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Authors: Elizabeth Moss

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BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
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‘When I was out there on my own, I
found the silence and the sheer sense of space fascinating.’ She paused, gazing
out of the darkened
 
window.
Although that was a perfectly accurate description of her reaction to the moor,
she would always remember getting lost out there too, how it had felt to be
alone in such a cold alien landscape. ‘But a little frightening as well.’

  
He nodded, his eyes darkening. ‘I
brought my wife here when we were first married. Rachel was a city girl, born
and bred. She hated Cornwall. Not enough people, too many wild open spaces.’

  
‘That must have been
disappointing.’

  
His mouth twisted in wry
self-deprecation. ‘Oh, I survived the early blows. It was the last one that hit
me hardest.’

  
‘You mean when she left?’

  
‘With one of my closest friends,
yes.’ The voice was harsh now, his head turned away as if he was remembering
another woman, another time. ‘But that was Rachel for you. She loved to
surprise.’

  
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, watching his
averted face.

  
He shrugged the memory away, taking
a deep breath and turning back to her with a reluctant smile. ‘At least I was
awarded custody. That’s why it’s so important to me that Victoria is happy. I
don’t want her to grow up in the shadow of such a messy divorce.’

  
‘You’ve done a good job of raising
her.’

  
‘Thank you,’ he said, his voice
dry. ‘Though I never intended to be a single parent. It just happened that way.
One minute I was married, the next I was on my own with a four year old
daughter and not a bloody clue how to look after her.’

  
She bit her lip, not wanting to
offend him but knowing she had to say something or go crazy holding it back.

  
‘This is none of my business, I
know. But I think you’re doing the wrong thing, sending Victoria back to
boarding school. You know she wants to stay here with you. So why not let her?
She’s not a little child anymore, she won’t be constantly underfoot - ’

  
He interrupted her with a frown.
‘I’m not sending Victoria back to that school. What on earth made you think I
was?’

  
‘But on the phone, you said ...’
she began, stammering, then fell silent as she realised that she had betrayed
herself.

  
The frown deepened. ‘Have you been
eavesdropping on my telephone calls?’

  
‘Look, it wasn’t like that,’ she
said defensively. ‘I would never deliberately listen in to a private conversation.
Victoria was showing me the secret passageway. It runs right behind your study
and I’m afraid we both heard your phone call quite clearly through the wall.’

  
He looked stunned for a moment.
‘And you thought I was sending her back to the boarding school?’

  
‘Tomorrow morning, yes. That’s what
it sounded like.’

  
His face tightening with fury,
Marshall swore under his breath and turned on her, his hands gripping her
shoulders.

  
‘So where exactly is my daughter
now? I should imagine she has a pretty low opinion of me right now, if what
you’ve told me is true.’

  
‘I don’t know. In her room,
perhaps.’

  
‘You just let her go off on her
own, after hearing that?’ His face was white with tension. ‘Are you insane?’

  
She fell back against the table as
he released her without warning, a sharp ache in her shoulders where he had cut
off the circulation with that vice-like grip. She stared up at him, confused.

  
‘You mean, you’re not going to - ?’

  
His tone was scathing. ‘Did it ever
occur to you that you might have misinterpreted what you heard? I was simply
arranging with the headmaster to collect her trunk from school tomorrow. After
our little discussion earlier today, I decided that Victoria should live here
with me at Moor’s Peak on a permanent basis. One of the local schools has
already agreed to take her.’

  
Julia sat down on a chair, feeling
shaken. It was the truth, she could hear it in his voice. ‘I’m so sorry.’

  
‘You certainly didn’t waste any
time judging me.’

  
‘It was a simple mistake - ’

  
‘Which could have been avoided if
you hadn’t been creeping about my house without permission for the second time
since you arrived.’ He fixed her with narrowed eyes. ‘In fact, you’re beginning
to make quite a habit of that, aren’t you?’

  
Her face was scarlet. ‘That’s hardly
fair!’

  
‘I’m not interested in what’s fair,
Miss Summers,’ he said savagely. ‘Only in what’s best for my daughter. And at
the moment, her interests would be best served by you leaving my house
immediately.’

  
Silent and confused, Julia stared
at him for a moment without really understanding what he meant. Then the full
realisation hit home and she turned numbly on her heel, leaving the room at
once and heading towards the stairs.

  
Watching her with those cold eyes,
Marshall did not say anything or make any attempt to stop her.

  
It was already quite dark in her
bedroom. Julia switched on the light and automatically closed the curtains. She
glanced down at her hands, realised they were clenched into fists and told
herself to forget it. Whatever Marshall might have implied, it was not her
fault they had overheard and misunderstood that private conversation. She had
been trying to help him by keeping his daughter company. If Marshall had been
more open about his plans, if he had bothered to share them with his daughter
before making that phone call, none of this would have happened.

  
Now that the initial shock had worn
off, she was beginning to feel angry rather than upset. Her face hardened as
she recalled the arrogant way he had dismissed her. Owen Marshall had no right
to speak to her like that, she was not one of his employees. She was an equal
and she had only come down here at his suggestion, having dropped several other
lucrative illustrating jobs in order to do so.

  
Her whole body rigid with outrage,
Julia set about retrieving her clothes from the drawers and wardrobe. She
packed them hurriedly into her suitcase, only stopping to search under the bed
for a lost sock, and then checked her watch.

  
Would it still be possible to make
the last train back to London or was she too late? Just the thought of spending
another evening in his company made her feel sick. No, she would call a taxi
instead. There had to be a hotel or guesthouse in Bodmin where she could get a
room for the night, catching the first train to London in the morning.

  
She did not hear his footsteps in
the hallway. Without warning, the bedroom door was flung wide open and Marshall
strode in, a restless frown in his eyes.

  
‘She’s gone,’ he said curtly. ‘Her
room’s empty and she’s nowhere in the house. Her coat and some of her clothes
are missing too.’

  
‘Oh no.’

  
‘I think she’s run away again. She
must have decided she wasn’t waiting for me to drive her back to school in the
morning.’

  
Her hands suddenly clammy with
apprehension, Julia sat down heavily on the bed and stared at him. If anything
happened to Victoria because of this stupid misunderstanding, she would never
forgive herself. She ought to have gone upstairs after the girl immediately,
not let Marshall distract her into talking about those sketches. Perhaps he had
been right after all and it really was her fault. It certainly seemed as though
she had badly misjudged how Victoria would react to the news that she was being
sent back to school.

  
‘I need to check the garden and
grounds first, though I doubt that she’s still anywhere near Moor’s Peak. Then
I’m going to start driving in the direction of Bodmin, to see if I can spot her
on the road.’ He looked straight at her. ‘Will you come with me?’

  
‘Of course.’

  
Marshall glanced down at her
suitcase, packed and standing ready by the door. His eyes flickered.

  
‘I shouldn’t have spoken to you
like that downstairs. I realise you weren’t entirely to blame, it was out of
order.’

  
‘Yes,’ she agreed.

  
There was a tinge of colour in his
lean face. ‘I was angry, I admit it. That really ought to be enough for you.’

  
‘Fine,’ she muttered, grabbing her
handbag from the bed. ‘Though you could at least have looked at me when you
said it.’

  
His jaw tightened at her words and
he raised his head, staring at Julia through narrowed eyes. For a moment she
felt more than a little disconcerted and backed instinctively away, thinking
perhaps she ought to have accepted his apology after all. The way Marshall was
breathing reminded her of a bull about to charge.

  
‘Do you have any idea how much
damage you’ve caused by not coming clean in the first place?’ He took a
threatening step towards her, his face darkening with anger again. ‘Let’s look
at the facts, shall we? If you hadn’t delayed telling me about that phone call,
I could have gone straight up to her room and sorted it out. Instead, my
daughter’s vanished into the night and I don’t have a bloody clue where to look
for her. If anyone ought to apologise, it should be you.’

  
‘Me?’ Her voice was high with
indignation. ‘You’re her father. If you’d bothered to tell Victoria about your
change of plan, none of this would have happened!’

  
‘I’ve never wanted to strangle a
woman before,’ Marshall remarked after a tense silence, his voice icy and
dangerous. The jagged scar on his face looked livid. ‘My wife tormented me for
years, yet I don’t remember ever feeling this violent towards her. So what’s
your secret?’

  
‘My secret?’ she repeated,
stammering.

  
‘Yes,’ he said grimly. ‘One minute
I want to strangle you. The next all I can think about is getting you into
bed.’

  
Her pulses suddenly jerking into
life, Julia grabbed at her jacket and edged past him towards the doorway. His
gaze followed every step, moving down her figure in a deliberately intimate
manner, exploring her body with his eyes just as his hands had explored it
earlier. The change of mood between them was tangible, a deep flush on her face
now that he had brought their attraction out into the open.

  
She paused at the top of the
stairs, speaking too rapidly and very much aware of him right behind her. ‘You
said she might still be hiding in the grounds. I’ll check out that disused
cottage first. The one near the lake. Have you got a torch I could use?’

  
‘By the back door.’

  
‘Thanks,’ she said huskily, and
managed a hasty escape before he could push the matter any further.

 
 

  
It was nearly an hour before they
admitted defeat, finally giving up their search for Victoria and deciding to
head for the nearest large town instead, which was Bodmin. It was pitch black
by that time, no moon visible in the sky, and extremely chilly out on the
moors. Owen Marshall still had hopes of passing his daughter on the road,
though even he had to concede that the trail was pretty cold. They could not be
sure how much of a head start she had, though it was conceivable that Victoria
had left Moor’s Peak within only a short time of hearing that telephone
conversation.

  
That possibility frightened Julia.
If the teenager had managed to reach the main road that cut across the moors
between Bodmin and Launceston, she could have been picked up by a lorry driver.
Which meant that she might be on the motorway by now, miles away and completely
beyond their reach. Always assuming that nothing awful happened to the young
girl on her journey.

  
Driving along treacherous winding
lanes, Marshall stared hard at every tree and bush along the road, even slowing
down at crossroads so he could glance up and down in the darkness. He became
more and more silent and brooding as they reached the outskirts of Bodmin,
having caught no glimpse of the teenager along the way.

  
‘Could she be going to her
mother’s?’

  
Marshall gave a harsh bark of
laughter, his hands clenching on the wheel. ‘You think my ex-wife would bother
with her after all this time? That Rachel would enjoy some fourteen year old
hanging round, making her admit she’s old enough to have a child that age?’

BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
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