Sometimes ? the unbelievable is possible.
Sometimes ? you have to question your sanity.
Sometimes ? the only explainable reason is that it only happens ? sometimes.
but come to me now, if ever before
you heard my remote cry,
?why did I call you,
what did my mad heart want to
?So come to me once again and free me
from blunt agony.
Sappho circa 630 BC
My eyes flew open ? heart racing ? sweat coating my skin.
What the fuck was that?
The blackness of the room drowned out my vision - my heart banging in my chest muffled my hearing. Dryness enveloped my mouth, whilst goose bumps guarded my skin. All I had was my sense of smell.
So clear. So ? potent.
It wafted in front of me like a haze. I didn't wear lavender. Couldn't stand the stuff. But it seemed so familiar ? comforting in some strange way ?
I forced my breathing to slow down. Deep gulps, holding the air tightly in my lungs before expelling it back into the cool night air. My heartbeat slowly regained its natural rhythm as my eyes acclimatized themselves to the darkness.
But I knew someone was watching me.
And then I heard it. So close. A voice so soft my soul wept.
'Come back to me.'
I honestly can't tell you if it was real, a dream or my overactive imagination.
The next thing I remember was waking up on the floor of my room; blankets tangled around my legs; raw eyes blinking out the morning's rays.
I needed to get out. Take stock of my life. I was stressed - obviously. I needed to take the offer from my agent from the previous day. If I went away maybe these dreams, and voices, would stop.
Two days later saw me packed and driving towards the retreat set up for me by my agent's secretary. Six months sabbatical to get the creative juices flowing again - just what the doctor ordered.
My life was a mess. Four years of hiding in a sham of a marriage. Four years of indifference and hell - almost a paradox. Pete, my husband, had found it difficult keeping his dick in his pants, and increasingly more difficult keeping it a secret.
I didn't care that he slept around - quite the contrary. At least if he was getting it somewhere he was leaving me alone. Pity I couldn't say the same about his fists.
It was partly my fault - for marrying a man I didn't love in the first place. Telling him that I didn't love him, though, was an even bigger mistake, and it had been pretty much downhill from there. The only reason he didn't divorce me was because I was worth more to him while we were married. The pre nuptial had guaranteed that. But that didn't stop me divorcing him.
I had five successful novels to my name and they were still bringing in the royalties; how could any red-blooded male refuse that? Problem was, my muse had flown; the ink well had dried and I was becoming anxious. Not for the money ? for the escapism. I'd do anything to escape my life. Even drive over two hundred miles to be cocooned in a house in the middle of nowhere. For six months.
If I wanted solitude to take stock, this was the place to do it. It was very selective and only a handful of people were accepted at any given time. That suited me just fine. The further from my life the better.
A fluttering of excitement was building in my gut. I don't know why or what for. I just had a feeling that this trip was going to change my life.
For the better? I wasn't too sure.
Only time would have the answer.
The journey was uneventful. Well ? nearly.
Countryside slowly overtook the images of the grey city skyline. Trees marked the way to my haven standing resolute at the side of the road, like sentries. Fields sprawled in all directions until the hills appeared majestically and showed their superiority.
I only stopped once for petrol, to freshen up and get directions. The man at the petrol station seemed a little gob smacked when I asked for directions to Forester's Dwell, the retreat I had been booked into. He seemed almost embarrassed when he asked if I was sure I wanted to go there. My puzzled expression spurred him on.
'It's not a very happy place to go,' he spoke quietly, like he was scared of being overheard.
'Well, it will suit me down to the ground then,' I turned to leave. A firm grip halted me in my tracks and I spun around, ready to give him a piece of my mind, until I saw his eyes. Fear and concern radiated from them.
'Be careful, love. Things go on there that can't be explained.'
'Like what?' My voice seemed quite cold and distant, like the question had come from someone else.
'Things happen. Unexplainable things. That house is ? not all that it seems. It's cruel ?' Cue Scooby Doo and the Mystery Van. I was beginning to believe I was in Deliverance country.
'How on earth can a building be cruel?' I laughed, but his face stayed sombre. 'Okay ? I'll watch my step.' I shook my head in disbelief trying to clear it: another nervous laugh escaped.
I left him on the forecourt; shoulders slumped, with an indescribable look on his face. Talk about dramatic ? but still ? a sense of foreboding washed over me. What was I doing? I nearly turned the car around and headed back to London. I should face my life. Not go running off into the hills. I should be there to deflect the comeback, as my lawyer presented Pete with the divorce papers. Shouldn't I?
'Fuck him,' I snarled through clenched teeth. He would only get even more nasty when he realised I had cut him off financially, and that the locks to my house were going to be changed as soon as he left that morning.
A smile curled itself around my lips. He wouldn't have a clue where to look for me.
Decision made, I accelerated the car and turned the music back on. Joss Stone. Nice choice. I turned the volume up until it bordered on distorted, and began to sing at the top of my voice ?
I've got a right to be wrong I've been held down too long I've got to break free So I can finally breathe I've got a right to be wrong Got to sing my own song I might be singing out of key But it sure feels good to me I've got a right to be wrong
And I was singing out of key ? but a sense of freedom washed over me like a cleansing. Whatever I found at Forester's Dwell wouldn't be a patch on what would have been waiting for me at home.
I didn't realise how wrong one person could be.
Wrought iron gates were the only blip in the twelve-foot wall that surrounded the retreat. I had to use the intercom to gain access to the grounds. God ? this place was huge. It seemed like forever I was driving around sharp bends, nestled in between statuesque trees, before I glimpsed the house. My heart stopped in my chest, whether out of fear or reverence I don't know. The building came straight from the pages of a gothic novel: it was, in short, a writer's dream.
Red brickwork coated the exterior, only separating every now and again to allow leaded windows to peek out across the lawns. Turrets raced upwards towards the dull sky, birds resting on the top like a portent. I was definite there appeared to be a Keep running around the top, and I was more definite I could spy a something balancing precariously from the side of it.
It was a figure. A lone figure.
I slammed on my brakes and shot out of the car and screamed, 'Don't do it!'
Racing forward, the panic evident in my speed and lack of coordination, I shouted further, 'Don't jump!'
The figure's head looked up sharply. I could feel an intense scrutiny passing over me. I was being digested. I stopped, frozen into place by the stare. Long raven hair fluttered out and danced freely in the breeze that swirled across the upper levels. That was the only movement. We stared at each other, motionless. All sound seemed to cease. The air was filled with expectation and my blood was cold.
The scream from a nearby bird broke the spell. The figure, who I now knew to be female, pulled a long leg back over the precipice. Turning, she disappeared.
My breath left my body in a rush. I didn't even know I had been holding it. I felt weak and had the distinct impression I was going to faint. I bent over and pushed my head between my legs, gulping down mouthfuls of air, waiting for the shaking to stop. I didn't know whether it was the prospect of what could have happened if I hadn't turned up when I did, or the look of absolute desperation on the figure's face, but the experience left me feeling fragile.
Maybe it was the instant recognition, or connection, or whatever it was, that left me weak. Maybe it was the glimmer of hope I saw flit over those chiselled features that left me breathless. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the feeling of déjà vu that had gripped me.
I had to get some sleep. My over active, yet lately dormant, imagination was kicking in and I had to get some rest before the muse took me.
I felt absolutely drained and didn't remember, parking the car, checking in or being shown my room for the next six months. The bed seemed overwhelmingly soft and inviting, and I crashed onto it allowing myself to be swallowed up in the covers.
The next morning I awoke refreshed, hungry and a little curious of my surroundings. After I showered and demolished the breakfast that had been delivered to my room, I felt like investigating my surroundings a little further.
The door to my room was in heavy oak, but opened easily, and the hallway beyond lived up to expectations. It was narrow and dark, with wall hangings adding the extra atmosphere that was needed to complete the picture of opulence that the outside had promised.
Strolling down the corridor I sensed someone watching me, but each time I turned I was greeted with nothing but air. A tingling sensation stirred at the nape of my neck and travelled down my spine, jostling the fine hairs to attention. My step increased dramatically as I reached the top of the main staircase, where I gripped the banister and spotted a couple of guests milling around below. A soft chuckle escaped me.
'Come on, Jameson. Stop freaking yourself out.'
The woman at reception was busy shuffling papers and clicking her tongue with annoyance.
'Excuse me,' I tentatively asked, and was immediately comforted by warm brown eyes. 'Is it possible I could have all my meals delivered to my room?' She looked puzzled. 'Abbie Jameson, Room 4.'
A smile lit her lips and she held out her hand. 'A pleasure to finally meet you Ms Jameson. I'm a huge fan of yours.' I took her hand and allowed her to pump it up and down with quite a force. 'My name's Jenny, by the way.'
'Hello ? and ? er ? thank you. It's always a pleasure to meet someone who likes my work.' I gave her the book cover smile and pulled my hand away.
'To tell you the truth, your stories scare the life out of me.' A big grin. 'You must have one hell of an imagination, or maybe you have seen some of the things you describe?'
I laughed out loud. 'Nope. Never. And between you and me I don't really believe in the supernatural. When you're dead, you're dead.'
'But you're so convincing,' she gushed. 'Maybe your stay at Forester's Dwell will change your mind. We have resident ghosts here.' I looked at her with amused scepticism written all over my face. 'You'll see.' She replied to my disbelieving look, one eyebrow hiding underneath my fringe.
'I'd rather not,' I laughed again. 'Anyway. About those meals ?'
'Certainly. Please excuse my lack of professionalism, I was just star-struck.' She did look embarrassed, so I smiled reassuringly at her. 'You are more than welcome to have your meals in your room, unless the host wants to have everyone attend dinner.'
'Does that happen often?' I felt a little pressured by this.
'No. Quite rarely. But she does insist that everybody attends.'
'She?' It was out before I could stop it.
'Yes. Ms Thomas. That's her portrait on the wall.' I turned to look into sad blue eyes looking down at me, raven hair framing a chiselled face. She was perched in a leather high backed chair, arms folded across her lap.
'She looks so sad,' I whispered. 'So beautiful, yet so lost.'
'Ms Thomas has endured a lot of personal tragedy. That portrait was commissioned just after her return to the house two years ago.'
I was transfixed by the portrait. Lost in the expression on the woman's face, and absolutely sure I had witnessed the same woman hanging off the Keep the previous day.
The clearing of a throat from behind me broke my reverie and I turned to see the concerned eyes of 'Jenny,' my number one fan. 'Every thing okay, Ms Jameson?'
I nodded, images of Kathy Bates in Misery racing around in my head. I swallowed ? or should I say, gulped quietly, and returned my attention to soft brown eyes - nah - she's wouldn't ?
I cleared my throat. 'I think I'll go and do a little investigating,' then winked at her before venturing out into the morning air.
The day was crisp and held the vestiges of early morning mist that coated the grounds with an air of uncertainty and mystery. I breathed in deeply, and set off on my walk.
The amazing thing about walking in the mist is that your footsteps echo, giving the feeling of someone stalking you. However hard you try to rationalise, an air of creepiness steals over you taking away the remains of reason. Trees looked distorted and twisted, reaching out to capture their victims, like the trees in The Wizard of Oz, but more sinister. Every noise reverberated within the surrounding area, like it had been vacuum packed for maximum effect. Gravel crunched underneath my boots, suggesting a miniature army was on the attack.
It was only early autumn but the fingers of winter were beginning their grip on the landscape, stripping the trees of their leaves, killing everything ready for the onset of complete barren ness.
Before I knew it I was beside a lake. The water was tranquil; all noise had ceased as I approached. A couple of ducks rested at the edge but soon scuttled off in their comical way. I smiled. This was the life ?
I sat on a bench at the edge and took in the scene before me. If only life was as simple as this. I felt saddened and blessed at the same time. As soon as I got that bastard out of my life, the sooner I could begin to live. It wasn't just the fact Pete couldn't control his fists, or other bodily parts, it was the loneliness I felt within our marriage ? or the apathy I felt towards him ?
A sigh escaped me. Hopefully it would all be done and dusted before I left the retreat.
I leaned back on the seat and rested my arms along the back. A noise from my left alerted me that I was not alone. My eyes dug their way through the mist to rest upon a dark, tall figure standing by the water's edge. Long raven hair was swept back off the beautiful face as she stared out at nothing.
'Good morning!' I called, wanting to make contact with my hostess. I felt like I needed to see her smile, needed her to lose that look of despair that clung to her features.
She slowly turned to face me, her eyes widening with recognition. 'You?' Her voice croaked.
'Yes, me.' Don't tell me I have another fan? My head was big enough as it was.
'You've come back.'
I looked at her gone out. 'How can I have come back? I've never been here before.' The confusion in my voice was evident. What I didn't expect was for her to spin on her heel and run off like the hounds of hell were after her.
This place was weird. That woman was weird. How rude to just dash off like that. She must be one of the eccentric types. Well ? it takes all sorts.
I stood and dusted the moisture from the back of my jeans before making my way back to the house. Images of blue eyes kept flitting through my mind. Why was I suddenly thinking about blue eyes?
Two weeks passed and I hadn't written a word - well, anything worth publishing, and nothing you could say in front of your mother. A blank computer screen greeted me every day, and I left it the same way every night.
Sometimes I would just walk the corridors hoping for inspiration, other times found me staring into the clear water of the lake or holding conversations with ducks who seemed more interested with the bread in my hands.
It was early evening on the fifteenth day that I first heard it. I was sitting staring at the usual blank screen when sobbing reached my ears. It was coming from just outside my room. I tried to ignore it but my interest was piqued.
I opened the door and peered into the corridor. Empty. But the sobbing was still audible. I stepped into the hallway, closing the door soundlessly behind me and I followed the noise. It seemed to just be ahead of me and was becoming more frantic.
I increased my pace.
As I turned the corner, I saw an open door slightly swinging like someone had just gone through. I stood at the base and stared upwards, my eyes following stone steps. I admit, I was scared. The passageway looked daunting and I was pretty much certain this wasn't part of the usual tour.
I was just about to turn around when a woman's voice filtered down; filled with so much pain I couldn't resist comforting her. 'Why did you do it?' What? Who was she talking to? The sobbing escalated into a wail, and I knew I had to do something.
Gripping the banister, I sucked in my courage and began my ascent. I didn't know what I was going to meet, but then again I didn't really care what happened to me at all.
Cold air fingered my face as I approached the top of the steps, and I felt a strange sensation of impending doom. I know - cliché.
The door at the top was ajar and I could make out the darkening sky peeping through. So - this led to the rooftop, eh?
The crying was closer, and I had a vivid sensation of déjà vu once again, as I pushed the door open and stepped out into the night air. My eyes quickly accustomed themselves to the darkening sky and I scanned the area, my ears directing me to the sound of the distressed woman.
I spotted her near the wall, her hands covering her face. She looked like my hostess, yet slightly different somehow. Maybe it was the full-length dress she was wearing, or the fact her hair was piled high on her head. I don't really know, but she looked changed somehow.
'Ms Thomas?' I gently asked. 'Are you okay?' A tear stained face greeted me. Blue eyes betraying her agony. She looked startled.
'Why, Vivian?' She sobbed and held her hand out to me. 'Why him?'
I looked at her. She didn't seem with it. I stepped back holding my hands in front of me. 'Vivian? You must be mistaken. I'm Abbie Jameson ? one of your guests.'
'Still denying me, then?' With that she spun around, and with one deft movement, she vaulted over the side.
I stood there, frozen, waiting for the inevitable thud as her body hit the ground. But it didn't come.
When my blood started to circulate again, I found myself at the edge staring over the side, dreading the bloody mess that would greet me.
But there was nothing there. The ground below was clear. No body. Only the gravel from the driveway graced the ground.
I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. I had seen our hostess throw herself from this edge, just like she threatened to do when I first arrived. But there was nothing there.
My stomach seized and I lost the contents of my lunch. Repeatedly. I slumped against the wall, a cold sweat coating my body. What the fuck was going on? I pushed my fingers through sweat-dampened hair and allowed myself a few minutes to gather my emotions. I was shaking and my teeth were beginning to chatter.
'Are you okay?' Such a warm voice, so familiar. I closed my eyes and searched for the memory of it. It was hiding behind all my other memories and I couldn't quite reach it.
I felt someone crouch down next to me. 'Ms Jameson?' I opened my eyes and was captured in an intense blue gaze. 'Are you all right?'
'You're alive,' I croaked. Her face took on a mask of confusion. 'I saw you jump and ?'
She stood quickly; brushing her hands down the front of her jeans. 'Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm still here.'
'But I ?'
'I'll take you back to your room.' Her face devoid of emotion, she held her hand down to me. As my fingers tightened around hers, a jolt raced up my arm and through my body.
Green eyes locked with blue. I knew she had felt it too but she was still sporting that look of nonchalance. She pulled me up and into her and I felt my skin moulding into hers. I could smell her skin, her hair. I could feel her breath, slightly ragged on my face.
I pulled away as if I had been stung. I had never experienced this before and, to tell you the truth, I was a little freaked out. It was like I had done this a thousand times before, yet it also felt so new.
'I can make my own way, Ms Thomas.' And I turned and scuttled back to my room, all the while admonishing myself for my rudeness.
Was I cracking up? Had I dreamt the whole thing? I knew I was a writer, but this was a little too realistic even for me and my imagination.
I must be coming down with something. I did feel slightly feverish. It was probably all the events leading up to this moment - the divorce, witnessing my hostess climbing off the same wall, the urgency and anxiety I had been feeling when I couldn't get my ideas on paper.
I did the only thing a girl in my position would do. I had a long soak, a hot chocolate and an early night. Things would make sense in the morning.
Something woke me in the middle of the night. I couldn't really tell you what it was, but I knew that all was not well. I lay there, covers clutched firmly in my hands just below my chin, very much like a black and white horror film. My eyes were stretched into glistening white orbs and I was breathing noisily from my nose.
My ever-vigilant ears picked up something in the corner of my room. A dragging noise. I was nearly too afraid to look ? nearly.
I turned my head into the direction of the semi scuffling noise and focused on the shadows in the corner.
'Who's there?' My voice sounded braver than I felt. The scuffling, or dragging, stopped briefly, like it was contemplating answering me. Then it started again, but this time it began to move away from the corner and approach my bed.
Instinctively I drew my legs closer to my chest, believing this would save me. I still couldn't see anything, just a pillar of darkness moving slowly around the foot of my bed. I felt the covers move at the base as something brushed against the bottom. Sweat coated my bottom lip and if I had had the ability to scream I would have right then and there.
But I couldn't. All the moisture in my mouth had been swallowed in fright and I had nothing to work with. The temperature of the room had dropped dramatically and I could see my breath leaving my mouth in short gasping clouds of air.
My eyes pinned themselves to the shape and tracked its every move. Right in the centre I saw a small round orb of light appear and hover in the darkness before it skipped downwards to the base of my bed to sit there for an agonising moment. It seemed to deliberate before venturing further up the bed towards my cowering frame. It stopped as it reached my feet. I felt the coldness oozing from it, freezing my toes with its mere presence.
Before my eyes the orb seemed to morph into something imitating a hand, a man's hand, thick and clumpy. My eyes blinked rapidly hoping to expel this image to mere fantasy. But no ? it stayed there, the fingers trembling.
It felt dark and sinister. There was malice in that hand and I knew, I don't know how, that it had made people suffer at some time or another. Alive or dead. Dread prickled its way up my spine and made my throat constrict. I never took my eyes from it, and I watched it transform itself into an orb again.
At lightning speed the orb raced across the room and lingered over my computer, which sat idly in the corner near the window. To my amazement the screen saver disappeared and I heard the distinct clicking of the laptop's keypad. I could see a word appearing but couldn't read it.
Then as fast as it appeared ? it was gone. I could feel that it had gone as the room's temperature began to rise once again, my breathing becoming less visible.
I lay there for what seemed like an age before working up the courage to look at the message on the screen. Slowly, I threw the covers back and gingerly put my bare feet on the floor. My legs were weak and I wasn't too sure if they would support me on my journey. I breathed in deeply
As I approached the computer the fear in my gut took centre stage. I didn't know what to expect and that's what made things worse. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
That did it. The scream left my lungs like a freight train and I flew to the door, threw it back and raced down the corridor like the spawn of Satan was attacking my heels. I wasn't looking where I was going and nearly died of fright when strong arms grabbed me and pulled me to a firm body.
I struggled to escape but the arms were too strong, almost crushing. Then I passed out.
When I came to I was greeted by a very concerned pair of blue eyes, leaning over me, in a strange room on a strange bed.
'Where am I?'
'Shush. You've had a bit of a scare, but you're safe now.' The voice was so comforting, so gentle, I felt myself being lulled. 'Here ? drink this.' She held a glass of milk out to me. 'It's warm and will help you sleep.'
I cupped the base of the glass and brought the beverage to my lips taking tiny sips of the contents.
'I found you running down the hallway, screaming. When I tried to stop you, you freaked out, then passed out.' Concern once again glistened in her eyes. 'So I brought you to my room.' A sad smile graced her lips. I wanted to stroke them. Wait a minute? Stroke them? What on earth?
I shook my head to clear the image, and the questions.
'Do you want to tell me what happened?'
I shook my head. 'Not tonight. I feel so tired.' A yawn escaped my mouth and I passed the nearly empty glass back to her. My head was fogging, like I had been drugged.
The last coherent thought I had before I fell into a deep sleep was, 'Such beautiful eyes.'
The next morning found me bleary eyed and foggy about the previous night's events. I wasn't too sure about whose bed I woke up in, as I was too concerned with the raging headache that I had woken with.
I looked around the room, searching for clues of my whereabouts. The room seemed cold in appearance, oak panelled walls playing host to a multicoloured arras, and the window ran from one side of the room to the other. The curtains were still closed, but I could see the promise of a new day lurking behind.
I snuggled down underneath the covers and soaked up the warmth, ready to doze off again, when I heard the door opening. Green eyes blinked wildly, the memory from the previous evening crashing down upon me.
A soft, yet husky voice trickled over to me. 'So. You're awake.'
My hostess stood in the doorway, dressed in sweat pants and a sweat soaked top. She had a tray exuding delicious smells which was balanced precariously on her left arm. 'Thought you might be hungry.' And she came in, kicking the door closed behind her.
I held the covers up to my chest. I don't know why, it was instinctive. Her eyes narrowed as she witnessed my actions and she faltered in her step, hesitant about coming forward. I felt foolish, so I threw the covers back revealing my pyjamas covered with tiny piglets.
'Nice choice in nightwear,' she teased, her eyebrow raised in mock appraisal. The ice was definitely broken as I grinned fully at her.
'A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do,' I teased back and held out my arms for the tray, my stomach waking up suddenly and screaming for nourishment.
She hovered it above me and moved it away before my clinging hands could get purchase. I glared at her and lunged again, ending up the victor - a victor who nearly ended up covered in orange juice.
After I gobbled down my breakfast, talking between bites, I felt refreshed and ready for action. Funny how the daylight can change your perspective on things. My hostess, Kate, barely had the chance to talk, but listened like she wanted to hear me babbling on about ducks and writer's block.
I wasn't nervous. No. I just wanted to keep her there as long as possible so I could eventually pluck up the courage to ask her about what had happened the previous night.
'I took the liberty of getting you something to wear from your room.' She seemed almost embarrassed. 'You ? you can use my bathroom if you like?' Bashful?
'Thanks.' She got up to leave. 'Erm ? Kate?' She turned and looked down at me. 'Could I have a chat with you after I shower?' Her face showed her confusion. 'About last night ?' The confusion disappeared and I visibly saw a screen rise up in front of her, blocking out her emotions. 'I can't remember getting here. I ? I ? need some answers.' My voice seemed to lose impact at the end, leaving the words dangling in the air.
'Sure.' A smile. 'I'll just get some coffee.' With that she turned and left the room leaving me staring at the closed door.
I was standing under the shower, water hurtling off my body in hot waves, soaking up the feeling of joining the land of the living, when I heard the door to the bathroom open. A cool draught brushed against my legs where tiny goose bumps came to life.
'Kate?' No answer. 'Kate ? is that you?' Still quiet.
I opened the stall door and peeked outside. The room was filled with steam and I could see someone in the corner fiddling with something near the sink. 'Can I help you?' My voice was cold. Who the fuck? My eyes spotted a pile of fluffy white towels perched on the stool near the shower. The maid. My heart rate slowed down considerably at this realisation.
A soft scraping sound was coming from the corner where the maid was and I looked back over, ready to dismiss her. She had already gone. But I didn't hear her leave ? didn't hear her close the door. She couldn't have left that quickly as I had only turned to look at the towels.
I leaned into the shower and turned it off, stepping from the cubicle. I picked up one of the large towels and began to dry myself vigorously. The steam in the bathroom began to dissipate, allowing me to see things more clearly.
My eyes travelled over to the corner where the maid had been doing something a couple of minutes earlier, and I spotted the mirror hanging over the sink covered in condensation. Well ? almost covered. Something had been written on the glass.
Curiosity piqued, I ambled over, securing the towel around me in the process.
One word adorned the glass. One word.
A scream burst out of my mouth just before I made contact with the cold wet tile. A pain soared through my temple and I felt the tell tale sign of liquid trickling down the side of my face. I knew I was going to faint ? something I had never done before last night.
Everything went black, but I was still vaguely aware of the door to the bathroom flying open and someone racing in to kneel down next to me. Strong hands gripped my shoulders and lifted me into a sitting position. I felt my body being curled into strong capable arms, warm breath on my face. 'Abbie? Abbie? Come on sweetheart.' The concern was evident in Kate's voice, as she gently rocked me backwards and forwards.
And once again ? it all went dark.
I awoke with a blinding headache and two pairs of concerned eyes looking into my own. Blue and grey. The grey ones were obscured by small black-framed glasses and were observing me intently.
'Miss Jameson? Do you know where you are?' A man's voice wafted towards me as I looked around the room with confusion. A cool hand landed on my arm and I jumped a little, startled by the contact. 'Do you hurt anywhere?'
God yes. My head felt like it had survived a steam rolling incident and my stomach was ready to rebel. 'My head ?' I lifted my hand up and tentatively stroked my temple, flinching at the feel of congealed blood and a definite soreness.
'You had an accident. I'm Dr Robins.' I looked at him. 'I'm a guest here. Ms Thomas phoned through for my assistance as soon as she found you.'
I looked at my hostess, whose face sported a mixture of concern and fear.
'How did I get on the bed?'
They looked at each other, a silent message passed between them. 'We both carried you after I checked to see if it would be okay for you to be moved.' He came closer and touched the wound on my head. 'You'll probably need a couple of stitches. It's a good job it is bruising as I would have advised for you to go and have a scan.'
My face said it all. 'It's okay,' he soothed, 'as long as someone keeps their eye on you for the next twenty four hours for any signs of concussion...' The last part of this was directed at my hostess who nodded vigorously at this point. 'Could you get us some hot water, clean cloths and something to drink?'
Kate nodded again. I was beginning to believe that she had lost the ability of speech until she turned at the doorway and looked me straight in the eye. 'I'm so sorry.' Then she left.
Sorry about what?
Doctor Robins began to rummage through his bag looking for his suture kit and antiseptic wipes, and I took this time to reflect on what had actually happened.
What had actually happened?
My stomach began another dance as I recalled the figure and the message on the mirror. Was I losing the plot? My mind? Or was something going on that I couldn't rationalise?
Was someone fucking with me? And if yes - why?
The door to the room opened and Kate came back in with a steaming bowl of water and a bundle of clean white cloths. 'Tea is on its way.' A shy smile graced her lips as she looked at me. I returned the smile and she visibly relaxed.
Thirty minutes later I was cleaned and stitched up, resting on puffed up pillows sipping a hot cup of tea. The doctor had excused himself after performing his duties, leaving a prescription for painkillers and sleeping tablets behind. He informed me that I should steer away from the sleeping tablets tonight; just until he was sure I didn't have a concussion, and left me a couple of painkillers to get me started.
The tension in the room was slowly building and I was feeling uncomfortable with Kate's fidgeting as she sat in the chair next to the bed.
Finally. 'I've taken the liberty of moving your things to the room next to this one for the unforeseeable future.' She coughed. 'The room is part of my apartment, but I thought ?' I looked at her, a question in my eyes. 'I thought it would be best since ? whilst ?erm ? while you recovered.'
I stared at her and felt time dragging by. Eventually I lowered my eyes and nodded. 'Good idea.' A sigh broke free from deep within me. 'I didn't really fancy going back to that room anyway.'
'Well, that's sorted then.' A crooked smile slipped onto her face.
It's amazing how a smile can change a person's whole appearance. Every time I had seen my hostess she had looked moody and withdrawn, her persona drowned by a sheet of blackness that suffocated her.
I yawned - widely. 'Well ? I'd better let you get some rest. I'll just be in the living room through that door.' She pointed towards the back of the room. 'If you need anything just shout.'
After she left, I lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, thoughts racing around my head. The painkillers were beginning to work and I felt sleep gripping me. Another yawn and then I allowed myself to be pulled under.
I was standing in a great hall. Music was playing. It sounded distorted and ethereal. Couples were gliding around the spacious floor dressed in formal attire. I think it was a waltz of some description. I felt confused.
Their faces were all directed at me. Distorted faces ? leering. I thought I could sense them laughing ? not in a good way, but maliciously.
Panic pounded in my chest and I wanted to escape. I didn't belong here.
A hand gripped my arm and pulled me. I turned and found a cold pair of blue eyes glaring down into my own. The face was cruel and hard, framed by midnight black hair and sliced open with a perfectly trimmed moustache.
Fingers were digging into the top of my arm and I felt trapped in this man's grip. He shoved me, roughly, and his eyes directed me to look out on the scene again. I knew that I had to play a part, a part I didn't want to play.
My eyes swept across the dance floor. The music had stopped, and the sea of people were parting to allow the entrance of a solitary figure making her way down the centre.
The woman was tall, elegant, and beautiful. Her raven hair was piled on top of her head exposing her slender neck. I could feel my mouth watering for the taste of her, and funnily enough, I didn't feel surprised at this. Purposefully, she made her way towards where I was standing and my heart raced with expectation.
Her blue eyes never left my face as she approached and I could feel the man's fingers digging deeper into me.
She stopped in front of me, looking down into my eyes. The air of the room was filled with anticipation, the crowd were standing to the side, leering expressions gone, replaced by an empty space, a blankness, where their facial features should have been.
A slender hand was held out to me, steady and strong. 'Come with me.' It was a plea that tore at my gut and ignited my soul.
Hot breath landed on the back of my neck and another hand came around and gripped the top of my free arm in warning. The woman's eyes were pleading with mine. 'Come with me.' Whispered, the despair evident.
A growl was heard in my ear. 'Whores!' I felt the spittle hit the back of my neck and I knew what I had to do. It was the only thing to do.
'I can't.' Her eyes misted as tears threatened to brim over and expose her pain. I could feel my heart breaking.
'Please!' It was so quiet, almost mouthed.
'I can't. You must understand ?'
'Only too well.' Her voice choked; a solitary tear escaped and raced down her cheek. Then she turned and fled, pushing her way through the crowd who were jeering and laughing. The pain in my chest burst open and bled like an open wound.
'Wait! Don't leave me!' I tried to get away but the man's grip held me fast.
'No you don't. Even though you're an abomination you're still my wife.' Fingers dug into my arms and I could feel the skin breaking apart.
'No!' I screamed over and over, trying to pull myself away from him, panic gripping me.
'Sssshhh.' Strong arms held me as I sobbed, tears burning my face and my eyes. 'It's okay ? I've got you.'
My head shot up to be captured by beautiful blue eyes, concern radiating from them.
'You've come back!' I sobbed.
Confusion slipped over the beautiful face, which was quickly masked by concern once again.
'You were dreaming,' she soothed.
I fell into her embrace and began crying once again until my breathing became erratic and made me hiccup and snivel.
It was an age before I was calm enough to let go of her, and I missed the warmth and comfort immediately.
'I'll just order some hot milk and I'll be back.' She stood and made her way to the door. 'It was just a bad dream Abbie, probably an after shock of your fall.' I nodded, trying to placate both her and myself.
There was a slight problem to her conclusion. This being, I had bruises down both of my arms. Bruises in the shape of fingertips.
How do you explain that one away?
True to her word, my hostess was back within five minutes, and ten minutes after that I was sipping hot milk whilst she straightened the covers on the bed.
'Sorry to wake you.' I mumbled. Her hands stopped their stroking of the duvet. 'My dream ? it seemed so real, I ?'
'No worries.' She smiled a full smile and her eyes joined in for good measure. 'I wasn't sleeping. I was reading some trashy fiction.' Another grin.
I smiled back. 'Not mine, I hope?' A gentle laugh escaped her, and I felt a sense of calmness envelop me.
The room went quiet and we both felt the atmosphere change. Kate sat down on the chair next to the bed and began to fidget with the hem of her top.
'Would you like to talk about it?' The question surprised me, even though I had no reason to feel surprised.
'Erm ? well ? it seems ludicrous now that you're here and the room is all light and ?' I drifted off, suddenly feeling foolish.
'Sometimes it's better to get things out in the open. That way it doesn't come back to bite you on the butt.' I laughed feeling more relaxed already. 'But before we do I need to check your eyes.' I looked at her, startled for a moment. 'To check your pupils for abnormalities ? you know ? concussion?'
I nodded in understanding and sat up straighter on the bed. Slowly, she raised herself up from the chair and made her way over to the bed. She produced a small torch from her pocket. I looked at her once again with surprise. 'Present from the doctor,' she grinned and cupped her hand underneath my chin to tilt my head back for inspection.
I felt a jolt whiz through me and separate into tiny jolts that raced to every inch of my body. I jerked away from her touch only to note the look of disappointment and hurt on her face. 'Sorry ? my head is still sore.' She nodded, seeming content with my cover up.
What on earth was that? I couldn't rationalise the feeling that had encompassed me. The electricity that flowed from her when we touched ? It seemed to awaken something dormant inside: shock it awake from deep inside.
Kate busied herself shining her new toy into each eye, checking for anything amiss, her hand once again planted firmly on the underside of my jaw. I sat there like a well-trained puppy, and like a puppy I had the urge to spring up, cover my master with licks and then chase my tail for the rest of the afternoon.
After I had passed inspection and my pupils given the all clear, it was time to tell my hostess what had happened to make me call out in my sleep.
I patted the bed in invite and she sat next to me, slightly turning to face me. I told her about the ball and the strange man, and eventually about the entrance of the tall woman. Her face closed up at this point and I felt disappointed once again.
When I got to the part where the woman asked me to go with her and I refused, Kate stiffened and looked away.
'What's the matter, Kate?' I reached out and grabbed her arm to pull her back. Initially she seemed insistent that the wall was better company, but eventually pale blue eyes once again met my own. 'Have I offended you in some way?' I was confused and my eyes told her this.
'No ? it's nothing ? just ? nothing.'
'It must be something if you are reacting like this. Tell me.'
'I can't. Not yet.' Her eyes, eyes that were so familiar, pleaded me not to push, so I took a deep breath and lowered my gaze - freeing her from a confession. Now where did that word come from? Confession? An unusual choice of word to just go popping into someone's head. 'I promise you, Abbie. I'll tell you soon.'
I nodded in understanding. I was prepared to wait, mainly because I didn't what to put Kate on the spot, and, also, just a little bit of me didn't really want to know.
I took a deep breath and came to the conclusion I should let her know I knew something was amiss.
'I thought it was just a dream, but the man's hands were so strong and were digging into my arms ?' I sat up and rolled my pyjama top up to reveal the bruising on my upper arms.
A gasp left her mouth and she grabbed my forearms, bringing the appendages closer to her face.
'Oh Abbie!' A stifled cry left her throat.
'I'm okay. Probably did it myself.' I shrugged it away, half believing my own theory. Well it was better than considering the other option. I rubbed the flesh and then covered my arms with the fleecy material again. She still looked distraught. 'Hey ? don't worry. I bruise really easily.' I smiled at her, trying to comfort the woman sitting beside me.
I reached out and placed my hand on her forearm to reassure her I was okay. Her skin felt cold to the touch. 'You're freezing. Why don't you get under the covers? There's more than enough room.'
Blue eyes studied me intently before a quick nod of the head, a bit of shuffling, and she was next to me. I noticed her trying to stifle a yawn. 'We'd better get some sleep or we'll be fit for nothing,' I said.
She nodded and closed her eyes.
I lay there studying the enigma that was Kate Thomas. Such a mixture. On one hand she was strong and confident, yet on the other ? on the other she was so vulnerable with an air of sadness shrouding her. I wondered what her story was.
My eyes became heavy and I drifted off into a dreamless sleep. I think it was the best night's sleep I'd had in years.
The next morning found me nestled into the side of my hostess, my head firmly planted underneath her armpit. Small snoring noises were coming from above me and I bit back a grin and tried to slink away. A firm hand gripped me and pulled me closer until my head was nearly buried. It was so warm and safe I did the only thing a girl should do in that position.
I fell back to sleep.
I don't know how long I slept for but when I woke up she was gone. Strangely enough I felt more alone at that moment that I ever had in my life.
I turned to my side and stared at the ceiling.
What was going on here? I was stressed, granted, and I knew that I had too much on my plate with the divorce and my writer's block, but that didn't explain half the things that had been going on.
The mind is a funny thing and can make your senses go into overdrive when it wants to - but this? My hand had started to stroke the bruising on the inside of my arm. How had that happened? Did I really do that myself?
Well ? there was such a thing as stigmata. That was mind over matter - so what was the difference?
But why think of the things that I had been thinking of? Why not envision something I knew something about? Why the mystery?
The incident with the computer - writer's block most definitely.
The person in the bathroom - probably just the maid.
But the writing?
That could have been on there before I took a shower and the condensation brought it to life. Sorted.
The dream. There were loads of portraits around the place, so maybe I just fell into a deep sleep and blurred reality with fantasy. And the bruising could have been made by me squeezing myself tightly when I felt nervous. Once again, sorted.
The woman throwing herself off the roof and no trace of the body. How to explain away that one?
I was saved the trouble by a discreet knock on the door. Brushing my unruly hair out of my eyes I shouted for the person on the other side to come in. Hope slipped away when I found the chambermaid entering with a tray filled with toast, marmalade and a pot of tea.
My stomach yawned awake and I puffed up my pillows in readiness to receive the food.
'Will that be all?' The girl looked nervous, as she had probably heard about what happened the previous day, or maybe she was wondering what on earth I was doing in the owner's room?
'Yes, thank you.' I took the tray and devoured my late breakfast. I had to get myself into gear. I couldn't lie around all day in Kate's bed; I had to get myself moving, sort out my new accommodation.
Why on earth was I still willing to stay in this place? I can't ever remember being so disturbed, yet so at home, in one place. My life was quickly becoming a paradox. I knew that something was not quite right, my hallucinations and nightmares put paid to that.
So why stay?
First and foremost I needed to get my writing flowing again. I didn't need the money: I needed the satisfaction of knowing that I was worth something. My writing did that for me.
But it was more than that.
Everything I had witnessed, either asleep or awake, made me want to stick it out. I had to get to the bottom of the mystery that haunted this place, and haunted the space behind my hostess' eyes.
They mesmerised me. I can't deny it. She was so beautiful, but seemed so lost. I felt like I was a clue to her life in some bizarre way.
So, tell me, how could I leave her here on her own?
I had the weirdest sensation that I could help her recapture something that was ultimately lost to her.
Even though I knew I would probably lose my mind in the process.
The bedroom attached to her apartment was magnificent. Views of the house and gardens greeted me from every angle and I felt instantly at home there. It would be good for my writing; I could feel the muse rising from deep within.
After I unpacked all my things and set up my laptop on the side, I slumped into the chair exhausted.
I scanned the room, pleased with my efforts, whilst grinning widely at my lack of stamina. Writing was not good for the hips. I contemplated going down to the gym, a pastime I had neglected since my arrival.
My eyes rested on the bed and spied a small brown object lying on top of the duvet. I squinted my eyes, trying to make out what it was, and eventually decided not to be a lard arse and get up and check it out.
As I got closer I discovered it was a book. My hand grasped the leather bound cover and noticed it didn't have anything written on the cover. I frowned slightly and opened it up.
Flowing script met my eyes as I stared wide-eyed at the name written inside. Katherine Thomas. My hostess? Confusion settled over my features. Why on earth would Kate leave me her diary?
Intrigued, I turned the page. 1917. 1917? But ?
I flumped down on the bed and turned to the next page. Maybe this was Kate's way of telling me what she had difficulty speaking aloud. Maybe this diary held the key.
I settled back into the bed, getting myself comfy, and began to read.
May 12th 1917
My brother has finally decided he should go to war. He has tried to avoid it for the longest time. Locals have called him a coward behind his back and to his face. Edward, my oldest brother, enlisted as soon as war was declared. As for William, well the three white feathers he received in the post last week angered him so much he took it out on poor Billy, beating him until the poor lad could barely stand.
He leaves for London one week today. I am so happy, and God forgive me, I hope he never comes back.
All of the staff are frightened of him and his flying fists. But it's his philandering that is the worst. Two young women have left under suspicious circumstances - always the very young ones too.
He is a beast, a pitiable excuse for a man. I am going to enjoy living here without him; I nearly run the place as it is since daddy died and Edward left.
The next few pages went on in the same vein, the young woman writing about her sudden found freedom even though the country was gripped by war and supposedly living in fear.
I yawned widely and stretched out my legs. I needed to go for a walk, get some fresh air in my lungs, and take stock of the situation.
I considered asking Kate if I could use the woman from the diary as the basis for my new novel. Her character was so strong it called to me through the pages and through time.
Then it hit me.
Katherine Thomas. 1917. The costumes of the day raced around my mind, the hairstyles.
I needed to be sure.
I threw the book onto the bed and raced outside and down to reception. My eyes searched the walls frantically until they rested on the portrait on the wall.
Pale blue eyes stared down into my own, raven hair piled on top of her head, a slender throat revealed from the top of a white lace collar. So beautiful: so sad.
My eyes drifted to the brass plaque that accompanied the portrait: Katherine Thomas 1896 - 1919.
But it couldn't be ? could it?
There was no mistaking that chiselled face, that wan smile, the look of desperation in those mesmerising eyes, eyes that had haunted my dreams and waking moments since my arrival nearly three weeks ago.
It was her.
I staggered forward, my hand reaching out to the portrait almost believing I could physically touch the real her. My stomach was reeling from the shock; my eyes riveted themselves into her gaze.
I don't know how long I stood there. I don't know how many times Jenny asked me if I was okay. I was transfixed.
'Ms Jameson? Abbie? Is everything okay?' The touch of her hand awoke me and I started to turn away. That's when I spotted it.
In the portrait you could just make out that clasped tightly in her right hand, almost obscured, was the small brown leather journal I had just been reading. I looked back into her eyes, my own pleading for a sign.
I don't know whether it was my imagination but I could hear a voice, low, soft, sultry, whispering in my ear, the breath tickled the fine hairs on my neck.
'Vivian.' Just the one word, but it was enough.
I turned abruptly, pushed past Jenny, and raced back to my room.
I had to find out why I was drawn to this woman; why I had a burning need to find out what part I played in all of this; and, most importantly, why I felt a pull towards my hostess?
Throwing the door back, I charged towards the bed. It was empty.
It must have fallen on the floor, so I threw the covers back and looked around. Nothing.
I searched the room for nearly thirty minutes until I slumped, defeated, into the bedside chair.
The diary had gone, disappeared without a trace. Kate must have taken it back for some unknown reason.
Why would she give me the book only to take it back a couple of hours later? What was the point in that?
As I sat there pondering my idiosyncratic hostess, a sharp rap announced itself on my door, ultimately breaking my reverie.
The door opened slowly and a worried Jenny poked her head round.
'Sorry to interrupt, Ms Jameson, but I have a message.'
I blinked my surprise.
'Ms Thomas asked me to notify all of the guests. She is hosting a dinner party tonight and she wishes for full attendance.' I widened my eyes at the flustered woman. 'Sorry it is such short notice, but she didn't tell me until she was leaving this morning.'
'She's not here?'
'No ? she left about six thirty this morning for a meeting in London. She should be back before seven tonight.'
My face must have said it all. 'You can always feign a headache, especially after ?'
I interrupted her, 'No, that's fine ? what time?'
Jenny filled me in on the details, but I'm sorry to say I wasn't paying much attention. My mind was decidedly elsewhere - especially thinking about how she could have had the time to put the diary in my room. I was almost definite, in retrospect; the diary was not on the bed when I first entered my quarters.
Secondly. Who took it away again?
Someone, or something, was fucking about with me.
And I don't like to be fucked around with.
Part of me wanted to believe that Kate was innocent in this ? but who else would have the motivation or inclination to feed me snippets of clues and then stop.
I was becoming more confused. Why me? And what did they have to gain?
Through the haze swirling around in my mind, I remembered Jenny mentioning the 'Dinner Party' was formal. I hunted through my wardrobe searching for something appropriate, and came across a very simple long black dress. I couldn't remember packing it; in fact I didn't remember ever buying it.
Confused, I slipped it from its resting place on the hanger and checked inside. My size. I held it against me. Right length.
Must be mine.
As I dressed, my mind was consumed by the journal, or diary, or whatever it was. Where had it gone? Someone had been in my room and taken it back whilst I was downstairs looking at the gallery of previous owners.
And it wasn't Kate.
I slipped the dress carefully over my head to avoid disturbing half an hour's work on my hair. The material clung to my body like a second skin, the cool silkiness tantalising my flesh like a promise. I looked squarely into the mirror, surprising myself with the result.
I looked refreshed, which was unusual considering recent events.
After applying a smudge of lipstick and a whisper of mascara, I was ready for my debut. Butterflies vied for attention in my stomach. I rarely suffered with nervousness, especially in my profession. So why now?
I leaned forward towards the mirror checking for smudges. I ran my pinky across my lips to blend the lipstick further creating a soft rose hue, and then poked out the tip of my tongue to swipe across allowing a sheen to appear. Both my hands came up to adjust the plunge on my dress, pushing my breasts into place and snapping the material out and away. The final touch came as I stroked down my sides and along my hips.
Shoes on, a squirt of perfume, and I was ready.
I felt good. I felt ? sexy. Yes ? sexy. I don't know why. I don't believe I had ever felt sexy before, or ever dressed so carefully. Definitely not for Pete, that was for sure. In my head I wanted to look good, but I didn't know why or who for.
With a shrug, I picked up my purse and headed for the dining hall.
Anticipation rested in my gut. I was expecting something to happen and, in a strange way, I was looking forward to it.
After milling around in the bar area sipping cocktails for forty minutes, we were allowed to enter the dining room. I had spent the time watching, or should I say spying, on my hostess make conversation with a few of the other guests, intermittently giving orders to the waiting staff.
Occasionally our eyes would meet, and hold. I felt transfixed by this woman. Her blue eyes seemed to lock into mine, rendering me useless. Disappointment seeped through me when she made no attempt make contact. I had to be content to watch.
She looked stunning. Six foot of raw sexual energy released onto the general public. Her black dress showed every curve and angle of her tall toned body, and fell to her feet with abandon. Pretty much like everyone else in the room. Raven hair swept away from her face, leaving a few curls kissing her cheeks. Her features were animated as she engaged in conversation with her guests.
She smiled at them trying to put them at ease, but the smile never reached her eyes. I could sense there was something behind those blue orbs that spoke of tragedy.
I felt myself staring at her more and more, becoming enraptured by her presence. An aura surrounded her, something forgotten, denied. A couple of times I noted her looking me over, blue eyes gliding down my frame, her eyes holding something unmistakeable, yet unidentifiable.
I was thankful for the bell announcing that dinner was served. As I moved I could feel a tingling desire rest between my legs. Now that was more unusual. Four years with Peter had seen me use every trick in the book to avoid having sex with him. I didn't enjoy it. Never felt the need to lie writhing underneath him, groaning what a man he was when he fucked me.
That's all it ever was. A fuck.
Granted, he had tried at first. Foreplay, and all that ? but ? nothing.
I knew it wasn't him as he had not been my first. Actually, there had been quite a few, and all of them had ended the same. Them wanting more than I could give ? me wanting more than they could ever be. That was the story of my life: a lopsided seesaw. I knew, yet didn't know, what I wanted.
All I knew for certain was I didn't want them.
So ? yes. Feeling sexually aroused was a new concept for me, the dampness making a refreshing change to apathy.
Problem was ? why was I feeling aroused now? Looking at a woman and becoming sexually aroused? And, more importantly, what could I do about it?
The room was elegantly set out. What else did I expect? McDonalds?
A long table graced the room, acting as a centrepiece to the dark walls that allowed shadows to dance across aided by candlelight.
When I was shown to the seat next to my hostess, I felt a little giddy, and gulping down a couple of large mouthfuls of air didn't help much either.
I sat, making sure I didn't trap my dress underneath me like the klutz I tended to be. Everyone, eventually, got seated and the courses began to flow. I had expected our hostess to make some sort of speech - but - nothing. Sitting opposite me was Dr Robins, who spent the majority of his time whispering into Kate's ear. A niggling sensation rumbled around in my stomach every time that he leaned closer and whispered. I was unsure what the sensation was, as I had never experienced it before.
I was seated next to a very attractive woman who was at the retreat to 'Just get my life in order,' whatever that meant. I had to listen to her whole life story, nodding in all the right places, and smiling my book cover smile. My next book could have easily been her life story; honestly, she could talk for England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. All the while, I was taking sly looks at the secretive pair, the sensation in my stomach getting stronger and stronger. At one point Kate threw back her head and laughed and I glared at Dr Robins, who was snickering into his serviette.
Next thing I knew I had turned my chair away from the table to face Melanie Davies, twenty seven, solicitor from London. She had just started to become disheartened with my stoic responses and took this move as a sign of interest. Little did I know what kind of interest she thought at the time. I honestly thought the Joe she was talking about, the Joe who had left her for another woman, the Joe who had been shagging everything in a skirt, was a man. But, in fact, Joe, or Jo, was short for Josephine. They had been together since they were at University and she thought it had been the real thing. Pity her other half didn't.
Then it would have stopped her coming on to me at the dining table in a room full of people.
I smiled when the realisation hit me. I was by no means a homophobe - couldn't stand narrow-minded people. Live and let live - that's my motto.
Over dessert I was once again surprised. Slim fingers landed on my knee, rested for a few seconds before they began to gently stroke in small circles. My eyes widened and I held my breath. Melanie didn't say a word. I looked at her from the corner of my eye. She was happily chatting to a middle aged man seated to her right, her hand gliding over the surface of my dress.
Strange. I didn't feel revolted. I wasn't gay - but ? the contact didn't bother me. A woman I barely (well - I say barely) knew was making a pass at me in front of everyone and I didn't react the way I thought I would. You know ? jumping to my feet, slapping her face, bawling her out. Actually, bizarrely enough, I felt turned on.
I stole a look at Kate, who by this time was watching me intently, looking from me to Melanie with a confused look on her face. I looked at my lap and then back at her. She couldn't see Melanie's hand from there, I was definite of it.
Fingers, slowly, began to move up my thigh, and I could feel the moisture between my legs begin to pool. I turned my head and stared at Kate, pinned by her gaze, her eyes boring through me. The fire was beginning to get out of control. My breathing was becoming more erratic. Short, sharp pants were masked by the inane chatter floating around the room. I stared at her; she stared at me; Melanie's hand was getting closer to her desire - and mine by this point. I was pressing my lower half into the chair hoping to get some stimulation. Kate's eyes held me fast, a question poised, her irises darkened in the candlelight. A pink tongue crept out of her mouth and swept a path around her lips. I was entranced and as horny as hell, although I couldn't understand why. I should be feeling repulsed ? nauseous ? and why, for the love of God, was I transfixed by Kate's eyes?
Melanie's hand landed between my thighs and pressed harder into my mound. Involuntarily, I jerked at the contact, my eyes fluttering for a split second. Dr Robins decided it was time to get Kate's attention and our eye contact was broken. Like all spells, when the charm is broken reality crashes back in and I jumped up from my seat, Melanie's hand banging into the table as it left the safety of my crotch. I felt shame cover me ? I had never - ever thought of another woman in that way before ? well ? before meeting Kate Thomas.
Amazingly, only a few heads turned towards me, Kate's and Dr Robins' being the main two.
'Is everything okay?' Softly spoken ? reassuring. Kate's eyes held concern.
Guiltily, I looked at Melanie, who was by this time nursing her hand surreptitiously underneath the camouflage of the dining room table, eyes downcast. 'Yes ? fine ? I thought I'd dripped some cream on my dress. Will you please excuse me?' And off I raced to the rest room, not daring to look back in case I saw disgust in her face.
Inside the Ladies, I stood in front of the mirror staring at my own reflection, my heart thudding in my chest, out of fear or arousal I didn't know. The door behind me creaked open and I could see the reflection of Melanie behind me. So close, I could smell her fragrance ? quite stimulating. Her arms slipped around my waist and I leaned back into her, feeling her breasts rubbing into the exposed skin of my back. I closed my eyes as her lips met my throat, trailing them over the sensitised flesh, making my breath catch. The feelings of disgust I had just experienced evaporated into the air and I melted into her touch.
She began to nibble on my neck, her hands rubbing my stomach, slowly teasing their way upwards to cup the underside of my breasts. A moan escaped me and she turned me in her arms. I felt different. It wasn't me doing this, right? I had never done anything like this before. I had never felt so charged with energy ? life ? desire.
My hand glided up the contours of her waist, slowly appraising her breasts, my eyes watching my ascent with childlike interest. She was so soft, so appetising. I licked my lips in anticipation as my fingers tied themselves into her shoulder length brown hair, and I tilted my head towards her waiting mouth, leaning forward ? our rapid breaths mingling.
Lips like velvet enveloped my mouth, and I drew back for a second to lick my lips, tasting her lipstick. It was all so new. I had never tasted lipstick from another woman's mouth before, and it tasted wonderful. Without thought, I pressed my own mouth back against hers, her right hand cupping my backside and drawing me in, her left hand squeezing my breast, a strong thigh pushing my legs apart. Hungry mouths tore into each other; our moans mingling; our tongues tackling for dominance. I could feel her pushing me backwards until cool tile met my skin. My hips were grinding into her with renewed force. Fuck, was I horny. I wanted her to take me, fuck me, taste me. I wanted her to throw me on the floor and bury her head between my legs. I needed to feel my legs wrapped around her, feel myself pushing into her, her pushing into me.
She had her hand down my top and was rolling a very pleased nipple between her fingers, her other hand scrambling my dress upwards; her blunt nails clawing at my panties. 'God yes! Yes!' she panted into my mouth. Expert fingers slipped inside my underwear and delved in the wetness pooling there, my over-sensitised nub screaming for contact. I pushed my hips into her, repeatedly, her thigh stiffening. I could feel my orgasm building within me. I had never felt this way before. A climax for me was a very rare thing, unless of course I did it myself, and even then it wasn't a given.
Realisation dawned on me once again. What was I doing? I wasn't gay. And I certainly wasn't the kind of girl who got her rocks off in the Ladies, however nice they were. The moment was gone. The enchantment was broken.
'Stop! Please!' I pushed Melanie off me, her eyes springing open, her hand leaving its place between my legs.
'What's the matter?' Confusion coloured her beautiful face.
'I can't. This isn't me.'
'Well ? who is it then?' Her voice was cold, her eyes narrowing, her breath ragged.
'I'm married.' A confession? Regret? Who knows? 'I'm married,' I repeated, quietly this time. I lowered my head in shame, smoothing my dress back into place.
'You're married?' Her voice sounded incredulous.
'Married?' A colder voice sounded from the doorway and my eyes darted in that direction. Kate. Leaning against the frame like the wind had been knocked from her sails, her eyes dull and lifeless once again. 'You've never mentioned you were married.'
With that, she turned abruptly and left, the door slamming behind her. The bang intimating finality.
Shit. What do I do now? And why did I feel so guilty?
After a lot of explaining to a very suspicious, then understanding Melanie, we both made our way back to the dining hall. But for all the explaining I did to her, I couldn't explain why I had acted the way I had ? why, after all these years, I was feeling urges I had never experienced before.
Upon arrival we were told that everyone had now moved to the drawing room for drinks and conversation.
The room was magnificent. Comfortable chairs and sofas waited inside the darkened room, which exuded atmosphere. A roaring fire was the main source of light, and many people had drawn their chairs over and were chatting politely. I say many, but in reality there were only about ten people in total.
One chair sat empty next to our hostess and one was set at a distance opposite her. I opted for the latter knowing that I would have found it difficult sitting next to her after the incident in the restroom - God knows why. And why would I bother telling her about my marriage status - it's not just something that pops up in conversation - or is it?
Melanie glared at me when I claimed my seat, and made her way over to a very pissed off looking Kate. I saw the poor girl smile weakly at our dour faced hostess, only to be met by cold blue eyes. Melanie looked at me and shrugged her shoulders before sitting herself down.
'So. You're Abbie Jameson, eh?' I turned to be met by a friendly face, wrinkled and understanding. I felt like crying for some reason. The elderly lady held her hand out in mock appraisal. 'Enid Jones.'
'Pleasure to meet you, Enid.' The smile that adorned my face was truly genuine. I could tell this woman was perceptive and intelligent, and I felt at ease immediately. It was a relief to chat pleasantly with someone, without all the intense angst. The conversation went from one topic to another with unbounded ease, and I fell under her spell completely. Most young people today find the elderly a burden. Not me. In her face I could see a strength that belied her age and fragility.
All the time I was chatting to Enid my eyes kept on flicking over to my hostess, who looked increasingly pissed off.
'So. You write scary stories, do you? That's an interesting choice of career.'
My attention was back with Enid and I gave her the nickel tour of my life to date. Her eyes misted over when I told her I was getting divorced, and I took this as a sign she didn't agree with the disbandment of sacred ceremony. I could feel my face falling, because for some unexplainable reason I didn't want to disappoint this woman.
'I wish it had been as easy in my day. My husband was a bastard.' My eyes shot open at her admission and she laughed, tapping me on the knee. 'Surprised you, eh?' I nodded. 'Forty-four years I was married and it was the happiest day of my life when he died last year. That's the main reason I came here ? to catch up on some well deserved rest.' My mouth was hanging open at this point and I was just about to respond when a movement caught my attention from opposite me. I turned in time to see Kate leaning over Melanie and speaking quietly, yet heatedly, into her face. Melanie was shrinking back into her chair, hoping it would swallow her up by the looks of things.
I didn't have time to react as Melanie shot to her feet, pushing Kate backwards into her chair, and storming out of the room. Funnily enough, Enid and I were the only people to see the display.
Kate leaned back into her chair looking decidedly contented with the outcome. Her gaze met mine and I gave her a questioning look, which she responded to by shrugging and giving a crooked grin.
'Looks like trouble in paradise,' Enid whispered into my ear.
'Yes ? something like that.' I didn't know what else to say. What else was there to say?
After a while the conversation in the room turned to the supernatural, and I became the centre of attention. The room did gave off the essence of the classic ghost story: candles everywhere; roaring fire; unsuspecting guests; a sombre hostess who exuded mystery; and the house itself was in the back of beyond.
'Tell us, Ms Thomas. Is this place haunted?' Kate's eyes met mine briefly and her face became a mask.
'I'm not the storyteller here. You had better ask Ms Jameson if she knows of anything that will scare the living daylights out of you.' She looked over, one eyebrow raised in challenge. I gave her the same look back.
'No, no, Ms Thomas. This is your domain.' I smiled sweetly at her, feigning innocence. I was definite I heard a growl escape her throat.
'Please, Ms Thomas. It would be an honour to hear a story about this old place from the owner herself,' the same man asked. A rumble of agreement rallied around the room. Our hostess didn't look pleased at all.
'Well ? I can only give you the bare bones of it. As I said earlier, I am no storyteller.' Her eyes came back to mine, a small smile appearing briefly.
The room fell silent as shadows danced across the walls aided by the flickering candles. All eyes fixed on Kate as she sipped her wine before placing the glass carefully on the small table beside her. As she leaned back in her chair, we all leaned forward, readying ourselves for her tale. All was silent except for the crackling of the fire.
'There are rumours of many ghosts residing at Forester's Dwell. Some people have even alleged seeing the odd one now and again.'
'Have you seen anything, Ms Thomas?' One of the more eager guests asked.
'Now and again.' Again, her gaze met mine. She cleared her throat. 'As I was saying ? yes ? many sightings have been reported ? noises too.' She leaned forward and snatched her wine from the table, taking a sip before she settled back into her chair. 'There are three that make themselves known quite often. Two women and one man. It's the man you should be wary of ? not a friendly ghost by any means.' Another sip. 'People who have seen him, or even felt his presence, feel unnerved by it. Things have gone missing from people's rooms ? and then appeared in other's only to disappear not long after.'
I sat forward at this snippet. The journal. That had appeared and then disappeared of its own volition. Well, as far as I could tell. Jesus ? I was falling for it ? good ghost - bad ghost ? shit. Kate stared into her glass, watching the dark liquid swirl around ignited by the flickering flames in the room. I missed those eyes for some unexplainable reason.
'Who are they?' I didn't recognise my own voice. Kate's eyes shot to mine, holding them captive for a moment until she lowered them to look into her glass once again.
'My ancestors.' A pause for effect. 'The man was my great great uncle; one of the women was his sister. The other, his wife.'
'But why do they haunt the place?' I asked again. I had to know who they were; especially because I was definite I had seen the 'sister' and maybe part of the brother.
'Unfinished business I suppose. Who knows?' She sat forward intimating that her storytelling was over. 'Enough of this place ? Ms Jameson ? why don't you entertain everyone with your storytelling. Unlike me, you can really tell a tale.'
Everyone in the room concurred, begging me to frighten them senseless. Strange, isn't it? They have the opportunity to investigate real 'live' ghosts, and yet they are contented to listen to some fabrication. Safety, I suppose. If your audience feels distanced from the situation, they can still feel safe from the horrors the situation puts them in, if you know what I mean. A wicked smile graced my lips. I had the perfect tale.
'Okay.' I smiled at Kate before turning my attention to the eager faces. 'But before I begin ? I must tell you that this story is true, and you may find it a little disturbing. If you wish to leave, do so now.' My face held no emotion, neither did my voice.
Nobody moved. So, I cleared my throat.
'It happened about three years ago and not very far away from here. It involves a young girl who was staying at home whilst her parents were in Halifax for their anniversary weekend. She was sixteen.' I settled back. 'When the police arrived after the event it took them four hours to get her calm enough to tell them what happened.'
Eyes widened, and my rapt audience stole sly looks at each other. 'It all began on a Friday night ? she had spent the evening chatting to her friends on the phone, watching telly and generally chilling out. To this day, I think that was the last time she ever felt safe.' I paused here and took in my audience. I had forgotten how good it was to tell stories in front of people.
The story continued along in the same vein, I added bits of atmosphere and commentary along the way. I told how her parents had warned her to take special care when locking the house up: to check all the locks on both windows and doors; to make sure everything was turned off, etc. All the while she was doing this she could hear something in the house, but she put this down to her over-active imagination. She even called her Grandmother to tell her, and the old lady wisely, as she thought, told her it was probably the heating system cooling down.
My audience was enraptured. So was I. I added little details that delayed the plot and aided the atmosphere. They loved it.
When I got to the part where she was hiding under the covers, knowing someone was standing outside her bedroom door, squeezing the handle slowly down, I heard one of the guests gasp and I wanted to laugh. I used all my senses to create the climax of the figure sitting the girl's bed, and said 'You know when you're in bed ? and someone sits on it?' They all nodded, well ? all except Kate. 'When the bed dips down and your covers slide slightly away from you, and the cool covers touch warm flesh?' More nodding. 'That's what she felt. Except she was supposedly ? alone.' I paused for effect, had a little sip from my drink and turned towards them once again.
'You can imagine how she was feeling. Her heart was hammering in her chest, so loud it drowned out everything else. Sweat coated her skin in clingy pools. She knew this was it. This was the end. Her end. She couldn't stand it anymore and asked, "Who is it? Who's there?" She knew the figure was leaning over her, she could feel its breath seeping through the covers, the raggedness of the breathing drowning out her own. Just as she thought there would be no answer ? "IT'S ME!"' I shouted the last bit for effect. The screams around the room nearly deafened me. One man fell sideways off his chair and landed half on half off Enid.
I started to laugh, enjoying the effect.
Without warning, every candle in the room went out, the fire's flames dipped to an agonising low and we were plunged into darkness. The screaming started again, but this time my own joined the others. People were pushing away from each other, clambering to escape. I shot to my feet trying to distinguish which way the door was and felt a cold hand grasp my hand and pull. A soft voice whispered into my ear 'This way,' the breath tantalised my skin.
I allowed myself to be led towards what I believed to be the exit, completely giving myself over to my guide. The hand held me tighter and I felt safe in its grip as it pulled me along. The other people in the room were completely forgotten. It was as if I had entered another world. I could see the outline of my hostess holding me and it felt so natural to hold her hand, like I had done it a thousand times.
As we approached the blackness that suggested the door, I felt her lean closer to me and deliver a small delicate kiss on my forehead. My eyes fluttered closed, completely contented for the first time in my life.
'Open the door,' she whispered. And I did, flooding the dark room with light. I turned to face my hostess who was standing behind me and nearly swallowed my tongue when I realised there was nobody there. I could feel the hand still in my own, but there was nothing there.
I jerked my hand away, missing the contact immediately, and looked at my fingers. They looked the same. I then gazed back into the room where I could see the guests hugging each other, some crying, and some laughing nervously. Kate was right at the back comforting Enid. I could tell by their position that Kate had been there for a while.
I was confused. Kate had been holding my hand - I had seen her outline, hadn't I? Someone had led me to the door, and I could still feel the sensation of that cold hand gripping my fingers; the sensation of the breath on my ear and skin; and the feeling of the gentle kiss on my forehead.
Someone had started to relight the candles in the room and people began to disperse, either to their own rooms or to the seating that was now scattered around.
I swallowed hard and re-entered, making my way over to Enid and Kate. 'Are you alright, Enid?' I curled my arm around her shoulders and she fell willingly into my embrace, her head resting on my shoulder. I could feel her shaking against me and I held her more tightly, worrying that a shock like this might finish the old dear off. A rumble echoed through her and into my chest. I blinked with surprise when I heard a muffled laugh escape from somewhere near my chest. What the fu??
'That was the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me.' Enid blurted out between laughs. Kate and I looked at each other, disbelief evident on our faces. 'With your story, and then the lights going off right after ?' she set off laughing full out, the tears running down her face. I was incredulous. There I was, worried to death for this woman's well being, and she was laughing her head off. I shook my head trying to get to grips with the situation. Kate looked at me, her face reflecting my own disbelief.
I couldn't help it. Maybe it was relief, I don't know, but I found Enid's laughter contagious and joined in, hugging the woman closer to me. Kate looked at me gob smacked before her face broke into a wide grin and her laughter escaped. What a wonderful sound. Rich and pure, almost musical. With no warning, she threw her arms around the both of us enveloping us in a bone-crushing hug. I stiffened, initially, and then melted into her embrace, relishing the contact and almost forgetting the squirming old lady sandwiched between us.
Kate lifted her head and looked into my eyes, the smile still evident on her face. Her blue eyes sparkled and I felt a connection between us ignite. The smile slipped from her face and she returned my look, her face unreadable. 'It's you,' she softly said.
'Yes ? it's me,' I replied, not really understanding what I was saying and not really caring either.
'And this is me ? who you are both crushing,' a gasping Enid uttered, wriggling herself free.
'Sorry Enid ? I ? we ? erm ? what was I saying?' I felt slightly shaky, but not from fear. My eyes were still entranced in Kate's smoky gaze, my heart rate picking up to a dull roar.
'I need to go to bed,' Enid said. So do I, Enid, so do I. 'Will you be a love and help me get upstairs?'
Kate pulled a face at me, making me laugh again, and consequently breaking the moment. 'Well, Ms Jameson ? that's an offer you can't refuse.' I smiled at her, sickly sweet and almost comical. She laughed at my antics.
I turned to Enid. 'Come on, trouble ? let's get you to bed.' My eyes flitted back to Kate's and our gaze locked for a moment before I took Enid by the arm and led her away.
She chatted all the way to her room, but my attention was solely fixed on the events in the drawing room. How could Kate hold my hand and then be on the other side of the room so quickly? What was happening here? I shook my head.
More importantly, what had happened between Kate and me? That connection was so new, and yet ? and yet so familiar.
I felt a warming sensation flood my stomach. The feeling was alien to me, yet in the distant corners of my memory it was the most common feeling I had ever known. I left Enid at her door and made my way back to my own room. I needed to think all this through.
I needed to think.
I lay in bed for an age, sleep eluding me; the events of the evening whirling around in my mind. I couldn't grasp what was going on here, but I knew core of the events led back to my enigmatic hostess.
How on earth could she have been holding my hand, leading me towards the light one moment, and the next be on the other side of the room?
I must have been pondering for quite a while before I heard the noise outside my bedroom door. My heart began to drum in my chest. Not again. I couldn't handle anything else tonight.
A slight tapping announced the arrival of my midnight visitor and I shot up in bed, adjusting my pyjamas in the process. I cleared my throat, which had become dry and rough with anticipation.
'Who is it?' I held my breath waiting for a response.
'Kate.' A solitary word, but at this admission my heart rate increased ten fold.
'Wait a minute,' I scrambled from underneath the covers and over to the door. Pushing errant locks of blonde hair away from my face, smoothed my pyjamas before gripping the door handle and pulling the heavy door back.
Kate looked terrible. Her hair was a mess, wild, which corresponded with the look in her eyes. My hands were out to her before I could think and I gripped onto her forearms and pulled her to me. I felt her stiffen in my embrace and then relax, melting into my arms. She was shaking, her strong body quaking in my arms. I pulled my face away from the confines of her neck and gazed into her eyes. The sadness that greeted me knocked the breath from my lungs.
'What's the matter?' She nestled her face into my hair and I heard a small sob escape from deep within. 'Kate ? what's happened?' My grip around her became tighter, as did hers around me. It felt like we were each other's salvation for some inexplicable reason.
'It's Enid ?'
'Enid? Is she alright? Where is she?' Panic overrode my senses and I pushed Kate forcibly away from me. She stood there, shoulders hunched, her face a picture of misery. 'Kate ? what's happened?' I grabbed her arms and began to shake her out of the apathy that had gripped her. 'For fuck's sake ? get a grip - what's happened?' I nearly raised one of my hands to slap her, slap some life into her like they do in the films, but before I could move, she stood straighter, her face becoming more composed.
'About an hour ago Enid called down saying that someone was trying to get in through her bedroom window. The night porter went to her room immediately and ? and ?' Kate looked at the floor.
'And?' My nerves were shredding now.
'And ? well ? the porter found her on the floor near the window. Steve, erm ? Dr Robins, said he believes she had a massive heart attack.' My stomach was in turmoil, and I staggered backwards, my hands reaching out for the doorframe to support me, but they missed their target and I ended up on the floor, one leg tucked underneath me. Kate knelt down next to me, a tentative hand reached out to try to comfort the myriad of emotions racing through my shaking body. Hot, salty tears trailed their way down my face and I swiped at them with a clammy hand. I felt a tentative touch land on my arm and rest there. I could feel the warmth oozing through before Kate began to gently stroke the length of my upper arm.
I looked into her face, a face full of concern and empathy, and I sobbed aloud, the emotion clogging my throat making it difficult to breath.
'Shush ? come here,' and she pulled me into her, my head crushing against her chest, her arms holding me safe again.
'Is she ?' I gasped.
I could feel her nodding before she muttered a simple 'Yes' into the waiting air.
She held me for a few minutes, waiting for my crying to cease, before she pulled herself free from my incessant grasp and tilted my head to meet her gaze. I sniffled and wiped my stinging eyes with the back of my hand. 'She didn't suffer,' Kate almost whispered, her eyes not leaving mine, the concern evident on her face.
'How do you know that? She must have been so scared.' Then the memory of what Kate had said when she first came into my room flooded into my mind once again. 'Did they find any evidence of an intruder?' I sat up straighter now wanting to know the answer, and already knowing what she was going to say.
She looked thoughtful, chewing her lip in consternation. 'I ? well we ? I don't think anyone's looked to be perfectly honest.'
'Where is Enid now? I need to see her.' It was amazing. I had only met Enid a matter of hours before but I had really taken to the old lady ? and now she was gone.
'She's already been taken. The ambulance came just before I came to get you.' I looked at her, my head tilted in thought at this snippet. She looked apprehensive. 'I've already spoken to the police who agree she died of natural causes.'
'I didn't say she didn't.' With that, I stood up and brushed myself down. 'I'm just going to get dressed.'
'Why?' Her voice sounded wary.
'Thought I might go and check Enid's room ?'
Kate interrupted me. 'I'll go now and meet you there.'
'No!' I coughed to clear away the sound of panic in my voice. 'No,' gentler this time. 'You wait here with me whilst I get ready and we'll go together.' The look on her face spoke volumes. She thought I didn't trust her. But it wasn't her I didn't trust.
It was everyone else.
Kate waited for me to get changed. I could see her skulking around whilst I hurriedly threw on some clothes in the bathroom. All the while I had my back to her, I knew she was staring at me. For what reason, I don't know.
Within ten minutes, we were standing outside Enid's door, and I was feeling panicky. I reached out and grabbed Kate's hand before reaching out with the other and turning the handle.
The room was semi-dark, the light of the moon casting strange silhouettes across the floor, walls and furniture. I pulled Kate in and groped around for the light switch. I felt Kate shove my hand out of the way and flick the switch, bathing the room in a brilliant yellow light. I released the breath I had been holding and walked further in.
The covers on Enid's bed were thrown back, as if the occupant had just exited the bed. The rug near the window was ruffled, indicating that someone had been on it, not just stepped, but had struggled in some way, if you know what I mean.
Probably the ambulance men when they were lifting Enid up, I rationalised.
I approached the window while Kate went towards the bed. I knelt down and stroked my hand over the surface of the rug, hoping that the clues I needed would spring up and enlighten me. Nothing. I stood once again and walked towards the window. I leaned on the sill and checked the locks.
All fastened tightly.
I peered out into the night sky, looking for what I don't know. My gaze skimmed over the gravel drive and then further away into the trees that surrounded the lake. A slight movement caught my eye and I sucked in a breath, freezing to the spot. A tall figure was standing at the edge of the trees looking upwards to Enid's room. I was almost definite it was a man.
'Kate?' My voice was low, as if I expected the figure to hear what I was saying.
'What?' She sounded harried.
'Come here ? slowly.'
'What's the matter?' Her voice showed confusion, but I could hear her approaching from where she had been standing near the bed. Her hand rested on my back and I felt a flood of warmth seep into my chilled frame. 'What is it?' she breathed into my ear.
'Look ? near the trees.'
'I can't see anything.' She leaned over my shoulder and peered into the night. 'Where am I supposed to be looking?'
'There ? just left of the statue.'
'Are you sure you're not looking at the statue?' But I knew she was peering into the night knowing that I hadn't made a mistake.
I felt her stiffen next to me and her breath catch. 'Can you see him too?' I almost whispered.
'Yes.' Her voice was flat, unfeeling. I turned to look at her in surprise and was greeted by a facial mask, void of any emotion. 'Do you know who it is?' I really didn't want to know the answer as she nodded. 'Who?'
'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'
'Try me,' and I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable.
'William? William who?'
'William Thomas. My great great uncle.'
I laughed. Nerves, fright, whatever, I laughed.
'I said you wouldn't believe me.' Her voice sounded hurt.
'Sorry, I ? well, it is a little hard to believe.' I turned away from her and looked at the waiting figure once again. 'I mean ? how can you tell it is him, from this distance and the fact he has probably been dead for years?' I was just about to laugh again when the figure melted right in front of my eyes, leaving nothing behind but a chill down my spine, alerting all the nerves in my body to react.
'That's how.' Her voice was matter of fact, and I felt my body slump against hers, her arms slipping around me, stopping me from hitting the floor. 'Come on ? let's get out of here.' She pulled me away from the window and further into the room. I felt numb. 'Wait ? just a sec.' She scuttled over to Enid's bedside drawer, and I saw her slip something from inside into her pocket. My eyebrows rose in question. 'I'll show you later, but for now ?' she grabbed my hand and pulled, 'we need to get back to my room.'
Like a lamb, I followed her. I needed to know what she had taken, and if it would be a crucial clue to solving Enid's murder.
Yes. I said murder. Now ? wasn't I the dramatic one?
Back in Kate's room, anticipation flooded through me. This little holiday was turning into so much more than a quiet retreat, somewhere to collect my thoughts, somewhere to call down my recent absent muse. Well, all things considered, I did have the makings of a very good piece of fiction if I chose to use it, but it seemed a little macabre somehow.
Enid was dead. The poor woman. She had waited years to finally do what she wanted without her domineering husband interfering. And look where it got her ? laid out on a slab in the local hospital, with no family around her.
Her family! Had anyone even thought to let them know?
'Mhm?' The tall woman was pouring us both a drink from a small table in the corner of her living room.
'Did anyone notify next of kin?' She turned to face me, confusion evident. 'Enid's.' I gave her a look.
'Sorry ? God, yes. I called her son's number and left a message to contact here as soon as possible. If I don't hear anything by tomorrow I'll call again.' She strolled over, the dark liquid swirling around the glass, a crooked smile playing at the corners of her mouth. I took this opportunity to really look at her. Long raven hair framed a chiselled face, a face that held the most amazing blue eyes I think I have ever seen. A vision of perfection.
My stomach clenched and then somersaulted in recognition, the events of the last hour almost forgotten.
'Abbie?' I could hear the concern in her voice and I snapped to attention again, my eyes pulling themselves away from her chest. Oh God - I had been staring at her breasts. What on earth was the matter with me? Nearly thirty years I had survived on this planet without the tendency of eyeing up another female in such a lascivious way, and then two - in one night!
I looked into her eyes again and saw a distinct twinkle harbouring there, a wry grin forming on her features. 'Sorry ? I was just thinking ?' Another grin. 'Erm ? about Enid and the intruder.' Her face became sombre almost immediately - and I felt like I had been let off the hook. I did feel guilty I had used Enid's death to get me out of a sticky situation though.
She passed a glass to me and took a delicate sip of hers. I followed suit, grimacing at the strength of the liquid, and settled myself back into the huge sofa. Kate sat at the other end, glass held firmly in her grasp, her eyes intently watching every move I made. I slipped off my shoes and brought my legs underneath me, pushing my back further into the sofa, but making sure I kept eye contact.
'What did you pick up in the room?' Her face broke out into a grin again and she stuffed her hand into the pocket of her jeans and wriggled her fingers around a little.
'This.' She looked pleased with herself as she held the scrap of paper aloft for my inspection. The page was darkened with age and I could just about make out a flowing script that I felt almost familiar with. Tentative fingers held themselves out to grasp the piece of paper. Just as they reached their target the paper was yanked away again. 'Ah ah ah!' I heard the playful note in Kate's voice and glared at her, lunging for the paper once again. 'Patience, my dear Abbie.' I huffed and narrowed my eyes. 'We'll read it together. Come here.'
I scrambled along the sofa until I reached her side, nearly falling into her in the process. She still held the paper away from me until I got myself sorted. The smell of her hit my senses. It was intoxicating. I don't know whether it was a fragrance or her - if you know what I mean - but it was exotic, yet delicate. My mouth started to water and I didn't know why.
After I cleared my throat and tucked my knees underneath myself once again, I was ready, although extremely close to my hostess. 'What does it say?' My voice was low and thick; my heart was speeding up with expectation. Kate straightened the paper out, smoothing the creases in the sheet. Her eyes widened, then narrowed. 'What is it?' I was eager now. 'Let me see,' and I tried to snatch the paper away. She pulled her hand back and continued to read, before her face turned to mine, disbelief masking her features. 'What? Tell me!' I sounded like a spoilt child, but I didn't care.
'It's from a diary.' I nodded. She screwed her face up and chewed on her lip. 'Quite an old one actually. See? 1919.' I looked at the date on the top of the sheet - November 16th 1919.
'Is it Katherine's diary?' Kate looked at me open mouthed. 'From the journal - you know - the little brown one you left in my room?' She looked at me incredulously.
'What diary? And when did I leave a diary in your room?' Well that answered that question. It hadn't been Kate who left the journal there ? so who could it have been? 'Abbie - what diary?' She leaned closer to me, her face dipping underneath mine to try and gain eye contact.
'It doesn't matter - I'll tell you later. Let's read this.' My fingers curled themselves around the sheet, and with only the tiniest of tugs, Kate released it into my care.
'Read it aloud.' Her voice was low, but she was so close to me. I was definite I could feel her breathing - it was ragged and erratic. Funny - mine was very similar - probably due to all the excitement.
My eyes lowered to the page again, I cleared my throat and began to read:
November 16th 1919
My life is a paradox. On one hand I am ecstatically happy whilst on the other I am so miserable - almost desperate. I love her so much ?' I stopped my reading and looked at Kate whose facial expression was completely closed off. 'I love you, Vivian - oh so much; my soul weeps for you when you are not near. .' I stopped again. Vivian? Where had I heard that name recently? I shook my head to clear it, cleared my throat and continued to read. 'Vivian. Just her name makes me smile. I could look into her green eyes all day, every day, for the rest of my life. Her hair is the colour of the sun, and she puts the light into every day, the breath in my lungs, and gives purpose to my life. I am dead when she is away from me.'
'Oh, isn't that sweet?' I turned and looked at Kate again, who was staring straight at me, her face softened.
'Go on ? what else does it say?' Her voice was low, almost a whisper.
I looked back at the page and read again. 'I don't know how I can survive the torment of this situation. The woman I love ? the one I have waited my whole life for ? is married to my brother. The worst of it is, she feels the same way. How can that be the worst? William hates the fact we get on so well, always jibbing at us. He calls Vivian a whore and me an abomination.' My eyes shot up, the words sticking in my throat.
'What's the matter, Abbie?' I felt Kate come closer, her breath on my face. A chill spiralled down my spine. 'Abbie?' Her arm enveloped me; I felt a current flash through my body. 'Oh!'
Kate flinched too. 'Did you feel that?'
I looked into her eyes that were only centimetres from my own. Her lips were parted in promise, and I stared with longing. I licked my lips to moisten them, and she mirrored my actions. Our heads closed the gap. My eyes fluttered closed ? My heart pounded in my chest, trying to fly through its cage of ribs.
'Brrrring!' The phone screamed and we jumped apart like we had been stung. Kate scrambled to her feet and lunged for the phone.
'Hello!' Her voice sounded high pitched and strained. 'Yes ? okay ?'
My mind drifted from her conversation, my heartbeat erratic, making my breathing laboured. I felt like I had been caught doing something bad. I hadn't done anything wrong ? I hadn't done anything. I put my head in my hands to try to regulate my breathing, the events of the evening finally taking their toll.
'That was Reception. Enid's son has called and is making his way here tonight.' Kate's face had a distinct blush; her eyes averted from my own in an obvious manner.
'Good ? good. At least there will be somebody to make all of the arrangements.' I stood to leave, knowing if I stayed something, I don't know what, would happen. 'Well ? I'd better get going. We'll chat tomorrow - yeah?' Kate turned to me, her eyes showing concern.
'See you in the morning.' I turned and nearly fled the room, not looking behind; not daring to meet those perfect blue eyes again, scared of the disgust that I would see in them.
I felt so embarrassed. I had nearly kissed Kate. What the fuck was the matter with me and my libido? All my life I had never had the urges I was having now - not with men and definitely not women. It seemed the incident in the restroom with Melanie had awakened some kind of sex monster that had lain dormant all my life, and now it wanted freeing.
It wasn't until I slammed my bedroom door closed and leaned my back against the sturdy wood, I noticed the page from the journal in my hand. I turned to take it back to Kate, but stopped, wanting to know what else the page held in store for me.
After kicking off my shoes and throwing myself onto the bed, I again read the page.
'He calls Vivian a whore and me an abomination. How can the love we share be an abomination? She is my soul mate; she is 'the one'.
I know she suffers at his hand. She won't say anything against him, but I have seen the bruises. I just hope he has not taken her against her will - that would kill me - I would kill him. I know he is capable of it - the servants have told me as much.
I just hope the gratification he seeks on his business trips and from the poor girls on staff will be enough for him and his urges. He has the audacity to say we are the abomination. I wish he had died in France, as everything would be glorious now. I wish Edward would come back, as he always knew how to handle William. But he said he couldn't face life here anymore. He would have known what to do.
I am going to ask Vivian to come away with me, start afresh, maybe go to the colonies. I have enough money for the both of us, my mother made sure of that.
I am going to wait until?'
And that's where the writing ended. I felt exhilarated and let down in one fail swoop.
I was just about to fold the paper away when I noticed in the top corner of the sheet, in small writing, someone else's hand.
'AJ ? this is about you.' I blinked and reread the message. Who was 'you'? Did it mean me? And who had written the message? Who would be writing messages to me on a ripped out page of a diary? Get a grip, Jameson ? not all of the world revolves around you and your big head.
I folded the sheet into a small square and tucked it into my bra. Get that ghostie. A small smile crept onto my face. I had to show Kate the rest of the message tomorrow and I didn't want it going walkies.
I smiled again. She was something else. I felt the butterflies fly around my stomach and a definite heat in my lower anatomy. Just because it is socially wrong to kiss your hostess in her living room in the middle of the night, didn't mean I couldn't fantasize about it. Even if I wasn't gay ?
Another, bigger, smile. Oh yeah. No rules about a little fantasizing, and maybe a little self-gratification. That's why we have an imagination, isn't it?
Oh girl ? you are incorrigible. And ? too tired ?
Sensations were building in my gut. Hot jolts sparked from my insides, gravitating to that select place buried between my thighs. A moan escaped its prison of my dry mouth to hover in the air ? expectant.
A hot mouth coated my need like a lifesaver. Hot breath parted the hairs guarding my centre; a soft wet tongue glided between my folds. Nerves were beginning to spasm ? reacting to desires long dormant. Strong hands tucked themselves around my lower back to rest resolutely on my gyrating hips, gently ? yet firmly ? holding them in place.
I felt ravenous. I needed to come; needed to feel the release I had been holding onto like a prize for years. My hands, who were grasping the innocent sheet, released their hold to snake into thick long hair. I twisted my fingers deeply into the rich silkiness, gasping at the familiarity.
I moaned ? again. This was followed by a muffled moan coming from the region between my thighs. I clamped my slick thighs around a busy head. With each stroke from a firm expert tongue, my eyes fluttered. I tried to keep them open; I needed to see the object of this desire ? my desire; the object of this carnal indulgence.
The room looked oddly different - yet ? the same. Darkness had blanketed most of the features that set apart this room from any other. My eyes fluttered shut once again.
Jesus ? this felt good. Throbbing ? pulsing away, only to scatter down every muscle; every nerve; every nuance that made up this want inside me. I knew deep down that I should stop ? but I was too far gone by this stage.
Tentative fingers played outside my core, like expectant visitors waiting to be welcomed. I pushed myself down, hoping to spear the digits inside me, hoping to quench this burning need that was building ? building ? building ?
They danced away, leaving me to gasp into the darkness. The tongue stayed, forever vigilant, stroking ? stoking, poking and prodding my saturated folds.
'Please ?' I begged ?pleaded ? for those long strong fingers to return and enter me.
There they were again. Teasing me. Coaxing me. Playing with my sanity, as desire ran rampant into the air charged with electricity and the smells of sex, arousal and ? and something else ?
'Please ? take me ? please ?' My hands threaded themselves more firmly into the long thick hair. Hips were moving forcefully, grinding themselves into the face immersed in my pleasure. My body was trying to escape the confines of my lover's hands ? wanting to quench this need; wanting to satisfy this ache; needing to see who was sending me over the edge. Nipples strained in the darkness, seeking comfort from hands or lips or a hot mouth.
They were not disappointed.
A long arm snaked itself up my stomach, gently stroking in soft circles until it reached its goal. Gentle fingers caressed the underside of my breast until a thumb tentatively circled the hardened nub. Another moan - or was it two?
A solitary finger entered me, the tongue still dancing near my clit. Sweat poured off me, soaking the sheets beneath; my hair was sticking to my face, shoulders and breasts.
I pushed down onto that one lonely digit, capturing it inside as the shocks circled inside me and sparkled over my body.
The finger escaped. I groaned. 'Please ?' Two entered, filling me. I moaned ? thickly, my throat losing the ability to swallow, and begrudgingly allowing the noise to escape from somewhere deep inside. I felt, more than heard, a moan in response drifting up from somewhere buried between my thighs. A strong arm pumped fingers into me; I pumped back ? hard.
'God ? oh God!' I was coming ? God was I coming. Fingers, slick with my juices, pumped harder ? faster ? in and out ? in and out ?my hips joining in the dance ? the quest for freedom ? the quest for release. I was forceful ? I was on the brink.
'God ?oh Gods ? yes! ? Fuck ? me ? fuck ? me ? yyyeeeeeessssssss!' A third finger entered and the walls deep inside closed ? tightened ? constricted, as floods of sensations rocked my world.
Flashing lights danced in front of me. I wanted to scream ? but nothing would come out.
I pulled the head deeper into me, gripped wildly into hair in a frenzy of ecstasy that bordered on madness. Fingers plunged and plundered, leaving me silently sobbing my release into the darkness.
Little aftershocks spitted through my spent body - reminders of the intense emotions I had just experienced.
My mouth was dry. I licked dry lips as I untangled my aching fingers from tangled hair. I blinked the tears from my eyes, before looking down into blue eyes holding my gaze with unrestrained regard.
'Kate ?' I croaked and attempted to clear my throat. I should have felt revulsion, or guilt or ? something, but it just wasn't there.
The head lifted itself from its haven between my thighs, allowing a cool breeze to swipe at wet skin. A soft kiss landed on either thigh until blue eyes held mine again. My eyes fluttered closed with contentment.
Eyes shot open to discover myself alone.
Alone ?in my room ? with my hands down my pants.
A soft click from the door announced the departure of someone. And that someone had left behind the distinct smell of ? lavender.
I bolted upright, yanked my hands from their haven, jumped off the bed, and with extremely unsteady legs, raced to the door to peer outside.
What the fuck?
I shut the door quietly and turned the key, leaned back on the door and expelled the breath I had been holding. Shaking fingers made their way to my dishevelled locks and pushed an unsteady path through, totally unaware of where they had last been. My heart was beating wildly in my chest ? chasing the emotions around my body like a mad dog. Legs were shaking, the sensation of standing upright becoming a burden.
'Fucking place ? I'm cracking up.'
I could still feel the dampness between my thighs. I could still feel the tongue ? the lips ? the fingers buried deep within me. I could still feel the remnants of the earth shattering orgasm.
I blew out a shaky breath.
And then I smiled. Staggering back to bed, one thought was in my mind. I wanted to go back into that dreamscape ?wanted to experience it again ? wanted to give back what I had taken.
As I stretched into the now cooling sheets, I suddenly felt the vestiges of despair; the uncovering of loneliness exposed ? my loneliness ? raw ? painful. Why was I feeling this way for another woman? Why did I crave the touch of her fingers? Her mouth? Her skin?
Curling onto my side, pulling my knees into my chest in a foetal position, I held onto the grief that enveloped me ? the loneliness ? the want I had pushed down for nearly thirty years.
A solitary tear meandered down my face, crossing the bridge of my nose and plopping onto the sheet.
The ache in my chest blossomed into a knife-edged pain, and I held fast to my cold body, like I was the only one to save me. And how could I save me, when I couldn't even control these emotions pulsing through this body I just didn't recognise anymore?
Morning. Birds called to each other in a language reserved for dawn. Grey light sneaked and peeked through parted curtains, illuminating my cocoon of covers.
I blinked away the remnants of last night's exposure and stretched taut legs downwards, wincing at the pulling muscles stiffened from being in one position too long.
Tired arms stretched themselves over my head and rapped on the wood panelling behind me, a sad attempt to knock the life back into me. An elongated growl left my mouth to greet the stale air of the room.
I rubbed my hands over my face trying to get the circulation going. The smell of sex clung to my fingers and I froze. It was me then ? it had been a dream after all.
What did you expect, Jameson? The smell of lavender?
A small laugh forcefully left my mouth. There was no humour behind it ? it was sardonic.
'I need to get out of here ? away ? from here,' I mumbled to the empty room.
But the feeling of leaving this place didn't do anything to lift the blanket of disillusionment from my shoulders. In fact ? it only made things worse.
After a long shower, a vigorous towelling off and a light breakfast, I decided to go and see my friends ? the ducks.
Coat on, boots snugly fitting over thick socks ? I was ready.
The air was crisp and cool. It was refreshing. Air pockets announced themselves as they left my mouth and mingled in the frosty atmosphere. Life was seeping back into me and I felt ready to take on anything.
Decision made, I detoured from my path to the pond and made my way to the statue near the front of the house. I don't know what made me want to go - it just seemed ? right. I had this crazy notion that if I had a look ? a proper look, then maybe I could make some sense out of the events of the previous evening.
It didn't look anything special. Just a monument dedicating something to something or other. I was more concerned with where I believed I had seen the figure lurking last night. My eyes scanned the floor looking for clues to the mystery person.
Nothing out of place. No footprints marking the soggy ground.
I turned to leave, and that's when I spotted it. A discarded cigarette end. Not anything brilliant, I know, but it seemed a little more than a coincidence.
Bending down, I poked the remnant. It looked quite fresh ? not like it had been there for a while ? just a couple of days at the most.
Why would anyone come this far from the house to have a smoke? It's not as if it was a no smoking building ?
I bent further and stretched out my fingers to grasp the butt? and that's the last thing I remember for quite a while.
All I had felt was a thudding at the base of my head, and that had been my lot.
I can't tell you how long I was out, but when I opened my eyes the sky seemed a lot brighter, the sun higher. I couldn't understand it. I seemed forever in a state of passing out since I had arrived.
I tried to sit up, but the movement caused an agonising pain to split through my head making an involuntary groan leave my lips. My shaky hand tentatively touched the back of my head making me wince and pull back. Blood coated the outside of my gloves and a tremor of fear went through me.
I had to get back to the house ? had to get help ? the police ?Kate.
I staggered onto unsteady feet, trying to get my balance, almost failing. I looked around on the floor for the cigarette end. It was gone. I looked closer, shaking my head to dispel the fuzziness that had begun to engulf me. Panic leapt into my throat. What if I collapsed here and died of exposure?
My eyes were frantic now ? the butt end long gone, long forgotten. I had to get back to the house.
Turning and stumbling, I readied myself for the short trek back to the main building.
I didn't make it.
Back in bed. Back in bed? But, how did I get here? The last thing I remember was staggering back towards the house, the scenery around me turning into some macabre painting.
A gentle tap on the door echoed into the room. 'Hello ? yes?'
The handle pushed down, and the door slowly opened. I sat, holding my breath, too scared to release it just yet. A clinking noise greeted my ears, and my nose picked up the smell of coffee.
'How are you feeling?' The gentle tones issuing from Jenny's mouth eased my fear, but not my disappointment. A little voice inside me groaned at the realisation it was not Kate.
'Sore.' I held Jenny's eyes. 'How did I get here? Who found me?'
She didn't answer straight away. Her eyes flicked towards the window and down to the tray. 'Just let me get this sorted.'
I sat upright, fluffing the pillow behind me, whilst Jenny made the necessary arrangements. 'Jenny?' I kept my voice low. 'Have the police been called?'
'Police? Why on earth ??'
'Someone ? attacked me,' I almost whispered, like the perpetrator was going to leap out of the wardrobe and finish off the job.
'What? Don't be silly, Abb?'
'Someone cracked me on the back of the head, and left me out there. In my book that's called an attack.' I could feel the anger lifting in my voice now, totally pissed off with the place and the fucker who had so cowardly waited until my back was turned before knocking me out.
'You think someone attacked you?' Jenny seemed incredulous.
'Well ? yeah!' My voice was thick with anger now. 'How else can you explain the big gash at the back of my head?' I tried to get up, but a wave of nausea folded in on my world and I slumped back onto the pillows, covering my eyes with my hands.
Minutes passed. The room screamed in its silence.
A slight cough and a rustling of bedclothes told me Jenny wanted to say something.
I moved my hands away and squinted up at her, my face a mask.
I cleared my throat mainly to get her full attention, my voice quiet and slow not wanting to bring on another bout of nausea. 'So ? Jenny ? as I asked before ? how else do you think I got this ? this ? this whatever this is?'
My face took on a questioning pose, sarcasm tinted the edges.
'Well ?.' A cough. 'I ? erm ? well ? I know you didn't get attacked, Abbie.'
My mouth jerked open and I was ready to respond when she held up her hand to halt me. 'No ? Abbie ? listen. I know you didn't get attacked because I saw you bang your head on the statue.'
'How dare you tell me what happened. I was on the receiving end ? don't you think I'd know the difference?' My voice was escalating now, the anger was begging to fly out and choke the living daylights out of this fucking liar standing in front of me. My head was pounding ? my eyes were swimming in the usual telltale tears of fury, and I was on the brink of losing it.
'Abbie ? please ? listen.' Her hand came out to restrain me, but I roughly pulled away.
'Get your fucking hands off me!'
'Abbie ? please ? I watched you ? I had been watching you all the time you had been outside.' I discerned a blush creep up her features, and I cocked my head to the side in mockery.
'And?' Was she squirming?
'I saw you look at the statue, look around and then go to bend down. You seemed to stop before you reached the ground and stumble backwards ?' My eyebrows raised themselves into my hairline, obviously telling her I didn't believe a word she said.
'You banged the back of your head on the corner of the statue and went down like a bag of spanners.' She stopped, inhaled, held the breath for a moment and blew it out shakily.
'I banged my head on the corner?' She nodded. 'Didn't you see anyone near me ? or around the area?' She shook her head. 'No one?' Again ? no.
I had to think about this. Something didn't ring true. 'Did anyone else see it happen?'
'Yes ? Dr Robins was just picking up his mail when you were near the statue. He was signing for it and wondered what I was looking at ? he ? he ?' her face became crimson, ' he was pulling my leg ? you know ? about ? erm ? you know?' I shook my head, wincing at the pain, knowing full well she meant her crush on me. 'Well ? erm ? he ? about my ? erm ? you ?'
'For God's sake, Jenny - I get the picture! What did he see?'
'Same as me.' She seemed relieved to be let off the hook. 'He actually said he thought it might have something to do with your accident in the bathroom ? concussion, or something.'
'Okay ?' I sucked in air between my teeth. 'If what you say is true, then why did you leave me outside so long?'
'We came as soon as you fell. When we got outside you were closer to the house, we thought you probably tried to get back but couldn't'
I was confused. Her story seemed plausible ? and there were witnesses. But the sun had been higher ? I was sure of it.
Dr Robins. I didn't trust that man. I don't know why, but I didn't trust him. An image of him chatting to Kate popped into my head. Or maybe I just didn't want to trust him.
I looked Jenny in the eyes, capturing and holding her in place. 'Okay ? my mistake. I must be still suffering from the accident. And with the loss of Enid ?'
'I know, and I'm so sorry.' Her hand came out and covered my own, a slight squeeze indicating her support.
'Sorry for shouting at you.' I turned my hand over and clasped her fingers. Her eyes drifted down and I saw a small smile flit across her lips.
If it meant playing along with her to find out what was going on ? then I was game. Although I wasn't too sure how far I would take it. But I didn't want either her or Dr Robins thinking they had got one over on me.
I was going to play this one right. Yes. I was paranoid. But don't you think I had reason to be?
Playing along to their game was going to be easy. I knew something was amiss at this place, and reason wouldn't have it that it was something supernatural that was causing it.
What did they take me for?
My mind drifted to Pete. Wonder what he's up to? Wonder if he's got anything to do with this? I wouldn't put it past him - especially where money was concerned.
I hadn't heard a peep from him since I had arrived. This was probably due to the fact he didn't know where I had gone - my agent wouldn't give him the address ? hell, she wouldn't give anyone the dirt from under her fingernails. And if she did, she would probably keep fifteen percent back.
The day dragged on in its usual way ? me being cooped up in bed, nursing a thick head, and stubbornly refusing to get it checked out at the doctors even though I was a little concerned about all the fainting I had been doing of late.
I hadn't seen sight or sound of Kate all morning. I felt a little bit let down ? disappointed. A little bit ? lonely. Why hadn't she come to see me? Was it because of the way we had ended things last night?
Shit. I had tried to kiss her. Shit shit shit. I had tried to kiss my hostess. Christ ? could things get any worse?
To tell you the truth ? yes ? I was attracted to her - who wouldn't be? She was the epitome of sexual energy. I would be blind (and stupid) to say I didn't find that enticing, but ? I wasn't gay. I had never thought about a woman in that way ? before.
Who am I kidding? She was a goddess! It didn't take a genius to work that out. But ? to have sex with ? to kiss ? to hold ? caress another woman? It just wasn't me.
I know ? I remember Melanie, too. I had enjoyed our little ? tryst in the toilets, but I knew when to put the brakes on. It wasn't as if I had been looking for a quickie in the bathroom. I had gone there to get away from her.
I can't think about that now. What's done is done. I'll apologise to her as soon as I see her again.
Whenever that will be.
It wasn't until three days later I found out Kate had been called away on 'business'. I had, eventually, dragged my sagging carcass out of bed and wandered downstairs to mingle with the other guests.
Concerned faces hovered in front of me in the lounge area asking if I was okay, and was I sure I should be up and about. I used the fake smile and thanked them for their concern, pleading perfect health.
Jenny kept floating by, pretending she was interested in the magazines, and how they should be stacked. I kept my head down and feigned interest in a three-month-old copy of the Radio Times. She finally took the hint and buggered off back to reception.
It was Melanie, a very sheepish Melanie, who told me Kate had gone away. I felt unnerved talking to the woman who I had nearly had a close encounter with. Funny that. I didn't seem to have a problem sticking my tongue down her throat, but come to small talk ?
'About the other night ?' I began.
'Nothing to talk about. I read it wrong. My fault ? sorry.'
I wanted to tell her she hadn't read it wrong; that I had wanted what we had started, but ? just not there ? with her. My mind drifted to a pair of blue eyes, blue eyes that danced about inside my head, and I felt a tingle spurt up from my sleeping libido.
Instead, I just smiled, and tried to ignore the building sensation in my lower anatomy.
I shifted on the chair, trying to ignore the gathering between my thighs. What was going on with me? I had never ? ever ? had this before. The times I had slept with men had been nothing but a bad memory, a feeling of being obligated to do it in some weird way. But now ?
It had only happened since I had arrived here. I was sure something, or someone, had taken me over. Sex had always come second, maybe third or fourth, in my life. Work had always come first. That is why I had come here in the first place ? wasn't it?
'Are you okay, Abbie?' Melanie was looking intently at me, waiting expectantly for a response.
'Oh ? yeah ? sorry. I was away with the fairies for a minute.' She laughed out loud. 'What were you saying?'
A smile lingered on her lips, her eyes glinted. 'I was just saying ?' she prodded me in the ribs and I giggled (yes - I know - too girlish for words). 'Kate doesn't even know about your relapse.'
'Why? Where is she?' An eagerness pervaded my tone as I metaphorically grasped at the answer. My body language belied my need to know as I quickly leaned forward.
'Not sure,' she answered, chewing her lip in consternation. 'Last I saw of her, she was going to meet with Enid's son at the hospital. Next thing I know she calls in, saying she had to go away and didn't know when she'd be back.'
'Really?' Was that my voice ? my voice that oozed distrust? I cleared my throat in an attempt to sound more natural. 'Nothing since?'
'No ? not a peep.' She patted my leg in assurance, then stood to leave. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jenny come back into the lounge, stop sharply, and give the back of Melanie's head daggers.
Shit. I couldn't be doing with all this bloody angst. Two women interested in me, and me not slightly interested in either of them. Some luck, eh?
'So ? Melanie ?' I swallowed hard. I couldn't believe what I was about to do. 'Tell me about yourself.'
Three and a half hours later I managed to escape. Wiser, I'm sure, in the world of law, unfaithful girlfriends and how fantastic London is.
Jesus. That woman could talk. No wonder her girlfriend left her ? probably to give her ears a break.
At least Jenny had taken the hint. For now.
It had been five days since I last saw Kate.
It felt longer.
Why I was missing her so much was a mystery to me. It's not as if we ? or ? I ? or ? whatever.
I had received an invitation through reception to attend Enid's funeral. Her son had come to the hotel the previous day to collect the rest of her things, and we had chatted. He was a nice bloke, and although I could tell he was completely devastated about the loss of his mother, he was still considerate to everybody's feelings except his own.
The funeral was to be held in Halifax, at Lister Lane Cemetery, and Melanie said she would come with me to provide moral support.
I know it is an awful thing to say, but all I could think about was seeing Kate again. For what reason, I was unsure.
The day was crisp, and the weak sun filtered through the clouds to say goodbye to a lovely lady. Although I had only just met Enid, I felt attached to her in some way. I also felt guilty.
The service was interminable. Hymn after hymn after hymn after hymn. How can people sing when tears are choking them? How can they gather around a hole in the ground and watch someone they love leaving them ? again?
I felt tears slinking their way out, peeping out at the sad scene, quietly exposing my grief to the world. Enid's son stood there, shoulders hunched, a woman holding onto him offering support. The mourners were few, and I felt the loss even stronger now.
That poor woman. All her life had been given up to a man who didn't appreciate her. She had wasted her life with a man who treated her badly, just because he thought he had the right to.
I felt a tingling sensation as the hairs on the nape of my neck stood to attention. I had the distinct impression someone was watching me. I shuddered, trying to dispel the sensation, but it was adamant, and clung to me like a portent.
Something caught my attention from the trees at the far side of the graveyard. A figure dodged behind one in an attempt to conceal themselves. I stared, knowing, eventually, it would have to come out.
And it did.
Why would Kate stand all the way back there? Why didn't she ?
Something was up.
I screwed my face up and looked more closely.
She looked ? different. I can't tell you why ? just different.
Maybe it was her hair. It wasn't flowing long and free like usual. It was hidden underneath a hat of some description, pushed away with only strands free at the sides, coating her cheeks like silk drapes. Her face was gaunt ? unmoving.
Or maybe it was her dress. Long, full and black. She was without a coat, and I was concerned. The day was chilly, though dry. She'd catch her death ?
'Are you okay?' Melanie's voice broke my gaze. 'You look like you've seen a ghost.'
I turned to her and whispered, 'It's Kate ? over there ? near the Yew trees.'
'Where?' She craned her neck past me to look in the direction. 'I can't see her ? where?'
'Ther ?' I stopped short. There was no one there. But ? She just couldn't have ?
My eyes scanned the area looking for evidence of Kate and where she could have gone.
There wasn't anywhere she could have gone. She couldn't have hidden behind the trees - they weren't thick enough. Kate didn't strike me as a woman who would start hiding behind gravestones ? would she? I shook my head, noticing the sensation of being watched, had also gone.
'Abbie ? where?'
'Sorry, Melanie. My mistake.'
I slipped my arm through hers and squeezed. The feeling of a body next to mine was exactly what I needed.
To quote Hamlet: 'Something smells rotten in the state of Denmark.'
And this was becoming quite a stench.
Mourners lumbered back to their cars and made their way back to Enid's son's house for a gathering. I couldn't face the idea of chatting to people I didn't know, bringing up all the emotions again that I had fought all my life to keep locked away ? to keep pushed down.
Melanie insisted she came back with me, declaring she wanted to see me tucked up in bed (yeah - I bet she did), because she was worried about my 'spell' at the cemetery. I tried to convince her I was okay, but she wouldn't take no for an answer.
All I wanted was to go back and absorb myself in my writing ? get carried away by the muse into another time and place. I wanted to forget today ? forget I had lost a friend ? forget that I was slowly, but surely, becoming obsessed with my hostess.
How else could I explain seeing her at the funeral? #
I needed to get a grip.
The muse, bless her, was with me for the rest of the day. By ten thirty I had written eighteen pages. Good stuff too.
The protagonist was a reclusive woman, hiding herself, and her past, away from the world. I had her character down pat, but the structure ? the actual reason why she was a recluse was still just out of my reach.
I leaned back in the chair, exhaustion taking me over. I stretched my tired fingers out, then lifted my hand to scrub the tiredness away from my eyes.
Without warning, a tingle elicited from the base of my spine and raced up to the back of my neck. Involuntarily, I shuddered, knowing there was someone standing behind me.
I couldn't turn around. I didn't dare turn around.
Hot breath travelled along my back, and sat, panting into my hair. Hairs all over my body greeted the visitor, making up for my ignorance.
It wasn't fear that gripped me. No. It was worse than that. I wasn't scared, as much as aware ? very aware, in fact, that the presence behind me wouldn't hurt me ? it couldn't hurt me ? she ? would never ?
A voice, so soft, so pure, whispered into my waiting ear. 'Come with me ?'
When I turned around ? I was alone. Again.
I felt the loneliness cascade over me once more.
Coolness wrapped around me, invigorating a need inside of me a long time dead. Soft tendrils of air met ? then evaporated on hot skin. My clothes were floating around me, brushing past sensitive skin: skin waiting to be released.
I was standing outside my room, the soft lighting of the hallway breaking images into shadows; into moving, living, breathing reflections of what my dazed mind could comprehend.
A noise greeted me. A soft caress of a voice enticed me to follow. My eyes strained against the dusk of the corridor, failing to capture anything.
I stepped forward, my heart ushering me to look, to find, to discover something buried deep within myself. It begged me to let go, to walk forward, to follow its voice. A pain echoed around in silence, frightened of being discovered, frightened of being shut away.
A movement caught my eye. Was it a shadow? A figment of my mind sent out into the gloom to seduce me?
I moved out the doorway and glimpsed a trailing garment disappearing around the end of the passageway. That voice again. Ethereal. Beguiling. Bewitching. Siren like. I could not resist, like all those sailors, I, too, was drawn, helplessly to my fate.
Feet moved with no help from me, following ? something ? following ? someone. I seemed to glide, completely submissive in my role as the hunter. Or was I the prey?
Endless corridors passed. It was a labyrinth ? almost as confusing as the thoughts begging to escape from inside my head. Round and round, the figure just ahead of me. Whispers of cloth fluttered behind; raven locks swirling, coaxing, promising that special something I couldn't quite put voice to.
Stairs. Lots of stairs. Going upwards, faster, swirling. My eyes became unfocused: my stomach nauseous. My fingers reached out to grasp at empty air. 'Wait ? wait for me.' My voice seemed distant, different.
Outside on the roof the moon looked down. Exposing me. Showing me for what I truly was ? hungry ? I was hungry for her.
She stood, majestically, precariously balanced on the wall surrounding the edge of the building.
'Kate ?' The word came out in a gasp. God, she looked beautiful. It seemed I had waited a lifetime to swallow her image. 'Kate ? I'm here ? I need you ? please ?' Longing surged, coating my throat with desire, with love, with want.
She had her back to me, but I knew it was her. A strong back, toned, muscled, faced me. Her hair: black, flowing, wild, raced backwards, exposing the side of her face to my ravenous eyes. Arms outstretched: long, strong arms balancing her on the precipice between life and death.
'Kate ? look at me.' Statuesque. That's the word ? the word that epitomised her at that moment.
Slowly, she turned. A gasp escaped my chest as blue eyes met mine and rooted me to the spot. My heart rate increased, chasing the longing around my veins. I stepped forward. I needed to feel her in my arms, needed to feel those lips take mine and never let them go.
She turned away, facing the darkness. The moon had slipped behind a cloud as if refusing to witness what would happen next.
Long arms stretched above her head, pointing to the heavens, before she pushed herself upwards and forwards into a swan dive over the edge.
'NNNNNNNNooooooooooooooo!' I raced forward, my legs no longer gliding, but stumbling. 'NNNNNNNNooooooooooooo!' Cracking pains shot around my chest, alerting me of the death of my heart; alerting me of the loss of my soul.
I gripped the wall and leaned over, knowing what I would see.
There she was. Broken. Twisted into an unnatural shape, her left arm bending backwards from the crumpled mess on the slabs below. Sobs tore from me, heart-wrenching sobs; sobs loud enough to wake the dead. Wailing broke loose ? it cracked past the stuttering stammering emotion of crying to excess.
I couldn't survive this. I couldn't survive being without her. I didn't know why I felt such a connection ? such a bond ? all I knew was I couldn't survive without her.
My hands gripped the wall as I made up my mind. Bare feet scraped along the rough stone of the wall as I climbed up. I stretched my arms out at the sides, glorifying in the feel of the breeze, knowing this would be the last time I would feel the air on my face.
'I'm coming.' A promise made into the wind.
Knees were bent, ready for the inevitable. I pushed down, ready to spring forward ?
Strong hands grabbed me from behind, gripping onto the flesh around my thighs, and pulled backwards.
'Let ? me ? go!' I screamed into the air. 'Get ? your ? hands off ? me!'
More pulling, and I was falling backwards into strong arms. A familiar scent met my senses as I struggled unmercifully in my captor's arms.
'Shushshushshush ?' That voice. That soft voice. I stopped struggling and looked into a pair of very concerned blue eyes.
'Kate?' My reasoning was shot. I had just ? 'Kate?'
Strong arms held me fast. A hand snuck around and into my hair, tangling fingers into the nape. She pulled me into her. My heart was still hammering in my chest, adrenaline coursing through my veins.
Gentle, feather kisses landed in my hair, travelling to my forehead and finally to my cheek. I was so relieved to see her there, so enraptured by her presence; I did the only thing a woman in my position could do.
I kissed her. Softly at first, but with each brush against her soft enticing mouth, a surge of want pushed through me making my kisses more demanding, more urgent.
Tongues came out to meet each other for the first time. Tentatively, then with a growing understanding they wouldn't be rejected. Her hands gripped my hair with a feeling of possession, and my gut reacted, wanted nothing better than to push her down and ravish her mercilessly.
Teeth clipped, tongues vied for position, moisture raced into each other's mouths christening our coupling as we exchanged souls. My hands were questing, gripping her back, nails digging into strong shoulders only to ? release ? then to trail down her back and rest on her backside.
She followed my lead. Hands began to knead the flesh, pumping juices from parts hidden, parts aflame with desire and need. I pushed myself on her thigh, which forced her to purchase her centre on my leg.
I began to grind myself into her: she returned the gesture with a growing abandon.
My head was becoming hazy, fuzzy. God ? I was horny ? I was on fire for her. I needed to touch her ? to feel her beneath me ? writhing beneath me. I craved the feel of her skin; her breasts ? her breasts in my mouth ? budding open for me ? in my mouth.
Yearning turned into desperation as I gripped the sides of her top and pulled the two halves open to expose her curving chest, the crevice of her cleavage enticing me. I was transfixed. The moonlight illuminated them, spotlighting her nipples that strained into the air and towards my waiting lips.
Forcefully I gripped her right breast, kneading it, moulding it to my want. My head lowered to feast upon her other breast, my mouth trying to capture the whole of it ? but, finally, settling on her hardened nub. I sucked hungrily. I sucked and pumped and sucked and rubbed, her moans filling my ears and spurring me on.
Our hips were becoming frantic now, and I felt my knees giving way to the ground underneath. I pushed her backwards and down, my legs still spread apart, her thigh still boring into my need.
Groaning, moaning, sucking, pumping, grinding. Succulent skin mine for the taking.
I could feel her hands sliding underneath my night gown, nails raking up and down the backs of my legs, making me shudder in expectation, making me want her even more. If that was possible.
Frantic. I was becoming frantic. The events leading up to this moment forgotten. I needed to feel her inside me. Her fingers filling me. Her tongue tasting me, just as mine wanted to taste her.
My tongue left her breast and worked its way down her abdomen.
'Oh God ? yes ? Abbie ?yes!'
I froze. The sound of her voice brought me crashing back into reality.
I looked into her face; her eyes were on me, puzzlement taking over her features. 'Abbie? Are you okay?'
I stared at her. What was I doing? Christ ? I didn't even know her and I was going to fuck her on the roof of her house.
'Sor ? Sorry ?'
Scrambling to my feet, I avoided her eyes. I knew if I looked into her eyes I would be forever lost. 'Kate ? I ? sorry.'
And I ran. I ran back to my room and slammed the door. Then locked the door. Then sat behind the door until I heard her come down the corridor, stop outside my room for a few minutes, and then go into her own.
After a while, I left the confines of my room. Left the confines of the hotel. Climbed back into the confines of my life, got in my car, and went back to London.
I couldn't stand to be at Forester's Dwell any longer. I couldn't stand the feelings I had allowed to surface. It was too much. My obsession left a chasm of vulnerability I could not allow ? I couldn't stand more hurt.
And that is why I had to leave.
Without a backwards glance, I slammed the car into gear, and I roared through the gates and onto the road.
But for all my bravado, for the miles I was quickly putting between me and the place that had rocked my world, I knew I had left my heart in the strong loving hands of Kate Thomas.
?hold for the last time then slip away quietly
open my eyes
but I never see anything
if only I'd thought of the right words
I could have held on to your heart
If only I'd thought of the right words
I wouldn't be breaking apart
Pictures of You - The Cure
London greeted me like an old friend. As ever it was dirty ? bustling ? anonymous. I could blend into the background here, fade away into nothing, forget what I had left ? push all those feelings that had been crawling up my throat back down.
Go back to nothing.
By the time I had arrived, the sun was high and it made the autumn sky whitewashed. I decided to pay my agent a visit - touch base, tell her I was back.
Upon entering her office, I could feel the tension in the air. A knife would have difficulty slicing through the atmosphere. Welcome home.
Kenny, my agent's secretary, looked at me like he had just received news of an anthrax threat. The smile I had sported for the occasion slowly slipped from my lips, revealing a look of confusion.
'Hey, Ken,' I tried for casual ? but he just stared at me, mouth hanging open. 'I said ? Hey, Ken.' I gave him a glare. He shook his head and forced a smile from somewhere.
'Sorry, Abbie ? hey yourself.'
'I did for a minute ? Why the face?' I didn't wait for an answer, as I swept by him and towards my agent's office. 'She in?' I continued to walk, ignoring Ken's warnings of not entering.
Janet's office was a mess. Shelves had been torn down, books were strewn everywhere. Her table and computer were in pieces around the room.
'What the fu?'
'Exactly.' A cold, hard voice sounded from my right. 'What are you doing here, Abbie?' Janet Strome was not a happy person by nature, and her face could curdle milk at the best of times. But now? Jesus. She should have come with a public health warning. Her face was ashen, naturally thin lips disappearing inside; her eyes were glacial - hardened even more than usual.
'What happened here then?' I tried to keep my voice light, opting to ease the tension screaming from every pore of her body - all of it aimed in my direction.
'You didn't answer my question, Abbie. I ? said ? what are you doing here?' She hadn't moved at all, and I was definitely feeling the bite of her anger.
'Can I just say I missed you?'
Take a chill pill, for God's sake, woman, and I gritted my teeth behind my lips, cleared my throat to answer her once again, but she cut me off.
'You are supposed to be at the retreat, remember?' She shifted around a rather large piece of desk separating her from me. 'Why have you left?'
What could I say? I couldn't tell her about the weird dreams I had been having, the feelings of despair I had been feeling, the accidents, the not accidental accidents.
I couldn't tell her about the voices, the messages, Enid's death.
But they all paled in comparison to the reason I had really left.
I couldn't tell her about the blueness of Kate's eyes, the way they lit up when she laughed, really laughed. Or her crooked smile, that lifted one corner of her mouth slightly higher than the other. Even the way my stomach danced when I thought of her strong arms holding me, loving me, caressing me. Strong fingers gliding down my legs, on exposed skin ? teasing.
Should I then tell her about the taste of Kate's skin; the softness of her lips, the wetness of her tongue stroking the inside of my willing mouth? Or the taste of her breasts ? pushing ?, willing me to swallow her whole: and my willingness to do just that?
What about the tightening in my gut when I thought of her saying my name, urging me on, needing me to take her as much as I needed to have her? I could tell how I pushed her away ? ran ? left her there ? waiting for me to let go ?
No. That was a part of me that would stay buried deep within, only to come out when I could take the desperation no longer.
'I was bored.' What a response ? from someone who was supposed to be good with words. 'Thought I would come back and write from home.'
'Bad idea.' She poked her head outside. 'Ken ? two coffees in here, when you've got a minute.' She turned and looked me squarely in the eyes. 'I'd sit down if I were you.'
I looked about me and noticed there was nowhere to sit. I looked back at Janet and shrugged my shoulders.
And for the first time since I had entered her office, she smiled.
'Calm down, Abbie.' Janet tried to calm me down, but as you could see, it wasn't working. 'The police are not sure it was him. They ?'
'Oh ? it was him alright. It's his style.' The words shot from my lips like a confession. I paused to gather the information Janet had given me. 'So ? Pete came in looking for me?' She nodded. 'But you wouldn't tell him?' A shake of her head. 'Then ? two days later ? you started getting menacing phone calls?' Another nod. 'Then yesterday ? this?' I gestured to the chaos surrounding us, disbelief and anger vying for dominance.
Janet nodded, again. 'We are not too sure if he actually accessed the computer for your address. He was pretty pissed off when he came here.'
This stopped me. He would do all this just to get at me? The sound of the telephone broke through my thoughts, and I watched as Janet leaned down and pushed a piece of shelving away to answer it.
Her muffled voice drifted away as I sat contemplating what Pete had done. I knew he had a temper ? God did I know that ? but to smash up Janet's office? Even for him that seemed a little extreme.
'Abbie ?' Janet's voice brought me back into the scene. Her face looked wan and concerned.
'Oh ? don't worry about me ? it's just been a long day.' A small smile graced my lips trying to reassure the woman before me. She remained silent. 'Jan?' I noticed the phone she had been using still clutched in her hand, the conversation she had been having only on standby. 'What?' My tone was sharper than I had intended.
'It's your place ?'
'What about it?'
'You've been broken in to.'
My place was a mess. To put things mildly ? and without losing control ? again. I don't think Pete left anything untouched. Sofas were carved open, spilling their guts around the room. It looked like a furniture massacre. Paintings were sliced erratically, depicting the work of a mad man; the contents of the kitchen were thrown around the room; the bathroom ? well, let's just say I wouldn't be touching anything in there - ever.
But that wasn't the most shocking thing to greet me on my homecoming. Not by a long shot.
My bedroom, the room where I had spent four years sleeping vulnerably next to this man, was the worst. It wasn't the total devastation. No. It wasn't the destruction ? the feeling I had been violated.
It was one thing. One thing stood out from the wreckage and smacked me hard in the gut. One word scrawled on the wall behind my bed. One word.
Written in something I can't put my stomach to ? but it wasn't the medium ? it was the word.
What had possessed him to write the one word that could cave in my world? How had he known that one word could create a surge of emotion buried so deep, it needed to be excavated by professionals?
Jesus. The sweat poured off me. I felt the room closing tightly around my throat.
Before I passed out, the image of Kate's face flitted through my mind ? you know, like the experience people have before they die? When their life flashes unceremoniously in front of them, exposing their downfalls throughout life?
She embodied my life and all I could see was her face. And the hurt I saw there made unconsciousness seem like a blessing.
It was a matter of hours before I was back on the road. The police said they had tried to track Pete down - they knew it was him, as they had the CCTV footage of him entering the building, but had come up with nothing and thought it best for me to stay elsewhere.
My parents had moved to Norfolk, and it was the only place I could think to go. My options were becoming limited to say the least.
They owned a house on the outskirts of Norwich, five miles away from my sister and her husband. I knew I would be welcome there at any time, although I didn't visit half as much as I could have done. This was mainly due to my family hating Pete. They thought he was a sponger and an evil bastard.
They were right. I could see that now.
I felt guilty. I had not even told them about the divorce or even going away to the retreat.
The retreat. A voice deep inside me begged me to go back ? to go back to Kate ? to explain.
What was I thinking? The fact of the matter was - I wasn't gay - I am not gay.
Keep telling yourself that, Jameson, and maybe you will stop thinking about how soft her lips were.
I slammed my foot on the accelerator and drove faster.
It felt strange sleeping underneath my parent's roof again. I had left home when I started University at eighteen, and had only been home for the holidays (do washing, have a feed, borrow money they would never see again - the usual).
Initially, they had been surprised I had come home, as they call it, but soon realised it was, fundamentally, from necessity. I loved my parents, and in their own way I think they loved me back. Support had come from sealing the right connections, throwing money my way, the right tutors ? schools ? you name it (or put a price on it) and they did their best.
But, affection? Being told I had done well ? a hug when I was upset or hurt ? someone to confide in? No. Those jobs were left for the Nanny (five in total - who all left weeping - snigger).
Claire, my older sister, supported me no matter what. She was the main 'hater' of Pete - she could even start her own Pete Anti Fan Club. I was only fourteen when she had left home in a cloud of anger, swearing to never make contact with 'Those heartless fuckers' again. I didn't see her again until I was seventeen ? and I still feel the loss of those three years.
Today, they are on speaking terms, as she had married well and they had had a very public display of making up, much to Claire's (and my) embarrassment.
She had come to the house, dragging two screaming children with her, as soon as she found out I was back. As she put her arms around me, the stress and confusion melted away. My body shook. Emotions ran so high within me, I could feel the tears fighting to break free and expose my shame, deceit and fear.
Claire misunderstood this for my leaving my husband: understandable, really.
After a few glasses of wine, I had spilled out to the family the events leading to my visit. Pete being a twat ? petitioning a divorce ? going to the retreat ? Enid's death ? and returning to find almost everything I owned, decimated.
Obviously, I left out other details, like me slowly going insane, hearing voices, having visions, chasing ghosts into the night wearing nothing but my night dress. And I definitely didn't want to discuss my near sexual encounter in the Ladies with a complete stranger.
Therefore, I couldn't tell them about my near obsession with my hostess. Obsession - that's what it was. What else could it be? She had bewitched me ? her eyes had bewitched me. Her lips had beguiled me ? her fingers ? her fingers ?
I must admit, she turned me on. The mere thought of her made me wet; hot and filled with a growling ache between my legs, and around my chest too.
Thinking about her had brought up images of me on top of her, licking and stroking her breasts, my mouth and nose filled with her scent, my hands filled with her skin, breasts and abdomen.
God ? was I horny. It is the ultimate embarrassment, talking to your parents with a raging fire between your legs; clasping your need until you realise you are pumping it together, almost masturbating in front of them.
Jesus. I needed to sort myself out ? relieve myself before I made a bigger fool of myself than I had already.
I made my excuses and went to my room, a small smile creeping onto my face with the thought of what I was to come.
I don't think I gave myself a chance to back out of it.
I ripped off my jeans, dragged my jumper over my head, shoved my underwear away ? all to get to my want.
Lying on my back, on the bed, legs splayed into the dark, I trailed my fingers around already erect nipples. A gasp broke free on contact. Nails teased and tormented flesh, making it wait for release. My hips were beginning to buck with anticipation, pulling themselves from the sheet only to grind down again.
My full hand caressed my breast, kneading in rhythm, occasionally flicking the erect nipple. Its twin slowly ventured lower, stroking my stomach, etching lazy circles onto heated flesh. I couldn't understand it ? I needed to release this desire that filled me, yet my body was drawing out the task, making me yearn for it all the more.
Tentative fingers pushed their way through coarse hair and ventured along slick folds. Another gasp on contact. They pulled backwards only to push down again. My eyes fluttered closed, imagining another's fingers fulfilling this need. Long, strong fingers led to a smooth tanned arm, linking themselves to strong shoulders with black hair swirling around.
My actions were becoming more vigorous. The ache was all consuming. Methods I had used in the past to relieve 'tension' ? relieve the build up of unspent desire I accumulated in a loveless marriage ? no longer worked. I felt as if I was going crazy.
I had to do something ? I couldn't go on like this.
I lifted myself up and rested on my knees, sitting upright on the bed, my hand still buried between my folds. I was so wet, so ready, but I couldn't tip myself over the edge. A growl of annoyance left my mouth, as I pushed and pulled, stroked and flicked. The burning need was furious. I was furious with my inability.
I needed to bring in my other hand to help out ? anything. I needed to feel something inside me, filling me, allowing me to ride out this passion ? ride it out until I could scream out my longing.
I pushed one finger inside; glorifying in the feel of it, slowly spearing my body onto it in an attempt to quench this thirst for liberation ? this fire needed satisfying. A second finger ? a third. I was forcing myself down onto my hand like I was battling a demon. The backs of my legs were screaming with the pressure; my knees gripping onto the cover, holding me in place like a frenzied statue. I was grunting unabashedly. I didn't give a fuck who heard me.
I leaned forward, my right hand rubbing along my clit, fingers separated, guiding themselves along the silky wetness, whilst three fingers from my left hand pumped in and out me, my hips and upper body adding pressure.
Somewhere in my mind I conjured up her image, lying beneath me, blue eyes glazed with desire. I imagined the wetness around my fingers to be her wetness ? the fingers inside me ? hers.
I pumped faster, my eyes staring into hers, not wanting to break the contact; not wanting to close them and then realise it had all been a figment of my imagination. I could feel her beneath me. I could feel her grinding into me.
'FFFFFFFFFFuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucccccccccckkkkkkkkkkk!' I was blinded. Lights flashed making it impossible to see anything but the image of her eyes, her face, her lips parted in ecstasy. 'Ffuuuucccckkk mmmeeeee!' Another orgasm hit me, making me stumble forward, making my soaked fingers slip effortlessly from were they had been buried deep inside.
After the feeling of elation had passed, and my gasping for air had reduced, I opened my eyes and looked around. I was still alone. Still alone.
Aftershocks sputtered, my nerves totally destroyed. I leaned backwards, my knees arguing with the position, as I slumped onto the bed to stare blankly at the ceiling.
'Abbie?' My eyes shot open. 'Abbie, honey? Are you alright?'
'Perfect,' came my lazy response.
'We heard a ?'
And with that, she was gone, leaving me alone to gloat in my first double orgasm.
'And ?' I whispered into the dark, 'not my last. Not by a long shot.'
A full out grin.
Looking forward to it.
Obviously the next day I was embarrassed. It is not a good feeling to think your parents had heard you jacking off in your room. Jacking off, and loving it.
Breakfast was a quiet affair, as Claire had taken the boys home shortly after I had spilled the beans about my life. It felt as if I had been transported back fifteen years.
Dad was hiding behind the Financial Times, and Mum busied herself making breakfast for us all. It did seem strange watching her cook ? she had always had someone else in to do that before.
I wasn't looking forward to her creation ? cooking was definitely not the reason my father married her.
'Are you feeling better this morning, Abigail?' My father always insisted on calling me by my full name, and straight away the hairs on the back of my neck stood up in annoyance.
'Never better.' I answered, taking a sip of my tea to hide the smile playing on my lips.
'Your mother said she heard you ? erm ? heard a groaning from your room. Like you were crying, or something.'
I spat the tea back in the cup, creating frothing bubbles on top. 'Groaning?' I tried to look quizzical, but my face screamed 'Guilty, Your Honour.'
'Yes. Groaning. Are you sure you're alright?'
'As I said before, Dad, never better.'
And that was it. Conversation over.
My mind drifted back to last night. The telltale tingle started up between my legs again. Shit. I was turning into a nymphomaniac.
'Ex ? cuse ? me,' I stuttered out as I stumbled from my chair. 'I've got to sort something out upstairs.'
As I was leaving, I heard my mother say, 'Bless her. You can see she's absolutely heartbroken.'
Yeah, right. A knowing smile sneaked upon my face. 'Little do they know.'
My hand gripped the bottom of the banister, and I stopped.
But I ? Heartbroken? Broken hearted? Me?
The image of Kate once again appeared in my mind. The words my mother had said kind of rang true.
Slowly, I made my way up the stairs, all thoughts of repeating last night's star performance a memory.
Three months passed. I was in hiding. I hadn't heard a peep from Pete, thank God. Christmas and New Year had come and gone and I had barely noticed, I was too wrapped up with staying away ? locking myself away ? forgetting.
Janet had called a few times to see how I was getting on, especially with the novel. Each time I told her I had everything under control.
The novel was writing itself, with no help from me. Every day I spent locked up in my room, pouring my ideas onto my laptop. Every day, doing nothing but filling the void in my life with words on a screen.
Even my parents were beginning to worry. I had no social life. I only came down for meals or if Claire visited. But, I was learning to forget ? forget the feelings that had been brought to the surface since staying at Forester's Dwell.
It was early Tuesday evening when Janet called me from her home. The fact she called me from home didn't shock me - it was the reason.
I knew she was edging around something, but I wanted to make her suffer - life is full of these little opportunities if we take time to indulge ourselves.
After the phone went quiet for the fourth time, I had to ask her what she really wanted, apart from news on the novel, or the weather, or bloody Norwich market.
'Well ? erm, I don't know how to say this, but ? I've ? you've ? had a visitor.'
'A visitor? Like who?' As if that would interest me. A visitor - how cloak and daggerish.
'Remember the retreat place we booked you into?' The breath caught in my throat and I couldn't answer. 'A few months back ?' she felt the need to clarify, 'in Yorkshire?' Stupidly I nodded at the phone. Even more stupidly, she answered. 'Well ? the owner, a ?' I could hear shuffling of paper, and her rings clanking against the phone.
'Kate Thomas.' In supplied. The feel of her name on my lips was like a balm, a coating I had avoided for three months.
'That's the one, a Katherine Thomas, of Forester's Dwell. Well ? she's been looking for you, said you had something of hers she needed back.'
'She wouldn't say. Said she had to personally get it back from you.'
What could I have of hers that would make her travel all the way down from Yorkshire to hunt me out?
'I don't think I have anything belonging to her ? but leave it with me, I'll have a think.'
The conversation continued for another minute or two, before I made an excuse and hung up.
It was only later, sprawled out on top of my bed, I remembered.
Enid's note. I had taken Enid's note, the one from the torn page of the journal Kate found the night Enid died.
Shit. I still had it.
But why would she still want it?
I hunted the note out from my messed up papers, rereading the messages before sealing it up in an envelope.
My mother volunteered to post it on her way to a coffee morning with the 'girls'. My parting words to her were not to forget ? to make sure it had enough stamps on it. I didn't want it to go missing; especially now Kate wanted it.
Thoughts of Kate entered my head once again. I wondered why she had felt the need to try to find me? Why I had to give it to her personally?
A flicker of hope ignited in my gut.
Hope? Why hope? I was used to desire at this stage, as I was now fully aware the events leading up to my trip to Norfolk had done something radical to my sex drive.
Like ? kick started it.
The problem was - I didn't have the key to turn it off.
That was safely locked away behind the red brick walls of Forester's Dwell.
The dreams were back. Stronger, more forceful. I woke in the night covered with sweat, a familiar name on my lips, heart thudding in panic: hands gripping the duvet, like it would be my salvation.
Even my parents were getting worried. Instead of sitting me down and asking why I was screaming out another woman's name in the middle of the night, they called in the big guns - Claire.
I felt uneasy with her. For the first time in my life I felt uneasy with my older sister. I don't know why, I just did.
She came around on the Thursday morning after dropping the kids off at school. My parents made themselves scarce for the occasion. I knew something was up - I think that is what put me on my guard.
The air was thick with expectation. We sat in the living room of my parents' house like strangers. This wasn't us ? we had never felt ill at ease with each other, even after the fiasco of her leaving home.
I waited for her to begin, watching her shift nervously on the settee, plumping full cushions until they once again became out of shape.
'For Christ's sake, Claire!' My nerves were shot. 'What the fuck are you playing at? Just spit it out!' No. I have never been the patient type.
'Abbie ?' Her voice was low, soothing. 'We're all so worried about you. We ?'
'What? Wanted me to spill the proverbial beans? There's nothing to spill, Claire.' I must admit, my tone was sharp, and she flinched at my words.
'Then why are you walking around with the weight of the world on your shoulders?' Green eyes met mine and held my gaze. 'I'm here if you need a sounding board - you know that, right?' Her face softened, showing the sister I loved and admired. Waiting for me to share my nightmares; my hopes; my dreams, just like we had all our lives. I knew she would support me no matter what.
I looked away, the decision made for me. I had to tell Claire all of it ? all of it ? including ? including ?
'It started to happen about seven months ago?' And I began my tale, leaving no stone unturned, exposing everything I had become, everything I wanted to be. Her face stayed stoic throughout, but her body language bade me to continue. Gentle squeezing of my fingers when I explained Enid's death; the soft circular rubbing motions on my back when I spoke about how confused I was. The smile when I began to tell her about Kate.
Wait a minute ? the smile?
'It's about time, Abbie.'
I looked at her, startled. 'About time for what?'
'That you discovered who you really are.'
'What do you mean, discovered who I really am?' I attempted to stand up, to walk away, but she stilled my movement with a sisterly grip on my arm.
'Sit down.' I didn't move. 'Come on ? sit.' A gentle tugging had me back next to her. The tears came from nowhere, yet from everywhere at once. Years of bottling everything inside had finally got to me, and the floodgates opened.
For nearly thirty minutes she held me. For thirty minutes I felt safe, totally out of control for once in my life, but safe.
After the heaving stopped, her voice floated into my ears. I felt distanced, unreal, like I was experiencing an out of body experience.
'I've had my suspicions for years, Abbie. No, don't interrupt.' She held me more firmly, when I opened my mouth to protest. 'For years I have watched you make a fool of yourself in a loveless marriage.' I tried to interrupt but she gave me the 'sister look' that warned me to keep mum. 'When you married Pete, honestly, I couldn't believe you actually did it. I was so sure ? so bloody sure you were ? you were ?' She gulped, hard.
'So bloody sure about what, Claire?'
She lifted my chin to look into my eyes. 'So bloody sure you were gay.' It seemed flat, this confession. Flat and false.
I pushed her away from me, knocking her backwards on the settee. 'How many more times do I have to say it - I ? am ? not ? gay!'
She laughed at me. Bloody laughed at me. The anger I had been holding back was raising its head from slumber. 'What the fuck is so funny?'
'You.' Simply and succinctly put. Obviously it fuelled the flame.
'What gives you the right to march in here ? play the loving sister ? then accuse me of being gay? What have I ever done in the past that warrants that?'
'More like what you haven't done, sis.' She looked smug, and I wasn't in the mood for smug. I turned on my heel and marched out of the room. Her voice followed me up the stairs.
'Okay. If you're not gay, how come you're obsessed with Kate Thomas?'
'No ? why don't you fuck her.' And she started laughing again.
That was it. I wasn't going to sit around and wait for her to wind me up even more.
I slammed into my room, acting for all the world like a hormonal teenager, threw some clothes, CDs and toiletries into a bag. I had to get away from her and her half-cocked ideas.
I flounced down the stairs, into the kitchen, snatched up my parents' keys to the beach house and continued to flounce out of the door.
The car seemed quiet after the previous events. How dare she make assumptions about me? How dare she say ? I ? was ? you know? So what, if I had nearly shagged a woman I barely knew in the toilets? It wasn't her concern who I was sleeping with ? who I wanted to sleep with ?
'Oh God, no.' I groaned.
When I stopped banging my head on the steering wheel, I started the car and headed for Winterton beach.
I needed to think things through, and the beach house was the perfect place to do it.
Continued in Part 2