After dinner, the three sat on the couch talking, both Valerie and Chloe probing Lorne with questions about his climbing. He appeared reluctant to share much at first, but their unrelenting interest egged him on, so he offered a few glimpses of high points among his adventures.
As he related an experience on Mount Waddington, he pointed to Chloe, who had curled up with her head in his lap, and was emitting near-silent moans and snores. "Told you my stories would bore you. She's asleep."
"No, I'm not. I'm purring. Please don't stop. How long did the storm last? Were you scared, Daddy?"
Oh, God! She's adopted him.
Lorne carried on as if he hadn't noticed. "Not afraid, Sweetheart. But full of fear."
"What's the difference? Aren't they the same?"
"Being afraid is uncontrolled fear. But it's best to think of fear as a friend, to see it as a warning to be careful. If we allow ourselves to be overcome by fear, we're no longer in control, and this isn't good. We need to embrace fear and control it; it's there to guide us."
"I like that. It's like when I decided to turn my back and walk away from the bullies. I knew they'd be confused, and the farther I walked, the less they could do, and the better I felt."
"Yes, that's it. I'm delighted you understand." He laid a hand on Chloe's head and lightly ruffled her hair. "But it's past your bedtime, and we have an exciting day tomorrow."
"Will you come to tuck me in?"
"I think your mother should do that, Sweetheart. But I'll join her to kiss you goodnight once you've settled."
Valerie hummed as she listened. Oh, God! Must have done a crash course on safe parenting. And one on being so fucking desirable. She rose still in a daze and assisted Chloe up. "Which bed should she use?"
"Patrick will have made up the starboard forward for her. The loo is all the way to the front of the cabin." He stood and limped, massaging his thigh. "Leg's asleep again." He shook it and took some tentative steps.
Valerie nodded and smiled. "You need to learn to shift her. I'll rub it for you in a while." She winked at him, then guided Chloe forward to the curtained area. Inside, she sat on the bed and patted the space beside her. "So, what do you think, Sweetheart?"
Chloe sat and snuggled into her mother's side. "I want you to keep him happy, so he'll let us stay."
"He seems happy with the both of us, and he appears to like you a lot."
"Yeah, I sense that." Chloe straightened up and grabbed the waistband of her fleecy top to pull it over her head.
"You should go to the loo before you undress. We're not alone here like at home. Patrick and the pilots are also here." She pointed to Chloe's carry-on bag. Grab your toiletries case, go tinkle and brush your teeth, then call me when you're ready for a goodnight kiss."
"Dad... Mr Benton said he'd come with you to kiss me goodnight."
"That's twice you've called him that. Do you see him as your daddy?"
"He's what I've always dreamed a perfect father would be like." She sighed. "He's better than any I've seen on TV or in the movies. Even in the books."
"Yes, he is. But he may not want to be called daddy. Yet."
"Do you like being called mummy?"
"Yes, I do, Sweetheart."
"Well, then he should like being called daddy, shouldn't he?"
"It's different. I'm your mother, so the name fits. He's a friend." My forever and ever friend. Oh God! I hope so.
YOU ARE READING
Set in an environment of extreme wealth in contemporary London, this is a story of tender new love trying to flourish while a tragic past conspires to destroy. As Valentine's Day approaches, two lonely people begin breaking out of their social shell...