Authors: Carrie Cox
I left Jack’s apartments with Maria. Because it was still early, I decided to try and find Lauren. I walked around the outside of the house, following a narrow stone path. The smell of flowers in the air was just delicious, floral and enticing, but I didn’t know what it was.
As I walked further, I caught sight of Lauren bending over and digging away at a flowerbed. I didn’t know where she got her energy from. Just looking at her made me feel tired.
I called to her and she stood up. She was wearing jeans and a pink t-shirt. Her cheeks were smudged with dirt, but despite that, she looked absolutely gorgeous as usual. Her cheeks were flushed and she looked so healthy. I put that down to all the time she spent outdoors.
“Are you finished for the day?” she asked.
I grimaced. “Yes, I got dismissed.”
Lauren looked horrified.
“Oh, I don’t mean permanently dismissed. Just dismissed for the day.”
“Uh-oh,” Lauren said and wiped her hands on her jeans. “I take it the first day didn’t go so well.”
I shrugged. “It wasn’t the easiest of days, but we were getting on okay until a woman showed up this afternoon. It was Jack’s ex-girlfriend. She told him she was getting married again. I think it really upset him.”
Lauren threw her weeding fork on the ground. “God, poor Jack. She didn’t take long to find someone else, did she? Alexander told me about her. He said she dumped him a week after the accident.”
I nodded. “She’s a fast worker all right. I didn’t like her.”
I couldn’t explain why I felt the way I did. I hadn’t known Jack for long at all, and for most of the time I’d spent with him, he’d been a prickly, obnoxious jerk, but I really felt for him. I’d much preferred Jack acting the way he had been this morning, teasing me and being sarcastic, rather than being quiet and reserved.
“I’ll try and cheer him up tomorrow, but I’m not sure really what to do.”
“Well,” Lauren said, “what does he actually like to do?”
I shrugged. I had no idea.
“I know,” Lauren said as she stooped down to gather her tools. “We can have a chat with Alexander later and find out what Jack likes to do. He’s sure to know.”
I bent down to help her and smiled. “Thanks, that’s a really good idea.”
“I’m glad you’re making a go of this job,” Lauren said. “I know it can’t be easy.”
I nodded, reluctant to start talking about my past again.
I’d only known Lauren for a couple of months, but in that time, we’d grown really close. We had never really spoken about the things that had gone wrong in our lives, but there was a common thread that held us together.
Lauren had lost her father last year, and Kate and I lost our mother too. Experiencing the death of a parent at a relatively young age gave us a common bond.
Lauren knew all about my problems. She knew about my past, but that didn’t mean I liked to talk about it.
So, instead I grinned and threw my arm around her shoulder. “Come on. Surely you’ve done enough digging for today. Let’s take a walk before dinner?”
After I helped Lauren pack her gardening tools away, we walked for ages in the lush gardens, talking non-stop. The sun was low in the sky, and I breathed in the sweet scent of the jasmine Lauren pointed out to me.
Finally as the sun began to set, Lauren insisted we should get back as she needed to shower before dinner.
As Lauren and I walked back towards the mansion, dusk was falling. It was a magical moment. Birds were swooping home to roost and a pale, violet light settled over the magnificent gardens. A cool breeze blew past us, ruffling my hair, and as we walked back towards the main entrance, I couldn’t help looking towards the windows of Jack’s rooms.
There were no lights on. Perhaps he really did feel tired and need to sleep. I just had the feeling he wanted to be alone to brood, and I was not sure that was a good idea.
As Lauren and I walked back along the path together, arm-in-arm, my head was full of ideas of how I could make Jack’s day a bit happier tomorrow.
I could see her looking in at me, but she couldn’t see me. It was dark in the room, and I hadn’t bothered to switch the lights on. The dark suited my mood.
It was funny how earlier today, I’d almost forgotten everything. I shouldn’t have teased Kristina like that, but her blush was so delightful. I couldn’t help smiling, remembering how her eyes had widened slightly when I whispered in her ear.
The way her blush had spread from her cheeks all the way down to her chest made me wonder how low down that blush went. Just thinking about it again made me hard.
For the first time since the accident, I found myself dwelling on something other than my bad luck. She seemed so eager to help me, but underneath that, there was a hint of steel. There was some kind of secret in her past that she didn’t want to share, and that only made me more interested.
It was nice for a few hours. But I should have known that the dark thoughts wouldn’t be away for long.
I couldn’t face dinner with my brother, pretending everything was normal. I hadn’t felt normal in a long while.
These mood swings scared me.
I’d always been the hot-headed one. Our mother used to say I inherited all the fire and Alexander inherited the ice. There was no in between ground for either of us.
But these days, after the accident, the rage would build up inside me until I felt like I might explode. I wanted to break things, smash them. I wanted to shake the people close to me until they understood.
Then it was even worse when the fury drained away. All I was left with was emptiness. It’s like what remained after a wild fire: devastation and bleakness.
I watched as Kristina linked arms with Lauren and they headed back to the main doors.
I knew exactly what my brother had planned. He knew me well. A pretty girl like Kristina around all the time... He thought I wouldn’t be able to resist. But that was the old Jack Harding, and he didn’t exist anymore.
I couldn’t deny I did feel butterflies, a stirring in my stomach and lower down as well. I hadn’t felt like that for a while. But I couldn’t kid myself. I wasn’t that person anymore.
I didn’t even know why Joanna’s news triggered this depression in me. It wasn’t as if I had ever loved her. True, she was a pretty woman, decent in bed, and she knew how to handle the paparazzi, which helped career wise, but we’d never had a connection on a deeper level.
I shifted in my chair and wished I could get up and walk out of this room and away from this life.
But I couldn’t. This was my life, and it was all I had to look forward to from now on.
We were sitting at dinner when I first noticed the meaningful glances between Lauren and Alexander.
Lauren even blushed as she lowered her gaze, her eyelashes fluttering a little. I’d suspected something had been going on, but ...
Seriously? Oh, hell no. Lauren was the sensible one. Surely she hadn’t fallen for Alexander.
I gave them a sideways glance and wondered how long it had been going on. She did meet Alexander back in the U.S. Had they hooked up there? I thought about grilling her later and getting all the juicy details, but then I decided that Lauren would confide in me when she felt ready. It really wasn’t any of my business. But I was worried. Things could get complicated.
I reached for a bread roll, carefully watching Alexander.
He noticed my gaze on him and asked, “How is my brother behaving?”
I shrugged, not quite sure what to say. “Fine. No major problems. I mean, it’ll probably take me some time to get used to his schedule.”
“But he’s not giving you a hard time?”
I shook my head. “Oh no, it’s nothing like that, it’s…” I chewed on my lip before deciding that Alexander probably should know about Jack’s unwanted visitor this afternoon. “Someone turned up to visit Jack today… a woman called Joanna.”
Alex’s face darkened and he raised his eyes to the ceiling before muttering, “That bitch.”
I was shocked. I’ve never seen Alexander display any emotion before. He always appeared to be cool, calm and collected. Until now I wouldn’t have believed anything could get under his skin like this.
I said nothing and just waited for him to continue.
He turned to me. “Joanna was Jack’s old girlfriend. I’ve already told Lauren about her. I take it Joanna turned up to tell Jack the news about her impending nuptials.”
Lauren scowled. “I can’t believe she’s getting married already.”
Alexander nodded. “Yes, and she just happens to be marrying the man who was Jack’s closest rival on the race track; the one who caused his crash.”
“But I thought it was an accident,” I said.
Alex shook his head. “That’s what the stewards said, but if Jack hadn’t left the track, both cars would have plunged into a crowd of spectators. He had no choice.”
I swallowed feeling sick. The accident could have been even worse. Jack could have died.
Alexander must have noticed how pale I’d gotten.
“Are you okay, Kristina?”
I picked up my water glass and took a sip. “Yes,” I said. “It’s horrible to think someone could do something like that deliberately. No wonder Jack is still so…” I trailed off, deciding that I was talking too much. I was definitely getting too emotional about this. I needed to get a grip.
Alexander templed his fingers beneath his jaw. “Perhaps you could try and distract him and take his mind off Joanna’s news if you can.”
“Well,” I said, leaning forward. “I was hoping you could help me with that. I’d like to cheer him up, but I don’t know what he really likes to do. Any ideas?”
Alexander smiled, and for the first time, I noticed just how similar the brothers were. It wasn’t obvious at first. Jack had dark hair and the deepest brown eyes, whereas Alexander was fair with piercing blue eyes, but when they smiled, their differences melted away. They really were both ridiculously good-looking.
“He likes movies,” Alexander said. “He used to love coming home after a night out and watching a classic movie. In fact, I’ve got my old iPad around here somewhere, with a film app on it. You could have a look through and see if you can find something.
“That’s one thing he can still do ...
He used to love the outdoors and he was always very active. Hiking and snowboarding filled the racing off-season.
“He seems to have decided against doing anything he used to. I mean, obviously the racing is out, which took up most of his time. There are other things he could do, but he doesn’t even bother.”
“I can understand. Maybe he needs a chance to heal internally before he can go back to the things he loves. It’s not like a switch he can just turn on and off.” I bit my lip. I was talking too much, and I sounded like I was lecturing Alexander, which is the last thing I wanted to do.
I continued, “But a film seems like a good idea to me. It’s escapism. He can put on a movie and imagine he is somewhere else for those two hours.”
Alexander nodded and looked thoughtful. At least he didn’t look angry. It’s not as if I had any real qualifications, and I shouldn’t launch into some psychological study as if I knew what I was talking about. It wasn’t really something I would normally do. But with Jack I felt as if I understood how he was feeling. He was broken and it would take him time to stick the pieces back together again. I knew how that felt. At times I thought my spirit was so shattered I would never be able to find all the pieces let alone stick them back together again.
After dinner, Alex gave me the iPad and told me there was wireless internet throughout the house.
I took the iPad up to my room and noticed that Lauren lingered behind to talk to Alex, rather than come with me. I sighed. That was not a good sign. Things were definitely going to get complicated around here. I just hoped she didn’t get hurt.
On my way to my bedroom, I debated whether to go and see if Jack was okay. I ended up standing beside the internal door that led to his part of the house with my hand on the door handle, but I hesitated.
I was only planning to pop in to see if he was okay. But what if he was in bed? He did say he wanted an early night.
I let my hand drop from the handle, tucked the iPad under my arm and made my way to the stairs. I was sure he’d be okay. I’d talk to him tomorrow.
When I got to my room, I curled up on the bed and turned on the iPad. Before I opened up the film app, another use for the iPad struck me. I opened up the web browser and typed the name
into the internet search bar. There were hundreds of hits. I clicked on the link at the top of the screen to go to images, and I saw a devastatingly gorgeous picture of Jack dressed in black tie. I stared at it, wanting to take in every pixel. The caption below the image identified it as the night he went to the Monte Carlo Ball last year.