~ Prologue ~
She should be happy. Why wasn’t she happy? She was young, healthy, and married to a fabulous man who adored her. They were comfortably off so had no money worries, all their family were well and happy, and she had lovely friends.
In fact, she was currently sitting in a pretty country church, surrounded by people she liked, attending the wedding of two of those friends.
To top it all off, she had a really nice dog. So, why wasn’t she happy?
Daisy shifted on the hard pew and felt, rather than saw, the look Guy flicked her way, instinctively flinching from him, then she straightened.
Arching her spine into the firm wooden back of the ancient, uncomfortable wood, she reflected on how they were designed to keep sinners’ backs erect, rather than comfort unhappy women in their mid-twenties.
Yes, she was unhappy.
You might as well admit it she thought fiercely, and a sudden urge to cry, to bury her face in her hands and bawl her eyes out like a toddler denied, swept over her. Blinking rapidly, she swallowed it down; burying the rising tide of panic; something she’d been getting good at lately.
Concentrate, she told herself, and forced her attention to the front of the church. Ah, a sudden surge in music and the Wedding March crashed out from the enthusiastic organist’s fingers. There was a combined rustle as the congregation collectively rose to their feet, and the bridal party progressed slowly down the aisle.
Lindy was being given away by Martin. The grin that split his youthful, handsome face, and the careful way he led the glowing, ivory silk-clad bride to be married, managed to bring a small smile to Daisy’s face.
She remembered Lili telling her how stunned and proud he’d been when Lindy asked him, in the absence of any other father figure in her life to give her away.
Lindy… beautiful, exotic Lindy, her black hair coiled elaborately around her head, a veil of finest gossamer shimmering over her shoulders.
Never had Daisy seen her look so radiant. Her eyes met those of her handsome, soon to be husband, waiting for her at the top of the aisle.
Then came the bridesmaids, gorgeous in pale lilac silk, flower circlets on one blonde and one brunette head, young faces glowing with happiness for their friend.
Lili glanced briefly her way, and for a second Daisy thought she saw a flicker of concern cross her best friend’s expression, before she turned back to the job at hand and the moment had passed.
The bridal party reached the top of the aisle, the music subsided, and there was another scramble as the congregation sank back down. Daisy looked at Johnny and Kevin, magnificent in morning suits, their faces solemn with the importance of the occasion.
Kevin fumbled awkwardly at his waistcoat pocket and Daisy hoped he’d remembered the rings, feeling a rush of warmth towards him.
She’d never forgotten how kind he’d been to her the night of Lili’s 21st; the night she’d discovered her hopes of being a mother were yet another false alarm; how he’d comforted her, and advised her not to tell Guy that evening but to wait until they were back in London so as not to spoil Lili’s party.
Recalling the scene that had followed her confession to Guy, Daisy shuddered slightly, thankful she’d done as Kevin advised and delayed telling her husband until they were home.
Kevin flexed his toes in his new shoes, lord how they pinched, longing for the comfort of his old gardening boots. He glanced over at Johnny and Lindy holding hands, exchanging vows, their young faces alive with so much love and hope.
Kevin swallowed, a sudden yearning to be looked at that way by someone, anyone, searing through him. Pathetic loser he thought bitterly, not allowing his glance to even think about flicking backwards to where she stood.
The woman he loved more than anything else in the world. There’d been a moment, a brief glorious instant last year when he’d thought, maybe, there was a way she could be his.
True, she was pregnant with another man’s child, but it seemed impossible for her to ever be with that man, so Kevin had stepped forward and offered her his name and his heart, wanting to look after her and the baby and make them both his. Then he’d have the family, the woman, he’d been dreaming of for years.
It wasn’t to be.
Life had turned. Lili had got her Jake; the man of her dreams and they’d married last year. Kevin had stood there watching her accept his ring, his pledge, his hand, and his heart.
Should have been me, he’d thought then. Should have been me, he thought now, knowing if she glanced at anyone it would be at Jake and their baby daughter, Phoebe.
He was happy for her though. No, really, he was.
It was obvious to anyone who had eyes how totally in love her and Jake were; they were the golden couple, the perfect match. And he was happy for her. He was. It was just…
Lindy and Johnny had exchanged vows and were moving away to sign the register. The congregation burst into a rousing chorus of All Things Bright and Beautiful, the only hymn the bride had known so that was the one she’d picked.
The photographer, that Daniel Craven chap, followed them, fussing about, moving the vicar to a more suitable spot and flirting with the bride.
He was world famous, apparently, but Kevin had never heard of him and didn’t much care for him either. He’d seen the way he’d been chatting up the ladies, all warm, blue eyes and rugged, bearded good looks – arrogant prick. Still, he was a friend of Johnny’s and was doing the wedding for free, so that was something.
Finally, the service was over. They moved down the aisle, Kevin escorting Lili as head bridesmaid, heart stumbling at the feel of her small hand on his arm, her laughing presence by his side.
Pacing behind the newlyweds, trying not to stand on the bride’s veil, his eyes suddenly found those of Daisy, Lili’s London friend, and for an instant he remembered a shared moment on a dark staircase – tears of an unhappy, scared girl soaking the front of his shirt, and her whispered confession.
He smiled at her, but her attention was already gone, back to that bastard of a husband of hers – another arrogant prick.
The congregation spilled into the sunshine, heels sinking into the grass between crookedly aligned headstones, manicured hands clutching at hats and fascinators as a light breeze ruffled veils and plastered feathers onto lipstick. The men gathered, hands in pockets, exchanging bluff pleasantries.
All watched as the photographer positioned and fussed, bossing people into groups, squinting into his lens until he was happy, and another perfect picture was snapped.
Kevin stood with Amy, his sister, and Martin, patiently waiting his turn to be grist for the photographer’s mill. He watched as Lili held out her arms to her pretty baby who gurgled and waved her arms in response, and saw Jake enfold his little family in a big, all-encompassing hug, his chin resting on Lili’s head.
Pain shafted Kevin’s heart and he turned away. He saw Daisy again across the crowd of morning suits and pastel, the look on her face making him pause, re-consider. She and her husband had been trying for children for as long as he’d known her, but still nothing. He remembered how scared she’d been of telling Guy it was a false alarm and wondered if he was still giving her a tough time about her failure to conceive.
Then, he was ushered forward by the photographer to clench his teeth in a forced smile, stand for endless photos, all the while praying for it to be over so he could get through the horror of the best man’s speech and finally relax.
It was unfair, so unfair. Lili was her best friend. She loved her, knew how hard her life had been and was happy she now had everything she’d ever dreamt of, but still… in that instant when her baby wrapped her pudgy arms about Lili’s neck, and her handsome, besotted husband pulled them into an embrace of obvious devoted love, Daisy hated Lili; hated her with an intense, brief passion that scared her with its violence. She didn’t hate Lili, of course she didn’t, but she was jealous of her baby – her perfect, beautiful baby.
Glancing up at Guy, Daisy saw the look on his face and knew he’d seen the proud father holding his tiny daughter in his arms. His mouth briefly twisted into a frustrated snarl and Daisy’s heart sank.
Because they were away, because it was a wedding and Guy adored weddings, just because, really… she’d hoped this weekend would be a break from the endless pressure of trying to conceive. She wondered if the ovulation kit was in his bag, knew without a doubt it would be, and her smile became brittle. Thinking ahead to what would happen when they got back to their hotel suite, she decided to get horribly drunk at the reception, hoping alcohol would numb the reality of enforced, loveless, meaningless, baby-making, sex.