Mrs Middleton: First Chapter Sneak Peek!
Well, this was it. The moment Emma had been dreading for months.
It was one thing to be back in the UK after living a life of simplicity in another country, teaching kids’ sports, but to have to share a home with her best friend…it was going to be painful. Lauren Middleton was everything Emma had ever wanted in a friendship, but a lot had changed since Emma left the UK eighteen months ago. Oh, not with their friendship, that could never be broken, but with…something else.
As friends, it shouldn’t have worked. When they met back at university, Emma was twenty-one, while Lauren was only eighteen. But from the moment they’d met at Freshers, they’d hit it off. Lauren wasn’t an average eighteen-year-old, and it showed. She had her head firmly screwed on. Within months of starting their degree together, Emma and Lauren had become the best of friends, some might even have said sisters.
Emma had spent the nine-hour flight home from Ghana thinking, yet nothing seemed any clearer than the day she first left home. She couldn’t wait to see her best friend. She was excited to spend some cherished time with Lauren before she jetted off to Australia on her own three-month adventure. It was the idea of staying in Lauren’s parents’ home that had her so on edge.
Because Mrs Middleton would be there.
Emma braced herself as she walked through the double doors at the airport, the temperature quite pleasant considering she’d expected it to be colder. After eighteen months, she’d gotten used to the African heat. Now, to be here in this less intense heat, Emma didn’t know how to feel about it…or anything else for that matter.
Life was about to become interesting.
Vanessa Middleton was Lauren’s mum. With huge crystal blue eyes and a smile that lit up the entire world, Emma had foolishly fallen in love with the woman over the years since meeting Lauren at university. And then the family dinners started whenever they both went home to visit their parents. Except Emma rarely visited hers. Instead, she was joined at the hip with Lauren and the Middleton family. Emma was always invited over by Vanessa.
Then came the summer holidays, more occasions for which Emma was present. She’d had a love-hate relationship with her own mother since she was a teen, and, though she wasn’t looking for another mother, Emma would admit that the Middleton’s felt like family to her.
But it wasn’t what Emma wanted from their relationship with one another. From the day she’d met Vanessa, Emma’s feelings for her had spiralled. Almost out of control. She’d managed to keep those feelings at bay for over ten years, but the night before leaving for Africa, Emma had called Vanessa in a drunken haze and confessed everything to the older woman. Mrs Middleton had been a sweetheart, but it had only made everything worse. A part of Emma wished Vanessa had told her not to come home again. And if she did, not to show up at her door. That would have been much easier to deal with. But Vanessa hadn’t said any of those things. She told Emma she was flattered and that she was very fond of her before wishing her well on her travels.
Eighteen months of long-distance pining had only sent Emma’s head into a spin as she stepped onto the plane this morning. And now here she was. Unable to comprehend the moment she would lay eyes on Vanessa again. In Emma’s ideal world, Vanessa would have aged dramatically and turned into a cold bitch. But this wasn’t an ideal world, and when Emma’s flight landed forty minutes ago, she checked her social media. Searching Vanessa Middleton hadn’t been a wise decision. That woman had only gotten better with age. Her crystal blue eyes shone back at Emma through her profile picture, her once long blonde hair now cut into a stylish shoulder length bob.
Emma was in a lot of trouble.
But she would manage. So long as she didn’t make Vanessa uncomfortable, everything would be perfectly fine. It had to be. And if she blotted out the fact Vanessa was going through divorce proceedings from her mind, Emma wouldn’t crave to comfort her. She’s your best friend’s mother. That should be enough to deter you!
A flash of dark blonde hair caught Emma’s attention. She picked up her pace, almost bumping into someone in front of the taxi rank. “Oi.”
Lauren spun, grinning. “You’re actually here.”
“Well, that fills me with joy,” Lauren said, rolling her eyes. “And why do you have shorts on? It’s not exactly hot.”
“I needed everyone to see my tan as I walked through the airport.” Emma’s teeth chattered. “You’re just jealous. But you needn’t be; you’ll have your own tan soon enough.”
“It’s like…winter in Australia.” Lauren laughed, throwing her arms around her best friend. “It’s so good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you too. But I’m freezing my arse off, so can we head to the car?”
“We can. I had yours serviced last week for you. Running like a little cracker again.”
“Mrs Middleton hasn’t minded it being on the drive all this time, has she?”
Emma hadn’t been given a rollicking by her best friend, so as far as she was aware, Lauren knew nothing about her outpouring before she left. Vanessa didn’t seem like the type to tell everyone about the thirty-something with a crush, thankfully.
Lauren shook her head, linking her arm through Emma’s. “You know she doesn’t. And if she hears you calling her that, she’ll kill you. Call her Vanessa and save me from having to listen to her harp on about how old it makes her seem.”
“It’s…respectful.” And to save me from feeling the intimacy of being on a first name basis. Emma cleared her throat. “And she’s a teacher, so she’s used to it.”
“She hates it.”
“How is she?”
“Better now. Things have been hard for her this year, but she’s getting back to herself. And I’m hoping if you’re free now and then, you could swing by and say hi to her when you find a place. No rush, by the way, but with me going away, I hate the thought of her being alone.”
Emma bristled. She shouldn’t agree to Lauren’s ask. “I don’t think she’ll want me around, but a cuppa and a chat are something I can manage.”
“You know what she’s like. She’ll say she’s fine, but I know she gets lonely. When I’m at Rob’s, I hate knowing she’s home alone.”
“She’s a grown woman; I’m sure she does just fine.”
“Still.” Lauren sighed, shrugging. “I feel bad for buggering off to the other side of the world for three months. And I know she wants me to go, I do too, but since Dad left…she’s not been the same person.”
“I still can’t believe he was sleeping with another woman.” Truly, she couldn’t. In some ways, at least. Mrs Middleton was the most attractive woman Emma had ever laid eyes on. Perhaps it was the smouldering eyes and the power suit, maybe it was the elegance she carried, but whatever it was…Emma had been smitten at one time. You still are, you complete fool! “Was he having some kind of midlife crisis?”
“They just grew apart.”
“And that’s fine. But you don’t shag the secretary. You explain and then leave on good terms. I mean, when you called me to tell me…I was floored. Your mum is so lovely, and I can’t believe he did that to her,” Emma lied. She’d known for a long time how much of an arsehole Richard was, his eyes always straying towards other women. She suspected Vanessa knew too, but it wasn’t Emma’s business to get involved.
“I haven’t spoken to him.”
Emma couldn’t blame Lauren for making that decision. “I’m sure you’re still angry with him.”
“It’s not even anger anymore. It’s disgust. How dare he sleep with another woman when he’s been married to Mum for thirty years!”
God, that had to hurt. Emma felt awful for not being there when her best friend needed her. To be in another country while she was going through divorce proceedings with her parents… “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you.”
“Don’t even apologise. You’ve always dreamed of Africa. I’m so happy you took the opportunity. You didn’t know my dad was going to do what he did.”
If only that were the truth.
“Still, I didn’t like knowing I could only be on the phone when the reception allowed.”
“You’re here now. And I can’t wait to spend the entire week with you before I have to take a ridiculous flight to Australia.”
“Honestly, I hate flying.”
Relieved when she spied Lauren’s car, Emma grinned as the lights flashed, climbing inside the second her luggage was safely in the boot. Lauren joined her, firing up the engine and backing out of the space. “Fancy a takeout and catch up tonight?”
Emma relaxed her shoulders. She’d been tense all day. “I can’t wait.”