Read When You Walked Back Into My Life Online

Authors: Hilary Boyd

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General

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BOOK: When You Walked Back Into My Life
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Rene laughed. ‘I agree with you, I’ve always thought her a kindly soul. But perhaps it’s different in the middle of the night. It’s easy to be grumpy when you’re woken up. I mean, Mary’s no spring chicken.’

‘I don’t know how we can find out, unless Dorothea says something more specific.’ Although Flora hated the idea that the old lady was being treated unkindly and was too scared to say anything, she thought Rene was making a bit
of a drama out of Dorothea’s remark. She couldn’t imagine any of the nurses being mean in that way.

‘Well, that’s what I was going to ask you,’ Rene said. ‘Will you try and talk to her? Be very discreet, but ask her what she thinks of Mary and Pia.’

Flora didn’t think this was a particularly discreet line of questioning, but she agreed to try. The bell from Dorothea’s bedroom tinkled and Flora got up.

‘I won’t stay,’ Rene whispered, ‘I’ve got to be home to let the cleaner in. Give her my love.’ They both went through to the hall. ‘And Flora, don’t upset her, will you?’

As if, Flora thought, seeing her visitor to the door with some relief. She admired Rene’s dedication to the old lady, but her habitual state of anxiety was disconcerting.

As she closed the door, Flora realised she hadn’t mentioned the walnut sewing table. She wondered if Dominic had rung Rene.


The weekend stretched ahead of Flora, blissfully empty except for a drinks party upstairs on Saturday night to celebrate Philip’s fifty-second birthday.

‘I’ve got someone I want you to meet,’ Prue had told her enthusiastically, on the phone the night before. Those dreaded words. Flora knew her sister meant well and was only trying to distract her from thoughts of Fin, but the
string of men lined up over the past two years had caused Flora cringing embarrassment. Philip had fielded a few from the law world, including Derek, whose breath smelt hideous even from across the table, and James, who was recently divorced and clearly hated the entire female sex as a result. From Prue’s corner came Freddy, the slimy (and unnervingly rich, according to Prue) music producer from Azerbaijan; Julian, who had followed her to the loo and tried to have sex with her an hour after making her acquaintance, and Robbie, the highly amusing but unashamedly gay design associate. It wasn’t encouraging.

‘Pleeeese,’ Flora had begged, ‘do I have to come? I know it’s Philip’s birthday, but I can see him during the day. I’m just not in the mood for a party right now.’

But Prue was having none of it. ‘Nonsense! Getting dressed up and making an effort will do you good. Nothing’s to be gained by sitting all alone on a Saturday night, moping about that bloody man.’ (Prue, Flora noticed, never mentioned Fin’s name these days without attaching the epithet ‘bloody’.)

‘I’ve got nothing to wear,’ Flora stated, unwisely thinking this might prove the swing vote.

‘Well, that’s no excuse. I’ve got cupboards full of clothes as you well know. Come up in the morning and we’ll find you something.’ Prue sounded thrilled at the prospect, but
Flora knew she risked ending up in a two-thousand-pound designer dress that would make her look like Nancy Dell’Olio, or worse.

‘OK, OK, I’ll come to the party. I’ve got the black dress, I can wear that.’

There was a silence at the other end of the phone.

‘You look great in the black, of course, but you do wear it a lot. Borrow something of mine for a change,’ said Prue.

So Flora sat in bed now, a cup of tea in her hand, summoning up the energy to get dressed and go upstairs to brave her sister’s walk-in wardrobe. She could still wear the black, she told herself, and probably would, but she felt obliged to go through the motions for the sake of family harmony.

On her way up, she paused in the black and white marble-tiled hall to check if there was any post. The postman never bothered to deliver to the basement, so her mail was put on the hall table beneath the large Italian-designed mirror broken up into nine squares of glass, some concave, some convex, which distorted the image and always fascinated Flora. For a moment she stared at herself, enjoying the bizarrely broken-up configuration.

There was one letter from the bank, nothing more. Part of her hoped, each day she checked, that there might be a note from Fin. If he was at all keen to see her, he knew he
could contact her through Prue: a Please Forward tag would be worth a try … if he was keen. Flora stood turning the bank letter over in her hand, feeling the familiar desire to cry. She was on the point of running back down to the safety of her little flat when a voice stopped her.

‘There you are!’ Prue was standing at the top of the stairs, dressed in a strawberry-pink Juicy tracksuit, her bare toes gleaming with damson nail polish. ‘I was just about to come and get you.’

Flora reluctantly followed her sister to her first-floor bedroom suite where, laid out in rows on the huge double bed, were about ten dresses, still attached to their padded silk hangers. The room was otherwise immaculate: soft white walls, pearl and white appliqué bed cover, a stunning contemporary wardrobe in bleached wood inlaid with charcoal geometric marquetry. The only hint of colour was a washed-out grey-pink, picked out in squares on the rug by the bed, and again in the tiny button beading around the cushions on the white slub-linen sofa.

‘Where’s Philip?’ Flora asked, brandishing his wrapped present – a book from the Booker short list he’d said he wanted.

‘Running in the park. He’ll be back soon.’ Prue spoke dismissively about her husband, clearly impatient to be getting on with the fashion show. She held out her arm with a
flourish to indicate the spread. ‘Ta-da!’ She chuckled. ‘This is going to be fun.’

And it was fun, in that it was like dressing up as they’d done as children. Many of the frocks technically looked good on Flora – she was slim with a small bust, slightly above medium height and held herself well.

‘Perfect!’ Prue shrieked, not for the first time, as Flora twirled in front of the mirror in a Donna Karan halter-neck jersey dress which clung to her like a bandage. ‘That’s the one! That is

‘It looks great, I admit … if I was somebody else.’ Flora was stubborn.

Prue groaned and threw herself onto the sofa, burying her head in her hands. ‘Christ, darling. You look like a fucking supermodel and you’re still not satisfied. I give up.’

‘I’m not being difficult, honest,’ Flora pleaded, wriggling out of the soft scarlet jersey. ‘It’s just it’s your wardrobe, your style. I’d feel a fake in this gorgeous dress, but on you it looks spectacular. It looks like
.’ She really appreciated Prue’s efforts to dress her more stylishly, but, as with Bel, her sister’s task would always be an uphill one. Flora liked good clothes, she just wasn’t particularly interested in wearing them herself.

Her sister was somewhat mollified and gave a nonchalant shrug, moving to gather the dresses up and begin replacing
them in the wardrobe which ran along one end of the bedroom.

‘Well, you know where they are if you change your mind. Let’s get a cup of coffee and wait for the birthday boy. Go and dig that lazy niece of yours out of bed, will you?’


Flora went out after lunch and walked over the hill to Holland Park. It was drizzling and cold, but she was frightened of staying alone in the basement for too long and sliding into the pit that she was sure awaited her if she persisted in moping about Fin. But how can I stop myself, she wondered, as she trudged up Ladbroke Grove. It was a known fact that the more you tried not to think of something, the more you found yourself doing so. And that glimpse of him had been so unsatisfactory: both tantalising in that it had immediately triggered the memories, the familiarity, and pointless because it led nowhere.

Waitrose on Cromwell Road had now acquired this bizarre significance. It seemed an island in her thoughts, an anchor to the one person in the world she longed to see. She was tempted to go there now, to hang around on the off chance he was getting food for the weekend. But her pride wouldn’t permit it.

Instead, she sat on a newspaper on a damp bench, the hood of her mac low over her face, and gave in to memories.

The first time she ever saw him, it had been as if a light had gone on in her brain. She seemed to recognise him instantly, although she was sure she’d never met him before in her life. She’d been off duty when he’d been admitted to her ward, men’s orthopaedic, with a broken arm and collar bone – knocked off his bike on the South Downs by a four-by-four on a tight corner. He was asleep, lying propped against the pillows, naked from the waist up. His muscular torso was golden from the sun, his right arm encased in a fresh, snow-white long-arm cast, bent at the elbow and resting on a pillow. She had picked up his chart from where it hung on the end of the bed, wanting to check his obs, but all she could do was stare.

Cath, a high-spirited junior nurse, came up behind her.

‘Fancy a bit, do you?’ she’d whispered cheekily, digging Flora in the ribs and adding, ‘Get in line,’ as she hurried off to deal with another patient.

Flora hadn’t replied, bewildered by her response to the man in the bed. She’d glanced at the sheet attached to the clipboard. His name, it seemed, was Finlay McCrea. When she looked up again she was aware of a pair of light grey eyes, clouded with sleep, boring into her.

‘Bugger …’ she heard him say as he eyed his cast, and she couldn’t help smiling.

‘Could put it like that,’ she said, hanging his chart back on the bed.

Then he smiled, his eyes coming alive, full of wry humour. ‘I thought you might be heavenly for a moment there. Morphine fucks with your head. Love it.’

‘Heavenly? In this get-up?’ Flora indicated her shapeless royal-blue cotton tunic and trousers with distaste.

‘Well … who’s to say angels only come in white?’

She blushed in the face of his casual charm and made an effort to pull herself together.

‘You’ll be discharged later today, once you’ve seen the doctor. They only kept you in overnight in case you had a head injury.’ She attempted a businesslike tone. ‘Do you need any more pain relief? You’re due for some.’

Fin had shaken his blond head. ‘Nope, seems OK at the moment.’ He paused for only a fraction of a second before peering at the name tag on her uniform and saying, ‘Will you give me your number before I go, Nurse Bancroft?’

His bold request, after barely five minutes’ acquaintance, took her breath away. But she’d given it to him nonetheless.


‘James, you know Flora don’t you?’ Prue didn’t wait to find out the answer before moving off to greet another guest.

James looked blankly at her and then gave a vague smile.

‘We met at one of Prue’s dinners,’ Flora reminded him – she had no trouble remembering his vituperative rant about his ex, and the obvious boredom with which he’d
greeted her attempts at conversation. She wasn’t in the mood tonight.

‘Yeah … I’m sure you’re right,’ he drawled as he looked over her shoulder at the people coming into the room.

Flora stood awkwardly for a moment, a glass of champagne warming in one hand, then suddenly found herself overwhelmed with annoyance. She did what she never normally would have done: she walked away without another word. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his look of surprise with some satisfaction.

She went and joined Bel and two of her friends, who hovered, giggling, in the hall just outside the drawing room.

‘Havin’ a good time, honey?’ Bel spoke with a bad American accent, her expression full of mischief. All three girls were flushed from champagne, Bel’s two friends touchingly self-conscious in their tiny skirts, tottering heels and red, glossy lips. Bel had managed a glittery T-shirt over her black jeans and pumps.

‘Bit on the grim side so far,’ Flora replied, making them all giggle some more. ‘I think I’ll sneak off in a moment. Prue won’t notice.’

‘What won’t I notice?’ Prue was suddenly at her side, tugging at the sleeve of the black dress. ‘I thought you’d be skulking out here. Come on. I’ve got someone you’re going to totally adore.’

She was towed back into the party behind her sister, glamorous in the red Donna Karan Flora had earlier discarded. I’m glad she listened to me, Flora thought, as she glanced round at Bel and her friends and mouthed ‘Rescue me’, like a prisoner on the way to the scaffold.

‘Flora, I’d like you to meet Jake. Jake, this is Flora, my little sister.’

Flora duly shook hands with the man she was going to adore. And Jake
cute, no question – almost pretty with his neat features and wide blue eyes, his light-brown hair in soft curls. He looked like another designer in the way he was dressed: all in black except for his super-white shirt, which had black edging on the inside of the collar and cuffs, and mother-of-pearl stud buttons down the front. He gave Flora an amused smile.

‘Hi. I never knew Prue had a sister.’

‘You work with her?’

‘Sort of. I design kitchens. I did the one here.’


‘Cursing me from here to kingdom come, was she?’

Flora nodded and laughed. ‘The black marble being a month late was a bit of a challenge, I seem to remember.’

He grinned. ‘Not my finest hour. But the end result is fantastic, don’t you think?’

‘It certainly looks lovely …’ Flora hesitated.


‘I suppose it’s a bit severe for my taste.’

‘Yeah, me too. My own kitchen’s mostly wood.’

‘Prue loves it, though,’ she added quickly, in case he was offended.

But Jake just shrugged. ‘All that matters in the end … that the client is happy.’ He took a gulp of champagne. ‘So what do you do?’

For a while they stood together, chatting. Flora found him attractive. He was easy to talk to, teasing and a bit flirtatious – although she was sure he had no real interest in her – and she wished she could just fall in love with him then and there. She could live with him in his wooden kitchen with all his black clothes and forget that Fin even existed. But Fin’s departure seemed to have built a wall around her, sealing her off from the cells in her body that responded to another man’s sexual advances.

BOOK: When You Walked Back Into My Life
12.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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