Caught by the Tide Ch. 10byevanslily©
When I started this story, I had no idea it would end up as long as this. I rather thought it'd be done in around four or five chapters. The story had other ideas...
May I just take this opportunity to say a huge thanks to all of you who've followed this story and sent me all those wonderful comments and emails. There's a good chance I might never have got to the end without you all.
And while I'm at it, here's a thank you to my very own long-suffering Caitlin (who'll probably never read this, but never mind, LOL) and another thank you to my big bro--without whom, this last chapter may never have been finished. ETMAS, my friend...
"What?" Luke regarded me with astonishment as I slid into the car beside him, hastily closing the door. "What happened?"
"Just drive." I scrabbled for the seatbelt, pulling it around me with trembling fingers, my keys slithering off my lap to the foot well. "Oh fuck..."
"Babe," I heard him say as I reached down to retrieve them. "We're not going anywhere. Not until you tell me--"
"Luke, please!" I begged, straightening up. "I can't--don't make me explain now. Please? Just--just get me out of here."
There must have been a look of utter desperation in my eyes for without further argument, he started the car, pulling away from the kerb at speed. The inertia pushing me back in my seat, I closed my eyes, aware I was shaking, my heart still thudding wildly in my chest.
God, I'd been stupid, I'd been such a fool. Why hadn't I guessed? How could I not have known? Daniel's affair hadn't been a holiday romance. It hadn't been an affair at all. He'd been with the girl for years, they'd even had a daughter together...
But none of it made any sense.
Because he'd wanted to marry me. It wasn't as though he'd ever appeared to have second thoughts. Far from it. He'd been so involved with everything to do with the wedding, from the booking of the cars to the booking of our reception, from meeting the vicar to organising our honeymoon in the Maldives, checking then re-checking every detail with zeal. Through it all, we'd been close--well, I thought we'd been close. Intimate. Okay, maybe we hadn't made love as often as we had at the start of our relationship, but I'd just assumed that was normal for a couple who'd been together for a while.
But it hadn't been normal at all, had it? The whole time, he'd been with her too. Doubtless he'd had sex with her too--well, quite obviously he had. And had it not been for the fact he'd accidentally sent that text message to me instead of her on the morning of the wedding, we'd have been married by now. What the hell had he had in mind? Bigamy?
"No." The thought made my stomach churn with a vengeance, waterbrash rapidly flooding my mouth. And oh God, that buzzing noise was back, growing louder and stronger, a surge of heat sweeping over me. "Oh no," I groaned, feeling horribly clammy. "Luke--I'm going to be--"
The next thing I knew, the car was no longer moving and Luke was opening my door, reaching in to scoop me out. "Don't you dare," he said in a tone that would brook no argument, hoisting me up in his arms before nudging the door closed again with his knee. "D'you hear me? Don't even think about it. I made you that bacon butty with love, Rebecca--and it's staying down, okay?"
I nodded weakly, trying my hardest to regain control, the fresh air on my face helping, the dizziness already easing away. And as he carried me, I gazed up into his face, stricken by the concern in his eyes. "Where are we?" I whispered, managing to raise my head just enough to see we were heading towards a park bench.
"By the river. S'okay, just ssh." Holding me firmly, he lowered us both down to the bench, easing me into a more comfortable position across his lap. And for a minute or two, we sat in silence, Luke gently stroking my hair while I listened to the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves on the trees above us, the distant quacking of ducks somewhere up stream. "Daniel," he said at last, sounding rather grim. "He was there, wasn't he?"
"No." I shook my head, watching as the furrows in his brow deepened. "But she was."
"Janine." It felt odd to say the name. I hadn't known what it was before.
Luke's arms tightened slightly. "You mean--?"
"--Daniel's other woman," I finished for him. "Yes. And her baby." I hesitated. "Daniel's baby."
I hadn't had a chance to bolt. Within moments of seeing the cherubic-looking child, her mother had emerged from the bathroom, clad in cream satin pyjamas. A tall, thin girl, perhaps a little younger than me, with over-bleached blonde hair, roots sorely in need of a touch up. We'd stood looking at each other for what could only have been seconds but seemed considerably longer.
"Shit," she'd said, her face going pale. "You're Rebecca, aren't you?"
I wasn't sure what was worse, that she was there or that she knew who I was. But the strangest calm had descended on me and I heard myself saying, rather sarcastically, "Well, I don't think we've been formally introduced, but yes, I'm Rebecca. And you are?"
"I'm--I'm Janine," she'd stammered. "Look--Daniel's not here. He's just--"
"And this is?" I'd interrupted, pointing at the toddler who was still staring up at me as though mesmerised, those huge brown eyes unblinking.
"Issie." At the sound of her name, the little girl charged to Janine's side, half-hiding behind her mother's leg. "Short--short for Isabel."
"Hello Issie." I softened my tone as I addressed the little girl directly, beginning to get that now familiar feeling I was trapped in a bad dream. "How old are you, then?"
"She's eighteen months," Janine answered, looking increasingly uncomfortable. "Listen--"
"And she's Daniel's child, isn't she?" It hadn't really been a question. Isabel was the spitting image of him, just a miniature female version. But even if I hadn't already been sure, Janine's openly guilty expression would've provided all the confirmation I needed. "Right," I said lightly, at a complete loss as to how I was supposed to feel or what I was supposed to say next. "Well, there are a few things I need to pick up, so if you don't mind..."
I'd pushed past mother and daughter and headed into the bathroom, the signs of their occupation everywhere. Janine's toiletries were on the tiled window sill, there were plastic ducks in the bath, nappies and baby wipes stacked on the floor in front of the scales and a changing mat parallel to the bath. But when I opened the mirrored cabinet above the sink, I was taken even further aback to see the other woman's things crammed in next to mine. A cheap supermarket brand of tampons, face cream, perfume, make-up. Just how long had she been staying there?
In order to retrieve my pills I'd actually had to start removing her things, at first placing them neatly on the ledge above the basin. But after I'd removed half a dozen items, a fit of blind rage suddenly struck. Putting my hand into the cabinet, I'd swept everything out, the entire contents of the shelf clattering down into the sink, boxes of contraceptives and all. And having extracted the boxes, I'd dropped them into my handbag before turning on my heel and marching straight out of the flat, not bothering to direct so much as a glance in Janine's direction.
Luke swore softly as I finished telling the tale then pressed his mouth to the top of my head, dropping kisses into my hair. "Bastard," he murmured furiously. "Becks, I've had it with this wanker. Give me one reason why I shouldn't slice off his dick with a blunt scalpel."
"I'm serious." His fingers moved over my throat, checking my pulse. "And what kind of woman is she? For heaven's sake, she knew about you? She knew you and Daniel were going to get married and she was happy to go along with it?"
"It's pretty weird," I conceded, grimacing at him as I grabbed his hand and pulled it away from my neck. "Stop that, I'm okay now. It was just the--"
"Shock," he finished tersely, peering into my eyes now. "Okay, he can keep his dick. Let me just castrate him. Bad enough that he's fathered one child."
"Luke!" But this time my objection was rather less than half-hearted. I was finding it particularly difficult to deal with the fact that Daniel had a daughter. I'd found it hard enough to cope with the idea that he'd had an affair. To discover that not only had he had an affair, but that it'd been going on for years... "There must've been signs," I murmured, thinking aloud. "Why didn't I know? How could he have kept this hidden? Surely somebody must've known something."
"Why did he want to marry me?" Pushing Luke's arms away, I struggled to sit upright, staring at him in bewilderment. "If he had her, and he had a baby with her, why did he still want to be with me? Even last week, when he brought me home from Cornwall, he was asking if we could make another go of things. Why the hell would he want to do that? Why would he want both of us?"
He gazed back at me, once again wearing that expression I couldn't quite read. "I can't answer that," he said at last. "I think that's something you're going to have to ask him."
I stared back at him, puzzled by that look, my mind working furiously to make a connection between all the times I'd ever seen it. And all of a sudden, I knew what it meant, a rush of relief flooding through me, that beacon of light inside me seeming to burn more brightly than ever.
"Luke, you tosser." Leaning forward, I kissed him as passionately as I knew how, my arms curling around his neck. "It's you I want. Not him."
He gave a startled laugh as I kissed him once more then reciprocated with equal enthusiasm, pulling me down on top of him as he toppled down sideways to the bench, cushioning me with his body. "Wow," he said contentedly when I finally raised my head for air. "What did I do to deserve that?"
"I wanted you to know I love you."
"Yeah, I kind of got that." He smiled as I laid my head on his shoulder, reaching up to caress my cheek. "I love you too."
"You really do, don't you?" I smiled back, still not quite able to believe it. "Maybe we should be thanking Daniel for being a bastard. We'd never have met otherwise."
"Hmm." He rolled his eyes as he stretched out his other hand, flexing then clenching his fingers meaningfully. "And I think I know the perfect way to thank him."
I looked at him and then at his fist, unsure whether he was serious. "You wouldn't?"
Laughing now, he shook his head before dropping another gentle kiss on my lips. "Feeling better?"
Slowly he eased me upright again, still holding me close, watching my face as we rose. To my relief, the nausea had completely abated, but I felt oddly weak, as though I hadn't slept for days. Although that wasn't really surprising. It wasn't far so from the truth. "I'm okay," I said lightly, grimacing as his eyebrows lifted in response and knowing he wasn't fooled for a moment. "Well, I will be. Luke... Please can we go? I really, really need to see Mum now."
He nodded before tucking my head in against his chest, resting his cheek against my hair. "Come on then," he murmured before pulling me to my feet. And slinging an arm around my waist as we walked, he steered me back up the bank towards the car.
"You're never going to be able to park," I said when we finally arrived at the hospital, dismayed to see just how many cars were queuing on the slip road for a space. It was only ten o'clock but already the sign up outside the multi-storey car park read 'FULL'.
Luke shot me an amused look. "Babe, at what point did you fall asleep last night? It was before we got to my car, right? You were sleep-walking, weren't you? I thought you'd gone a bit quiet." And still grinning, he pulled into the other lane and turned off into a road clearly sign-posted 'Staff Car Parking only'.
"Oh." I couldn't remember a thing about going to his car last night. I'd just let him lead me out of the hospital, too strung out by the day's events to notice where we were going. "Don't tell me, you have a spot with your name on?"
Already peering down the long lines of parked cars for a space, he laughed. "I wish. I'm really not that important in the grand scheme of things, just another consultant. Ah, there we go."
Luke pulled the car into what appeared to me to be a very narrow bay before jumping out to help me, holding my door so that it didn't knock against the car besides his. Then taking my hand, he led me back up the hill and in through the main entrance of the hospital.
He was still holding my hand as we walked on to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, Caitlin's eyes widening when we arrived in my mother's room. "Hi," she said, not quite managing to cover her surprise as she stared at me and then Luke, her welcoming smile a little too dazzling. "I was just telling Gillie that I thought you'd be here soon."
"Mum!" Pulling away from Luke, I rushed to her side, relief flooding through me as I saw that her eyes were open, smiling as her face brightened in recognition. "Don't you ever scare us like that again, do you hear me?"
As she nodded I became aware of Caitlin behind me. "Your Mum's doing very well, Becky. She's off the ventilator now and breathing on her own."
"But--" There was still a tube in Mum's mouth, attached to a thick length of pipe. Not knowing what it was, I gestured towards it rather helplessly.
"That's a T-piece. That's just oxygen going through there. We don't take the tube out straightaway in case there are any problems but I'll be taking it out in a few minutes. Then she'll be able to talk to us again. Although," Caitlin smiled at her, "you're a bit sleepy, aren't you, Gillie? It's all the pain medication."
"And how are we doing with pain control?" I heard Luke say as he came up the other side of the bed. "Have we got it right yet?"
Mum turned towards him, her eyes narrowing slightly before she gave him another brief nod. I knew what that look meant. It meant 'who the hell are do you think you are?'
Luke sent me a grin that told me he knew what that look meant as well. "Too much analgesia and she'd be too sleepy to breathe deeply, too little and it'd hurt too much to breathe deeply," he explained. "It's not always easy to strike the right balance." And then he was looking at Mum again, his expression softening as he touched her hand. "Good morning," he said gently. "I'm Luke Foster. You can blame me for all of this. I was the one who performed your surgery yesterday."
I watched Mum's face brighten again, saw the flash of understanding in her eyes. And as he began to describe what had happened, keeping his explanations simple and to the point, I felt a strange sense of pride as I listened. This was Luke, my Luke. The skilled surgeon who'd known what to do, how to make her better, how to save her life. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to thank him enough.
"Anyway," he finished at last. "I realise it's not fair to tell you all this when you can't talk to me so I'll be back to answer any questions you might have when the breathing tube's out. I think that'll be quite soon now."
"Just need to draw up this infusion and then I'm on it," the nurse confirmed, busy with a syringe at the end of the bed.
"Excellent." Luke smiled at Mum and then at me. "That should give me enough time to get something else done then. Caitlin, I need a suture removal kit. Where can I find one?"
"Oh no." Realising what he was asking for and why he wanted it, I felt my face fall. "Not now..."
He grinned, apparently enjoying the startled looks that both Caitlin and my mother were shooting in his direction. "Yes, now," he said firmly, reaching across to pick up my hand in order to show Mum the long line of stitches in my arm.
"They're in the treatment room," Caitlin said, not even trying to hide her surprise now. "On the bottom shelf just inside the door. Mr Foster--" She hesitated, seeming rather perplexed. "I could take those out for her if you wanted me to."
"Oh, I think I'll manage, thanks." Now I wasn't in any doubt at all--Luke was definitely enjoying my discomfort. "Let's go." And still gripping my hand he drew me down the bed. "We'll be in the pre-admission suite if you need us. Back in a bit," he said cheerfully then tugged me out of the room before I could take another glance at my mother.
"Luke!" I hissed, mindful of keeping my voice low as we re-entered the main ward area. "I--I can't believe you just did that."
He chuckled softly, leading me into a small room behind the nurses' desk. There was barely enough time to take in the cupboards and the neat rows of trays on the counter tops containing medical supplies before he retrieved a rectangular package from one of the shelves and waved me back out of the door. And then we were leaving the unit, going back through the double doors, turning right into an empty twin-bedded ward just before the exit to the lifts.
"Make yourself comfortable," he said, gesturing towards the bed nearest the window and pulling the curtain across, effectively dividing the room in two and shielding us from anyone passing by.
I stared at him for a moment in confusion, watching as he moved across to the sink to wash his hands. "What?"
He sent me a grin over his shoulder. "Lie down, babe."
"But--" He had to be kidding, right? "I don't really need to do that, do I? It's not like this isn't going to take long, is it? And it isn't going to--I mean, it won't--"
"Hurt?" Lifting his eyes heavenwards for a moment, Luke came back towards me, kicking a small metal trolley across to the bedside. "Get on the bed, Rebecca."
I perched on the very edge of the bed, watching nervously as he opened the package and spread out its contents across the top of the trolley. "Is it going to hurt?" he mocked, shaking his head. "Yesterday, I cracked open your mother's chest with a saw."
Dear God...That really hadn't been something I'd wanted to visualise. "Thanks for that."
Laughing softly, he turned to me at last only for the mischief in his eyes to disappear the moment he saw my face. "Oh, Becks..." To my surprise, he climbed on to the bed behind me then hauled me up until I was propped against him, sitting between his outstretched legs. "Not sure how we'll explain this if anyone comes in, but what the hell." And planting a kiss on my neck he leaned over to retrieve instruments from the trolley. "Right," he said solemnly, showing me what he was holding. "Stitch cutter, forceps. Relax. I'm not going to hurt you."
Reassured by his embrace, I watched as he lifted the knot of the first stitch then sliced through the suture, experiencing only an odd tickling sensation as he pulled the thread back through my skin. "That's it?"
I could feel his smile as he brushed his lips against my temple. "Uh huh. Think you can manage without an anaesthetic?"
Embarrassed, I didn't respond to that, smiling reluctantly as he kissed me again. "Did you really have to use a saw?"
"'Fraid so." He sounded amused, already removing the next stitch. "To cut through the sternum. Want me to talk you through the whole procedure?"
"Maybe another time," I said faintly, repressing a shudder and racking my brains for a change of subject. "So you saw my mother's breasts, huh?"
He gave a startled choke of laughter. "Occupational hazard, I'm afraid. Why, want to know how you compare?"
"Oh, I don't know. Don't they say, 'show me the mother'--"
"--'and I'll show you the daughter in twenty to thirty years time'?" he finished. "Well, let's just say your prospects look good, babe."
"Luke!" I tipped my head back to glare at him and was rewarded with another kiss.
"I'm kidding. It's actually pretty hard to see what a woman's breasts are like when she's lying flat on an operating table. Unless they're fake of course. And then of course, everyone comes to have a look."