Authors: Clare Francis
Clare Francis is the author of eight internationally bestselling thrillers:
Night Sky, Red Crystal, Wolf Winter, Requiem, Deceit, Betrayal, A Dark Devotion
Keep Me Close.
She has also written three non-fiction books, about her voyages across the oceans of the world,
Come Hell or High Water
Come Wind or Weather
The Commanding Sea
Also by Clare Francis in Pan Books
A Dark Devotion
Keep Me Close
Come Hell or High Water
Come Wind or Weather
The Commanding Sea
IN ASSOCIATION WITH HEINEMANN
First published 1995 by William Heinemann Ltd
First published in paperback 1996 by Pan Books
This electronic edition published 2008 by Pan Books
an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd
Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Rd, London N1 9RR
Basingstoke and Oxford
Associated companies throughout the world
ISBN 978-0-330-46766-7 in Adobe Reader format
ISBN 978-0-330-46765-0 in Adobe Digital Editions format
ISBN 978-0-330-46768-1 in Microsoft Reader format
ISBN 978-0-330-46767-4 in Mobipocket format
Copyright © Clare Francis 1995
The right of Clare Francis to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
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with love and gratitude
a terrible start, my heart crashing against my ribs, and fumbled for the burbling alarm. Sinking back on the pillow, I waited for my heart to quieten down and my brain to stop racketing. Dream fragments jostled disturbingly in my mind. Most were nightmarish, riddled with scenes where I was caught red-handed in some misdemeanour. Only one held any comfort, and for a moment I clung to the warm echo of a time long ago, a faded image of a remote bay and firelight, and, at the water’s edge, the slim elusive figure of Sylvie.
Then, in the harsh dawn light, this, too, plunged into nightmare as it came to me with a fresh lurch of disbelief that Sylvie was dead, and that I would have to wake to this stark knowledge for the rest of my life.
My violent awakening hadn’t disturbed Ginny. S he lay on the far side of the bed, her thin arm reaching out across the pillows towards me, the eye-mask reducing her face to a ghostly triangle of mouth and chin. At some point in the night she had turned on the light and taken a pill. She had glanced towards me but I had feigned sleep. In the dark of the night I had felt too raw for conversation, too unsure of where it might lead. Ginny hadn’t been fooled, she’d known I was awake, but we’d both kept up the pretence.
I slid out of bed, sending a shower of papers to the floor: the amended buyout terms I had tried to read at one-thirty or whenever it was I had got to bed. Soundlessly, I put the pages into some sort of order and noticed that my hands were trembling. I showered and shaved, nicking the scar on my upper lip as I always did when I was tense or more than usually overtired. Some beads of watery blood dropped into the basin and I wiped them away with a tissue. I didn’t have to look too closely into the mirror to know that the worries of the last few months were stamped all over my face.
I reached for a cord jacket, the sort of thing I generally wore for a day at Hartford, but, remembering the message I would be delivering to the people there, I changed it for a suit of sober grey worsted. I must have lost some weight because the waistband was slack and I had to search out a pair of braces.
I went down to make some three-spoon coffee to keep me awake on the journey. It was barely six-thirty but someone had already been into the house. The girl we contracted to do the flowers must have been to market early because through the open door to the laundry room I could see several large buckets crammed with fresh blooms standing amid spatterings of water. That meant we were having a party tonight. It also meant that, not for the first time, it had slipped my mind. The prospect of a houseful of chattering people filled me with dismay. I dimly hoped it wasn’t going to be a charity event, then at least I might know a few of them.
A soft conspiratorial knock sounded from the hall. I unbolted the door to find Julia, my assistant, poised tensely on the step.
In my jittery state I assumed bad news. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Nothing’s happened,’ she said hastily.
‘Then what are you doing here?’ I asked, more in curiosity than annoyance.
She handed me a file. ‘I thought you might want this.’ She made a doubtful face that admitted to the thinness of the excuse.
I waved her in. ‘A bit early for you, isn’t it?’
She gave a short laugh, glad that I could still tease her. ‘I
been up at dawn before, you know. Well – once.’
The file was one we both knew I didn’t really need. I raised a questioning eyebrow.
,’ she announced. Pulling the business section out of her bag, she found the page for me.
It was in the snippets column, the place where they put the news that isn’t going to influence share prices. The source, whoever it was, had been meticulous with the facts. ‘Buoyant’ china and lighting manufacturer A. L. Cumberland, fresh from its takeover of – and it stung me to read it – ‘debt-ridden’ HartWell Glass, the family-owned crystal and tableware company, was putting HartWell’s loss-making Hartford Crystal division up for grabs. Cumberland’s chairman was quoted as saying that slow-moving crystal did not mesh well with Cumberland’s dynamic mass-market product profile.
But it was the final paragraph that really needled.
After years of lacklustre sales and low investment, Hartford Crystal would seem ripe for absorption by brand leaders in the highly competitive export-dependent crystal market. An attempted management buyout led by HartWell’s erstwhile joint managing director and major shareholder, Hugh Wellesley, is thought to be facing an uphill struggle
Julia remarked, ‘A bitch, eh?’
‘Yup,’ I said bitterly .
‘I thought you’d better see it.’ Julia fought a losing battle against her indignation. ‘You can’t help noticing the timing!’ she hissed. ‘I had an idea something like this was coming, that’s why I went and got the papers on the way over.’
If she meant to surprise me, she succeeded. ‘You knew?’
‘Well, I guessed. Don’t ask how. You wouldn’t approve.’
Not yet thirty, Julia was the best assistant I’d ever had, exceptionally shrewd and efficient, yet when she’d first arrived her attitude, openly cynical and opportunistic, had rather disturbed me. Now I took a more ambivalent view.
‘You think it came from inside Cumberland?’
She gave me a heavy look. ‘I
She meant it had come from Howard who, until the takeover, had shared the managing directorship of HartWell with me. In the process of courting Cumberland and negotiating the takeover, Howard had managed to secure himself a seat on the Cumberland board and a lucrative share option deal. For Howard there was no such thing as an old loyalty, and the moment he’d stepped over the Cumberland threshold six weeks ago he’d belonged to them, heart and soul.
‘It could have come from a City guru,’ I suggested.
‘Sometimes, Hugh, I think you’re too trusting for this world.’
I shook suddenly, the tensions welled up, I heard myself snap, ‘And sometimes I think you’re too damn sure of yourself!’
Her eyes rounded, she stared at me, eventually she stammered, ‘Sorry. You’re right. That was out of order.’
‘It’s just . . .’ I pressed a hand to my head, I couldn’t explain.
Julia was still looking astonished. I think she had been under the illusion that I never lost my temper.
Regaining some control, I gestured apology. ‘It’s just that I don’t want to think about who might have done it. Not when it’s too late to do anything about it.’
‘No, of course . . .’
There was a short silence while we both recovered from our second angry words in the two years we had worked together. The first, I realised with dismay, had been only yesterday.
Finally Julia said in a muted voice, ‘I know you said you wanted to drive yourself down to Hartford, but I’ve got a driver on standby just in case. I thought you’d be exhausted.’
‘I’ll drive myself.’
She gave it one more try. ‘It’s such a long way and he’s just outside.’
But I wouldn’t have been comfortable arriving at Hartford in a chauffeur-driven car, not when there was an axe hanging over the factory’s future.
‘No, but thanks anyway.’ I took
from her and opened the door.
‘Sorry I was out of line,’ she repeated unhappily. ‘I think you’re right, it’s altogether too early for me.’
‘For all of us,’ I smiled.
She hesitated. ‘You’re looking terribly tired.’
‘I’ll catch up on the weekend.’
‘If there’s any more I can do. To take some of the load . . .’
‘I don’t think so, but thanks anyway.’
She paused on the point of saying more, then, thinking better of it, declared, ‘Good luck for today. I hope it goes well. You really deserve it!’ In a gesture that was uncharacteristically demonstrative she reached out and grasped my hand in both of hers before striding off down the street.
In the kitchen I quickly leafed through the papers. I turned each page with an odd mixture of dread and hope, but there was nothing more about Sylvie. The initial report two days ago had been sparse: a woman’s body had been recovered from the River Dart; it had been identified as that of Sylvie Mathieson. I wasn’t sure what I expected now. Some details of how she had died perhaps; some idea of what the police were doing. But maybe there was simply nothing to report. Maybe the police had imposed a news blackout. The uncertainty did nothing for the anxiety that coiled and twisted in my belly.
I gulped the rest of my coffee and thrust the
article into my briefcase. Crossing the kitchen, I glimpsed the flowers again. I picked out a white fluffy bloom – it might have been a dahlia – and, not really sure what I meant by the gesture, carried it upstairs and propped it on the pillow next to Ginny. I took a sheet from the pad and scribbled ‘Sorry’. I didn’t know what I meant by that either. All I knew was that flowers and notes were thin substitutes for all the time we never had together.
Looking down at Ginny, I felt the familiar blend of bewilderment and guilt, mainly guilt. Things hadn’t been right between us for such a long time, and I didn’t really know why.But then my whole life seemed to have gone adrift, and I wasn’t absolutely sure why that had happened either.
I changed my mind about the flower – too crass – and thrust it into the bin.
I was halfway down the stairs when Ginny’s voice cried out, ‘Hugh.