Alison Roberts

A Mother for His Family


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      ‘You’ve lost yours,’ Tori told him. ‘Would you like another?’

      ‘Sure.’ Ben’s pause allowed Tori to stand on tiptoe and position the flower.

      ‘On the left for you, too?’

      ‘Absolutely.’

      He turned to cast a meaningful look at the flower Sarah held. She blushed, trying to wipe off any ‘here we go again’ expression she had been unconsciously adopting as she watched Tori. She poked the stalk of her bloom through a buttonhole on her soft shirt, the tails of which she had knotted loosely around her waist.

      ‘Ah...a woman of mystery,’ Ben said.

      ‘Keep it that way, honey,’ Marjorie piped up from his arms. ‘Keep ’em guessing and you’ll keep ’em interested.’

      The laughter covered what could have been an embarrassing moment and then they were in the main complex. Josefa was waiting, having gathered a bag of ice from the bar. A lounge chair was found, as well as cushions to raise Marjorie’s foot, a matching chair for Stanley and a bottle of complimentary champagne from a resort manager who was upset to learn of the accident.

      Finally Sarah and Tori were settled at a table shaded by a bougainvillea-draped pergola, plates piled high with samples of the chargrilled chicken and fish from the outdoor barbecues and a range of the most delicious-looking salads. The view was just as enticing, with the pergola framing a section of the lagoon where a group of new arrivals was being welcomed with necklaces of tropical flowers and a traditional song with a guitar accompaniment.

      ‘Mind if I join you?’

      Tori, her mouth full of chicken, kicked Sarah under the table.

      ‘Please, do,’ she said politely to Ben.

      He sat down, immediately spearing a mouthful of perfectly grilled fish from his plate. ‘Mmm,’ he said, seconds later. ‘You made the right choice of resort. They have the best cooks here.’

      ‘Do you cover all the resorts?’ Tori queried.

      Ben shook his head. ‘I happen to live quite close to this one so I’ve become a kind of honorary GP. I do visit a few islands that have larger villages to run the occasional clinic and I’m on call for emergencies, of course.’

      ‘Like sunburn?’ Sarah wished she had kept her mouth shut as Ben flicked her a surprised glance.

      ‘It’s quite easy to get seriously burnt in this climate,’ he said. ‘I hope you’re both being careful.’

      ‘You weren’t here for an emergency today, though, were you?’ Tori was clearly making an effort to distract Ben from any acidity Sarah’s comment might have contained.

      ‘No. I’m popping in every day to keep an eye on a patient whose blood pressure needs monitoring.’

      ‘The one due to have the baby?’

      Ben looked surprised again. ‘How did you know that?’

      ‘We heard about you.’ Tori sounded perfectly innocent but her smile suggested that the information had all been good.

      Ben returned the smile. ‘You have an advantage over me, then.’ He ate in silence for a minute. ‘So...tell me about you.’

      The glance was intended to draw Sarah into the conversation and she was happy to comply.

      ‘We’re both nurses,’ she reminded him. ‘I’m in paediatrics and Tori’s in the emergency department at the moment.’

      ‘Where are you from?’

      ‘New Zealand. Auckland.’

      ‘The largest city, right?’

      Sarah nodded. ‘And you? You sound English.’

      Ben mirrored her nod. ‘I’m a Londoner through and through.’

      ‘Bit of a change working here, then.’

      ‘A dream job,’ Tori declared. ‘Do you need any nurses?’

      Ben laughed. ‘It’s not all free lunches at luxury resorts. I do work a couple of days a week at a hospital in Suva.’

      ‘But you don’t live on the main island?’

      ‘No. I have my own little beach.’ For an instant, Ben’s face was shuttered. Then he smiled at Tori. ‘How long are you here for?’

      ‘Only a week.’ Tori wrinkled her nose. ‘I have a feeling it’s not going to be nearly long enough.’

      ‘You’ll just have to make the most of every minute.’

      ‘Oh, I intend to.’

      Sarah ate her way through a wonderful salad that combined mango and pawpaw with rice and some flavours she couldn’t identify. She felt shut out already but she wasn’t going to spoil Tori’s fun. If she needed a holiday romance to make her happy, why not? Maybe the gorgeous Ben would actually turn out to be the love of her life and they would settle in their island paradise and live happily ever after.

      Tuning back into the conservation at the table became unavoidable as Sarah realised that Tori was beginning to cover some rather personal ground.

      ‘It was Sarah that mostly nursed Mum through the last few weeks after the second stroke,’ she was saying. ‘So it was even harder on her.’

      ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ Ben sounded very sincere but then his tone changed. ‘You two are sisters?’

      Sarah met the curious glance defensively. Yes, she was taller than Tori, her hair long, straight and dark in contrast to bouncy blonde curls and her body lean and lacking any attractive curves. And, yes, their personalities were just as different and Sarah was not about to bare her soul or anything else to a stranger.

      ‘Foster-sisters.’ Tori seemed unaware of any warning signals Sarah was emanating. ‘But it’s been the real thing for ever as far as I’m concerned. Sas came to live with us when she was fourteen and I was eight.’ Tori’s smile at Sarah was loving. ‘I’d always wanted an older sister I could annoy.’ She laughed. ‘I’m twenty-four now and I still manage to annoy her.’

      ‘Only sometimes,’ Sarah said mildly. ‘But I’m sure Ben isn’t interested in hearing the details of our family history.’

      Her disapproval of sharing personal information hadn’t been masked as well as she’d thought but the slightly awkward silence that fell was broken only seconds later as a woman wearing a silky white sarong paused by their table.

      ‘Ben! How lovely to see you again.’ She laughed at his obvious mental scramble. ‘Lisa,’ she supplied. ‘I was here this time last year.’

      ‘Ah...’ Ben’s face cleared. ‘Sunburn.’

      Lisa smiled. ‘I hope I thanked you properly for taking such good care of me.’

      ‘Of course.’ Ben cleared his throat, looking vaguely uncomfortable.

      Lisa was looking over the top of her sunglasses at Tori, and Sarah had a wild desire to laugh aloud. Was this one of last year’s conquests eyeing up the competition?

      She put down her fork, her appetite suddenly sated. OK, she probably couldn’t stop Tori if she wanted to have a fling but she would have to make sure Tori didn’t have any dreams about it being the real thing. Ben Dawson might be incredibly good looking and charming but he was a flirt. A playboy. A complete lightweight who had set himself up in a perfect playground with an enticingly large field of probably very willing playmates.

      Sarah wanted no part of it. She especially didn’t want someone like this knowing too much about her. Sympathy, however sincere it might be, concerning her appalling childhood would not be welcome. At least even Tori’s trusting openness couldn’t reveal everything. There had only ever been one person who had known all there was to know about her and sadly she had taken Sarah’s secrets with her to her grave only six months ago.

      The woman in the sarong had moved on now. Ben stood up.

      ‘I’ve got a bit of housekeeping to do at the medical centre,’