Authors: Marilyn McPherson
A Family Affair - Next of Kin
Copyright © 2013 by Marilyn McPherson
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Books by this author:
A Family Affair
A Family Affair - First Born
A Family Affair - Next of Kin
The Faithful Watcher
Note to Reader
This novel is written in Australian English.
Sisters are different flowers from the same garden
Twenty-four years ago
Sarah Rush felt the first familiar pang of labour around midnight - it woke her with a start. She rolled onto her side, writhing and trying to breathe through the pain. Despite the knowledge that it was only going to worsen, she hoped this contraction would pass quickly.
The pain was bitter-sweet. It hurt like hell, but was the necessary hurdle to obtain the most precious item imaginable - a baby. She would love that baby more than life itself, and each moment of pain took her one minute closer to meeting him or her for the first time.
The baby’s father, Ken, had made her promise to call the moment labour started, no matter the hour. He had probably moved the phone next to his bed, not wanting to take any chances. Like Sarah, he was excited about their baby’s imminent arrival, and wanted to be there for every moment.
His eager anticipation grew despite the status of their relationship. They weren’t a couple, and as long as Sarah had her way, they would not be living together after the baby was born. Nonetheless, Ken had proposed marriage many times over the past year. Sarah liked him, and his presence was reliably comforting, but she didn’t love him. She owed him a debt of gratitude certainly, but shouldn’t have allowed herself to become pregnant with his baby, although clearly it was too late for that regret now. The baby was on its way, and nothing was going to stop its arrival into the world.
If love was logical, then of course it would have been wiser to love Ken. But she couldn’t help whom she loved. Inside Sarah’s heart, there was only room for one man - Jack Bradley.
It had been almost five years since she’d seen him, but memories of Jack were never far from her thoughts. Time was not healing her inner wounds.
Jack had been a dashing and successful entrepreneur, focussed on building factories and large residential apartment towers up and down the east coast of Australia. His company had been growing rapidly, and Sarah first met him when hired as his personal assistant. It was a job she came to love, and felt confident performing. Although Jack’s office had been consistently busy, he had always taken the time to chat with her during the day, and to tell her amusing stories. He made her laugh; going to work every day became more of a pleasure than a duty. Gradually, she developed a fondness for him until one day she knew the feelings had blossomed into love. They were inappropriate of course, and had to be hidden under a cloak of professional etiquette. After all, he was a married man.
During the period when Sarah worked directly for Jack, his wife Margaret would visit the office regularly. Sometimes she brought her young son Tom along too. Seeing the three of them together reminded Sarah that Jack was not single; it reinforced how misplaced were her fantasies about him.
Despite being married, Jack often seemed unhappy when he referred to his wife. It was clear that Margaret dominated him, and his growing resentment was obvious. As time went on, Jack sought Sarah’s company more often during the day, and he started taking her out of the building for work lunches. Jack’s penchant for telling amusing stories was a feature of every meal and she loved those carefree moments with him.
They were just two colleagues discussing work issues over a shared meal. There was nothing scandalous about it. No one needed to know how much their time alone really meant to her. As far as the world was concerned, the meetings were innocent.
But one day, everything changed. The charade ended in a flash when Jack reached for her hand under the table. No longer would he allow their platonic relationship to continue as it was. He wanted her - that much was clear. Yet in his eyes, she saw that the decision was up to her. Jack was a man starved of female tenderness, but it was going to be on Sarah’s terms. In a way, there had never been a need for a decision - she wanted to give him all the love she had held back. It had been building up for a long time inside her, and she decided in that moment to ignore her misgivings, and to love him. She entered the affair wholeheartedly, hoping and praying that he would leave Margaret. If Sarah were Jack’s wife, she would treat him well, and make him the centre of her life.
Their affair was passionate, but limited to a luxury hotel room near work. When they met at lunchtimes to make love, those times were the most perfect hours of Sarah’s life.
As the weeks passed, it became obvious to Sarah that Jack was unlikely to leave Margaret. She didn’t have to ask - it was obvious from the words he didn’t say. Although broken-hearted, she still wished the affair to continue indefinitely. She was willing to accept him whatever the circumstances.
Alas, her worst fears became reality. He pulled away and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Jack formally ended their affair three weeks after it began with a bunch of flowers and note of apology. Out of guilt and love for his son, he returned to the dutiful and unhappy life of being married to Margaret.
The day after learning of his decision, Sarah packed her desk and quit, leaving only a note for Jack. She gave notice to her landlord and left the city to find a new home. If Jack didn’t want her, she would not hang around hoping he would change his mind. She moved to the small regional town of Lakeside in the Victorian countryside.
Sarah had chosen that town because one of her mother’s aunties had once lived there. As a small girl, Sarah had heard stories about the region and its expansive blue lake. She had fond memories of that time, and instinctively headed there without giving it much thought. Sarah bought a small house with a white picket fence and simple garden which she tended.
Eight months later, a baby boy had been born. She gave up the child for adoption on the same day he was born, choosing not to hold or feed him in order to make the process less painful. At the time, she thought holding onto the child would be too difficult, as seeing his face every day would remind her of the man she lost. She could not spend eighteen years being reminded of Jack’s rejection.
Jack never knew about the baby boy, as Sarah decided it was kinder that way. If he had known, it would have influenced his decision regarding Margaret. If Sarah herself wasn’t enough reason to leave, then she would not use a baby to tip the balance in her favour. She loved him too much to manipulate him that way.
But that was then, and it was so many years ago. Of course she would never see Jack again. There had been many nights when Sarah cried herself to sleep, craving the man she loved and wishing the distance between them would disappear. Tears were also shed for the baby boy she had given up. Perhaps she should have made a different decision. If she had kept the boy, a piece of Jack would have always been with her. The boy may have provided comfort, and helped her to heal over time.
Sarah first met Ken Lucas just as her pregnancy to Jack was starting to show. He was a local builder in the town of Lakeside, and a councillor for the local municipality. He believed in small towns, and the people who inhabited them. They had always gotten along well. He was a good listener, and they had spent countless hours discussing Jack’s rejection and the pain of lost love. Ken was initially furious that the father of Sarah’s child had deserted her, but he eventually saw her situation as an opportunity, and made his own feelings clear. He said it was fate that brought Sarah to Lakeside; that he was sure they belonged together as a couple. But despite Ken’s persistence, Sarah didn’t care for him, not in the way that he wanted. He was only a friend, and their one night together nine months ago had been a terrible mistake. She had been upset. He had asked if he could comfort her. One thing had led to another and miraculously, a baby was conceived.
Sarah would always be thankful to Ken for providing her with that gift. A second baby would help Sarah’s heart to mend, and she would love it with her whole being, more than any mother had loved a child before.
Although Ken wanted Sarah to call him the moment she went into labour, something inside her resisted doing so. Involving him in the birth was only going to reinforce his belief that they would one day become a couple. He seemed convinced of their inevitable union, and nothing Sarah said seemed to discourage his belief. After the baby was born, she would work with Ken to develop a co-parenting arrangement, and make sure he had adequate access to their child. After all, he was a wonderful man and would make a terrific father. Over time, he would eventually move on, and find a woman to love who could love him back.
The people of Lakeside had been friendly and welcoming to Sarah, despite the obvious absence of her baby’s father. She had expected questions and sneers as her pregnancy developed, yet none of her worries had materialised. Ken made sure to introduce her to everyone, and for the most part Sarah felt genuine warmth from the community. She bonded especially with the young family living next door. Tammy was an American housewife who had moved to Australia after marrying an Australian man. Their three-year son Alex was their entire world and very special to Sarah too. She enjoyed watching him play and run around, despite being filled with thoughts of her own son whom she had given away.
Sarah’s mind was brought back to the present as her contraction eased. There wasn’t much time - she found a dressing gown, and went next door to try to wake Tammy. If she was not going to ring Ken, then her neighbour’s assistance would be required to get to the hospital. Sarah knocked gently on her neighbour’s bedroom window, hoping that young Alex would not be woken by the midnight disturbance.
After a couple of minutes, Tammy opened the front door and Sarah clambered around to meet her. “I’m so sorry to wake you, Tam,” she said, apologetically, while conscious of the need to hurry.
Tammy’s eyes were still half-closed. “What’s wrong, Sarah?” she asked. “Is it the baby?”
Just as Tammy asked her question, Sarah doubled over in pain, supporting herself with one hand on the door. Then her body slowly collapsed to the ground.
“It’s time,” Tammy said, accurately assessing Sarah’s condition. She shook her head, trying to become more alert. “I’ll just put some clothes on, and get the car keys. Will you be okay here for a minute?”
Sarah tried to answer yes, but was unsure if the whimpering noise she made provided that response.
In any case, Tammy took off to prepare herself for the trip to the hospital. Sarah could hear Tammy talking to her husband in hushed tones, and within a few minutes she pulled the car into the driveway and helped Sarah into the backseat. “Where’s your bag?” Tammy asked, alarmed.
“Near the front door,” Sarah answered. In her haste, she had forgotten to bring the small suitcase filled with hospital essentials.
“Okay, I’ll be back in a second,” Tammy called, running next door to retrieve it.
At that moment, Sarah was hit with another contraction. The interval between contractions seemed shorter than it should have been, and Sarah guessed this second delivery would be quicker than her first.
“Another contraction already?” Tammy asked, returning to the car.
“Yes. We’d better race. I think the baby is in a hurry to be born.”
“Hold on. Impatient little thing!” Tammy said lightly, as she roared down the street at full speed.
It was a small regional hospital, but luckily only ten minutes’ drive from where they were living.
Tammy pulled the car into the emergency parking bay near the entrance, and helped Sarah out of the car. “Do you want me to stay?” she asked.
“No, no. You go home. Thanks for getting me here.”
“Should I call Ken?”
Sarah shook her head. She was wondering when Tammy would ask about him. “Please don’t.”
It was clear that Tammy didn’t understand why, but thankfully she nodded anyhow. “Whatever you say.”
“Good luck, Sarah. Alex and I will come and visit you tomorrow.”
Sarah was met by hospital staff and wheeled into the birthing unit. The contractions were very close together, and she was feeling the need to push. Surely it shouldn’t be happening so quickly.