When she found her husband’s wedding ring abandoned in his car, five-months-pregnant Charlotte McDougall smelled a love rat. What she never imagined was that he might be cheating with the cousin who, since childhood, had been more like a sister to her.
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“Craig was my husband – but she was my blood,” said Charlotte.
“She was more like a sister than a cousin growing up.
“Yet she put herself in the middle of my family, she pursued a man with a wife and children and another on the way. “You just don’t expect that sort of betrayal – I’ll never forgive her.”
Dad-of-three Craig, 31, moved out and now lives with his wife’s cousin, 21-year-old law student Katie Cartwright.
Charlotte, 26, said: “I struggled to function when I found out.
"After our child was born, I had to cope with Craig returning home to Katie.”
Charlotte thought of cousin Katie - who babysat their children - as a sister
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The couple had been together for 10 years, after meeting through a mutual friend when Charlotte was just 15.
She said: “I was outgoing and he was the quiet one. We had our first child, Caitlynn, when we were really young. “We’d been together little over a year when she was born.
“When she was 10 weeks old I found out I was pregnant again – sadly our second daughter, Evie, was stillborn. So we went through a lot together from the start.”
But the struggles brought them closer. Charlotte supported Craig’s apprenticeship as a cable jointer for an energy firm, and they married in 2012. Charlotte recalled: “We were so proud to have overcome so much together despite being so young. We’d been through so much I thought nothing could break us up.”
She said Craig was a doting dad to Caitlynn, now nine, and Millie, five – and the couple were delighted when Charlotte became pregnant with Ivy last year.
She said: “We planned Ivy, it took us 10 months to conceive her – that’s why I was even more shocked when Craig left me. I never doubted him for a second.”
Former carer Charlotte, of Wolverhampton, recalled how she often came home from work to find Katie, the daughter of her dad’s sister, at her house.
“I wasn’t unnerved by it because I would never imagine the two of them being a thing,” she said.
“We had a very close relationship when we were little. My dad and Katie’s mum were single parents so they relied on our grandparents to look after us. "Katie and I would spend a lot of time together. We were very, very close.
"When I got older and left home we lost touch for a couple of years but she got in back in touch through Facebook and we grew closer again. “She began dating one of Craig’s friends, so they’d often come round and she’d babysit our children.”
The first hint of a problem came when Charlotte was a few months pregnant. She said: “We had an argument – Craig wanted to go out late to see a friend, with no real explanation. “I rang his friend when he wasn’t back after an hour and he hadn’t seen him.
"When Craig came home he had something pale on his lips. Down the line, I realised it was Katie’s make-up.” Craig then told Charlotte he needed to go to his mum’s for a couple of days. She said: “I put it down to normal stresses – money, having another baby – and thought he’d be back.
“A couple of days later, I found his wedding ring in the car. I was devastated, he’d never taken it off before.
“That’s when I realised he must have met somebody else.”
Craig denied there was another woman, but Charlotte grew suspicious and scoured his phone bill – noticing many calls and texts to the same number.
She said: “I put the number into my phone to see if I knew the person – it came up as Katie’s name.
“My worst nightmare came true. Their texts and calls were from early morning to late in the evening. I was heartbroken.” Charlotte drove to Katie’s for a showdown, and demanded that she hand over her phone.
She said: “I found a load of text messages between them.
"Katie tried to wrestle the phone back off me but I saw enough – messages saying thanks for dinner and mentioning hotels.”I told Katie she was dead to me and then I rang Craig and pretended she’d told me the truth. He admitted he’d slept with her.”
When Craig moved out for good, Charlotte struggled.
She said: “I had to give up work. Luckily my family and Craig’s were very supportive.”
Charlotte says she got through because of her children and the baby she still carried. When Ivy was born in July last year, Craig was at the hospital.
“But within hours he was home with Katie,” said Charlotte.
“It was very difficult.” Now her life has moved forward. “When Craig left it was the first time I’d been alone in my whole life,” she said. “I’m proud of myself.”
While Charlotte says Craig remains a good dad to their three girls, she admitted: “It’s hard to think of my children spending time with Katie. “It’s not the usual dynamic of a dad having a new girlfriend. Katie and I have bumped into each other in town – I just don’t acknowledge her.”
Craig and Katie both declined to comment, but a source close to them said: “Craig did start a relationship with Katie but he does not consider it as an affair because he had already left Charlotte at the point when it started.”