Mark. The two men had never really hit it off, even from the beginning, and the events of two years earlier had done little to spark up a friendship. The last time Drake had visited them, Mark had waited for an opportune moment, taken him quietly aside and explained in no uncertain terms that Drake wasn’t welcome in his house, and it would be best for everyone if he stayed away.
Drake’s initial impulse had been to break the arm that had been laid so patronizingly on his shoulder during this chummy conversation, but with some effort he’d reined it in. After all, the man’s wife had been kidnapped and very nearly executed because of what Drake had become involved in. The fact that Drake himself had rescued her wasn’t going to make that go away.
With that less-than-cheerful thought hovering over him, he pulled open the door and stepped outside. He was greeted by the scent of recently cut grass and wild flowers, the bubbling gush of a nearby stream, and the feel of sunlight streaming down through scattered cloud. It seemed absurd given the maelstrom that had so recently engulfed his already troubled life, but he could scarcely imagine a more tranquil scene than the one which greeted him at that moment.
He was just turning towards the house when he heard someone call out.
He barely had time to react before Jessica rushed across the driveway and threw her arms around him, pulling him tight and holding on as if her life depended on it. Drake did nothing but hold her in return, guessing that she didn’t need words at that moment.
She wasn’t crying when she finally pulled away, but her eyes were red.
‘I knew you’d come, but I never expected to see you so soon,’ she said, managing a weak grin. The kind of playful teasing that used to happen so easily between them. ‘Let me guess – you could tell me but you’d have to kill me?’
‘Nah, too much paperwork.’ Drake decided not to mention the recent operation that had seen him return to the UK. ‘Forgive the stupid question, but how are you holding up?’
She let out a breath, her shoulders sagging a little. She opened her mouth as if to speak, then seemed to think better of it and merely shook her head. There were fresh tears glistening in her eyes now.
‘Why don’t we go inside? I’ll make you some tea,’ Drake suggested, steering her towards the front door. He didn’t really want a cup of tea, and he doubted she did either, but that was what normal people seemed to do at times like this. It was what he remembered his parents doing as a child when his grandfather had died, anyway.
She raised an eyebrow. ‘I thought you lived on coffee now.’
‘When in Rome,’ Drake replied.
Ten minutes later, they were seated at the big rustic oak dining table in the kitchen, each nursing a cup of sugary tea. It had taken a while to find what he’d needed in the unfamiliar kitchen, but even he was capable of making a brew without too much difficulty.
It was a strange experience being there, seeing the new life his mother had built for herself, and the faint reminders of the old one that he still vaguely remembered. Most of the furniture and personal possessions in the house were new and unknown to him, but every so often he’d spot something he recognized; a table lamp that he’d knocked over with a football as a child, a rug bought during a family holiday in Tunisia, a globe that he’d spent hours staring at, dreaming of the far-flung places he would one day visit.
‘It’s stupid when I think about it,’ Jessica said, staring into the steaming liquid in her cup.
Drake surveyed his sister. ‘What is?’
‘How I reacted when the police showed up at my door. You know what my first thought was? You – I was sure they were going to tell me something had happened to you. Some...mission they couldn’t tell me the details of. It never occurred to me that Mum...’ She trailed off for a moment, taking a gulp of her drink. ‘Part of me