Deception (Absent Shadows Trilogy Book 3)

BOOK: Deception (Absent Shadows Trilogy Book 3)
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Copyright © 2014 S M Spencer

All rights are reserved. The material contained within this book is protected by copyright law, no part may be copied, reproduced, presented, stored, communicated or transmitted in any form by any means without prior written permission.

This publication is a work of fiction. All characters and places, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Cover design by BookPOD

Cover image woman in red © Eleaner | Dreamstime.com

Cover image of man © Angelo Cordeschi | Dreamstime.com

Cover images young girl © Aleshyn_Andrei | Shutterstock

eISBN:- 978-0-9942108-3-8

Deception:
‘The act of using trickery to mislead by deliberate misrepresentation or lies.’

~ Chapter One ~

‘Have you heard from Sam yet … about whether he’s coming for Christmas?’ Mom called out from the kitchen.

It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday, less than two weeks before Christmas. I’d been in California for over three months, and there’d been no changes to Ceylona—none that suggested we would be going back to Australia any time soon.

‘No, not yet,’ I replied, turning away from the movie I’d been watching. I looked down at Ceylona, fast asleep on my lap, and smiled. I actually hadn’t been thinking about Sam for the past half hour. Was I making progress or was it just a good movie?

‘Well, he’s probably just busy. Don’t worry about it,’ she said, poking her head around the door to look at me.

‘I could always ring him, you know. It’s not like I have to wait for an email reply,’ I said, almost like I was asking her permission.

Mom walked up, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.

‘Yes, of course you could. Or, you could just wait for him to reply. I’d be inclined to give him a few more days to think it over, rather than push for an answer right now. He’s more likely to agree to come in his own time than if you press him.’

‘Yeah, you’re probably right,’ I said, deciding I’d give him two more days to think about it.

‘And what about Claire, will she come up from LA? Do you think she’d like to join us for dinner this year?’

‘Yeah, no, I mean, I think she’s coming up for a few days to see her Dad, but she said she’s spending Christmas with Shane’s family—in Laguna Beach. It’ll be warm there, and apparently his family’s house is some sort of mansion—with a pool and tennis court and servants and stuff.’

‘Oh, that sounds nice, doesn’t it? But do ask if she and her father would like to join us for dinner one night while she’s here. That is if they don’t already have plans.’

‘Okay, I will.’

‘Now, I’ll do a roast chicken tonight. Would you mind running out and getting me a bag of potatoes, and some butter?’

‘Sure. I’ll put Ceylona to bed. She should sleep for a couple of hours—we had a big morning at the park. I’m getting way better at running with the stroller now. Oh, would you mind if I do a little Christmas shopping while I’m out? I haven’t gotten anything for Raye yet.’

‘Of course, but be back by five or we won’t be having mashed potatoes with our dinner.’

I took Ceylona upstairs, tucked her into bed and gave her a big kiss as she drifted back to sleep. Then I grabbed my backpack and ran back downstairs.

It was a quick drive to Burlingame Avenue, but finding a parking spot big enough for Mom’s Buick wasn’t easy. I wished I still had my little car, but Raye had taken it over when I got married—I mean, it looked like I wouldn’t come back from Australia. I didn’t have the heart to take it back off her now. So, borrowing Mom’s car was my current mode of transport.

I finally parked, and made my way along the street to a favourite shop that sold candles, bric-a-brac and home decorations. Along the way I noticed that all the stores were overflowing with Christmas spirit—elaborate window dressings, staff dressed as Santa’s helpers, and festive music spilling out the open doors—but none of their efforts made me feel festive. Instead, all they did was make me reminisce about last Christmas, when I’d raced around trying to find gifts for everyone at the post-Christmas sales. Could it really have been just one year ago? So much had happened since then.

Deep in thought, I jumped when someone touched my shoulder.

‘Hey gorgeous, I heard you were back,’ said a familiar voice from behind me.

I swung around. ‘Oh, hi David … how are you?’ It was an automatic response. I really didn’t care how he was.

‘Good. You know, I saw Susan a couple of days ago—she said you were back. I was going to call you, but this is better, running into you like this.’

He smiled, but I just stared blankly in return for a moment.

‘Oh, yeah, so much better,’ I said, rolling my eyes dramatically.

‘She said you’re married, and have a daughter now too. Is that true?’

‘Well, not that it’s any of your business, but yes, true on both counts,’ I replied, flashing my gorgeous sapphire ring under his nose.

‘So, if you’re married, what are you doing here? Can’t just be for the holidays—Susan said you’ve been back for a few months already.’

I glared at him. I owed him no explanations, and didn’t feel like talking to him in any case.

‘Look, David, I’ve gotta run. Mom’s expecting me back. Have a nice Christmas, and wish your family a Merry Christmas too, of course.’

‘There you go again, running away from me—always running away. You know I still love you, don’t you? I’m here for you Lili, if you need to talk … or whatever.’

‘Gee, thanks David. I’ll, uh … remember that,’ I said, hoping he picked up on the sarcasm in my voice.

I turned and raced out of the shop, angry because this was where I’d hoped to get something for Raye. But never mind, I could come back another day. There was still time.

I headed for the grocery store, looking over my shoulder to make sure David wasn’t following, but when I spotted a children’s clothing shop, I ducked into it. Maybe I’d get a new outfit for Ceylona; something she could wear at Christmas, and maybe even her birthday if it still fit.

I looked through the clothes on the rack, trying to find something pink—something pretty. Then I found it, the perfect little party dress. It was exactly what I’d been looking for, reminding me of Elizabeth’s dress. Dear, sweet Elizabeth. Hopefully Sam had been showing her some of the photos I’d sent of Ceylona. She would really have liked the chance to know her little niece.

I paid for the dress while the shopkeeper complimented me on my purchase, then picking up the bag, I walked out of the shop to find David standing just outside—waiting for me.

‘Kind of an obvious store to go into, don’t you think? I mean, really, if you were trying to get away from me, why go in there?’

‘Give it up, will you? I really,
really
don’t want to talk to you right now.’


Really
, eh? Well, I want to talk to you. I just told you that I still love you, Lili. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?’

I lifted my left hand, and showed him my ring again. ‘Married—you know?’

‘Yeah, I know. But if you’re so
married
then why are you here on your own?’

‘Look, it’s none of your business.’

I turned to go in the other direction, but he followed right behind me.

‘Stop following me. I don’t want to talk to you, get it?’ I was walking quickly but he sped past me, then turned, blocking my way.

‘No, I don’t get it. How can you say you’re married, when you’re here and he’s what, still in Australia I assume?’

‘I don’t have to explain anything to you, David. I’m not interested in you in any way, shape or form.’ I turned to go in the other direction, but again, he blocked my way.

‘I don’t believe you. I think you’re just too stubborn to admit that you were wrong. Wrong to leave me, wrong to run off to Australia and marry this guy, and wrong to have his baby,’ he said.

‘That’s enough,’ I yelled, shaking with anger now.

‘Look, I love you, Lili. And I’ll do anything to get you back—even with someone else’s baby. I mean, God, if you were my wife, and you’d had my baby, I’d never let you leave me. You must know that, don’t you? He obviously doesn’t love you like I do,’ he said.

‘Go away, David, before I scream for the police.’ Or scream for my vampire husband or his sister the ghost—if only I could.

‘Hit a nerve, I see. So, if you two are so in love, why are you here and why did this guy let you leave?’ He squinted, looking angry now—demanding an answer.

‘It’s … none … of … your … business,’ I replied through gritted teeth.

He sighed, and his face softened. ‘Lili, everything to do with you is my business. I won’t give up. Did you know that I moped around for months after you left last year? I couldn’t shake myself out of this funk … I mean, I missed you so much. And then Susan said you were back, and I felt like I’d been given a second chance.’

‘Look, David, I’m sorry you haven’t been able to move on with your life, but I’ve moved on with mine. I’m not the same person I was before. I’ve changed. There is no going back. And I really do have to go.’

I turned away again, and this time he didn’t follow. I continued down the street, but then I realised that I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d parked the car. Was it in this street, or around the corner? The conversation with David had upset me more than I wanted to admit; to David, and to myself. He was wrong, of course. Sam loved me. He was just respecting my wishes. Wasn’t he?

I found the car, got in behind the wheel, and then sat there fighting back tears of frustration.

‘Stop it, McIntyre,’ I scolded myself out loud, then caught my breath. I wasn’t a McIntyre any longer. I was a Todd.

~ Chapter Two ~

Christmas came and went, but Sam didn’t.

He did eventually reply to my email, but only to say that he wasn’t able to make it over. I did my best to accept his decision, but of course I was hurt. I’d wanted to see him more than I dared admit—especially after what David had said. But how could I blame him for not dropping everything to fly halfway around the world, just because I had chosen to come here? I was the one that left him. And I’d done it so I could bring Ceylona up in a safe environment—I had to keep reminding myself of that. But even though I told myself this repeatedly, I still found it nearly impossible to stop thinking about the life I should be having with Sam.

I’m sure part of the reason I couldn’t stop thinking about Sam was because I wasn’t busy enough. I didn’t have to work—Sam had set up a transfer to my bank account that saw me getting way more money than I needed to support myself and Ceylona. And I didn’t have a car. So, other than walking to the local park most mornings, Ceylona and I mostly just hung out around the house during the day. Indeed, Mom said she’d never seen the house so clean.

Mom must have come to the same conclusion however, as she was the one who talked me into buying a car. She said it would make me feel more independent if I was able to get out and do things during the day. While I’d hesitated at first, I did think it would be wonderful to take Ceylona out on day trips. I finally gave in when I convinced myself that by getting a car I would be able to take better care of Ceylona. After all, what if she got sick and I needed to take her to a doctor? I’d need a car for that, right?

But the fact was Ceylona never got sick. Even Mom said Ceylona was the healthiest baby she’d ever come across. She hadn’t had a sniffle or a fever, and she never cried—not even when she bumped her head or fell as all babies do. If it hurt, she didn’t seem to notice. And she never even had so much as a bruise.

I was hoping her extremely good health was a sign, and when I mentioned it to Crystal I could tell she hoped it meant something too. But it wasn’t enough—and she was still growing slowly. We needed more evidence so we just had to wait.

~~***~~

By February Ceylona was speaking a little; just simple things, like ‘bye-bye’ when we’d go out, and ‘mama’ when she wanted me to pick her up. I thought she seemed very advanced, but Mom was convinced this was quite normal for an eight month old baby.

I had my car now and, as Mom had predicted, it gave me a much greater sense of independence. Ceylona and I would still walk to the local park most mornings, but after lunch we’d do a trip somewhere. Ceylona’s favourite spot soon became the beach at Coyote Point. She loved sitting on a blanket, watching the seagulls and grabbing the sand in her tiny little fists. On days when it was too windy for the beach we’d go to the rose garden or the Japanese Gardens. And if it rained we’d go to the shopping centre and just look in the windows. Ceylona loved the shopping centre, especially when we stopped in front of the pet shop where she could see the puppies.

She’d become a real dog lover, this daughter of mine. She got so excited when she was allowed to pet the friendlier dogs, like the big black Labrador and the Golden Retriever that we often saw at the park. This made for some really cute photos, the best of which I always sent to Sam and Crystal.

After one particularly cute photo, Crystal wrote back saying she’d never known
special
children to take such an interest in animals. I could tell she was disappointed that this might suggest Ceylona wasn’t a dhampira. But then again, Mladen’s school didn’t have any animals, so perhaps the children there simply hadn’t been given the opportunity. Even Crystal admitted she didn’t dislike animals; she just hadn’t had terribly much to do with them.

As I thought about this, I wondered if Ben or Henry had ever even seen a dog. It made me sad, thinking about how Ceylona’s brothers were growing up with such different experiences to hers. And growing up was the right expression—they would be the equivalent of grade school boys now, growing at six times the speed of their younger sister. If her growth rate didn’t change, they’d be mature adults before Ceylona would even be ready for kindergarten.

I was grateful that at least the boys had each other. They were close enough in age that they would no doubt be really good friends. That was certainly an advantage they had over Ceylona. Poor little Ceylona was only ever surrounded by adults. I did wonder if I should enrol her in some sort of day-care program a couple times a week, for the interaction with other children. But as soon as I thought that, I decided it was too risky. I’d wait until next year, to see if she continued to grow at a normal,
human
, rate.

~~***~~

Getting out more during the day was making me feel a little better—giving me something to think about for a few hours at a time. I even decided to make an effort to get back in contact with a few friends from school. Occasionally I’d leave Ceylona with Mom in the evenings or for a few hours on the weekend. Mom didn’t mind being a baby sitter, in fact she encouraged me to get out—after all, she and Ceylona got along fabulously.

It was on one of these days that I returned from having lunch with Susan to hear that David had dropped by.

‘He’s changed, hasn’t he? He’s much more … mature. And he and Ceylona, well, it was quite interesting to watch them. She was quite taken with him,’ Mom said just after I got home.

‘Mom? I can’t believe you let him come in … and meet Ceylona? What were you thinking?’

Mom glared at me as if she were about to scold me, then she just shook it off and said, ‘When he came to the door she was sitting on the floor playing, so he could see her. He was very polite, and asked if he could come in and wait a few minutes, in case you came home soon. What was I meant to do, be rude and tell him to go away?’

‘Yes,’ I said, perhaps more sharply than I meant to, then shook my head and softened my voice, ‘I’m not interested in him. I thought I’d made that clear to everyone.’

‘Well, he said he just wanted to talk to you. So, he came in for a few minutes. Or maybe it was a half hour or so. Anyway, he told me about his new job. I didn’t know he’d been working with his uncle, finishing up an electrical apprenticeship. He seems to have grown up a lot since I’d last seen him. And he seemed genuinely interested in Ceylona … in a nice way,’ she said, adding the last bit when I gave her a foul look.

‘And so, what are you getting at? I thought you never liked David?’

‘Well, I’m just saying … he seems to be quite settled down now. And I never said I didn’t like him, I just didn’t want you to rush into anything. He says he’s still crazy about you,’ she winked as she added this last bit.

‘Mom, I’m in love with Sam. You know … my husband … the man to whom I’ve sworn eternal love … remember him? I thought you liked Sam?’

‘I do like Sam, of course. But, how can I say this without upsetting you?’ she hesitated, looking around the room as if for inspiration. ‘Look, he’s a vampire. And as much as I like him, and I know that you love him, well … if you were to, shall I say, move on with your life … it wouldn’t be such a bad thing, now would it?’

‘Mom! Please, don’t go there.
Really
.’

‘Okay, okay. I’m just saying David came around; he was polite; Ceylona seemed quite taken with him. So there—that’s all.’

‘Well, I’m glad that’s all. Seriously, Mom, I have no interest there. None whatsoever.’

She winked at me, and I glared back at her, but then she laughed, and so did I. I guess she was just testing me. Maybe. Whatever it was, I just hoped David wouldn’t make a nuisance of himself.

~~***~~

At the end of March, Claire came up for spring break.

‘So, where’s Shane? Did he come up with you?’ I asked when she arrived at the house.

‘He’s … well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know where he is. And I don’t really care,’ she replied.

‘Oh, I’m sorry Claire. I didn’t realise. Did you have a fight or something?’

‘No … well, sort of … maybe. I mean, he’s just so boring. All he wants to do is surf and drink beer.’

Another one bites the dust, I thought to myself. Well, it wasn’t the end of the world. There was a plethora of gorgeous young men there in Southern California, and it wouldn’t be long before someone else caught her eye.

‘Besides, I’m thinking I’ll go home for the summer break—I’ll get to see Tom. I still miss him, you know. I just can’t seem to meet anyone who measures up to him.’

Yeah, well, any wonder I thought to myself. And I also wondered what Claire would think, if I told her the truth. Would she be excited? Or would she be afraid? The former, I suspected. She’d probably think it was fabulous, and be pissed-off with me for keeping the truth from her for so long. I’d probably tell her someday, but not unless there was no way around it. But still, if she was going to see Tom, maybe she’d see Sam too.

‘I wonder if you’ll see Sam while you’re there,’ I said, trying not to sound too excited. After all, we were separated as far as Claire knew.

‘Yeah, probably … and I’ll tell him he’s a fool for letting you slip away. But he probably knows that already. I bet he wishes he’d treated you better. You know, you never did tell me what broke you two up?’

‘Didn’t I?’

‘No, I’m sure you didn’t.’

‘Well … I suppose it was just that we’d rushed into the marriage so quickly … you know. That … and I guess I missed home … and my family.’

‘Yeah?’ she sighed, then her face went a bit ethereal and her eyes seemed to have lost all focus as she whispered, ‘I guess I get it … but still … there is something about them, isn’t there?’

‘Yeah, there sure is,’ I said, trying to fight off feelings of guilt. Maybe I owed her the truth—she was one of my closest friends after all, and she was pretty involved in their world, even if only on the periphery. I swallowed, and started to speak, but my voice wouldn’t come. No, this wasn’t just my secret. I didn’t have a right to tell Claire any of it. Not even that Ceylona was my daughter. She thought Ceylona was my little sister, and as guilty as I felt for letting her think that, telling her the truth would only lead to more questions.

Then she saved me. ‘Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s go bowling! We haven’t been in like, forever. Remember how much fun we had last time?’

‘Bowling? Uh … yeah, okay. I mean, if that’s what you want to do,’ I answered, relieved that she’d changed the topic and taken me off the hook.

And so we went bowling. And we had a great time, even when we were laughing at how bad we were. And in the car on the way back afterwards I told her about seeing David at the shops, and she sympathised with how awful it would have been. But she did have this cheeky grin the whole time, possibly remembering similar experiences of her own.

~~***~~

Ceylona’s first birthday party was a challenge that Raye couldn’t resist. She was hoping to become an event planner, and according to her, a first birthday was definitely an event. So even though she had finals and the Senior Ball coming up, she insisted on organising it. There would only be three other little girls there, Susan’s twin nieces and the grand-daughter of one of Mom’s work colleagues, but even so Raye was determined the party would be memorable.

Mother Nature came through for us on the morning of the party, and we had perfect spring weather for our backyard circus. And I do mean circus. There was a petting zoo that included two miniature ponies, a goat, three little piglets, half a dozen ducklings, a calf and several chickens. And of course there was a clown—no circus was complete without a clown. The party was a huge success—everyone enjoyed themselves, but none more than the party girl herself. And indeed, Ceylona looked like a little princess in her pink party dress—and it still fit perfectly.

I’d taken something like a hundred photos, so late that night, after Ceylona had gone to asleep, I settled myself down to send a long email to Sam and Crystal telling them all about the party, and attaching a selection of the best photos. And afterwards, I cried myself to sleep, cursing fate once again, and wishing our lives didn’t have to be this way.

~~***~~

Toward the end of June we got a surprise call from Debs. She and Ian were finally leaving Paris, and Debs had insisted they fly back via California so they could stop to see us.

Having them stay with us proved to be no problem as Raye kindly gave up her room to them. She was more than happy to go stay at a friend’s house. But Ian was restless from the moment they arrived. And although he tried to smile and made brief attempts at being sociable, it was obvious to all of us that he wasn’t really enjoying all this female company. So, after a few days of him dragging around looking miserable, Debs suggested he go on home without her, and he jumped at the idea.

And that left Ceylona, Mom, Debs and me alone together in the house for the first time.

‘So, you and Sam are taking a break from each other,’ Debs said while we sat at the kitchen table having a coffee. ‘Well, you know that Ian is my third husband, so I do know a bit about breakups, but I have to admit I’m surprised. I’d never have thought you two would find anything to fight about—certainly not enough to cause a breakup. I’m sure whatever it is, it can be sorted out. Do you want to talk about it?’

Mom and I looked at each other, and then we both turned to Debs at the same time. Mom was the one that spoke first.

‘She knows, Debs. I told her everything … about Caroline … and Francis.’

Debs opened her eyes wide for a moment, but then she smiled. ‘Well, this makes things much easier now doesn’t it? I must say, there have been times when I wanted to say something, but I didn’t feel it was my place. After all, she’s your daughter, Anita. And if you hadn’t seen a need to tell her, well, I didn’t think I should be the one to do so. But I’m glad you know, Lili.’

She reached across the table, and put her hand over mine for just a moment, squeezing it slightly. Then she picked up her coffee and took a sip before continuing.

‘You know, when we were planning your wedding … and what a lovely wedding it was, Anita. I so wish you’d been able to be there. Lili looked so beautiful.’

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