Sally had no idea what to say or think. For seven years she’d managed alone, thinking Ben didn’t care, didn’t want to be part of their lives—only now to discover that someone had lied to her and kept her letter from him? It seemed impossible, like something from a melodrama.
‘Who? What do you think happened?’
But he was pushing his chair back, face set with determination. ‘I need to go back to England and get some answers. How long are you planning to stay in Asturia?’
‘Until the end of the week. I took Alice out of school for a couple of weeks, she’s on half-term now but I want her back to normality as soon as possible.’
‘Do you have a copy of the email I supposedly sent you?’
‘Yes. I still use that email address to send you annual updates. Do you think someone else is reading those emails?’
Her stomach lurched at the thought. She’d wanted Alice to have a chance at having a father so had been careful not to sound angry or upset, to send the most adorable pictures she could find, and all along she was sending them to a fake address. ‘They didn’t bounce,’ she said. ‘The emails. They didn’t bounce.’
Ben threw some money onto the table. ‘Come on, I’ll get you a cab back.’
He didn’t speak as they walked at a fast pace to the hotel he was staying at, close to the centre of the medieval heart of the city. The reception was discreetly luxurious, the kind of place only someone with serious wealth would stay, a symbol of the stark contrast between their social and financial situations. Sally refused to think how different things might have been with a co-parent—or to compare Ben’s success with her life. She was surrounded by love and happiness and she knew that made her lucky. But they occupied two different worlds. What impact would that have on Alice?
‘I’ve got a hotel car to take you back. Will you be okay?’
Sally stared at him blankly. She’d been responsible for another human for the last seven years—of course she’d be okay.
‘I’ve texted you my email address. Send me everything you have, everything you sent me and anything you received. I need to go back to England but I’ll be with you as soon as I can.’ His face softened then and her heart lurched. ‘It feels wrong to leave here before meeting Alice,’ he said. ‘But I want to meet her knowing that you have the truth, that you know that I didn’t abandon you or her.’
And suddenly she did know. She knew that the man in front of her had integrity if nothing else. ‘I haven’t told her about you, that you’re back. I told her you were on the other side of the world. Give me time, Ben. Give me time to prepare her.’
He looked at her then as if he wanted to say more, so much more, but instead he leaned in and kissed her gently, softly, almost chastely on the cheek. ‘I’ll fix this,’ Ben said. ‘Trust me.’
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