The Wrong Sister

By: Kris Pearson



I knew that...

“What about your toast?” she countered, trying not to react to the sting in his microwave dig.

“I said I didn’t want the damn stuff in the first place. Just let it go—okay? I don’t need looking after, whatever you or your mother may think.”

Fiona compressed her lips and turned aside to scrape the porridge from the saucepan. Seriously stuck. Sighing, she ran some hot water into it, added a squirt of dish-wash liquid, and set it to soak before starting a second batch.

Why was he being like this? Yes, he’d lost Jan. But so had she. They should be pulling together to help one another through this appalling time. Instead, he seemed hell-bent on getting her out of the house. So far he’d tried reason, rudeness, the excuse she looked too much like her sister, assurances he could manage without her, the acquisition of a nanny, and strangest of all, the teasing physical closeness.

Earlier, by the window, when he’d come to stand directly behind her, almost rubbing himself against her, she’d wondered if he was trying to drive her away with sexual aggression.

Her brother-in-law? Surely not.





CHAPTER TWO





Fiona had long ago resigned herself to Christian’s electric presence and devised coping strategies. She prayed they were still adequate, because this was proving a much more difficult assignment than she’d imagined.

Evenings in the house should be bearable. Her guest bedroom on a lower level than the master suite meant she could escape there to read or watch TV the instant Nicky was down for the night. Caring for Nick should be easy enough with Christian not around, but it seemed he planned to remain home for a while. Fiona had expected, and hoped, he’d be at work, well out of her way.

Anyway, he was Jan’s, first and always, she reminded herself sternly as she removed the much more successful porridge from the microwave oven and added milk to cool it.

“Open wide, Nicola Jane Hartley.” She brought the teaspoon down with a flourish to her niece’s rosebud mouth, playing jet-planes—copying those that dropped steadily lower over the sparkling water to land at the international airport not far away.

Nicola opened her mouth like a baby bird and Fiona zoomed the spoon in. Nicky liked to feed herself, but that was a slow and messy process. The jet-plane game sped things up wonderfully, and she could do without more mishaps today.

She knew Christian still leaned against the doorframe behind her. He’d been there for several long, tense minutes. Fiona kept her full attention on Nicky rather than risk another confrontation.

He also said nothing, then finally turned and left them to it. She heard the soles of his trainers squeaking slightly on the marble-tiled floor as he departed, and her spine sagged at last and all the muscles across her shoulders and down her back relaxed in a grateful slump.

He’d made her really uneasy with his unrelenting suggestions she should leave. She couldn’t—partly because of the promise she’d made to her parents. They were hundreds of miles away in Auckland now. Both were busy doctors and had opted to return to their duties. She suspected their absorbing work would be the best distraction for them, anyway.

Once she’d known her beautiful sister would be irrevocably lost, Fiona had arranged tentative bereavement leave with her employers. As the entertainments officer on the ‘Mediterranean Queen’, she could be replaced for a number of cruises. Jan’s condition grew critical; Fiona returned to New Zealand for a last precious time. And far sooner than anyone expected, Jan had slipped away.

Now, Fiona’s luxury liner plowed through the sunny blue ocean without her, disgorging toasted passengers to admire the scenery in Spain, the south of France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and North Africa. Until her appointed time to rejoin it, she was literally homeless.

Another five and a half weeks stuck in a hotel or rattling around her parent’s Auckland apartment didn’t appeal in the least. Nicola was desperately in need of mothering—by turns truculent and clingy, confused and sorrowful. She wanted MommaJan, and no explanation sufficed to placate her.

Her big blue eyes fastened again and again on Fiona’s, as though Auntie Fee could suddenly produce her missing mother. Fiona felt guilty and helpless. She barely had Nicola’s trust yet, and she ached to bring the little girl whatever comfort was possible. Her visits home had been so sporadic she’d seen her only three times.

And why is that, Ms Delaporte? Because you knew you had to stay away from Christian?

She sighed as she lined up the next spoonful of porridge, acknowledging the truth of it. Christian made her heart spark and flutter. Made her skin burn. Made her yearn. She had only to be close to him and she was lost—just like she’d been lost the first time she’d met him—on his wedding day.

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