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Authors: Tess Stimson

Who Loves You Best

BOOK: Who Loves You Best
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Praise for Tess Stimson
and
The Adultery Club

“Stimson … has an impressive ability to get inside the heads of [her characters]…. Complex and believable.”


Publishers Weekly

“One of my favorite books of the year.”

—Jane Green,
New York Times
bestselling author of
The Beach House

“Perfect beach reading … Engaging, amusing, sexy, and surprisingly thought-provoking.”


The Boston Globe

“Bring this to your book club.”


Eve Magazine
(UK)

“[A] superior tale … Stimson’s skill ensures we are gripped to the finish. Warmly recommended.”


Daily Mail
(UK)

 

Also by Tess Stimson

The Adultery Club
One Good Affair

For my son Matthew.
The real writer in the family.

I don’t have a favorite
,
But if I did …

Contents

Other Books by this Author

Title Page

Dedication

Prologue

Chapter One - Clare

Chapter Two - Jenna

Chapter Three - Davina

Chapter Four - Clare

Chapter Five - Jenna

Chapter Six - Marc

Chapter Seven - Clare

Chapter Eight - Jenna

Chapter Nine - Xan

Chapter Ten - Clare

Chapter Eleven - Jenna

Chapter Twelve - Marc

Chapter Thirteen - Clare

Chapter Fourteen - Jenna

Chapter Fifteen - Cooper

Chapter Sixteen - Clare

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright

prologue

“No nannies,” I pant, as the newspaper vendor spreads copies of
The Times
across the pavement behind his kiosk. “We made that decision before we got pregnant.”

A freezing gust of wind slaps my wet skirt against my legs.

I grope clumsily for his stool. “My brother and I were brought up by nannies. Davina says I’m mad to contemplate twins without help, but what’s the point of having children if you’re not going to look after them yourself? There’s a nice Montessori—ohhh—near us that takes them from six months, and until then, I’ll work from home.

“It’s going to take a little bit of adjustment, I know that, but lots of women do it, don’t they? Juggle work and children. It just takes organization. No different from running a company. If I can do that, I’m sure I can—
ohhhhh.”

“Hold on, love,” the vendor soothes anxiously. “The ambulance is on its way.”

“Don’t worry. My husband will be here soon. I’ve got hours to go yet—”

I’m assaulted by another vicious wave of pain, and feel
the first stirrings of panic. The contractions are barely a minute apart. I’m not going to have time to get to a hospital. I’m not even going to make it to the ambulance.

This can’t be happening. Not to
me
. I don’t do drama. I’m not the kind of person who gets caught out. I have it all planned. Where’s my private room, my soft music, the solicitous hands rubbing my back and warming my feet? Where’s my expensive obstetrician? Where’s my
husband
?

As if from a distance, I watch myself slide from the stool and crouch like an animal on all fours on the cold, filthy pavement behind the newspaper stand. The vendor shouts at curious passersby to fuck off, this ain’t a peepshow, can’t they see the lady needs some air?

A passing collie strains his leash and licks my cheek. I lift my head. It’s Christmas Eve. Fairy lights glitter like stars in the trees around Sloane Square. “Hark the Herald” blares from the Tube station speakers behind me. All we need now are three wise men and some sheep.

This isn’t the way I planned to bring a child into the world.

It’s going wrong already.

St Jane’s School for Girls
Magdalen Avenue
Oxford
0X5 2DY
School Report
Summer Term 1982

Name:
Sterling, C
.

Year:
Junior IV

Age:
10 yrs 7 months

General Comments:

Clare is a responsible and hardworking member of the class. She has put effort into her studies, and her excellent examination results reflect this. Clare is an extremely organized student, but does not always cope well with sudden change. She needs to learn flexibility if she is to achieve her full potential. She would also benefit from expanding her interests beyond the classroom. If she could be encouraged to engage in sports or other extracurricular activities, she might find it easier to make friends
.

Overall, we are very pleased with Clare’s progress and look forward to welcoming her to the Senior School in September
.

Anne Marsh
Headmistress

CHAPTER ONE
Clare

Orgasms are so tricky, aren’t they? You need just the right mood and atmosphere; one false note and it’s all over, however diligently your husband tongues your clitoris. I’ve never really enjoyed oral sex at all, actually, but I never said so when we first met in case it made me seem dull. And then you get stuck with it, don’t you? You can hardly tell your husband after eight years of marriage that he’s barking up the wrong tree.

I knew I was too tense from the start, of course; but when I put something on my List, I like to get it done.

“Darling,” Marc says, looking up from between my labia, “is something wrong?”

Not that sex is ever a
chore
. I put facials and reflexology on my List, too. How else could I run seven boutique flower shops in seven different parts of London and still keeps things ticking over smoothly at home without being ruthlessly organized? It may not seem very romantic, but if more wives put sex on their lists, there’d be fewer divorces. Though I don’t think Marc would see it quite that way.

Poor Marc. He wasn’t really in the mood tonight either:
He wanted to watch ice hockey on cable (his home team, the Montreal Canadiens, were playing); but of course it’s never difficult to change a man’s mind. They don’t need warm baths, soft music, candlelight, and forty minutes of foreplay. Or even a flesh-and-blood woman, come to that.

He returns conscientiously to his task, but I’m tired and we both have to be up in five hours, so I … well, I exaggerate things a bit. We all tell little white lies from time to time; sometimes faking pleasure is the only polite thing to do.

After a brief interval, Marc slides comfortably inside me. I hold him close so he doesn’t pull out too soon and waste our efforts.

Three months isn’t very long to try for a baby; but I’m already thirty-nine years old. I work very hard to make sure my handsome, charming husband forgets he’s nearly a decade younger than me; but I don’t forget.

Not for a moment.

Sex with Marc is usually very nice. So it’s unfortunate that I conceive during one of our more pedestrian encounters.

My pregnancy is textbook; I know, because I read fourteen of them. They give different, and frequently conflicting, advice, but when in doubt, I err on the side of caution. As I explain to Marc (crossing my fingers behind my back): It isn’t that I’ve gone off sex, but neither of us wants to take any risks with the baby.

And then, at the thirteen-week nuchal fold scan, we discover it’s
babies
, plural.

Marc is delighted, of course, at this sign of his exceptional
virility. Once I get over my initial shock, I quickly see the practical advantages. Two babies are scarcely more work than one; it’s just a question of organization. Doubling up on the homemade apple purée, that sort of thing. It’s taken five years and a great deal of careful planning to create a window in our schedules, and finances, for this pregnancy. At least now I’ll only have to take maternity leave from PetalPushers once. Marc may have wanted six children (he has five older sisters), but two has always been my limit.

“Darling:
twins
?” my mother ventures when I break the news. “Clare, are you quite sure that’s wise?”

“A little late now,” I say dryly. “Davina, I manage nineteen staff and seven shops. I think I can take care of two small infants. I’ve researched it thoroughly.”

“I’m sure you could write a marvelous thesis on child-rearing,” Davina says, “but it’s not quite the same thing as actually
doing
it.”

Kettles and pots came to mind, but I let it pass. My mother has never pretended to enjoy motherhood; she made a point of not taking the slightest interest in me or my younger brother, Xan, until we were legally adults. Growing up, I understood “mother” to mean a remote, impatient figure who brushed away hugs—“Darling! Sticky fingers!”—and punctured the small accomplishments of her children with verbal stilettos: “Sweet that you came top in Biology, but darling, there
are
only twenty-two of you in the class.” I was quite sure she loved us; and just as certain she’d never have had us at all had my father not made it clear her duty—and his fortune—required the provision of an heir.

I’ve never blamed her for palming us off on a series of
nannies, but from the start I was determined to do things differently.

It never occurs to me that my child-care plans are at best vague; at worst steeped in denial.

By the time I’m seven months pregnant, I’m completely prepared. Everything on my Baby List has been satisfyingly crossed off. Stair gates are installed in our Chelsea townhouse—“The rug-rats aren’t even here yet and you’re corralling them,” Marc grumbles good-naturedly—and plastic safety covers fitted to every electricity outlet. The nursery is decorated a gender-neutral pale green with child-friendly nontoxic paints; an artist friend stencils primroses (signifying hope and youth), daisies (innocence), and asters (tiny beginnings from which great things proceed) around the door and windows. I spend weeks researching strollers that incorporate the maximum number of safety features while providing ultimate comfort to the infant(s). The obstetrician I select (having interviewed four) dissuades me, against my better judgment, from the sleep apnea monitor, but I have Marc mount a state-of-the-art video system throughout the house so I can keep an eye on the twins wherever I am.

Craig, my VP, is primed to take over the reins at PetalPushers at a moment’s notice. I finish all my Christmas shopping by November so I won’t have to rush around with two newborns should they arrive before their due date (New Year’s Eve). My overnight bag is packed and all set to go. I’m ready.

The twins, it seems, are not.

I try to rest as the books suggest, but I’ve never been much good at waiting. I prefer to make things
happen
. If I wasn’t so determined to have a natural birth (I’ve read that drugs cross the placenta, making the baby drowsy and less eager to feed in those first vital bonding hours after birth), I’d seriously consider an elective cesarean. It’s so hard to plan ahead when you don’t know your schedule.

And then on Christmas Eve my water breaks as I travel the District & Circle Line, my arms filled with a massed ball of mistletoe for one of my most important clients.

I double up as a belt of white pain tightens around my abdomen. It’s so much worse than I thought it’d be. Why doesn’t anyone
tell
you?

The newspaper vendor puts his thick padded jacket around my shoulders. My teeth chatter. I can’t seem to get warm. I want it to stop. I want this to be over.
I want my husband—

“Clare!”

“Marc!” I sob, clutching his hand.

Voices fade in and out:

“We need to get her into a taxi—”

“Too late for that, mate—”

Someone is talking to me. I want them to go away. I’m so tired. I could bear the pain, if they’d just let me
sleep
first. If only I could rest, and come back to this tomorrow—

“Clare,
stay with me,”
Marc demands. “When I tell you to push, give it all you’ve got.”

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