering idiot. She loved Jack's caring nature, but his readiness to take in waifs and strays brought a chaos she wasn't so keen on. His brother had stayed with them for a month last year in between selling one house and buying another and – pleasant as he was – she'd almost moved out to a hotel to get away from his tendency towards forgotten half-empty coffee mugs and haphazard toiletries in the bathroom.
Jack stretched, unbuttoned the top of his shirt then leaned forward and stole a cracker from her plate. 'Will do. If you're at a loose end, maybe you could google some restaurants and bars in Bruges. The beer will be amazing. They have hundreds, apparently. And a different kind of glass for each one.'
Rebecca held the plate out of his reach so he couldn't take another cracker. 'Sounds great. And, as you say, it's just us, no kids to organise. We can go where we want, when we want. Footloose and—'
She was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell, followed by a knock at the front door.
Come on. Answer the door. The length of time between pulling the bell and waiting for the door to open was agony. It had taken a while to work out where the doorbell was; it was one of those old-fashioned pull contraptions which ring an actual bell. Of course. Jack always did like to show he was better than anyone else.
Should she try again? Maybe they hadn't heard? They were definitely in because they'd pulled up outside half an hour ago. Half an hour. That's how long she'd been waiting in the car, trying to pluck up the courage to go in as well as rousing a reluctant Sophie from the back seat, where she'd fallen asleep. On the upside, this late hour might work in her favour.
The last remnants of summer seemed to have disappeared in the last few days, and tonight's cold October air had blown the last of the sleep from Sophie. Now she jumped from one foot to the other, chattering with the excitement of being allowed up so late. 'I like the door, Mummy. It's blue. My favourite colour.'
Cara smiled at the blue bobble hat pulled so far down over Sophie's ears that she could barely make out her nose between that and the scarf tucked up around her chin. 'It is nice, isn't it? Hopefully it will open up soon.'
As if she'd conjured it with her words, the latch on the door clicked and it opened to reveal an attractive woman of around thirty, holding a glass of red wine. Even though her hair was shorter – cut to chin length with a full fringe – Cara recognised her from the picture she'd found on an old friend's Facebook page: Rebecca. Did she live here too?
'Hello?' Rebecca tilted her head, her shiny hair swinging back and forth.
Her vivid blue wrap dress, manicure and expertly discreet make-up made Cara feel shabby and scruffy. It must be nice to have the money to look like that. 'Hi, I'm looking for Jack Faulkner. Does he live here?'
Rebecca glanced down at Sophie and then back to her. 'He does. I'm his wife, Rebecca. Is he expecting you?'
Wife? So, he'd turned out to be the settling down type, after all. 'Can you just tell him that Cara is here to see him? Cara Miller.'
This was ridiculous: she sounded like a ten-year-old calling for her friend to play out. Jack was always a soft touch, but he didn't need his wife to play bodyguard, surely? Was she ever going to let them in? Rubbing Sophie's arm as if to warm her up had the desired effect: Rebecca held the door open. 'Do you want to step into the hall?' She stood away from the entrance and leaned backwards to call out, 'Jack! There's someone here to see you.'
Inside, the warmth hit them like a slap after the crisp October evening. Though they rubbed their feet on the doormat, their boots made damp footprints on the black and white floor tiles. Cara took in the high ceilings, the Tiffany lightshade, Jack's sketches framed in black, lining the left-hand wall. She pulled the hat from the top of Sophie's head, her blonde curls lifting with the static. The heat wasn't the only reason for taking it off; it was important that Sophie look her best.
Jack also had a glass of red wine in his hand when he appeared in the doorway to what was presumably their lounge. Sitting in the car, she had wondered if he would recognise her straight away, but the look on his face answered that question. 'Cara? What are you doing here?'
Rebecca looked from one to the other. Did she know who Cara was? Had Jack ever mentioned her before? 'I… er… I need to talk to you about something.'
She couldn't blame Jack for being shocked. It had been a while. And Rebecca looked completely on the back foot.
'Do you want to come through to the lounge?' Rebecca held out a hand towards the door. 'We've just finished a bottle of wine but I can make you tea and—' she looked at Sophie '—milk?'
Though a girlfriend had felt likely, Cara hadn't factored in a wife. It would be far better to speak to Jack alone. 'Black coffee would be great, thanks.'
Sophie pulled on her mother's hand. 'I need the toilet, Mummy.'
Rebecca pointed to a doorway under the stairs. 'There's a toilet there you're very welcome to use. Just come through when you're ready.'
As soon as she heard the bathroom door close, Rebecca turned to Jack. 'Who is she?'
Jack flushed and fiddled with the glass in his hands. 'An ex-girlfriend. From years ago. Her name is Cara. I'm sure I've mentioned her to you before? I have absolutely no idea why she is here.'
Of course. She knew the name was familiar. 'That Cara? The one you were dating just before we met? I had no idea you'd stayed in touch with her. How did she know we'd moved here?'
Jack held out his hands. Opened his mouth as if to speak, but barely a sound came out. He dropped down onto the sofa and ran his hands through his hair. 'I didn't… We haven't… I'm as confused as you are, Becca. Honestly.'
Rebecca rubbed her eyebrows with her thumb and forefinger. She wasn't a jealous person. Of course, Jack had had girlfriends before her. But why was Cara here? People from your past don't just decide to make house calls out of the blue on a Friday night.
The lock on the bathroom door clicked, and Cara and her daughter appeared at the door. Rebecca smiled at them and pointed to the large armchair, big enough for both of them. 'Why don't you sit down.'
Cara perched on the edge of the armchair and pulled Sophie towards her. 'You have a lovely home.'
Jack looked irritated. 'Thanks. Look, I don't mean to be rude, but why are you here? We haven't spoken in years and now you just turn up at eleven o'clock at night.'
Cara stuck out her chin. 'Is there anywhere Sophie could play for a little while? I don't think she really wants to sit and listen to grown-ups talking, do you, baby? How about you go and do some drawing while Mummy chats to Jack.' She opened her bag and rummaged around, then looked up at Rebecca. 'I've left her notebook and pens in the car. Do you have anything she could use to draw?'
That was convenient. Clearly, she wanted Rebecca out of the way. At least they'd find out what was going on. 'I've got some paper in my office. Shall I show you where it is, Sophie?'
Cara nudged Sophie, who trotted obediently after Rebecca. She tried to give Jack a pointed look, but he was still staring at Cara as if she had two heads.
Rebecca's home office was a small room on the opposite side of the hallway to the sitting room, with a desk, chair and very small white filing cabinet. Rebecca pulled some paper out of the printer underneath her desk and laid it out for Sophie to draw on. Above the neatly updated wall planner behind the desk were two shelves of brochures for venues, restaurants and hotels. Next to them, a box of stationery which included a new packet of highlighter pens in pastel colours. She slipped them out of their pouch and laid them on the paper. 'You can use whichever ones you want to.'
Sophie's little face lit up. 'Thank you.'
She looked so tiny perched on the office chair, like a little bird dressed in denim dungarees and a blue spotted top. Rebecca was torn between staying to check she was okay and wanting to get back to the lounge as quickly as possible. Her mind was chewing over Cara's sudden appearance. There must be a reason why an ex-girlfriend would turn up out of the blue after five years. She watched as Sophie picked up a highlighter pen and pulled it across the page as her left hand twisted the bottom of her curly blonde hair.
It was the hair that gave it away.
Maybe her mind was already almost there before she walked back up the hallway. Before she overheard Cara and Jack's conversation. Before she saw him running his hands through his hair like he always did when he was confused. The thick blonde hair he kept short to prevent it from curling.
Jack was leaning forward in his seat when she got to the doorway, shaking his head at Cara as if he couldn't shuffle his thoughts into the right order. 'So, you've been chucked out of your home, you've got no one else to ask and you've come here? When we haven't spoken in, what, five years?'
Why had they been thrown out of their home? Rebecca's heart was beating hard in her chest. She wanted so much to be wrong. She sat next to Jack, put a hand on his arm to stop him waving it around. 'Money? Have you come to ask Jack to lend you some money?'
Cara was the only one in the room who was composed. 'Not exactly.' She paused. 'I was kind of hoping you might be able to have us to stay for a few days. Me and Sophie.'
'What?' Jack stood and started to pace. This was how he always processed something complex.
Rebecca's stomach was turning over. She knew what was coming and yet she still hoped she was wrong.
Jack stopped pacing and turned to Cara. 'I'm sorry. I just don't understand. What are you thinking? We dated for a short while years ago, and then you turn up here and ask if you and your daughter can stay in my house with me and my wife? This is crazy, Cara. Even for you.'
Cara flinched at his words but Jack didn't notice; he was pacing again. 'The more I think about it, the worse this is, Cara. I can't believe you would just turn up here, dragging your poor daughter behind you and… and… what?'
The last question was directed to Rebecca, who was shaking her head to try and stop him. It was too painful to watch and she needed to know. Right now. She looked at Cara. 'She's not just your daughter though, is she?'
Cara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. 'No,' she said. 'She's not just my daughter.' She turned in her seat to face Jack. 'Sophie is your daughter too.'
Rebecca's heart sank to her feet. Jack reeled as if he'd been shot. His face drained of colour and he closed his eyes. When he opened them, his expression was more complex than shock, although Rebecca couldn't quite put her finger on it.
When he spoke, his voice had dropped to a whisper. 'Are you sure?'
Cara nodded. 'One hundred per cent. I know it's a bombshell. If circumstances were different…'
Rebecca's initial shock was replaced by confusion. 'What do you mean? If you hadn't needed somewhere to stay, you would never have told him? You would have just let him go on in his life ignorant that he had a child?'
Jack placed a restraining hand over Rebecca's. 'Hold on. Let's just take a minute here.'
Rebecca crossed her arms and pressed her lips together. Of the two of them, Jack was the one who always avoided confrontation, always saw the other side of an argument. But even he must be angry right now? Cara's chin was jutting towards them. She looked harder, tougher than she had in the hall. Then her eyes softened when they resettled on Jack. 'I didn't find out that I was pregnant until after you… after we split up. I wasn't even sure that I was going to keep the baby and then I kind of did and…'
Jack covered his face with his palms and then pulled them down slowly, dragging the skin down with them. He looked… guilty? 'But five years, Cara? Five years and you've never said a word?'
Cara looked down to her lap, where she was picking at her fingernail. Her hands were red and her nails ragged. Rebecca had her nails manicured every two weeks. Nothing flashy. Blunt, neutral, tidy: part of her professional appearance. Although she had to grudgingly admit that Cara was pretty; her short choppy dark hair, angular face and tight jeans made her look so different from Rebecca. Not Jack's type at all. How had they even met?
Cara looked up but continued to pick at her fingers. 'I meant to. Before the baby was born, then again when she turned one. I even found you online but… I could never get the courage up to do it.'
- On Sale
- Mar 22, 2022
- Page Count
- 272 pages