She looked up as Ben strode back into the room.
‘So, I’ll meet you at Green Park tube at seven-thirty,’ he said, reaching for his tie and executing a perfect knot in the mirror.
Hannah’s eyes met his reflection stormily. ‘I don’t know who you expect me to get to baby-sit at such short notice. Your mum’s made it obvious that she’s not interested and I haven’t seen any of my friends in ages. I can’t just randomly phone someone up and expect them to…’
‘I’m not interested in how you do it. Just do it. Phone an agency if you have to.’
He picked up his jacket and eyed her coldly. ‘You’d better be there or I’ll be seriously pissed off, I’m warning you. I’ll see you later.’
And he was gone, swinging away without a backward glance. The kitchen door slammed as he went out into the back garden, and she felt a slight easing of the tension in her stomach. Across the hall and through the lounge window she could see him stopping to bend over the pram. Not a single hair on his gleaming blond head was out of place – his lean face, still tanned from his recent business trip to Cannes, was eye-catchingly perfect. He looked every inch what he was – the suave, up and coming City stockbroker.
She looked at him in his impeccably cut Armani suit and realised how easily she’d been duped; how cleverly his outward perfection concealed the imperfections that lay beneath.
‘That’s fantastic Han,’ he’d said when she’d broken down in shock and told him she was pregnant. ‘No more talk about gap-years with your friends after uni now, eh? You’ll be too busy bringing up our child. You’d better move in with me so I can make sure you’re looked after properly.’
But being looked after properly had somehow turned into, ‘where I can control you’, and as his job had got more sociable, so his drinking had increased, until she realised she’d become trapped in a nightmare of her own making.
But not anymore, she resolved, jumping up from the bed and turning away from the sight of him in the garden. This time he really had gone too far – and it wasn’t just about her any more.
She crossed to the wardrobe, hauled out her jeans and a tee-shirt and headed for the bathroom. Her heart raced at the enormity of what she was about to do. It wouldn’t be easy. She hadn’t seen her mother since her father’s death five months ago and their parting had been bitter. But she’d understand – wouldn’t she?
She hesitated, her glance falling on the phone again. Should she call her mother? Explain?
She rejected the idea. Easier to do it face-to-face. However upset her mother was. She wouldn’t throw her back out on the street.
Ten minutes later she was dressed and headed for the garden. A quick look around confirmed that Ben’s car had gone. Now she’d made up her mind, she just wanted to be gone. She’d feed Sophie, then leave, and by the time Ben got back that evening, there’d be nothing he could do about it.
Slipping the brake off the pram she leaned in.
‘Come on poppet, time to...’
She broke off, staring blankly at the little dent in the mattress where her daughter should have been. Her heart jolted.
She jerked her head up and looked around. The sunny garden with its flowering spring bulbs looked pretty as a picture but there was no sign of her daughter anywhere. And the peaceful silence felt suddenly hostile.
Panic gripped her. She felt disorientated, remembering with a rush of relief seeing Ben leaning over the pram, before realising in the next breath that he had a meeting in London and would never have taken Sophie with him.
Where was she? Her mind was muddled. Had she already taken her in?
But it seemed the more she tried to remember, the more jumbled up her thoughts became.
She started to run back towards the flat.
No, no – the road.
She changed direction, her feet flying over the short tufts of grass, her breath coming in suffocating gasps as she raced out through the back gate onto the pavement.
The long, leafy street was deserted.
The scent of baby lotion clawed at her senses, squeezing her heart.
‘Are you all right, Hannah?’
It was her neighbour’s voice, coming from a million miles away.
Hannah spun round. ‘Sophie’s gone. She’s gone.’
‘What do you mean…?’
But already Hannah was swinging away, choking on the sobs as she raced down the path into the quiet, deserted flat. She knew it was pointless, knew she hadn’t brought her in, but still she checked every room, flinging open each door before rushing back out into the sunshine to check the pram one final time.
And it was only as her blurred vision locked on the little indentation in the mattress – the only proof her daughter had ever been there – that she finally gave vent to the scream lodged in her throat, the shrill sound echoing through the quiet neighbourhood as the full horror of what had happened washed over her.
Someone had taken her baby...
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish