Read Staverton Online

Authors: Caidan Trubel

Tags: #Romance, #Gothic, #Fiction

Staverton (19 page)

BOOK: Staverton
7.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“All right, but don’t blame me if you get accosted by geeky types trying to recruit you into their chess club.”

I laughed.

“No it’s true.” Caroline said. “I’ve heard they actually have a maths club here. Can you imagine? Saddos sitting around doing maths for fun.”

“I suppose someone has to,” I said, putting my hand on my chest. “But I solemnly swear to resist all their attempts to recruit me into the maths club.”

After signing up for the art society and an extra-curricular painting class, I left the bun fight in a good mood. Everyone had been in high spirits, welcoming and friendly.

It took me a good five minutes to find the bar, and I walked past the building twice before I saw the small sign. It was a pretty nondescript, new, red-brick building. Inside I had a good look round but couldn’t see Caroline. The bar wasn’t busy, and it was still early, so she should have been easy to spot.

Thinking Caroline was running late, I ordered a drink and took it across to a small table. The surface of the table was sticky, and the whole place looked worn and tired, which was surprising as the building itself looked new.

I sipped my drink and waited, trying to avoid eye-contact with a man standing at the bar who seem to find me fascinating. He must have been in his late forties, thin with a creased face. I’d seen a few mature students around, but he didn’t really look like a student. There was something about the way he held himself that made me nervous. He carried on staring.

I’d almost finished my drink, and Caroline hadn’t shown up, so I grabbed my bag preparing to leave when the man approached me. He had a wide smile on his face, as if he were greeting an old friend.

“Lucy? Lucy Carter?”

I paused. Did I know him? I hesitated. “Yes?”

“I’m Max Carver, a journalist with the –”

“No comment,” I said and snatched up my coat.

“Hear me out. I don’t want to hassle you. I just want a quick chat about the Rutherford murder.”

“I don’t want to talk to you. And you shouldn’t even be in here. This is a student bar. Clue’s in the name.” I nodded at the sign over the bar.

He tilted his head and looked at me. “I’ve spoken to Caroline Harrington, already. I only want to get your side of things.”

“You spoke to Caroline?”

“Yeah, we had quite a chat.”

I stalked up to the bar set my glass down, hard. “Hey, you,” I said to the bartender, a spotty-faced guy, not much older than me.

The bartender turned, surprised. “Can I help you?”

“That guy over there.” I pointed to the journalist. “Did you see him talking to a girl with long, red hair?”

“Yeah, I did. She was really upset about something, she left pretty quickly.”

I nodded. “Right, thanks. Could I have a glass of water?”

“Sure.” The bartender reached for a small tumbler.

“Bigger glass, please,” I said.

The bartender filled a pint glass and slid it over the bar. “This okay?”

“Great, thanks.”

I took the glass, walked back over to the journalist and threw it in his face. “You stay away from both of us.”

I rushed back to the halls of residence. Caroline, puffy-faced and red-eyed, opened her door and told me how the journalist had bought her drinks before revealing who he really was.

“He’ll get bored,” I said, repeating what Freddie had told me. “As long as we stick to our guns and refuse to comment, he’ll leave us alone eventually.”

“Yes but how long? Is he going to ruin my first term? My first year?”

“Please. He won’t have that much staying power.”

I told her how I’d thrown water over him and that made Caroline laugh. “Maybe you’re right. I’m blowing it out of proportion. It’s got to get better soon, right?”

But it didn’t. It got worse.

The following week the papers were full of pictures of Malcolm, being taken to court. I bought a copy, to read about the case, but hid it from Caroline, although that was pointless. The story was everywhere, even on television.

Malcolm looked better than he had the night Gwen died. His hair, a little too long, was combed and tidy, but he was hunched over in all the photographs, as if he were bracing himself, expecting the worst. The haunted expression on his face made me feel so sad. Was it right to pity someone who had murdered his wife?

One Friday night, midway through the term, I made my way to Caroline’s room, determined to persuade her to join me on a night out.

Caroline opened the door, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

“You’re not going to impress anyone dressed like that,” I said. “Put a dress on, something slinky. We’re going to that new club, Decadence.”

“I’m not going out.”

“You’ve not been off campus for weeks. Come on, really, how likely is it a journalist will be hanging around a place called Decadence?” I said, trying to make Caroline laugh. “He wouldn’t exactly fit in. He’s the opposite of decadent. What’s that anyway?”


What’s the opposite of decadent?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Look, go without me,” Caroline said. “Have fun.” Caroline reached over for a wine bottle on her desk and filled her glass.

I was worried about her, refusing to go off campus, drinking alone. It wasn’t healthy. “Please, Caroline?”

“No.” Caroline shook her head, curls swaying. “I’ve made a decision. I’m leaving.”

“Leaving? But you can’t. You can’t let them ruin things. It’s not fair.”

Caroline shrugged. “Probably for the best. I’m not very academically minded, not like you.”

“That’s not true.”

“We both know it’s true. Anyway it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I’ve been offered a place on a music tour, playing piano. It starts next month.”

I wanted to argue with her and convince her to stay, but I also knew that was more for my benefit than Caroline’s.

“But I’ll miss you,” I said.

Caroline moved forward and drew me into a hug. “We’ll still see each other. And I’ll e-mail you every day. You will still visit me during holidays, right?”

I felt a shiver of unease at the thought of returning to Staverton, but I smiled and said, “Of course I will.”

Chapter 27

Despite my promise, I didn’t return to Staverton for almost five years. I met up with Caroline during her whirlwind visits to the UK, but always in London or Edinburgh, never Devon.

I kept up the e-mail relationship with Michael, too, although the messages were infrequent these days. They were usually quick notes to say happy Christmas, or silly jokes forwarded on. Sylvia was history, but there had been a succession of women afterwards, according to Caroline.

A few days before my graduation, I received an excited call from Caroline, who told me I simply had to go to her concert in London that weekend. It would be the first concert she had headlined, so of course I agreed to go.

She sent me the white and gold tickets by courier. On the front of each ticket was an image of Caroline in black and white, and the tickets were embossed with gold lettering. I ran my fingers over the raised letters and felt a thrill of pride for my friend. She had done so well!

As she sent two tickets, I invited Andy Broom, whom I’d been dating casually for the past month or so. I met him through one of my university friends, but things weren’t really going very well. We’d only managed to go out twice, as he frequently cancelled our dates at the last minute. When I told him about the concert, he told me he loved classical music, but on Friday night, he called me half an hour before he was due to pick me up to cancel.

I hardly listened to his excuses. My mind was focused on getting him off the phone quickly, so I could call a taxi. If I had really liked him, I would have been upset, but I didn’t mind attending the concert on my own.

It would be easy enough to anonymously slip into the crowd.

My taxi managed to find a gap in a line of luxurious cars outside the concert hall.

A deep red carpet crossed the pavement and led up a small flight of steps to the impressive venue. I stepped out of the taxi, trying to keep my knees together, which wasn’t easy. The dress I wore, a knee-length, black shift, was a little too tight and clung to me like a second skin. It looked fine when I checked my reflection in the mirror before leaving my flat, but that was because I was standing up. When I sat down, I feared the seams might burst.

As I walked toward the entrance, I noticed a group of photographers to my left. They were calling out to an exotic-looking woman in a Grecian-style dress, who was posing happily for them.

I suddenly felt extremely underdressed.

I slipped behind them, unnoticed, and made my way to the hall. As I got closer, I felt more and more uneasy. All the other women I saw were wearing full-length evening gowns.

I bit my lip. Maybe I should have bought a new dress to wear. I shook off that thought. I didn’t have money to waste on an evening gown I would hardly wear.

Caroline invited me. She wanted me to be here. My dress was fine, and I wouldn’t let these women make me feel inferior. Besides, I doubted anyone else would notice what I had on.

I handed my ticket to a female attendant standing by the door, and she smiled thinly, punched a hole in my ticket and handed it back to me.

“Concert is in the grand hall, on the right. It starts in twenty minutes. You can go to your seat now, or get a drink from the bar.” She pointed to the other end of the lobby entrance. There were so many people milling about, I couldn’t even see the bar.

I thanked her and decided to go straight to my seat.

I hadn’t been sitting down long when the main lights dimmed, and a soft spotlight illuminated a huge piano on the stage.

The murmurs from the audience died away, and after a few moments silence, Caroline entered the stage from the left. She wore a simple black, silk, full-length gown. With her beautiful red curls, the effect was stunning.

I joined in the applause, clapping until the palms of my hands stung.

When Caroline sat down at the piano, the applause died away. She lifted her hands to the keys and began to play a piece by Chopin. I was so proud of her. I had tears in my eyes.

The lights came up far too quickly signifying the interval. I didn’t need a drink, but I did need to find the restrooms, so I grabbed my handbag and wrap and joined the crowd of people heading toward the exit.

When I finally got out of the hall, I headed over to my left, following the signs for the restrooms. Then I froze.

There, just a few feet away from me, stood Michael.

My heart jumped at the sight of him. He wore a dinner jacket and bow-tie. He looked older, more sophisticated and wickedly handsome.

At that moment, he smiled at something his companion said, and his smile transported me back to that summer at Staverton.

Irritated people in the crowd behind me jostled me forward. I stepped out of the way, then I noticed the woman standing by Michael’s side.

Typical. She was tall, slender and elegant. No one could have accused her of failing to dress up tonight. She wore a red dress, made out of a thin, floaty fabric, that must have cost a fortune. She looked as if she had stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. As she leaned close to Michael, I saw her dress was slit to the navel. Even if I could have afforded it, I could never have worn a dress like that. It was the type of dress that required a flawless figure.

I edged away. I should have guessed Michael would be here. Of course, he would want to support his sister at her first headlining concert. The rest of the Harringtons were probably here, too. I looked around nervously, as if I thought Lawrence might jump out at me at any moment.

I’d almost managed to lose myself in the crowd, when I heard Michael call my name.

My heart thudded as he weaved his way towards me, through the concert-goers who were gathered around the bar.

“Lucy,” he said, leaning forward to kiss my cheek. I breathed in the scent of his cologne.

“I didn’t know you were coming tonight. Does Caroline know?”

I nodded. “Um, yes. She sent me tickets.” I fiddled with the strap on my handbag, wishing I had bought a new dress after all.

He put a warm hand on my arm and said, “It’s really good to see you.”

I stared up into his eyes and was just about to speak when I was nudged from behind.

I turned. It was the fashion model in the red dress. “Oh, sorry about that,” she said, not looking in the least bit sorry.

Michael turned to her. “This is Lucy.” He grinned at me. “A very good friend of mine.”

I smiled at her, and she held out her hand as Michael continued to introduce us.

“Lucy, this is Satsuki. She...”

Before Michael could finish, a familiar figure appeared at his shoulder and slapped him on the back. Jake Harrington.

Jake hugged his brother. “Sorry I’m late. The traffic was horrendous. Don’t tell Caro I was late.” He winked at Satsuki, then turned his attention to me. “Lucy, I thought it was you. It’s been ages. How have you been? You look fantastic!”

“Yes you do. You look beautiful, Lucy,” Michael murmured and let his hand run down my bare arm.

Satsuki’s saccharine smile twisted a little, and she looked me up and down, disapprovingly.

My heart was thumping so loudly I was sure they could all hear it. I shifted nervously and looked down at my feet. That was a bad move. I saw my high-street heels lined up against Satsuki’s gorgeous, nude platforms. She shifted her right foot, and I saw the distinctive red sole. Louboutins. Of course she would be wearing those.

I raised my head quickly. “It was lovely to see you both again, but I really need to find the restrooms before the concert starts again.” I started to move away. “Enjoy the second half.”

I walked away quickly.


I turned to see Michael’s quizzical grin. “The restrooms are over there.” He pointed in the opposite direction. “I’ll show you,” he said.

Quick as a flash, Satsuki linked arms with mine and pulled me along. “That’s okay. I’ll show her.”

As Michael stared after us, I could imagine what Satsuki and I looked like as we walked away. A tall, striking beauty and me. I couldn’t believe I came off well in the comparison.

BOOK: Staverton
7.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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