Poles apart, p.21
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       Poles Apart, p.21
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           Kirsty Moseley

  stop pretending I was fine and wasn’t ready to burst into tears at any second, but it was bad in another way because now I would have to carry her all the way home to Carson’s place.

  Luckily for me, Carson’s house was easy to find on the beautiful and exclusive street. By the time I arrived outside the house and typed in the passcode for the gate he’d made me memorise, sweat was running down my back, and my arms ached from carrying the sleeping little girl for so long. I was gasping for a drink, a shower and a long sit down – but what I wanted the most was a huge, ginormous bar of chocolate to drown my sorrows in.

  As I walked in the front door and closed it quietly behind me, Carson poked his head around the hallway. His eyes widened when he saw me, and he came strutting toward me with a worried expression on his face.

  “Why are you back here so early?” Carson asked, frowning in confusion. “Is everything okay, what’s happened?”

  I sighed and walked into the lounge, carefully setting Sasha down onto the sofa so she could continue with her nap. “The university crèche won’t take Sasha anymore. Apparently, there is too much attention surrounding her, and they don’t want it to upset or unsettle her or the other children. They said that with the press following me and her around, they can’t guarantee her safety or the safety of others, and it would be unethical to allow me to leave Sasha there with them for the foreseeable future. They’ve suggested I make alternative arrangements,” I muttered, stalking into the kitchen and yanking open the fridge, looking for some comfort food.

  “You’re kidding,” Carson gasped.

  I shook my head. “Nope.”

  “Well, how are you supposed to go to your classes?” he asked angrily.

  I shrugged. “Apparently, that’s not their problem,” I answered. Not finding anything good in the fridge, I slammed it shut and turned to face him. “You should have seen the way they looked at me. I felt disgusting. I hate this. I hate that everything has changed. I hate that I now can’t go to class because I don’t have anyone to watch Sash. Maybe I should just give up and drop out. Hell, I’ll be surprised if I’m even allowed to attend anymore after this. If the crèche are binning me off, then the school will probably find an excuse to chuck me out, too.”

  Carson recoiled at my train of thought but shook his head adamantly. “You’re not dropping out, and they’re not binning you off, either. If they do then we’ll take it to the board of governors and tell them we’re suing them for discrimination. You love your course, and I won’t let you give up on it,” he replied. “If they don’t want to care for Sasha while you’re at uni, then we’ll find someone else to.”

  I scowled down at the floor. “I don’t know. It’s going to be really hard for me in my classes anyway now that everyone knows.” I kicked my toes against the marble tiles absentmindedly. “The other mums I talk to every day at nursery couldn’t get away from me quick enough. It was like they thought I was going to infect them with something.”

  Carson sighed and stepped closer to me, hooking his finger under my chin, and tilting my head up so I had to meet his eyes. “You’re not a quitter, Emma. If you gave up when life was a little hard, then you wouldn’t be where you are today.”

  That was true. I usually never let anything beat me down, but right now I felt like I’d been kicked too many times and was finding it hard to get to my feet again. I shrugged, not having the words. What I longed for was to step forward, press my face into his chest, and let his warmth cover me like a cloak of protection.

  Carson sighed deeply. “We’ll just get one of those live-in nannies or something. You’re not quitting your course,” he said adamantly. “I’ll make some calls and get the ball rolling and then once we have some suitable candidates, you can choose someone.”

  I scoffed at his idea. “I’m not having a live-in nanny look after Sash! No way.”

  “Why not? It won’t be just a regular person. There must be some sort of service that other people in the public eye go to. I’ll call around and see if anyone can recommend someone. You can do interviews, make sure the person is qualified and that you like them and trust them.”

  I shook my head in refusal. “No, it’s not happening, Carson. I’m not letting you bully me into this one. We’re not having a live-in nanny. I’m not having someone know her better than me. Sasha will be running to her when she’s hurt herself, and she’ll breastfeed her in the night and have Sash call her ‘Mummy’. She’ll make me look like I’ve lost my mind so she can sweep in and steal my family from me. No. No way.”

  Carson chuckled wickedly, looking at me as if I’d lost my mind. “Seriously?”

  I placed my hands on my hips. “Yes! Have you not seen The Hand That Rocks the Cradle? The blonde woman in that was psycho. I’m not taking the chance.”

  He burst out laughing, shaking his head. “Emma, you’re so awesomely funny. Who knew living with you would be so entertaining,” he jibed.

  I sighed and rolled my eyes. “I’m not having a live-in nanny.” He can make fun all he wants; it isn’t happening.

  Carson stepped closer to me, so close I could feel his breath as it blew across my face. He’d been eating apple pie. My mouth watered as I longed to go up on tiptoes and press those soft lips against mine. I wanted to trace my tongue along his and see if he tasted like apple pie, too.

  “Okay, fine, we don’t get a nanny. How about we find Sasha a new private nursery then?” he offered, cocking his head to the side.

  I smiled weakly and nodded, feeling some of the tension leave my body. “Yeah, I’d like that a lot better. Thank you.”

  When his hand rose and he brushed a loose curl of hair behind my ear, my whole body prickled with excitement. It had been so long since he’d touched me that my insides were melting and fizzing with apprehension. It was now five long weeks since I’d had any physical attention from him. That was seriously too long for my body to cope with.

  I caught his hand, smiling weakly, knowing I needed to make my escape before I begged him to make love to me on the kitchen counter just so I could relieve some of this sexual frustration building inside me. A white blob on the tip of his finger caught my attention and I looked down at it, seeing that he had little speckles of white and silver flecking the back of his hand.

  “You been decorating or something?” I asked, letting go of his hand and taking a step back.

  “Yeah.” He nodded, looking away from me.

  “I thought you said you don’t do decorating,” I queried. Last night when we’d spoken about Sasha’s room, he’d said he would get a professional painter in to decorate it. I frowned, not liking that he’d gone ahead and done it without me. He’d said we could choose the theme together.

  “I don’t, I just wanted to do this little thing.” He shrugged, looking away from me before going to the fridge and rooting around inside.

  I frowned at his back. “I’m going to take a quick shower. Can you listen out for Sash? She probably won’t wake yet but…”

  “Yeah, of course.”

  I turned on my heel and marched out, trudging up the stairs, wondering what the weird atmosphere was in the kitchen. As I walked past Sasha’s room, I peeked in, not seeing anything different in there. The walls were still a plain, cream colour; I could see no traces of white or silver paint anywhere. I frowned, now thoroughly confused as I made my way to my bedroom. As I opened the door, something on the wall caught my eye. A glittering, shiny thing. I frowned, stepping in and closing the door behind me as I looked at it. My lungs constricted when I saw what it was. Now I knew the reason Carson had white and silver paint on his hands.

  On the red wall behind my bed, there were now several white and silver spray-painted butterflies. He’d obviously used a stencil, as the pattern was very intricate but exactly the same, repeated in varying sizes. The little stencils floated up the wall and off to the side as if they were flying in a group. They were crude; one of them had a little chunk missing, and one was a lot darker than the other
s – probably his first attempt at it.

  My heart melted into a puddle and my eyes glazed over with tears. Butterflies were my favourites – as well he knew. I put my hand up, tracing the line of one of them as my teeth sank into my bottom lip. He’d gone to so much effort, just for me. I loved it. “What a cutie-pie,” I murmured, looking at the stencilled design in awe.

  When I turned, something else caught my eye. On the middle of the bed sat a light-turquoise paper bag with the words Tiffany & Co printed on the side. I frowned, reaching for it and picking it up, curious. As I peeked inside, I saw a small square box of the same colour, with a white ribbon tied at the top. I glanced up, wondering if this was for me to open. Carson had clearly been in my room this morning painting, so if there was something on the bed then surely he’d put it there for me to find.

  Curiously, I shoved my hand in the bag, picking up the little box as I chewed on my lip. Unable to stand not knowing what was inside, I sat on the edge of the bed and tossed the bag to the side, pulling the white ribbon from the box. As I lifted the lid, a smaller black box greeted me. My breath suddenly caught in my throat as I realised what this was. I had no idea how I’d not thought of it before.

  Gulping, I lifted the lid, and there sat the most exquisite engagement ring I had ever seen. The diamond on it was huge and cut to perfection so the light glittered and shined off it. Smaller diamonds were set into the white gold band, making it look classy but not too overstated. It was perfection.

  My hand shook as I reached out and touched it. Tears swam in my eyes as my finger touched the cool, hard band. “Oh, God,” I breathed. My eyes drifted to the third finger of my left hand as I wondered what it would look like near my chewed and unpainted fingernails. It was so incredibly beautiful – too beautiful, in fact. I couldn’t accept it. A ring from Tiffany’s was just too much; it had probably cost him a fortune.

  That was when the irrational anger started to creep up on me. The fact that he’d just left the ring on the bed for me to find actually bugged the shit out of me. Deep down, I knew why I was annoyed – I wanted him to get down on one knee and give me this ring. This was just another thing which showed how disconnected he was to me and this marriage he was insisting on. The ring, casually left on the bed, hurt me.

  Pushing myself up from the bed, I grabbed all the wrappings and boxes and headed out of the room. As I walked into the kitchen, he looked up from the sandwich he was eating and smiled at me. His smile made my anger dissipate immediately, and I fought hard to hold on to it and remember why I was annoyed.

  “I can’t accept this,” I stated, placing the bag and ring box down on the kitchen table and folding my arms across my chest defensively.

  One of his eyebrows rose. “And why’s that?”

  “It’s a ring from Tiffany’s, Carson!” I replied.

  He grinned, regarding me with playful eyes. “And you have a problem with Tiffany & Co?”

  I sighed deeply. “Look, I don’t need this, all right? The ring is beautiful, but I can’t accept it.” As I said the words, I realised how much I didn’t like saying them. A conflict was raging inside me; part of me wanted that ring badly just because it was from him.

  Carson shrugged and stood up, picking up his now-empty plate and walking to the sink. “Well, I can’t get a refund now; I’ve lost the receipt.”

  I scowled at his back. “As if! You must have only bought it this morning!” I had been with him all weekend; this morning when I’d attempted to go to class was the only time we’d been apart.

  He turned and a playful smile graced his lips, and all I could think about was flicking my tongue across his. He leant against the counter and shrugged. “You don’t like the ring then? I can get store credit; you can choose something else if you don’t like the design.”

  I picked up the ring box and popped open the lid, holding it out to him. I kept trying not to look at it because every time I saw it, my heart stuttered in my chest. “Look at it, how can anyone not like that? But it’s too much, Carson. Seriously, this is just… no, I can’t.”

  He didn’t answer, just walked over to me and took the box from my hand. I watched as he plucked the ring from the box and carelessly tossed the wrapping to the side. “I happen to think this ring would look fucking incredible on you,” he stated as he took my left hand. “So yes, you can accept it. And yes, you will wear it and show it off. And yes, you will love it.” I gasped as he placed the ring on my third finger, slowly sliding it all the way down to my knuckle. “And yes, it does look fucking incredible on you.” His eyes flicked up to meet mine. “Stop being difficult and thinking of the cost all the time. From now on, you don’t need to worry about the price of anything.”

  I was lost in my own thoughts. I wanted to be angry at him for the situation we were in, I wanted to refuse to accept it because it was too expensive, and I wanted to shout at him for trapping me all the time and not considering my feelings or wants. But, in that moment, all that seemed to matter to me was that Carson Matthews had just pushed an engagement ring onto my finger. Everything else now faded into insignificance.

  Before I could recover, he bent his head and pressed his lips to the corner of my mouth. I whimpered at the feel of it. The soft, intimate moment swirled around me; seconds seemed to drag on. Without my conscious permission, my hand gripped the side of his shirt.

  As he pulled away, his eyes met mine, and I could see the desire there. Carson had always made me feel desired and wanted. His eyes were my downfall. I didn’t let go of his shirt as the tip of his nose touched mine. His lips brushed mine ever so gently as he spoke. “Please take the ring. I saw it and knew it was the right one,” he whispered, moving his hand to cup my neck as his thumb stroked the line of my jaw. My mouth watered as his breath blew across my lips. “Please?” he whispered again.

  I gulped, swallowing the desire I was seemingly drowning in. “Okay.” Embarrassingly, my voice cracked as I answered, but he didn’t seem to notice.

  A smile twitched at the corner of his lips as he stepped impossibly closer to me, pressing his body against mine. “See? A little compromise, that’s all that was needed.”

  Compromise? “We didn’t compromise. I conceded,” I muttered, coming back to reality a little.

  He grinned then and the intimate moment was over. “Different word, same conclusion,” he observed as he stepped back and let his hand drop to his side. “Thank you for accepting it.”

  I looked down at the beautiful thing, which now resided on my finger. “Thank you for buying it for me,” I replied breathlessly.

  He chuckled and shrugged as if it were nothing. At that exact moment, Sasha came wandering into the kitchen, rubbing at her eyes. Her hair was sticking up everywhere, her eyes still half-closed as she yawned around her dummy. I smiled at the sight, a little grateful I would have a distraction and someone else in the room so Carson and I weren’t alone anymore. I wasn’t doing very well at holding my own against him at all.

  EVERYONE WAS TALKING AT ONCE. There were too many voices, saying too many different things around me and my neck ached from turning back and forth so I could try to keep up with them. Magazines, colour swatches, sample napkins, fabric samples, lists of venues and flower brochures littered the table in front of me. The group pawed through them, gushing over them, all excited as they planned my wedding.

  No one asked me what I thought.

  I sat there, surrounded by people and noise, chatter, and champagne, yet I’d never felt more lonely in my life.

  Margo, the haughty, snooty-looking wedding planner Carson had invited around, sat there gushing over one venue – some castle in Scotland – and tried to convince Carson it was the best place to host a wedding. She raved over a wedding she’d planned there just last year, saying it was the most spectacular thing she’d ever seen; though, of course, ours would be even better, according to her.

  Margo had two assistants with her. The younger-looking girl, who certainly had her eyes on Carson, was more o
f a lackey. Every time Margo would say something, the younger girl would quickly dig through the pile of stuff they’d brought with them and hold up samples or photos, which matched the topic of conversation. The other assistant was busy scribbling notes down in a pad, firing off questions that Margo answered without consulting anyone else.

  Carson seemed a little overwhelmed and was drinking his champagne too fast as he nodded along with stuff and spent goodness knows how much money – I wasn’t even sure if he knew what he’d spent because I never once heard a price mentioned. It didn’t really seem to matter; money was something of unimportance to Carson, it seemed.

  Carson’s sisters, Kimberly and Alice, were looking with wide eyes through the exquisite wedding cake design book, giggling to themselves and cooing over them.

  The only one who didn’t look very enthusiastic about it was Jillian, Carson’s mother. She’d come around to sit in on the plans because Carson thought ‘being a part of it all’ would help me and her bond. It wasn’t working. She was sipping champagne slowly; her face was a blank page and her eyes gave nothing away.

  Thankfully, Sasha was in bed already. She was exhausted from her play in the park after we got unceremoniously kicked out of the nursery and the numerous games of hide and seek she and Carson played all afternoon. Rory, the lucky kid, also got to escape all this and was in his bedroom doing his homework. I envied him. Today had been one long, never-ending day, and all I wanted was to sit with my feet up and a cup of tea, watching EastEnders – not sipping champagne and planning a wedding I didn’t even want to attend.

  “So, if you’d just decide on a colour scheme we can move on to tablecloths and napkins,” Margo suggested, holding out a colour wheel to Carson.

  He cleared his throat, nodding in my direction. “Emma?”

  Biting back my scoff and angry remark, I shrugged noncommittally. “I don’t care. Whatever you want.” Even to my own ears, my voice sounded depressed.

  Carson’s forehead creased with a frown as his lips pressed into a thin line. “You don’t want to choose the colour that will run through the whole day?” he asked sarcastically.

  Black. Black was dark, dank and depressing – that would suit my mood. But I didn’t say that because I was supposed to be behaving in front of other people and pretending like this wedding was the best thing that ever happened to me.

  I forced a smile, trying not to show how detached I was from it all, how emotionless I was inside about it. I couldn’t even summon one ounce of excitement. The wedding planner and Carson had chosen a date just over five months away because it fit in with his racing
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