She had made up her mind before Brian finished speaking and was now driving towards York. The dream, coupled with what Brian had told her on the phone had not only piqued her curiosity, but had kindled the first glimmer of hope since “the incident”.
Ignoring Brian and the curious looks that James and Nathan threw her way, she hung up her coat and frowned down at the piles of work on her desk.
‘Alright, Kate?’ James said.
‘Hmm,’ she grunted.
‘Happy New Year,’ Nathan offered.
She gave him a non-committal look before grunting once more then gathered an armful of folders and moved them from one side of the table to the other. They twisted in her arms and before she could recover several files began to fall, spilling their contents across the desk and onto the floor. The boys stepped forwards to help, but she held up her hand and waved them back. With a sigh she bent to pick the papers up noticing a sealed, slim white envelope among them. It was addressed to her, beautifully handwritten in a flowing script that reminded her of the engraving on the silver casket. Her pulse quickened as she tore it open and reached inside, something silky brushed her skin and her fingers curled away from it. The colour drained from her face. She already knew what it was before pulling it out into the light – a jet black feather. Along with this unmistakable calling card was a note, written in the same hand that had addressed the envelope.
We need to talk!
She flipped the note over. There was no signature, but the reverse had an altogether cheekier and not at all angelic message.
p.s. I wouldn’t have waited five hundred years 😉
Incredulous she raised an eyebrow, if the note hadn’t come from Ash, then who? Were her colleagues playing a joke on her? She looked quickly round at them, but neither James nor Nathan had ever known Ash and Brian no longer seemed to remember him. There was only one other possibility. The image of a tall, dark stranger standing with Ash at the bottom of her garden came to mind. Could the message be from the Watcher she had unknowingly met in Monty’s Rock Club the night she had gone to meet Brian and found Ash instead?
But Ash was gone. Wasn’t he?
Surely there was nothing more to say. Unless…
Behind her, the boys, who had been chatting quietly, suddenly became silent, listening instead to the sound of steady footsteps approaching the door. Kate stuffed the note and feather back into the envelope and slid it out of sight between the folders just as the handle began to turn. The sound of Brian clearing his throat caught her attention and he gestured at her to close her gawping mouth. As she slowly turned her eyes back to the door she was gripped with an uncanny sense of déjà-vu.
The man in the doorway looked round at the four silent, expectant faces before him. He was tall, blonde and pushed his wayward fringe off his face to reveal green eyes. But the resemblance to Ash ended there and Kate let out the breath she’d been holding and flopped onto her chair in disappointment. Though his eyes were green, they were pale and unremarkable, with no spark of fire in them and handsome as the young man was, Kate felt no attraction to him, no connection at all. The hope she had nurtured that Ash had found a way to return to her blew away like a paper bag in a storm.
The man stepped forward, held his hand out to Brian and said,
‘Hello, I’m looking for Peter Sharpe.’
It was enough to make Kate want to scream.
‘Sam,’ said a perfectly pleasant, but ordinary voice above her. When she looked up he was grinning at her, a puckered, thin, pale scar ran from beneath his right eye along his cheekbone and disappeared into his hairline. It was fine, but jagged and spoiled the symmetry of his face and Kate stared at it until she realised he had offered her his hand and she shook it, giving him a weak smile.
‘Kate,’ she said, her voice husky with unshed tears, grateful when he moved on to the boys.
She stood up, put on her coat, shouldered her bag and was taking the envelope with its mysterious message from between the files when Brian said,
‘Why don’t you give Sam the guided tour, Kate?’
She glared at him, why was he picking on her? Couldn’t he see all she wanted was to get out of there? He simply folded his arms and sat on the edge of his desk as though he could wait forever. Kate sighed. Brian had done a lot for her the last couple of weeks, not least arranging the rebuilding of her living room wall and replacing the French windows. He’d removed the blasted, twisted remains of the cherry tree too and planted the rhododendron bush in its place, though he didn’t seem to remember any of it. She knew she owed him a favour. So, instead of running back home to hide from the world she took off her coat, laid it over the back of her chair and turned reluctantly towards Sam.
‘Come on, I’ll show you how things work around here.’
After a couple of hours Kate had come to a disturbing conclusion about their new colleague. Sam Hale had arrived fresh from a postgraduate degree, newly accredited and completely clueless. She had spent most of the morning, not only showing him where everything was, but explaining exactly how genealogy and probate worked. She wondered exactly what it was that had persuaded Peter to employ him. In the end she had set him to work searching the censuses for one of her probate cases and left him to it. If there were any problems Brian could sort it out.
Spread across her desk was what remained of The Markham Family Tree. She stared at it for several minutes a frown of anguish on her face as she remembered the close connection she shared with the names on the list then buried her face in her hands at the futility of it all. When she emerged she was surprised to find Sam watching her. She shut the folder and flung it in the top drawer of her desk. Sam was still staring in her direction and continued to do so until she started to feel self-conscious and began to squirm beneath his gaze. At that moment the sun chose to peek out from behind a cloud and a strange shaft of light lanced the room illuminating Sam’s face. His eyes suddenly flared with incandescent green fire that sparked and glittered the way she knew only Ash’s could do. Kate, transfixed, watched in shock as Sam’s whole face seemed to metamorphose into an altogether more familiar face.
Throughout the whole extraordinary episode he simply gazed back at her as though nothing out of the ordinary was taking place, and then he smiled at her, that warm, loving, lopsided grin that she missed so very much and before she knew it Kate was on her feet, her chair toppling over behind her. The clatter it made seemed to break the spell and as quickly as it had come, the light faded. Sam was just Sam again and Ash’s face was just a memory.
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