Questions of Trust A Medical Romance - By Sam Archer

Chapter One

‘Mrs Edwards? And this must be Jake.’

Chloe glanced up in surprise. She was bent over the receptionist’s desk, filling out the form as neatly as she could in the tiny spaces, resisting the instinct to use shorthand. Her son toddled around her feet, worrying some sort of soft toy he’d found in the corner.

Doctor Carlyle – it could only have been him, as the only other doctor at the practice was Dr Okoro, an older Nigerian man – stood in the open doorway of a consulting room, a grin on his face. He was casually dressed in a pale blue shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms in deference to the April warmth. The inevitable stethoscope was slung across his shoulders.

Chloe straightened and attempted a smile, aware that her face had been creased in harassment and had probably been that way for the last few hours. They’d arrived in town the previous evening, herself and two-year-old Jake, too late to get much done. This morning, though, she’d been up at dawn, doing most of the unpacking before setting off with Jake in tow to do the essentials: a shop, a visit to the local nursery to put Jake’s name down for two mornings a week, and now a trip to the local GP practice to register them both. She was an organised person and liked to get things done as quickly as possible.

‘Yes.’ She reached out a hand. ‘Chloe Edwards.’

‘Tom Carlyle.’ His grip was warm, firm, but not bone-crushing. Involuntarily, Chloe’s journalist’s eye took in the details: he was a few years older than her, but not many, perhaps thirty-three or -four. Tall, not excessively so; six foot, or a shade under. Dark brown, slightly shaggy hair. Eyes that were blue and amused, their expression matching the wryness of his grin. The faintest trace of fine creases at the corners of the eyes suggested he was a man who smiled, even laughed, a lot.

The receptionist, a cheery, blowsy girl with constantly dancing earrings, said: ‘Your eleven-thirty’s cancelled, doc.’

‘In that case,’ said the doctor to Chloe, ‘why don’t you and Jake step in for a moment? It’ll give me a chance to get to know him, so that if I ever do need to see him for anything we won’t be strangers.’

Chloe opened her mouth to protest, to say that they really needed to be off and that she hadn’t expected an impromptu doctor’s appointment for her son, but she thought, Why not? Hoisting the little boy on to one arm, she nodded as the doctor stepped aside for her and preceded him into his small, brightly sunlit room.

The doctor followed Jake’s rapt stare around the walls. ‘Not bad, is it?’ Two of the walls were decorated with elaborately colourful murals of cartoon characters. Carlyle smiled again and dropped into his swivel chair, tapping at the computer keyboard before him.

‘New to Pemberham?’ he said.

‘Yes. We arrived just yesterday.’

‘Nice town. Though I’ve been here only six months myself.’

He said it casually. It struck Chloe as an odd remark. Was he trying to empathise with her in some way? It didn’t exactly inspire confidence, suggesting as it did that he was a relative newcomer too and perhaps didn’t know the area or the people as well as he might. She said nothing.

He was right in one respect, though. Pemberham did seem a nice town. Chloe had researched the place extensively over the last year. She was looking for somewhere to move to that wasn’t so tiny that it would feel stifling, but at the same time wasn’t another metropolis like London, which was suffocating in a different way. Pemberham, nestled in the Gloucestershire countryside west of the capital, looked like a chocolate-box painting in all the online pictures, and when she’d visited it with Jake for the first time last summer, she’d been delighted to see that the photos hadn’t exaggerated its charm. They had, if anything, understated its appeal. Set between two hills in a dip too gentle to be called a valley, it was an old market town that had done its best to retain the peacefulness of its original atmosphere in the modern world. Further enquiries had informed Chloe that the schools were good, the accommodation affordable, and the rail links to London excellent. It hadn’t taken her long to decide that this was the place she and Jake would in future call home.

The move had been less traumatic than she’d expected. They had relatively little in the