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Authors: Elizabeth Moss

Don't Hurt Me

BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
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DON’T HURT ME

Elizabeth Moss

Copyright @ Elizabeth Moss 2015

 

All rights reserved.

 

Elizabeth Moss has asserted her right under Section 77 of
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of
this work.

 

No part of this book can be reproduced in part or in whole
or transferred by any means without the express written permission of the
author.

 

Previously published in a shorter version as JULIA IN LOVE
by Melody Campion, this is a contemporary romance.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a work of
fiction. Any names of places or characters are the products of the author’s
imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, places or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.

CHAPTER ONE

 

‘Look, Julia,
you can’t afford to turn down
The Wounded
Tiger
. Everything this man writes shoots straight to the top of the bestseller
lists. You might never get such a fantastic opportunity again,’ Richard had
told her on the phone, his voice excited. ‘I know what you’ve heard about him,
but forget all that. Marshall’s not a complete ogre. He’s a perfectionist,
that’s all. You’ll enjoy illustrating his work.’

  
Suitcase in hand, Julia stood alone
on the country platform as the London train pulled slowly away from Bodmin
Parkway and dwindled into the distance. The other passengers strode
purposefully past the exit and into the station car park, some with briefcases
and others with armfuls of bags bulging with purchases, each no doubt heading
back to the warmth of their homes. Her feet tired, Julia watched them with envy
and wished she too could be on her way home.

  
Not for the first time, she hoped
her agent was right about this opportunity.

  
Though it was too late now to
wonder whether she was doing the right thing, delaying her other contracts as
an illustrator to come down here for a writer as unpredictable as Owen
Marshall. Twenty minutes later, after a journey through winding country lanes
closed in by steep grass-covered banks, her taxi roared up onto the moors where
the wind buffeted them sideways like a giant hand. Exhausted by her journey,
she only jerked awake when the taxi came to a halt in the driving rain.

  
‘This is it, miss,’ the driver said
in a thick Cornish accent, pointing to a pair of wrought-iron gates barring the
lane ahead. ‘Moor’s Peak. Beyond those big gates. We never go up the drive
though. You’ll have to walk the rest of the way, I’m afraid.’

  
‘Walk?’ she repeated in dismay,
staring out at the dark rain. ‘In this weather?’

  
‘It’s not far. Less than half a
mile, I reckon. Just keep to the path and you’ll be right as rain.’

  
‘I’m sure,’ she muttered.

  
Not wishing to appear flustered by
her predicament, Julia silently handed over the sum of money he had requested,
then took her suitcase and climbed reluctantly out of his warm cab into the freezing
November evening. Her heels sank immediately into the water-logged ground and
she exclaimed in horror, stepping backwards until she had located some solid
ground where she could put down her case and look around.

  
So this was where the legendary Owen
Marshall lived, so high on the moors above Bodmin that even the grass here
seemed to grow wiry and stunted by the wind. No wonder the landscapes of his
children’s novels were always so grim and menacing, she thought, staring over
her shoulder at a low mist rolling steadily across the bare moorland. This was
the reality he saw whenever he glanced up from his writing.

  
Her jacket flapping against her
chest in the wind, Julia watched the taxi driver turn his cab around and
disappear back into the wind-swept darkness towards Bodmin, his headlights the
only source of illumination for miles. The sky overhead was black with scudding
clouds and few stars. She was now stranded high on the moor without even a moon
to guide her. Teeth gritted, Julia turned towards the iron gates and fumbled to
open them. She could feel her temper rising as her wet fingers slipped
painfully on the metal catch. Why on earth did he have to live in the middle of
nowhere?

  
The dampness from her sodden shoes
was now spreading slowly up her ankles and ruining her tights. If she had known
what was in store for her, she would have worn jeans and boots instead of this
knee-length skirt and flimsy blouse. Staring ahead through a thick curtain of
rain, she could see that the gravelly path led out of sight past an ancient row
of gnarled and sinister-looking trees. Not far now, Julia thought wearily,
swopping her suitcase from one aching hand to the other as she trudged along
the path. The house must lie beyond those trees.

  
Sure enough, almost as soon as she
had passed the windbreak of trees, the roofs and turrets of a vast mansion swam
up out of the darkness ahead. Yet there were no visible lights at any of the
windows and the drive was empty of cars.

  
Perhaps she had got her dates mixed
up, Julia thought, frowning at the possibility. If that were the case, Owen
Marshall might not even be here to let her in. Undeterred, she rang the door
bell and took a few steps back, staring up at the dark house through the steady
downpour. She had arrived at Moor’s Peak now and there was no chance of getting
back to Bodmin tonight anyway. Except on foot, she reminded herself wryly.

  
There was no obvious response to
the sound of the door bell. No sound of movement from within the house and no
lights to be seen anywhere. A mass of ivy clung to the walls almost up to the
roof and many of the windows on the first floor appeared to be shuttered, as
though the house had been empty for years.

  
For a brief moment, Julia thought
she could see a tiny pale face looking down at her from one of the attic rooms,
but when she looked more carefully, the face had disappeared and the window was
empty. Nothing but shadows playing tricks on her nerves, she told herself
firmly, trying not to let the gloomy atmosphere get to her.

  
Though it was no surprise she was
feeling jumpy, stranded out here in the rain and the wilderness. Moor’s Peak
was a forbidding place, especially at this time of the evening.
 

  
‘Hello?’ she called, though her
voice seemed to be flung away by the wind. She rang the door bell again and
even tried the heavy iron knocker, listening to its echoes booming through what
sounded like long empty hallways hidden behind the front door. ‘It’s Julia
Summers ... I’m expected. Can anybody hear me?’

  
It seemed like an eternity later
when she finally heard the tread of footsteps along a corridor and then the
door bolts being released, one by one, so that the heavy iron-studded door
swung open at last. Julia stared upwards, half blinded by the rain, at the man
who stood framed in the great doorway.

  
He seemed threateningly tall, broad
shouldered and holding up a hurricane lamp which threw strange shadows across
the front steps. There was a forbidding frown on his face as he scrutinised her
rain drenched figure. This had to be Owen Marshall himself. She had seen his
photograph before but his actual physical presence was so forceful, it left her
momentarily speechless. When he spoke, his voice was brusque but not entirely
unfriendly.

  
‘Yes, what do you want?’ he
demanded.

  
He made an impatient noise under
his breath and raised the glass lamp even further. His gaze raked over her face
and sodden chestnut hair, then dropped to the suitcase still clutched in her
hand.

  
‘Has your car broken down?’ he
asked. ‘Bloody stupid to be out on the moors alone in this weather.’

  
‘I wasn’t – ’

  
Brows twitching into a frown, Owen
Marshall interrupted her with an abrupt gesture to follow him inside.

  
‘I’m not sure how I can help you. The
electricity’s down so the phone isn’t working. There’s no signal up here for a
mobile either, so you can forget about that too.’ When she did not speak, he
made a rough noise under his breath. ‘You can dry off in the kitchen if you
like, but hurry up. I haven’t got all day.’

  
She stared, amazed by the author’s
rudeness. Even though it was legendary within the publishing industry, she had
not expected him to be this abrupt. Not on a first meeting!

  
‘I’m sorry but I think there’s been
a misunderstanding. My name’s Julia Summers. We spoke on the phone recently.’
She put down her case in the dark hallway and held out her hand, sensing that
her name meant nothing to him. ‘About illustrating
The Wounded Tiger
? You invited me down for a few weeks.’

  
For a split second the man did not
react. Then his frown deepened and his voice became irritated.

  
‘Summers? Miss Summers? You must
have your dates wrong. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.’

  
‘You said Friday on the phone.’

  
‘Did I?’

  
‘I’m afraid so.’

  
Her calm tone obviously convinced
him. He shut the front door and inspected her more thoroughly, raising the
hurricane lamp so that its light fell across her face in the dark hallway.

  
Julia flushed under his gaze but
refused to flinch or look away. His eyes were a penetrating greeny-hazel, oddly
tawny at the edges, and they seemed to work their way down her dripping body
without missing a single inch. She was acutely aware of her mud-spattered shoes
and ankles, the way her skirt clung in between her legs and how transparent her
white blouse must be now that it was soaked through to the skin.

  
When those eyes travelled slowly
back to her face, noting her defiance and the heightened colour in her cheeks,
Marshall gave her a sardonic smile and lowered the glass lamp.

  
‘Well, you certainly look a mess,’
he said with a harsh laugh. ‘Not quite what I expected. Did you walk all the
way here from Bodmin?’

  
‘I took a taxi.’

  
His eyebrows shot up then. ‘From
the station? You were lucky to get one at this time of night.’

  
‘He wouldn’t come up the drive.’

  
‘So you had to hike it. That ought
to surprise me but it doesn’t. Extremely superstitious people, the Cornish.’ He
gestured her to follow him along the hallway, keeping the lamp high so that she
should not lose her footing in the darkness. His voice deepened at her back.
‘They say this house is haunted, did you know that?’

  
‘No, though I can believe it,’
Julia nodded, her teeth beginning to chatter. ‘I thought I glimpsed a child’s
face at the attic window just before you opened the door. It’s the right sort
of place for ghosts, isn’t it? Highly atmospheric.’

  
‘At the attic window?’ he repeated.

  
‘Yes.’

  
Julia turned and nearly collided
with him, unaware how close he had come behind her in the narrow hallway. The
hairs rose on the back of her neck and she felt an odd frisson of unease.
  

  
‘Was it a girl or a boy that you
saw?’ he asked.

  
For a moment Julia wondered whether
he believed in the local stories about his house being haunted, but shook the
thought away, quickly realising how impossible that would be. In spite of his
writer’s imagination, those hard-drawn lines about Marshall’s mouth and eyes
spoke of logic and common sense. This was not a man who would ever seriously
believe there were ghostly children inhabiting his attic.

  
‘I’m not sure.’ She began to shiver
in her wet clothes. ‘I suppose it could have been a girl. Is it important?’

  
‘I don’t know yet.’

  
She sneezed and Marshall shook his
head abruptly, as if dismissing the subject, and pushed her forward again along
the corridor.

  
‘Turn left here. There’s a step
down into the kitchen,’ he said, guiding her through a narrow doorway in the
dark, torch beam floating somewhere around the level of her feet. ‘There should
be some towels in one of those drawers. Have a rummage, see what you can find.
I’ll leave you the hurricane lamp and take this torch with me. Okay?’

  
She was taken aback. ‘Where are you
going?’

  
‘I have to go back down into the
cellar and finish mending the generator. It should have cut in when the
electricity failed but it’s over twenty years old now and a bit fragile.’ He
smiled down mockingly at her expression, dazzling her with the powerful torch
beam. ‘Or don’t you want the lights working again?’

  
‘Of course.’
 

  
Marshall swung the torch beam in an
arc around the kitchen, his voice matter-of-fact. The strong beam of light
moved reassuringly over a comfortable looking pine breakfast table and chairs,
an antique Welsh dresser laden with plates and cups, what appeared to be a
traditional double oven range in dark red enamel, and a shining stainless steel
sink positioned under the window where it presumably overlooked the back of his
estate.

  
‘There’s cheese and bread on the
table. Fruit in the bowl. White wine in the fridge and glasses up there by the
sink.’ He lowered the torch beam and glanced across at her face. ‘Just help
yourself.’

  
‘Thank you.’

  
His voice deepened mockingly.
‘There are no ghosts in my attic, Miss Summers, I can assure you of that. Or
anywhere else in the house for that matter.’

BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
5.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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