"Ugh, am I glad to get out of that!"
Aurora Stapleton suppressed a shiver, peeling off her soaking jacket and
gingerly handing it to her hostess with a sheepish smile. "I forgot entirely
how rainy it can be in London - I should have packed a more watertight coat!"
"Well, you made it safely enough, that's the important thing." Laura Milligan
laughed, deftly slipping the jacket onto the radiator. "An' it will soon
dry. If you're soaked as all that, you can go take a hot shower. That'll
get the chill out of you. An' what about baby? Is she wet, too?"
"No." Aurora shook her head, casting a glance at the infant who was carefully
exploring her mother's shoes. "No, thankfully for Hollie, she has surrogate
aunts who think of everything. Copper bought her a new rainjacket the other
week in the sales, and I actually remembered to bring it. She's fine."
"Then you run upstairs an' take a shower. The bathroom is the first turnin'
on the left an' the towels are in the big cupboard over the sink." Laura
told her with a grin. "I'll get 'Ollie out of 'er wet things an' see if she's
"Sounds like a plan to me." Aurora nodded. "Thanks, Laura. It's not the
best way to greet you, I know!"
"Well, the rain ain't the best welcome for you girls, either." Laura told
her playfully. "It's fine. Now go, before you catch your death!"
Aurora needed no second telling. She was gone up the stairs, pausing at
the top as she ascertained where the bathroom was. She found it with little
difficulty and dunped her travel bag down on the floor, rummaging inside of
it for a dry change of clothes and her shampoo. Then, choosing a big bath
towel from the cupboard, she ran the shower, slipping under the warm shards
of water with a sigh of pleasure.
"At least this water is warm." She murmured, running her fingers through
her thick golden waves. "What a way to turn up -two bedraggled rats on Laura's
doorstep. Oh well, we made it though. I didn't think we would, when they
started talking about storms over London before we left Los Angeles. It was
a bumpy landing, but we made it in one piece and Hollie didn't seem too bothered
by it. I think I was a lot more scared than she was, in truth."
She reached out of the shower for the shampoo, rubbing it into her hands
till it lathered, then thoroughly washing the cold rainwater out of her
hair. "It's going to be nice to just spend a week away from everything and
be just...well...Mom. Hol and I don't get that chance very often, not with
my job. Being Topaz of Jewel is all very well, and I love it, but sometimes
I wonder if I spend enough quality time with my little girl. Sometimes it
seems that Cynthia plays with her a lot more than I do. Maybe even that she
likes Cynthia better."
She frowned, remembering their goodbyes. It had been late the night before,
California time, and Hollie's lip had trembled when she had realised that
her favourite playmate would not be coming on the trip to England with them.
Pouts had become full blown tears upon arrival at the airport, and Topaz
had found it difficult to reassure her unhappy baby that she would have fun
on their trip.
"But telling her that Daddy would be around seemed to do the trick." She
concluded with a half-shrug of her shoulders. "I wonder how well she remembers
him. They only got to spend a few weeks together when Copper got married,
and it's not long. I don't know how well babies of almost two retain that
kind of information - but she seemed to calm down when I told her Daddy
would be here."
She smiled, resigned.
"I can't win. Mom's the one who tells her off when she's naughty, so she
never wants me. It's Cynthia or Daddy - I can't get a break. But still,
maybe this week away is what we both need. And despite the weather, it is
nice to be in England again. Laura's so nice, and I know that Hol's in safe
hands with her grandmother downstairs. Besides, it'll be good for Hol to
spend some time with a Nana who can chase her around the living room if need
be. Mom loves her to death, but she's still too frail to play any of the
wild games Hollie seems to go in for."
She rinsed the last of the suds from her hair, stepping out of the bath
and wrapping the big bath towel around her, rubbing herself dry. She hummed
to herself as she did so, finally feeling the last of the rain's chill leave
her tired body. Hunting in the cupboard once more, she found a towel to
tie her dripping waves back in, and slowly she dressed, neatly folding the
towel and her wet clothes together to take them downstairs.
"Laura, where can I wash these?" She called, swinging open the bathroom
door. "My clothes are pretty soaked and your towel isn't a lot better!"
"Jus' put them on the pile with the others in the spare room. It's at the
end of the corridor. I'll see to them." Came the reply.
"I can't expect you to run around after my laundry, when it was my fault
for being stupid about what I wore here!" Topaz protested.
"It's fine." Laura called back. "You're a guest 'ere, an' I don't 'ave
my youngest's washin' to do this week, since 'e's gone away for the fortnight
with 'is friend from school. I won't notice the difference."
"Well, if you say so." Topaz looked doubtful, but did as she was told,
pushing her travel bag into the landing and heading back downstairs to join
her companions. Laura cast her a grin.
"That's better, huh?" She asked. Topaz nodded.
"Much. I feel warm again." She agreed. "I hope you don't mind me borrowing
a second towel for my hair - there's a lot of it and I didn't want it to
drip everywhere. It probably needs cutting...I think it's getting long and
"Feel free." Laura shook her head. She grinned. "I consider you an honourary
member of this family, anyway."
She cast a glance at the small child cradled in her lap, then shrugged.
"This one was happy as soon as I put food her way." She observed. "Amazing,
really, how small kids go for bananas. Cameron was exactly the same. Used
to love them mashed with sugar - God knows what it did to 'is teeth."
"Hollie's favourites are scrambled eggs and bananas." Topaz admitted. "Though
not necessarily together. I've no objection, though. Both are good for her."
She rubbed her fingers affectionately through her daughter's wavy reddish
gold hair. "She looks more alert than I feel, so I guess the flight hasn't
got to her too badly. She did sleep through most of it, though. With the
weather as bad as it was, I admit I didn't get much rest last night."
"Jet lag?" Laura looked sympathetic as Topaz nodded. "Till I came back
from seein' you guys in California a few months back, I 'ad no idea what
long distance lag was really about, you know." She laughed. "I stepped off
the plane, got into Keith's car an' that's pretty much all I remember. 'E
said I was practically asleep by the time we got 'ome and that I slept the
clock round. How you girls go tourin' around the place an' still 'ave the
energy to jump up on stage the next night I'll never know."
"Practice, I suppose." Topaz pursed her lips. "And we do fly a heck of
a lot. In America you kinda have to, to get anywhere. Driving takes far
She made herself more comfortable on the sofa. "I left my bag in the hall
upstairs...I wasn't sure where to put it."
"Well, take a moment to catch your breath an' I'll show you, so you can
unpack and get some rest." Laura suggested. "It's Avril's old room, an' Keith
dug out the old crib for 'Ollie. She's not sleeping in beds yet, is she?"
"No...though I'm debating whether to try it at home." Topaz replied. "But
here, this is a strange place...I'd rather know that Ive put her down and
she won't have fallen down the stairs by the morning. She does like to wriggle
off and explore."
"Don't they all?" Laura tickled her granddaughter affectionately, and Hollie
giggled, squirming. "I remember a moment when 'er Dad got 'imself inside
the wash basket. I still to this day don't know 'ow 'e managed it. I'd put
'im down on my bedroom floor for a minute while I was sortin' things to wash
an' the next thing I know, there's a very angry squeal comin' from the spare
room." She giggled. "Funniest thing I ever saw, I swear. I went in there
an' there 'e was, sitting on top of the crumpled towels an' screamin' 'is
little 'ead off. Oh, I can't tell you 'ow tempted I was to leave 'im there
a while so I knew where 'e was while I was busy, but I couldn't leave 'im
to cry like that. But the next day we went out an' bought a playpen. First
kid an' all, we 'adn't thought of it."
"Well, back home my friends say Hollie is a lot like me in character, but
it sounds to me like there's a lot more of her Dad in her than just looks."
She observed. "I hope you have some more stories like that, Laura. I'd love
to know what kind of things my little girl is going to put me through, preferably
before she realises she can do it."
"Yes, though I'm sure my son wouldn't thank me." Laura grinned.
"Is it just us, then?"
"Keith's workin' - he'll be back around half five or six." Laura replied.
"Kyle's on 'oliday, like I said. Avril will be over before we know it, too.
She's excited as anythin' to meet Cameron's baby. Cam 'imself is around,
too. Since 'e got his results, 'e seems to be all over the place at once,
sorting out 'is visas and paperwork in time to come back with you at the
end of the week. An' Stephanie is at music school. Did Cam tell you she got
a scholarship? We couldn't be more proud of 'er."
"No, he didn't, but she must be really good to get that." Topaz was impressed.
"As I understand it, they only give those things out to the most gifted
"Yes, an' Steph worked so hard to get it." Laura could not keep the pride
from her tone. "Keith an' I 'ave been so lucky, in truth. Our four 'ave
always turned out to be focused and driven in their goals an' aims. Kyle's
signed up for the army come September, an' I know he'll give it all he 'as.
I don't know. I feel we're blessed. Kids these days - it's hard to really
know what they're going to be, with all the things in the world to stand
in their way. Money bein' the biggest." She shrugged. "Honestly, Steph's
scholarship solved that for us. I don't feel a penny of the money we put
into Cameron's education was wasted, but it would've been no mean feat to
match it if we'd 'ad to try an' pay for her courses. Then there'd be Kyle
and Avril too, if they'd wanted university - which neither does. Avril takes
after me...she's all about the family. But even so, she's worked 'er way
up to assistant manager of the shop she's workin' in." Her eyes twinkled.
"I like to show my children off, like a peacock parent, but when I think
of some of the kids they grew up with, an' where they went...well, my four
are doin' good for themselves an' I couldn't be more proud of them."
"I hope Hollie inherits that." Topaz cast her daughter a grin. "I want
her to be clever, like her Dad. Though I think she already is. And she didn't
get that from me, that's for sure."
"You shouldn't do yourself down." Laura chided. "You're just as focused,
to be where you are in the music world. I know that's no easy ride, neither."
She stood, hoisting the infant up onto her shoulder. "Come on, let's go
upstairs an' I'll show you where you're gonna sleep while you're with us.
You look about to drop, anyway, an' you'll be in no fit state for dinner at
this rate. Remember, I'm the only one aside from Cameron who's met this little
bundle of trouble yet, an' it'd be a shame to make people wait even longer.
They'll want to see you, too."
"People? Is there something about dinner I should know?" Topaz looked startled.
Laura shook her head.
"No." She replied. "Keith will be 'ome, that's all, an' Avril an' Cameron
are both droppin' by to see you. Just a small family meal - it's quite common
in this 'ouse for one or both of them to drop by, anyway. I've even convinced
Cam to stop for a few days over 'ere."
A wistful look touched her face.
"An' after this week, it'll be a while before I see my eldest again." She
added, leading the way up the stairs. "It's always a wrench, Aurora, when
they go away...but Cam has never really gone far. This is half way around
the world - an' I want to be sure I spend as much time as I can with 'im
before 'e leaves me."
"I wish the world wasn't so big, sometimes." Topaz said sadly. "I'd love
Hollie to see you guys more often...but it just can't be done."
"No, and I know that Cameron's got to be with his daughter." Laura pulled
herself together. "So I'm resigned to it. I'll miss him, but then, they
'ave to fly the coop eventually."
She shrugged. "Besides, I think Cameron is followin' 'is 'eart as much
as 'e is 'is DNA."
"I don't understand."
"Well, call me an' interfering mother, but I'm fairly sure he still thinks
of you in the same way as he did before Hollie was even thought of." Laura
shot her guest a sidelong glance, and Topaz blushed.
"Maybe he does, but I think it's unlikely." She said at length. "Even if
he did still have feelings for me, I've betrayed his trust in me every way
I knew how over the time we've known each other. And to top it off, I kept
his daughter a secret from him for more than a year, and let him believe
she was someone else's. He means the world to me, but I don't imagine there'll
be any quick fix any time soon. I'm a screw up at relationships, and I think
he's finally realised it. So long as we stay friends for Hollie's sake,
that's what matters."
"At least Hollie will know both her parents." Laura remarked. "I suppose
that is the important thing."
"Yes, and my priority." Topaz nodded, as her colour returned to normal.
She stifled a yawn. "And I think the jet lag is starting to kick in."
"Well, this is Avril's old room, so make yourself comfortable." Laura pushed
open a door to reveal a small, pastel-pink decorated bedroom with a bed
beside the window and a big oak wardrobe pressed up against the far wall.
A crib stood in one corner, and patterened floral curtains were pulled back
from the windows to let in what little sunlight the day had. "If your 'air
'asn't dried yet, there's a drier in the cupboard under the desk."
"It's pretty." Topaz murmured. "Avril doesn't mind me commandeering her
"Avril's got 'er own place just around the corner, so she doesn't live
'ere any more." Laura responded. She glanced at Hollie. "This one doesn't
seem so tired, so I'll take her back down with me, if you don't mind. Spend
a little bit of time with my first grandchild while you get some shut eye."
"Okay. Her doll is in my bag." Topaz indicated. "I put it in there to keep
it from getting wet, but she doesn't like to be without it long. Thanks,
She stifled another yawn. "And I think sleep is a good idea. I can't keep
my eyes open!"
"Copper! Copper, chiquita, estas muy tarde!"
As the two girls made their way through the arrivals lounge, they were accosted
by a tall woman, who immediately hugged Copper tightly, speaking to her in
prettily accented Spanish. As Copper replied eagerly in the same tongue, Jesta
stood back to one side, once more feeling isolated as she took in the features
of the newcomer. She was of equal height to Copper, with thick waves of hair
styled elegantly back from her face. Deep blue eyes sparkled with a gentle
warmth, and there was a kindess about her face that, despite herself, Jesta
recognised in her daughter as well. At length the older woman pulled away
from her eldest child, casting Jesta an enquiring, interested look.
"Entonces, tu eres Jessica, no?" She asked softly.
"What?" Jesta stared.
"Mama, Jesta doesn't really speak any Spanish." Copper hurried to explain,
slipping back into English.
"I am sorry." The older woman looked contrite. "I lost myself for a moment.
Of course, I realise Spanish is a new venture for you - I did not mean to
make you feel unwelcome by using it."
She held out a hand. "You are Jessica, I believe?"
"Yes." Jesta made no attempt to meet the handshake, and the other woman
sighed, but shrugged.
"I suppose you must have many questions." She reasoned at length, lowering
her hand. "And I am but a stranger to you. Well, let me make that right, at
least. My name is Carmen Santiago - I am your father's widow, and Copper's
mother. I believe you are seeking my help."
"I came for the money my father put aside for me. That's all." There was
a challenge in Jesta's gaze, but Carmen met it with a gentle smile, seeing
beyond the hostility to the uncertainty beneath.
"Then the first thing we must do is get you both back home. There is much
to talk about." she said lightly. "Copper, is this all your luggage? It seems
"We wanted to travel light, and you know coming was a last minute thing."
Copper nodded. "And as Jesta says, well, she doesn't envisage it being a long
"I don't care what you do. I only told you what I was doing." Jesta muttered,
hauling her bag up onto her shoulder. "Are we going already? Bad enough I've
spent the afternoon stuck on a plane that spent an hour and a half circling
the airport because it missed it's slot."
Copper sent her mother an apologetic glance, but Carmen merely winked at
her daughter, offering an amused smile. She turned to Jesta, nodding.
"Yes. I have a taxi waiting - if you come with me." She said amiably.
They walked in silence for some time, out through the main exit and into
the Detroit sunshine. It was bright, but considerably cooler than California,
and despite herself Jesta felt relieved. Carmen caught her expression, and
"It is a lot less warm in Detroit...I imagine that for someone born in cooler
climates, you will appreciate that." She observed. Jesta started, but made
no attempt to reply.
"My daughter calls you Jesta. I know your mother named you Jessica. Which
would you rather I call you?"
"Call me what you like. It isn't like it matters."
"Of course it matters." There was a touch of reproach in Carmen's blue eyes.
"It matters because my husband thought much of you, even right till the day
he passed on. I wouldn't insult him by insulting his eldest daughter. Which
will it be? Jessica or Jesta?"
"Jes...Jesta, I guess." Jesta faltered, then berated her hesitation. Her
expression hardened, and she nodded. "Yes. Jesta. That's what everyone calls
"All right. Jesta it is." Carmen seemed to find amusement in this. As they
reached the waiting taxi she paused, glancing between her two companions.
"Funny, isn't it, how easy it is to live behind another name." She mused
aloud, half to herself and half to them. "Copper has been Copper since she
was a child of two or three. Me, my Papa called me Raya when I was old enough
to understand what a name was. And you are Jesta. Is this a pet name also?"
"No. It's business." Jesta said shortly, wrenching open the back door of
the car and slipping inside before anything else could be said. Carmen met
Copper's gaze, as the driver came out to help with the bags.
"She's upset about many things, isn't she?" Carmen remarked softly. Copper
rolled her eyes.
"I don't know. I can't make out if she's upset or just being the usual pain
in the butt she seems to be when around me and the others." She said sadly.
"I just spent a long flight with her. I'm trying, Mama - I know she's Papa's
as much as I am and I don't want to let him down. But I don't think she wants
anything to do with the Santiago family or her heritage or anything. She's
as she said - here for the money he left her. That's about it."
"Well, if that's all she wants, I will make sure that she gets everything
she should have." Carmen shrugged her shoulders. "She's an adult - it's her
right to choose whether she does or does not want to accept the rest of you
She smiled a slight, wistful smile.
"And now I think you understand better why your Papa never told you." She
added, reaching for the passenger door handle. "I think he knew that, the
more the years went on, the harder this gap would be for you to breach."
"I don't think it is breachable." Copper admitted. "But I'll keep trying,
Mama. If for nothing else but for Papa's sake - I'll keep trying."