Sooner or later, your past will catch up with you.
Rebecca Burns has been running and hiding from her drug-dealing family all her adult life and trusts no one. An injury ended her career in London’s Metropolitan Police, and when she took a chance on love, she discovered Stephen cheating on her.
Changing her name, she runs and hides again, despite being pregnant with Stephen’s child. ‘Becca Hills’ and her son live a deliberately quiet life in a London tower block, but when she is involved in a road traffic accident, she finds Stephen and her past catching up with her. Can Becca allow herself to trust, forgive and love again?
An Excerpt From Chapter One
They were late for school. Very late. And she had no one to blame but herself. She had forgotten to top up the electricity meter, the power had gone off sometime in the middle of the night and, as a result, her clock radio had failed to wake her at eight o’clock.
Waiting at the pedestrian crossing, she pushed her left sleeve up and looked at her watch. It was two minutes past nine.
“Naughty word, Mummy.” Tommy pulled her hand.
“I know, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said the naughty word. Oh, there’s the green man. Keep hold of my hand, it’s after nine o’clock.”
They crossed the street and she crouched down outside the school gates. She gave him a hug and a kiss, put a clean handkerchief in his trouser pocket and was about to pass him his bright yellow school rucksack when feet approached quickly from behind. She went to straighten up and move aside when she was given a hard shove and she found herself sprawled and winded on the footpath on top of the rucksack. Heaving herself up onto her hands and knees, she peered behind her as a dark-haired woman picked Tommy up and ran across the pedestrian crossing with him.
“No.” She tried to scream, but the word only came out as a croak.
She got to her feet and ran after them onto the crossing as a car horn beeped and tyres screeched on the tarmacadam…
* * *
Okay, this was strange. Why couldn’t she see clearly? Everything was fuzzy but, focusing as hard as she could, she could see the outline of someone sitting in a chair. Reaching out, her fingers found the edges of the bed. It was a single, so she couldn’t be in her double bed at home. So, where was she? Inhaling a strong whiff of disinfectant, her nose wrinkled. Hospital? How had she ended up in hospital? Blinking and widening her eyes made no difference to the fuzziness so, shutting them, she slept.
When she opened her eyes again her vision was clear. Blue curtains surrounded her single bed. She could hear feet rushing up and down outside and someone throwing up a little too close to her for comfort. It could only be an Accident and Emergency cubicle. Rolling onto her back, she winced as her head began throbbing. Fuck. No, don’t swear. Mustn’t swear in case Tommy heard. Tommy! She tried to sit up but couldn’t, she was lying on her hair. Twisting around for the emergency button, she spotted Stephen. Inhaling her breath, she coughed and almost choked.
Sitting and leaning slightly forward in a plastic chair beside the bed, he was holding a lock of her waist-length curly blonde hair in his fingers and watching her without a sound. Oh, bloody hell, of all the officers in the London Metropolitan Police, it had to be Stephen. Coughing, she lay back on the pillow until it passed. Then her head started pounding again and he spoke.
“You’re in the Accident and Emergency Department at St Hilary’s Hospital. You have bruising and mild concussion.” She nodded and instantly regretted it. “What do you remember?”
“What information do you have?” she asked.
“You first,” he replied and she heaved herself up a little on the pillows, spotting huge purple bruises on her elbow and upper right arm, but relieved she was still wearing her T-shirt and jeans.
“I was outside the school gates saying goodbye to Tommy. I gave him a hug and a kiss and I was about to pass him his school rucksack. Then—” She went to shake her head but stopped herself just in time. “Then, I heard feet running up behind us. I went to step to one side with Tommy to let whoever it was pass us but she pushed me over and grabbed Tommy from me. She picked Tommy up and ran across the road with him. I got up and went after them but a car got in the way.”
He nodded. “The woman has been described as tall, well-built and dark-haired.”
“It was Jackie,” she said and watched him shrink back from her.
“Jackie Burns?” he demanded. “You’re sure?”
“You think I’d forget my only sister-in-law and what she and you did?”
“Do you have a current address for her?” he asked, instead of rising to the bait.
“No, I bloody don’t but she’s probably still at the same fancy apartment.”
“Okay, I’ll send some officers there. I won’t be a moment.” Taking a smartphone out of the inside pocket of his black suit jacket, he got up and pulled the curtain aside before going out. She heard him speaking in low but urgent tones to someone and being told to turn the phone off by a female voice.
“When was the last time you spoke to Jackie?” he continued, coming back into the cubicle. “Or seen her?”
“I think you know the answer to that.”
“And Tommy is how old?” he asked, retaliating at last.
She glared at him before throwing back the bedcovers. Gingerly, she got out of bed, and carefully crouched down at the bedside locker. Opening the door, she saw that her jacket and shoes, handbag and plastic hair clasp had been shoved inside and she began pulling them out, feeling him watch her every move.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m not staying here exchanging smart comments with you, Stephen,” she replied, throwing the items onto the bed. Straightening up, she gathered her hair together and pinned it up as best she could with the plastic clasp. “Get a nurse, I’m discharging myself.”
“What? No. Absolutely not. For God’s sake, you’ve got a head injury, you need to be admitted and kept under observation.”
“Fine,” she snapped. “If you won’t get a nurse, I’ll go and find one myself.”
Swearing under his breath, Stephen pulled the curtain aside and left the cubicle again.
* * *
Ten minutes later, they left an exasperated staff nurse behind and waited for the lift to come down from the fourth floor.
“Detective Constable Jan Carter will be assigned to you as your liaison officer,” Stephen told her. “She’s on her way to your flat now. We got your address from the school.”
“Not you?” she asked.
“Then, who’s heading the investigation?” she added.
“I am,” he replied, extending a hand as the lift doors opened and she went in. “I’m a Detective Inspector now. So don’t make this any harder for me than it already is.” He followed her inside, the doors closed, and he pressed the button for the ground floor. “When exactly were you going to tell me I had a son?”
“When exactly were you going to tell me you were sleeping with my brother’s wife?”
He sighed. “It happened once. It was the biggest mistake I have ever made.”
Not wanting to stare at him as the lift brought them up from the lower ground floor, she took the opportunity to observe him in the mirrors lining the walls. The black suit he wore was creased, his cheeks were heavily stubbled, and he seemed exhausted. Had he been in the hospital all night with her? If it had been night time. What time was it, actually? She pushed her jacket sleeve up her left wrist to look at her watch but it wasn’t there. She sighed and focused her attention on the mirrors again.
Stephen’s dark hair and stubble made him appear deathly pale but that could be shock, too. Finding her again after so long and discovering he had a five-year-old son was enough to knock anyone sideways. Six years ago she’d thought he was the love of her life but then he’d betrayed her in the worst possible way. How did she feel seeing him again now and hearing his regret? She went to raise a hand to her throbbing head before lowering it, not wanting to hear another lecture on how she should still be in bed and under observation. She just wanted Tommy back. She’d contemplate her feelings for Stephen when she could think straight.
Tailing him across the hospital car park, she watched as he beeped open a black Ford Focus and opened the passenger door for her.
“Who knows about us?” she asked, getting in as he walked around the car before getting into the driver’s seat.
“But you’ll never be able to keep it a secret.”
“Just you watch me. I’m quite good at keeping secrets, too.” He reached for his seat belt. “Look, if you’d prefer for someone else to take over, just tell me.”
“No, but be careful for God’s sake.”
* * *
Following her directions, he pulled up in a car park located in front of three dilapidated 1960s tower blocks.
“Which one do you live in?” he asked, craning his neck to get a better look at them.
“Tommy and I live on the top floor of the middle one.”
“The top?” he echoed and she saw him try to hide a grimace.
The lift wasn’t working yet again so they climbed the stairs to the twenty-fourth floor, stepping over hypodermic needles and used condoms. In a way, she was relieved, who knows what delights they might have seen or smelt in the lift. She waited for Stephen to make a comment but, to her surprise, he said nothing.
A young woman with short ginger hair was waiting outside the flat and Stephen introduced her as Detective Constable Jan Carter. Becca searched her handbag for her keys, hoping they weren’t lying on the road outside Tommy’s school, before finding them beside her watch at the very bottom. She opened the battered front door and the three of them went into the flat, Stephen telling the Detective Constable that he had been given an address and officers were on their way there.
The two-bedroomed council flat was like going through a time warp back to the nineteen seventies. Everything was brown – the colour of poo – as Tommy had once described it. She hadn’t been able to afford to re-decorate yet, except for Tommy’s bedroom with wallpaper she had bought in a closing-down sale, and to paint over the horrific swirly living room wallpaper with the cheapest Magnolia-coloured paint she could find.
“Are you up to being questioned?” Jan asked her gently.
“Questioned?” She threw her handbag onto the ancient, sagging, and bloody uncomfortable brown sofa. “Jackie Burns took Tommy and I want him back.”
“Sir?” Jan turned to Stephen, standing at the scratched chipboard display cabinet examining the framed photographs. He had one of Tommy in his hands. God, they were so alike.
“Tommy’s birthday?” he enquired, looking straight past Jan and at her.
“Yes. His fifth. Take it.”
“‘Concepta aged ten’.” Jan had picked up and glanced at the back of a framed photograph of her as a ten-year-old and which had been inscribed by her mother.
“I’m Concepta,” she explained. “Well, I was. The first thing I did when I left school was to change my name by deed poll. I’m Rebecca Hills now. Becca for short.”
“Concepta – bloody hell.”
“Tell me about it.” She almost smiled. “So, you can understand why I much prefer Becca. At school, I might as well have had a notice tattooed on my forehead with, ‘Bully Me’ on it. Except, no one dared to.”
“Why not?” Jan frowned.
“My original surname was Burns.”
“Burns.” Jan’s face paled. “You’re a member of the Burns family from the East End? Your mother is Ma Burns?”
“That’s right. She had six kids and I was the only girl. You might have heard of my eldest brother, Pat?” she enquired.
Jan nodded. “So Jackie Burns is your sister-in-law?”
“Yes. I haven’t seen nor spoken to her for nearly six years, nor to any of my family for a good few years before that.”
“Why is that?” Jan took a notebook from her handbag and opened it.
“My mother had named me after her mother, so she never forgave me for changing my name. But I’d always felt different – like I didn’t belong with them – and I longed to escape. She’d done her best to turn me into her – so I could take over from her when the time came – or become head of my own family of drug dealers eventually. She sent me away to a posh boarding school and I wasn’t allowed to mix with the local kids when I was home. But I hated my names and I hated being brought up wrapped in cotton wool so I changed my name and I moved away. But they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – leave me alone. Six years ago my brother, John, left Jackie for another woman shortly after they discovered she couldn’t have children. Jackie went to pieces. Somehow, she managed to track me down and she found out I was pregnant. She was jealous. She couldn’t allow me to be happy while she wasn’t, so she slept with my partner. It worked.” Becca gave Jan a bitter smile. “I left him.”