Summer at Shell Cottage
interior decor, and the meeting itself, until she put her hands up to stop him.
    ‘Harriet,’ he said earnestly. ‘Look at me. I adore you. There is no other woman. I’m not Simon, okay?’
    His voice rang with sincerity and she believed him. Just about. ‘Okay. Good,’ she said.
    All the same, as soon as he set off on his run, she went straight online to see if what he’d told her checked out. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.
    Right – here it was, the Marlborough Tavern, just as he’d described, with the
steak au poivre
he claimed to have eaten on the online menu, along with the crab starter. Despite her doubts, it did all stack up. It must have been a genuine misunderstanding all along, then. Oh thank goodness. Thank goodness!
    She dug into the ice cream with vigour moments later, relief making her ravenous. And there she had been, tarring Robert with the same cheating brush as her ex, she thought guiltily. Next time
she’d know better. Because Robert
was
better, simple as that.
    Two days later, this fact was proved conclusively true yet again when Simon achieved a new low in the Worst Ever Father and All-Round Human Being stakes. Contact with her
ex-husband had been sporadic, verging on non-existent, for the last ten months, mainly consisting of the occasional apologetic text when he was bailing out of picking up Molly or, worse, forgot to
meet her. He had missed her school parents’ evenings for three years on the trot, too busy dallying with Maya and Mia and Michelle, Sophie and Suze, Vicky and Nicki . . . Harriet had given up
trying to keep track. As far as she knew, he had lost contact with Jasmine – the pregnant woman glimpsed from the bus window – as well as his now eight-year-old son, Gabriel. Molly had
never even met her half-brother.
    These days there was Anne-Marie: young, beautiful and – yes – pregnant. (Ironically Simon was nothing if not fertile. He was a veritable baby machine.) And, according to the latest
text, they were soon to be on the move. Just like that.
    Hi all, apols for group text. Just to say, new address is below. Moving on Monday! Check Facebook page for leaving bash! Si x
    There followed an address which ended, shockingly, with the word ‘France’ and Harriet almost dropped the phone on seeing it. France? FRANCE?! The wave of fury and hurt prompted by
this new rustic address, coming straight out of the blue, left her reeling. ‘What the hell?’ she cried, reading the message all over again to check she hadn’t just gone mad. The
absolute tosser. How could he?
    ‘What’s up?’ Molly asked from the end of the sofa, without taking her eyes off her laptop.
    ‘Everything all right?’ Robert asked breathlessly. He was midway through a set of sit-ups on the living room floor but paused mid-crunch to glance over.
    Harriet was just about to launch into a furious rant about how absolutely awful Simon was, and why was he going off to bloody
France
when he was already so damn slapdash with his
existing children, and she supposed this meant even less time spent with Molly and even fewer child maintenance payments to her . . . but she checked herself just in time. She couldn’t break
the news to Molly that her father was leaving the country in a shrill-voiced tirade of fury. This was a task to be tackled sensitively, sitting on the end of Molly’s bed, ready to throw her
arms around her in comfort. Bloody Simon. Bloody Simon!
    ‘Harriet?’ Robert prompted when she didn’t immediately reply.
    ‘Nothing,’ she muttered through gritted teeth. ‘It’s fine.’
    Lying in bed that night, she was still very far away from feeling that Simon springing this news on her in such a casual, cavalier way could remotely be considered ‘fine’. It was not
fine at all. It was unforgivable. Not for her sake, of course – she couldn’t have cared less if she never saw his smirking face again. But Molly would be heartbroken, however hard she
tried to pretend it was

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