Running the Risk
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Georgia Drummond and her grandmother, Cecilia, run a small but successful transport company. When gorgeous Rory Faulkner walks into her life ? both personally and professionally ? Georgia is delighted. Then things start to go very wrong: the business loses clients and a series of accidents looks more and more suspicious. Is there any connection between Rory?s arrival and the problems? Is Rory who he claims to be? And is Georgia prepared to lose the man she loves and run the risk to find out?
Release date: December 16, 2014
Publisher: Accent Press
Print pages: 250
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Running the Risk
On Saturday evenings the John Radcliffe’s Accident and Emergency unit was obviously a popular venue. Georgia, narrowly missing being crushed in the automatic doors, winced at the tailback of wheelchairs and trolleys. Row upon row of plastic seats were occupied by people in various stages of drunkenness, the noise was deafening, and the merry little digital message board – which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Leicester Square – announced that there was a two-hour wait for non-urgent cases.
Looking at the bloodied faces and grazed knuckles, Georgia wondered who was brave enough to determine non-urgent. And, more to the point, which poor junior nurse had to tell them so. The heating, however, was a plus. It was pulsing at tropical, and whatever cost-cutting methods had been applied by the newly appointed hospital management board, none of them had reached the thermostat. Georgia felt herself defrosting damply like a cheap pizza.
It was hardly a salubrious end to the Chamber of Commerce Dinner Dance, she thought, as she elbowed her way through to the reception desk. One minute everyone lambadaing wildly, the next all leaping into cars and belting off up the A34. Someone was bound to call an extraordinary committee meeting to complain.
Squinting at the rows of woebegone faces she heaved a sigh of relief. No one else from Upton Poges had arrived. Yet. There was a serious risk, she knew only too well, that the rest of the workforce would pour into A and E wanting up-to-the-minute information. Diadem Transport were a closely knit bunch.
‘Name?’ The receptionist didn’t look up.
‘I’m here for –’
‘Name, dear.’ The receptionist raised her head, took in Georgia’s vibrant tangerine evening dress and her general air of panic and nodded. ‘Name. Address. Take a seat. Unless –’ she peered closer, ‘it’s drugs.’
‘No.’ Georgia was shocked. ‘It’s –’
‘I can’t make a diagnosis, dear. I just take your details. Name?’
‘Georgia Drummond. I’m a co-director of Diadem Transport in Upton Poges and –’
The receptionist, obviously waiting for her coffee break so she could nip outside and have a Marlboro, sucked longingly on her biro. ‘It’s not This Is Your Life, dear. Just your name will do nicely.’ She tapped into the screen. ‘So, it’s Georgia Drummond, and what’s the problem?’
Georgia could feel the tangerine silk clinging to her body as the heating grew ever more effective and wished she’d worn a bra. ‘Well, we were at a dinner dance and Jed, he’s one of our drivers, collapsed, and –’
The receptionist stopped sucking the biro and tapping her keyboard, and drew her brows together. ‘Brevity, as I’m sure you’re aware, is of the essence in these circumstances. Am I to understand that you’re not the patient?’
‘No. It’s Jed Thomas.’
With a glower that would have silenced a far less anxious customer, the receptionist leaned from her cubby-hole. ‘And Mr Thomas has been brought here, has he? By ambulance?’
Georgia nodded. ‘With his wife. Trish.’
The receptionist beat a tattoo with the biro. ‘But you do know that casualties from Upton Poges would be taken to Reading? To the Royal Berks?’
‘No.’ Georgia shook her head. She couldn’t, simply couldn’t, drive all the way to Reading. ‘I was sure this was where the ambulance was going … To Oxford. My grandmother said it was,’ she finished rather lamely. Cecilia had sworn she’d heard it on the paramedic’s radio. Cecilia, grandmother or no, was going to suffer for this.
A second receptionist leaned over at this point, stared at Georgia, then at the screen and whispered something. Georgia’s receptionist looked a bit miffed. ‘Oh. Right. It would have saved time if you’d said that straight away, dear.’ She double-checked the screen. ‘Apparently there’s a major emergency at the Royal Berks. We’ve had to take some of their overspill. Mr Thomas has been brought in here and is being seen now. Are you a relative?’
‘No, but –’
‘Take a seat then, dear. Preferably not by the drinks machine unless you want to be trampled to death when the rush starts. Next.’
Georgia stumbled away.
Sitting as far away from the drinks machine as possible, Georgia tried not to stare at her neighbours. A very young boy with floppy hair seemed to be holding his fingers together in a blood-soaked towel, while on the other side a girl with a writhing bundle on her lap twitched.
The hands on the functional clock seemed to have become paralysed. Was it only an hour ago that she’d been inexpertly dancing with Alan Woodbury? An hour ago that Ezra Samuels and his Latin Lovers had been trumpeting across Upton Poges Masonic Hall? An hour since she’d watched in horror as her grandmother shimmied her little black Jean Muir against Spencer Brimstone’s dinner jacket? An hour since Jed had groaned and slid beneath the Diadem table? Georgia tried to arrange the tangerine silk more decorously and stared at her feet.
The girl with the writhing bundle nudged her. ‘I don’t suppose you could do me a favour and hold this, could you? Only I’m bursting to pop to the lav.’
‘Well, I’m not sure. I’m waiting for someone and they might –’ Georgia recoiled slightly from the bundle.
‘Oh, it’ll be all right.’ The girl was already on her feet. ‘It won’t be our turn for ages yet. If they do come and call me – the name’s Sabrina Yates – just come and give me a yell – OK?’ The bundle was thrust without further ceremony into Georgia’s arms and Sabrina fled towards the Ladies.
Overcome by curiosity, Georgia peeled back the bundle’s covers. A newish baby sucked its fist and cooed at her. Instinctively she cradled it against her, rocking rhythmically, and smiled. The baby smiled back, gurgled, sucked harder on its clenched fist, and drooped long dark eyelashes over navy-blue eyes. It was the most gorgeous thing she had ever seen. ‘Your mummy won’t be long,’ she whispered. ‘Then you can go and see the doctor.’
The baby, apart from being rather grubby, seemed healthy enough. Perhaps its mother was the patient, Georgia thought, still rocking. Maybe the twitching Sabrina had a bladder problem. She had certainly been a while in the loo. Any further conjectures were brought to an abrupt halt by an eruption at the automatic doors. The Diadem reinforcements had arrived.
Cecilia, Georgia’s grandmother, looking glamorous in an astrakhan coat slung casually over the Jean Muir, her blonde bobbed hair still managing to gleam in the unflattering light, teetered across the reception area.
‘Good Lord!’ Cecilia peered down at Georgia. ‘What’s that?’
‘A baby. Its mum has gone to spend a penny.’ She stared over her grandmother’s shoulder. ‘Did you come on your own?’
Cecilia sat elegantly in the absent Sabrina’s seat and tickled the baby. ‘Kenny drove me in. I’d had several of Mikey Somerville’s dubious cocktails during the evening.’
Georgia was relieved. Just her grandmother and Ken Poldruan. It could have been worse. ‘And where’s Ken now?’
‘Trying to park in a non-wheel-clamping zone. So, is there any news of Jed?’
‘He’s being examined. I haven’t seen Trish yet. I was just told to wait.’
Cecilia looked at Georgia with some concern. ‘Didn’t you wear a coat, darling? You must be frozen.’
‘Not any more. I’ve got all my wrappings in the car. I just didn’t have time to put them on.’
‘Make sure you do then,’ Cecilia said with grandmotherly concern, ‘before you go home. We don’t want to lose another member of the workforce, do we? Ah goody – Kenny must have found a parking space.’
Ken Poldruan, Diadem’s spare driver, mechanic, yard manager, and Cecilia’s sometime lover, picked his way through the rows of seats towards them. Sporting a white tuxedo, man-tan, and a black moustache, he looked exactly like Engelbert Humperdinck.
‘Nice baby.’ Ken draped a protective arm round Cecilia’s shoulder. He looked even more Mafioso tonight, Georgia thought. It was probably the lights. ‘Where did you find it?’
‘Its mother has gone to the Ladies,’ Cecilia said, ‘so Georgia’s looking after it … Oh, and here’s Trish!’
Trish Thomas, Jed’s wife and Diadem’s secretary, flew towards them. Her hair was dishevelled, her midnight-blue evening dress was badly creased, and she’d cried off all her make-up. ‘It’s a ruptured appendix. They’ve taken him straight up to Theatre. Oh, God!’
Ken tightened his squeeze on Cecilia’s shoulder and flashed very white teeth. ‘Well, that’s a relief. Appendix. Great.’
Georgia, Cecilia, and Trish all stared at him. Trish’s lips were trembling.
Ken nodded cheerfully. ‘Back at the Masonic they were saying it was probably food poisoning. Salmonella could have got us all.’
Cecilia glared at him and Trish burst into fresh floods of tears.
‘Sit down,’ Georgia patted the seat beside her. ‘Come on, don’t take any notice of Ken – he’s just sulking because Gran spent so much time with Spencer Brimstone tonight.’
Trish turned her back on Ken and sank down next to Georgia, dabbing at her eyes. ‘They say it’s serious – but they reckon they’ve got it in time. God knows how long he’ll be in the theatre. Oh, he’s got to be all right.’ She sobbed on to Georgia’s shoulder.
‘Of course he’ll be all right. He’s in the best place, none better. He’ll be fine.’ Georgia uttered the stock platitudes, feeling completely helpless.
‘Shut up, Georgia, please.’ Trish groaned, studying the baby for the first time. ‘Who does he belong to?’
Georgia, knowing that Trish and Jed were desperate for children and had been saving for IVF, wasn’t sure that this was the right time to be indulging in substitute therapy, but went through the story of Sabrina and her bladder again.
Trish’s tear-stained face became wreathed in smiles. ‘He can’t be more than a few months old. Can I hold him?’
‘If you take him I think I’ll go and see if his mother is OK.’ Georgia passed the baby to Trish. ‘She’s been ages.’
The ladies’ cloakroom, with its harsh strip-lighting and putty-coloured walls, was deserted. Pushing open each cubicle door, Georgia frowned. How many loos were there in a hospital this size? She hadn’t actually seen which direction Sabrina had taken. She hurried back out into the waiting area. The floppy-haired boy had gone. Trish was cooing over the baby and Ken and Cecilia were holding hands. Georgia went to the reception desk.
‘You were here for Mr Thomas?’ The receptionist was less flustered now, having had her cigarette break and got her urgents and non-urgents satisfactorily sorted. ‘I believe he’s gone down to Theatre.’
‘Yes. Thanks. Actually, it’s about another patient.’
The receptionist looked suspiciously at Georgia. ‘How many did you come in with?’
‘Well, none actually. There was a girl called Sabrina Yates. I was sitting next to her. She’s got a baby – well, I’ve got it now. Has she gone in?’
The receptionist flicked patiently through the screen and shook her head. ‘No Yates. No Sabrina. No baby, dear. We always give babies priority.’ She leaned across the desk and peered at Trish whispering over the grubby bundle. ‘I expect she was waiting for someone too, dear. Give her a few more minutes. The nightclubs’ll be out at any time and it starts to get hectic, so I’d sit down if I were you.’
Georgia, buffeted by a throng of girls in skin-tight Lycra and heavy make-up dragging a comatose boy with a bloody nose, fought her way back to Trish, Ken, and Cecilia. ‘Are you still all right here?’
‘Fine.’ Cecilia crossed shapely legs. ‘Have you found the mother?’
Georgia shook her head. ‘Not yet. Are you OK with the baby a bit longer, Trish?’
Trish gave a weak smile, her eyes bright with tears. ‘Yeah. It keeps my mind off Jed. Take as long as you like – we’ll probably be here all night.’
She sincerely hoped not. Cecilia would never last until morning without her Estée Lauder night cream. They’d have to send out for emergency supplies.
Georgia rushed past the cubicles where ever-cheerful nurses and one harassed doctor were zooming in and out, past the snaking queue for X-ray, and into a quieter complex of dimly-lit corridors.
She was beginning to have serious doubts about Sabrina Yates. What had she looked like? Young, with unkempt black-rooted blonde hair, faded jeans, and a pink cardigan, was all Georgia could recall. And she hadn’t had a coat. On one of the coldest nights of the year, Sabrina Yates hadn’t had a coat … Oh, God! Georgia clapped a hand to her mouth. Did that mean she’d wandered into the hospital on the off-chance, looking for somewhere to leave the baby? Was that why she’d disappeared? Surely she hadn’t simply abandoned it?
The doors at the end of the corridor crashed open and a trolley, liberally hung with drips and attachments, made a Grand Prix entrance.
‘You shouldn’t be down here.’ The porter who was steering glared at Georgia. ‘This is off-limits. Emergency theatre only. Go back to Admissions.’
‘Is there a cloakroom?’ Georgia pressed herself back against the wall, trying not to look at the wired-up heap on the trolley. ‘Apart from the one in Reception?’
‘Outside X-ray.’ The porter bringing up the rear hissed over his shoulder, ‘But it’s for patients only.’
The trolley crashed like a ghost train through the second set of swing doors, and shakily Georgia retraced her steps. The overpowering smell of antiseptic and fear was choking her. Somewhere in this labyrinth Jed was being operated on. Somewhere – please God – Sabrina Yates was waiting to be reunited with her baby.
The cloakroom in the X-ray department was far busier than its reception counterpart. Perhaps X-rays made people nervous. All eyes were riveted on Georgia in her zinging orange frock. Ignoring the interest, she tiptoed up to each cubicle, peering in as the doors opened, trying not to look like a voyeur. Sabrina wasn’t there.
She almost ran back into the corridor, then remembered an episode of Casualty where it had been stressed that no one ran in a hospital, not even when it was life or death, and slowed to a walk. Bloody Sabrina Yates! She’d probably made up the name anyway. Dumping her baby – how could she? Georgia pushed through yet another set of swing doors and was almost deafened by the rattle of cups and the scrape of forks on plates.
Squinting across the canteen, past off-duty staff who were drooping into their minestrone and sad little family groups, she saw a skinny figure in a pink cardigan, her variegated hair shielding her face.
Oh, joy! Georgia practically vaulted the tables.
‘Sabrina!’ she shouted. ‘Sabrina Yates!’
Heads turned. Sabrina looked up from her mug of soup. ‘Bugger!’
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing? We’ve still got your baby!’
‘I’m sorry.’ Sabrina looked up with doe eyes. There was a trace of soup outlining her mouth. ‘Have I been ages?’
‘I thought – we thought – that you’d left him!’
‘Nah,’ Sabrina drained her soup and staggered to her feet. ‘I wouldn’t do that. You looked nice – and I really did want to go to the loo and –’
‘You weren’t even ill!’ Georgia hissed, tugging Sabrina out of the canteen and heading for the safety of Accident and Emergency. ‘Were you?’
‘Nah. I was cold and tired. I quite often come in here for a bit of a warm and a kip. I didn’t mean to dump Oscar on you for so long. I went into the lav and when I came out I could smell the soup. It’s dead cheap in here. He’s all right, isn’t he? Oscar? Nothing’s happened to him?’
‘He was fine and being made much of last time I saw him. But don’t you – I mean, haven’t you got a home?’
Sabrina gave Georgia a look of deep pity. ‘If I had a home I wouldn’t be here, would I? Nah, I’m in bed and breakfast. It’s OK, but we have to share and it’s pretty cold and at least here I can see a bit of life. And Oscar – I worry about his chest. We have to walk about all day, see, and –’
‘But what about your parents?’ Georgia was appalled. ‘And Oscar’s father? And your friends?’
‘I don’t have the first. The second dumped me when he found out Oscar was on the way. And the third are all in Devon.’
Georgia bit her lip. Sabrina rubbed her bleary eyes. ‘It’s a bit of a bugger when you’re pregnant and you work in a hotel and your accommodation goes with the job. I lost the lot when Oscar arrived. I came to Oxford because Oscar’s dad was a student here. I thought I could trace him.’
‘And you couldn’t?’
‘Not a hope in hell. The colleges can’t do much with “his name’s John and he’s got blue eyes”.’ Sabrina smiled. ‘So, I’ve got a really nice social worker and she found me the B and B. And that’s about it … oh, look, he’s awake!’
Sabrina hurried through the crowd and removed Oscar from Cecilia’s arms. Georgia, feeling shell-shocked and exhausted, made brief introductions and then realised Trish wasn’t there.
‘They’ve taken her upstairs.’ Ken looked extremely relieved that Georgia had found Sabrina. ‘Jed will be out of Theatre shortly, and there’s a relatives’ room where she can wait.’
‘We’re going to wait, too.’ Cecilia wiped away traces of Oscar’s saliva from the front of her Jean Muir. ‘So you can go home, Georgia. There’s nothing else you can do at the moment. And if one of us has some sleep tonight then we’ll be more help tomorrow.’ She glanced along the row of seats to where Sabrina was preparing to breast-feed Oscar. ‘Is everything all right there? He’s such a darling baby.’
‘It’s so sad.’ Georgia swallowed. ‘She’s homeless, and the baby’s father dumped her and –’
‘Georgia.’ Cecilia frowned. ‘Not another lame duck.’
‘No, I suppose not.’ Georgia always had to turn off the television when there was any mention of abandoned animals or babies. ‘I just wondered.’
‘Well, don’t,’ Cecilia said firmly. ‘Now, you drive home safely, darling. Turn the central heating up to full when you get in, and get some sleep.’
‘And don’t bother with a hot-water bottle in Cecilia’s bed.’ Ken grinned wolfishly. ‘She won’t be needing one.’
It was like being plunged straight from the hot wash into an ice-cold rinse. The white brilliance of the January night dragged the moisture from Georgia’s lungs, freezing it into plumes. Wrapping her arms tightly round the inadequate evening dress, she slipped and slithered towards the car park.
Having unlocked her elderly MG with fumbling fingers, Georgia tugged on the layers that would have to prevent frostbite on the A34. The thick black tights, tartan socks, and fluffy purple mules gave little warmth at first, but she knew from experience that there’d soon be an improvement. The knee-length sweater embroidered with an inebriated-looking pink elephant felt damp but covered the coldest parts of her. She pulled on multi-coloured woolly gloves and, with chattering teeth, heaved the car in the direction of home.
The A34 was fairly quiet. Despite the absence of a heater and the fact that bits of her were being subjected to piercing draughts through gaps in the flapping hood, Georgia was feeling quite snug by the time she reached the turn-off for Upton Poges.
She accelerated and thought about Jed and Trish, and Sabrina and Oscar, and all the other people who were suffering on that stark night. It didn’t matter how hard she tried not to worry about homeless people and animals, somehow they always crept in. Slowing down to negotiate the Upton Poges bends, she thought of Cecilia and Diadem and security and a warm bed.
She turned on to a straight bit of road and pushed her foot down. And she had the best friends in the world. So what if there was no man in her life? She considered Alan Woodbury, transport manager of the Kon Tiki Superstore and her Chamber of Commerce partner for the evening prior to Jed’s collapse, and shook her head. No, he certainly wasn’t the man in her life – or anyone else’s. Poor Alan. Since his divorce, he’d become a serious party animal, turning up at the opening of an envelope if there was a drink attached. And his clothes …
Georgia changed down again and winced. Alan Woodbury had been the only person to ignore the black-tie bit on the Chamber of Comm invitation, and turned up in canvas trousers, T-shirt, and baggy linen jacket. Apparently it had been his attempt to emulate Don Johnson after a rerun of Miami Vice on UK Gold. If it had been anyone other than Spencer Brimstone in the chair then Alan would have been sent home to get changed. As it was, Spencer Brimstone had several good reasons for wanting to keep on the right side of Georgia – most of them to do with her grandmother.
Stopping at a deserted junction, she remembered that amidst the panic she’d had no time to say goodbye; she’d have to ring Alan and apologise. Cecilia was going to have to apologise too, not to Alan Woodbury, of course – but definitely to the Brimstones. God knows how her grandmother’s flirtatious dancing with Spencer Brimstone would have progressed if Jed hadn’t tumbled under the table at that opportune moment.
Spencer and Beth Brimstone ran Upton Poges’s one employment agency, and were vital business colleagues. Whatever shenanigans Cecilia and Spencer indulged in during their private moments, most of the Chamber of Comm had been pretty shocked at the goings-on on the dance floor. None more so, Georgia recalled with a shudder, than Beth, Spencer’s long-suffering wife.
The roads had narrowed into switchback lanes and the houses dwindled away into one or two small cottages. Her rambling thoughts were pierced by the sudden appearance of headlights behind her. There were no streetlights now, so the startling bright beam illuminated only skeletal trees and the occasional sheep.
‘Jesus!’ Georgia slowed on a bend as the following head-lights danced dazzlingly in her driving mirror. ‘If he gets any closer he’ll be in here with me.’
The headlights dipped, brightened again, dipped, and flickered out completely, before full-beaming into the MG. The vehicle behind was large, possibly a lorry, and obviously hopelessly lost. No one knowing the area and driving something of that size would have dreamed of straying from the A34.
‘Sod off!’ Georgia growled as the light show began again. ‘Pass me if you have to, but just get off my tail.’
Pulling the car into the next available gateway, Georgia watched with malevolent satisfaction as the lorry rumbled past her. He’d be completely stymied by the time he reached Potter’s Farm. The track along there was about wide enough for an extremely careful bicycle.
‘Oh, bugger.’ Georgia swallowed. The lorry had pulled to a halt in front of her, completely blocking the road.
Quickly locking the MG’s doors, she crunched the gears into reverse, panic rising for the first time. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ she said to herself, peering over her shoulder through the tangle of her hair. ‘No one ever got hijacked in Upton Poges. There hasn’t been a rape in living memory, and no one has been murdered since Bert Nicholson shot his mother-in-law seven Christmases ago.’
Nevertheless, she wished she’d refrained from reading the more ghoulish articles in Cecilia’s Sun. By the time the MG, used to a more leisurely age, had decided to mesh into reverse, the driver had jumped from his lorry cab and was striding towards her through the glittering dark- ness.
‘Tough,’ Georgia muttered, pushing the accelerator to the floor. ‘You’ve p. . .
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