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In Name Only Chapter 1

Elise Ridge discreetly played with her key fob, glancing at the photos that changed every fifteen seconds on the tiny two-inch screen. In addition to a handful of baby photos, the fob displayed a few more recently uploaded pictures from her daughter Tegan’s third birthday party. She felt her lips tug into a smile remembering the event last weekend, when she, Jill and Jill’s parents had played host at Headridge to some twenty local children. Surprisingly, it had been fun. Tiring, but fun. 
“Ms. Ridge? Ms. Denton will see you now.” The deep male voice interrupted her pleasant memories. 
She locked away her private thoughts in a special compartment in her head and stood up. Elise followed the lanky, immaculately-suited man who had manned the reception area. Moments later, they were standing in front of one of four doors on what seemed an overlong corridor of the building. He knocked and walked in. Elise followed him.
A woman slightly younger than Elise, and dressed in a blue floral dress that suited her generous figure, stood up and smiled. The smile was wide and friendly and showed perfectly aligned white teeth. Elise saw the frank appraisal from pale blue eyes that moved across her body.
“Thank you Andrew, you can bring coffee in ten minutes.” 
Dismissed, Andrew left the office. 
Those eyes once more settled on Elise and she returned the appraisal. Elise took in the smooth, perfectly made up face.
Shoulder length chestnut hair glowed in the sun shining in from the window behind the woman.
“It’s been a while, Elise.”
“Yes, it has, Megan,” Elise said, nodding. “You look as beautiful as ever.”
Megan Denton moved from behind her desk and walked to within inches of Elise. “Thank you. Don’t I get a hug for old time’s sake?”
Elise laughed, then reached out and pulled Megan into her arms. “I can manage that.”
“It’s good to see you, Elise. How long has it been now?” 
They drew apart and Megan motioned to a seat opposite her desk. 
Elise sat down and considered the question for a while as Megan reclined in the chair opposite her. 
“Wow, our relationship must not have been that memorable if it’s taking you this long. For the record, it’s been almost eighteen years. You were that brash, going to slay the business world twenty-five year old. Isn’t that right?”
 “No, you were the brash one. I was the more studious one,” Elise said, chuckling. “However, I did want to slay the business world. I always found it amazing that, at twenty-one, you were so confident.” 
Megan winked. “Ah yes, that’s right, I was the brash one, full of my own self-importance. Unfortunately, that’s still true, although I’ve mellowed in some areas with age.” 
 “Haven’t we all,” Elise agreed.
Megan raised her pencil thin eyebrows and gave Elise a serious look. “A little bird tells me you married and even have a child. How’s that working out for you? You always said that type of commitment wasn’t for you. One of the reasons we split up, if I recall.”
“Times move on, people change,” Elise replied sagely. 
Megan stared intently at Elise. “I suppose your father, with his old fashioned attitudes, dying helped. He never understood you, or your personal life choices, did he?”
Elise frowned. “No, he didn’t, nor, frankly, does my mother.”
“I’m surprised to hear that. Anna always seemed so supportive whenever we saw her out socially. In fact, she was quite keen on me pushing you harder on the moving in together part if I recall,” Megan said.
“That’s news to me.” Elise scrunched up her forehead. “You never told me that my mother spoke to you about us back then.” 
Megan chuckled. “What was the point? You’d already decided it wasn’t going to work out. I knew you well enough not to push too hard or we’d end up enemies rather than friends at the end of the day.”
 “Which is exactly why I’m here today,” Elise said.
 “I know, and am I glad I didn’t overreach years ago. Derek Meier’s mentioned you had a support package you might bring to the table?”
“I do. However, I wanted to talk to you privately, which is why we aren’t having this conversation at my HQ with the legal eagles.” 
Megan leaned back in her chair. “I’m fascinated, a private talk after almost twenty years. Should I be worried?”
Elise soberly schooled her features, opened up her leather satchel, which was on her knee, and pulled out a folder. “Take a look at this proposal and then we’ll discuss business.” 
Jill smiled lovingly as her father pushed Tegan on the swing in the play area Elise had built for them a year ago at the rear of the walled-in garden. Jill had used this place as a haven when she’d first arrived at Headridge. Now it was her private place and Tegan’s primary play area. Elise rarely ventured into the garden when she was on the property. Only when Elise had personal time with Tegan and Jill wasn’t around did she enter the garden to play with their daughter.
The servants were always a goldmine of gossip, especially when it came to Tegan and what she did during the day. 
Since arriving back at Headridge to live their deal of an in name only marriage for the sake of Tegan, it hadn’t been too bad. The first six months had been difficult, neither she nor Elise had been very happy. How could they when all they wanted was have time fall back to when they were happy together. The thing that kept them both sane in this insane partnership was Tegan. They both loved their daughter, it was in every facet of the things they did for the child. Elise could have easily changed her mind on their deal; she had lawyers and money. Most would have wiped the floor with Jill in a courtroom battle about custody of Tegan but Elise never appeared to doubt that what they had arranged wasn’t working out.  
“Penny for your thoughts, love,” Melwyn Marrack sat down in the chair next to Jill, placing a tray of tea and biscuits on the side table close to them. 
 “Oh, Mum, I was just thinking that dad looks so happy, and Tegan, well, she loves having him around, having you both around,” Jill replied. 
 “He was like that with you when you were a toddler.” Melwyn said, chuckling. “Took you to the park, gave you piggyback rides around town, taught you how to swim and build enormous sandcastles. He’ll be doing the same for Tegan when she comes to stay.”
“I remember. He made a gigantic turtle in the sand once. I thought it looked real.” Jill’s lips curled into an affectionate smile revisiting the old memory. “It isn’t an imposition is it, Mum, for you and Dad to take Tegan for a couple of weeks? Elise is away on business and, well, you know the reason I need to have the time.”
Taking her daughter’s hand, Melwyn held it gently. “It’s a pleasure and you know it. Have you told Elise about your plans yet? She has a right to know. In fact, she should approve it, don’t you think?”
 “I know she does, but right now I want to check that it’s possible.” Jill’s brow furrowed. “Why bother her with something that might not work out?” 
 “How is this situation really working out, love? It has been three years,” Melwyn said, frowning. “As much as I understand your reluctance to forgive Elise, don’t you think it’s time you did and moved on with your lives together, or considered other possibilities?”
 “What do you mean? Divorce Elise?” Jill gasped.
“Perhaps,” Melwyn replied as she poured tea into their cups. “You’re both not too old to find someone else and it can’t be easy living like this, love. Your dad and I worry about you, all of you, including Elise.” 
Her mother waved at her dad to come join them, which didn’t give Jill any time to reply. Subconsciously, she doubted she could answer that question anyway, because deep down she knew that Elise was irreplaceable in her life. Perhaps her mother was right and it was time to forgive the debacle with her ex, Stella, and Elise’s mother. Their ridiculous innuendoes about affairs had brought Elise and Jill’s relationship to a dramatic brink, leaving them with the shadow of a relationship. 
The worse thing was, it was easy to think along the lines of forgiveness concerning Elise’s doubt about their relationship, but actually saying the words out loud after so long—it seemed almost impossible.   
“Mommy, sand with grandpa and castles,” Tegan said, climbing onto her lap. Her gray eyes were the exact same color as Elise’s and she had the same nose too. There was no question that she was Elise’s daughter, even though she had beautiful blonde hair, thick and wavy, just like hers. Who would have thought they could be that lucky.
“He is? Wow, when he does, you can show me and MummyLise.” Jill kissed the chubby cheek next to hers. 
“Not Lise, Lise not come with us, Mommy,” Tegan replied. 
Jill smiled. Tegan had shortened Elise to Lise when she was eighteen months old and although she knew her mother’s full name and could pronounce it, she preferred to stick with the original nametag. “Maybe if you ask Mommy Lise to take you to the seaside you can build one just for her.”
“With you, Mommy?”
“Maybe, Baby. Look, Cara’s made up some juice especially for you.” Jill handed her daughter a plastic beaker. 
 “Be careful not spill, Mommy.” Tegan firmly grasped the beaker.
Jill had tears swimming in her eyes at the solemn expression on her daughter’s face as she spoke, another reminder of Elise. Maybe it was time to move forward. The problem was which path she should take. And which one would Elise want? They weren’t exactly on best buddy terms these days. Hadn’t been since that stupid argument when Tegan had been six months old. 
“I told you I’m not having this conversation with you.” 
Jill scowled as she heard the belligerence in Elise’s voice. She walked up to Elise and faced her, her height giving her a slight advantage and she’d take any advantage she could get at this moment.
“When will it be convenient for you to have the conversation?”
“Not until I think you are ready.”  
“It’s all about you and what you want, Elise. What about me?” Jill demanded.
Elise drew up her chin and stared at Jill. Her eyes were hooded. 
“You are talking absolute rubbish. You have everything any woman could ever want,” Elise sighed. “You have a beautiful home, a generous allowance and you can do what you want with your day without interference.”
“Without interference, are you mad? I feel like all the eyes in Headridge are watching my every move. Besides Tegan takes up most of the day, not that you’d notice. You barely spend an hour a day with her and that’s usually when she’s sleeping in the evening.” Jill looked away in exasperation. 
“I told you to employ a nursemaid to help but, as usual, you know best and refused. What was your phrase, ‘you shouldn’t bring a child into the world if you weren’t prepared to sacrifice your life for them’? A little melodramatic, but you seem to take it to heart.”
“You wouldn’t sacrifice your life for Tegan?” Jill asked. “I suppose she’s not that important in your life. Probably never was. A means to an end and what a bloody end it is, here at Headridge.”
Elise’s face glowed bright red and Jill cringed inside. 
“I would give my life for Tegan.” Elise glared at Jill. “I already have with this shambles of an arrangement we have.”
“Shambles you call it,” Jill cried. “I hate this place, I hate you.” 
The words tumbled out before she could stop them. Oh and how she wished she had when she saw the color drain from Elise’s face.  
“I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry,” Jill mumbled.
There was silence between them for what seemed like a lifetime and when Jill paused to think about it, a lifetime of not having Elise in her life produced a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“I think you meant every word, Jill. Tegan is a baby, she doesn’t need me as much as she does you at the moment. I promise you that when she does, I will be there. Tegan will know I love her,” Elise stated. 
“Elise, I don’t hate you or Headridge. For goodness sake, the reason we are having this discussion is because I want to take on more responsibility here,” Jill said, unsure how they had degenerated to this point. 
“Precisely why I didn’t want this conversation now.  You aren’t ready.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jill responded, her jaw taut. 
“Hell, Jill, I don’t know, you have all the answers, remember?" Elise quipped as she turned toward the door. 
“That’s the end then...?” Jill asked. 
Elise swung around and shook her head. “For you and me, Jill, it will never be the end until you say so.” 
She opened the door and left. 
Since that moment, they had become polite wanderers in one another’s lives, and in an odd way, it had probably kept them together this long. The question now was, was Mum right, should they end it and move on? Jill pondered the question and closed her eyes as she felt her heart rate increase. 
Elise was right about one thing. It never would end between them. How could it? They had that one magic thread holding them together, even if it was at arm’s length. Tegan. 

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