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Running from Love - Chapter 1



When Sam glanced at her, Beth was studying the pattern on the carpet. Sam stifled another sigh and looked at her phone. A single solitary minute had passed since she’d last checked the time. Single was what she would soon be.


Here they were, sitting in a lawyer’s waiting room. Two years after they married and already facing divorce. Fourteen years of life together abandoned. Marriage equality, followed shortly by divorce equality.


The office door opened and another couple emerged. Forced smiles on their faces as they said goodbye to the person who would be instrumental in consigning them to separate lives.


Beth stood and moved towards the office doorway. She shook hands with the solicitor handling their case and both women looked expectantly at Sam.


This was it. No going back.


Sam stood and picked up her jacket. “Sorry, I can’t do this.”


“We have to. We need to move on.”


“You’ve moved on. I haven’t.” Sam couldn’t keep the hurt out of her voice.


Putting as much distance as she could between herself and the law firm’s building, Sam didn’t slow down until she was nearly back at the train station. She walked into the coffee shop on the corner and took a few moments to breathe in the heady caffeine-laden aroma.


Her phone rang while she was waiting for her double-shot latte. She moved to the back of the seating area near the toilet. Beth’s face lit up the screen.


“Sam. I thought you were okay with this.”


“Well, I’m not. I’m just not ready.”


“It’s been six months.”


“Six months since you told me about it. Seems the cheating started long before that.”


“I love Lydia.”


“I thought you loved me.” Sam felt the tears she’d been holding back all day starting to gather in the corners of her eyes. “It’s only two years since you said ‘I do’ in front of witnesses.” The tears were flowing freely now.




“Are you happy in the closet with her? What do you even need a divorce for? She’s not going to marry you. You’re her dirty little secret! Have you met any of her friends? Or her children?”


More silence.


Sam bit back another angry outburst. It had all been said before. Standing in a coffee shop surrounded by afternoon shoppers and office workers on a break—this wasn’t the place for airing more recriminations.


“Sorry, Beth. I just need a bit more time. I’m going away for a few weeks, so I’ll talk to you when I get back. We can rearrange the appointment.”


A heavy sigh. “Okay. I guess. We’re on holiday, too. Talk to you then.” Beth ended the call and Sam stared at the screen for a few moments before putting the phone back in her pocket. What had happened to the Beth she married, the woman she had spent fourteen years of her life with? Fourteen years of happy memories, destroyed in moments by Beth’s revelation of her affair back in February.


Sam searched through her pockets for a tissue and swiped away the tears. She was sure she looked a mess but no one here knew her so she wasn’t going to worry about it.


The barista called out her name and Sam collected her coffee from the counter. She sat down at a window table that had just been vacated. Pushing the empty cups to one side, she placed her drink and her phone on the table and gazed out at the passing pedestrians.


She needed to go home and pack. Two weeks on a country estate in Cornwall owned by Lord and Lady Temperley. She didn’t know what clothes to take. Nothing in her wardrobe would pass muster on a golf course and she certainly didn’t own anything that constituted Downton Abbey style evening wear. When Sandra had first talked to her about this research project at Troy’s party, she had been intrigued. A chance to meet a celebrity writer and learn something new at the same time. Now she wasn’t sure it was going to be much fun.



Chapter One




Six months earlier…


A bathroom with a view. Sam found herself looking at the smouldering top of Mount Etna where fiery patches of red showed through the molten lava that covered the side of the mountain. When was the last major volcanic eruption? She thought there had been one that merited front-page news only a few months ago. Now, the volcano appeared to be just lightly bubbling, its angry fires seething lightly below the surface.


Sam flushed the toilet and washed her hands, still gazing out the window. February in Sicily was an assignment she had looked forward to. The weather was warmer than an English summer but the locals were all dressed for winter, huddled in fleeces. And the hotel swimming pool was empty, drained and prepped for a new coat of paint.


Should she be worried? Not about being covered in volcanic ash, but about where her partner was at this moment in time. She had arranged with Beth that they would Skype when she arrived at the hotel in Taormina. But Beth was offline when she logged in. Sam left the line open, thinking maybe Beth had been held up at work. That was two hours ago.


After sending a text and an email, Sam tried phoning but the call went to voicemail.


She gave her short hair, now mostly grey, a flick through with her fingers. Time to meet up with her colleagues. They were going to check out the taverna down the road. The guys were intrigued by the name, Il Gallo D’oro, laughing uproariously when Google Translate came up with The Golden Cock. She told them it probably was more literally, Rooster, but they weren’t having that. They were sold on The Golden Cock.


Her phone quacked while they were walking up the road to the restaurant. A text from Beth, at last.


Soz. Dept mtg went on longer than expected. Catch up 2moz.


Sam sighed and quickly tapped in her response. Ok. Let me know time.


“Trouble at home?” Helen asked, concerned.


“We’d arranged to Skype when I got here, but she ended up in a meeting.”


“Can’t believe you’re still doing the mushy stuff. I mean you’ve been married for almost two years. And together for how many before that?”




“You should get a long long-service medal. Lucky if my relationships last six months.”


The taverna turned out to be a delightfully cosy, family-run restaurant. Once they were all settled with their drinks and food orders, talk turned to how they were going to divide up their time in the town the next day. Sam wanted to explore the ruins of the Greek theatre which she was certain would provide the main backdrop for the film. Having the opportunity to scout locations like this was a definite perk of her job. The guys wanted to look at the Saracen fort while Helen’s main interest was to find out more about the ancient libraries that had been unearthed nearby.


They all agreed that a trip to the beach was going to be on the agenda as well when they had finished their allotted tasks.



Beth’s daydreaming was interrupted by a knock on the English Office door. She glanced at her watch, surprised that the half hour had passed and not a single book marked. The quiet period, when the other English teachers were all out teaching, wasted.


“Come in,” she called, expecting to see an anxious sixth-former worried about their recent essay assignment on Ted Hughes. Instead she was surprised when Lydia came in carrying a folder. She stood quickly, almost knocking over her chair.


“Sorry to disturb your marking, Miss Travers.” Lydia’s tone indicated that she didn’t think she had interrupted anything. She looked flawlessly immaculate as usual, her tailored jacket and skirt emphasising her curves. Beth had to put up with the crude comments from her male colleagues who seemed to think coining the acronym HILF for “Head I would Like to Fuck” was highly original. That and “giving the head, head” were their favourites. Female colleagues made do with bitching about the stylish clothes Lydia wore, as if being a head teacher precluded her from being allowed to have a refined fashion sense.


“I don’t seem to be making much leeway.” Beth indicated the foot-high stack of books on her desk. “What can I do for you?”


Lydia closed the gap between them in two strides. She dropped the folder onto the desk and pulled Beth into her arms.


Beth gasped. This was unprecedented. Any one of the other teachers could walk in, or a student who hadn’t yet grasped the concept of knocking first.


“I just wanted to kiss you,” Lydia said before doing just that.


Unable to resist, Beth’s lips parted to allow Lydia’s tongue entry. She didn’t know how long they would have stayed in their embrace if the bell hadn’t rung. They pulled apart like two guilty teenagers.


Lydia straightened her suit jacket and picked up the folder, which Beth now suspected was just for show. “I’ll see you later, at home.” The way she licked her lips before turning and gliding out the door made Beth’s knees tremble. She sat back down in her chair, crossing her legs in an attempt to stem the flow of juices now in danger of running down her thighs.


Lunch break and two more lessons before the end of the school day. Another hour of marking before she could go home.


After all the months of sneaking around, the past four nights had been blissful. Going to bed with Lydia and waking up in the morning with the delicious scent of their lovemaking assailing her nostrils, and the warmth of her lover’s body pressing into her, Beth wanted these moments to go on forever.


Back in the real world they had to maintain the illusion of just being two colleagues. Beth understood Lydia’s need to protect her head teacher status as a respected leader of the school and her standing in the community, but she did miss the openness of the relationship she had enjoyed with Sam.


Beth gave up any pretense of trying to mark her students’ work. Distracted first by Lydia’s visit, and now by the reminder that this evening she had to face Sam. Beth had to tell her what was going on—what had been going on for some time. She twisted the wedding ring on her finger. How could she tell her wife that she had fallen in love with someone else?



“Hey, honey, I’m home.” Sam put her case down in the hall. Silence greeted her.


“Hermy!” She walked into the living room expecting to see their Siamese cat stretched out on the sofa, a favoured spot when neither of her humans was at home.


Sam checked out the kitchen. No sign of activity here. “Hermione, where are you hiding?” The cat didn’t usually answer to her full name but it was worth a try. The kitchen was unusually tidy. There was no sign of Hermy’s water dish or food bowl. She opened the back door and called out. If Hermy was anywhere in the vicinity she would come running.


Shutting the door, she wandered back into the living room and checked the phone. No messages. Maybe Beth had another staff meeting. The school seemed to have a lot of those with the constant threat of unannounced inspections from Ofsted, the much feared Office for Standards in Education.


Time to unpack and have a shower. Hermy would turn up once she realised there was someone in residence, although she was probably comfortably ensconced at Scott and Barbara’s, one of her second homes in the neighbourhood.



The cupboard was bare, as was the fridge. Sam took out the lone bottle of Corona and popped the cap. Not even a lemon or lime lurking anywhere. She took a sip and wondered what she was missing. When she spoke to Beth the night before, giving her the flight arrival time, her wife had sounded a bit distant, but nothing that couldn’t be put down to Beth being tired after a full day’s teaching. Thursday was her least favourite day, finished off with a double Year 9 class. For some reason, the third year in high school seemed to be when the onslaught of hormones had all the kids bouncing off the walls.


When Sam left on Sunday, Beth had seemed cheerful enough, waving her off from the front step as the taxi took her to the train station. Sam’s job involved a fair bit of travel, but that hadn’t seemed to concern Beth at all. During term time she was busy with marking, writing reports, and constantly updating lesson plans to meet new Department of Education criteria which seemed to change every week.


This wasn’t quite the homecoming Sam had anticipated. Maybe Beth was bringing home a takeaway. Sam sank into the recliner in the living room and kicked off her shoes. She turned on the TV and sipped at her Corona. No news that she hadn’t already picked up from the paper. She turned the television off and closed her eyes. The flight from Sicily wouldn’t have been too long, but she had to change planes in Pisa. Then there had been the forty-minute train journey from Manchester airport. The homeward trip always seemed to take longer.


She thought Beth would like the T-shirt she’d bought at Catania airport. There hadn’t been time to do any shopping in Taormina itself, but Sam made a point of always bringing something back from her travels. She was pleased with the choice—a stunning image on the front of the shirt of the ancient Greek theatre with the sea showing beyond the ruins. Beth would enjoy wearing it on their next holiday together. Sam had spent part of the journey home thinking about where they could go during the school’s two-week Easter break.


The sound of a car door closing jerked her awake. She had been on the verge of dropping into a deep sleep.


Sam stood and stretched. She hoped Beth had picked up something tasty. The snack she’d had on the plane had been hours ago and her stomach was rumbling. If she’d known she would have to wait for dinner, she would have bought a sandwich at the train station.


Beth came into the room, still wearing her coat. She looked drained. It must have been a particularly bad class today. Sam smiled and moved towards her. “Hey, it’s good to be home. But I hope you’ve brought some food. I’m starving.”


“Sorry. I haven’t…”


“Okay. We can go out. The Thai won’t be too busy on a Thursday.”


Beth held up her hands to stop Sam embracing her. “I need to talk to you.”


“Sure, okay. Where’s Hermy, anyway?”


“Where she always is when you’re away for more than two days.”


“Oh, pigging it out at Barb’s, I suppose.”


“No. She’s in a cattery.”




“It’s very nice. She likes it there.”


“No way! She’ll be screaming the place down. How could you?” Sam stared at Beth. It was like looking at a stranger, not the woman she’d shared the last fourteen years with.


“Sam, sit down, please. There’s something I have to tell you.”


“Something worse than abandoning our baby in a cattery?”


“Um, well, yes. I’m leaving.”




“Well, I’ve left, actually. I didn’t want to just leave you a note.”


Sam sat down again. Beth perched on the edge of the sofa.


“Why?” Feeling like she was trapped in a nightmare, Sam’s heart was pounding wildly.


‘I’ve met someone.”


“I see. And how long has this been going on?”


“Six months.”


Tears threatened. Sam could feel the prickling behind her eyes. It made sense now. The extra hours at work, going in on Saturdays sometimes, preparation for inspections, workshops on lesson planning.


Beth started to speak again. “It just sort of happened. You’ve been away so much recently.”


“After all the time we’ve been together, this just started to bother you?” Sam sniffed, determined not to cry. “Fourteen years. And those vows you made less than two years ago? Those meant nothing to you? Because I meant every word.” Her anger was building now.


“I’m sorry. I can’t explain it.”


“And who is she? This wife stealer?”


Beth looked away and said softly, “Lydia.”


“Lydia,” Sam repeated. “Lydia. Carmichael.”




“So, you’re fucking the head teacher. Good move. Guess you’ll get that head of department job after all.”


“Sam, I…”


“Oh, don’t! I can’t bear to hear any more. Just get out!”


Beth pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket. “This is where Hermy is. I’ve paid the bill. They’ll be open tomorrow at nine.”


Sam closed her eyes, not wanting to watch the love of her life walk out on her. “Leave your keys.”


She slumped back into the cushions on the sofa. Heard the keys drop onto the table, waited for the footsteps to recede, the front door to close, and the car to drive off…then the tears came.


When she opened her eyes again, the room was dark. She groped around for the lamp’s switch. The circle of light reached across to the table in front of her. Beth’s keys lay on top of the cattery invoice. And next to them a ring; the twin of the one on her finger. The ring they had chosen together. The ring engraved with “Forever yours, Beth and Sam, 1 April 2014”.


April Fools’ Day. They had joked about it at the time but figured it was a date they would always be able to remember.



The cattery was part of an old farmhouse, set back from the road. But even at a distance of three hundred yards, Sam could hear Hermy’s cries, the distinctive sound of a Siamese cat in pain. She thought the cattery owners had earned their fee if they had put up with Hermy’s wailing for five nights.


She parked her elderly VW Golf in front of the barn and checked the time. It was just past 8:30. Having cried herself to sleep, she had woken up at four. Unable to even attempt more rest, Sam got up and kept herself busy. She found Hermy’s litter box and bowls where they had been unceremoniously stashed in the cupboard under the stairs.


Thankful for the twenty-four hour supermarket nearby, she had gone out and stocked up on food for herself and the cat. She included some special treats with which she hoped to bribe the traumatised creature. Hopefully Hermy would remember it was Beth who had her incarcerated.


A rap on the car window brought her out of her reverie. She slid it open and looked up at the grey-bearded face peering down at her.


“Hi. I’m a bit early. Here to collect my cat.” She held up the invoice.


“The Siamese. Thank God. Come on in. You can take her now.”


Sam opened the door, collected the carrier from the back seat and followed the man around to the back of the farm buildings. Despite the scruffy appearance of the rest of the farmyard, the cattery looked very neat. The purpose-built structure would no doubt be acceptable for a few days for some cats, but Sam couldn’t help comparing it to a prison. Hermy was backed up against the far wall of her cell, her bright blue eyes threatening certain death to anyone who dared come close.


“She’s all yours,” the man said, unlocking the door and backing away.


Sam pulled on her gloves and opened the carrier, although she hoped it wouldn’t be needed. “Hermy. Time to go home. Come on, sweetie. Mummy’s got some lovely treats for you.” She started to hum softly. It wasn’t a particularly tuneful rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” but it always had the desired effect of calming Hermy. The cat relaxed her stiff posture and moved forwards. Sam stretched out her hands and with a single anguished cry, the cat leapt up and landed squarely on her arm.


“It’s okay, honey. We’re going home.” Sam cradled her firmly. The purring started immediately as Hermy closed her eyes.


“Wow, that’s amazing. She hasn’t shut up since she got here.”


“Yes. Well, she doesn’t like being caged. I think she’s claustrophobic.”


“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but we’d appreciate it if you found another place for her the next time you need to go away.”


“There won’t be another time. But thank you for your patience.” Holding the now sleeping Hermy with one arm, Sam picked up the carrier and walked back to the car. She took the blanket out and placed it on the front passenger seat. Climbing behind the wheel with Hermy still in one arm, she shut the door before placing the cat on the blanket. Hermy opened one eye and settled herself, before going back to sleep again.


Refreshed from her nap in the car and a hastily consumed salmon meal, Hermy explored the back garden while Sam put in a load of washing and made herself coffee and toast.


She sat down in the living room again. Beth’s keys and ring were still on the table. Sam gazed at them for a few minutes then opened her iPad. She brought up the school website and was greeted with the smiling face of Dr Lydia Carmichael. Head teacher. The use of the word mistress wasn’t politically correct these days. Head bitch, more like, thought Sam. Head wife-stealing bitch, she amended.


Dr Carmichael was, according to the article on the home page of the site, credited with turning the school away from decline. In the two years she had been there, it had escaped the ignominy of being put into “Special Measures” by the Schools Inspectorate, and had gone from an educationally unhealthy “Acceptable” rating to “Good with Outstanding Features.”


Shoulder-length blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and a gleaming smile showing perfectly aligned white teeth created the ideal image of a poster woman for successful head teachers throughout the country. Always exquisitely dressed. Sam remembered the scathing comments of some of Beth’s colleagues when Dr C first rocked up for the early morning staff briefing in knee-high leather boots and a pencil skirt that left very little to the imagination. The style of her wardrobe was mainly Boardroom though; she could mostly have passed for an aspiring CEO or a corporate lawyer.


Her influence had encouraged members of staff to modify their own dress code accordingly. Beth had started buying clothes from more expensive stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. When Sam had questioned the need for style over comfort, Beth had said that Lydia—it was now Lydia this, Lydia that, she should have recognised the signs—felt this would help the students to buck up their ideas. And it seemed to have worked as the new Ofsted rating had shown.


Why, Beth? Sam wanted to scream. What’s Lydia got that I don’t? Did our life together mean so little to you? Was I boring, complacent, predictable?


Different scenes played out in her head…Beth coming back, begging her forgiveness…Sam turning up at the school and making a scene in the staff room, dragging Beth out…emailing the head of the English department to ask if he knew what was going on under his nose.


Sam didn’t know any of the teachers well enough to ring up one of them. She had attended an end-of-the-school-year party when she and Beth first got together. Once had been enough. The teachers weren’t interested in talking to her. They stuck to their department groups and bitched about the government meddling in the curriculum, pay scales, and other staff members. Sam did talk to the librarian who was similarly ignored by everyone else, and she explained that teachers regarded non-teaching staff on a par with road cleaners. The librarian had a degree but knew that, even if she obtained a doctorate, she would still be considered a lesser being.


The only other time Beth had managed to persuade her to go to a staff do was the one at the end of Lydia’s first term at the school, a Christmas party. The friendly librarian wasn’t there, she’d moved to another school a few years earlier. Sam felt as out of place as she had the first time.


Beth had pointed Lydia’s house out to her once when they were travelling back from the airport, a modest looking semi-detached set back from the road. Sam fantasised about taking a drive to see if Beth’s sporty blue Mazda was parked in the drive. Would she be able to stop there, or would she stoop to peering through the windows?


Hermy landed on her lap and looked up at her. “Finished terrorising the neighbourhood, fish breath?” A swish of the tail indicated some understanding. The cat turned around and put her paw on the screen of the iPad, Lydia Carmichael’s face still smiling up at her.


“All right. I agree. We don’t want to stare at that ugly mug any longer. You can play with your fish.” Sam brought up Hermy’s favourite…an aquarium app. She placed the iPad on the sofa and left Hermy staring intently at the moving images, pawing the screen in the hope of catching one.



The gently falling rain was leaving random puddles on the patio. It was ten years since they had argued about which flagstones they should have. Beth had wanted a Mediterranean style but Sam had persuaded her in the end to go for the rugged Yorkshire stone. It had lasted well. The natural hues of gold and reddish tints were mostly covered now with a green tinge of slime. With all the rain over the winter, it was going to need another restorative power wash in the spring.


Sam leant her head against the window frame. Cool glass against her skin. But nothing was going to subdue the red-hot anger building inside her.


All those evenings waiting for Beth to come home from interminable staff meetings. More late nights when she said she was helping out with the school play rehearsals. She had never shown any interest in the annual productions before. She would be exhausted when she did come home, her arrival followed by a quick shower and then staying up to finish reports or the endless marking of student essays.


Perhaps she should be grateful Beth hadn’t come straight from Lydia’s bed back to hers. Grateful, for what?


“The lying, cheating scumbag!” Sam turned abruptly from the window and tripped over Hermy’s food bowl. She kicked it across the red-tiled floor. Beth’s flooring choice had won out in the kitchen.



Hermy had tired of chasing fish on the screen and now lay on top of the clothes Sam had thrown into the laundry basket.


“You’ll end up in the washing machine one of these days. And you won’t like that.”


The cat curled her tail around her body and settled down. Dismissed, Sam closed the now empty suitcase and took it across the landing into the smallest of the three bedrooms that doubled as a storage area and an office for Beth. Dust-free spaces on the desk showed the outlines of where there had been a desktop computer screen and CPU. Like chalk marks indicating where the body had lain in a crime scene. The printer was still in place on the pedestal next to the desk. Something to be thankful for, she supposed. The printer was a shared resource that Sam usually needed to plug her laptop into when she returned from her travels.


The closet in the guest room had been cleared out as well. Sam stared at the empty space. Beth had kept all her work clothes in here. Even the hangers were gone. Surely Loathsome Lydia could have supplied her with those.


She sat down on the bed and was startled by the sound of her phone ringing. Pulling it out of her pocket she was relieved to see Troy’s face on the screen and pressed the Answer button.


“Hey, little one, you and Beth still on for tomorrow night?” Although he was about the same height and weight as Sam, he thought because he was two years older he could call her “little one.” They had been best friends for twenty years so she let him get away with it.


Tomorrow night, a birthday party. She had forgotten about it. When Sam left for Sicily, Beth had said she would pick up a present during the week. It didn’t look like that was something she had remembered to do while she was busy destroying their life together. Had her lover been waiting around the corner on Sunday, watching Sam’s taxi drive off?


“Hello! Sam?”


“Um, yeah, tomorrow night. I’m not sure…”


“You have to come, Sam. There’s someone I want you to meet.”


“I am married, you know.” That statement had been true a week ago. Troy had been one of the witnesses at their wedding, so he hardly needed reminding.


“Not like that, you dork. And it’s our one hundredth birthday celebration, so don’t even think about ducking out.”


Troy and his partner, Webby, were having a joint birthday party this year as their respective ages, fifty-five and forty-five, added up to one hundred. The boys had been planning it for months, so Sam knew she had to go, regardless of how she was feeling.


“Yeah, sure, fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”


She knew she should have told him about Beth. But there would be time for that. She didn’t want to spoil his day as well. And now she had to go shopping for a suitable birthday present.


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