Fall from India Place Page 29

“Of course.” She shrugged nonchalantly, returning her gaze to her plate. “But I don’t know why you’re so upset. If you’d bothered to look in the bag I put at the side of the bed yesterday afternoon, you’d have seen I called the charity, explained the mistake, and went and collected your irreplaceable crap.” She glanced over at him. “I would like to remind you, though, that the only things in your life that are irreplaceable are sitting in this room with you.”

“Hear, hear,” Mum murmured.

Nate’s expression slackened with confusion. “You got it all back?”

“Of course I got it all back.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because now I have leverage against you anytime I screw up. I’ll just remind you of the past forty-eight hours where you acted like a petulant schoolboy because I accidentally gave your Borg T-shirt to charity.”

“It was the T-shirt I was wearing when we met,” he told her quietly.

Her eyes narrowed. “Oh, no, you’re not pulling semi-romantic excuses for your behavior out of your petushy to screw me out of leverage.”

“Leverage?” I asked. “Marriage is about leverage?”

“Yes.” Every single married person at the table answered.

I wrinkled my nose.

Ellie waved her fork at me. “When you screw up, and if you’re married you’re bound to screw up at some point, it’s good to have detailed notes of your partner’s screwups because that way you can remind them, and forgiveness for your screwup comes much more quickly. Peace reigns.”

“In this case,” Liv said, her eyes alight with triumph, “I screwed up a little but Nate screwed up more, so the next time I screw up, he’ll forgive me way faster.”

“It sounds… mature,” I answered sarcastically.

“What it lacks in sophistication it more than makes up for in effectiveness,” Adam attested.

“Married people are weird.” I turned to Cole. “Remind me never to do that.”

“To do that, you have to agree to go on a date with a man,” he reminded me instead.

I shot him a filthy look, but before I could say anything, Adam said, “Hannah, that reminds me, you didn’t tell me you knew Marco D’Alessandro.”

Jo tensed at the name, her eyes swinging to meet mine.

“What?” Adam asked softly, picking up on the sudden change in atmosphere between us.

I drew in a deep breath, unlocking my gaze from Jo’s and turning to Adam. “I didn’t realize you knew him.”

“He’s a joiner in one of our construction crews. The foreman, Tam, speaks highly of him and is absolutely convinced he’ll be foreman himself in a few years’ time. I don’t doubt it. He’s always on hand when Tam isn’t and knows almost everything that’s going on on-site. I’ve known him for a couple of years. He seems like a really good guy. Hardworking and responsible. He didn’t realize we were related. Your schoolteacher friend’s husband told him.”

“Oh,” was all I managed.

“Oh?” Adam’s eyebrows puckered. “From the way he spoke you two used to be close.”

I looked at Ellie, wondering if she’d known Adam was going to ambush me with this, but she looked just as surprised as I was. Not really wanting to discuss it in front of my parents, I shrugged. “We were really good friends in school.”

Adam still looked confused. “Isn’t he older than you?”

“A few years.”

“Well, he says he’s been trying to get in touch with you.”

Cole snorted at my side.

I ignored that, giving Adam another innocent shrug. “I got a couple of his messages.” A deeper snort from Cole. “But I’ve been really busy.”

“You didn’t tell me he was in touch,” Jo piped up, concern in her gorgeous green eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Who is this boy, Hannah?” Mum quizzed suddenly.

“How long has he been back?” Jo asked.

“He couldn’t have been a boyfriend.” Mum shook her head at the idea. “Because you would have told me, right?”

Jo leaned toward me. “When did you meet? Did he explain anything?”

“Where’s he from? Where did he go? I’m so confused. Is —”

“Hannah, will you help me with dessert, sweetheart?” Dad asked loudly, standing up.

I pushed back from the table, throwing my dad a grateful smile. “Of course.” I hurried out of the room, happy to escape the questions as I followed him into the kitchen. “You’re a lifesaver.”

Dad gave me a soft smile and began pulling bowls out of the cupboard. “No problem.”

We were silent as we dished out the trifle.

And then… “Hannah.” Dad stopped what he was doing, staring at the table, his body tense. “This Marco… he isn’t…?”

I swallowed, my heart beating hard against my chest. “Dad.” I didn’t want to lie. Not to him.

He glanced at me sharply, anger in his eyes. “Does he know?”

I shook my head.

“Why is he back?”

“He wants a chance to explain why he left so abruptly. After… he went back to America before it…”

Dad exhaled, the anger melting. “How long has he been trying to get back in touch?”

“We met at a wedding a few weeks ago. He’s been persistent ever since.”

“Before… what kind of man did you take him for? Was he kind to you?”

For some reason the question opened a flood of emotion in me, my throat constricting, my nose and eyes stinging with tears. “Yes. He was very kind to me. We met because he was protecting me from this really horrible boy that was bullying me. Anytime I missed the bus Marco would walk me home, make sure I got there safely.”

God, I’d loved him so much. Maybe the foolish, naïve kind of love, but I’d felt it deeply nonetheless.

Dad slid his hand across the table, covering mine in comfort. I looked up into his eyes. “Maybe he deserves a chance to explain, then.”

I was surprised. “I thought you’d be angry at him.”

“I’m still angry at his choices, but I can’t be angry at him for what happened afterward. He didn’t know what you went through, Hannah. If he explains and it’s a terrible explanation, we can go back to being mad at him. But maybe he’s got a reasonable explanation for leaving you.”

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