- Published: 2 April 2018
- ISBN: 9780143785811
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 336
- RRP: $32.99
Ambulance sirens sucked big time when you lived in a dive near Paddington station. Still, Pedro’s crumbling flat beat the heck out of sleeping in the park.
One day, Jacinta McCloud would own a home. And it would be nowhere near an ambulance station. At seventeen she had a way to go, but she was determined it would happen. Her baby would have a safe place to live and play, and no one, ever, no matter what, would be able to evict them onto the street.
The siren wailed again. She thought of her mum every time she heard it and her thin fingers crept to the button on her shirt and tightened around it. Pedro said if you held a button on your shirt until you saw a four-legged animal, then you might, just might, keep something bad from happening to the patient in the ambulance. Jacinta’s whip-smart mind disagreed, but her heart couldn’t take the risk.
Someone should’ve done it for her mum.
There were too many sirens. Too many ambulances. Too many people who didn’t care. The one person who mattered the most had died and left her sixteen-year-old daughter on Mother’s Day last year.
Jacinta’s belly kicked and rolled so she moved awkwardly to rest on her knees, slid her free hand down, and rubbed through the shirt. ‘Morning, baby. Did that nasty ambulance wake you, too? Let’s go find and feed Cat so I can let go of the stupid button.’
The darn cat ate better than she did. She could put on the vegetable soup Pedro liked – all part of the plan to make herself indispensable to a man who had no sexual interest in women, which suited Jacinta just fine. Since moving in, she’d stayed low key, tried to be useful and didn’t cry even when she wanted to. Pedro admired her for that. ‘Thank God you’re not one of those weepy bitches,’ he said.
She’d become bigger and more unwieldy in the five months she’d been here – and she needed to make him glad she was here until she’d sorted plan B.
A sudden, loud, ratta-tap-tap forced her to stare at the heavy reinforced door Pedro was so proud of. Pedro didn’t knock. And his friends used a coded rhythm. Whoever it was, they knocked again.
Like the police knocked.
Like her heart knocked.
‘I’m looking for Jacinta McCloud.’ It was a male voice. Posh. Firm. And determined. He didn’t say police . . .
Looking for her?
If she stayed quiet he might go away, but then she’d never know who or why. It’s not like she had people knocking on her door every day, looking for her. Jacinta edged closer and squinted her eye to the peephole all good doors in Kings Cross cherished.
A man stood there. He was taller than Pedro, over six foot. He didn’t look gay. She’d developed skills at telling that, too. This guy reminded her of those jocks who strutted into the gym and came out all sweaty and muscled – except he was clean, and old. Probably mid-thirties or more.
She couldn’t see his face because he was staring down at something in his hand. She hoped it wasn’t a gun or a knife. She’d seen a few of those since she’d been here.
‘What do you want?’ Her voice came out sounding impolite, which was better than frightened, but there was a decent door between them so she could afford a bit of bravery. Pedro had paid a lot for that door. She’d be safe.
The man lifted his head and she saw his eyes. Blue. A deep, dynamite blue, like the squares on the police tape. He stared back at the peephole. Back at her. But he couldn’t see her like she could see him.
He had thick dark eyebrows and a brick for a chin. With his square-cut hair and long grey coat, he looked like an assassin from the movies.
‘I have a letter.’ He spoke slowly. ‘From her mother. Asking me to find her.’
She froze. Letter?
The words hit like an arrow to her chest and she sucked in splinters of air with the pain of grief. ‘Filthy liar! My mother’s dead.’ The words fired out harsh and cracked and staccato; broken bullets from her heart.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She should have stayed quiet. She felt like swearing. She’d learned a lot of crude words since she’d come to the Cross, but she’d sworn off profanity. On that horrible night when her mum had passed, Jacinta had whispered, ‘Don’t you fucking die!’ to her mother.
‘Don’t swear,’ her mum had said. ‘Please.’ So she didn’t. It was the only thing she could do for her mum now.
‘Not lies,’ the man behind the door said. Conviction rang in his tone. She glared back at the peephole. Back at his eyes. He didn’t say anything else. He just stared at her as if he knew she was watching, and something in that look told her he, at least, believed what he said. She knew liars rabbited on to make their case. This guy stayed silent.
The cat rubbed against her legs and she looked down. Four-legged animal. Her hand fell away from the button on her shirt. The tactile distraction helped her focus. Her anger returning, she lifted her chin and faced the closed door. ‘Why would she write to you?’
‘I’m your father, Jacinta. Iain McCloud.’
Jacinta’s breath caught in her throat and her world tilted. For a second there she thought she might be sick.
Her last name was McCloud.
No. No. He was lying. He had to be. She didn’t have a father. She didn’t have anyone except her baby. She was stupid again for even giving him a chance. She turned away from the door. ‘My father is dead.’
‘No!’ His voice stayed calm but determined. Implacable. ‘I’m not dead. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I have your mother’s letter with me.’ He paused. ‘I want to help.’
Her heart pounding, Jacinta scooped the cat and held her like a shield. Her eyes began to sting but she willed the tears back. She hadn’t cried once since she’d come here.
The cat purred and whirred against her ribs like a small, warm engine, calming her until her brain began to work.
‘Jacinta,’ he said again. ‘I want to help.’
Yeah right. ‘That’s what they all say.’
Jacinta rubbed one hand across her eyes and fiercely held back a sob. The letter would prove he was lying. ‘Slide it under the door.’
A sheet of pale paper pushed into sight and she squeezed the cat. Cat arched and, as if the animal were made of glass, she carefully eased her onto the floor. A ridiculous precaution, she knew, because that was one tough cat. All through the slow-motion action, shock and disbelief shuddered in her rib cage, because even as she bent to pick up the note she could tell.
Her mother’s cheap paper.
Her mother’s clear handwriting.
Her mother’s last letter . . . to him.
Jacinta’s throat burst into a hundred tiny needles of emotion and she couldn’t swallow.
Madison Locke’s heart lifted like the birdsong that woke her that morning – joyous, clamouring, excited.
The red-and-white Mica Ridge Flying Doctor Service aircraft taxied past the window of her new office and Tess Daley recognised with gratitude the tiny wobble of excitement in her chest.
Ava May watched the big guy she’d seen at Sydney Airport fill the empty seat beside her in the aeroplane.
Carra Finlay stood under the clothesline and watched in dismay as all her dreams blew away in the wind.
One hundred and thirty-five metres above London, with one of the most spectacular city views in the world as your backdrop, who could say no?
As I reach for the doorbell, my phone bleeps with a text and my head instantly fills with a roll call of possibilities.
Love at first sight is a hypothesis (Roland Barthes) – I don’t believe in love at first sight.
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