Read Singled Out Online

Authors: Trisha Ashley

Singled Out (23 page)

BOOK: Singled Out
4.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Jason got up, kissed the top of my head and said with a big grin: ‘Tomorrow?’

About to disabuse his mind of any hopes he might have, it suddenly occurred to me that although I didn’t want quite the personal service he had in mind, there was no reason why I shouldn’t still utilise him if I did decide that I wanted to go ahead with late motherhood. Once he’d got over the disappointment, of course. I didn’t need to totally close the door on the idea just yet …

‘I’ll
talk
to you tomorrow, anyway,’ I agreed cautiously.

Rosetta and Eddie drifted off to a corner where they sat in an entwined heap, like puppies. They seemed to be sharing one orange juice and a packet of crisps.

Orla got the giggles as soon as we were alone.

‘Cass, your face! I’m sorry I came out with it like that, without thinking, but you really don’t have to sleep with Jason if you don’t want to, you know!’

‘I know, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t father my baby, now we know he isn’t Tom’s father. Poor Tom!’

‘Of course Jason might well only agree to help if you let him in on the act,’ Orla pointed out. ‘I don’t somehow think the idea of donating is going to go down well – and I think he will want to be involved with the pregnancy and the baby.’

‘If there is one, because I’ve been uncertain about the whole idea lately. And you are right – if it worked and I got pregnant it wouldn’t be fair to Jason, because he would want more than I could give him.’ I sighed. ‘No, it isn’t going to work, is it? I’ll have to tell him tomorrow that I’ve changed my mind and I’m not going to try and get pregnant at all.’

‘Aren’t you? Is that your last word on the subject?’

‘Oh, I don’t know. No. I mean, who with?’

‘I think we both
know
who with,’ Orla said significantly.

‘No, we don’t,’ I snapped. ‘It’ll have to be the Saluki hound after all.’

‘Much better idea.’ she approved.

Chapter 15: Rescue Me

… the one ewe lamb must be saved from the foul beast. Righteousness will prevail. The Spawn of Satan shall not draw her in, though I walk in the fiery pit to save her …

 

This rant was awaiting me on the answering machine when I got home last night, and I fear Pa has finally gone right over the edge.

While it is clear that Jane is the ewe lamb, am I the foul beast or the Spawn of Satan, or both? And far from being a fiery pit my cottage is on the dank side, if anything.

He can’t possibly intend coming here, can he?

Perhaps he means to get Jane up there and lock
her
in the cupboard? I’d quite like that.

*   *   *

After that I couldn’t settle down to work because my mind was going round in circles, wondering what to do about Jason. I mean, he’s the only man willing (apart from a reluctant and faraway Max) to offer to father my offspring, it’s just that I can’t stomach the relationship angle that he clearly expects to go with it.

Maybe I could persuade him just to do the donor thing? But even then he’d still haunt me at every turn, wanting to get involved with the child-rearing.

Now the awful spectre of Tom has been removed from the equation, Jason might make quite nice babies, though …

But then there’s Orla to consider: I think she really cares about him, but she’s not going to get anywhere while he has this misguided crush on my slightly kinky Vampirella persona; and even though she says she wouldn’t mind Jason fathering my child, I’m quite sure it would do something fundamentally bad to our friendship.

I don’t have so many close friends I can afford to lose any.

Why do I feel this need to have children – a child – at all? What do I want one
for?
The answer, plainly, is nothing: the urge to procreate goes much, much deeper than that. But other women deal with it: they get cats, dogs, or look after other people’s children.

It was all very confusing, so after a while I pulled on my boots and cloak and walked up to the graveyard, striking it lucky: it was one of those rare nights with the full Hammer Horror mist-rising-from-the-tombs effect.

I took it as a good omen right up to the minute when I stepped back to admire a particularly spooky vista, tripped over a half-hidden tombstone, and fell backwards into an all-too-familiar embrace.

… arms closed about her, caged her in a strong embrace. She felt enveloped in inky blackness as though a dark cloud had forever blotted out the sun and she would never know its warmth again, only the raging fires of eternity …

I didn’t even have to see him: one touch and I knew who it was.

‘You just can’t keep out of my arms, can you?’ Dante said unfairly, setting me back on my feet and turning me round to face him. The darkly shadowed hollow cheekbones and deep-set eyes were
sensational
by moonlight, but his mouth, unfortunately, looked like it had been firmly folded by an anally retentive origami expert.

‘What are
you
doing here?’ I demanded angrily, for I rather look on the graveyard at night as my own special place, for refuge, inspiration or comfort.

‘I’d heard about the special effects, and came to see for myself.’ He looked around, still retaining a seemingly casual hold on me. ‘Pity we can’t lay it on when we want it, isn’t it?’

‘No, I like the surprise. How did
you
know it would be like this tonight?’

‘The vicar told me. He told me about lots of other interesting things, too, like this slave auction coming up next week,’ he added casually, if anything can sound casual when delivered in that curiously sexy, running-water-over-gravel voice.

‘Oh,
that’s
not very interesting,’ I assured him. ‘Not worth your while bothering to come, even.’

‘Oh, I don’t know: I think it has distinct possibilities.’ He looked me over, burqa’d head to heels in purple velvet, and amended that: ‘Hidden possibilities, Tell me, Cass, how does your lover feel about you selling yourself to the highest bidder, when any man could buy your services for a day?’

He managed to make an innocent charity event sound absolutely indecent.

‘You must know from the vicar that it’s a
perfectly
respectable affair,’ I said coldly. ‘And leave my lover out of this! What did you mean, pretending you thought Max was my father the other night?’

He shrugged, but at least he let me go and put his hands in his jacket pockets instead, which was a relief. I took a cautious step back.

‘It was an impulse of the moment: you looked miserable, he was looking pompous. You hadn’t told him about our little fling, by any chance? Or is sleeping with strange men something you do so often when he’s not around it’s hardly worth mentioning?’

For a moment I couldn’t seem to breathe: but then something terribly Southern Belle swept over me like a savanna fire and I dealt him the most resounding slap on the cheek with the flat of my hand. You could practically hear the theme tune to
Gone With The Wind
building up to a crescendo in the background.

Oh Miz Scarlett, what
have
you gone and done?

The slap echoed like the crack of doom around the graveyard, but fortunately none of the residents took it as a wake-up call.

I stared up at him, horrified and suddenly afraid, because according to all the films I’ve ever seen he should either chastise me in a humiliating and totally unforgivable manner or drag me into his arms and kiss me senseless. Or one followed by the other.

Dante can’t have seen the same films, because he just stood there looking naturally grim and said levelly: ‘So I’ll take that as a resounding no, then, shall I?’

‘You can take it any way you like!’ I snapped, although I noticed some innate survival instinct had caused me to put more space between us.

He shrugged. ‘You can’t blame me for wondering. Rosetta tells me you’re so desperate to get pregnant you’re even thinking about using your friend Jason to father it, so I thought perhaps your lover was past it and you might be distributing your favours generously in the hopes one of us might do the trick for you?’

‘No he isn’t – I’m not – I didn’t!’ I cried hotly and incoherently. ‘That was all a mistake, and I’m certainly not going to sleep with Jason even if – and Max isn’t—’

I stopped, and glared at him: ‘Why am I even trying to explain things to you? It’s got absolutely nothing to do with you!’

‘It is if that was why you wanted
me?
Don’t think I’m complaining, only if you are using me for your own ends I’d like to know about it.’

He was angry: coldly and furiously angry, I could see that now. I took another step or two back and nearly fell over a gravestone.

‘No, I wasn’t! I didn’t want you, it was just the drink and the nightmare—’

‘If it didn’t work, perhaps you’d like me to try again? Only you might like to remember my track record: a wife left to cope with pregnancy on her own, dead by the time I got back.’

‘I wouldn’t touch you again if you were the last—’ I began, then broke off as what he’d just said sank in and I realised at last that he was far, far angrier with himself than with me. I stared at what I could see of his hawk profile, now half-turned away.

‘But it wasn’t
your
fault that you got kidnapped, was it?’ I said. ‘And you weren’t there when she died, so that isn’t your fault either.’

‘She hated being left alone when I was off on assignments, and she hated being pregnant: she only did it because she thought it would keep me at home.’

‘But it didn’t, did it?’ I said. ‘That was your job, surely she knew that?’

‘I suppose I expected my life to go on pretty much the same after I was married as before, but I might have found work nearer home once there was a baby on the way, if I hadn’t found out she’d had an affair last time I was away. I told her I needed time to think about things and left her alone and pregnant in London.’

‘Then you got taken hostage and couldn’t get back,’ I prompted, since he seemed to have come to a brooding halt.

‘Emma was complaining of headaches when I left, and it turns out she had an aneurysm, a weak blood vessel in her brain that ruptured. They couldn’t save her, but if I’d been home and made her see a doctor perhaps something might have been done. Her mother was there, and all she did was take her to some faith healer!’

‘But you couldn’t have guessed what would happen when you left, and perhaps she couldn’t have been saved anyway?’

‘Who knows?’ he sighed. ‘After Paul was killed I thought things couldn’t get any worse, and then I was told Emma and the baby had died months before.’

‘Well, I still don’t see why you need to feel guilty about any of it, and it’s really nothing to do with me, after all: I mean, it’s not like you’ve just confessed to galloping syphilis, is it?’

‘No,’ he said gravely. ‘I don’t have anything like that.’

‘And I don’t know why you’re telling me anyway, because I wouldn’t have touched you with a barge pole the other night if you hadn’t made me hideously drunk with that brandy, let alone want you to father my child! Getting pregnant was the last thing on my mind.’

‘Was it? How about your subconscious? What’s the scenario in there, Cass? Is the biological clock ticking, your lover won’t or can’t father a child, and no one else is in the offing except poor old Jason?’

Summed it up in a nutshell, the bastard.

‘I love Jason like a brother,’ I said with dignity. ‘I might desperately want a baby, but logically I don’t need one, it’s just Nature trying to con me into reproduction. I’m going to fight the urge and get a nice dog instead.’

He laughed at me, and I so nearly hit him again that I had to step right away out of arm’s reach.

‘Haven’t you got a faithful old dog already? One called Max?’

‘I’ve given him up,’ I said, like he was a bad habit. (Which, come to think of it, he was.) ‘His wife has started to come between us.’

‘I thought his wife was dead?’

‘She is, and now she’s an insuperable obstacle.’

‘You are the weirdest woman I’ve ever met,’ he stated, gazing at me with knit brows. ‘Poor Jason’s trying to bite off more than he can chew.’

‘I wish you wouldn’t keep calling him “poor Jason” in that pitying way! He’s one of my oldest friends and I’m very fond of him. He just has this little mental kink about me in my vampire get-up which has temporarily clouded his judgment.’

‘I’m not surprised,’ he said enigmatically, and I stared at him doubtfully before deciding I didn’t want an explanation.

‘So, what
was
all that about with me the other night?”

‘Comfort, I think, and brandy. Brandy seems to be a family weakness. But you’re quite safe, because I’m not going to do it again.’

‘No?’

‘No. Though at least one good thing came out of that night: I knew Kedge Hall would provide the inspiration I needed to add an extra dimension to my new book, and it did!’

‘I just read one of your books, and I don’t believe anything good comes into it. How did Kedge Hall inspire you?’ he demanded suspiciously.

‘Oh – just as a bit of mock-Gothic background,’ I said with sudden vagueness, thinking that perhaps he wouldn’t like to know that I’d described the house pretty closely, besides inventing a permanent vampire family patriarch of dubious tastes and habits.

Could he sue me for that, when the book comes out?

Unfortunately he seemed to be thinking along similar lines. ‘If you are using my house as a background don’t you think you owe me something?’ he said, surprising me. ‘If you still refuse to help us out with the haunting, perhaps you’d like to come up to the Hall and give me some advice, writer to writer, instead?’

‘Advice?’

‘I’ve got the notes for the book, I’ve got an advance to write it, now I have to deliver the goods and I don’t know how to put it together. I’m a novice, you’re a professional. You used me the other night for whatever reasons of your own, and now you’re using my home: so is an afternoon of your time too much to ask in return?’

Got you there, Cass.

‘I didn’t use…’ I began to protest, and then I thought: maybe I did?

BOOK: Singled Out
4.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

We Shall Not Sleep by Anne Perry
Tumbleweed Weddings by Donna Robinson
The Missing Heir by Tracy Barrett
The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey
Carolyn Keene - Nancy Drew by The Twin Dilemma
Burn by Sarah Fine