Suspicion

“You sure about this?” Craig said as Steve pulled out into the traffic, a horn blaring. “She’s going to see you.”

“No chance.” Steve tugged the wheel. “Last week I followed her for three miles, she never saw me. Anyway, she doesn’t know this car, does she?”

The car still had that valet smell, although by the look of the dust in the foot-well Craig reckoned the hire company simply used some fragrance rather than do a thorough clean. Not that Steve would be bothered. He probably couldn’t even remember what type of car he’d hired, or even the colour.

“Still seems too extreme, mate,” he said, one hand on the dash as Steve switched lanes. Ahead, her white Astra signalled. “She’s never done anything like this before, has she?”

“Can’t know for sure.” Steve accelerated, turning just as the lights changed. “I mean, there have been signs.”

Craig snorted. “Like last time? A whole week I was watching her, replying to your texts every hour. I was this close to turning my phone off. And I didn’t appreciate the punch, either!”

“Hey, I apologised.”

“Eventually.” Craig shook his head. “I’m too good to you, mate. If I’d let you go after Archie…”

“She was spending too much time with him…”

“Twice! And with good reason. You know that.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Surprise party, man! Your woman and one of your oldest mates, giving you the birthday of a lifetime. Hell, I doubt any of the girls I’ve seen even know the names of my mates.”

“You don’t stay with the long enough.”

“But at least I trust them. Not like you.”

“I do trust her.” But there was a whine in Steve’s voice.

“So why are we following her?”

“Because‌…‌because I need to be sure, okay? I need to know if‌…‌if things are changing. Five years, people change, right?”

Craig shook his head. “Not you. Every few months, there’s some pathetic excuse. She cuts off a call when you walk in the room. She changes the password on her phone so you can’t read her messages. She’s late back from work. And every time you think it’s another bloke.”

They were closer to her car now, and Craig could see her head clearly, her hair tied back. It always looked good like that. Showed off her face.

She indicated and pulled in to the side of the road. Steve slammed his foot on the brakes, a horn blaring from behind. Craig watched the Astra, suddenly panicking that she’d turn. But she ignored the horn‌—‌and the Lexus that screamed down the road, the driver giving Steve the finger as he yelled something. Instead, she reached down, then held the phone up to the side of her face.

“So why’s she come out this far to make a call?”

Craig rolled his eyes, and shifted in his seat. “How do you know it’s not someone calling her?”

Steve waved a hand for a moment, indicated the street outside. “Why here? I mean, what’s she doing in this area? None of her stupid shops, and her friends wouldn’t be seen dead round here. Unless there are ones I don’t know about‌—‌which would be about right. More lies. Or maybe‌…‌maybe she’s waiting for someone. Maybe they’re booked into‌…‌into that place.”

Craig let his gaze follow Steve’s outstretched finger, saw the faded sign, the grubby windows, and the paint peeling on the door. “Hotel Grande? Seriously, you can see her using a dump like this? She’s classier that that‌—‌classier than you, mate. I mean, when was the last time you convinced her to go to Maccy D’s?”

“You saying I’m not good enough for her?” Steve’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the steering wheel.

Craig’s hands came up, palms out. “Come on, man! She’s been with you for five years. She thinks the world of you. You think she’d do anything to hurt you? The woman loves you, mate.”

Craig stopped, before he lay it on too thick. He looked out the windscreen. She had the phone in front of her now, arms twitching. Probably texting. She was good at that‌—‌fingers blurring on the screen even while she kept up a conversation. Perfect multitasking, whatever Steve said about that being a myth.

“Still can’t trust her, though.” But Steve’s voice was quiet, almost apologetic. “I know it’s stupid, but she keeps too many things from me. And when I ask, she does that thing where she taps my nose. You know?”

Craig saw her in his mind’s eye, and smiled. “Shows she cares, mate,” he said. “Like a pet name kind of thing.”

Steve smiled. “She has those too. Petal. I ever tell you that? She taps my nose and calls me Petal.”

“There you go.” Craig’s phone buzzed in his pocket again‌—‌good job he’d put it on silent. “And I bet the last time she did that wasn’t so long ago, right?”

“Last night. When I asked what she had planned for today. Said she’d be grinding through the day, looking forward to seeing me in the evening. And then she…” He prodded the end of his nose, making a beeping noise.

Then he sighed. “You’re right. I’m being stupid.” Steve put the car in gear and pulled away. “And I’ve dragged you into it. Never even asked if you had plans.”

Craig shook his head. “Nothing that couldn’t wait.” They passed her car. Craig stole a glance, but her attention was still on her phone. He wondered who she was texting now. “Fancy a burger?”

“Always.” Steve smiled. Crisis over.

Craig felt the weight of the phone in his pocket, smiled to cover his disappointment. They’d have to make other plans, maybe cool off for a bit. And the hotel room was a write-off for today.

Looking at the shabby Hotel Grande, Craig made a mental note to book somewhere better next time.


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