Authors: Jess Raven,Paula Black
“I’m sorry, Miss Cavallo,” I heard the nurse say, “but I can’t let you in to see Mr. Pembroke. Immediate family only at this time. It’s hospital policy.”
family,” Adriana insisted.
“What is your relationship to the patient?” the nurse demanded.
“I’m his PA,” she argued, “I do everything for him. I pick up his underwear from the laundry for chrissakes. I order his groceries. We might as well be married.”
“Unless you are legally married, Miss Cavallo, or you can prove to me that you are an immediate blood-relative of Mr. Pembroke, then I am terribly sorry, but you are simply going to have to wait until his condition is more stable and he is in a position to accept visitors.”
The plastic bag fell from my hands and I felt the blood drain from my face, all the way down into my feet. My back hit the breeze-block wall, and I slid to the ground, Adriana’s voice becoming muffled, as though I’d been dumped in a fish bowl and was witnessing the argument underwater.
“This is an outrage,” she shouted, tossing a bundle of papers from the desk. “What kind of shitty little backwater hospital is this? Do you even know who we are?”
“I know you are not Jack Pembroke’s wife,” was the nurse’s clipped reply. “Now, I suggest you calm the hell down, Miss Cavallo, or Thomas here will be escorting you from the premises.” She motioned to a burly security guard who had stationed himself at the nurse’s side.
My world swam in and out of focus in front of my eyes, bone-deep exhaustion and emotional overload catching up with me like a steam-train pulling into station. I felt myself get dragged under the ocean of sleep I’d tried so hard to deprive myself of ever since we’d arrived. I’d been running on adrenaline and the tank was finally run dry. My last thought before drifting into that blissful unconsciousness was that Jack Pembroke was not actually married. Question was, what, if anything, did that change between us?
“Looks like Bronach has a potential buyer.” Liam dropped the
manila folder on my desk, braced his hands on the polished surface, and offered me an apologetic smile.
Three weeks since the storm, and even though the angry red wounds on his neck had faded to a healing, fleshy pink, the strain of that night still showed in my twin brother’s pale expression.
I wondered if he saw that same haunted look in me.
As expected, we’d been grilled by the police to the point I’d almost begun to believe the fake story myself. Eventually, the detective conceded that Jack and Adriana claimed no memories at all of what happened, and so they had little choice but to accept Liam’s and my sketchy version of events. A hunting party was formed to scout the land for the animal responsible for the attacks. I never expected them to find anything, obviously, but one Saturday afternoon, they came back having shot a stray dog they’d caught in the act of savaging a sheep. That seemed to satisfy the locals and the authorities. John-Joe was buried on a dreary, wet Tuesday, and the whole sorry tragedy was put to rest along with him.
I hadn’t seen or heard from Jack Pembroke since that day I left the hospital in a daze, having discovered he and Adriana weren’t actually married. When I returned to the ward that evening, rested, freshly showered and feeling half-human again, I’d got the nerve up to ask after him. Who knew, maybe if I got a nurse who was a little less Nurse Ratched than the one Adriana had gone up against, I might even get the chance to see him, and apologise for how I’d acted.
Turned out I was too late.
The male nurse on night duty told me, on the QT, that Jack had been transferred to a high-tech hospital in Dublin. Apparently he needed a more complicated vascular repair that was beyond the local surgeon’s expertise.
Only that the police detective let slip about his claimed amnesia, I wouldn’t even have known whether Jack had lived or died. I could hardly blame him for not wanting to get in touch. I’d said some pretty horrible things and rejected him in no uncertain terms. Not to mention I’d pepper-sprayed his psycho PA, though to my mind, that jealous bitch had it coming to her. I supposed fate was playing her hand again. I was back at my desk, and he was back in New York at his. End of story. It just was never meant to be. Still, the lack of closure meant that Jack Pembroke, and that one crazy night we’d spent at Bronach Lodge haunted my every waking thought. Even my dreams were Technicolor flashbacks to the events of that night.
Perhaps going back there, seeing the deeds to the house signed away to some stranger, would finally draw a line under the whole episode for me.
“Want me to find another agent?” Liam asked, drawing me out of my thoughts.
I realised I’d been drumming my fingers on the file.
“No, I said,” placing a proprietorial hand on top of the folder. “I can do this. I want to.” Want was a strong word. In truth, I was afraid, but I was determined to face my demons. Besides, we needed the money. The sale on an estate like Bronach would keep Dad’s real estate agency afloat, and no way was I was going to put the moral guilt on Liam to go up there and do the dirty work. I could see it in his eyes: the hidden fear that I’d ask him to go. I’d always considered myself the stronger of the two of us, even before he’d had some demon creature try to suck the life out of him. “I
’m happy to go, I really am.”
“You’re a hell of a woman, Darcy, you know that? Bravest person I know. If it wasn’t for what you did up there, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be in the ground, just like John-Joe.”
“I’m not brave,” I said. “It was Jack Pembroke who saved your life.”
And I’d never got the chance to thank him for it.
“You saved all our lives, Darcy.”
“Not John-Joe’s,” I replied sadly.
“No,” Liam agreed.
“Why do you suppose she left me alone?”
He stared at me with those haunted blue eyes. “Because you’re a woman?”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “maybe she only goes for men, or maybe she just hadn’t got around to killing me.”
It niggled at me, all the same, how Adriana had seemed almost protective of me in the pub that night, asking whether John-Joe was bothering me.
“Damn it, did it really happen?” His head sagged on his shoulders and he rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “Sometimes I think I’m going crazy. I mean that thing, what was it, a vampire?”
“Something like that, I think, yeah,” I breathed, covering his trembling hands with my own.
“It bit me. What does that mean? I’m worried Darcy.”
“What? That you’re going to turn into one of them?” I cupped his face in my hands, scrubbed at his stubble and offered him a smile. “You feel very much flesh and blood to me, Liam McShane. Besides, that stuff is only in stories, right?”
“Vampires were supposed to only exist in stories,” he said, and I hated seeing the fear in his normally carefree eyes. “If they exist, what else is out there?”
I had no answer to that.
The memories that filled my return drive along the coast road up to Bronach Lodge were tempered by the glorious turn in the weather. It was hard to imagine those dark things really existed, when the sky was such a pure shade of blue, and the sun sparkled on the waves like shoals of diamond fish. Not a full month had passed since the night of the storm, and yet the season was in full change. I’d changed too, irrevocably.
After I discovered the truth about Jack and Adriana, I’d taken a long, hard look at who I’d become in the years since my father’s illness, and found I hardly recognised the jaded, cynical person staring back at me.
I was alone in life, not because Alec had cheated on me, but because I’d chosen to shield myself from ever getting hurt again. I’d been an idiot. I’d let my own foolish distrust lose me the opportunity to find love. I’d leapt on the chance to believe Adriana’s lies, because that’s what I’d come to expect. I’d refused to let Jack defend himself, and now that I knew the truth, he was gone from my life. It was a hard lesson, learned too late.
He wasn’t coming back. I’d lost him, as I’d lost my mother, and my father and m
y ex-fiancé. The difference was this time? I wasn’t going to let it break me. I wasn’t about to go chasing him all the way to New York like a lovesick puppy. That’d make me no better than his blonde stalker. We’d had one night of connection, one night of unbridled passion, and I’d ruined it by pushing him away. His letting Bronach go felt like he was closing the book on us, and that seemed only fair. I hoped my cruel lies would help him forget me sooner than I’d be able to get him from my mind. I had a feeling it would take a very long time.
I’d have forever to live with the regret, but from now on, I’d decided I was opening myself up to life and fate and everything they could throw at me: the hurt, the losses, the dizzy highs. I could embrace them. I could learn from the hurts, I could forgive, and I could move on. I could learn to trust again.
I drove past the spot where the big sycamore had fallen on Jack’s car, and I couldn’t help but smile, picturing myself taking his hand and crawling on my hands and knees from the wreckage. I’d thought the night couldn’t possibly get any worse. How wrong I’d been. The giant trunk was now a giant pile of firewood, drying in the early summer sunshine.
I pulled up to
the house only to discover I wasn’t first to arrive. Out on the gravel drive, a big motorcycle stood balanced on its kickstand. It was a powerful looking machine, sleek and black. No sign of a rider, though. I checked my watch, and my diary, confirming I was there in good time. I hated to keep a client waiting.
Slipping from the car, I smoothed the creases out of my blue shift dress and shrugged into a short, grey rain mac. The heels I’d worn to smarten up the outfit crunched over the stones as I walked towards the entrance. Although the window shutters were all closed, the hall door to Bronach Lodge stood wide open.
I stepped into the gloom of the hallway and called, "Hello?"
Dust motes shimmered in the random shafts of sunlight that found their way in through the gaps in the shutters. Stepping through them, I made my way along the corridor towards the drawing room, breathing in memories of the night spent here, with him: so vivid I swore I could still smell the beeswax candles burning.
I stopped outside the library, and inhaled. That scent was more than just a memory.
The door was ajar. I pushed it inward and stepped into the room. The flames of numerous lit candles cast a soft, flickering glow on everything, and I wondered absently why the room's occupant would have gone to the trouble of lighting them, when they could simply have opened the shutters to the sun. Then my gaze settled on the figure sat at the polished-wood desk, and the rest of the room receded out of focus.
"I wasn't expecting you to be here," I said, hesitant. "Are you well?"
He looked incredible, in a form-fitting black sweater and dark jeans, surrounded by ancient, leather-bound tomes. Less tanned than I remembered, but that was hardly surprising, given what massive blood loss and weeks holed up in a hospital bed with no natural light were liable to do to your complexion. The pallor only served to highlight the arresting green of his eyes.