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Extract -Chapter One

I’m lying sobbing on the floor, head reeling, unable to believe that my husband of just four weeks has knocked me flying. The force of the blow took me completely by surprise and I’m huddled in a tiny ball, shaking with shock.

He’s saying that it’s all my fault, that I drove him to lose his temper because I provoked him, and as I sob I’m thinking that maybe he’s right in a way.

I’d told him about the anonymous letter, the one my parents received only days before our wedding, warning me that he’d been seen kissing another girl, Sandra or Shirley, I can’t quite remember. He fiercely denied it, of course, and I can see now that it was stupid of me to even joke about Oliver cheating on me.

We’d got back home this evening after a meal out, just the two of us to our favourite Italian restaurant. I’d slipped out of my dress and was hanging it in the wardrobe when, quite out of the blue, he asked me why I’d flirted with the waiter.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the very idea of my looking at another man, let alone flirting with one so soon after our honeymoon. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Oliver. Why would I?’ I went to rub myself against him, clad only in my skimpy black bra and panties, wanting to tease him into a better mood. We’d enjoyed a bottle of muscadet with the meal, and I was in the mood for loving, not a silly quarrel.

‘Because you’re a stunning girl and it was obvious the guy couldn’t take his eyes off you,’ Oliver said, his usually handsome face cold and unsmiling.

The compliment touched me deeply. I’d never thought of myself as stunning. Reasonably attractive perhaps, some might even say pretty with my fair hair framing a heart-shaped face in a tapered cut and a thick fringe above big amber eyes. But I’m not thin enough, or tall enough to ever be classed as beautiful. It took weeks to trim off half a stone for my wedding and hone my curvy figure, more kindly termed voluptuous by my lovely new husband, till I felt slender enough to show off the satin sheath dress I’d set my heart on. Even then my bottom stuck out too much and I had to keep hoisting up the strapless bra in an effort to control my ample cleavage. No, indeed, I’m not at all the sort of girl to cause men’s heads to turn. Not stunning at all. More the girl-next-door type.

Which was one reason I couldn’t believe my good luck when I hooked up with Oliver Sheldon. I met him on a girls’ night out at a club in Manchester. I’m not usually into clubbing, being too shy to be comfortable in crowds, and some guy was giving me a hard time, harassing me to dance with him when I really had no wish to. Oliver stepped in to rescue me like the gentleman he is. I spent the rest of the evening in his arms, which turned my friends green with envy.

He was good company, great fun, and charming. He’s an accountant working for a large reputable firm in Lancaster, although now that we’re married he’s been transferred to the Kendal branch. He’s the dynamic sort and promotion is on the cards. He’s also utterly gorgeous with dark good looks and captivating grey-blue eyes. I guessed he could have his pick of any girl but for some reason he chose me, claiming I was the sweetest of the bunch. I’ve been pinching myself ever since. So for him now to be jealous of me, instead of the other way round, seems incredible, and surely proof of his deep feelings for me.

‘Oh, don’t I just love it when you’re jealous,’ I teased, kissing his perfect, aquiline nose.

His face seemed to darken and his jaw tightened, forming a thin white line of tension above his upper lip. ‘Is that why you encouraged him, in order to wind me up?’

‘For goodness sake, I didn’t encourage him. Like I say, why would I? I never even noticed the flipping waiter.’ It was then that I foolishly mentioned the letter.

I saw anger flare instantly in his pale eyes. ‘Who sent it?’ he shouted, furious there should be gossip about him behind his back.

I seemed to find this question funny, and foolishly giggled. ‘It was anonymous, darling, so I wouldn’t know, would I? Maybe it was from one of your jealous ex-girl friends?’ I teased.

My joke fell on stony ground as he didn’t even listen when I tried to say how my parents hadn’t mentioned it at the time, had thrown the letter straight on the fire. His face was contorted with rage, then, quite out of the blue, he gave me a shove, digging me painfully in the shoulder and sending me sprawling. I must have caught my heel in the rug, he surely couldn’t have meant to knock me down?

I like to think I’m reasonably intelligent, ambitious in a modest sort of way, even if I am a bit of a wall-flower at social occasions. I certainly don’t believe that allowing a man to knock me about is the right way to behave. I was filled with a sudden spurt of anger, and, being the sort of girl who’s always been ready to stand up for myself, I quickly got to my feet and pushed him right back.

‘Hey, what the hell are you doing? You made me trip!’

But this wasn’t a silly squabble with my sister Jo-Jo in junior school, this was a grown man, and with barely a pause he strikes me full across the face with the flat of his hand. This time the blow sends me crashing to the ground where I crack my head on the polished, cedar-wood floor boards. The room seems to tilt around me and I fear I’m going to lose consciousness.

Which is how I come to be lying here, sobbing my heart out.

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