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It was bound to happen eventually.

" He waved back at the portrait they'd just been studying and the pictures either side of it. "They're all by M. McKenzie?"

She nodded, holding tightly to her smile. "That's right, yes. My husband."

"Your husband?" His arms straightened on the rail, his expression lightening. "He wouldn't happen to be related...?"

"To Charlie? Yes, of course." Melissa marvelled at her display of outward calm. But having deliberately omitted to say exactly how Matt was related, she felt a thrill of anticipation when he immediately crossed the landing to take the stairs.

"Let me get this straight," he said carefully upon reaching the bottom step. "Charlie and Suzie had a son?"

"No." Melissa understood his need for clarification, watching as his daughter followed him down. "Unfortunately, Suzie couldn't have any children. Matt's-"

"My God," he interrupted, brightening again. "Then you must mean Matthew. Ruth's little lad? But he was only a year old the last time I saw him!"

She already knew that. Ruth had told them as much that evening she'd arrived at the farm four years ago. In an attempt to salve his conscience, Jason had contacted Matt's mother to admit he'd been the one to send her Matt and Melissa's letters all those years ago. When she in turn confessed her own motivation for keeping the pair apart, Jason persuaded her it was time to tell all. Quite how he'd managed the feat, Melissa wasn't sure. But she was certain that the last time this man had seen baby Matthew had been the day after his first birthday.

"But this is great!" the woman burst out, her eyes shining as she joined them. "When you told us Charlie and Suzie had passed away, I thought we'd never be able to find-"

"Shelley!" He turned to Melissa, his benign smile betraying the fact he had no idea she knew who he was. "I'm sorry. You see, I used to know Ruth-Matthew's mother. A long time ago now."

Melissa resisted the urge to nod. "I see," she said instead.

"Not that I expect she's ever mentioned me. But the thing is, we used to be friends." He hesitated. "Good friends."

That was the understatement of the decade. They'd been more than friends; they'd been lovers. Ruth had been on the verge of leaving Roger.

"We weren't expecting we'd be able to track her down at all," Shelley put in, seemingly concerned her father was never going to get to the point. "We'd always planned to visit Ebberlea as part of this trip, but of course, after thirty odd years-thirty-five years, right Dad?" When he nodded, an icy tingle trickled down Melissa's spine. "Well, things were bound to have changed. But we were hoping we'd be able to find someone who had an address for her. And you must have, right? If you're married to her son, of course you have. Unless... Oh God."

Wondering just how much Shelley knew, Melissa still had to repress a smile when the woman stopped mid-flow, her dismayed expression almost comical. "It's all right. I'm not about to tell you that Ruth's dead too."

"She's okay?"

"Oh yes. Hale and hearty. And living right here in the village now."

"Really?" As the man looked up again, his gaze landing fully on hers for the first time, Melissa felt as though she'd been thumped in the stomach.
It wasn't at all difficult to roll back the years and see the young man Matt's mother had fallen in love with. Slightly taller than Matt, he had the square jaw and light brown wavy hair Ruth described, hair that decades later only had a sprinkling of grey at the temples.

But meeting those pale blue eyes gave Melissa the biggest jolt of all...

"You see, I'd heard she decided to stay in South Africa after Roger died."

How on earth had he managed to find that out? Ruth had spent years trying to trace him, all to no avail. And yet here he was, right in front of her. Solid. Real.

"She moved back a few weeks ago," Melissa explained. "She wanted to be nearer her family."

Well, to be nearer Grace, they'd decided.

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