Authors: Jess Raven,Paula Black
Jack grabbed me by the arm and turned me from the cliff’s edge, and I was grateful for his guidance. I couldn’t have navigated my way around a circle right then.
“Did you know him?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said shakily, “his name’s John-Joe Walsh. He’s a local farmer. God. He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“I’m afraid so,” Jack said, wrapping his arms around me in an awkward hug. “I’m sorry.”
I looked again, had to be sure. John-Joe's neck was twisted at a completely unnatural angle. No way he could have survived the fall.
“I saw him in the pub, just last night. He …” No. I couldn’t think about that. “Oh God, his wife and kids will be devastated.”
"A friend of yours?"
"No, just a guy I saw around sometimes."
"Was he depressed?"
"I don't know. No more than any of us in this godforsaken place, I suppose. You think it was suicide? What about all this blood?"
“Perhaps he cut himself, then jumped. Who knows? We need to call the police.” Jack pulled out his cell phone and walked a circle in the grass as I watched numbly. "No signal," he growled. "You?"
I hunted my phone with trembling hands. "No, me neither.” I said, when I’d managed to still my quaking long enough to check if my phone fared any better. “Could be the storm messing with the signal."
"We can try back at the house. There might be a fixed line." He paced back to me and I pocketed the useless phone, my eyes fixed back on the crashing waves.
"Probably disconnected, just like the electricity
"Then we drive back into town," he offered. Putting his hands on my shoulders, he steered me away from the image of the bloated, lifeless body on the rocks below us.
Long minutes later, sat in the plush, heated passenger seat of the Jag, my hands shook. I dropped my head back and shut my eyes, replaying what happened in the pub last night, and my brother's promise to fix it so that John-Joe would never touch me again. What a stupid thing to say. I didn't think for a moment Liam would have followed through on the threat. I just prayed no one heard him.
"You doing okay there?" Jack asked, looking over at me. "You look a bit shook-up."
"Yeah I’m shaken. Maybe corpses are as commonplace as spat-out gum on your New York sidewalks, but round here it's kind of a big deal, you know?”
“I didn’t mean to -”
“Oh shit, look out!" I shouted.
Eyes torn back to the country lane, Jack slammed on the brakes. The tree came down almost gracefully, landing across the hood of the car with a sickening crunch. Next thing I knew I was breathing in a mouthful of airbag and the car's alarm triggered, its high-pitch squeal the soundtrack to a flurry of panic as I battled to open the passenger-side door.
Could this day get any worse?
“You alright there, Jack?” I asked shakily.
“I’m fine,” he groaned. He rubbed at a graze on his forehead and his hand came away bloody. “Are you hurt?”
“No, but my door’s stuck,” I said. Between the wind and the tangle of huge branches outside, the thing refused to budge.
“This way,” Jack said, offering me a hand as I scrambled gracelessly over the driver’s seat.
Out in the gale once more, the full extent of the damage became evident.
“Christ, if you hadn’t hit the brakes, the police would have been dealing with two more dead bodies,” I said.
He nodded. “We got lucky.”
I raised a brow. “You call this lucky?”
Jack shrugged. “We’re alive.”
I winced. The hood of the Jaguar was utterly mangled. The old sycamore was huge, its branches bare. It had probably been dead for some time, but it’d taken the high winds to finally bring her down. “Sorry about your car. Looks like a write-off.”
Another shrug. “It’s a rental. My PA, Adriana, organised it. It’s what she thinks I should drive.”
“What do you drive?” I couldn’t resist asking, any more than I could stop myself imagining a perfectly groomed, waspish assistant fawning over his every need.
“Not much call for a car in NYC. I have a motorcycle for my time off.”
The inordinately sexy image of Jack Pembroke on a motorbike triggered another dose of windburn.
“What do we do now?” I asked, tucking my hair behind my ears and getting myself back in the game.
“We’ve still got your car, but it’ll take a crane and a chainsaw to shift this monster,” he said, patting the dead tree-trunk. “Is there another road off the property?”
“No,” I said, frowning. “We’re surrounded by bog, forest and the coastline. No chance in hell my little car would make it off-road in this terrain. The nearest neighbour is fifteen miles away,” I said.
“That's too far to walk. It’s almost nightfall. Another half hour and we won’t be able to see three feet in front of ourselves. I suggest we go back to the house and bunker-down until the storm passes. Hope the phone signal kicks back in.”
“But - ” The thought of spending the night alone in that dark house with a virtual stranger ignited fear in my belly, along with other feelings I was too cowardly to explore, “ - that could take all night. My brother will be worried.” I wondered if was that strictly true. Liam’s mind was on other things tonight, like that blonde vamp. If he got lucky, he might not even get home tonight to notice I was gone.
“You got a better plan?” Jack asked.
“There’s a sheltered cove with a row-boat behind the property. We could row across the bay to the village. It’s not far at all by sea, but in this weather, it’d be suicide.” I shook my head. Much as I hated to admit it, the American was right.
“There is no generator,” Jack said, emerging from the cellar with
spider webs in his hair. “Just a big-old boiler that looks like it’s from another century. I did find this though,” he said, arms laden with firewood. “At least we’ll be warm.”
“I found a huge box of candles, and these,” I smiled, shaking the box of matches I’d found in the back of a dusty cupboard. I struck a match and lit a couple of the big beeswax columns, setting them around the drawing room while Jack went to work piling the logs in the big open fireplace. I watched him work,
marvelling at how much he looked like he belonged in the big house. It was the Pembroke family seat, I supposed. Like his arrogance and good looks, it was something he’d been bred to.
“And Darcy said, let there be light,” I said, blowing out the match and handing Jack the box so he could kindle the fire. “Your mother was prepared, I’ll give her that.”
“I imagine power outages are a regular enough occurrence in a place like this. If only she’d stocked up on emergency champagne and caviar.”
“I’d settle for a strong coffee and a bag of chips. The larder’s pretty bare. Just some tea-leaves and a few dried herbs.”
I nodded. “Starving. I skipped lunch.” Nothing like seeing your ex’s wedding announcement to kill a girl’s appetite. Then there’d been the corpse on the rocks. Now though, knowing we were stranded, my body seemed to have shifted into survival mode, and I was ravenous.
“I’ve got some saltine crackers in my bag. It’s in the trunk of the car,” he said.
“You don’t have to …” But boy scout American was already out the door into the storm. I’d barely hunted a big cooking pot from the cupboard when he arrived back.
“I found this too,” he grinned, waving a bottle of red wine and tossing the little cellophane packets of crackers on the table. “Compliments of the Regency Hotel,” he explained. “The perks of a five-star establishment.”
“We’re a regular pair of castaways.”
“Not much of a feast, I’m afraid.”
“I had an idea while you were gone,” I said, holding up the empty pot.
“Is it a magic one?” he asked, quirking a stupidly handsome brow as he peered into the empty vessel.
“Thought we could do a little hunter-gathering.”
He looked at me like I was insane. “You expect to hunt game? In this weather?”
Fruits de la mer,
” I explained. “The cove beneath the house is famous for its mussels. You eat shellfish?”
“Hell yeah,” he grinned.
“I can go. I know the way down,” I said.
“You think I’d let you go down there alone? After what we found today?”
“Safety in numbers, then. We go together?”
“Together,” he agreed.
Even in full daylight and fine weather, the stone steps down to the cove were treacherous, slippery with moss and eroded by centuries of sea air. I found myself grasping onto hanks of grass, testing every step. Jack Pembroke, needless to say, navigated his way down to the sand and pebble shore like a Sherpa, and was stood at the bottom waiting for me, pot in hand. The towering cliffs either side formed a natural shelter from the wind, and the sudden stillness lent a surreal edge to the scene. The waves clapped against the sides of the little row-boat moored in the shingle beach, and in the distance, Hook Head lighthouse cast its beam over the white-tipped waves at the confluence of the Celtic and the Irish seas.
“Such a wild place,” Jack said.
“You know this is where Strongbow is said to have boasted he’d take Ireland ‘by Hook or by Crooke.’
“Yeah.” Jack smiled. “My father told me the story when I was young. You know Strongbow was the Norman Earl of Pembroke?”
“Seriously? A Pembroke, just like you. Are you related to him?”
“Probably a distant relation.” Jack smiled up at me, a charming, crooked smile. “Pembrokes can be traced back to this land for many centuries.” He’d taken off his shoes and socks and was busy rolling up the ends of his suit trousers. I couldn’t help but notice he had nice feet, clean and manly. There was something oddly intimate about watching a man in a suit bare his feet. An image of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, pulling himself sodden from the lake at Pemberley came to mind. Shaking that thought from my head, I slipped out of my leather pumps and stockings, balling them up inside one of the shoes, and carried the big pot to the rock pools where the mussels clung to the stone amongst the glistening fronds of seaweed.