Read Don't Hurt Me Online

Authors: Elizabeth Moss

Don't Hurt Me (9 page)

BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
6.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

  
‘There must be someone else. What
about that boy she was seeing at school, the other kid who was suspended?’

  
He frowned. ‘Paul?’

  
‘Couldn’t you ring his parents?’
Julia insisted. ‘Find out if she’s been in touch with him?’

  
‘It’s a possibility. I do have
their number on my mobile.’ He nodded slowly, pulling into the deserted car
park at Bodmin station. ‘God, this place looks closed. I thought she might have
come here but it looks like the last train has already gone through.’

  
‘Where do his parents live?’

  
He sat staring at the empty
platforms, drumming his fingers on the wheel with a distracted expression on
his face.

  
‘South London, I think.’

  
Julia got out of the car and stood
by the fence, searching along the station with her eyes. But, apart from a
slow-moving man in overalls who was sweeping the platform below an ornate
bridge which spanned the lines, there was nobody in sight. She shivered, gazing
blankly at an ancient faded sign advertising trains to London and beyond. It
was too cold to be outside for long in that chill wind.

  
After a few minutes, she turned and
got back into his car, holding out her hands to the steady warmth of the fan
heater. She did not want to think about poor Victoria, out there on her own.
She could only hope the girl was somewhere safe, not sleeping rough on the
moors or putting herself in danger by hitchhiking to London.

  
‘There’s no sign of her, I’m
afraid. If she ever came here, she’s long gone now. Where do you think we
should try next?’

  
‘The boy’s parents, as you
suggested.’

  
He picked up his mobile and keyed
through the address book, his mouth a tense line. Punching in the number,
Marshall waited with marked impatience for the call to be answered, then spoke
tersely to the woman who answered at the other end.

  
Watching his averted profile, she
felt her mouth go dry as she took in that clenched jaw and tough chin, the hard
intelligent eyes which moved so restlessly as he spoke. He was not
conventionally attractive, too much power in the broad shouldered frame for
that. Yet there was such a crackling sexuality about Owen Marshall, an
eye-catching quality in the way he spoke and moved, that made her look away,
suddenly embarrassed and hot-faced.

  
He finished his call and glanced at
her, brows drawn together in a quick frown. ‘What’s wrong?’

  
‘Nothing,’ she lied hurriedly.
‘What did you find out?’

  
‘Only that Paul had a phone call
from Victoria about an hour ago, then slipped out of the house when she wasn’t
watching. His mother doesn’t seem to have a clue what’s going on. But I think
it’s likely that Victoria is on her way to London to meet this boy.’

  
‘So what are you going to do?’

  
He looked grim. ‘Bring her straight
back, of course.’

  
‘Tonight?’

  
Marshall nodded. ‘I’m in no mood to
go home and kick my heels until morning. I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway.’

  
She stared at him, taken aback.
‘But you’ll go back to the house first, surely? I’ve left my case behind, all
my clothes ... ’
 

  
‘There’s no time for any of that.’
Starting the engine, Marshall reversed sharply out of the station car park and
turned back towards the main road, his voice terse. ‘I’m really not interested
in debating the matter. I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient for you, Miss Summers,
but I’m driving up to London straight away and that’s final. My daughter’s
safety is paramount.’

  
The thought of spending the next
few hours trapped in this tiny space with him sent her pulses racing. Panic
began to set in for real as she watched the road signs to London flash past in
a blur. She looked at him angrily then, very flushed. ‘Are you always this
high-handed with people?’

  
He accelerated impatiently past a
slow-moving lorry which had been lumbering up the hill in front of them. ‘Are
you always this argumentative?’

  
There were dozens of sheep packed
into the lorry, jostling together against the bars. She could see them all
staring crazily into the darkness, strange white faces caught in the headlights
as they shot past. Julia looked back at them with a sudden stab of pity. She
was not the only one who felt helpless tonight, driven away under someone
else’s control. But unlike those poor sheep, at least she could still try to
rescue the situation.

  
‘I appreciate that you’re worried
about Victoria. I am too, she’s only a kid. But charging off into the night
like this is pointless. Why not take me back to Moor’s Peak first and drive up
there in the morning?’

  
He turned his head then, amusement
flickering in the hard eyes as he seemed to accurately gauge her fear. ‘What’s
bothering you now? Is it such a terrible thing to contemplate, cooped up with
me all the way to London?’ He paused, his voice becoming silky. ‘That certainly
wasn’t the impression I got this afternoon.’

  
Her cheeks burnt. ‘I ought to slap
your face for that!’

  
‘Whilst I’m driving?’ Marshall
mocked her softly. ‘I wouldn’t advise that. At this speed, it could be
dangerous.’

  
‘No more than you are,’ she
muttered under her breath.

  
Quick as a rattlesnake, he inclined
his head in her direction, his eyes narrowed with interest. ‘What was that?’

  
‘I said, slow down and keep your
eyes on the road,’ she said tartly. ‘It’s starting to rain and you’re going too
fast.’

  
Marshall laughed at that but did as
she asked and gently eased his foot off the accelerator. She felt a little more
relieved; it was beginning to rain in earnest now, the dark roads pulsing with
it. The last thing they needed was to have an accident. But she had not managed
to argue her way out of the situation. They were still heading for London.

  
He set the windscreen wipes to a
faster speed, whistling beneath his breath as he drove. She could not help
noticing that Marshall seemed considerably more cheerful now that he had a
reasonable idea where his daughter might be. He was a good father, she thought
wryly, in spite of his other shortcomings. Victoria must have had quite a rocky
childhood, her parent’s divorce leaving her defensive and withdrawn. The
boarding school had clearly not helped bring her out of her shell as he had
hoped. But at least Marshall seemed determined to make up for that mistake,
arranging for her to live at Moor’s Peak on a permanent basis if that was what
his daughter wanted.

  
Beyond Exeter, the motorway seemed
empty of traffic except for the usual lorries and delivery vans, racing through
the darkness to their destinations. It was nearly eleven o’clock by the time
they reached the glowing industrial lights along Bristol’s estuary and turned
eastward towards London. They had left behind the rural wilds of Cornwall, she
realised, replacing them with these sprawling factories and warehouses.
Resigned to her fate and too tired to argue with him anymore, Julia leant on
her elbow and stared out at row after row of gleaming new cars, parked for
collection outside a car works.
 

  
He turned on the CD player,
choosing a disc and filling the warm interior of the car with a soft melodic
jazz. They listened to the music in companionable silence as his Jaguar purred
along the motorway, eating up the miles towards the capital.

  
Glancing at him discreetly, she
could not help wondering what the novelist was really like beneath the tough
facade he liked to show to journalists. In public, Owen Marshall tended to give
out an impression of impatient irascibility, usually convincing people he was
someone they should be careful not to antagonise. Yet she had already seen
there was a more relaxed side to his nature which made it hard for her to
dislike him, that teasing charm he employed to get his own way.

  
It was certainly difficult to
resist the man on a sexual level, Julia thought, her eyes lingering on the
strong shoulders and sinewy throat. But she had to constantly remind herself
that he was not a free agent, that the beautiful Sasha - amongst others,
possibly - already had an emotional claim on him, even though he did not seem
interested in acknowledging that openly. Something which demonstrated his
casual attitude to love affairs, she thought. It would be the height of madness
to get involved with someone who might so easily hurt and discard her once he
had grown restless.

  
Turning these confused thoughts
over in her mind, she eventually fell asleep, waking in a less comfortable
position about an hour later. Rubbing her neck, Julia gave a long yawn and
stared about at the dark familiar outskirts of London. She was not far from
home, she realised, recognising the skyline instantly.

  
The jazz had gone and Marshall was
listening to some late-night forum on the radio, his expression absorbed as he
followed the cut-and-thrust of a political debate.

  
Seeing her stir he glanced sideways
and turned off the radio, the keen eyes surveying her. ‘I’m glad you’re awake,
we’re nearly there. Would you like a quick coffee and to freshen up? There’s a
service station in a few miles.’

  
Julia nodded her assent, opening
her handbag and checking her appearance in a compact mirror. Her face was
slightly flushed and her make-up needed retouching, but she was otherwise
presentable.

  
‘You’re not still planning to call
in on Paul’s parents tonight, are you?’ she asked, lifting her eyes to the
clock on the dashboard. ‘It’s well after midnight.’

  
‘It is a little late,’ he agreed
reluctantly. Then an ironic gleam shot into the tawny eyes. ‘Don’t you have a
flat somewhere round here? I could always crash out on the sofa and collect
Victoria tomorrow.’

  
She stared at him, aghast. ‘Stay at
my flat?’

  
‘What’s the matter?’ His eyes
narrowed on her face. ‘Do you share it with somebody else?’

  
‘No. But it’s a bit cramped - ’

  
‘That’s settled then,’ Marshall cut
in over her protest, beginning to whistle under his breath again. He flashed
her a quick arrogant smile and glanced in his mirror, signalling to turn off
the motorway at the next exit. ‘Don’t worry about the details. Just show me the
bathroom and the sofa. I’ll be asleep before you know it.’

 

CHAPTER
FIVE

 

Mr
Parsloe was at his second floor window when they pulled up outside the flat,
staring down at her and Marshall as she fumbled for her key. When the old
gentleman rapped on the glass, giving her a chirpy wave before dropping his net
curtain, she could imagine what was going through his mind. Mr Parsloe might be
in his eighties but he was forever winking at her and commenting on her lack of
male callers.

  
‘Who on earth was that?’

  
‘Mr Parsloe.’ She ushered Marshall
into the hall and unlocked the inside door to her ground floor flat. ‘He’s a
retired librarian, nice man. Rents the upstairs flat. He’s probably wondering
why I’m back from Cornwall so soon.’

  
‘You told him how long you’d be
gone?”

  
She nodded. ‘Of course. It’s quite
a friendly block, we all look out for each other here.’

  
‘He’s up rather late.’

  
‘Terrible insomniac,’ she
whispered, struggling with the lock. ‘Has been ever since his wife died about
three years ago.’

  
Julia pushed aside the small pile
of mail waiting for her on the carpet and gestured him inside. The flat was
freezing. She switched on the electric fire in the living room and closed the
floor-length curtains, which she had left partially open to fool burglars.

  
‘Brr, it’s so cold. It should warm
up soon though, that fire’s very efficient.’ She found herself rambling on
without waiting for an answer, her nerves stretched to the limit as Marshall
prowled about the small flat, hands sunk in his pockets, staring around at her
private things. ‘I’m glad we bought that pint of milk, I’m absolutely dying for
a cup of tea. Would you like one?’

  
He followed her into the kitchen
area and leant against one of the units, his powerful frame too large for the
tiny space.

  
‘Have you lived here long?’

  
‘Nearly five years now. It was
cheap and convenient for my first job after college.’ She shrugged, putting the
kettle on to boil and setting out two large mugs for the tea. ‘The rent’s more
than doubled since then, of course. But I still like it here. It’s close to the
tube and there’s a little park down the road where you can read the newspaper
and feed the birds at weekends.’

  
He watched her work, his face
unreadable. ‘You’ve never wanted to get married, start a family?’

  
‘Never met the right man,’ she
replied lightly.

  
‘The right man?’ Marshall fingered
one of the chrysanthemums in her glass vase, bought from a street market last
week and past their best now, watching the yellow petals crumble. ‘So what
qualities would this right man possess?’

  
‘Firstly, a sense of humour,’ she
said, laughing. ‘He wouldn’t get past the door without that.’

  
‘And then?’

  
‘Oh, then he’d definitely have to
be someone sexy, intelligent, broad-minded, caring - ’

  
He interrupted her, a sardonic gleam
in his eyes. ‘And to think I had you down as a realist! You’ve been reading too
many women’s magazines, darling.’

  
She bridled at the sneering tone,
the way he called her ‘darling’, as though she were some empty-headed idiot.
‘Just because you’re not like that, it doesn’t mean - ’

  
‘Oh for God’s sake,’ he laughed
harshly. ‘There isn’t a man alive who could fulfil so many high-flown
expectations.’

  
‘I’ve met several, actually,’ she
replied, meeting his eyes in a cold stare. It was a lie, of course, but she did
not want Marshall to think he had won the argument.

  
‘Rubbish. Don’t you know anything
about men? They just put on a good show, all smoke and mirrors, in order to get
gullible women like yourself into bed. Afterwards you wouldn’t see them for
dust.’

  
Suddenly and without warning, their
conversation seemed to have strayed into dangerous territory. She dropped her
gaze, slightly flushed. There was a look on his face that she found disturbing.
Nevertheless, she managed an unconvincing laugh and a shake of her head,
handing him a mug of tea as if to indicate that the discussion was over.

  
She turned quickly away, checking
through the contents of the fridge so he could not see her expression.

  
‘Nothing much to eat in there, I’m
afraid.’ Julia straightened, trying to sound brisk and unconcerned by his
presence in her tiny flat. ‘I wasn’t expecting to come back here for another
ten days. I’ve got a few eggs though, if you don’t mind something simple.’

  
To her relief and surprise,
Marshall dropped the argument. He nodded instead, glancing at the row of fresh
herbs she kept in pots on the windowsill. ‘How about a quick omelette? With
some of those fresh herbs, perhaps? That would be delicious.’

  
They set to work, shoulder to
shoulder in the tight space of the kitchen, Marshall insisting that he should
help prepare the meal. She found him a blue and white plastic apron from one of
the drawers and he slipped it over his head, unmoved by her amusement.

  
Watching him whisk the eggs
expertly with a fork, adding only a pinch of freshly snipped herbs at a time
until the mixture was at the right consistency, she had to admit to feeling a
little surprised by his domesticity. Marshall did not look like a man who would
particularly enjoy slaving over a hot stove. Yet he must have lived alone for
some years now, she realised, and it was unlikely that he had cooked nothing
but microwave meals during that time.

  
He caught her watching and smiled
drily. ‘I can do stir-fries and Sunday roasts too,’ he murmured, tipping his
egg mixture into the hot omelette pan and setting it back on the heat. ‘But not
pastry.’

  
‘There’s a real art to pastry,’ she
admitted, laughing. ‘Some people make perfect pastry every time, others can’t
manage it however many times they try.’

  
‘Which are you?’

  
She made a wry face. ‘My pastry
tastes like shoe leather, horribly
 
dry and unappetising. That’s what my sister tells me, anyway.’

  
Marshall took the mixing bowl to
the sink and rinsed it out under hot running water, a frown of concentration on
his face.

  
‘I didn’t know you had a sister. Is
she older or younger?’

  
‘Eight years older.’

  
He looked at her, interested.
‘That’s quite a gap.’

  
‘I don’t think I was planned,’ she
said with a wry smile. ‘My parents only meant to have one child.’

  
Julia uncorked a bottle of white
wine and set it on the dining table with two glasses, knives and forks, and a
small jar of sesame breadsticks to accompany the omelette. Moving about the
room, she was acutely aware of the intimacy of their situation, eating a late
supper together in her flat, and it took an effort of will to remind herself
that he belonged to the beautiful Sasha. This was not the start of a
relationship and she would be crazy to start believing otherwise.

  
‘I hope Victoria’s all right,’ she
murmured, fetching two plates from the cupboard. ‘She’s very young to be
roaming around London on her own.’

  
He nodded grimly. ‘I asked Paul’s
mother to ring me on my mobile if and when she turns up there. That was hours
ago. I thought she would have arrived by now.’

  
‘You came about her very much,
don’t you?’

  
‘She’s my daughter.’

  
Julia shrugged. ‘This may sound a
little cynical, but not all fathers would go to such lengths to get their
children back.’

  
His face shuttered, Marshall began
to serve the supper. He cut the fluffy golden omelette in two with a practised
air before sliding each half smoothly from the pan to their plates.

  
‘I can’t answer for other fathers.
Victoria is the most important person in my life and I want to do what’s best
for her. Even if that makes her hate me.’

  
‘Victoria doesn’t hate you. On the
contrary, the two of you are very close. It stands out a mile.’

  
He grimaced. ‘We always seem to be
arguing.’

  
‘Families can be like that
sometimes,’ she pointed out, carrying the warmed plates to the table and
sitting down opposite him. She watched him pour the white wine, accepting half
a glass. ‘It doesn’t mean you don’t love each other.’

  
They ate in silence, listening to
the soft patter of rain against the windows. Every now and then, Julia stole a
quick glance at him from under her lashes, taking in the lean face and tough
uncompromising lines of his body. He seemed out of place here, his presence far
more overwhelming in her little flat than it had ever been at Moor’s Park with
its dark endless passageways and the grim expanse of moorland stretching beyond
the trees.

  
He belonged to the moor, she
realised, as though he were almost a part of that powerful landscape. Here in
London, it was like having a wild bear loose in her flat, some great hulking creature
that might tear her to pieces if she did not keep him at arms’ length.

  
She smiled at the mental image,
looking down at her plate as she stifled a laugh. His keen eyes lifted to her
face in an instant, probing her expression.

  
‘Something funny?’

  
‘I was just thinking about Mr
Parsloe again,’ she lied, covering her confusion by hurriedly lifting the wine
glass to her lips. ‘He looked rather shocked to see me arriving so late at
night, with a strange man in tow. I suppose he’s a little old-fashioned about
things like that.’

  
‘You don’t bring men back here very
often, I take it?’

  
‘Sometimes,’ she murmured
unrevealingly, and pushed aside her empty plate. ‘Mmm, that was delicious.’

  
‘Yes, it was.’

  
There was a sharp glint in his eyes
as he gazed back at her. He had clearly guessed that she was trying to sidestep
that topic of conversation and seemed amused by her evasiveness.

  
‘Not seeing anyone at the moment
though?’ he queried, taking in the slight flush in her cheeks.

  
‘My work takes up too much time for
socialising.’

  
‘That’s a pity. You don’t strike me
as one of those ambitious career women,’ he said with cool assessment. ‘I
certainly don’t think you could be happy on your own forever. You’re far too
tactile, too emotional.’

  
‘Thank you for that masterly
analysis of my character,’ she replied, feeling a little stung. ‘But if it’s
all the same to you, I think you ought to mind your own business.’

  
There was a long moment of silence
between them, broken only by the sound of the rain still falling outside. Her
nerves drawn tight with tension, she stretched and pretended to yawn behind her
hand. Glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece, she saw to her astonishment
that it was nearly two o’clock in the morning.

  
‘Well, I’m ready for bed,’ she said
brightly. ‘There are some spare blankets in my bedroom. I’ll find them and make
up the sofa for you. Then we can both get some sleep.’

  
He rubbed the back of his neck,
glancing down at his watch. ‘Yes, I’m dog-tired myself. Would you mind if I had
a shower?’

  
Relieved that the atmosphere seemed
to have lightened, she led Marshall to the bathroom and showed him where to
find fresh towels. Once the door had closed behind him and she could hear the
shower running, she hurried back into the living room and made up the sofa for
him as quickly as she could. After she had covered it in several layers of soft
woven blankets and placed a pillow at one end, her old sofa looked wonderfully
cosy and tempting. She could feel exhaustion seeping through to her bones, a
dull aching behind her eyes that told her she needed to sleep before she
collapsed.

  
Allowing herself to perch on the
sofa for a moment, Julia slipped off her shoes and massaged her tired feet. The
sound of the shower was very relaxing, a constant background rushing that was
gradually lulling her to sleep. All her limbs felt incredibly heavy, as though
made of lead. Wondering how early Marshall might be expecting her to get up
again in the morning, she lay back in that warm nest of blankets and closed her
eyes for a moment.

  
A little later, she felt something
gently tickling her cheek. Raising a hand to push it away, still half asleep
and thinking she was in her own bedroom, her fingers encountered warm stubbly
flesh.

BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
6.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Crazy for You by Juliet Rosetti
Here We Lie by Sophie McKenzie
Three Wise Cats by Harold Konstantelos
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
The Final Rule by Adrienne Wilder
The Midnight Hour by Brenda Jackson