ROMANCE IN FRANCE

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Chapter 18

Pup lifted his head high and listened attentively his ears pricked up on high alert. For the last few days, Mark had walked him around the house, checking all the doors and windows each night before they retired. He knew something was different, the constant watchfulness of the people he loved had heightened his senses, leaving him with an increased feeling of awareness.

Jemma lay fast asleep in the bed unaware of any danger. He leapt from the bed, landing softly on all fours and crossed the room to the door. His nose inched the door open and he sniffed deeply. A strange; unfamiliar smell invaded his nostrils.

Pushing his nose through the door, he followed with his body, padding softly along the landing his feet feather-like. Following the faint sound of scuffling noises, and the strange drift of perfume, that had alerted his senses. Past Alice’s room he padded, as quietly as a mouse to the top of the stairs, his nose following the strange scent. At the top of the stairs, he stopped and stuck his head around the corner. A pitch-black shadow crept silently up the stairs, clinging fast to the banister rail. The hairs rose on his back, standing up stiff, from the top of his head to his tail as if he were a porcupine. He uttered a tiny growl, which came deep from within his chest, forcing itself out of his throat.

Sonya heard the noise and stood still as a statue. ‘What was that?’ Fear of being caught, filled her mind with imaginary thoughts and she stood alertly, staring into the inky darkness. She nearly turned the torch on that she held in her hand, but resisted the temptation. No, she knew where Alice’s room was. If she switched the torch on it might awaken her when she entered the room. She needed her to stay asleep until she was out of the house. It would give her a better chance of escape. She nearly laughed aloud to herself, when she thought about what their faces would look like, when they discovered Alice, missing in the morning.’

Then swiftly she pulled herself together, concentrating hard on the task in front of her. ‘Had she heard a noise, there it was again could it be someone snoring?’ She heard the noise again and sidled further up the stairs, reaching the corner. Only a few more steps and she would be in Alice’s room; her excitement mounted as she reached the top. Her hand left the banister and she reached out for the corner of the wall one leg raised high to turn the corner.

‘Grrr!’ Snap! Pup’s teeth sank into her ankle as she placed it on the top step, the sharp teeth cutting through the tender skin and cloth drawing blood.

The pain was excruciating, she wanted to scream. Clamping down on her lip with her teeth, she lashed out desperately with her other foot, trying unsuccessfully to fend the dog off. With one foot kicking at the dog she strove hopelessly to reach for the corner of the wall with her hands and letting the torch drop from her fingers, in a vain effort to catch hold of the wall or the banister rail. Her gloved fingers slipped, sliding on the shiny surface, refusing to grip.

As she managed to place her other foot down on the top step, Pup ran between her legs, too quick for her; he snapped again at her other ankle and dashed between her legs again. Running around her twisting body, up then down the top two steps he ran, wildly in ever decreasing dizzying circles. Trying hard to get another nip at her ankles, upsetting her equilibrium altogether, as all the while he barked madly. Missing the wall with her outstretched hands, she experienced a feeling of genuine terror. It filled her mind as she felt herself falling, hurtling backward space all around her, her legs and arms flailing out despairingly, desperately as she tried to stop the speed of her momentum. She screamed one long loud piercing scream of pure terror as she fell.

Carl climbed into the car, the engine kicked into life and he backed out of the garage. All his instincts told him she was headed for the vineyard and although he was anxious he followed at a leisurely pace keeping plenty of space between them. He approached Coggin Hill anxiously; wanting to make sure she was approaching the vineyard, but hoping not to attract her attention with his headlights. When her car picked up speed and headed for the corner he slowed down, letting her get ahead. As he rounded the bend the headlights of another car caught up with him dazzling him through the mirror. He kept going steadily, his mind concentrating on what he was doing, staying far enough away not to draw her suspicions. He knew exactly how fast he could turn into the drive and swished into the drive expertly, the car behind hardly slowing in pace at all, swept past, and then pulled up sharply turning and coming up the drive as Carl entered the kitchen door.

The police car pulled up outside, erupting police officers. The police officers followed on his heels and as he opened the hall door they all heard the terrible scream and a heavy thud. Three of them coming to a dead stop, at the sight of the black clad figure, sprawled out in disarray at the bottom of the stairs.

Lights came on all over, illuminating the house. He stared round at the police officers as they passed him, one taking a phone out of his pocket, the other kneeling down to place his fingertips on Sonya’s throat.

The scream Carl heard as he came through the kitchen door awoke everyone in the house.

Pup darted down the stairs like a flash of lightening, and began running backwards and forwards at the side of Sonya’s body. Furiously barking his head off at the body strewn across the floor and wagging his tail enthusiastically

Three scared sleepy looking faces, stared down over the banister rail, their hair mussed, eyes wide staring incredulously at the figure sprawled out across the hall floor, and the two police officers that stood alongside Carl.

‘Carl?’ Mark said the question was evident in his voice.

Carl turned his head slowly, as if he was in a dream, and stared up at his brother, his face was haggard. ‘It’s Sonya!’ his voice was hoarse, hardly recognisable.

‘My God! is she dead?’ Mark asked, as he came running down the stairs.

‘No,’ said the officer who knelt at her side feeling the pulse at her neck.

‘She’s still breathing.’

The other officer was on the phone, calling for an ambulance. Jemma threw a blanket down over the stair rail and ran back to Alice’s room, where Abbey was trying to quiet her. Continuing down the stairs, Mark picked the blanket up. Then he knelt down at the side of Sonya, to cover her with the blanket.

Sonya’s body lay in a queer position with one leg folded up under her body and her arms spread-eagled. She lay dressed from head to foot in black skin tight garments, appearing in the dim light of the hallway, as if she were an apparition a black shadow. Her head the long dark hair covered by a black hood lay to one side, the face cold, a blue white marble; blood thick dark red slowly trickled from the corner of her pale mouth.

The police officer spoke up quickly. ‘Don’t touch her sir!’ then placed his hands around his neck in a meaningful gesture as he nodded towards Sonya. He then bent down, as he saw Sonya stir slightly, and watched in solemn silence as she opened her eyes.

The police officer listened closely as she spoke, staring straight into Mark’s sorrowful gaze. She leered up at him, her face twisting grotesquely. ‘Damn dog!’ she spat, then closed the bright blue eyes for the last time with a big sigh. The police officer knelt down again to feel her pulse as they heard the ambulance pull up outside. Standing up, he looked at Mark and shook his head sadly.

Mark stood back, as the ambulance men carried her body away. Watching his brother as the two police officers motioned him to one side. Carl turned, to look at his brother gravely, before he left the house with the police officers at his side.

Mark closed the doors as everyone left the house. Picking Pup up, he carried him upstairs to Alice’s room where the girls stood either side of Alice’s cot, tears streaming down their faces. Alice lay quietly, sleeping again, her face a picture of sweetness and innocence. He handed Pup to Jemma, and pulling them both to him he led them out of the room.

The three made their way down stairs to the kitchen and Jemma put the kettle on while Abbey fetched the cups, and Mark sat silently staring into space at the table.

Bending down he scooped Pup up off the floor, putting him on his knee he began to stroke his head absent-mindedly, while he stared into space. Abbey and Jemma joined him at the table with the cups of tea, and Mark came back to earth.

‘You’re a clever dog Pup.’ He said, continuing to stroke Pup’s head, his brown eyes solemn, ‘I don’t know what we would have done, if you and Pup, hadn’t come to live here Jemma, that’s twice he’s stopped terrible tragedies happening.’

Jemma sat quietly her hands wrapped around the cup, staring at Pup sat on Mark’s knee. She didn’t know what to say she felt stunned, unable yet to come to terms with what had just happened.

Abbey also sat in stunned silence, because the unearthly scream that had issued from Sonya’s throat had awakened her to a feeling of absolute terror. Mark in whose arms she had lain had come instantly awake. Jumping from the bed and racing out to the landing as he heard Pup barking and the thud of Sonya’s body landing in the hall, he’d switched the lights on. Abbey and Jemma had joined him at the landing rail, as Carl and the police officers following him walked into the hallway.

The sight of the body had mesmerised them all when Alice began screaming. Jemma and Abbey ran back along the landing to see to her, Abbey reaching her first. Jemma had collected a blanket and run back to the top of the stairs to throw it over the rail, then ran back to help Abbey with Alice.

They all sat in complete silence watching Mark stroke Pup’s head until Mark broke the spell. Lifting his cup of tea and taking a drink he looked at the two girls. ‘She came to kidnap Alice, I think’ and the tears began to roll down his face.

Jemma took Pup off his knee and Abbey wrapped her arms around him. A little while later Mark sat up, gave Abbey a watery smile and excusing himself he walked across to the sink to rinse his face.

He came back and sat down giving Abbey a kiss. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to break down love, its not that I felt anything for her any more. She killed all the feelings I ever had for her, I think it was more from relief that it’s all over now, and she didn’t get Alice.’ He gave the girls a sympathetic smile and they nodded their approval.

‘I wonder what Carl was doing here, and why the police followed him in?’ he said looking at the girls.

Both of them shook their heads staring back silently at Mark.

They all turned to stare at the door as it opened and Carl walked in.

Jemma gave him a radiant smile, but he returned her smile with a withering look, and nodding his head at Mark he waved his hand towards the office. Jemma stood up and collected the pots, taking them to the sink, trying to hide her trembling lips and the tears threatening to run down her face.

Abbey had caught the interchange of looks and felt deeply hurt for her friend. She gathered her into her arms and Jemma sobbed on her shoulder. ‘Ssh Jemma I don’t know what’s going on in his head, but I’m sure eventually it will sort itself out.’

Mark followed Carl into the office puzzled by the exchange he had seen between Jemma and Carl. He knew Jemma thought the world of Carl and he was sure that Carl liked Jemma a lot.

‘Why did you give Jemma, such a dirty look Carl? Where have you been? Do you know what’s been going on? If it hadn’t been for Pup, Sonya, would have kidnapped Alice, tonight, I’m sure she would.’ Mark’s annoyance with Carl spread plainly across his face. ‘We haven’t seen hide or hair of you for weeks, and if it hadn’t been for Jemma’s, help, we would probably be in a terrible mess.’

Carl hung his jacket on the back of the chair and sat down with a thump.

‘We might not be in a mess at all if it hadn’t been for Jemma,’ he sneered at his brother. ‘It could be Jemma’s, fault, that we’ve had all this trouble,’ he said staring angrily into Mark’s surprised face.

‘Are you going out of your mind Carl,’ Mark said, his voice anguished. ‘I think you might need to see a psychiatrist.’ His eyes took in his brother’s appearance worriedly.

‘You were the one that married that bitch so maybe you; need the psychiatrist,’ said Carl, biting back angrily at his brother.

Mark stared at his brother what was eating him, Mark knew Jemma had nothing to do with it ’Carl; where have you been living? He asked giving him a worried look ‘you look as if you’ve been sleeping rough;’ he stared hard at his brother concern showing on his features as he assessed him.

He looked appalling, his hair was dirty and greasy, and he hadn’t shaved for two or three days. His body looked emaciated and his eyes had deep black rings under them. He appeared positively ill, had the police interrogated him when he went away with them.

‘What did the police say when they took you away Carl? They didn’t treat you badly did they? You were only away an hour or so, surely they didn’t think you had anything to do with her accident,’ Mark enquired of his brother. Staring at his brother perplexed at his aggressive attitude.

’No, the police had followed me along the road after I hit Coggin Hill, and when I turned up our drive the way I did they followed. They were standing on my heels, as you know. I explained that I had her under surveillance, and took them to the house, showing them the video I had taken. Mark was listening keenly. Carl narrowed his eyes and looked at his brother. He was a far cry from the total wreck he had been after the accident, would he believe him. It was driving him, crazy. They had been through a lot these last few years. He could hardly believe it himself, was Jemma in on the plans with Sonya?

Mark grabbed his brothers’ hands across the desk.

‘Come on Carl! Something’s tearing you apart. Let go! Spit it out, for Gods sake Carl, let me help you?’

Carl told mark the whole story, everything that had happened over the last few weeks. How he’d rented the house and watched Sonya constantly, staying awake till three and four o’clock in the morning, hardly getting any sleep. How he could hardly believe his eyes, the first time he’d seen her walk. Following her whenever she left the house even relating the fact he had caught her dancing naked, had taken video’s of the proceedings. Then as he came to the last bit, he broke down, his head in his hands mumbling. ‘Jemma was in the village Mark. I saw her, through the mirror in the car. She was pushing Alice in the pushchair, across the road, towards the cafe where Michael, sat. They were planning it between them.’

Then, he collapsed onto the desk exhausted. Mark realised then that he was right; Carl loved Jemma, although Carl didn’t want to admit it, because things had become so twisted in his mind.

‘Its all right Carl, Jemma, wasn’t in with them at all. Listen to me please. She came back here, that day you’re talking about. I have never seen anyone so angry,’ and he paused and gave an affectionate laugh. ‘You would have been proud of her, Carl.’ He smiled at Carl as he remembered how magnificent she had appeared in her fury at Sonya and Michael. ‘Her green eyes were sparkling like diamonds and you know how her hair is usually in that smooth bob she has it cut in, well I’m sure it looked like it stood on end. She was so angry I thought she would burst, I don’t envy the guy who marries her,’ he said giving Carl a sidelong glance. She’ll give him a right run around I reckon.’

Carl looked up, interested now, waiting impatiently for Mark to carry on. ‘What did she say Mark?’ his eyes searched his brothers face hopefully.

’She came back here and stormed into the office like a whirlwind. I could see from her demeanour how terribly upset she was and he’d set her a chair in front of the desk, telling her to sit down and calm down.

Well, she rattled the words out so quickly at first, I didn’t catch the drift of what she said, and then it sort of hit me. She told me that Sonya, was planning something, but she didn’t know what. She’d caught her and Michael, talking at the cafe. Found out that he was her half brother, and Sonya, apparently wanted him to drive her around. Michael told Jemma he wasn’t having any part of whatever she was up to. He told her that he couldn’t tell her what Sonya, was up to, she wouldn’t explain it to him in any detail, but Michael, had told Jemma, all he could. Jemma came back here in a right rage I can tell you. I phoned the police, and they said they would ask the patrol car to do an extra circuit and keep a close eye on things. I guess we were lucky. They came at the right time. Now we know just about everything we can hope to, I suppose. I reckon Sonya, was trying to kidnap Alice.’ He shrugged eloquently, ‘lucky for us Pup, stopped her.’

Carl felt such a fool, how he could have possibly thought Jemma was in on it. He pulled himself up from the desk. ‘I need a shower, and some sleep,’ he mumbled miserably and walked dejectedly out of the office.

Mark watched him walk away, he didn’t know what else he could do to help him, and he would probably have to work the rest out himself. He returned to the kitchen, Yvette had arrived and he asked if she would watch Alice for a while, he needed the girls in the office. Abbey and Jemma followed him back into the office, and he explained what had happened, omitting the naked dancing and the last bit where Carl had suspected Jemma.

Jemma said ‘I had misgivings the day she came here; I thought she was lying saying she couldn’t walk.’ They both looked at her.

’Why!’ asked Mark, looking at her dumbfounded.

’You know the day she came to the house, and told you to tell me to [remove that filthy creature.]’

’Yes,’ said Mark.

’Just before you and Carl walked in, Pup, snarled at her and I’m practically sure she kicked her leg out at him, but it happened so fast. She covered her leg up pretty quick with the blanket. You probably didn’t notice, but I think Pup, knew she wasn’t trustworthy from the start.’

’I don’t suppose that any of us, will ever know exactly what she was really up to, I’ll never be able to thank you and Pup enough,’ said Mark.

’I hope life works out as good for you Jemma, as it has for Abbey, and I.

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