She wasn’t kidding. From Akaroa all the way to her home was going to take at least five and a half hours of solid driving. She only hoped she had the energy to cope with it.
Jenny followed her out to the car and helped her lift her case into the trunk.
“Thanks,” Alexis managed through lips that felt numb.
In fact her whole body had taken on an emptiness that made her feel as if this wasn’t really happening to her. It was better, at least, than the pain she’d felt a short while ago, she told herself. She slipped into the driver’s seat and tried to summon a cheerful smile and a wave for Jenny and Ruby who stood on the driveway, waving goodbye.
Alexis drove on autopilot, the numbness that had mercifully invaded her body fading away as each kilometer flew under her tires. By the time she reached the outskirts of Christchurch she was crying again, great hiccupping sobs that made it impossible to see, let alone drive safely. She pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed her cell phone, calling the only person who had ever been there constantly for her all her life. The one person she’d been putting off calling.
“Daddy?” she said, through tears that threatened to close her throat. “I’m coming home.”
* * *
“I’ll bloody destroy him,” Finn Gallagher growled malevolently. “No one treats my baby sister that way.”
He and Tamsyn had met Lorenzo all set to drive down to Christchurch to collect Alexis. As he was so upset himself, they had worried that it wouldn’t be safe for him to drive and had offered instead to fly to Christchurch to drive Alexis home themselves. Their timing meant they’d missed the only direct flight of the day but even with the detour to Wellington it was still faster than driving. Now they were ensconced in a hotel room having something to eat before they hit the road together.
“It’s not all his fault, Finn. I went into it with my eyes wide-open,” Alexis said as rationally as she could manage.
“Don’t you dare condone his behavior. What he’s done to you is unspeakably wrong,” Finn replied, seething with suppressed fury.
“Finn, ask yourself this, how would you feel if it was you and Tamsyn, if she’d kept something from you that meant the difference between living the rest of your lives together or losing her forever? And then the next person you trusted also kept something from you?”
Tamsyn rose from where she’d been sitting and curved an arm around her husband’s waist. “This isn’t helping, Finn. Alexis needs our support, not your censure.”
“I’m not angry at her,” he protested, but his wife’s touch seemed to have a soothing effect on his temper. “I just can’t stand to see Alexis hurt like this.”
“I know,” Tamsyn said gently. “Neither of us can. Our job is to be there for her as and when she needs us. She’s a big girl and she’s made her own choices.”
“Yes, I have, and I’m strong enough to stand on my own two feet. Well, once I’ve got myself back together again, anyway,” Alexis said ruefully, remembering only too well the wreck she’d been when Tamsyn and Finn had met her here in the hotel. “I’m so glad you came, thank you so much.”
Her voice wobbled and her eyes filled with tears yet again. Instantly she felt the warmth of Tamsyn’s arms close around her in a comforting hug.
“I’m s-sorry, I just can’t seem to stop.”
“Should we even travel tonight?” Finn asked. “Maybe it’d be better if we stayed the night and left in the morning.”
“No, I want to go home. I need to.”
“Sure you do,” Tamsyn said, smoothing Alexis’s hair from her face with a gentle hand. “And that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
It was early evening when they finally got in Alexis’s car to drive north. Exhausted, she lay down in the back and was soon asleep. By the time they arrived at her father’s cottage it had been dark for hours. All the lights inside the cottage were blazing, their golden glow a flame of welcome. She sat up, rubbing at her bleary eyes, and was hit with a huge sense of relief when she saw her father’s silhouette backlit by the veranda lights. Then, he was at her door and within seconds she was in his arms, listening to his voice murmuring endearments in his native Italian tongue.
Finally she was home, safe in her father’s arms. As he led her into the house and to her bedroom, Tamsyn and Finn following with her suitcase, she wondered if Ruby would ever have the chance to feel that deep sense of security with Raoul.