His Wedding-Night HeirBy: Sara Craven
SHE was running. Forcing herself onwards down a long straight road, where flanking trees threw g rotesque shadows in front of her. Shadows that she did not want to enter. Her breath tore at her lungs, and her legs ached, but she could not stop. And dared not look behind.
Must keep going. Need to move on. The words beat a rhythm in her brain. Have to run. Have to.
Cally Maitland sat up, gasping, her body damp with perspiration, as the sudden shrill of the alarm clock invaded her subconscious and brought her with shocking suddenness to the reality of a new day. She reached out a shaking hand and silenced the noise, then sank back against her pillow, trying to clear her head. My God, she thought. What was all that about? But of course she already knew. Because sh e'd had that dream before. Several times.
The sun was pouring into the room through a gap in the shabby curtains, and it was clearly a beautiful May day. But Cally felt a chill in the air, and wrapped her arms round her body with a faint shiver.
She said softly, half under her breath, 'It is—definitely— time to go.'
She pushed back the thin quilt and got out of bed, running her fingers through her tousled light brown hair, smoothing it into its usual shoulder-length bob. That was one thing she had refused to economise on— her monthly trip to the best hairdresser in town.
There were shadows under her long-lashed hazel eyes, she realised, giving herself a swift, critical glance in the mirror and the flowered cotton pyjamas she'd bought from a market stall covered her slim body without grace.
She felt, she recognised with bewilderment, like a stranger in her own skin. A being totally alien to the cherished, pampered girl she'd been eighteen months ago. That girl had vanished for ever.
Her mouth tightened with sudden bleakness. But there was no time to linger feeling sorry for herself, she thought, squaring her shoulders. Kit had phoned the previous evening to call an emergency breakfast meeting at the Children's Centre, and she couldn't be late.
She collected clean underwear, and one of the plain grey skirts and cream blouses that formed her working gear, and headed for the small dank shower room which had been created in a corner of the attic room s he inhabited.
The landlord had thrown up cheap plywood partitions to divide the living space from the sleeping area, and pushed together a rudimentary kitchen with a sink and a gas stove in an alcove. He felt that entitled him to christen t he whole thing a flat, but it was still nothing more than a draughty bedsit.
To call it adequate would pay it an undeserved compliment, Cally thought, grimacing over the fact that her towel was still damp from the day before.
It was not the kind of accommodation she had ever envisaged for herself. But it was just affordable, and it was also the last place on earth where anyone would thin k to look for her, and that was its major—it’s sole—attraction for her as far as she was concerned.
Still she would bid it goodbye without a moment's regret.
Although she couldn't say the same for Wellingford itself, oddly enough.
She'd chosen it for the same reasons she'd picked the flat. It was a small, nondescript market town besid e an unexciting river. A neutral background that she could disappear into. Somewhere to provide her with breathing space to think and consider her long-term future.
She had not expected to like it, of course, Cally thought.
living to coax hot water out of the reluctant shower. She had certainly not anticipated being happy here yet somehow, against all the odds, she'd achieved a measure of both. There were times when she'd almost managed to forget her reasons for being there. Almost, but not quit
And now it was time to leave, she told herself. She'd already stayed more than a month over her allotted time, and she simply couldn't risk remaining any longer. Otherwise she might start to feel at home, and that was dangerous. She needed to keep moving. To cover her tracks.
Although there was no actual proof that this was necessary, she reminded herself. No evidence of any at tempt to trace her, as she'd feared. She could well be panicking unduly. Yet some gut instinct— some sense of self-preservation—seemed to be warning her again. Otherwise, why the dreams?
In any case, there were valid, practical reasons for her to leave Wellingford.
For one thing, the job she'd enjoyed so much no longer existed, and at the end of the week she would ic ceive her final wage packet from the Hartley family. Who would begrudge her every penny of it.
She sighed as she cleaned her teeth. She could still hardly believe that Genevieve Hartley was dead. She'd seemed indomitable—eternal. Even now, six weeks later, Cally half expected to seethe large car draw up at the end of Gunners Wharf and Mrs Hartley's small, silver-haired figure alight.
Riding to our rescue, Cally thought grimacing. Except it was far too late for that.
I hope the dead can't see the living, she told herself with sudden fierceness. I hope Mrs Hartley doesn't know what her ghastly sons and their expensive wives did to her dream for Gunners Wharf even before she was cold in her grave. All those hopes and plans and hard work just swept away. All those people suddenly discovering they needed somewhere else to live.
It shouldn't have happened, of course. Mrs Hartley's intentions had been very different. She'd meant the Gunners Wharf project to survive and thrive even when she was no longer there to supervise it. She'd been to see her lawyers, to draw up the necessary adjustments to her will, only to succumb to a sudden devastating heart attack before the all-important document could be signed.