Becca Hills is thirty-five-years-old and was baptised Concepta Burns after her Irish grandmother. The Burns’ are a notorious criminal family from London’s East End and Becca’s mother did her best to turn Becca into her so Becca could take over from her when the time came, or become head of her own family of drug dealers eventually.
Becca was sent away to boarding school and wasn’t allowed to mix with the local children when at home. Becca always felt as if she didn’t belong with the Burns’, hated her names and being brought up wrapped in cotton wool and longed to escape.
As soon as she could, Becca changed her name to Rebecca Burns, moved away and joined the London Metropolitan Police. One of the other police probationers was Stephen Connor. They fell in love and moved into a flat together. But the Burns’ wouldn’t leave her alone and arranged for her to be attacked. The attack left Becca deaf in one ear and she had to leave the police.
Becca and Stephen decided to try for a baby and they spent a long weekend in Brighton on England’s south coast. Soon afterwards, Becca discovered she was pregnant. One day, she forgot her Oyster travel card, returned to the flat and found Stephen and her sister-in-law, Jackie Burns, in bed together.
Jackie was told she couldn’t have children and her husband walked out on her. Money and drugs buy information and Jackie found Becca, discovered Becca was pregnant and was madly jealous. Jackie couldn’t allow Becca to be happy while she wasn’t, so she threw herself at Stephen, knowing exactly what to do, where to do it, and for how long. Stephen and Jackie had sex in the hall, in the bathroom and in the bedroom. For Becca, this was the ultimate betrayal and she disappeared.
Changing her name again, Becca Hills and her son, Tommy live a deliberately quiet life in a council flat on the twenty-fourth floor of a north London tower block. When Tommy started school, Becca began working part-time in a local crime bookshop. She misses Stephen, still loves him, but knows she will never trust him again.
Then, one morning, Becca wakes up late. She has forgotten to top up the electricity meter, the power went off in the middle of the night and her clock radio failed to wake her at eight o’clock. She gets Tommy ready as quickly as she can and they manage to arrive at his school shortly after nine o’clock.
Crouching down outside the gates to kiss him goodbye and pass him his rucksack, she is pushed over and a woman grabs Tommy. It is Jackie Burns. Jackie runs across the road carrying Tommy and when Becca goes after them, she is struck by a car.
When Becca comes to, her vision is blurred but, from the stink of disinfectant, she works out that she is lying in a hospital bed and she can see the outline of someone sitting beside her bed. When she wakes again, her vision has cleared. She is in an Accident and Emergency Department cubicle and the person sitting beside her bed holding a lock of her waist-length blonde hair in his fingers is Stephen…
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 Two
Following a detour by way of a supermarket, the cab dropped them off on Dixon Street. Tommy was almost asleep on Stephen’s shoulder as he let them into the apartment.
“I want Bear,” Tommy mumbled again.
“I know, but,” they went into Stephen’s bedroom and he opened the wardrobe, “meet Humphrey.” He pulled out a very old and battered teddy bear. “I’m sure Humphrey wouldn’t mind standing in for Bear for now.”
“Thank you, Daddy.” Tommy clutched Humphrey to him.
Five minutes later Tommy, in one of Stephen’s T-shirts, and Humphrey, in his birthday suit, were tucked up and fast asleep in the double bed in the mauve bedroom.
“A drink?” Stephen whispered to her.
“Yes, please.” She followed him into the living area. “A large one.”
“Coming up,” he said, going to a kitchen cupboard, and taking down a bottle of Irish whisky and two glasses.
“I really thought I’d left them all behind. I’m surprised I didn’t have television companies ringing up wanting to do programmes on the Family From Hell.”
He poured the whisky and passed her a glass. “Here. Think about taking out an injunction, I won’t have them putting you and Tommy in danger. Better still, come and live here.”
“What the hell is it with you?” he demanded, slamming his glass down on the worktop. “Every time I try to help you, you throw it back in my face.”
“I’ve just got out of the habit of asking for help. I never liked doing it anyway.”
“I know.” The telephone began to ring and he went to answer it. “Connor.” He listened for a couple of moments before sighing. “No. No. Why? Because it’s over. Please don’t call me again.”
“After one date? Well, fuck you, Stephen,” she heard a woman’s voice shout and the call was promptly ended.
“Women trouble?” she enquired as he put the handset down.
“Not anymore. I just couldn’t commit to any of them.”
“How many were there?” She pulled a stool out from under the breakfast bar and sat down.
“A few.” Pulling out a second stool, he sat down opposite her and took a sip of the whisky. “How about you?”
“Did they last longer than a month?”
She met his eyes. “No,” she told him truthfully. “The first just liked the idea of having sex with a single mum. The second didn’t like Tommy so that was it with him.”
“And what about you?”
She shrugged. “All I wanted from the first was meaningless sex. Tommy was still a baby and he wasn’t aware of him being around but the second just didn’t like Tommy and Tommy didn’t like him and I wasn’t going to have strange men in the flat. I’d seen enough of that at home with Mum’s boyfriends when I was growing up and I didn’t want to turn into her.”
“You can’t hide from your family forever, Becca.”
“But what the hell can I do?” She rested her head on a fist.
“Take out an injunction. You should have done it years ago.” Reaching across the breakfast bar, he gently caressed her deaf ear. It felt wonderful and she fought a hard battle not to visibly shiver with pleasure. “Before they did this to you.”
“I know, but it’s too late now.”
“Does Tommy know about it?”
She nodded and took a sip of whisky. “He thinks it was an accident, though, not an attack.”
“Does he ever ask about them?”
“No, because I haven’t told him anything about them.” She sighed, cradling the whisky glass in her hands. “I wish I could. I wish they were worth telling him about but they’re not. He has no idea what it is like to be not the black sheep of the family but the white sheep, the only good person in a family of scumbags. And for me to join the police was just the last straw for them. So they did this so I’d have to leave.” She touched her ear. “And then there was you and me. If Jackie hadn’t waded in in her size sevens they still would have broken us up somehow.”
“But they hadn’t betted on Tommy, had they?” he said quietly.
“No. And I’m scared…I never thought I’d be found and I don’t know what to do anymore.” She put her glass down on the breakfast bar before she dropped it. “And I’m so tired all the time. I’m going to bed, it’s probably going to be a long day tomorrow.”
“Before you go to bed, listen to me,” he begged, clasping her hands in his. “Live here, please? I will be here as much as I possibly can. It has to be better than you being in that flat on your own with Tommy.”
“But if they find out?”
“The injunction, Becca. Think about it?”
“Yeah.” She extracted her hands from his and finished her whisky before sliding off the stool. “You’ll have to lend me a T-shirt or something.”
“Okay, come with me.”
She followed him into his bedroom, noticing again just how austere it was. Kneeling down at the drawers beneath the wardrobe, she watched as he opened one and pulled out an item of clothing.
She took it and held it up. It was a pink silk-effect nightdress with thin shoulder straps she had left behind in her rush to leave. “You kept this all this time?”
He nodded. “In the hope that you might come back.”
Oh, God. “I see.” Putting it over an arm, she retreated to the door. “Well, thanks. Goodnight.”
Closing the door behind her, she hurried down the hall to the mauve bedroom.
Tommy was fast asleep still clutching Humphrey as she turned the bedside lamp on, undoing her plait, and shaking out her hair. She got undressed and slipped into the nightdress, finding it a little tight over her bust. Since she had last worn it, she had both given birth to and breastfed Tommy. Getting into the double bed beside him, she turned off the bedside lamp. She stared up at the ceiling, remembering the nights she and Stephen had sat at their old kitchen table talking into the small hours putting the world to rights. Oh, God, how she missed those nights. And, God, how she missed him, too.
* * *
Two hours later, she was still staring up at the ceiling. This was hopeless. Getting out of the bed without disturbing Tommy, she went to the kitchen and took a carton of milk out of the fridge. She poured some of the milk into a mug and put it in the microwave oven for forty-five seconds but opened the door with one second to go before it pinged. Taking the mug over to the display cabinet, she stared at the photograph of herself and Stephen with all the cardboard boxes. When had she laughed like that since?
Opening one of the doors in the bottom of the cabinet, she found two large photograph albums and pulled them out. Taking the albums over to one of the sofas, she sat down, opened one, and took a sip of the warm milk. ‘The Two PC Plods’ was written under a photo of the two of them as police probationers. She smiled, shaking her head, they were so young. The photograph below it was taken by Stephen’s younger brother, Gerard. She and Stephen were kissing. Talk about a tongue sandwich and a half. She quickly turned the page.
“That’s one of my favourites.”
She jumped, almost spilling the milk down her front. “Stephen,” she hissed.
“I couldn’t sleep either.” He sat on the sofa opposite her, dressed for bed in his usual T-shirt and boxer shorts. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I thought you heard me coming in.”
“Well, I didn’t.” She watched his eyes move up and down, taking in her loose hair and how fully she now filled the nightdress. God, how she wanted to straddle him and sit on his lap and push her breasts into his face and let him kiss them and – oh, God – so many other things she missed so much. “I helped myself to some milk,” she said instead.
“Good.” He smiled, raising his eyes to her face.
“He’s very well, thanks. He told me that I was a bloody fool to mess you around.”
She groaned. “Let’s not go into that now, I’m too tired.”
“Why couldn’t you sleep?” he asked. “Are you ill?”
“No, just overtired.” She drained the mug. “And sad. And fucking angry. They took all my photograph albums – all the photos you looked at of Tommy as a baby. Spying on me and trashing the flat I can take, kind of, because they’re scum and that’s what scum does. But taking the photos…only the lowest of the low would do something like that.”
“Live with me?” he added quietly. “Let me look after you both.”
“Stephen.” Banging the mug down on the coffee table, she got to her feet, the photograph albums falling to the floor. “We don’t need looking after.”
“Becca.” He got up from the sofa and grasped her shoulders. “Please?”
“Let me go.”
He complied and bent down to retrieve the albums. “The nights I lay awake wondering if that bloody family of yours had done something else to you. Every time a female body was found it used to scare the shit out of me…”
“But they know where you are now, Becca.”
She rubbed her forehead. “I know. I’ll just have to move again.”
“But think of Tommy and school?”
“Don’t you dare accuse me of not thinking about him,” she spat. “I think and worry about him every day – ever since he was born – ever since I found out that I was pregnant if you must know. I even thought about getting an abortion after I left you but I couldn’t.”
“Tell me why not?” He pointed to the sofa. “Please?”
She sighed and sat down and he re-took his seat, placing the albums beside him.
“The baby was yours and mine. Ours. Not my bloody family’s – ours. Despite everything that happened I just couldn’t get rid of him. We made him. It was on that long weekend in Brighton, just after we’d agreed to try for a baby.”
“Brighton?” He smiled. “I’m not surprised, we hardly left the hotel room.”
“I know, but I hadn’t counted on me getting pregnant immediately.”
“I should have asked you to marry me there.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Before, during, or just after?”
He shook his head. “Over dinner the first evening. I’ve regretted it ever since. And I’ve grabbed every chance that has come my way since. And, yes, I do want to make chief inspector before I’m forty.”
“Jan was right,” she muttered. “You are married to the job.”
“You could have made inspector, too.”
“Well, there’s no point saying that now.” She touched her ear. “I’m happy at the bookshop.”
“There’s a crime bookshop here, just around the corner,” he told her. “And Tommy could go to St James’ Primary School. It’s only five minutes walk away.”
“I do know where it is.”
“So what’s your excuse?” he challenged.
She gave him a defiant stare. “Don’t bloody interrogate me, Stephen.”
“All right.” He got up, went to the kitchen, and poured himself a whisky. “But I’m only worried about you.”
“I know you are,” she replied quietly. Getting up from the sofa, she went to him, turned his face towards hers and kissed his cheek. “I need to try and get some sleep.”
“Becca.” He caught her hand. “Before you go, tell me what it was like being pregnant. Please? I missed out on so much.”
“I was huge. And he kicked my insides black and blue.”
“How big were you?” he asked, putting his whisky glass down, standing behind her and taking her hands. “Will you show me?”
She could feel his body pressing against hers, his breath on her ear, and couldn’t help but tense. It felt far too good. “My stomach was out here.” She held his hands out from her body, not at all sure how accurate she was being but just wanting to show him something and then move away from him. “It was huge. I waddled for the last few weeks.” Letting his hands go, she turned around, backing away from him. “I was in labour for sixteen hours and Tommy weighed eight pounds and one ounce.”
“You breastfed him?”
“Yes, I did,” she replied matter-of-factly, not wanting to move onto the subject of her breasts. “And now I really must try and get some sleep,” she told him, walking to the hall door and opening it. “Goodnight,” she added and closed it behind her. She leant back against the door for a moment, raising her hand to her forehead, and finding it damp with perspiration. “Fuck you, Stephen,” she whispered.
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