A tale of ghosts, redemption and romance.
Cat Cartwright’s sixth sense tells her there are storms brewing in her peaceful English village. A stranger is in town, one she does not trust after discovering he is the estranged father of Luca, the young boy she is responsible for.
As the handsome, irritable New Yorker is gradually accepted into the community, Cat has no choice but to watch the strengthening bond between father and son, knowing that Max O’Donnell is not all he seems.
Meanwhile, Max is being harassed by a persistent ghost, imploring him to face the lie he has been living since the 9/11 atrocity. When the spirit also begins to infiltrate Cat and Luca’s dreams, it is only a matter of time before Max’s carefully reconstructed persona is stripped away. He has to face the truth and risk losing everyone he cares for, or let his personal demons destroy him.
And Cat has to learn how to accept her own losses and past mistakes in order to move on with her life. Finding love was never part of the plan, especially with a man who is more flawed than she is.
I chose this excerpt because this is the first real conversation Cat and Max have. And it gives you an idea of Cat’s character. She’s hurting, but she doesn’t take prisoners!
He was still there. Still naked, still asleep, the duvet pitched onto the floor again. Thank goodness for the sheet at least, she thought, trying not to look at his pale, taut stomach and the line of dark, silky hairs disappearing under the sheet which covered him.
As she made to leave the room, he rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, as if to rid himself of pain. Cat waited by the door, wondering whether to leave him to it or introduce herself. It was her house, so she had every right to be there, she reasoned.
Eventually he left his eyes alone and seemed to take stock of his surroundings. At last, he realized he was not the only one in the room. A stunned expression came over his face.
“What the fuck did you do to me?” He tried to heave himself up onto his elbows and failed, collapsing back down onto the pillow with a soft moan.
His hair was all over his face. He swatted at it and found the wound, his fingers exploring the stitching.
“Don’t do that.” She guided his hand away and inspected the injury. It looked clean and healthy.
“It’s healing. Touch it again and I’ll put a cone on you,” she warned.
He stared uncomprehendingly at her.
“You know, like they do with dogs? Never mind.”
He didn’t laugh, but carefully opened his eyes again, as if the dim light in the room was blinding. He looked around at his unfamiliar surroundings, then struggled to a sitting position, seemingly unbothered by the fact that he was covered only in a thin sheet.
“Painkillers,” she said, showing him the tablets and the water. He took the tablets and swallowed them, chasing them down with a few sips of water.
“Have more. You don’t want to get dehydrated.”
“I can’t. It’ll just come back up.” His voice was still as thin as rice paper.
“Just try.” The room seemed stuffy and almost fetid. Noticing that he had closed all the windows, she went over and opened them again.
“Leave them,” he croaked. “It’s too noisy. Fucking birds, tweeting all the time.”
“How would you know? You’ve been asleep for almost twenty-four hours.”
“No. I just lie here waiting for the pain to go.” He covered his eyes with his hands again and groaned.
“There are more painkillers by the bed,” she said when he didn’t speak. “And there are clean clothes on the chair.”
Again, she waited.
“Thank you, Cat,” she said when the silence became painful.
He opened one eye and squinted at her.
“You don’t have to stay here,” she continued. “I’m sure a sleeping bag on a hard surface will be far more comfortable. Why were you in my garden, Max O’Donnell?”
“Enough questions,” he growled. He curled away from her and closed his eyes.
“Fine. I’ll leave you be for now, but I strongly recommend you have a shower. You smell like a goat.” She left the room.
All that day he slept, ate painkillers, vomited and slept again. The only thing Cat knew about migraines was that they could last for three days, and his was lasting all of that, not helped by the close contact with the rock in her flower bed.
Despite his predicament, she was getting fed up with her small childhood bed in the spare room and his disinclination to give her any more information.
“He’s still with you?” Martin sounded dismayed.
“Yes, and he’s still not talking. I’m calling the hospital first thing if he doesn’t improve.”
Martin thought for a moment. “I was going to ask you to pick up Luca tomorrow afternoon, but if he’s still there…”
“Of course I will, and don’t worry. I’m sure Mr. O’Donnell will have had enough of my company by tomorrow.” Although she understood Martin’s misgivings about the strange man, she sensed no actual danger. There was just the ghost’s whispered warning, but that seemed as if it were more for her than for Luca.
That night, she heard him cry out. Running into the room, she saw him writhing in the middle of a vicious nightmare, his words disjointed, making no sense.
“… hurry … get us out …” He was pinned to the bed by fear, the sheets damp with sweat, the skin of his knuckles taut and bone-white. She wiped his hot, damp forehead with a cold flannel until the tension in his body ebbed away, then sat for a while, watching him sleep.
In the morning, migraine or no migraine, he was going to tell her who he was.
On arriving home from work at lunchtime the next day, she went to check on him again. If he was asleep, it was time for him to wake up and explain himself.
He wasn’t there. His clothes had gone, and the bed had been roughly made.
Great. She knew without doubt he had left to avoid answering her questions. It made her sense of disquiet grow. If he had nothing to hide, he would have left her a note, or stayed until her return.
Instead, he had disappeared like a thief. Her frustration grew. The temptation was to drive to his house and confront him, but her instincts told her to wait. It was good he wasn’t there, especially as she was collecting Luca that afternoon. It had all worked out for the best.
Even so, carrying on as normal was impossible. The weather had not yet broken, and was thick and sticky like treacle, the heat relentless. Everything she wore stuck to her skin. In the end, she retreated to the shade of her old apple tree and dozed until it was time to walk to school.
But as sometimes happened, as soon as her eyes closed she could see her eight-year-old daughter, prowling through the long grass in the hay field in front of her, stalking her mother as she lay crouched and silent like a hunted gazelle. When she found her, Savi would roar convincingly and pounce, and they would roll together down the hill, her daughter’s laughter echoing down the valley.
Be careful, mummy.
She sat up, irritated. Thoughts of Savi inevitably darkened her day. She still missed her with a physical ache that would last a lifetime, but over the years she had learned to compartmentalize difficult thoughts so she could function on a day to day basis.
Now the ghosts were crowding in again, but this time felt different. Mrs. Loving, the bloodied man, even her Savi, were all trying to tell her something.
The night before, she hadn’t been able to sleep, so she went into the garden in the dead of night. Savi had joined her then, just for a few precious seconds, and they had danced as they used to, barefoot amongst the flowers before her daughter had melted away, leaving one final warning.
Be careful, mummy. Don’t let him hurt you.
“What is it, love? What are you trying to tell me?”
But there was nothing but the wind in the wheat and a thrush singing high in her apple tree.