Alice closed her eyes, crossed her arms over her abdomen and waited for the spasm to fade. Her back ached, her stomach ached, her legs ached, her head ached. She was three days late.
What on earth was the matter with her? She’d never been late in her life. Textbook regular, had been since the very first. And there was absolutely no reason. She wasn’t ill. She wasn’t run down. She wasn’t under any stress.
A face filled her mind and she snapped open her eyes so as not to see it, but the scarred cheek and staring eyes followed her into the lamplight. For several seconds the dismembered head hung in the night air before dissolving away, to be replaced by a trail of willow fronds and the brick paving of the courtyard.
Alice fixed her gaze on the porch light above the yellow door in front of her, willing her heartbeat to slow. The stillness of the night crowded in as if the darkness were solid planes, and the distances, and the unnatural neon lighting, were no more than illusions in an ebony mirror. She refused to look left or right in case she caught a fleeting glimpse of something she preferred to believe did not exist.
It couldn’t be. Not again.
Yet, it could explain so much.
A pain zig-zagged through her abdomen and wrapped itself around her kidneys. She gasped aloud, hugging herself once more, holding her breath until the cramp eased.
His face swam before her pale and cold. Alice tried to block it out. It was almost as if she were calling him to her.
The activity holiday had been part reward, part gift for her thirteenth birthday. She hadn’t wanted to go, not wanted to leave the house and the Clarksons, but her parents had insisted, as they always did.
She’d seen Andrew that first afternoon, across the tumult in the reception area. His smile had been so warm and full of joy. They’d been teamed together for many of the activities that week. He’d explained the rules of badminton and she’d shown him how to read a map for the orienteering. She’d kept close when his gelding had tried to throw him. He’d insisted on partnering her in the canoe.
The dreams... It had been him in the dreams. The wind, the water lapping against the shore, the overpowering scent of that woman who had hugged her and hugged her until she feared she would never breathe again.
I mustn’t think of him, I mustn’t.
His arm was reaching out for her, his fingers, open and grasping, trying to tangle in her hair. But the hand was too broad, the knuckles skinned. Her gaze ran along the extended arm, across the shoulder. Even before she reached the scarred face she knew it was not Andrew but Nicholas Blaketon.
The splash sounded loud in the still air and Alice lowered her hands to look about her. Despite the lighting, the courtyard was edged with shadows, some surprisingly faint, others impenetrable. She could see no one, but that didn’t mean no one was there, that he wasn’t there. She’d felt his stare in the seminar room. Again in the library. There was no denying it now, no brushing the intuition aside as mere coincidence. If there was one thing her life had taught her, there was no such thing as coincidence.