A Night of No Return(5)

By: Sarah Morgan

She’d make it up to Jamie. They had two weeks together—the whole of the Christmas holidays. Two whole weeks while her high-flying boss was in Zubran, locked in business meetings with the Sultan and partying the night away under the stars. And she wasn’t jealous. Absolutely not.

Visibility was down to virtually zero. She lost her way twice in the maze of country lanes that all looked the same and defeated her satnav. The only car on the road, she crawled her way along a snowy lane and finally found herself at the entrance to Chigworth Castle.

Two huge stone lions snarled down at her from either side of the open gates and she glared back at them, thinking that the house was about as friendly and welcoming as the man who owned it.

By the time she’d slithered and skidded her way down a drive that seemed as long as the road to London, the throb in her head was worse and she’d convinced herself she’d taken a wrong turn. This couldn’t possibly be right. It was leading nowhere.

Where on earth was the actual house? Did one person really need this much land?

Her headlights picked out a wood and a lake and she drove over a bridge, tyres skidding, turned a corner and saw it. Floodlit with warm beams of light that illuminated honey-coloured stone and tall, beautiful windows, a small castle stood as it had no doubt stood for centuries, surrounded by a moat.

‘Battlements,’ Emma breathed, enchanted. ‘It even has battlements.’

Snow clung to those battlements and smoke twirled from a chimney into the cold air. Lights shone from a tower in one corner of the building and her mouth literally fell open because she’d had no idea that he owned something like this. He was all about modern, cutting-edge design and yet this—this imposing, beautiful building was part of history.

It really was a castle. A small, but perfectly formed castle.

Small? Emma gave a choked laugh. Small was her rented room in one of the less salubrious areas of London. She had a single window that overlooked a train line and was woken every morning at five a.m. by the aeroplanes landing at Heathrow Airport. Idyllic living it was not. This, however, was. So much space, she thought enviously. Acres of gardens, now cloaked in white but easy enough to imagine them in the spring—carpets of bluebells stretching endlessly into the wood where currently there was nothing but layers of soft, unmarked snow.

It was truly beautiful.

For a moment her eyes stung and she wondered how a house could possibly make her want to cry.

It wasn’t that perfect, was it?

For a start it was isolated. Realising just how isolated, Emma gave a shiver as she coaxed her little car forward over the bridge that spanned the moat. She might have been the only person on the planet.

And then through the archway she saw the sleek, familiar lines of Lucas’s car, already almost obscured by the falling snow. So he’d made it, but he still wasn’t answering his phone.

Resolving to buy him a phone that only she used and relieved to still be in one piece, she sat for a moment, waiting for her heart rate to slow down. When she was sufficiently recovered, she reached for the offending file.

Two minutes, Emma promised herself as she switched off the engine and stepped carefully out of the car. This was going to take her two minutes. As soon as she’d handed over the file, she’d get back on the road.

The moment her feet touched the ground, she slipped. Crashing down awkwardly in her attempt to protect the file, she bumped her elbow and her head. For a moment she lay there, winded, and then she rolled onto her knees and struggled back to her feet. Bruised, damp and angry, she picked her way gingerly towards the door, the snow seeping through her shoes.

She stabbed the bell with her finger and held it there, taking small comfort from that minor rebellion. There was no answer.

Snow trickled down from her hair to her neck and from there inside her shirt.

Emma shivered and rang the bell again, surprised that someone hadn’t immediately opened the door. She’d assumed the place would be crawling with staff and Lucas was notoriously intolerant of inefficiency of any kind.

Someone, she thought, was going to be in trouble.

Having rung the bell for a third time and still received no response, she tried the door with no expectation that it would open.

When it did, she hesitated on the threshold. Walking into someone else’s home uninvited wasn’t a habit of hers, but she had a file he needed and she wasn’t about to drive it all the way back to the office.

‘Hello?’ Cautiously, she peeped her head in through the door, bracing herself to set off an alarm. But there was no sound and she opened the door further. She saw dark wood panelling, tapestries, huge oil paintings and a sweeping staircase so romantic that it made a girl long for Rhett Butler to stride into the house and sweep her off her feet. When there was still no sign of life, she stepped inside.

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