Heather thinks my brother, Nathan, left to tend to a family emergency. And she continued to believe this lie until this morning when forcing me to leave the sanctuary of my bedroom. I had spent almost three weeks hauled-up in bed, ordering fast food and consuming alcohol to the point of inebriation.
According to Heather, I take the life of a solivagant and wander the halls at night, half-naked, fluffy knee-high socks and a bottle of vodka in hand.
Thank God this place has no occupants bar me.
She said I am quite the storyteller when drunk. I was amazed and on the verge of vomiting when enjoying a sugar-infused beverage with the innkeeper who enjoyed making me squirm in my seat. She knows I am an unnatural blonde and that my eyes tend to change colour, depending on what mood I am in. She concluded I am a married woman, running away from her husband to rendezvous with Nathan who’s now left me and that’s why I cry so much.
If only the intrusive woman and her theories were true. Escaping a violent husband to hide with my lover would be the least of my worries. I’d sell my soul to the devil for that existence if it meant resurrecting Summer.
Summer Williams was laid to rest last Thursday. Her tragic death captured the headlines, catalysing hundreds of mourners, all wearing black and pale pink, to gather at the church and show their respects. Five hearses brimming with floral tributes from London led the carriage, four black horses with feather plumes.
Devastatingly morose and heartbroken, I attended and watched from the sidelines, blonde hair pinned back, black sunglasses concealing my eyes. I didn’t enter the church. No one did, except for Jace and his family, Tommy and the gypsy community, who travelled from Liverpool.
Tommy and Jace huddled together under the church’s archway, their backs to newscasters. The gypsy king handled Jace’s bereavement with composed understanding and spiritual elevation.
I wasn’t privy to their heart-to-heart, not close enough to hear. I sensed Jace, at that moment, venerated Tommy, riveted by his every encouraging and assured word. They share something most blood-related families do not: dedicated adoration, resolute respect and unitised emotions. When one smiles, the other laughs. When one hurts, the other aches. When one cries, the other promises vengeance and tribulation.
Jace left with his family after Summer’s burial. I stood back—showing my face was thoughtless and inappropriately disrespectful—until only the squawking crows and drizzled smog welcomed me.
I bought pink roses from the florist and bound ribbon around the stems, nestled and weaved them between tear drop sprays, casket adornments and beautiful-shaped tributes.
It was cold, depressing and raining, but I sat beside Summer’s sleeping place, telling her stories from my childhood. Happy memories of how I used to love stuffed animals and fruit picking and the times where I helped my mother paint and craft.
I unravelled a heart-shaped dream catcher, weaving beautiful metallic bells and beads and draped it from a chrome lantern border. “My mum used to say a dreamcatcher is a protective talisman,” I’d whispered, the wind softly blowing the fine threads, clinking the chimes together. “It helps to protect us from nightmares and bad dreams.”
Leaving Summer broke my heart. I never slept that night. Benumbed, I laid alone in bed, the rain thrashing against the window. The miserable weather and dark skies magnified regret and anguish.
How can I sleep knowing she had nobody?
How can I sleep when she’s never going to wake up?
How can I sleep in a comfortable bed, while she’s out there, cold and isolated?
I showered instead. I sat on the floor, steam and warmth cascading over my head, downing enough vodka to block it all out. In the morning, I shivered from head-to-toe, body sprawled across the floor tiles, the once warm water felt like frozen shards to my ice skin.
Everything went downhill for me after that. It’s when the alcohol and concealment commenced. It’s when Heather grew anxious and concerned about my wellbeing.
One afternoon, Heather forced me to extract weeds from her garden. I was horrified. Rubber gloves to the elbows and socks to the knees, I trampled through the vibrant lawn and low shrubbery, sweat clinging to my T-shirt. I knotted the material and tucked it under my bralette, soaking up the sun’s rays, chucked my hair atop my head and listened to her sing from the kitchen.
Heather had a lovely garden, tenacious blossoms and air scented herbs, an extensive patio, glass-topped tables and cream-cushioned rattan furniture. It hardly required maintenance, so I think she was trying to keep me busy. She handed me diluted, soluble fertiliser with a stern warning not to over fertilise the basil. I didn’t trust myself, so one squirt to the aromatic plants sufficed.
“Take a shower,” she told me, shooing me from the kitchen. “You’re filthy.”
Yes, dry, crusted mud, grass stains and perspiration besmeared my body. I showered, cleaned, changed into yoga pants and a vest, returned to the kitchen and learnt how to bake.
Okay, baking isn’t my strongest suit. I handled the rolling pin, added too much water or flour, dropped utensils and ate hazelnut chocolate spread from the jar with a spoon.
Heather scolded me for that last one.
“Use the cutter, Victoria.”
I arranged star-shaped cookie cutters on the rolled out pastry—the pastry Heather salvaged after I tore it to shreds—and carefully transported uncooked sugar biscuits onto greaseproof paper. “Can I decorate them?”
“Not yet,” she said, conveying the tray to the oven. “They need to bake and cool down first.”
I sucked chocolate frosting from my fingers. “I love anything sugar.”
“I wish I had your metabolism,” she sighed, washing her hands at the sink. “I only have to look at unhealthy produce, and I gain ten pounds.”
Yeah, well, my apparent overactive thyroid needs to do one. I am desperate to gain weight. “It’s so quiet here.” I folded my arms, resting on the counter to look through the serving hatch, overlooking the communal dining room: pale blue walls, oak hardwood floors, two and four-seater wooden tables and rickety chairs adorned in porcelain plates, bamboo style placemats and bud vases for false dandelions. It has a bohemian quality with wood vigas overhead, international-inspired tapestry and Moroccan design rugs. Guests can enjoy a full-English or continental breakfast while sitting by the windows to watch the wildlife outside. “Where are the guests, Heather? This place is beautiful, yet it’s so quiet.”
She prepares white icing for the biscuits. “I, uh...” Dusting off her hands in her green apron, she set the bowl aside. “I am not open for business.”
Frowning, I slipped onto an unsteady stool next to the wooden veneered island. “Then why am I here?”
“Nathan gave a compelling argument.” She offered a fake laugh. “I couldn’t bring myself to open shop after Henry died.”
I rest my chin on my hand. “Is Henry your...?”
“Husband,” she explained, a little flustered. “He died last year—heart attack.” Her eyes welled up. “Sorry, I am acting silly.”
“No,” I whispered, laying a hand atop her curled-up one. “It’s okay to be sad, Heather. You lost someone you loved.”
“It’s supposed to get easier,” she snivelled, tucking grey tendrils around her ears. “I don’t see how. You don’t forget and move on that easily, not if losing your true love.”
Her innocuousness hit me straight in the chest. I squeezed her hand, withdrew and looked out the window. Liam claimed he loved me. He didn’t meet my eyes when he said it, though. His head buried in my neck, he expressed how he felt, promised not to take it back. Well, he doesn’t make promises, but I believed his meaningful affirmation. “Do you think you’ll ever find it in you, to seek comfort or love again?”
“Oh, no,” she strongly protested, scooping icing into a piping bag. “Not anytime soon, Victoria. In a few years, I can meet another, but, as it stands, I’d rather be alone and grieve properly.”
I gave myself an imperceptible shake of the head. Liam didn’t wait or grieve. He lost himself in the first woman to throw herself at him, or contrariwise. Yeah, the latter sounds more plausible.
“Are you alright, darling?” She palmed my cheek, wiping a loan tear with her thumb. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t,” I reassure her, wanting to kick myself. “Sorry, I don’t know what’s come over me.”
“You’re very emotional.” She put the piping bag in my hand.
Overly emotional and sentimental, I thought, icing a blob on the cooled cookie. I squinted tears away, took my frustration out on the piping bag. Glutinous white frosting squirted out the other end, snaking between my stiff fingers. I licked my knuckles, and Heather had a go at me, alleviating me from technical decorating.
I helped clean the kitchen and retreated to the bedroom. Heather settles early once caught up with the soaps. I paced the room, bored and lonely.
In the mirror, I tackled makeup, determined to master those eyeshadow palettes and foundation brushes. Satisfied by my image, I lost the yoga pants and shimmied into a mid-thigh tartan skirt and a black long-sleeved top to go with the peep-toe heels.
My brows jumped. I fussed with the waistline, impressed by the accentuated bust. I mightn’t model DD breasts, but the top worked wonders with my chest.
Curled blond hair bouncing in the wind, I stalked toward the corner bar, purse in hand. I borrowed more money from Jace’s holdall. I need to replace funds, so job hunting...How am I meant to get a job? I live in a bed-and-breakfast and possess a counterfeit identification card.
What do I say when a potential employer asks for my curriculum vitae?
How will I respond to questions regarding previous employers?
Say I am lucky enough to obtain a job, do I work incognito?
“Ah, shit,” I muttered, opening the pub door, thick cigarette smoke and permeated marijuana smacking me in the face.
I sneak between crowds of loud conversationalists and partygoers, reclaiming my spot at the bar. The comatose drunk from last time sits to my left, drowning his sorrows in a bottomless rum bottle.
Unclasping my purse, I shake loose coins, pay the expressionless, unfriendly barman for two vodka shots and consider options.
I might leave London. There’s nothing left for me here. I mean, Chloe’s out there somewhere, but I’m not ready to face her, not after everything that’s transpired. And Grayson, he’d welcome me with open arms and offer to put a roof over my head, but it’s all too close to Liam. I struggled to live with that man, and I struggle to live without him. Plus, he’d never forgive me for running away. Well, I didn’t run away. Jace snatched me. I didn’t return, though. I journeyed ahead without everyone, and that’s an unforgivable act.
“Why do you talk to yourself?” a familiar, deep voice asked.
I died once more. “I do that sometimes,” I groaned into my shot glass, tilting my head back to down impending toilet vomiting and a pounding hangover.
The nameless man with beguiling blue eyes joined me. He sat on a stool, nursing a Norlan glass. It’s warm, spice-infused aroma drifted between us, and I closed my eyes, remembering how it tasted on my lips. I am not a fan of whiskey, but it reminds me of Liam. His soft lips to mine, a night of Macallan on his tongue. Nostalgia refused to leave my subconscious mind. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to forget that man. He’s ingrained on my heart, an all-consuming love.
And I hate it.
“Back to the cheap stuff, I see.” He lifted a shot glass to his nose, inhaling and spurning.
I rolled my eyes. “Not everyone can afford the best of the best.” I side-eyed him. “Unlike some mysterious person.”
He laughed, raspy. “You think I’m mysterious?”
“You will remain a mystery until I know your name.”
“I don’t recall you asking, Angel.”
He’s right. I didn’t. “Well, what’s your name?”
“John Smith,” he lied, his eyes daring me to call him out on it.
“John Smith.” I punctuated his false name. “Again, Mr Smith, why is a man like yourself entertaining a squalid dive bar?”
His suit-clad forearm touched my arm on the bar top, staying there, too close, yet It didn’t rustle any embarrassing flushes or panicked breathing. “Does that same question apply for yourself? You are far too magnificent to be sitting alone, drinking cheap spirits and surrounding yourself with middle-aged alcoholics.”
The habitually drunk man to my left scoffed.
My eyes rounded. “He heard you,” I whisper-shout, and Mr Smith bestowed an unfazed smirk. “God, you’re impossible.”
The barman slid an unopened bottle of Grey Goose across the bar, oddly taking care of the man who doesn’t seem to pay for anything in here. “You have beautiful eyes,” Mr Smith said, pouring vodka into fresh glasses. “What colour are they?”
I bent a brow. “Blue.” Is he blind? “Cornflower blue?”
“Blue?” he repeated, though, it sounded like a question. “You should assess a colour chart, Angel. Brown and green define hazel, in my opinion.”
Fuck. I neglected the contact lenses. “If you knew my eyes were hazel, why ask the question?”
He shrugged. It was an insouciant or noncommittal gesture. It had me wondering if he’d known I bore blue eyes before and his seemingly innocent question was a test.
The absurdities of my thought process were comical. Mr Smith isn’t testing me. He doesn’t even know you, so quit looking for malicious falsehood and fault-finding, Alexa. He’s harmless—very perceptive and astute—but harmless, nonetheless.
His phone beeped, and he checked a message. “I must leave.” He sounded deflated. “Another time, Angel.”
I watched him disappear into the crowd. He left the vodka in my possession, but I can’t afford the asking price, not for high-priced alcohol; it’s wasteful. “Excuse me?” I called the barman. “I’m ready to leave, and that gentleman left the Grey Goose...Is the bill on me?”
Stomping to the cash register in his heavy-duty boots, he snatched a napkin, wiped the bottleneck, screwed the lid, tight, nudged it across. “It’s yours.”
I cupped my face. “I can’t afford—”
“Mr Smith,” he emphasised, and I took note of his sarcasm, “paid in full. It belongs to you. Take it and chunder for all I care.”
Shit, he’s so rude and miserable and downright grouchy. “I didn’t see him make a payment.”
He blinked, drumming his fingers on the counter.
I chewed my lower lip. “No problem.” Tucking the bottle in the nook of my arm, I stepped down from the stool, clutch in hand. “Thank you for such wonderful service.”
He blew out an agitated sigh, grey moustache bristling under his hairy nostrils.
I give him a flat smile and exit the bar with caution. His rudeness confused me. I don’t know how I managed to rub him up the wrong way, or why I care.
It’s dark outside, cold yet tolerable. I lingered, gaze flicking from one end of the street to the other. I had no concept of where to go. I lack a wingman, so roaming London alone at night wasn’t a wise decision. I didn’t fancy barricading myself at the bed-and-breakfast. Without Jace to keep me company, those impounding four walls are unbearable, depressing and tedious.
“Addison Lee?” the bouncer asked, and I nod. “Rank across the road.”
I stepped off the curbside, checked for oncoming vehicles and beelined the taxi. I ducked into the backseat, asked the driver to venture and found myself landing at Club 11.
The club burst at the seams, a mile-long queue, loud club music and unapproachable Suits. I thanked the driver, paid the fare and closed the door behind me.
I don’t wait in line with customers. As a bizarre alternative, I put my back to the wall, keeping a fortress of passing vehicles and roads between us.
Unrefined and tasteless, I swigged vodka, mentally battling the urge to go inside and expose myself. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? My appearance might render Liam speechless, which doesn’t hurt; the man doesn’t experience stupefaction often. He’ll freeze me from chastisement and break my heart further with his uncontrollable tongue and spiteful resentment. But he’ll know I am alive and it’s his choice whether to toss me onto the sidewalk.
Who knows? Liam could wrap me in his arms and warn me never to leave his side again. He’ll want answers—no, he’ll demand answers. No, I can’t risk Jace, not after all he’s suffered.
I sacrificed my relationship with Liam the second I agreed to help Jace. It’s unfair, but that’s life. You don’t always get what you want, and it’s not for being undeserving. It’s an ephemeral compromise until fate decides the longevity of our unforeseeable future.
By the time I finished the vodka and wallowing in self-pity, I saw double and the wall imprinted grooves to my back. I left the bottle on the floor, licked my dry lips and zigzagged across the road. There is an endless line of takeaways in the next street.
I deliberated between beef noodles and fried rice, gaited past the alleyway and overheard raised voices. I’d recognise his lack of forbearance and belligerence anywhere. That hot-tempered man should concern me, but his dictatorial aggressiveness has a paradoxical effect on the lovesick fool over here.
Coming to an abrupt stop, I eased my shoulders back, snooping down the dark, mist radiating alley. Near the fire exit door, Liam, unmonitored by his security detail, argues with a woman. Hellen, I bet. I crept to the wall, balanced on the balls of my feet and skulk behind the communal bins, which smell horrendous. I puffed out my cheeks, held my breath and, uninvited, welcomed myself into their disagreement. And I smiled because a childish, fraction of me relished the idea of him insulting her.
“I don’t need to justify myself to you,” Liam spat, and I picked my fingernails, listening. “It’s irrational, Kellie. You don’t show up at my office and lay down the law—”
“You don’t answer my calls,” she fired back, her high-heeled shoes scraping on the floor. “You do not respond to my messages, Warren. What choice did I have?”
Okay, who is Kellie? I thought he was seeing a woman named Hellen, or did I get that wrong?
I fumed. That womanising asshole is playing the field.
Why am I not surprised? And why am I torturing myself? I don’t need to witness their lovers quarrel.
“We’re not doing this anymore,” he vowed. I narrowed my eyes, sharpening his silhouette, a more precise visual. “I already told you that I’m with someone else—”
“I’m pregnant,” she snapped.
Snatching in a choked breath, I fell onto my backside and smashed my head on the wall. Stifling a wince, I touched the burning sensation rising behind my ear, unstoppable tears flooding my eyes.
Well, that sobered me right up.
An eerie silence settled over them. I didn’t look, but I continued to eavesdrop, awaiting his response.
How can Liam be so reckless and irresponsible? He never took me to bed without protection, not until I assured him of contraception, so why is she any different?
“Desperate,” he snarled, but there’s a touch of concern and uncertainty in his voice. “Is that what you’ve succumbed to, fabricating a pregnancy to try and mislead me? Do I look fucking stupid to you? I never, ever, fucked you without a condom, so don’t stand there and ram responsibilities down my goddamn throat. If you’re knocked-up? It’s got nothing to do with me.”
“Oh, you think I’m lying?” she argued, and my heart couldn’t take it. “That’s fine, Warren—storm inside and ignore the problem. I’ll be seeing your sorry ass in court in nine months for child support!” Upon his haste departure, the fire door slammed, sending a loud echo down the alley. “You’re a coward, Warren! I fucking hate you!”
Likewise, I thought, dabbing warm tears from my cheeks.
“The good for nothing,” she mumbled, and I raised my head, watching her storm ahead.
I followed in her footsteps. It’s weird, but I had to get a close image of her. She’s tall, shorter than me, but tall, and has a killer physique. How insufferable and taunting for me, I scoffed, purse bending in my iron grip.
My spine straightened, and I thought she’d cottoned on to my prowling until light sifted between her fingers as she tapped a phone with furious thumbs. “The police,” she said, sprouting fine hairs to the back of my neck. “I would like to report a crime. His name is Liam Warren.”
My jaw hit the floor. Oh, I don’t think so, bitch. I might really, really, loathe that man right now, but I will not stand back and let this opportunist ruin his life because she didn’t get her wicked way with him.
“It isn’t hard. Look him up on the system,” she barked, and I crept up behind her. “He is a renowned criminal and drugs come hand-in-hand—I’m not talking about some lousy dope,” she prattled over the communication division. “Take it however you want. I am telling you that if you raid his office in the next twenty minutes, you will uncover imported cocaine—three tons to be exact. Listen,” she sighed, raising a frustrated hand. “I am not going back and forth all night. I gave you a big tipoff. Act or don’t. But those criminals will distribute tonight.”
Ending the call, she thrust a hand through her brown hair.
I put Jace’s Colt to the nape of her neck, and she bristled, horripilation clambering her skin. “You shouldn’t have done that,” I said fiercely, and her body slowly twisted to face me. “I got nothing to lose, Kellie, so ending your life is too tempting.”
“Listen, lady.” Her jutted eyes twitched, hands raising in surrender. “I don’t know who you are or how I offended you—”
“You offended me when you came after the man I love.” Without a seconds thought, I lowered the gun to her chest and pulled the trigger.
The bullet zipped through her chest and, on impact, her body thumped to the ground. I stole her phone, ignoring her whimpering pleas and hitched, gargled breaths, and dialled Liam’s number.
“I’m filing a restraining order,” Liam answered, and I shut my eyes to listen to his rough voice. “If that doesn’t work...?” He’s not stupid enough to threaten her over the phone, not when she can record and use it as evidence against him.
My eyelashes fluttered open. “You have less than ten minutes to hide everything before the police raid the club,” I whispered, working on a strained swallow. “Kellie’s bleeding to death. She’ll die soon, but if someone finds her, there is a chance of survival. I don’t know what you intend to do about that.”
His muteness concerned me. I laid on a thick voice, so he didn’t put two-and-two together, but an enthusiastic response for the advance warning wouldn’t go amiss.
Isn’t he going to acknowledge the fact I killed pregnant Kellie?
Oh, God! I killed a pregnant woman.
“Vick,” I lied.
“Victoria,” he altered, which is such a conceited thing for Liam to do. “I don’t expect anyone to clear up my mess, least of all a beautiful woman.”
I spotted the rotating camera on the wall and smiled. “You can’t see if I’m decent on the eye from that angle.” His quietness only accelerated my thumping heartbeat. “Nice try, though.”
“Leave the gun,” he ordered, and I shook my head. “You don’t want the law catching you with a weapon, Victoria. Let me handle it for you.”
“No.” Law enforcement cannot track down a dead person. “You’re running out of time.”
“I can spare five minutes to listen to your voice.”
I frowned, back sinking to the wall.
We listened to the sound of each other’s quiet breathing. I missed him, too much than I cared to admit. He’s a stone throw away from me. Revealing myself and confessing—
Kellie inhaled her final breath, blood pooling underneath her body, handbag contents scattered on the floor. She’s pretty, striking brown eyes and defined cheekbones: long, glossy hair and full, thick lips.
What type of awful person have I become?
Sickness overcame me. I killed her, for him, for a man who impregnated another woman—stop judging him, I inwardly told myself. Yes, it hurts that he’s invested with women who aren’t me, but our relationship ended. It’s over—we are over. It’s unjust to hold his compulsive philandering against him.
I can’t see past it, though. His careless, unsympathetic behaviour demonstrates our predictable failure, irrelevant to my demise. I can virtually see it. He’d get bored of me and seek pleasure elsewhere and regard me with arrogant contempt. I’d be nothing. I’d be another Kellie, or Hellen, or whoever else occupies him.
Although tragic and sad, I made the right choice, leaving this world behind. I don’t have Kathy, Chloe, Jace, or Liam to hold my hand anymore. I am sick of living in peoples shadows and relying on them to preserve my sanity. No, I am a strong-minded, empowered, independent woman. It’s time I showed the world the precision of my capabilities. Moral righteousness can go straight to the dungeons of hell.
I end the call. “Goodbye, Mr Warren.” Rigged with a pang of conscience and impossible heartbreak, I shoved the Colt in my purse and ran away before the army of Suits and emergency vehicles arrived.
I hate how much I love that man.