Lou’s Sunday roast surpassed all previous reputations; whilst Rachel had worried that the news of Pete’s death might have cast a pall over the day, the girls seemed to have accepted the loss of their already very absent father with some alacrity. It was probably easier for Sally and Sarah, whose memories of Pete were scarce, but for Jenny there was still anger because he had put his family and her friends in danger by becoming involved in the drug smuggling ring. As Lou had said, her own grieving took place when Pete first abandoned them, and after last night she had no more tears left.
Mark took the opportunity to fill in the gaps about the investigation and arrest; at least as much as he was allowed to share officially. Rachel’s news about managing to get the village’s story told before Sam could get his hands on it was greeted with hilarity, especially when Jenny got the online version up on her tablet. She was particularly pleased that Rachel had been economical in her retelling of how Jenny had managed to get down to the beach with her friends, and hadn’t revealed her escape route in the garden. She made her excuses, left the table and ran off upstairs to tell her friends to log onto the newspaper’s online site. Sally and Sarah settled in front of the TV, while the adults ferried the leftovers and washing up back into the kitchen.
“That will boost our circulation and my popularity a bit.” said Rachel, pleased that Jenny had liked the piece, and even happier when Lou gave her a big hug. “This is the Rachel I remember from Uni and your early days in journalism. It’s honest, and very kind about our Village and the people who live here, but it also shows how easy it is for drugs to creep in and ruin people’s lives. Did you read it Mark?”
“I did, and I’m very glad that I held back and didn’t jump out from the trees to rescue the girls, and Rachel yesterday. She has the respect of the rest of my team for making it all look so effortless. Just a woman, walking a dog on the beach. We might ask her to do some undercover work for us?”
“No thanks,” said Rachel, horrified at the very thought. “I can admit to you both that I was terrified, especially when I saw the men coming back down toward the beach. I just kept thinking that if I was scared, the girls must be even more frightened. Which reminds me, I need my rape alarm back and we need to buy up a batch for Jenny and her friends.”
“Mum!” Jenny’s far from dulcet tones roared down the stairs.
“What’s up Jen?”
“There’s a really grumpy-looking old bloke standing outside the house.”
Lou shrugged her shoulders and went out to the front door, followed by an equally curious Pluto, who immediately started his bad person barking. They came back very quickly. “Rachel. I think it’s Sam. He’s asking to speak to you. A very unhappy Sam, and Pluto definitely doesn’t like the look of him.”
“So we hear. I suppose I ought to speak to him. Can I use the little room at the back, Lou?”
“Of course, you grab Pluto, Mark, and I’ll show Sam through.”
Rachel went into the small room that looked out onto the back garden. She had expected to feel those butterflies, or at least some element of excitement but annoyance had the upper hand, especially when Sam entered the room, looked around in ill-disguised disgust and flung himself down into one of the old wicker garden chairs that were stored there during the colder months. “What the hell is going on here Rachel? I’ve come down to get the story on this drug smuggling, and no one will talk to me. They all direct me back to you and say that they will only talk if you give your permission, and if I’m prepared to pay them first. Is this the Village of the Damned or what?”
“Hello Sam. How are you? How is Adele? I’m very well thank you, and I’m not sorry that our friends in the Village are refusing to speak to you. I’m afraid that your reputation has preceded you.”
“My reputation! You mean these yokels know about my private life as well?”
“No. They know about my not-so-private life. You dumped me and ran off with a much younger colleague. I don’t mind admitting that I was in bits when I first came down here. Luckily, I have a very efficient support system. How did you know where to find me?”
“I got your address from one of the girls in reception; Tony wouldn’t let me have it and I couldn’t get into the flat to check your address book. You changed the locks – on our flat!”
“My flat. You moved yourself in, and you moved yourself out while I was away at a conference.”
“Irrelevant details.” he said, waving his hand as if swatting flies. “I called at your address here and some old woman came out and gave me the third degree. She refused to say where you were, but then I went down to the Square and an old lady with paintbrushes stuck in her bun offered to tell me but it would cost me twenty quid.”
“That will be Miss Sharp; resident landscape and graffiti artist. The twenty quid will probably go in the charity box. Have you seen the piece I sent to Tony this morning?”
“No. I was sat outside the flat waiting for you to turn up and clear your things out. If you have no other plans for it, I’d like to move back in.”
“Adele’s father isn’t happy about us living together. He has quite strong principles.”
“Obviously Adele hasn’t inherited them then.”
“That’s very bitchy Rach. That’s not like you at all. You need to come back to London. We should share the flat again?”
“Shows how very little you know me, Sam. I have spent years of my life being what you wanted me to be, allowing you to criticise and mould every aspect of my life. Coming back here, coming home, has helped me to find myself again, and to realise who my real friends are.”
“Oh, bully for you! Well, I hope you’re happy now that you’ve given up on your career.”
“Did Tony not tell you that I’ve had a book offer as well as a further six-month extension? How remiss of him. Have you said all that you came to say Sam? I’ll put the word around that I’m happy for the villagers to talk to you, provided you give them at least twenty pounds a head. Jeff at the Gun and his brother might ask for more though. They’re quite fit, so I wouldn’t bother arguing with them. Take some time to read the online piece I did this morning. Tony won’t be happy if there’s too much duplication.”
“You’re really going to leave it at that Rach? The very least you could do is let me move into the flat.”
“No. I bought the flat with my inheritance, and I will probably sell it. You have no claim on it at all. Goodbye Sam. It won’t do you any harm to find your own accommodation for a change instead of battening on foolish women like myself who fall prey to your charms. I used to think that you had the most beautiful brown eyes, but our dog Pluto has far more honest and loving eyes. He is usually very good tempered but he does have a nose for unpleasant people, and he definitely had you marked down as soon as he saw you. I’ll show you out.”
Sam found himself ushered through the front door, without so much as a goodbye kiss or hug. For the first time in his life, he actually felt defeated, and went off to the car to drive down and look at Rachel’s piece, as well as the infamous beach while she got the locals to talk to him. Rachel leaned back against the front door and heaved a huge sigh of relief. It had gone. All the feelings that Sam had previously evoked in her had vanished. Lou poked her head around the living room door. “Are we okay?”
“We most certainly are. Sam has gone off with several fleas in his ears, and safe in the knowledge that our relationship is over and there is no way on earth that I am going to let him move back into my flat.”
“Bloody cheek! Things not going to well with the lovely Adele then?”
“She is more than welcome to him. Jenny is a very good judge of character; when I set eyes on Sam, I saw what she was seeing. A grumpy old man who just wants his own way. Good riddance.”
Pluto and Mark poked their heads around the door jamb too. “Is it safe to come out now? Pluto’s been growling. I wanted to come out when I heard raised voices, but then I cast my mind back to yesterday at the beach and I thought, ‘No, Rachel can handle herself’.”
Without a second thought, Rachel threw her arms around Mark’s neck and gave him a resounding kiss, not really the kind of kiss that friends give each other.
“I have washing up to do,” said Lou, laughing. “You two take it in the back room and sort things out a bit. Pluto! You come into the kitchen with me and I’ll find you some leftovers.”
“Before you do that Lou, could you phone Mrs K and tell her that the bottom line is twenty quid and if they can screw any more out of Sam, good on them.”
The atmosphere in the small back room was tense but in a different way. Rachel leaned her head against Mark’s shoulder and though he wanted more than anything to kiss her, he held back. She would tell him when the time was right. “How do you feel Rachel?”
“Relieved. Slightly hysterical. Very sure that whatever I felt for Sam has gone, though. He’s got a bloody nerve! Coming down here and expecting me to give him information so that he can get all the glory! You and your team caught the smugglers after months of hard work; Mrs K, Lou and the Village worked together to keep Jenny and her friends safe. Sam rocks up here in a flash car and expects it all to be laid at his feet. I am also very angry with him, but that’s one of the best emotions to have under the circumstances. I’m quite looking forward to packing up the flat, and selling it now. I feel free.”
Mark wasn’t quite sure how to respond. He was pleased that Rachel had seen Sam in his true light, but what did she really mean by free? For the moment he felt that being there for her, as her rock and supporter, was the best that he could do but oh, he so wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her.
“There is one thing though Mark?” said Rachel, trying to resist the urge to grab him.
“Pete’s funeral. We’ll need to help Lou, emotionally and financially. The Village will expect a send off for him; he’s one of their own whatever happens. Will you help me?”
“Of course I will.”
Rachel leaned against his shoulder again and sighed, but it was a happy sigh.