‘Nothing for it but to wait,’ he told her. ‘Have a seat and I’ll go and fetch us a coffee.’
With a sigh, she sank into a chair. The skies outside the airport were a gloomy, lowering grey, and despite her warm coat and boots and the promise of Christmas in the air, Natalie felt the chill in her very bones.
‘You know, Rhys,’ she grumbled, ‘we could be in the Galleries lounge right now, drinking martinis, if we’d only flown first class.’ She looked at him hopefully. ‘You could still upgrade our tickets.’
‘It’s a short flight,’ Rhys pointed out. ‘Hardly worth paying double. And it’s a bit early for martinis. Besides,’ he reminded her as he glanced round the crowded airport, ‘we can’t be extravagant with our expenditures. Dashwood and James department stores are still regaining their footing. We don’t want the press saying that we’re wasting company money.’
‘But it’s our bloody money,’ Natalie said crossly, and sneezed. ‘Yours and mine! We own half the company.’
‘Twenty-five percent,’ Rhys corrected her. ‘And don’t forget ‒ public perception is very important. It’s all about financial restraint.’ He lifted his brow. ‘What’ll you have, coffee, or tea?’
‘Coffee,’ Natalie answered, her expression sulky. ‘Cream. One sugar. If you think we can afford it.’
He didn’t answer; he’d already turned and plunged into the crowds to fetch their coffees.
Public perception. Financial restraint. Crikey, Natalie thought irritably as she fished out a wodge of tissue from her jacket pocket and blew her nose – bloody allergies – she and Rhys had been married less than six months, and already she was beyond tired of those words. It was annoying, living one’s life under a glass dome, having one’s every move watched and criticised—
A commotion just ahead caught Natalie’s attention, and she glanced up. The click and whirr of flashbulbs and the sound of raised voices carried across the airport.
Natalie frowned. What in the world—?
Through the crowd she glimpsed a woman with a glossy fall of dark-red hair and a tiny black dress clicking purposefully across the airport in a pair of dagger-sharp heels. Next to her, a man, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses and his dark hair stylishly cut, linked his arm through hers.
Oh my God, Natalie thought, startled. It couldn’t be. But it was. It was Gemma Astley and Dominic Heath!
‘Dominic,’ one of the reporters called out as he lunged in front of the rock star, microphone outstretched, ‘is it true that you and Gemma are getting married soon?’
‘When?’ a female reporter shouted. ‘Have you set a date?’
‘Is it true there’s to be a secret wedding at your Scottish estate in Inverness?’
‘Not much of a secret if you lot know about it, is it?’ Dominic shot back. ‘Now fuck off.’
Natalie stood and waved to catch his eye – he and Gemma were headed for the VIP lounge, no doubt – but the throngs of people and camera-wielding paparazzi around them made eye contact all but impossible.
‘Dominic!’ she called out. ‘Gemma!’
But they neither saw nor heard as they swept past. Disappointed, Natalie sank back down in her seat and wondered if it were true.
Were Gemma and Dom finally getting married?
If so – and if they’d be on same the flight to Scotland with her and Rhys – then perhaps the four of them could get together for a drink, or dinner.
Or perhaps not. After all, Natalie reflected with a frown, Gemma hadn’t bothered to share this latest news with her, nor had she invited them to the wedding. No surprise there, really; after all, she and Gem hadn’t spoken in nearly four months. But they used to tell each other everything.
And it really hurt to be excluded.
Oh well, Nat reminded herself, at least she and Rhys would be spending the holidays with her good friend Tarquin at his family’s castle in the tiny village of Loch Draemar in the Scottish Highlands.
It promised to be a fun and relaxing few weeks of roaring fires, delicious food (hopefully minus turnips or haggis), and brisk walks across the heath, not to mention nice long fireside chats with Tark and Wren, and she was really looking forward to it.
She looked up as a family trundling wheeled suitcases behind them trudged past in Gemma and Dominic’s wake. ‘I want a sweet, Mummy,’ a little girl with ginger hair complained. ‘You said I could have an ice lolly.’
‘Sam, it’s two degrees outside,’ her mother said, exasperated. ‘You can’t possibly want an ice lolly.’
‘But, Mummy, I do. And you promised.’
‘You did promise,’ a slightly older boy pointed out. ‘In the car, you said Sam might have one if she only stopped singing “The Wheels on the Bus” for five bloody minutes—’
‘That’s enough out of both of you,’ their father interjected. ‘Come along, or we’ll be late boarding our flight.’
As they walked by and merged into the crowds, the ginger-haired girl still sulking, Natalie eyed them wistfully. How lovely to have a family of your own, she thought. A sweet little girl or boy – or perhaps, one of each – for whom she could buy lots of darling little outfits, and lots of darling little shoes, and lots of darling little toys...
She sighed. She really, really wanted a baby. And although Rhys was amenable to the idea, he thought it best that they wait a bit, and enjoy being a couple before they started a family. After all, he’d pointed out, they’d only just got married. And although Natalie knew he was right in theory ‒ that they should travel and dine out and enjoy one another’s company before they added children to the mix – still, the pull of motherhood grew stronger within her every day.
Her sister Caro had a new baby. Such a sweet lamb little Phillipa was, too – so soft and cuddly and smelling of baby powder and...well, to be honest, Natalie thought as she wrinkled her nose, of poo, sometimes. She didn’t much look forward to that. Still – the image of Rhys, bent over a changing table as he put a nappy on their baby girl or boy, made her absolutely melt...
‘Excuse me. Sorry to bother you, but...aren’t you Natalie Dashwood?’
Startled out of her reverie, Natalie looked up to see a woman with short-cut brownish hair and blue eyes regarding her quizzically. A laptop bag hung off her shoulder.
‘Well, I was,’ Natalie said, her expression guarded. ‘I’m Natalie Dashwood-Gordon, now. Sorry, have we met—?’
She smiled in apology. ‘Oh, no. Only...I spotted you across the way and thought I recognized you. I saw you waving to Dominic Heath just now.’
Natalie nodded. ‘I tried to catch his eye, but with all the paparazzi...’
‘Yes, horrible buggers, aren’t they?’ The woman indicated the empty seat next to hers. ‘Do you mind? It took me two bloody hours to get through the security lines.’
‘Of course not. Please, sit down. My husband’s just gone to fetch some coffee.’
‘Ah, yes. Rhys Gordon. You two are married now, aren’t you? I read about it in the tabs,’ she added as she slid the laptop strap from her shoulder and sat down.
Natalie nodded politely. ‘Yes. We got married five months ago.’ She sneezed again. ‘Sorry,’ she apologized as she withdrew another tissue