Authors: C.M. Lucas
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy
This edition published in 2016 by
O F T O M E S P U B L I S H I N G
U N I T E D K I N G D O M
The right of C.M. Lucas to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real people, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover design by KimG Design
Cover Illustration by Sarah Van Rose
Interior book design by Deadpan Design
IS HEART THRASHED
against his chest, a prisoner desperate to be freed from this burden. There was no way out. He had a job to do, and if it wasn’t done at that moment, his entire plan would be over before it even began.
The earth was but sludge, encasing his feet as he struggled up the bank. Bullets of rain struck his face as the winds lashed around him, obscuring his view and leaving him helpless in the dark.
Then, as if a divine hand was guiding the way, a flash of lightning revealed his final destination; Erimus Hall. The Hall was only another hundred meters away, run down and deserted, but his sanctuary nonetheless.
Resisting the temptation to rest against the stone wall at the top of the bank, he pushed on, clambering across it with the rain-soaked trunk in his hands. Once over and sure of his feet, he took a moment to look around. Any sign of someone following and he’d have to revert to his back up location, as even with his goal in sight, he wouldn’t allow himself the risk of assuming he was home safe.
A clap of thunder quickened his pace and a minute later he’d reached the doorway, where a century’s worth of ivy had claimed the oak as its own. He set on it straight away, teasing back the creeper with a gentle hand, the whole time fighting against the instincts that were screaming inside his head.
Just tear it down – you’re going too slow – someone’s going to see you!
No. He couldn’t leave a sign that he’d been there. It had to look natural.
Two more bursts of lightning gave him a glimpse of what he needed to allow his unmarked entry into the building. With the trunk safely inside he took one more look around, and with another strike of lightning, he was gone.
RESSED AND READY
for her first shift at her summer dream job, Anya Piddling lay on her bed, one hand covering her face, dreading what the day ahead had in store. The mattress beneath her felt lumpy and irksome, and smelt a little like damp mothballs – the standard level of comfort in the attic room. Still, right now it was more appealing than what was to come.
The sensible part of her brain was telling her to forget about last night, to focus on the good things in life. After all, she’d been dreaming about this day for the most part of her nearly seventeen years; she should have been ecstatic.
She gave a sigh as her hand slid gingerly across her forehead and back down onto the bed with a little bump. Listening to sense – even her own – wasn’t something she was good at.
HOPING TO AVOID
the likely taunts, she waited until the house fell silent before leaving, but one way or another, Torment was hell-bent on finding her, and employed the day itself to carry out its ridicule. The beautiful blue sky she had dressed for gradually faded, and as the rain softly pattered on her head she swore she could hear it laughing. As if her cascade of red curls wasn’t frizzy and matted enough.
, she thought, crinkling her nose toward the clouds.
She stopped at Mrs Prior’s Cake Shop to pick up a cinnamon pastry – the single most delicious item in the baker’s arsenal – but even comfort food wasn’t enough to lift her mood. All she could think of as she chewed was what he’d done, and instead of delicious, sweet-spiced satisfaction, her tummy rose and fell with the tumultuousness of sickness that usually accompanies a broken heart.
Her toes brushed the cobble stones until she reached the end of Peartree Lane. There, her ice-blue eyes fell fondly on her destination and a smile finally cracked her face.
White walls, black beams, and a lean so acute it rivalled Italy’s most famous landmark, Scott’s Bookshop was Anya’s favourite place in the whole world. And, it was the only place that had ever felt like home.
Of course, where she lived was home.
, to be precise. Though, the Piddling Children’s Home
didn’t feel much like a
at all. A stopgap maybe, but not a home.
Despite it being Anya’s first day as a Scott’s employee, she already knew the place well. The owner, Iain Scott, was the closest thing she had to a family member, having unofficially adopted him as a grandfather some years ago.
She wasn’t there long before she heard his cheery voice.
‘Morning, Anya.’ His honey eyes smiled at her from behind his round, gold-rimmed glasses. He shook his keys in the door, arthritis making him struggle with the lock. She knew better than to offer her help though; his hands might have succumbed to age but his pride had yet to give in, and she didn’t like to make him feel unable.
She gave him a smile but did not speak. Everything that happened the night before was right on the tip of her tongue, ready to spill, but she kept it in for fear that words wouldn’t be the only thing she shed.
The lock finally catching, he opened the slanted shop door and as she stepped inside she was hit with the antiquated aroma of untold stories. It was
scent that made her feel at home.
The floor boards creaked with each delicate footstep as she re-acquainted herself with the obscure layout of the little Tudor building. It had been a week since she was last there, but it had felt as if a decade had passed.
‘I’ll make us some tea,’ Iain said and disappeared into the staff room at the back of the shop.
Alone, she ran her fingers along the rosewood counter that Scott’s was well known for, ornate in its design and lost in time. This would be the first time she’d ever stepped behind it, and as she took her place she flushed with pride. For as long as she could remember, she had yearned to stand on this side of the counter. Perhaps now, looking at the shop from this angle, she’d be able to uncover the mystery that had plagued her since she was old enough to read.
‘Here we are,’ Iain said, breaking her train of thought with a steaming mug that read “
Only tea will do
”. ‘Oh, I... I spoke to Michael late last night.’
Anya’s stomach somersaulted. ‘Oh?’ she attempted coolly, but the word caught in her throat. She daren’t even look at him.
‘Yes, I gave him the choice to not come in today but he insisted he wasn’t going to let it affect work. I thought it was going to be nice to have everyone here for your first day. At least it isn’t long until he leaves for university.’
She gave a spiritless nod.
‘Oh, don’t worry, child. There’s plenty more fish in the sea, or so they say.’
She breathed a sigh of relief and regained eye contact. ‘So, you don’t think I was over reacting, breaking it off with him?’
‘Do you think you were?’ he asked.
She felt her eyebrows rise. ‘Do you have to answer my question with a question?’
She couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so she sipped her tea and kept quiet.
‘Don’t think about it now,’ he said, resting his cup on the table and patting her shoulder. ‘Fretting is like peddling a bicycle backwards – gets you nowhere fast and leaves you all worked up.’
She gave her best fake-smile, which, by the look in his eye, wasn’t particularly convincing. She appreciated his efforts to cheer her up but the wounds were too fresh to soothe, even a little.
‘Come on,’ he said, ‘I’ll show you how we do things this side of the counter.’
STEPHANIE LEWIS WAS
the manager at Scott’s and seemed to believe that arriving as and when she wanted was a manager’s prerogative. Twenty minutes later than she was due to start, Stephanie tottered in on a pair of six inch high-heeled shoes, navy with a red and white striped bow by the ankles.
‘Morning,’ she called in a high, jubilant voice as she staggered past Anya and Iain, her beaming smile lighting up the overcast morning. She dropped her bags by the door and did a turn on the spot. ‘I saw these in Clavelli’s window and I was like, “O. M. G!” I just had to have them!’
‘Clavelli’s? They must have cost a fortune!’ Anya gasped.
‘Just a small one,’ Stephanie replied, admiring her own reflection in the shop window. ‘But they were
worth it, don’t you think?’
Anya bit her tongue hard. She doubted that it would bode well telling her new boss that she looked like a newborn fawn attempting to walk for the first time.
Her presence being quite the norm in the book shop, Anya had, to an extent, known the manager quite some time, but she had always kept her distance. Stephanie seemed like one of those popular girls that usually took an immediate dislike to her.
‘Anya, you could do with some of those,’ Iain chuckled, pointing at Stephanie’s new shoes. ‘You might actually be able to see over the counter then!’
‘Oh haa haa haa.’ She smiled, quite used to his teasing. ‘I get it. I’m small. Does that mean I’m going to be at the short end of all the workplace jokes from now on?’
‘Short end!’ Iain snorted like a piglet.
I guess that’s a
HAVE YOU FINISHED
all your exams now?’ Stephanie asked later whilst loading Anya’s arms with all manner of books, ready to restock the shelves.
‘Not yet, I’m still on study-leave. I’ll be finished soon though, then I can work the whole summer.’
‘Awww, it’s cute how enthusiastic you are about working. That won’t last!’
‘I’m not sure about that, I love this place.’
They carried on chatting whilst they worked, discussing their current reads. Anya’s enthusiasm for the book she’d recently finished reading pushed all thought of Michael right to the back of her mind, so when he did finally walk through the door, she wasn’t prepared at all. She hadn’t yet planned what she would say to him if – or more likely
– the subject of last night arose.
‘Good morning,’ Michael said, looking down to the ground, avoiding Anya’s eyes.
Stephanie, who hadn’t reacted at all to his entrance, cried, ‘Morning, Michael! What do you think of my new shoes? Iain thinks they’re too high but you know Iain, he’s been around for like, forever, so he’s
old fash! Anya likes them, don’t you Anya...’ She paused, glancing back and forth between Anya and Michael. ‘Am I missing something here?’
‘We broke up last night,’ Anya said as quietly as she could.
After what was possibly the longest, most uncomfortable pause Anya had ever endured, Stephanie grabbed a ring binder full of papers from the desk and continued talking, getting quieter with each word she spoke. ‘Right! I’ve got to... go... do some... manager-y... things. Can’t leave Iain to do it all alone, can I?’ She scuttled off to the office, closing the door behind her.
A chainsaw would have struggled to cut the tension between them. Michael let out an uncomfortable little cough then glanced up at her from beneath his lowered brows. ‘How are you this morning?’ It was obvious he was trying to sound like he wasn’t bothered.
Thinking how to answer, last night replayed in her mind.
Arriving at Michael’s early, Mrs Hobbs showing her to Michael’s room, the smell of beef wellington filling the house as his mother prepared dinner. Flicking through the books on his shelf, and then... the poem.
The poem Michael had given Anya on their first Valentine’s Day together, the poem he told her he’d written
just for her
, was there, staring back at her in bold, red ink from inside the cover of one of his poetry books. But it wasn’t his handwriting.
He hadn’t written the poem at all. His ex-girlfriend had.
‘Okay, so I’m not brilliant at poetry, but I never would have used it if I thought you’d go riffling through my things like a stalker and find it!’ As soon as he’d said it, she could tell he wished he hadn’t, but it was too late.
‘YOU WHAT?’ she spat at him, her temper unravelling fast.
‘That didn’t come out right...’
‘I left my book at home, Michael! I didn’t think there’d be a problem with me reading one of yours! How was I supposed to know you were hiding recycled poetry inside them?’
He didn’t answer.
Pain welled in her eyes as she stood there, looking at him. She’d believed wholeheartedly that she’d found someone she could finally trust, someone who understood her and would never hurt her. To some, maybe what he’d done was a minor infraction, but to Anya, betrayal was betrayal. There were no grey areas. ‘How am I supposed to believe anything that comes out of your mouth now?’
‘Ah,’ he said, his shoulders relaxing and his face shifting to smug. ‘I should have seen this coming. You really do have an issue with trust, don’t you, Anya?’
That was it. He’d used the
There are many words you should never use during an argument with someone who’d spent their entire life in a children’s home, and the
word is definitely one of them.
‘Oh, I’m the one with the issues, am I? You didn’t have to tell me you wrote that poem, you know! We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if you hadn’t lied to me in the first place! I mean, who does that? It’s just weird!’
‘I was trying to impress you! And, to be fair, it did work at the time.’
‘Yes, because I thought it had come from the heart!’
‘Well, it kind of did – maybe not my heart, but Emily was very much in love with me so it was a very heartfelt poem indeed.’
‘Argh!’ Anya roared, tugging at the roots of her hair in frustration.
‘Really Anya, I don’t know why it’s bothering you so much, it’s not like I’ve cheated on you or anything.’
‘I don’t know what’s worse, the fact you did it or the fact that you can’t see why you shouldn’t have!’
‘Okay, look, I won’t do anything like that again. Now can we just go down for dinner? Mother’s been cooking all afternoon and it wouldn’t be fair for you to ruin it all for her by being childish over a silly poem!’