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Authors: Elizabeth Moss

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BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
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‘Just girl talk,’ Julia said hurriedly,
guessing that the girl would not feel comfortable discussing her love life in
front of her father, and was rewarded by a conspiratorial grin from Victoria.

  
‘Yes, Dad. Just girl talk,’ his
daughter confirmed, lifting the heavy oval platter with both hands. ‘Here, try
one of my extra spicy beef and mustard sandwiches.’

  
Their days settled into a
predictable pattern now the honeymoon was over and they had returned to Moor’s
Peak. During the day, she and Marshall would retreat to their respective work
rooms, Julia planning out some sketches for a new children’s book and him
putting the finishing touches to his latest novel. They tended only to meet up
for lunch and supper, occasionally driving into Bodmin or Truro together for a
meal in one of their favourite restaurants.

  
They had not even slept in the same
bed since coming home from honeymoon. On that first evening, she had gone
upstairs to find Marshall moving her clothes and personal belongings back into
the empty guest room she had occupied before the wedding. Staring at him from
the doorway, she had said nothing but felt her heart wince in pain as he turned
to glance at her, his expression unreadable.

  
‘I thought you might be more
comfortable in here,’ had been his blunt explanation and she had not protested.

  
Now Julia always slept alone,
watching the shadows on the ceiling from her narrow single bed. Somewhere in
the house she would hear Marshall moving about, locking up for the night, and
wondered what he was thinking. She longed to feel that hard body against hers
once more, his mouth hot on her skin. But that was unthinkable. They were more
like polite strangers sharing the same space than newly-weds.

  
Some mornings, getting up to see
those dark circles like bruises under her eyes, her whole body aching from
another sleepless night, she felt a strong urge to pack her bags and run back
to London. She could move in with her sister for a while or rent another
one-bedroomed flat. Even being alone would be better than this torment.

  
But Victoria would be heartbroken
if she left now. She and the shy teenager had grown so much closer since the
wedding. It would be cruel to destroy her fragile trust, especially now that
his daughter seemed to be blossoming into such a confident young woman.

  
So she hung on, sketching every day
in the studio Marshall had created for her on the ground floor. The light was
good there and it eased the pain a little, being able to focus her mind on work
for several hours at a time. Some days she was shocked to find herself compulsively
outlining a man’s face in her sketchpad and knew it to be Marshall, sketching
the harsh scar on his cheek and throat with delicate little strokes of the
charcoal. Those drawings she would tear out and hide away, sketch after sketch
stacked secretively beside her work desk.

  
Marshall must never be allowed to
see them, she told herself. Just one glance would be enough to reveal her love
for him, that lean body and scarred face captured forever in passionate detail.

CHAPTER
EIGHT

 

They
celebrated their first Christmas together in traditional Cornish style, with
log fires and decorations around the house, and Christmas carols playing in the
background. The glittering baubles and tinsel on the tree painfully at odds
with the emptiness Julia felt inside. But at least one of their party seemed
happy; Victoria had been given the latest iPod as a Christmas present and was
in high spirits throughout the holidays, constantly inviting her school friends
over to hang out with her.

  
Uncertain of his tastes, Julia
decided to give Marshall a beautiful early edition of
 
Sir James Fraser’s
The Golden Bough
, which she had found in a small antiquarian
bookshop in Truro, bound in green leather with gold lettering on the spine. She
had not expected anything in return. But to her surprise, Marshall presented
her with a long slim case on Christmas morning, which she opened to find a
string of antique pearls that had belonged to his grandmother.

  
‘These are stunning,’ she murmured,
fingering one of the beautiful opalescent pearls. ‘But surely Victoria should
have them, not me?’

  
Marshall frowned, the dark brows
heavy, and she realised that she had offended him. He turned on his heel and
left the room, his voice chill. ‘You’re my wife, Julia. The pearls belong to
you now.’

  
The first month of the year slipped
into a gentler February and Marshall began to spend more time walking out over
the moors. Some mornings he would leave immediately after breakfast and not
come back until well into the afternoon, taking his leather-backed notepad with
him. She would catch glimpses of him sometimes from her studio window, striding
across the fields towards open moorland in his dark waterproof jacket, and her
heart would constrict in pain. It was as though he could not bear to be under the
same roof as her anymore.

  
It was her birthday early in March,
a day she had always tried to spend with her parents in the past. She was
twenty-seven that year. It felt strange to wake up on her birthday and pull
back the curtains to see a windswept Cornish landscape outside her window
instead of the suburbs of London.

  
Normally, she would have lunch with
her parents at home on her birthday and then go shopping with her mother. It
was a custom they had always adhered to and she felt a little unsure what to
do, knowing that Marshall had not mentioned any special plans for that day. It
was a Saturday though and Victoria was not at school. Perhaps they could go
shopping together instead. The teenager needed some new jeans anyway,
 
after tearing her last pair on brambles
down by the lake.

  
Marshall was his usual distant self
over breakfast, wholly absorbed in editing the first draft of his new
children’s novel, the dark head bent as he ran down the pages with a red pen.
When he eventually finished and stacked the sheets neatly in order, he did not
even look at Julia but shot a penetrating glance at his daughter instead. ‘I
forgot to ask, have you finished that project on the Civil War yet?’

  
Victoria grimaced. ‘Nearly.’

  
Looking at him across the breakfast
table, Julia met his eyes with a wry smile. ‘Perhaps I should take her into
Truro later today so she can visit the library. I know it’s Saturday but it
should be open.’

  
‘Good idea.’ He hesitated, putting
the lid back on his pen. ‘When will you be back, do you think?’

  
‘Sometime after lunch, probably.
Why?’

  
With a dismissive shrug, Marshall
stood up abruptly and cleared his breakfast things away. He seemed tense today,
she thought, maybe even verging on the impatient. She was not sure why. He came
back to the table and collected his papers, not even looking at her as he left
the kitchen and headed back towards his study.

  
‘Have a good day,’ he threw over
his shoulder in a casual voice. ‘I’ll see you both later this afternoon.’

  
She looked down and realised that
her hands were trembling. Not wanting Victoria to ask awkward questions, she
hid them in her lap. He had forgotten her birthday. That hurt, even though it
was ridiculous of her to have expected him to remember. Why should he, after
all? They barely spoke these days, except to exchange the odd remark about the
weather or discuss how Victoria was getting along at her new school.

  
‘I’d better go upstairs and
change,’ Victoria muttered, oblivious to her strained silence.

  
Still trembling slightly, Julia carried
her empty cereal bowl to the sink and left it to soak in the warm soapy water.
‘I think we should do some clothes shopping while we’re in town,’ she said
lightly. ‘And have lunch out too. It’s my birthday today.’

  
‘Your birthday?’

  
She could not help smiling at the
incredulous note in the girl’s voice. ‘Yes, I’m twenty-seven.’

  
‘Does Dad know?’

  
‘He’s probably forgotten,’ Julia
said. She turned to look at the girl, worried by the expression on her face.
‘You won’t remind him, will you? I’d rather not make a fuss about it.’

  
‘I don’t understand. Have you two
argued?’

  
‘It’s not that simple.’

  
Victoria gave her an old-fashioned
look but shrugged, eating the last of her toast and jam.

  
‘I need to have my hair cut today,’
the girl remarked, her voice muffled as she finished her mouthful of toast.
‘Why don’t you have a facial or a manicure at the same time? As a birthday
treat.’

  
‘Yes, why not?’

  
Staring out of the kitchen window
at the distant moorland, Julia washed up the breakfast things and dried her hands
on a thick flannel tea towel. It was so isolated up there at Moor’s Peak, she
had not been into a beauty salon since before the wedding. Her spirits a little
higher at the thought of a day out, she hurried upstairs to change into
something warmer. Although spring had nearly arrived and the weather seemed to
be improving every day, it was quite windy outside and a dress would be little
protection against the cold in those narrow Truro streets.

  
Passing the open door of the master
bedroom, she suddenly heard the muffled tones of a mobile phone. Julia
hesitated, pushing the door a little further open. ‘Marshall?’

  
He was nowhere to be seen, the
bedroom was still and empty. His mobile phone was lying forgotten on the
bedside cabinet though, still ringing. Tentatively, not wanting to invade his
privacy but aware that it might be an important call, she picked up the mobile
and answered it in a husky voice.

  
‘Hello?’

  
There was an odd silence on the
other end, as though the caller had hung up, then a woman replied. A shiver ran
through her as she realised that it was Sasha. The redhead sounded furious to
hear her voice on the phone instead of his.

  
‘Is Marshall there?’

  
Her hand tightened convulsively on
the phone. ‘Yes, but he’s busy
 
working,’ she said sharply.

  
‘Could you tell him I rang? It’s
important I speak to him as soon as possible.’

  
‘Of course,’ she said through
clenched teeth, fighting a sudden urge to throw the phone at the wall.

  
Sasha paused. Her voice became
silky. ‘Oh, and please remind him that he left his notebook at my place the
other night. Just in case he’s been looking for it.’

  
The mobile phone went dead and
Julia replaced it on his bedside cabinet, her hand shaking violently. She
stared at it for a long moment, seeing nothing. Was he sleeping with Sasha
again? He had been going out in the car more frequently than usual over the
past few weeks, often arriving home too late for supper. She had innocently
assumed he was visiting some old friends of his in Exeter, which he
occasionally did, but perhaps he had been seeing Sasha behind her back the
whole time.

  
Julia wanted to run downstairs and
confront him with it, shout accusations at his face until he admitted the
truth. But what on earth would that achieve, apart from a final humiliation for
her? The thing she had always feared seemed to have happened without her even
being aware of it. Marshall had grown tired of their cold loveless marriage and
found comfort in Sasha’s bed instead.

  
Unsteady on her feet, she changed
into jeans and a comfortable sweater, barely able to apply her make-up because
her hands were trembling so badly. She had to get out of the house as soon as
possible, terrified in case he saw her stiff face and realised that she knew
what was going on.

 

‘Come on,
let’s get out of here.’

  
Dragging Victoria away from her
computer, Julia climbed into her small red hatchback and accelerated down the
gravel drive as though the devil was at her heels. All the way into Truro, she
found herself staring fixedly at the road ahead, hands clenched so tightly on
the wheel that her knuckles turned white, while she re-ran that phone
conversation in her head until she thought she would go mad.

  
‘Are you okay?’ Victoria asked as
they searched for a parking space in the busy city centre, her voice concerned.
‘You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.’

  
‘I’m fine, it’s just a headache,’
she lied quickly, managing a reassuring smile for the teenager beside her. Yet
she had indeed seen a ghost, Julia thought grimly; the spectre that had haunted
her ever since their wedding day, an apparition with the power to turn her
blood to ice. No wonder he had forgotten what date it was! Marshall was far too
intent on pursuing his former lover to remember something as trivial as his own
wife’s birthday.

  
It was a windy but bright day in
Truro, a chill sunshine filtering down through the maze of streets and lanes
around the city centre. They set out together from the car park for the main
shopping streets, walking briskly to keep warm.

  
Julia felt cold and hollow inside,
her heart aching. Yet she forced herself to appear cheerful for the girl’s
sake. It had been a terrible soul-crushing mistake to assume he might gradually
fall in love with her, seeing her every day up at Moor’s Peak. Instead, all he
had done was treat her like part of the furniture. Now he had gone back to
Sasha and the uneasy truce that existed between them was threatening to
crumble.

  
Most of the hairdressers were fully
booked but at last they found a small salon down one of the side streets which
was not too busy. Julia decided to have her own hair restyled as well, opting
for warm copper highlights to complement her chestnut tones, while Victoria’s
hair was trimmed to a neat shoulder length style.

  
‘What do you think?’ she asked
Victoria dubiously, examining herself in the mirror as the stylist put down the
hairdryer and told her it was finished.

  
Her chestnut hair looked glossier
and more vibrant with the rich copper highlights, her eyes appearing darker and
less innocent than before. But would Marshall find her more attractive like
this? He was usually so uninterested in her appearance, looking through her as
though she were invisible.

  
Her mouth tightened, pushing the
question to the back of her mind. Damn him and his arrogant opinions! She was not
doing this for Marshall, but for herself.

  
‘It looks fantastic,’ Victoria
nodded, after a short pause.

  
‘But?’

  
The girl shrugged, glancing
uncertainly at her jeans and casual sweater. ‘But that outfit doesn’t go with
the hairstyle very well. You look like you ought to be wearing something a bit
sexier.’

  
Julia smiled, paying the
hairdresser. ‘Yes, why not?’

  
They headed cheerfully back towards
the shops, arm in arm, their faces flushed from the cold wind. The next hour
was spent trying on outfits in changing rooms, neither of them spending much
money but enjoying themselves looking through the racks of spring sale offers.

  
Victoria found herself a new pair
of jeans in one small boutique, pre-faded blue denim with sequins decorating
widely flared hems, and Julia splashed out on a pair of new shoes in the same
shop: elegant black heels with cross-over ankle straps, more glamorous than
anything she had bought for years, intending to wear them with her little black
dress at a book launch later that spring. To accompany the outfit, she bought
some delicate silver earrings in a Celtic style with a matching necklace.

  
They had lunch in a trendy little
restaurant near the cathedral, shown to a table by the window with cushioned
wooden benches where they could stare out at the passers-by while they ate. The
menu was superbly eclectic. Victoria chose a home-made cheeseburger with French
fries and coleslaw, eating it with her usual hearty appetite. Opting for
something more exotic in honour of her birthday, Julia ordered a selection of
tapas: jalapeno peppers in a hot tomato sauce, spinach and goat’s cheese
turnovers, and spicy chicken fajitas. They chatted easily while they ate,
relaxed in each other’s company.

BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
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