Kate’s head was spinning and she hadn’t even had a drink. The car seemed to fly home, hardly touching the road, and she floated into the house and up the stairs to bed, wriggled down into a comfortable spot and with the covers pulled up to her chin and a smile fixed on her face, she drifted off into sleep, with hopes of pleasant dreams about the man she’d just met.
“Ash,” she said, trying the word aloud.
She’d decided she wasn’t worried that he hadn’t asked to see her again. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for finding her. Something told her this wasn’t the last time she’d be seeing him.
The journal lay in her bag, forgotten.
* * *
She woke several hours later, twisted up in the covers, exhausted from the nightmare of the burning again, and massaged circles into her temples. In the dream she had glimpsed an image of her reflection in a pool of water and recognised the face of the girl she had seen in the mirror above the bookshop. She needed to know why she was having these dreams. Maybe Selena could help her make sense of this.
* * *
Ten thirty was too early on a Saturday morning, for Brian to be up. Especially after a night out like last night. He wanted to ignore the phone and go back to sleep. His head throbbed like the skin on a bass drum, pounding out the beat of a marching band.
To say he’d been drunk was an understatement. After Kate’s rejection the last thing he’d expected was for her to fall for his guilt trip and hold up her end of the bargain to go out on the date. He knew it was only offered out of sympathy and that’s why he’d got drunk before she turned up. The messages on her machine about standing him up were revenge for her pity. He’d been gob-smacked when he’d spotted her in the club, staring off into space like Selena in one of her put on trances. By then he was too drunk to care if he made a fool of himself again and thinking back, boy, had he done just that.
What the hell had he been thinking, telling that guy he and Kate were ‘together’? He should have known she wasn’t going to like that one bit. And then making it even worse by offering to fight him. How stupid could he get? But the guy was too pretty by half, exactly the kind that girls went all gooey for and Kate had obviously fallen for it.
He’d looked the kind to talk his way out of a fight, but Brian had got himself worked up by then and needed something to let his disappointment and anger out on. One punch and the guy would be out cold, Brian had been certain. It hadn’t turned out like that though. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure what had happened exactly, other than that the guy had been better than he thought and dodged his every move. After that he couldn’t remember anything else, apart from running away. Like a girl. He was never going to be able to look Kate in the eye again.
“All right, all right!” he yelled, falling out of bed and trudging to the phone. “What?”
“Brian?” It was Kate.
“Yeah?” he said, the aggression going out of him at the sound of her voice.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Had this guy told her he’d run off?
“What do you want?”
“I was hoping you could ask Selena if she’d do a regression on me.”
* * *
Well that had been a turn up for the books. The last thing on earth he’d been expecting, especially from Kate. She was full of surprises these days. He had rung Selena as soon as he’d hung up on Kate, and arranged a time for later that afternoon. Selena seemed as eager as Kate to do this regression and he was on his way now to meet them both at the bookshop. He wasn’t going to miss this for the world.
* * *
Selena was waiting for him at the door. She tried to pretend that this was because she sensed when people were arriving, but he knew it was all an act. She did have the qualifications that he’d told Kate about, but there was nothing psychic about her. Whatever had happened with Kate at the group session was completely out of the ordinary.
Most of the people that went there, week in, week out, were just like Selena, searching for something, not sure what and mostly pretending to believe in ‘the other side’. They were, for the most part, lonely people who needed like-minded friends.
Brian did believe. He had been following a strict regimen of meditation for weeks now and he was starting to achieve results. Only the other day, he had felt himself slip out of his body and hover in the air, looking back at his prone self. It hadn’t lasted more than a few seconds before he slammed right back into his physical form again, but it was a start.
They were sitting at the kitchen table when the doorbell rang. Selena hadn’t sensed Kate arriving, he noticed, and waited for her to bring Kate up the stairs to the flat.
“Hello,” she said.
He nodded sheepishly at her. Selena poured them both coffee and Kate took off her coat. He was thankful when she didn’t mention his behaviour at the club.
“So, how can I help you?” Selena began.
“I’m not sure,” Kate said. “I’ve been having dreams, as you know, where I seem to be in someone else’s body, living their life.”
“You think the face you saw in the mirror is this person?”
Kate fidgeted with the mug in her hands, twisting it from side to side. Selena studied her body language.
“There’s something else,” Selena said.
Kate swallowed. Selena reached across the table and grabbed her hand, turning it face upwards and stroked her fingernails across Kate’s palm.
“A stranger has come into your life, you’re drawn to him, but you don’t trust him.”
Brian shifted in his chair.
“Err well, yes I suppose so, but that’s not…”
“He is tall, dark, has the most intense blue eyes you’ve ever seen.”
“No, actually, he’s blonde and his eyes are green.”
Brian huffed at the dreamy expression that crossed Kate’s face as she talked about the guy from the club. He folded his arms and looked away in disgust.
“Oh,” Selena said. “Well, you’ll meet this person too, soon.”
She dropped Kate’s hand and went to the kettle, poured herself a cup of strong smelling chamomile tea which made Kate wrinkle her nose, and leaned against the counter. Whilst she sipped at the tea she studied Kate. The attention made Kate squirm. After several minutes her attention was drawn to Kate’s bag. The corner of the journal poked out above the zip line.
“What’s that?” Selena asked.
Kate twisted in her seat to see what Selena was talking about. When she saw the journal she tried to push it out of sight.
“An old book I found. It’s nothing really.”
“May I see it?” asked Selena.
“Well, it’s very old, I’d rather it didn’t get handled very much.”
Brian turned back to face her again.
“Is this the book from the box?”
“I thought you said it was a Bible?”
“I thought it was. I don’t know what it is, yet,” she said, just then remembering the text had somehow been changed.
Selena returned to the table and gave Kate a broad smile that was meant to be reassuring. Kate bent to the bag at her side and retrieved the journal. She had misgivings about letting anyone else touch it, but passed it across the table to Selena. She took it with both hands, never taking her eyes from Kate’s and stroked the leather cover, turning the journal round and round. She closed her eyes and placed it against her forehead.
She began moaning and swaying in her chair. Brian rolled his eyes, convinced this was part of the act Selena used to suck people in, then she lurched bolt upright, shocking her guests as she flung the journal across the table at Kate, with a squeal of terror.
“Take it away,” she begged.
“What is it?” Kate asked, reaching for the book, but Brian got there first.
As soon as his fingers made contact with the journal he pulled back again, as if it had bitten him.
“What the…?” he cried.
Kate calmly picked the journal up from the table. The others shrank away from her.
“Please put it away,” Selena said. “That book is meant for no-one but you.”
With a shrug, Kate slipped the book back in her bag. Only when it was completely out of sight did Selena relax. Brian, still rubbing his fingers, scowled at her
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to regress you, but I will read the cards for you,” Selena offered.
With Kate’s agreement, she disappeared behind a swathe of chiffon drapes and returned with a large velvet drawstring bag. She pulled out a pack of colourful tarot cards and began to shuffle them. Satisfied they were suitably mixed, she placed the pack in front of Kate and asked her to cut them into three. Then she recombined the piles and shuffled them again.
Selena laid the cards out like a clock face, one card for every point on the dial with a thirteenth card in the centre. She turned them over, slowly and deliberately and laid each one, with a flourish, in its position in the spread. As she did so she either smiled knowingly or raised her eyebrows. At the last card she gasped.
Kate took a deep breath. Selena waved her hands over the cards and studied them for several minutes.
“This is very interesting,” she said. “The queen of swords represents you. There are a lot of swords in the spread. Dear me, so much conflict. You must learn to pick your battles. There is a cause to be won… or lost, the outcome depends on you.”
She raised her head and smiled at Kate.
“Ah, here, see, here is your knight, you can trust him, lean on him for support and oh yes, the lovers.”
Kate glanced sideways at Brian, his jaw was tightly clenched. She could see the muscles working as he ground his teeth together and wondered if that was because the knight on the card had blonde hair.
“How unusual,” Selena continued, “so many sword cards and ending in death.”
Noticing Kate’s worried frown she hurried on.
“Oh don’t worry, I don’t mean literally. More often than not, it is the ending of one thing and the beginning of another. I’m not sure how he fits in though.”
She held up a card depicting a man in long robes standing over what appeared to be an altar. The word on the card read, ‘The Magician’.
Brian stood up, there was a bright flash from the plug on the kettle, one of the angel plaques fell from the wall and the stereo in Selena’s lounge burst into life, with a song that Kate recognised immediately. She paled, gripping the table for support. Downstairs the shop bell began to ring and a breeze swept through the flat, picking the tarot cards up and blowing them off the table in a little whirlwind.
“Where did that come from?” Selena said. “The windows are shut and I locked the shop up.”
Her knuckles turned white as she balled her hands into fists. Her reaction said she wasn’t used to this kind of disturbance, for all her ‘experience’ of the occult.
Brian was the first to move. He bounded across the room, first turning off the stereo, then made for the stairs to the shop below. Selena checked the kettle.
“The fuse has blown. It should have tripped the safety so how come the stereo came on?”
Brian returned breathless.
“There’s no one there, the door is locked.”
Selena was staring at Kate, who in turn studied the table top.
“I think you should leave, now.” Selena said.
“It’s not her fault!” Brian shouted in Kate’s defence.
“I don’t care, Brian, I don’t want her in my flat. There’s something not right here and she’s connected to it. I should have known when I touched that book.”
“Come on, Selena, calm down,” he said.
“GET OUT!!” she shrieked.
Kate leapt off her chair. She grabbed her things and made for the exit, with Brian following close behind.
The door wouldn’t open. Her head began to spin and her sweaty palms couldn’t grip the handle properly. There was no escape from the leering pixie faces. The overstocked shelves and sharp edged crystals closed in around her. Brian pushed her to one side and turned the Yale lock, pulling open the door. She almost fell into the street, gasping for air. Brian helpfully scraped back her hair, holding it in a ponytail as she doubled over, clutching at her stomach.
“Are you OK?”
Kate’s eyes went round at the sound of that voice and she froze. She felt Brian stiffen beside her.
“She’s fine. I’m taking her home.”
“What happened, Kate? Are you ill?”
“Nothing happened,” Brian was speaking again, refusing to be ignored, his voice edgy.
Kate straightened and extricated herself from Brian’s grip. She looked up into peridot green eyes and felt herself melting again.
“I’m all right. I just felt a little queasy for a moment.”
Ash, dressed as usual from head to toe in black, reached forward to touch her, Brian shifted forward, a protective gesture, but Ash laid his hand on Kate’s forehead. Almost immediately the nausea dissipated and Kate felt more like herself again.
“You feel a little warm.” he said. “Let’s get you home.”
The mere sound of his voice was soothing.
“That’s exactly what I was planning to do,” Brian said. ”What are you doing here anyway?”
“It’s all right Brian, I’ll be fine now.”
She cringed, she hadn’t meant to make it sound as though Brian was surplus to requirements now that her knight was here. Brian stood his ground, his eyes fixed on Ash.
“Maybe you should go back and check on Selena,“ Kate suggested.
He felt like a child, but there was nothing he could do to protest. He turned and stormed back into the bookshop, slamming the door shut behind him so hard the bell almost jangled itself off its hook.
“What was all that about?” Ash asked her.
She shook her head. The last thing she wanted to tell him was that she was seeking supernatural counselling from a woman who had thrown her out for blowing the electrics. He held out an arm for her to take. She wondered if it would be wrong for her to pretend she was still light-headed and lean against him while he led her away.
“It’s all right, I can manage,” she said, horrified she’d even considered that last thought.
He shrugged and put his hand back in the pocket of his leather jacket.
“I was on my way to the festival. Would you like to come with me?”
“Festival?” Kate said.
“Of Angels.” He smiled, showing his immaculate white teeth.
If only she didn’t fall apart at the thought of all those jostling people.
“I don’t know, I get a bit panicky in crowds.”
“I’ll protect you,” he said. “Trust me.”
She hoped she’d sighed in her head and not out loud then found herself trotting alongside him, continuously protesting that she would be terrible company and he’d be better off without her. He countered every argument she made with a better one for why she should go along and in the end she gave in and let him steer her towards the town.
* * *
At first she had resisted, bracing herself against the inevitable pushing and shoving and stretching on tip toes to see over heads, and couldn’t believe it when the crowds parted every time they needed to pass through. She began to enjoy herself and was eager to see the next ice sculpture on the trail, surprised to find she was leading the way.
After several hours, Ash suggested they nip into a cosy restaurant for something to eat. Kate hadn’t realised how hungry she was until he’d made the suggestion, but the place he’d chosen was very popular, crammed with locals and tourists alike, and Kate hung back in the doorway.
“Don’t worry,” Ash said, taking her hand and coaxing her inside.
She wished he would keep hold of it, but he let go as they joined the queue for a table.
It didn’t look promising, the party in front of them were turned away. They stepped forward on their turn and were told a table for two had become available that minute and were shown to a quiet area away from the crowded main bar.
“See, not so bad, is it?” Ash said, handing her a menu and opening his own.
Kate looked at the list of dishes on offer then glanced over the top at him. He had already folded his menu and was watching her while she chose.
“So what’ll it be?” he asked.
“I’ll just have something light,” she said, laying her menu alongside his.
“Oh no you don’t. You haven’t eaten all day. Choose a proper meal.”
“How do you know I haven’t?” she said.
He looked flustered for a moment then frowned.
“Didn’t you say so?”
“No,” she said.
He brushed it off with a shrug.
“Then, I must have been mistaken. How about the steak?”
She nodded and he went to order, leaving her staring after him as he sailed through the parting crowds, his head a little higher than everyone else’s.
This wasn’t the first time he’d said something that hinted at him knowing more about her than he should. Selena was right, she wasn’t sure whether to trust him or not. Being gorgeous didn’t make you honest.
Her mobile rang, she fished it out of her bag and checked the caller ID. It was Brian. Her thumb hovered over the accept call button, but she decided not to answer and placed it on the table. Seconds later the voice-mail icon began flashing on the screen. Brian’s persistence was irritating; she had a feeling she already knew what he was going to say, but she listened to the message anyway.
“Kate, I know you don’t want to hear this, but please listen. You don’t know anything about this guy and I don’t think you should trust him, no matter what Selena’s daft cards say. It’s not like you to be all puppy-eyed, but that’s exactly what you’re doing. I know you think I’m jealous or I’m pissed off about the club, but I’m saying this because I care about you and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Just be careful, all right.” There was a pause. “Call me, let me know you’re OK.”
How stupid did Brian think she was? No matter his message echoed her own thoughts, she was a grown woman, had lived alone for over a year and didn’t need looking out for. All right, she did have feelings for Ash, but what was wrong with love at first sight? It worked for some people. She stabbed at the button, deleting the message. She didn’t want to call Brian, he was the one she couldn’t trust. He was the one dabbling in the occult after all. She recalled The Magician tarot card in the spread Selena had done for her. It probably meant him.
Whatever he said, Brian was jealous and in spite of the weird little exchange they’d had, there was no reason for her to doubt Ash. All the indications pointed to him liking her too, but maybe he was just being nice. And there she went again. Couldn’t she accept that not everyone had ulterior motives and let herself be happy for once? Her trust issues had ruined more than one relationship in the past. She rested her chin on her hand and sighed.
“Why so glum?” Ash said, putting a glass of Coke in front of her and sliding back into the seat opposite.
“No reason,” she said, sitting up straight.
Damn Brian and his paranoia, she wasn’t going to give in to it. She would put her convictions aside and try to get to know Ash better. With a bit of luck by the end of the evening he would want to see her again and if not, well – she didn’t want to think about that.
* * *
In the end, she’d told him more about her than the other way around. In fact, he managed to avoid telling her anything much about himself at all. So far he’d discovered where she worked, what she did there, what her favourite colour, film and book were and what did she know about him? Nothing. Not even his last name.
She had asked him if he lived in York.
“For now,” he said.
“What do you do?”
“I suppose you’d call me a bodyguard, of sorts.”
“For someone famous?”
“I couldn’t say,” he winked.
It was all very vague and Kate got the impression he was doing it on purpose. There were several times he didn’t even appear to be listening to the answers she gave to his questions, his head cocked on one side, as though he was listening to what the people on the next table were saying instead. He got up twice, disappearing for up to five minutes at a time, and then dropped back into the conversation as though he’d never left.
This had nothing to do with any issues Kate may have had, she wasn’t imagining any of this and by the end of the meal she had resigned herself to the fact that he probably wouldn’t be asking her out again. She glanced at his plate. He hadn’t touched his meal and now that she thought about it, she couldn’t recall seeing him drink anything either.
They left the bar and walked through the streets in silence, past the club where she’d first met him and back to her car. He seemed distracted. Kate’s breath fogged on the cold air. Ash didn’t seem affected by the cold at all. Her time with him was running out. Last chance to say something that would knock him off his feet and have him begging to see her again. She shook her head, what was wrong with her, this really wasn’t her at all, but she couldn’t help herself. She had to say something, anything…
“Err, I don’t suppose…”
His head snapped up and he stood stiff and attentive to some distant sound. Kate stared at him, eyes wide, mouth held open in her unfinished sentence.
“Shh,” he said.
He was statue still. Whatever he could hear, Kate wasn’t privy to it.
“Wait here,” he whispered. “Don’t move.”
He was off before Kate could reply, walking quickly across the road to the entrance of the lane that ran down the side of the Trafalgar Bay pub. He stopped for a moment then strode into the dark and out of view.
Kate waited by the car. She was shivering now and not just with the cold. She wasn’t sure if she was afraid of whatever it was he’d heard, or of him. He’d looked so fearsome as he entered the alleyway; someone you did not mess with, someone who meant business and could handle themselves in a fight. He’d seen Brian off, after all.
She waited for the tell tale noise of a scuffle, but it was dead silent. Too quiet for the centre of town on a busy Saturday night in an area filled with bars. Even more unusual was the absence of smokers outside the pub.
After several minutes she began to worry for his safety. What if someone had attacked him and he was lying helpless, waiting for her to find him. She didn’t want to disobey him, but she couldn’t wait all night. It had started to snow again.
She set off across the car park, cut across the road and pushed herself close to the wall, peering round it, down the length of Scarcroft Lane. A single street lamp threw a dim light across the alley and he was silhouetted in it. He was not alone.
Kate’s eyes grew wide at what she saw. The man in black, the man she was on the verge of giving her heart to without a second thought, was standing over someone knelt on the ground. The other man was limp, arms hung at his sides as though drunk or asleep, but Ash held him up, with one hand beneath his chin, the other behind his head. He bent down to whisper something in the man’s ear then his arms jerked, twisting the head to the side and the kneeling man fell forward, his neck broken.
Kate couldn’t stop herself from crying out, and clapped a hand over her mouth. Ash whipped round to face her and she turned to run. She could hear him calling out to her with that voice she wanted to fall into.
“Kate, wait. Please, it’s not what you think.”
She didn’t stop, reaching her car and scrabbling for the keys, but the key wouldn’t go in the lock and he was walking towards her now, like a scene from some horrible, low budget slasher movie. Except this was real and he was coming for her. Would he snap her neck too?
By some miracle the car door opened and she threw herself behind the wheel, slamming the door and popping the lock. Ash was still calling out to her, she had no idea how, but he was inside her head now. She realised with horror it was the voice she’d heard in her own kitchen after she’d found the box.
“Kate, I’m not going to hurt you.”
It took all her will to resist, turn the ignition and floor the accelerator. He was right up against the window as she sped out of the car park. How she avoided running him over she didn’t know, but she got past him and the other parked cars, acting as obstacles to her escape, without touching them. The Beetle screeched as she turned the corner at high speed and gunned it away from the city in the direction of home.