Read The Winter Children Online

Authors: Lulu Taylor

The Winter Children

T
HE
W
INTER
C
HILDREN

L
ULU
T
AYLOR

PAN BOOKS

To Gill, with love

Contents

Prologue

 

P
ART
O
NE

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

 

P
ART
T
WO

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

P
ART
T
HREE

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

 

P
ART
F
OUR

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

Prologue

Francesca leans across the table and puts her hand over his.

‘Oh, Dan, I’m so sorry.’

Dan looks up at her, his eyes full of pain. ‘It’s okay. It’s fine. It’s just . . . she suffers. You know. It’s a kind of madness and she can’t let it
go.’

‘Of course.’ She smiles at him, hoping she is projecting all her sympathy. She truly is sorry because she hates to see him unhappy, but deep down in a place she hardly dares look,
there is a secret desire that this should be one part of his charmed life that fails to go smoothly. ‘Have you thought any more about adoption?’

Dan sighs. She rubs her thumb gently over the top of his hand, relishing its smooth warmth. She still likes contact with him when she can get it. It has a slight thrill of the forbidden about
it but there’s also a tiny element of ownership.
I’ve known you so long
, it seems to say.
We can do this. We have permission to touch in this intimate way, usually reserved
for lovers.
At a recent party in his flat, she put her arm round his waist and slipped her hand into the back pocket of his jeans, letting her palm settle over the curve of his buttock. She kept it there for several minutes before he slid gently out of her reach and went to get more wine. Olivia, of
course, had gone to bed.

‘She talked about adopting a Chinese girl,’ Dan says, ‘after she read something in a magazine. But I’m not that keen. It would be an absolute last resort. I mean, it’s such a risk. You just have no idea what child you’re
going to get.’

Francesca blinks at him.
You never know what you’re going to get even with your own children.
But Dan has always liked to work in certainties, or as certain as he can make things.
He likes plans and strategies, and clear cause and effect. She can tell that he is finding the frustration and unanswered questions of infertility a miserable experience.
I wish I could take it
all away. Make it easy for you.

He sighs again. ‘Adoption is not a serious option yet. She won’t give up while there’s a chance she might be able to get pregnant. The thing is, the expense . . . the money . .
. we’ve done four rounds of IVF. We can’t afford any more.’ He slides his gaze away from hers. Despite the candour between them, he’s still proud. ‘And besides, things
are dodgy at work. There’s another round of redundancy coming. I’ve already survived two. I might not be so lucky next time. We can’t spend everything we have on something that
might never come off. Money down the literal bloody drain.’

She tightens her grip around his hand and says eagerly, ‘Let me help.’

‘What can you do?’ he asks with a small laugh that’s not scornful but hopeless.

‘I can spare some money. You know that.’

He tenses and pulls back a little. ‘No. I can’t do that.’

‘You can. Why not? You know how things are – we’ve got more than we can possibly need. If it’s just a matter of money standing between you and the thing you and Olivia
want more than anything else in the world . . . It’s ridiculous when that’s something I can easily help with.’

He stares at her now, as though seeing her for the first time in a long while, real surprise in his eyes. ‘You’d do that?’

‘I’d do anything for you,’ she says fervently.

He frowns slightly.

I’ve gone too far. He’s wary now.
She hurries on. ‘Because I want you and Olivia to share in what I’ve got. The children are the world to me. There’s
nothing else like it. If I can help you guys experience the incredible adventure of parenthood, then I want to. It’s amazing to know you’re leaving a part of yourself behind, and
it’s endlessly fascinating seeing the people you and your partner can create between you. Every day I see bits of myself or Walt in the children, or I wonder how we managed to mix ourselves
up to make something so fresh and interesting. You and Olivia will make beautiful, talented children. I want to meet them.’
That should do it.

Her words seem to have the desired effect. Dan looks less wary but now there’s a different expression on his face, one she can’t read. This surprises her. She’s always been
able to intuit what he’s thinking. It’s what makes him rely on her the way he does. When he tells her that no one knows him as well as she does, she is certain it’s true.
Only I know the real Dan. And I still love him.

‘What is it?’ She leans back in to him again, taking every opportunity to be close. ‘Something’s wrong.’

‘Well . . .’

‘What? You can tell me. You know that.’

‘There’s a problem. One that money can’t solve, I’m afraid. You see, Olivia’s eggs are no longer viable. They’ve found out that her ovaries are prematurely
aged. More IVF is pointless. She’s never going to have a child of her own.’

‘Oh! God, that’s awful. I’m so sorry.’ Deep inside there’s a tiny swell of triumphant glee.
I’ve won. She’s never going to have his children after
all.
‘Poor Olivia. Poor you.’ She squeezes his hand and he gives her a grateful look.

‘Thanks, Cheska. It was a blow when we found out. Olivia’s devastated. I think we have to face the fact that this is the end of the line for us. We’re just not going to have
children. The thing to do now is accept it and move on. Olivia can’t, of course. Not yet. She still thinks that she can get pregnant. She wants us to use an egg donor but I’ve told her
that’s out of the question.’

‘Really? Why?’

He looks intense suddenly. ‘It’s what you said. About how you can see you and Walt in the children, and how you’re fascinated by the people you’ve created. I can’t
bear the thought that one half of our children’s genetic inheritance will be that of a complete stranger. A whole family history we don’t know about. I hate that idea. Maybe it’s
wrong of me – it probably really is wrong of me – but I don’t want us bringing up the children of an anonymous donor from God knows what background. Even if they’re half mine. Does that make sense?’

She stares at him. The lines of his face are softening as he enters the next phase of his life. The sharp-boned look he had in his twenties, with the hollows in his cheeks and the lustre of his
dark hair, turned in his thirties into something a little pudgier and paler as he sat behind a desk and worked long hours. Then, with the usual shock of seeing forty approach, he began to get into
shape, losing weight and getting fit again, but now his dark hair has streaks of silver in it and the stubble speckling his jaw is grey. It doesn’t stop her thinking he is still the most
beautiful man she knows. ‘Yes,’ she says slowly. ‘Of course it makes sense.’

‘Olivia doesn’t understand. She thinks I’ll love them. She says she’ll love them even though she’s not related to them at all. She can’t see it. The way I
feel, I mean.’

‘I know how you feel. It’s completely understandable.’ She’s conscious of a swirl of inspiration rising inside her. She’s just seen the way to make her own triumph
complete.
If . . . But how? Could I . . . Could it work?
‘It’s only natural to want to know your children’s heritage. How will you understand them otherwise? But . . .
you know . . . there is a way that you and Olivia could both get what you want.’

She stares at him, and waits for the realisation to dawn on him, but there’s nothing. He frowns again and says, ‘What do you mean?’

There’s no point in waiting, she sees that. He’ll never think of it himself. ‘I could donate eggs to you and Olivia. I know I’m a little older than egg donors generally are but I’m not forty yet. There’d be no harm in trying, would there?’

He gapes at her, astonished. Then says in a tone of wonder, ‘You?’

She nods, smiling, her eyes shining. ‘Yes! It’s a perfect idea. You know me. You’ll always be able to ask me anything about the genetic inheritance. You know that I’m
intelligent and sane.’

‘But . . .’ He looks baffled, bewildered as the idea takes root in his mind. ‘You’d do that for us?’

‘Of course!’ She laughs merrily. ‘I’m not offering to actually have a baby for you! Olivia can do that bit. It just seems a very neat way around the issue.’

The spark of interest in his eyes goes out. ‘Olivia would never agree,’ he says briefly.

‘Why not?’

‘Think about it. She never would.’

Francesca pretends to find this odd, but of course she can easily guess why Olivia would never contemplate accepting her eggs, not for an instant. ‘I suppose it’s hard, because
we’re friends . . .’ she says slowly, nodding. ‘She might feel the baby was not entirely hers.’

There’s more to it than that of course. They both know it, though it’s one of the few things they’ve never discussed.
The secret things. The unspoken things. And what
exactly does Olivia know?
She’s always assumed that Dan has told her very little. He’s good at self-preservation after all.

Francesca knows when to make a tactical retreat. ‘Of course. You’re right. It’s a silly idea. There are so many obstacles, I’m sure it would be practically impossible anyway. And, as you say, Olivia simply wouldn’t want
to accept the eggs of someone as close to you both as I am.’ She leans back in her chair and laughs again. ‘I mean, you could hardly sort things out so that she didn’t know whose
eggs they were! Well, if you really wanted to, you probably could; I’m sure a clinic might be persuaded to do it. Not here, maybe. But abroad. I don’t suppose it’s
impossible
, not if you really wanted it. But as good as.’

She lets her words hang in the air, wondering if they’ll have the desired effect. He ought to be laughing and saying straight out that he’d never deceive Olivia in that way. But
he’s not. He’s looking at her with the kind of gaze that tells her his brain is whirling over the possibilities, imagining a future where Olivia gets her dearest wish and he does not
have to compromise.
He’s actually thinking about it.
A strange happiness grips her. Suddenly she wants this more than anything in the world. And she can see that in his mind, Dan has
already made the leap over the barrier that ought to be insurmountable.
He’s thinking about lying to her.

She should be shocked but she’s always known that he’s capable of being ruthless. And if it means that the two of them are bound even closer, then she doesn’t mind.
After
all, love is seeing someone’s faults and loving them anyway.

She can’t imagine a life in which her existence isn’t governed by her passion for Dan. It’s been a part of her for so long that she never questions it.

She watches as he ponders her outrageous, audacious suggestion. All these years she’s quietly hoped that none of the fertility treatments would work. But this . . . this would be best of all.

P
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Chapter One

Six months later

Olivia wakes with a start and turns to the clock. It’s five thirty in the morning. Gardening hours. But she’s not gardening this morning. She wants more than anything to do a
wee.

She slips quietly out of bed, taking care not to wake Dan, who’s breathing in the heavy pattern of sleep, picks up her phone from the bedside table and tiptoes down the hall to the
bathroom. There they are, waiting where she left them: a clean water glass and a foil-wrapped stick.

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