Authors: Carrie Cox
I wheeled the chair through my bedroom and over to the double doors that looked out onto the grounds of the Harding Estate. I stared out at the expanse of green lawn leading to the cliffs.
Not for the first time, I imagined wheeling myself out there. I pictured myself pushing the wheels faster and faster, not stopping for the edge of the cliff.
I closed my eyes and could almost feel the free-flowing air rushing past me as I imagined plummeting over the cliff. It was probably as close as I would ever get to the feeling of racing.
God, how I missed it. I didn’t feel alive anymore.
I stared up at the clouds as they shifted across the crescent moon. I hated nights like this.
I wanted to look up at the stars. It was one of the few pleasures I had left, and I hated it when I couldn’t see them.
I clenched the wheel and attempted to spin round fast. Too fast. The chair knocked against the sideboard, and a blue and white vase tumbled to the floor.
I cursed and stared down at the mess. The blue and white vase wasn’t mine. It was picked out by the interior designer Alexander had employed after the accident. One of the team he’d hired to make my wing of the house “wheelchair friendly.”
I wheeled the chair over the broken porcelain and cursed my brother for the hundredth time today. Why did he have to employ another minion to watch over me? Why couldn’t he just leave me alone? I’d be fine.
He thought he knew me so well. It’s obvious he had employed that pretty young thing to be my nurse for a reason. Did he really think it was that easy? One sight of a pretty, curvy woman, and he thought I’d be back to normal? I’d never be normal again.
I hated it.
I hated feeling like this. I hated how she’d looked at me tonight. And most of all, I hated seeing the pity in her eyes as she chewed her lower lip and tolerated my rudeness. I’d behaved like an ass and no one pulled me up on it. It was amazing how much you could get away with when people felt sorry for you.
But most of all, I hated myself for imagining how I would have behaved before the accident. The old Jack Harding would have been hell bent on seduction.
When she’d licked her lips nervously, I’d wondered what her mouth would taste like and imagined pressing my lips to the hollow of her throat and taking her back to my bed.
I hated her presence reminding me that I wasn’t that man anymore.
I looked out of the window again as the clouds parted, and a cluster of stars were visible against the inky black sky. It helped.
My heart rate was slowing now, and my anger was ebbing away. It wasn’t Alexander’s fault, I knew that. I knew he was only doing this because he cared. He couldn’t understand that he made it worse.
Why couldn’t he accept that I just wanted to be left alone? So what if I wanted to sulk or mope around feeling sorry for myself. Why couldn’t he leave me to it?
Instead he’d hired a physiotherapist who put me through a painful regime every day, to pummel my muscles in an attempt to get my legs working again. The first team of doctors looking after me said I wouldn’t make a full recovery. Did Alexander accept that? No, he just hired a new lot of doctors.
And the worst part is I knew he only did it because he loves me.
But he’d gone too far this time. I hated the thought of him trying to control my life. I could see through his plan. It was so transparent. He’d arranged for that young girl to come here and flirt with me and make me feel that my life was worth living again. Did he really think I was that shallow?
I would make sure they both regretted conspiring behind my back and treating me like a child. She wouldn’t be here long. I’d make sure of that.
I reached for the decanter of Bourbon, the one I stashed between the sofa and the coffee table. My brother kept trying to keep the alcohol away from me, but I always managed to persuade Maria to replace the bottles. She couldn’t resist my sad face. I could wrap her around my little finger when I gave her my sad, puppy-dog eyes. Like I said, it was amazing what you could get away with when people pitied you.
At least I hadn’t lost it completely with women.
I glanced back to my writing desk and scowl at the crumpled up letter from my ex-girlfriend.
It wasn’t a very imaginative letter. But rather than writing, ‘it’s not you it’s me,’ as most people would, she basically said it was me. She said she wanted to end it because I’d changed.
Funny that. I imagine most people would change if they weren’t able to walk anymore.
But she didn’t just leave it like that. Oh, no, that would have been too easy. I recently found out she is now engaged to the man who ruined my life. My ex-competitor, my enemy: Carlos Dalton. The man who stole the World Championship by driving me off the road at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Yep, my ex certainly knew how to kick a man when he was down.
I pushed back my bed sheets and got out of bed. It was no good. I couldn’t sleep. My mind was too preoccupied. I moved across to the window and leaned on the windowsill, looking up at the stars. The wind had picked up and blown away the storm clouds, leaving patches of clear sky and twinkling stars.
I found it reassuring. My star-gazing had first started when I was in therapy. Somehow it helped to know that I was part of something bigger. To know that something up there was consistent. And that no matter what I did, or how many times I messed up, some things would always stay the same.
The window sill was large enough for me to sit on, so I lifted myself up and tucked my feet under me. Lauren would probably have a fit if she could see me right now.
I opened the window wide, breathing in the cool night air, which was scented with something floral. I didn’t know what plant it was. Lauren, being the amazing gardener she was, could probably put a name to it. She pretty much knew every Latin name for all the plants back home.
She seemed so excited about this new job, and I knew I should be too. This was my fresh start. People were relying on me not to screw it up, especially my sister. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I’d let her down enough in the past.
I’d made up my mind to stay and do this job to the best of my ability. Seriously, how bad could it be?
If Alexander Harding had confidence in me, then who was I to argue? I still didn’t understand exactly what he wanted me to do or why he thought I could help his brother. But he was offering a well-paid job. It was a fantastic opportunity for someone like me, and I was going to grab it with both hands.
I was worried about Jack, though. He obviously resented my presence, so it wouldn’t be easy to win him over. But I would try my best.
It must be hard for him. He’d had a perfect life and an incredibly successful career all mapped out, and then in an instant, everything had been wiped out. Everything he’d worked so hard for was taken away from him.
I guessed I should cut him some slack for that.
I stifled a yawn and gazed up at the stars.
I would give this my best shot. If it didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be because I didn’t try. I’d do everything in my power to help Jack.
I climbed back into the huge double bed, tucked myself beneath the sheets and my head sank back into the comfortable pillows.
I thought I’d be tossing and turning for hours, worrying about what would happen tomorrow and how Jack would respond to me. But the moment I reached over and switched off the bedside lamp, I felt myself begin to drift.
The following morning, I’d only just blinked my eyes open and stretched my arms when there was a knock at the door.
Maria poked her head into my bedroom.
“I’ve brought you breakfast.”
I stepped out of bed and reached for my robe, quickly wrapping it around me.
“Thanks so much, but you didn’t have to do that. I could have got my own breakfast.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble. Usually Mr. Harding takes breakfast in the dining room, but this morning, he had to leave early for a meeting. He asked me to convey his apologies.”
I blinked again trying to clear the sleep from my eyes and gazed at my watch I’d left on the bedside cabinet. “You work long hours, Maria.”
Maria smiled shyly. “I work in the mornings and in the evenings, but I have the afternoons off, usually. It’s kind of like shift work, I suppose.”
I eyed the breakfast tray hungrily. I didn’t realize how ravenous I was. There was a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, coffee, a miniature apricot Danish, which smelled absolutely delicious and different types of fruit.
“Is there anything else you want?” Maria asked. “I could do you some eggs, maybe some bacon. I know Americans like their eggs and bacon.”
“No, this is fine. Just perfect. Thank you,” I said and took the tray from her.
“I’ll come back up and take you to Jack’s wing in about forty-five minutes? Is that long enough for you?”
I nodded, and Maria left me to it. I set the tray down on the dressing table and took a sip of the sharp, fresh orange juice.
It really was delicious. I wondered whether they grew the oranges nearby. I poured myself coffee and took the cup over to the window where I had my first look at Monaco in the sunshine.
It was breathtaking. I hadn’t realized yesterday, but the view from the house was beautiful.
The house was high on a cliff and an azure coastline stretched out before me. That winding road had been awful to travel on, but the view made it worth it.
I took another sip of my coffee and then headed to the en-suite bathroom. I had to get moving. I didn’t want to be late on my first day with Jack. I wanted to make a good impression.
Forty-five minutes later, I’d showered, dressed and was waiting eagerly for Maria to come and collect me.
I heard her footsteps in the corridor outside and opened the door before she reached it.
“You’re very keen,” Maria said with a laugh.
I grinned. “What should I do with my tray from breakfast? Shall I bring it down to the kitchen?”
Maria waved her hand. “Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll collect it later. Come on, I’ll show you the way to Jack’s wing.”
She led me along the corridor towards the gleaming morning sunlight streaming in from a huge arched window.
“Jack’s rooms are on the other end of the house,” Maria said matter-of-factly. “He has his own quarters. He always had his own part of the house, but after the accident his rooms were moved to the ground floor because of the wheelchair.”
I nodded. “I see.”
“It was horrible when they brought him back. For a while, we didn’t think he was going to make it. And then we were all so happy when the doctors told us he would survive. But when the doctors gave him the news that he’d never be able to race again, he just changed. It’s like he gave up fighting to get well again.”
I followed Maria down various winding corridors, convinced that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to my room later. This house was insanely big.
When we finally arrived at Jack’s wing of the house, Maria opened the door and led me into a little sitting room. It was very quaint with just a few pieces of furniture. I was surprised it was so small, considering the size of the rest of the house.
I could hear voices coming from the room next door.
Maria cocked her head to one side. “Oh, it sounds like Brian is still here.”
“He’s Jack’s physiotherapist. He’s been working with him for a couple of months now. He’s normally done by this time.” She glanced at her watch. “I think it’s probably best if you stay here until they are finished.”
We heard raised voices. My eyes widened, and I looked at Maria. I was feeling more apprehensive by the second. “Are they arguing?”
“Brian has his own way of dealing with Jack,” Maria said and gave me a small smile. “If I were you, I’d wait here until they’re done.” And with that, Maria turned and left me alone in the small room.
I stared after her. Surely she couldn’t just leave me like this. What should I do? Just stand here eavesdropping, looking like an idiot, until they’d finished?
I bit down on my lower lip. What would Kate do? I wished she was here. She was so much better at this sort of thing than I was.
Despite my best intentions not to eavesdrop, I really couldn’t help it. The voices coming from the next room were incredibly loud.
“You’re not even trying.”
“Fuck you, I am trying.” That voice I recognized. That was Jack.
“I don’t know why I bother coming here if you’re not even going to put any effort in.”