Broken marriages, jilted lovers and two-timing boyfriends with a thirst for revenge thrown inâ€¦ â€œAnother impressive novelâ€¦â€ (Ireland on Sunday). â€œThoughtful and entertaining â€“ this is a great readâ€¦â€ (Irish independent).
Synopsis: Roisin Shaw hasnâ€™t forgiven the smug and successful Donal Mullan for what he did to her sister, Ann-Marie. And sheâ€™s determined to make him pay for it.
But Donalâ€™s perfect marriage to Michelle, daughter of the wealthy McCormickâ€™s, isnâ€™t all it appears. Heâ€™s facing the most difficult decision of his life and more than his own happiness depends on the choice he makes. What will he do?
Pauline McCormick has had enough of her philandering husband, Noel. When she meets handsome sculptor, Padraig Flynn, sparks begin to fly and Noel gets a long overdue wake up call. But does it come too late to save his marriage?
In this story about love and revenge, hearts and marriages are broken. But everyone deserves a second chance. Who will find the happiness theyâ€™ve been searching for?
Ballyfergus Cottage Hospital was silent and still, except for the faint buzz of the monitor and the pitter-patter of light rain on the window. On the bed, by which Roisin Shaw had kept vigil for the last two hours, lay her elder sister, Ann-Marie, in a deep sedated sleep. In repose, she looked peaceful, like a child asleep, her thin face framed by fine brown hair, dark against the white pillow.
Roisin stroked the back of her sisterâ€™s hand, tracing with her finger the bones, veins and sinews which were clearly visible â€“ thinking how vulnerable, how ill-equipped for this tough world Ann-Marie was. A wave of tenderness washed over her and she squeezed her eyes shut to ward off tears. For what use would more tears be? To make up for her sisterâ€™s weakness Roisin, though five years her junior, had to be strong. Her hand brushed against the white bandage wrapped around Ann-Marieâ€™s wrist and she withdrew it sharply. A faint spot of rusty blood had seeped through the dressing. Roisin shivered even though the room was oppressively hot.
She looked up and saw her face reflected in the glass partition wall beside Ann-Marieâ€™s bed. Her long brown hair was lank and lifeless and the all-year-round tan drained from her face by the gently pulsating fluorescent light. She glanced across at her mother who sat on the opposite side of the bed. In spite of the trauma sheâ€™d endured over the last few hours, Mairead still looked neat and prim in her knee-length skirt and china-blue twin-set. Her eyes were wide open but staring vacantly at the green cellular blanket covering Ann-Marie. The smudges of mascara under each eye looked like dark shadows.
â€œWhat are you thinking?â€ asked Roisin.
Mairead shook her head slowly and let out a long audible sigh. â€œI canâ€™t believe that sheâ€™s done it again. If I hadnâ€™t called round when I did, God knows â€¦ it doesnâ€™t bear thinking about.â€
â€œThe doctors said the cuts werenâ€™t that deep, Mum. Sheâ€™s going to be all right.â€
â€œLook at her!â€ said Mairead sharply. â€œDoes she look all right to you?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t say she looked all right,â€ replied Roisin, the little hairs on the back of her neck prickling defensively. â€œI know youâ€™re upset, Mum, but donâ€™t take it out on me.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, love,â€ said Mairead flatly. â€œI just want to be cross at somebody.â€
â€œSo do I,â€ said Roisin, her voice a whisper.
â€œWhere did I go wrong?â€ asked Mairead, talking more to herself than Roisin. â€œGod knows I did the best I could.â€
â€œYouâ€™re not to blame for this,â€ said Roisin, â€œbut I know who is.â€
However, Mairead didnâ€™t seem to hear her daughter for she continued, â€œMaybe someone else could have managed her better. I donâ€™t know. All I know is that ever since she was a child I wasnâ€™t enough. It was as though she wanted something from me, I never worked out what, and I couldnâ€™t give it to her.â€
â€œDonâ€™t say that, Mum. You were â€“ you are â€“ a wonderful mother.â€
â€œNot wonderful enough,â€ said Mairead, ruefully, examining the figure in the bed.
She got up then and came round to Roisinâ€™s side of the bed. She put her arm around her daughter and pulled her head in to her chest. It was unbearably comforting. Roisin turned her face towards the warmth of her motherâ€™s bosom and wept.
â€œOh, Mum, why does she do it?â€ she said, between sobs. â€œShe canâ€™t truly believe that her life isnâ€™t worth living, can she? And if itâ€™s a cry for help, like they say, what does she want from us?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know the answers to those questions, Roisin, any more than you do,â€ said Mairead stroking the back of her daughterâ€™s head, â€œbut I do know one thing.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ said Roisin, drying her eyes and looking up into her motherâ€™s face. She searched for a hankie in her pocket, found one and blew her nose.
â€œDo you know what date it is?â€ asked Mairead.
â€œOf course. Itâ€™s the fifth of May. It was Ann-Marieâ€™s birthday yesterday.â€
â€œThatâ€™s right. Just like the last time Ann-Marie attempted this.â€
â€œAnd the same date Daddy died,â€ said Roisin.
Anthony Shaw, Roisin and Ann-Marieâ€™s father, had died almost two decades earlier in 1974, on Ann-Marieâ€™s eighth birthday.
â€œDo you still think that Daddyâ€™s death has something to do with this?â€ said Roisin. â€œSurely sheâ€™s got over that by now?â€
â€œGiven the circumstances of your fatherâ€™s death, itâ€™s not something anyone could easily forget, never mind a child. It certainly affected her very deeply for a long time afterwards. But Ann-Marie was always different, from the day she was born. Sensitive, delicate, easily hurt. And so emotional about everything. Do you remember the time Blossom the rabbit died? She mourned that animal for months.â€ She paused, then added sadly, â€œMaybe nothing I could have done would have made any difference.â€
Just then a nurse came into the room and Roisin was glad, for she could not follow where her mother was going with this. Why was she blaming herself?
The nurse said that, given the level of sedation, Ann-Marie would not stir till morning. She told them they might as well go home and get some sleep.
Roisin kissed Ann-Marie on the forehead, Mairead following suit. Then they collected their things and slipped quietly out of the deadened hospital. Instinctively, they pulled their jackets tighter as the chill night air enveloped them.
â€œYouâ€™re wrong you know, Mum,â€ said Roisin, once theyâ€™d reached the car and Mairead was fishing around in her handbag for the keys. â€œItâ€™s all because of that Donal Mullan.â€
Mairead stopped what she was doing and looked up at Roisin in surprise. â€œOh, Roisin, are you still blaming him?â€ She sighed, then continued to rummage in her bag. â€œHe hurt her very deeply of course, but Ann-Marie had problems before Donal Mullan came along. Hereâ€™s the keys! Come on, itâ€™s cold. Letâ€™s get home.â€
But Roisin knew she was right. Donal Mullan had broken Ann-Marie, snapped her in two like a dry twig, and sheâ€™d never been the same since. Roisin had been there â€“ sheâ€™d witnessed it all. Night after night sheâ€™d listened to her sister sobbing into her pillow, inconsolable with grief and disbelief.
Donal Mullan. How she hated him for what heâ€™d done to Ann-Marie! Sheâ€™d heard years later that heâ€™d married some vacant-headed bimbo, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Well, heâ€™d got what he wanted. For all heâ€™d ever talked about was money.
In his home in Belfast, twenty-five miles away, Donal Mullan was having a disturbing dream. He dreamt he was at school, except it wasnâ€™t school as he remembered it. All the boys wore grey shorts with creases in them like folded paper, knee-high socks, smart navy blazers trimmed in red and blue braid and matching peaked caps. Their black shoes shone like wet roof slates. Donal looked down at his black school trousers, hand-me-downs from an older brother, his washed-out red jumper and scuffed shoes. Suddenly he was surrounded by laughing boys, all pointing at him and shouting â€œMangey Mullan! Mangey Mullan!â€ He looked around frantically, searching for a means of escape. Four high grey walls enclosed the playground â€“ there was no way out.
Donal woke with a start, his heart beating madly in his chest. He let his head sink into the white goose-down pillow, and concentrated on relaxing all the tensed muscles in his body. Why did he have that stupid dream over and over? The boy in the dream was definitely himself. He recognised the pale grey eyes and mid-brown hair; the fine-featured face with its promise of handsomeness to come, the thin, whippet-like frame that had yet to develop into the body of a sportsman. Heâ€™d never been ribbed at school â€“ heâ€™d been accepted the same as everyone else. The feelings of anxiety and inferiority were, however, familiar. He turned his head to look at the clock on the bedside table and the starched cotton pillowcase crinkled in his ear. The finest Egyptian cotton Michelle had said, and Donal pretended to understand the difference between that and any other bed-linen. He looked at the clock â€“ two a.m. He was relieved to be released from the nightmare but he would not sleep now.
The figure beside him on the bed had not stirred. Michelleâ€™s breathing was even and deep â€“ the restful sleep of the privileged, thought Donal, undisturbed by fears of any kind. Since sheâ€™d told him her news Donal felt differently about her â€“ more protective, guiltier. He leaned up on his elbow and carefully brushed the peroxide strands of hair from her face. They slept with the blinds open and the room was bathed in the cityâ€™s orange glow. Stripped of make-up and without the benefit of daytime animation, Michelleâ€™s features were laid bare. Her prettiness was unmasked â€“ she was plain, unlovely. Slowly, he peeled back the down duvet, light as air, and slipped out of bed. He found his dressing-gown and put it on over his bare flesh. He padded silently across the well-carpeted room, went into the en-suite bathroom, closed the door and pulled the toggle switch for the light over the vanity unit. He urinated into the Philippe Starck toilet, thinking that the room was as big as the sitting-room in the house where heâ€™d grown up.
He closed the bedroom door behind him and crossed the expansive open-plan living area to the kitchen. He did not switch on any lights as the space was illuminated well enough by the amber glare of the city. They rarely closed the curtains, privacy not being an issue on the top floor. He opened the huge silver fridge and took out a bottle of Evian, the best bottled water â€“ apparently. He shoved the door closed with his hip, twisted off the screw top and flung it towards the sink. Then he walked over to the vast sheets of glass that formed two entire walls of the room. In spite of all the safety reassurances theyâ€™d received, he was still a little nervous when he stood right up close to the window.
The views from the penthouse apartment, all three thousand square feet of it, were breathtaking. The huge yellow cranes of Harland and Wolfe, in little use these days, loomed in the distance like great sleeping dinosaurs. Far below, the wide curve of the Lagan River was black like ink. Reflections of the security lighting on the other side of the river sparkled like jewels on the waterâ€™s surface.
At first, Donal had been dubious about moving into the waterfront but, three years on, it was the up-and-coming place. Close to the city centre, millions were being pumped into regeneration. Hotels, prestigious office buildings and luxury apartment blocks were popping up all over the place and a huge entertainment complex was planned. Noel McCormickâ€™s shrewd instincts had been proven right. Donalâ€™s father-in-law, in the guise of his company, McCormick Limited, was one of the first to develop waterfront properties and he had built, and paid for, this apartment and the furnishings. It had been a wedding present to Michelle and Donal. And it would prove a sound investment â€“ apartments in this building and others were selling for fifty percent more than theyâ€™d cost three years before.
Donal walked slowly around the room, taking swigs of water from the bottle in his hand. He touched the back of the cream sofa, lingering over the grain and extraordinary softness of the Italian leather. Rich luxurious fabric, in reds and golds, woven like tapestry, dressed the windows. Fine pieces of elegant furniture, sourced from all around the world, graced the apartment. And each surface displayed beautiful objects dâ€™art, acquired by Michelle.
Michelle didnâ€™t shop like ordinary people. She â€˜foundâ€™ things, as though they were lost orphans looking for a home. As though the very notion of money changing hands was distasteful. And yet she knew the price of everything.
There was no doubt about it, Michelle had an eye for style. And yet, Donal felt like a stranger in his own home. Everything was so carefully chosen and placed that he could never quite kick off his shoes and truly relax.
He had dearly wanted to be involved in planning and decorating this, their first home, but somehow heâ€™d become sidelined. Heâ€™d once made the mistake of suggesting velvet curtains and Michelle had smiled at him indulgently.
â€œBut, Donal, darling, velvet is so seventies. So naff,â€ she said and then sheâ€™d laughed.
So he pretended it was womanâ€™s work and that he was not interested. But he listened carefully to the discussions Michelle had with her mother and her friends about where they shopped and the names they mentioned. He was learning all the time. He now understood that it was all about subtlety â€“ the watch you wore, the car you drove (not too ostentatious), who tailored your suits, whether your tie was handmade Italian silk. Not for the first time he wondered what in Godâ€™s name Michelle had seen in him.
Their imminent house move might be a good thing. Maybe heâ€™d be a bit more assertive this time and have some say in things. After all, heâ€™d learnt a lot in the three years theyâ€™d been married and heâ€™d developed quite a few expensive tastes of his own.
He would miss being in the city, at the hub of everything, so close to restaurants and cinemas, their private health club and all the places they went to with their fashionable friends. Well, Michelleâ€™s friends. Donal hadnâ€™t seen any of his friends since heâ€™d married her. In fact heâ€™d dropped them pretty quickly after meeting her â€“ they werenâ€™t the sort of people she felt comfortable with and he could see why. They came from a background that was worlds removed from her privileged upbringing. And he hadnâ€™t wanted to jeopardise his chances. Though if heâ€™d known how crazy she was about him, he wouldnâ€™t have worried. So now they had â€˜our friendsâ€™, people Donal hardly knew yet pretended to have some connection with. Friends were people you grew up with, people who knew you better than you knew yourself. Donal was glad he didnâ€™t have any true friends, for theyâ€™d be able to see into his soul. And he knew it was ugly in there.
He could understand why Michelle wanted to move to Ballyfergus. She wanted to be near her parents. And who was he to say no? What did he understand of these things? What use would he be to her when the time came?
So he carried on as though he was just thrilled with the idea. But their lives were set to change in several ways and it unsettled Donal. For one thing, every time he thought of Ballyfergus all he could think about was Ann-Marie. Was she still living there? Had she changed? Had she married? Had kids? Was she happy?
He told himself to look on the bright side too. Living in Ballyfergus would throw him much more into the company of Noel McCormick and that could only be a good thing. Noel would get to know him better and realise that Donal could be an asset to the company. Heâ€™d languished long enough in the Bank, doing his â€˜apprenticeshipâ€™, as Noel had laughingly called it. It was time Noel offered him a senior position within McCormick Limited.
And there was Grainne, his beloved elder sister. She lived in Carrickfergus, not far from Ballyfergus, which meant he would be closer to her than they were currently. She was the only member of his family that he saw much of these days. He must go and see her soon and tell her all their news.
â€œDonal, darling,â€ said a voice from behind and Donal froze.
Something round his heart tightened a little.
â€œWhat are you doing up at this time?â€ continued Michelle and he heard the shush of her feet on the rug.
Two capable arms wrapped themselves around him and warm flesh nuzzled into the back of his neck like a puppy. Michelle was a big-framed woman, not fat exactly, but solid and strong.
â€œCouldnâ€™t sleep,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m just looking at the view.â€
â€œCome to bed, darling,â€ said Michelle sleepily, â€œI miss you,â€ and she led him back into the bedroom.
Noel McCormick woke immediately the alarm went off at seven a.m., stretched his arm out and silenced the clock. In the bed beside him his wife Pauline turned over and sighed gently. Noel got out of bed, walked over to the curtains and peeked out. It was a fine Sunday morning in May, dry and still, perfect weather for golf.
â€œExcellent,â€ he said and padded into the bathroom.
In the shower he whistled cheerfully to himself. His world was a good place. At the age of sixty-seven, he had achieved more than most people could ever dream of. He was chairman and majority shareholder in the family company, McCormick Limited, one of the biggest and most successful companies in Ireland. He was fit and healthy, had a fine family and all the material things heâ€™d ever wanted. He slapped the little paunch he now carried round his waistline and then held it in. If it wasnâ€™t for that, why, he could pass for forty-seven!
But there were two flies in the ointment: the fact that he had no son to inherit the business, and Michelleâ€™s choice of husband. Donal he would just have to learn to live with, but the solution to the other problem might just be around the cornerâ€¦
By the time he returned to the bedroom, his silvered hair carefully combed into place, the unmade bed was empty. Pauline had disappeared into her bathroom, which connected directly to her dressing-room. He would not see her now until they met downstairs over breakfast. It was a farce really, sharing a room and a bed, for they led largely separate lives, except where the family was concerned. Still, appearances counted for everything. And people round here had loose tongues. If he and Pauline slept in separate beds, you could bet your bottom dollar half of Ballyfergus would know about it.
Noel walked over to the now opened curtains and gazed out of the tall picture window on the scene below. A vast stretch of lawn, the size of a rugby pitch, sloped gently away from the house. Framed on either side by tall poplars, it led onto a deep tract of woodland that Noel called his â€˜forestâ€™. To the right of the lawn was a landscaped garden, centred round a large ornamental pond. To the left, the paddock was just visible through the trees. Yvonne, Noelâ€™s youngest daughter, now grown up, was probably out there already, tending her beloved horses. Less than a mile away, the town of Ballyfergus was a hazy sprawling mass. Beyond it, a ribbon of bright blue Irish Sea trimmed the land like a piece of braid on the hem of a skirt.
Noel surveyed all that he owned, inhaled the fresh spring air and, with it, a wave of emotion. As it coursed through him, he recognised it as pride and the exhilarating sensation of power. He felt as a feudal lord might have done overseeing his fiefdom â€“ not that he owned Ballyfergus, of course, but he had more money than anyone else in the town. It had not always been so and that made it all the more poignant.
If the old man were alive today Noel wondered what he would make of it all. Heâ€™d be damned proud, thatâ€™s for sure. His father had established McCormick and Sons builderâ€™s yard in 1932, two years after Noel was born. At first it was a struggle, but Malachy McCormick, his father, was a bloody hard worker, smart and shrewd. So, in spite of being a Catholic in staunchly Protestant Ballyfergus, heâ€™d done well. But it was Noel whoâ€™d transformed the once small family business into a nationally recognised name, with house building, construction, and machinery-hire divisions. And there was nothing wrong in being proud of that.
Downstairs, Pauline was preparing breakfast, setting bowls out on the kitchen table, spoons, milk and a basket of croissants. She was elegantly dressed in a navy suit and honey-coloured silk shirt, the same colour as her hair. Slim, well-groomed and classy, Pauline was the perfect wife. A woman Noel was proud to be seen with.
â€œYouâ€™re up early,â€ he observed good-naturedly.
Pauline looked up, flashed him an insincere smile and carried on being busy, the heels of her shoes clip-clipping on the slate floor.
â€œItâ€™s all right for some, swanning off to play golf. Somebody has to get the lunch ready. Or had you forgotten that the whole familyâ€™s coming today?â€
â€œOf course I hadnâ€™t forgotten. Iâ€™m looking forward to it,â€ he replied, helping himself to muesli from a bowl on the table.
Sometimes Pauline did nag, but it didnâ€™t bother Noel too much. Mostly he just let it wash over him, a strategy heâ€™d devised fairly early on in their marriage.
â€œAnyway,â€ he went on, â€œI thought Esther was coming in today.â€
â€œShe is, but you know what sheâ€™s like. She doesnâ€™t know how to set a luncheon table properly or prepare vegetables with any finesse. I have to watch her like a hawk.â€ Sighing, she added, â€œSheâ€™s a good enough soul but she has her limitations. I just wish she had a bit more initiative. And I have to go to Mass. Arenâ€™t you coming?â€
Noel ignored the last remark and said, â€œWhy donâ€™t you just get more help then, if you need it?â€
â€œIt wouldnâ€™t make any difference. Iâ€™d still have to be supervising all the time, making sure things were done properly. Itâ€™s bad enough with Esther and the other help, never mind that lazy gardener. Do you know what I caught him doing the other day? Sitting with his feet up in the shed, smoking! On our time.â€ She shook her head and tutted. â€œWhat you never seem to understand about a house like this, is that it doesnâ€™t run itself. It takes planning, co-ordination, management.â€
â€œGod, Pauline, there you go again! Talking as if you were running an international corporation!â€ laughed Noel and he bit decisively into a croissant.
Pauline raised her eyebrows and then continued evenly, â€œThe difference between you and me, Noel, is that you have people to delegate to. I donâ€™t. The buck stops with me. And, as I have said before, Iâ€™d like to see you run this place for a week.â€
With that she sat down promptly, swept a napkin across her lap and began to eat muesli drenched in natural yoghurt.
Sensing that if he didnâ€™t retaliate the matter would be dropped, Noel sat down too and they made desultory conversation while they ate. Noelâ€™s main objective in his home life was to achieve peace and tranquillity and if that meant biting his tongue occasionally he was quite prepared to do it. Just as long as the boat wasnâ€™t rocked.
â€œSo, what do you think of Jeanetteâ€™s new beau?â€ he asked eventually.
â€œI havenâ€™t met him but, from what I can see of her, sheâ€™s crazy about him,â€ replied Pauline.
â€œWhich one of Joeâ€™s sons is he?â€
â€œThe youngest, Matt.â€
â€œHmm. I know itâ€™s early days and all â€“ but wouldnâ€™t it be a great match? Joe Dohertyâ€™s son and our Jeanette!â€
â€œYes, it would. And I donâ€™t think sheâ€™d be inviting him down here to meet all of us if they werenâ€™t serious.â€
â€œI suppose not,â€ said Noel thoughtfully.
Heâ€™d have to see how this Matt Doherty measured up. He had the right pedigree: the son of one of Belfastâ€™s top lawyers, privately educated by Christian Brothers, now studying at the same university as Jeanette, where theyâ€™d met. Just the sort of material Noel had hoped for in a future son-in-law. In the absence of a son, heâ€™d rather see a son-in-law like Matt Doherty at the helm of McCormick Limited, than sell it to complete strangers. It was time he started making plans for his retirement.
â€œItâ€™d be a better match than Michelle made anyway,â€ said Pauline, interrupting his thoughts.
â€œThat wouldnâ€™t be hard. I still donâ€™t understand what she saw â€“ sees â€“ in Donal Mullan. The guy just grates on my nerves.â€
â€œItâ€™s the little things that annoy me,â€ said Pauline. â€œThe way he stands with his legs apart and his hands in his pockets. Like a thug. And the way he eats. Have you noticed? Itâ€™s as though heâ€™s never seen food before.â€
â€œI know what you mean.â€
â€œExcuse me,â€ said Pauline and she got up and carried their bowls to the sink where she stacked them for Esther to deal with later. She wiped her hands on a tea towel and picked up the steaming coffeepot.
â€œWill you ever forget their wedding day, Noel? Iâ€™ve never been so mortified in my life.â€
â€œAnd after all the effort we put into keeping those damn Mullans under control. The father was the worst of the lot, getting so drunk.â€
Pauline poured coffee into Noelâ€™s cup. â€œWe shouldnâ€™t have had a free bar. I did tell you.â€
â€œHindsightâ€™s a wonderful thing, Pauline. How was I to know heâ€™d get plastered within two hours?â€
â€œAt least he just collapsed and had to be carried out. Those two sisters of Donalâ€™s were by far the worst. What were they called? I remember now â€“ Dympna and Finola. They were fighting like two wildcats. I swear Iâ€™ve never seen women behave like that before or since.â€
â€œI never did find out what that altercation was all about,â€ said Noel.
â€œOh, apparently one of them called the other one fat.â€
â€œAnd thatâ€™s enough to start a fight?â€
â€œWell, they were drunk. Anything could have set them off. It was disgusting.â€
Noel had found the whole experience rather exhilarating, though of course he would never admit that to Pauline. The sight of two buxom women pulling the hair out of each other was rather titillating, in a base kind of way. He reached for a croissant, broke it in two and plastered the broken ends with marmalade.
â€œYou have to laugh though, Pauline. It could have been worse.â€
â€œI canâ€™t think how it could possibly have been worse,â€ said Pauline without a trace of irony.
â€œIt could have happened in Ballyfergus, in front of a lot more people.â€
â€œMmm. At least we had the sense to keep the wedding small. I had a feeling you know, from the outset, that those Mullans would embarrass us.â€
â€œThank goodness there was no evening reception. God knows what would have happened if weâ€™d had oneâ€¦â€ said Pauline, her voice trailing off as she imagined all kind of horrors. â€œIâ€™m still embarrassed every time I have to go to the Culloden. The manager and staff all act like they donâ€™t remember but Iâ€™m quite sure they do.â€
Noel shook his head, to demonstrate his outrage, and allowed a silence to fall between them, long enough to enable him to change the subject. â€œIs Michelle coming today? I thought you said sheâ€™d been ill.â€
â€œOh, nothing serious, just a tummy bug. She phoned last night to say she was feeling better and theyâ€™d both be down.â€
As soon as he laid eyes on him, Donal decided he hated Matt Doherty. He was of average appearance â€“ brown hair, blue eyes, clean-shaven â€“ but turned out immaculately, dressed to impress. He was a student, for Godâ€™s sake, yet he was wearing a suit that mustâ€™ve cost several hundred pounds. And the shoes looked like Churchâ€™s. He was standing by the oversized marble fireplace in Noel and Paulineâ€™s drawing-room, his chin level with the edge of the mantelpiece.
No expense had been spared in the construction of Glenburn House â€“ ceilings were high, every room was graced with an ornate cornice, and the best oak trimmed every window and door. And, even though the house was only twenty-three years old, Pauline managed to make it feel like a stately home. Michelle had obviously inherited her motherâ€™s eye for style. Although their apartment was on a much smaller scale, Donal was always struck by the similarities in dÃ©cor between it and Glenburn.
Michelleâ€™s two sisters were in the room with her parents, who were standing close to Matt, hanging on every word he said. Donal had rarely seen grins so broad on their faces. A little wave of panic temporarily wiped the smile from his face. For he recognised Matt Doherty for what he was: competition.
Although Donal knew that Noel McCormick loved his three daughters dearly, he made no secret of the fact that he was a chauvinist. Luckily for him, thought Donal, Noel had raised three fairly docile daughters who were content to fit into his worldview. None of them had any notion of going into the business, and Noel wouldnâ€™t have wanted them to. He was extraordinarily old-fashioned that way. The surprising thing was that his daughters accepted it â€“ none of them displayed the driving ambition that appeared to fuel their father. Only Jeanette, the quiet, studious one had gone to university and she was studying something airy-fairy like French (or was it German) literature.
â€œMichelle!â€ shouted Yvonne, and she came lumbering across the room towards them, wearing tweed trousers and a riding jacket. She had no make-up on and looked like sheâ€™d just got off a horse, which she probably had. She gave her sister a swift hug, then turned to Donal. â€œHowâ€™s it going, old boy?â€ she asked and punched him playfully on the arm.
Donal summoned up a smile for her and asked about the horses, Yvonneâ€™s favourite subject.
â€œIâ€™ve got a new mare. Two years old. Fine beast from Galway. Iâ€™m expecting great things from her. Iâ€™ll take you down to the stables after lunch and let you have a look.â€
Pointedly, Donal thought, Jeanette stayed where she was, by Mattâ€™s side, and greeted them with a weak smile.
â€œDonal,â€ said Noel jovially, after heâ€™d greeted Michelle, â€œgreat to see you. Howâ€™s life in banking, these days? I hope youâ€™ve not been losing any money recently.â€
Michelle froze momentarily by his side and Donal looked at the toes of his shoes. Last year one of his main customers had gone into receivership and he had very nearly been sacked for it. On examination of the companyâ€™s monthly management accounts, the bankâ€™s auditors declared that Donal had not acted soon enough to protect the bankâ€™s interests. How he managed to keep his job, God only knew. Not for the first time he wondered if Noel McCormick had had a hand in saving his skin. It had been a hard lesson learnt and not one that Donal appreciated being reminded of.
â€œCome and meet Jeanetteâ€™s boyfriend,â€ continued Noel, whispering. â€œGreat lad. Joe Dohertyâ€™s son,â€ he added meaningfully and Donal glanced over at Matt, struggling to place him. Noel must mean Doherty of Quigley, Doherty and Reid, the lawyers.
â€œOh, goody, weâ€™re just in time,â€ said Michelle, as Esther, her wide girth swathed in a crisp white apron, came into the room carrying a tray of chilled sherries. Though the children had known Esther all their lives, she betrayed no familiarity, just as Pauline expected.
The drinks were handed round and introductions made. Matt shook Donalâ€™s hand vigorously, full of confidence and charm.
â€œI believe youâ€™re in banking,â€ he said politely, and Donal started to tell him about his job in corporate finance. But no sooner had he started than Noel, whoâ€™d finished talking to Michelle, interrupted.
â€œSo tell me Matt,â€ he said, â€œwhat are you studying at Queenâ€™s?â€
Matt gave Noel his immediate attention, leaving Donal to trail off in mid-sentence. It was pretty obvious who he was trying to impress.
â€œArchitecture,â€ he said.
â€œJeanette,â€ cried Noel, barely disguising his glee, â€œyouâ€™re a dark horse! Imagine not telling me heâ€™s an architect!â€
â€œWell, not yet,â€ said Matt hastily. â€œIâ€™ve another year to do. Same as Jeanette.â€
Jeanette and Matt beamed at each other then, so obviously in love that it was painful for Donal to watch. He looked away.
â€œWell, Daddy,â€ said Yvonne, pausing to knock back her drink in one gulp, â€œIâ€™d snap him up if I was you. McCormick Limited could do with some fresh new talent.â€
While everyone roared with laughter, Donal noticed that Matt did not take his eyes off Noel.
And, when heâ€™d finished laughing, Noel said to Matt, â€œMy doorâ€™s always open, Matt. Donâ€™t ever be afraid to knock.â€
â€œLunch is served,â€ said Esther and Donal could have sighed with relief. Any more of this and heâ€™d be looking for a sick bowl.
He didnâ€™t think things could get any worse, but they did. Once in the dining-room, he realised that no one else had carried their drink through and there was no-where to put it on the polished mahogany table.
â€œJust put it on the sideboard,â€ said Pauline, in the same tone she used to address Esther.
Sheepishly, Donal did as instructed and sat down, crimson with embarrassment. Heâ€™d never forged much of a relationship with his mother-in-law. Heâ€™d always found her cold and distant and yet, when she spoke to Matt Doherty, youâ€™d think the sun shone out of his very arse.
As lunch progressed through four courses of asparagus soup, roast lamb, dessert and cheese, the conversation centred on mutual acquaintances. Joseph Doherty, Mattâ€™s father, and Noel McCormick knew each other well â€“ both had yachts moored at Carrickfergus, both were members at Royal Portrush Golf Club. Mattâ€™s mother, Theresa, knew Pauline through the many charities in which they were both involved. Other names were mentioned that meant nothing to Donal and, despite attempts to stay in the conversation, he felt increasingly marginalised. Then the conversation moved on to sailing and tennis.
â€œDo you sail?â€ asked Matt.
Donal shook his head and said, â€œI prefer golf.â€
He had a natural aptitude for golf and had picked it up quickly to a level where he could play competently in any company. It was a useful skill in banking, networking with customers. But sailing and tennis he couldnâ€™t master. They were things, he reckoned, that you had to be introduced to young, especially sailing. An accomplished sailor herself, Michelle had tried to teach him once on her fatherâ€™s boat, but heâ€™d just felt clumsy and stupid and he couldnâ€™t overcome his fear of water.
â€œAre you all right, Donal?â€ asked Michelle softly. â€œYouâ€™re awfully quiet.â€
Donal looked at his wife and suddenly remembered a way to shut Matt up. A way to remind Noel who his family were and what he owed them.
â€œMichelle,â€ he whispered, â€œI think we should tell them now.â€
â€œItâ€™s too early,â€ she hissed. â€œWe should wait until Iâ€™m sixteen weeks.â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s not. Youâ€™ll be fine,â€ he said, patting her on the knee.
She smiled then, took his hand and said, â€œYouâ€™re really excited, arenâ€™t you?â€
But before he could answer, Jeanette interrupted. â€œWhat are you two whispering about? Do let us in on the secret.â€
â€œHmm,â€ said Donal, clearing his throat, â€œMichelle and I have some news for you.â€ Everyone hushed, Michelle squeezed his hand and he went on, â€œWeâ€™re going to have a baby.â€
The woman around the table, with the exception of Yvonne, gasped. A big smile spread across Noel McCormickâ€™s face.
â€œOh, Michelle darling,â€ exclaimed Pauline, â€œthatâ€™s wonderful news!â€ and she clapped her hands together in a strangely childlike manner.
â€œCongratulations,â€ added Noel and he raised his glass in a toast. â€œHereâ€™s to our first grandchild.â€
Everyone started talking at once but Michelle interrupted them again. â€œThereâ€™s more,â€ she said, and glanced at Donal before going on. â€œWeâ€™re planning to move to Ballyfergus.â€
Pauline smiled, obviously pleased â€“ Noel looked into his glass, thinking, calculating.
â€œWhy do you want to do that?â€ asked Jeanette.
â€œNow weâ€™re starting a family, I â€“ I mean we, thought it would be nice to be near Mummy and Daddy.â€
â€œBut wonâ€™t you miss Belfast and all your friends?â€ asked Yvonne.
â€œItâ€™s only half an hour in the car,â€ said Michelle. â€œItâ€™s not like weâ€™re moving to Kerry. Anyway, they all work full-time. None of them have children so Iâ€™d be on my own most of the day.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll be giving up your job then?â€ asked Noel.
Michelle worked for Marston and Reid, Belfastâ€™s premier estate agency. From what she told Donal, all she did all day was drive about in her Audi convertible showing fancy houses to rich people.
â€œYes, Daddy,â€ she replied, with a wry smile. â€œI think theyâ€™ll be able to manage without me.â€
â€œBut where will they live, Noel?â€ said Pauline anxiously, turning to look at her husband.
â€œWeâ€™ve been looking,â€ said Donal. â€œPrices are much cheaper down here than in Belfast. Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll be able to get something suitable.â€
Noel was rubbing his chin, his slate-grey eyes narrowed in concentration. â€œThereâ€™s that bit of land down by Walterâ€™s place. Weâ€™ve had it for years. Nice views. Weâ€™ve already got planning permission for five executive houses, just never got round to developing it. It shouldnâ€™t be a problem getting that altered â€¦â€
â€œOh, Daddy, would you build us a house, would you?â€
â€œHold on a minute, pet, Iâ€™d have to look into it. Weâ€™re coming up to our busiest time of year. And youâ€™d be wanting to move in before the babyâ€™s born, wouldnâ€™t you?â€
Michelle nodded, her face radiant with excitement and expectation.
â€œAnd youâ€™re going to want a decent-sized family home, not some poky little house.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know if we could afford that â€“â€ began Donal.
â€œOh, stop worrying about details, Donal,â€ said Michelle. â€œIâ€™m sure weâ€™ll be able to work something out â€“ wonâ€™t we, Daddy?â€
At last everyone was gone, Yvonne out to the stables to check on the horses, and the rest back to Belfast. Pauline and Noel went back into the drawing-room and sat down with the Sunday papers.
Esther came in with fresh coffee and set the cups down beside their respective armchairs.
â€œThatâ€™s me finished in the kitchen, Mrs McCormick,â€ she said, wiping her hands down her still-clean white apron. â€œIâ€™ll take Wednesday off, if thatâ€™s OK.â€
â€œThatâ€™s fine,â€ replied Pauline, â€œand thanks for coming in on a Sunday, Esther. I really do appreciate it.â€
â€œItâ€™s no bother. Sometimes Iâ€™d rather have a day off mid-week, anyway. It means I can go shopping and I like going to the Wednesday market.â€
â€œIs there still a weekly market in Ballyfergus?â€ asked Pauline, surprised. â€œI thought they were dying out.â€
â€œNot this one. Itâ€™s still going just as strong as when I was a little girl. In fact one or two of the traders are the same ones I remember from way back then. Youâ€™re from Ballyfergus, Mr McCormick. Donâ€™t you remember it?â€
â€œOh, yes, my mother used to drag us round it every week,â€ recalled Noel. â€œWe spent the whole time trying not to step in the dung from the animal market the day before!â€
â€œThatâ€™s still held too, every Tuesday, though now they make a better job of washing the yard out,â€ laughed Esther .
â€œInteresting,â€ said Pauline, thinking that she never even went to a supermarket these days. She simply wrote lists and got everything delivered or Esther shopped for her. She didnâ€™t have time with all the committees and charities she was involved in, never mind organising dinner parties and entertaining the great and the good. And once Michelleâ€™s baby came she wanted to spend as much time with her as she could.
Soon Estherâ€™s little Ford Escort was chugging down the drive.
â€œWell, that was an eventful afternoon,â€ said Pauline to Noel.
â€œSure was,â€ he agreed, folding up the paper and setting it on his lap.
â€œAre you serious about building them a house?â€
â€œWhy not? Theyâ€™ll only end up paying over the odds for some bit of rubbish. And Iâ€™ve no plans to do anything with that land. Itâ€™s too small for the type of projects McCormick does these days.â€
â€œWill it be possible to get it done on time though?â€
â€œItâ€™ll get done on time. Iâ€™ll get the boys on to it first thing Monday morning. And we can pull workmen off other jobs if we have to.â€
â€œItâ€™s very generous of you,â€ said Pauline, thinking that for all his faults Noel was a wonderful father.
â€œWell, I have my reasons. For one thing, I donâ€™t want the child seeing too much of Donalâ€™s family. Where is it they live again?â€
â€œSome awful housing estate in West Belfast.â€
Noelâ€™s puckered his mouth in an expression of distaste. â€œExactly. Also, I donâ€™t want my first grandchild to be a stranger to us. And he would be, living twenty-five miles away.â€
â€œWait a minute, did you say â€˜heâ€™?â€ she said incredulously.
â€œSlip of the tongue,â€ he replied but Pauline knew it was no such thing.
â€œWhat if itâ€™s a girl?â€ she persisted.
â€œThen Iâ€™ll love her just the way I love my three daughters.â€
It was a point well made, for Noelâ€™s affection for his daughters was beyond dispute. They lapsed into silence then and Pauline tried to imagine holding her first grandchild in her arms. How she hoped it would be a girl, for sheâ€™d never get a look in with Noel around if it was a boy. Heâ€™d be trying to teach him things and show him things and do all the things heâ€™d never got to do with a son of his own. A little girl heâ€™d just indulge. And then she censored herself for having such selfish thoughts. All that mattered, she reminded herself, was that the baby was fit and healthy, regardless of its sex.
How she yearned for that baby now that it had life! A life born of her flesh, blood of her blood. A child that would carry her genes on to the next generation and the one after that, into infinity. Having her children was the best thing sheâ€™d ever done. And yet she was unfulfilled. Always had been, even in the early days of her marriage. Something was lacking in her life, but she didnâ€™t know what. Sheâ€™d once looked to the Church for help to fill the gap, believing her problem to be a spiritual weakness on her part, but sheâ€™d found no answers there.
Now that the children were grown and all, but Yvonne, fled the nest, the emptiness in Paulineâ€™s life opened before her like a yawning black hole. To avoid falling into it, she elevated â€˜busynessâ€™ to an art form. She immersed herself in numerous charitable causes of which she was patron, chaired various committees, and attended every first night and every exhibition to which she was invited. She rediscovered a real love of the arts, first instilled in her by her father, and she ran the house with military precision.
Noel had no cause to complain and he didnâ€™t. She believed he encouraged her in her various pursuits because it kept her busy and out of his way. And it also helped to keep McCormick Limited in the public eye or, more accurately, in the eye of those who mattered. Noel was such a political animal. Everything he did was calculated and shrewd.
â€œMatt seems like a sound lad,â€ said Noel, interrupting her thoughts. â€œI just hope that daughter of ours has the sense to hold onto him.â€
â€œOh, I think she does. Didnâ€™t you see the way they were mooning over each other?â€
â€œI suppose weâ€™ll have to wait and see. I just hope she doesnâ€™t let him slip through her fingers.â€
â€œWhy are you so concerned? Thereâ€™s plenty more fish in the sea, Noel.â€
â€œNot like him, there arenâ€™t,â€ he replied impatiently. â€œI need to start thinking about retirement planning and, at the moment, thereâ€™s no one to hand the business on to. Matt Doherty could fit the bill nicely, though heâ€™ll need a few years experience.â€
Of course she should have known. Noel had an ulterior motive for everything. He didnâ€™t just see a prospective son-in-law in Matt Doherty, he saw an heir to the McCormick empire. Still, to be fair, she shouldnâ€™t complain. It was his business acumen and focus that kept them in the grand lifestyle they enjoyed. And if she sometimes had doubts about Noelâ€™s business ethics, they were reservations she kept to herself. Her life now was so much grander than anything sheâ€™d even imagined growing up in Limavady.
Her father had been a consultant at the Altnagelvin hospital in Derry and they lived a very comfortable, middle-class life. But Noelâ€™s wealth had catapulted Pauline into an even loftier sphere. She made the transition with grace and ease for she had been raised to think of herself as a lady. In fact, she considered herself to be superior to her husband. She came from a long line of educated, cultured professionals â€“ Noelâ€™s father left school at fourteen and ran a builderâ€™s yard. And in spite of her efforts to erase them, there were still a few working-class edges on Noel.
â€œYouâ€™re going to have to do something about Yvonne,â€ said Noel abruptly.
â€œWhatever do you mean?â€ she asked.
â€œWell, her appearance for one thing. She looks terrible. Sheâ€™s so â€¦ so unwomanly. Compared to her sisters, she looks like a down-and-out.â€
Yvonne could not have looked more different from Michelle and Jeanette. While they used every available means, both natural and chemical, to enhance their appearance, Yvonne rarely looked in a mirror. She even came to the dinner table with dirt under her nails!
â€œI have tried speaking with her, Noel, but itâ€™s like talking to a brick wall. She just doesnâ€™t care about these things.â€
â€œNo manâ€™s going to look at her in her present state.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think she cares. Sheâ€™s so wrapped up in her horses and her horsey friends, she wouldnâ€™t notice a man if he fell down at her feet.â€
â€œChance would be a fine thing.â€
â€œI do agree with you, Noel. I too wish she would take a bit more pride in her appearance. But there are more important things in life than what we look like.â€
â€œNot where a womanâ€™s concerned.â€
Pauline looked at Noelâ€™s furrowed brow, bit her lip and paused before she spoke. â€œMaybe she doesnâ€™t want a man,â€ she said carefully, airing a thought that had been taking form, but not yet crystallised, in her mind.
â€œEvery woman wants a man. Donâ€™t be ridiculous,â€ he replied, closing the subject.
â€œItâ€™s getting dark,â€ said Pauline.
She got up then and circled the perimeter of the room, unhooking six pairs of tiebacks. Then she found the remote control and pressed buttons on it, switching on lights and closing the curtains.
Noel looked at his watch and said, â€œI think Iâ€™ll pop out to the office for a little while and catch up on some paperwork. Iâ€™m all over the place next week.â€
â€œCanâ€™t you work from home?â€ she asked, testing. Noel had a fully fitted office upstairs.
â€œAfraid not,â€ he said, standing up and jangling the keys that had already found their way into his pocket. â€œI need some papers at the office.â€
When she looked closely at Noel, Pauline observed that heâ€™d changed his shirt and his grey hair was neatly parted and combed to one side. If she stood close enough she knew she would smell fresh aftershave. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and looked at the clock.
â€œIâ€™ll see you later then,â€ she said, grudgingly giving him her permission to leave. The muscles on either side of her neck tensed involuntarily.
He needed no further encouragement and practically ran out of the room. She listened to the spring in his step as he crossed the gravel drive towards his Bentley, heard the car door open and the deep clunk as it shut. He drove off at a stately pace, only picking up speed when he was on the drive and well clear of the house.
Not for the first time Pauline tried to understand her emotions. When Noel went to his mistress, she felt a tiny flicker of anger. Or was it sorrow? Sometimes they felt the same. Yet, she told herself, she had no reason to feel either emotion. She and Noel had come to an understanding a long time ago â€“ she should be well used to it by now.
She was a young wife and mother of three, just turned twenty-seven, when she discovered that she was married to an adulterer. How innocent and trusting and unworldly sheâ€™d been then, she thought wryly. So ill-equipped by her strict Catholic upbringing for the realities of the world inhabited by Noel McCormick.
Sheâ€™d found out one Monday morning in June. Sheâ€™d been doing the laundry, in the days before she had someone to do it for her, and found a small sealed foil packet in the pocket of one of Noelâ€™s shirts. She set it aside on the windowsill, humming to herself as she loaded the washing machine and thought about what she would make Noel for dinner that night.
But the strange object bothered her and she returned to the little silver package glinting in the sunlight that streamed through the window. She turned it over and squeezed it between her fingers. She knew it wasnâ€™t a sweet as sheâ€™d first thought. Looking closely, she noticed that it bore a code number in black ink and what looked like a sell- or use-by date. Curious now, she carefully ripped open one end of the package. She pulled out a skin-coloured rubbery thing, greasy to the touch. For a few brief moments she thought it was a balloon and then she unrolled it and realised, in spite of her lack of first-hand experience, that it was a condom.
Of course, being good Catholics, she and Noel had never used any form of contraception in the six years theyâ€™d been married. There was only one reason Noel would be carrying this around in his pocket and it had nothing to do with her. She dropped it hastily in the bin and scrubbed her hands with soap under the hot tap until they burned pink, her own tears mingling with the steaming water. Everything inside her was spiralling down. It felt like her insides were falling out. Like the bottom was falling out of her world.
â€œI love you,â€ Noel said that night when she confronted him, holding onto the back of a kitchen chair because she feared that her shaking legs would not support her. â€œYou are my wife and you will always come first. This doesnâ€™t mean anything.â€
â€œIt does to me.â€
â€œWell, it shouldnâ€™t. Lots of men â€¦ well, you know.â€
â€œHave bits on the side?â€
â€œIf you want to put it that way.â€
â€œBut why, Noel? Is it because I havenâ€™t wanted to?â€ she said, fighting to hold back tears and retain some shred of dignity.
â€œItâ€™s quite normal. Youâ€™ve only just had a baby and youâ€™ve the two girls to look after as well,â€ he said, his voice laden with empathy. â€œIt must be exhausting.â€
â€œYou make it sound as though this is my fault.â€
â€œItâ€™s not anyoneâ€™s fault,â€ he said smoothly. â€œIt happens in a lot of marriages.â€
â€œAnd that makes it alright?â€ she asked but Noel only raised his right shoulder in the merest hint of a shrug.
â€œWho is she?â€ she demanded.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter. She could be anybody. Nobody.â€
â€œI want you to stop seeing her.â€
â€œI canâ€™t do that, Pauline.â€
Pauline stared at him for a long time and he held her gaze, bold and unrepentant. And his clear pale grey eyes asked the question: what are you going to do about it?
And then the extent of her vulnerability hit her like a labour pain, leaving her winded and slightly bewildered. She had no career, no income, and no money of her own. As a Catholic, she could not get a divorce. If she walked out, where would she go? How would she survive? How could she bear the shame she would bring on her family and herself? Her daughters would be shunned and reviled by respectable people.
As though he could read her thoughts, Noel said, â€œIâ€™ll always look after you and the girls, Pauline. Iâ€™ll see you never want for anything.â€ He paused then and added, â€œIf you stay.â€
That was the choice she was offered and, right or wrong, that was the one she made.
â€œIâ€™ll need to think about it,â€ she said meekly, and quietly left the room.
That night in bed Pauline closed up the part of her heart that had loved Noel, put dustsheets over it and locked it away. And she never discussed the matter with him again.
Tears came to her eyes at the memory of that pain, so intense and searing it could never be fully eradicated, but lived, even now, in her breast as a deep enduring ache. But that was all in the past, she told herself crossly, wiping her eyes. Why did it still bother her so, after all this time? Pauline couldnâ€™t be sure how long Noel had been with this particular mistress, but instinct told her it had been a while. Did she feel threatened by her?
She told herself to stop it. Theyâ€™d made their unspoken pact years ago, which worked, in Paulineâ€™s mind, along the following lines: she kept house, kept up appearances, and enjoyed a luxurious and privileged lifestyle. She didnâ€™t have to have sex with Noel and she pretended that she didnâ€™t know about his mistresses. He, in return, ensured that Pauline and his daughters wanted for nothing and carried out his nocturnal activities with the utmost discretion, so ensuring that he caused no scandal.
Did she have the raw end of the deal? No, she told herself firmly, the arrangement suited him and, more importantly, it suited her. There was no need to challenge the status quo.
She put down the newspaper, got up and went upstairs to her study where she worked like mad until she was utterly exhausted and then went to bed. As Pauline closed her eyes she glanced at the clock. It said 12.40 p.m. The place in the bed beside her remained empty.
On the way home in the car Michelle could tell that Donal was fuming. He was driving her car too fast, revving the engine like it was a rally car, and it was making her feel sick. She put her hand over her stomach and grimaced. He accelerated all of a sudden and overtook a lorry that was chugging slowly uphill on the shallow incline out of Ballyfergus. On either side of the road, the landscape sped past â€“undulating fields of vivid green, separated by dark green hedgerows, spread out like a giant patchwork quilt. The landscape Michelle had grown up with and loved.
â€œDon, will you slow down, please?â€ she asked.
â€œWhat?â€ he said, distracted.
â€œSlow down. Youâ€™re making me feel sick.â€
â€œSorry,â€ he said, applied the brake and slowed the car to a more comfortable speed.
If she could read him like she thought she could, then she knew what was bothering him. From the minute the two men had met, sheâ€™d sensed that Donal didnâ€™t like Jeanetteâ€™s boyfriend. That was putting it mildly. Sheâ€™d caught him staring at Matt over the lunch table with a look on his face that suggested he could easily murder him. Why he didnâ€™t like Matt was beyond Michelle. She thought he was charming and he hadnâ€™t said anything to offend Donal. In fact heâ€™d made several attempts to include him in the conversation. If anybody had been rude it was Donal â€“ heâ€™d hardly said a word all through lunch.
But her husband was a complex character and it wasnâ€™t always easy to understand him. He was overly sensitive about his background for one thing and took offence easily, even where none was intended.
â€œSo,â€ she said, â€œwhat did you think of Matt?â€
â€œHmm,â€ he grunted.
â€œI thought he was lovely. Heâ€™s funny and sweet and Jeanetteâ€™s head over heels in love with him. Isnâ€™t it lovely to see her happy?â€
â€œWell, I just hope heâ€™s not using her.â€
â€œWhatever do you mean?â€ she said, surprised. Sometimes Donal had a funny way of seeing the world.
â€œDid you see the way he was wheedling his way into the family, acting all smarmy with your mother and father?â€
â€œDon! I canâ€™t believe you said that. He was only being polite. I suppose he was trying to make a good impression as well. But thereâ€™s nothing wrong with that. If my memory serves me well, I remember you doing exactly the same thing.â€
â€œYour parents didnâ€™t fawn over me like they did over Matt Doherty.â€
This temporarily silenced Michelle for it was true. Her parents did not approve of Donal and were horrified when she wanted to marry him. Sheâ€™d thought that over time theyâ€™d learn to love him, like she did, but theyâ€™d never warmed to him completely. Not the way theyâ€™d already done with Matt Doherty. Michelle looked at Donal and bit her lip. It hurt her when he was hurt.
â€œDidnâ€™t you hear your dad practically offer him a job?â€ said Donal.
â€œHe was only joking. Anyway, I donâ€™t think Mattâ€™s after anything, Don. His fatherâ€™s Joe Doherty, for heavenâ€™s sake!â€
â€œExactly,â€ he said sarcastically. â€œDo you remember when your dad suggested I take a job with his bankers?â€
â€œYes. That was good of him to use his influence, wasnâ€™t it?â€
â€œHe said, joking like, that it was â€˜an apprenticeshipâ€™. What do you think he meant by that?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
â€œI thought he meant that he wanted me to get a good grounding in finance before joining McCormick Limited.â€
â€œHe never said anything about giving you a job,â€ said Michelle quietly. â€œAnyway, we have everything we want. You have a great job with the bank. And you have me. Why isnâ€™t that enough?â€
â€œOh, darling, you know I love you,â€ he said reassuringly, patting her on the forearm, â€œbut after that receivership last year, my prospects of promotion are slim. And we canâ€™t even afford the home we want. Your fatherâ€™s going to bail us out by part-financing a new house. I want to be a legitimate part of the family, earning my keep, not on the outside taking scraps off the table.â€
â€œWeâ€™re not taking scraps off the table! Daddy wants to build us a house and itâ€™s his money. He can do what he likes with it. He wants to do it because he loves me.â€ She paused and then added, too late she realised, â€œUs.â€
â€œYes, and I appreciate his generosity, Michelle. But canâ€™t you see what I mean? Itâ€™s demeaning for a man to have to look to his father-in-law for financial support. Now if I was a director â€“â€
â€œA director!â€ interrupted Michelle. She didnâ€™t understand much about limited companies and how they worked, but what made Donal think he had the right to demand a share of the familyâ€™s fortunes? â€œYou canâ€™t expect Daddy â€“â€
â€œIâ€™m not saying Iâ€™d expect that to start with, but I could work my way up. Iâ€™m not expecting something for nothing. Iâ€™d prove myself. Show your dad I was worthy.â€
Michelle fell silent then and watched the countryside fly by the car window. Happiness, it seemed to her, was always just out of Donalâ€™s reach. Why wasnâ€™t she, and the baby growing inside her, enough for him? They lived very comfortably, albeit supplemented by the generous allowance Daddy still gave her for personal expenditure. How else could she afford her weekly beauty treatments and shopping trips to London and Paris with her friends? They wanted for nothing. But whatever they had, it was never enough for Donal.
She could see how much this meant to him. Sheâ€™d never seen him so intense about anything. Perhaps this was the one thing that would make him happy. If she could persuade Daddy to give him the chance he so desperately wanted, then maybe he would be satisfied, at last. Maybe then he would love her as much as she loved him. And when the baby came, everything would be perfect.