I deserve all this because I did the worst thing a woman can do. The very worst.
Jessica's wedding was like a fairytale. Her dress strewn with crystals. Her dad made a tearful speech. Her husband Matthew declared himself the luckiest man alive.
But when their beautiful baby girl is born, Jessica is gripped by panic. She can't tell anyone how she feels. Even when her life starts to spiral out of control...
This is her story. A mother's story.
About the Author
Amanda Prowse is the author of several novels including the number 1 bestsellers What Have I Done?, Perfect Daughter and My Husband's Wife. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide, and she is published in dozens of languages.
Described by reviewers as 'the queen of family drama', Amanda's characters and stories are often inspired by real life issues. The research for her books has led to partnerships with ITV and Femail among others.
Amanda lives in Bristol with her husband and two sons. As her many twitter followers know, she almost never switches off. But when she does, she can be found drinking tea in her favourite armchair, scribbling ideas for her next book.
Amanda Prowse is the author of several novels including the number 1 bestsellers What Have I Done?, Perfect Daughter and My Husband's Wife. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide, and she is published in dozens of languages. Described by reviewers as 'the queen of family drama', Amanda's characters and stories are often inspired by real life issues. The research for her books has led to partnerships with ITV and Femail among others. Amanda lives in Bristol with her husband and two sons. As her many twitter followers know, she almost never switches off. But when she does, she can be found drinking tea in her favourite armchair, scribbling ideas for her next book.
Read an Excerpt
A Mother's Story
By Amanda Prowse
Head of Zeus Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Amanda Prowse,
All rights reserved.
It was a beautiful May day. Orange-tipped butterflies danced in the clear blue sky, kissing the sunny yellow flowers on which they rested. The apple trees were in full bloom, abundant with pink and white blossoms, some of which had fallen to form a floral carpet across which the guests tramped.
The crisp, clear sound of a fork hitting the side of a glass echoed around the marquee. Conversation levels dropped to a burble and those who had migrated to other tables, crouching on the coir matting to chat to their friends, made their way back to their own. Clusters of girls rushed back from the loo arm in arm, holding sparkly clutch bags and with perfume freshly spritzed. Three pretty waitresses navigated their way through the maze of tables, distributing chilled flutes of fizz in readiness for the toasts. Jessica felt a current of joy travel through her. Her day was perfect.
It was the kind of wedding she had seen in magazines, the kind of event that featured in movies – a million miles from what she had envisaged for a girl like her. Jessica, whose mum and dad thought pasta was an exotic food, who had grown up in a world of coupons, saving stamps and thrift, whose school uniform came from the second-hand shop and who had received a book token for every birthday as far back as she could remember. She was at the most exquisite wedding she had ever attended and she was the bride! It was, as her mum had reminded her earlier in the day, like a blimming fairy tale.
Matthew's childhood had been very different. Jessica was marrying a man whose parents nipped to France in the way hers nipped to the supermarket. They were the sort who knew which wine to drink with fish, and at the supper table they made jokes about the cabinet of the day and shared amusing snippets they had picked up from Radio Four. It was a world away from her home life. When she'd been introduced to his family for the first time, she'd felt awe and fear in equal measures. One year on, both had subsided, a little.
Polly hurried round the back of the top table and placed her head on her best friend's shoulder. Her large green fascinator sent feathery fronds up the bride's nose, which Jessica snorted away. She could smell the boozy fumes that wafted from her friend's mouth. This was not unusual for Polly: since their teens, both girls had lived by the mantra 'it's wine o'clock somewhere!'
'There is something you need to know, Jess,' Polly said in a solemn whisper.
'What's that?' Jessica was intrigued.
'We probably should have discussed it before now, but the fact is, now that you are a married woman, your husband might want to do S-E-X with you.' The s-word was mouthed, not spoken.
'Really?' Jessica placed her hand over her mouth and widened her eyes.
'Yes.' Polly nodded. 'It's what married people do. My parents have done it twice, as I have a sister, and I don't think your parents have done it for a while.' Both girls glanced at Mr and Mrs Maxwell, sitting further along the table in their finery, and giggled.
'Stop laughing, Jess. This is very importatant, impor ... tatant. Importatatnt.' Polly tried but failed to get the word right, making Jessica giggle again. 'Whatever! Doesn't matter.' Polly waved her hand in front of her face. 'The rule is: just lie back and think of England. Don't say a word, don't move and it should be over before you've managed to sing the second verse of "Jerusalem". In your head, of course – not out loud, that's a no-no. Got it?' Polly straightened up and kissed her friend on the cheek.
'I think so ...' Jessica bit her lip. 'Is the second verse the "Bring me my bow of burning gold" one?'
'Yep. You might want to practatise.' Polly winked.
'Because it's importatant?' Jessica asked.
'Zactly!' Polly fired imaginary pistols at her mate as she backed away from the table.
Jessica laughed at her dear, sloshed friend, who had in fact, as a young teenager, been a mere two park benches away from her when she'd had her first sexual experience after a rather flirtatious game of rounders with the choir of St Stephen's. Things would have got a lot more steamy had it not been for the intervention of Reverend Paul, who had shown up at a crucial moment, shushing them from the park like an agitated giant crow, just in time to save their souls and their reputations.
Polly teetered across the dance floor in perilously high heels. Jessica watched as she sucked in her stomach and jutted out her ample chest as she walked past Matthew's boss, Magnus, who she had a crush on. The fact that he was older than her father, married and rather arrogant didn't seem to deter her. Jessica loved Polly like a sister. Only last night they had sat in their pyjamas in Matthew's parents' spare bedroom and written a list of all their sexual conquests, each fondly remembering the lamest of victims that the other had conveniently chosen to forget. Rather embarrassingly, they realised that there were at least two shared names on their lists; this had sparked a fit of uncontrollable laughter, which even the smallest of things was prone to do. Polly, who jumped from job to job and was currently temping as a PA, made Jessica laugh like no one else could. So much so that sometimes Jessica barely made it to the bathroom in time, much to her shame.
Jessica patted her tiara, making sure the delicate headpiece and her perfectly curled chocolate-coloured locks were just so. Swallowing her nerves, she touched the pad of her middle finger to her bottom lip, which was still slightly sticky with gloss, meaning her mouth would shine during the close-ups that would inevitably be snapped during the speeches.
Looking at her mum, Coral, who sat a few seats away on the top table, Jessica tensed her cheeks and pulled a wide mouth, indicating both excitement and nerves. Coral winked at her daughter and took a deep breath. She too was trying her best to hide her anxiety. Jessica felt a wave of love for her mum, who she knew had been anticipating this day with trepidation, fretting over her outfit, her hair and what the rest of her family might do or say to embarrass them. It was a minefield. Jessica had tried to reassure her that if Uncle Mick did decide after a couple of glasses to do his fart trick, it wouldn't be the end of the world. Both she and her dad had been sent into a tailspin wanting to contribute financially and yet not wanting to set a budget that might thwart Margaret's grand ambitions for her only son. Jessica had watched them trying to navigate the unfamiliar world of canapés, wedding favours and linen samples and knew it took all of her mum's strength not to suggest that she could make the buttonholes, write the place cards and knock up a platter or two of sausage rolls to save a few quid.
Jessica had, during the process of planning the wedding, learnt how to communicate with her mother-in-law. Quite unlike her own mum, Margaret didn't want to be bothered with detail; she simply wanted her decisions approved so that she could rush them into action with gusto. She raced everywhere, as though time was always in short supply, and she always, always looked neat. She was fastidious about her appearance, her little waist often emphasised by a huge tan leather belt that wouldn't have looked amiss on Lennox Lewis. Coral was the exact opposite, pausing often, sometimes lumbering and frequently distracted. She worried about whether a bow would sit right and whether Aunty Joan could manage to last all day with her dodgy hip, but the bigger questions left her in a state of flux, nervously chewing her nails.
Jessica looked out at the expectant faces of the beautifully turned-out guests who were all beaming in her direction as they sat in the elegant ivory marquee on her in-laws' lawn. She felt like a princess and couldn't help smiling as she thought back to that fateful rainy day a year ago, sitting in Sainsbury's car park.
The rain was pounding on the car roof, sounding like small pebbles hitting metal. She'd watched as Matthew sprinted across the grey tarmac in his sneakers and tried the car door handle. Finding it locked, he knocked on the glass of the passenger window.
'The door's locked, Jess! Open up!'
She shook her head, which he may or may not have seen as she slunk down further into the driver's seat, her bony shoulders hunched and the sleeves of her sweatshirt pulled over her hands.
He knocked harder. 'Jess! I'm getting soaked, it's tipping down! Open the bloody door!' This time he bent down, joined his fingers in a salute against his forehead, then rested them on the glass as though it were sunny and not pissing down with rain. 'Jess! What are you doing? I'm getting drenched and so is the shopping.' As if proof were needed, he held up a soggy French stick that looked rather sorrowful and was bent in two.
Jessica folded her arms across her chest, which heaved in an effort to contain her tears. 'I'm not opening it. So go away!'
'What? For God's sake, Jess, look at me!' With his one free hand, Matthew pulled his sodden jersey away from his chest and watched as the waterlogged wool remained misshapen. 'Open the sodding door. This isn't funny.'
'Do I look like I'm laughing, Matthew?' she shouted as she leant across the passenger seat, her voice catching in her throat.
Matthew dropped the bag of groceries onto the ground and laid the soggy French stick on top of it. Then he skirted around the front of the car, squeezing through the space between 'Ross', his Fiat Panda, and the car in front. Bending down until his face was level with hers, he pushed the wet hair back from his forehead and tapped on her window. Jessica turned to face him and couldn't help the twitch of laughter on her lips as she watched the rain running off the end of his nose in a steady stream. He looked even sexier than usual, if that was possible.
'Go away, Matt!'
'What do you mean, "go away"? I nip into Sainsbury's to pick up some supper and by the time I get back I've been barred from the car? From my car!' he shouted and laughed, more than used to his girlfriend's slightly erratic behaviour. She was what Jake had described upon first meeting her as 'a bit of a handful'.
'I came in to find you, Matt, and I bloody saw you,' she barked.
'Saw me what?' Matthew raised his hands as he stuck out his bottom lip and tried to blow the rain away.
'Talking to Jenny! I saw you both in the champagne aisle.' She emphasised the word champagne, as though this gave the observation added salaciousness. How could she explain that she still felt nervous and inadequate around these posh girls whose confidence danced out of their well-spoken mouths, and that every swish of their blonde ponytails left her feeling insecure? This was especially so with Jenny, the sweet, leggy American, whose easy manner and fabulous teeth set her apart. Jessica doubted her childhood had been one of sitting on the step of the pub, sharing a packet of Hula Hoops while her dad played skittles in the back.
'That's because I was buying a bottle of champagne! And it was only Jenny, I've known her forever,' Matthew offered, shaking his head in confusion.
'Well I know that, clever clogs. As I said, I saw you! And it's not what you purchased that bothered me. It was Jenny throwing her arms around your neck, kissing your face. And she had her leg resting up on your thigh, what's that all about? And then I saw you look left and right to check I wasn't watching – well, I was – and then you put your finger on your lips as if to shush her. I'm not stupid, Matt. I know something is going on. Or are you going to tell me I imagined the whole thing?' Jessica felt her mouth crumple in the beginning of tears. This little development was no good at all. She really liked him, more than liked him, she loved him! She dug her fingernails into her palms as a distraction.
Matthew stared at her open-mouthed as if figuring out what to say next. There was a sudden thunderclap overheard. Jessica jumped. She hated thunder. Matthew ran back round to the passenger side of the car. He pulled the bottle of champagne from the bag and held it up to the window.
'You didn't imagine the whole thing. But I bought this for you, you idiot.' He smiled.
Jessica felt her stomach bunch, still unused to these extravagant gestures.
'Why don't you give it to Jenny!' She tried to halt the smile that threatened – he had bought her champagne!
'Jenny? No! You've got the wrong end of the stick.' Matthew shook his head and placed the bottle on the ground. 'If you're not going to let me in, then just open this window a little so you can hear me properly. Please. I hate having to shout, and people are watching,' he yelled.
'I don't care who's watching!' she shouted back, which was a lie. She cared a lot. She rolled Ross's passenger window down by two inches.
Matthew bent down and spoke through the gap. 'Thank you for opening the window.' He smiled. 'I bought champagne because we are celebrating; you and I. Jenny threw her arms around my neck because she knows we are celebrating. And the reason she knows is because she has spoken to Jake, who couldn't keep a bloody secret if his life depended on it.'
'What are we celebrating?' Jessica looked across at her rain-soaked, bedraggled boyfriend as he clung to the window, his fingers gripping the rim of the glass in a monkey-like pose, his body pressed against the side of his car in the driving rain. She watched as he arched his body backwards and reached into his wet jeans pocket. Using two fingers, he pulled out a small square red box.
Jessica flung her hand over her mouth as her tears finally found their release. Oh my God! This is it!
Matthew suddenly dipped down until all that was visible were his head and shoulders. He shook his head to rid his eyes of the rain. Jessica wound down the window fully, caring little that Ross's upholstery was getting a good soaking. Matthew pushed his forearms into the car and, leaning through the open window, carefully opened the little red box that rested in the centre of his palm. In it nestled his grandmother's Art Deco engagement ring. The square emerald was flanked by two baguette-shaped diamonds and the whole beautiful composition sat on a worn platinum band. It was stunning. It was the ring she had admired when last at his parents' house. Now she knew why it had been sitting there on the mantelpiece, not waiting to be cleaned, as his mother had burst out, but waiting to be collected, by Matthew, in preparation for this moment. Although being locked out of the car on a rainy Tuesday in the car park had probably not figured in his plans.
'Jessica Rose Maxwell ...' Matthew paused to compose himself. He gave a small cough and started again, seemingly unaffected by the rain that continued to plaster his hair to his face and his clothes to his body. 'Jessica Rose Maxwell, I love you. Even though you drive me crazy and are undoubtedly the most bonkers person I know. You are also the funniest and the most beautiful. I can't stand the idea of not spending every night with you or not seeing your face on the pillow next to mine when I wake up. I want you to have my babies. And I can't imagine any other future than one with you. I love you.' He pushed the box further into the centre of the car until his arm was fully outstretched. 'Will you marry me?'
Jessica opened Ross's door and tried to jump out, but was anchored by the seatbelt that had tightened across her chest. She laughed as she waited a second and then pushed the button for release. Slipping from the car, she ran through the downpour, edging around the bonnet and into Matthew's arms.
'This is just what I have always dreamt of, being proposed to in Sainsbury's car park!' She kissed him hard on the mouth. 'I love you too!'
'Is that a yes, then, Ms Maxwell?'
'Yes! It's a yes! Of course it's a yes!' Jessica jumped up and down in the rain until she too was soaking wet. She threw her arms wide. 'I'm getting married!' she shouted at the elderly man in an oversized high-visibility jacket and peaked cap who was collecting stray trollies in the car park.
'Congratulations!' he shouted back through the haze of droplets, and waved.
Jessica leapt into Matthew's arms; luckily he was used to this and caught her with ease.
'I'm sorry about your French stick.' She kissed him again.
'Jess, if that's the worst thing we have to contend with in our married life, then I'd say we are going to be just fine.'
Matthew lifted her higher above his waist and held her firmly, with her bottom resting in his hands, as she wrapped her legs around his torso.
Excerpted from A Mother's Story by Amanda Prowse. Copyright © 2015 Amanda Prowse,. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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